, Newburyport, MA


June 7, 2007

Getting back in the game

TEWKSBURY - These days, Jeff Allison spends a lot of time in a tiny corner office at the Extra Innings baseball training center near the Shawsheen River.

There are no windows, the walls are cracked, and the collection of random objects lining the walkway from door to desk creates the appearance that this office is a converted broom closet.

It's a beautiful place compared to where Allison could be.

Allison, the former can't-miss pitching prospect from Peabody who once dominated baseball fields locally, statewide and even nationally, has battled a drug addiction since the Florida Marlins drafted him with the 16th overall pick in the 2003 Major League Baseball amateur draft.

He has suffered two heroin overdoses, admitted an addiction to the painkiller OxyContin and was arrested in two separate incidents on back-to-back days in North Carolina last October. His troubles have kept him out of baseball since he finished the 2005 season with the Greensboro (N.C.) Grasshoppers, a minor league affiliate of the Marlins.

But the former Peabody High standout and All-American is on the road to recovery. He is living locally again and says he has been clean for six months.

"It was almost like, 'Who am I? What am I doing right now? This isn't me,'" Allison, 22, said of his most troubling times. "After all that stuff happened, it was like a kick in the butt.

"It was almost like a voice, like a Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder saying, 'Try to live a normal life again. There's a reason why you didn't die - and really that's the word for it. There's a reason you're still here; let's try to do something.' I heard that and decided I'm going to try."

Staying clean

Allison walked out of the Florida Marlins' minor league complex during spring training last year and hasn't returned to professional baseball since. It has been reported that Allison failed multiple drug tests for the team and has twice been put on the restricted list, where the Marlins retain rights to his contract but don't have to pay him. (He was given a $1.85 million signing bonus by the team in 2003).

He remains on the restricted list to this day, but he's aiming for a return to baseball. He's working for Steve Silva at Extra Innings, providing pitching lessons to young baseball players. He has added 20 pounds of muscle to his body and is throwing regularly off a mound.

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