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The Pride of Peabody
Michael Bamberger
December 20, 2004
He was the nation's best high school pitcher, bound for the Florida Marlins and stardom. But Jeff Allison also had a drug addiction, and it nearly killed him
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December 20, 2004

The Pride Of Peabody

He was the nation's best high school pitcher, bound for the Florida Marlins and stardom. But Jeff Allison also had a drug addiction, and it nearly killed him

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His 2004 stint with the Marlins' organization lasted only a month. By early May he was back in Peabody. On June 13, in a New England Cable News interview, he admitted to having failed a drug test for marijuana and said that the Marlins had fined him $200,000 and, because he had violated the terms of his signing bonus, the team had placed him on the restricted list and stopped making bonus payments to him. (To date, the club has paid him less than a third of his $1.85 million signing bonus.) Allison says he has $200,000 in the bank, but others in Peabody wonder how much he really has left. Cossins, the Marlins' rookie-ball manager, was around Allison again briefly last spring. He says he doesn't know Allison well but that he found him to be "abrasive, very cocky. But it's a false cockiness. His cockiness on the field was warranted. But he's scared as hell off the field."

The police chief in Jupiter says that neither Allison nor Bartlett was ever arrested on any charge while in that town. Whether the Marlins believe that there was any connection between Allison's and Bartlett's drug use is unclear; no one from the team will talk about it. Loria, the Marlins' owner, says through a spokesman that he will not comment about Allison. When others in the organization speak at all about Allison, it is guardedly, yet even so their anger is palpable. In part, of course, that is engendered by Allison's squandered pitching talent and in part by his perceived arrogance. He does little to create good will. He makes it easy to forget that you're talking about a kid, a kid with a problem. The kid turned 20 in November.

The marlins have lately taken a hands-off approach in dealing with Allison. Since her son's heroin overdose last July, Noreen Allison says, the only person from the ball club she has heard from is the team doctor, and him only occasionally. None of the baseball people who spoke to SI were ready to predict that Allison would become a dominant major league pitcher. There are too many obstacles in his way. "If baseball fits into his life, so be it," says Cossins. "But he's got to get his life healthy first."

Allison says he plans to return to Jupiter for spring training in the new year and get back on the road that leads to the big leagues. "The Marlins want me clean, that's it," he says. "I gotta take one step at a time. Baby steps." He says he was seeing a drug counselor regularly in Brookline, Mass. "My parents fight a lot, and I've got my own issues. I'm immature. I've got an addictive personality. But I don't want to do drugs anymore. I wanna be straight. I wanna play baseball. Self-will is the biggest part of it." He cited the number of days he's been clean. He's looking forward to spring in Florida. In the meantime there's the long, damp Peabody winter. Phil Mitchell and Kevin Houlden, co-owners of Champions, have been dropping by the Allison home now and again, bringing grilled chicken and steak tips for Noreen and her two kids. Everyone in town knows it's been a tough time for them.

You hope, of course, that Jeff Allison is sincere in his resolve. "I don't know," says Brad Nizwantowski. "He's telling you all the right things. But when I call him, he won't talk to me."

Bob Russell, the narcotics detective, has a certain wisdom about Allison and Peabody. "You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child?" he asked one night. "It takes a village to cover up for a kid this much too. At some point everybody knew there was a problem with Jeff Allison. The school people, the teachers, the coaches." He could have added the cops, but he didn't. "But people want to win games. He made people look good. He made the high school look good. He made his summer teams look good. So nobody said anything. It pays not to s where you eat."

The tanners football team wasn't supposed to be any good this year, but it surprised a lot of people, finishing 8--2. Away from the field Coach Niz always had something hanging over his head: a court date for Brad, a family meeting with a therapist, a pile of bills from doctors and lawyers. He'd lose himself in his afternoon practices, his team dinners, his Friday-night games. After one win this fall Coach Niz stood at midfield and talked to a few local sportswriters, answering the same questions sportswriters always have, about the bright future of this kid or that. And for a moment all was right in his world.

Brad came to some of the games and practices, helped out where he could. For the first time in years, father and son were doing things together, and sports were returning to Brad's life. Sometimes he'd play late-night "shinny" hockey--wearing nothing but shin guards--at a nearby rink. It had been three years since he lost his hockey scholarship, and for the first time since then he found himself wanting to play again.

Jeff Allison was keeping a low profile. Every so often, though, late on October afternoons, he'd go to a field way behind the school and pitch to his friend Artie Generazzo, his catcher from back in Little League days. At night, on TV, the Red Sox were undoing history and Allison was hanging on every pitch, along with the rest of Red Sox Nation. David Ortiz, with his big bat and big heart, was winning games for the Sox nightly, and at one point Jeff saluted the slugger in an email message to his Peabody buddies:

fukn Ortiz wut can i say.... mvp.

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