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Steroids still occupy center stage as players report to camps
Usually, the start of spring training is a time of clean slates, sun-splashed fields and endless hope.
Not this year.
Steroids were the No. 1 topic Tuesday, when the new Washington Nationals, the New York Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds opened camp.
"It doesn't go away, unfortunately," Yankees manager Joe Torre said in Tampa, Fla.
Pitchers and catchers on seven more teams report today, and workouts begin Thursday, 45 days before the World Series champion Boston Red Sox and Yankees play the major league opener April 3. The Minnesota Twins will be the last team to report, on Sunday,
Ken Griffey Jr. ran for the Reds' medical staff in Sarasota, Fla., showing how far he has recovered from surgery on his torn right hamstring. Pedro Martinez, an early arrival at the New York Mets' camp, worked out in Port St. Lucie, Fla. And Trot Nixon kept up the Yankees-Red Sox sniping, saying of Alex Rodriguez: "He can't stand up to (Derek) Jeter in my book or Bernie Williams or (Jorge) Posada."
The Nationals had the most complicated journey to spring training. After 36 seasons as the Montreal Expos, the team morphed into Washington's first major league team since the expansion Senators became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season.
Owned by major league baseball since early 2002, the team was uncertain of its fate for three seasons before the move to the nation's capital was finalized in December.
"It's been a long journey," catcher Brian Schneider said. "We've wanted this for a while, and it's here now. We're ready for it, that's for sure."
As camps opened, there was a new steroid report. The New York Daily News said Tuesday that an FBI agent in Ann Arbor, Mich., told baseball security head Kevin Hallinan about 10 years ago that Jose Canseco and other players were using illegal anabolic steroids.
"I alerted Major League Baseball back in the time when we had a case, that Canseco was a heavy user and that they should be aware of it," Special Agent Greg Stejskal was quoted as saying. "I spoke to the people in their security office, Hallinan was one of the people I spoke to."
Calls to Stejskal's office in Ann Arbor and to FBI headquarters in Washington were referred to the Detroit FBI office, where spokeswoman Agent Dawn Clenney said Stejskal and the agency would have nothing to say.
Hallinan was traveling and did not return telephone calls seeking comment. He told the News he never was contacted then about steroid use.
"I have absolute confidence in his integrity," said Sandy Alderson, executive vice president for baseball operations in the commissioner's office. "We are looking into the situation described by the agent to see if we can figure out what exactly took place. There may have been someone else he talked to. There are a number of possibilities. We want to see if there is some reasonable view of his explanation and Kevin's."
Canseco's autobiography, published this week, accused the Yankees' Jason Giambi and others of using steroids.
"I think that the problems that are out there are coming to the surface, which I think is good for baseball," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said in Fort Myers, Fla.
Still, baseball's new drug-testing agreement -- calling for harsher penalties and more frequent testing -- remains in the drafting phase. Baseball management expects the new rules to be in place by the mandatory reporting date, March 1.
"I know that we were well on our way to having serious steroid testing, drug testing, and we still are and we didn't need a book to come out and tell us that we needed to do something," Nixon said.
Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada, among the players accused by Canseco, denied that he used steroids.
"Any inference made by Jose Canseco that I used steroids is complete false," Tejada said in a statement. "I barely knew Jose during his career, so it is ridiculous for him to suggest we ever had discussions regarding their use. I work very hard to keep in shape and any suggestion that I use steroids, or any banned substance, is insulting and not worth discussing further."
At Boston's camp, Nixon wasted little time in adding some boil under baseball's most heated rivalry, joining Curt Schilling in the criticism of Rodriguez.
"He's done some great things on the field. He's one of the best baseball players in the game and probably will be when it's all said and done," Nixon said. "But when people ask me about the Yankees, I tell them about Jeter and Bernie Williams and Posada. I don't tell them about Rodriguez."
Rodriguez's spokesman, Steve Fortunato, said he could not reach A-Rod for comment.
As for Griffey, the Reds will have a better idea of Griffey's strength and flexibility after he has a physical on Wednesday. The 35-year-old center fielder tore the hamstring from the bone while making a sliding play in the outfield last August. Doctors reattached his hamstring using three screws.
Across the state, Martinez showed up at camp last week -- 10 days early -- and was back at the Mets' complex Tuesday, playing long toss on a minor league field before spending hours in the weight room.
Already he's thrilled with New York's strength and conditioning program.
"What really caught my attention the most is how hard they work -- so early," Martinez said. "I know I'm going to get a full workout here. No nursing here."