By: Thomas Farragher
Original Source: www.bostonglobe.com
As he settled into his couch in Woburn Tuesday night, watching Jake Peavy get chased from the mound in Kansas City in Game 6 of the World Series, Jeff Allison’s mind surely wandered — however fleetingly — to his glory days.
The days of his 95 miles-per-hour fastball. The days when drooling big league scouts huddled behind home plate during high school games, close enough to hear and see the smoky snap of a catcher’s mitt punctuate another perfect pitch, fiery evidence of raw and pure talent.
It was talent that obscured a dark, deadly secret. “I was so young and I was so stupid that I didn’t understand a lot of things, including life itself,’’ he said. “I just didn’t get it.’’
After a high school career for the Peabody Tanners that was the stuff of storybooks, Allison was the first-round pick of the Florida Marlins in 2003, the 16th player selected overall in the Major League Baseball draft.
A month later, a $1.85 million contract in his pocket, he was taking batting practice at Pro Player Stadium in Miami and shagging fly balls with the World Series-bound Marlins. He was just a visiting prospect then. But few doubted he was headed for The Show.
A year later, he was rushed unconscious, laboring for breath, after injecting heroin he had bought at a ramshackle three-decker in Lynn. “I was 19 years old. I thought I could beat anything,’’ he said. “Something so prestigious had happened to me and a few months later I found myself addicted to opiates.’’
I chronicled Allison’s story for a Globe series in 2004, when I spent weeks with a scared and talented and likeable teenager, who was hoping against hope that he could vanquish his addiction. He couldn’t. At least not then.
Allison overdosed again two years later, riding a roller coaster of treatment and relapse, a terrifying journey that concluded in late 2006 when, dodging a warrant for his arrest, he found himself alone, penniless, and shivering in the rain on the side of a lonesome road in North Carolina. “My absolute bottom,’’ he said.
He settled with the law. He got clean. A tattoo on his right arm records the date he got sober: Dec. 4, 2006.
“I’m going to live from that date forward with my demons slowly, slowly, slowly dying,’’ he said.
The Marlins never gave up on Allison. He bounced around their minor league system, rode bush-league buses, and showed flashes of his former greatness. But he never got the call for the big time.
These days, he’s back teaching young kids how to throw a baseball and giving speeches to pin-drop silent school auditoriums about the power of addiction.
“I had a disease and it was a terrible addiction,’’ he told me as we sat on overturned plastic baseball buckets at the Show Baseball & Softball Academy in Lawrence that he helps run. “It almost cost me my life twice and it cost me my family a number of times.’’
I can never forget my discussion with Bob Allison, Jeff’s dad, two years ago when we discussed his son’s addiction. The father did not care about baseball, or whether his son ever appeared in the majors.
“All that matters to me is that my son stay happy, healthy, and lives a good life,’’ Bob Allison told me then.
It’s been a dark and dangerous journey. But Jeff Allison finally seems to have fulfilled his father’s and his family’s wishes. He’s happy. He’s healthy. He loves his life.
It’s a gift more precious than any World Series ring, no matter how bejeweled.
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