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A heavy dose of frustration

Just over a year later, Curt Schilling is the only player left standing from the Congressional hearings on steroids.

There may have been truth in what Jose Canseco said about steroid use, but it was coated with an opportunist's sleaze and a weasel's smile.

Mark McGwire became the Incredible Shrinking Man, and followed up his pledge to speak to kids about steroids by disappearing.

Rafael Palmeiro impaled himself on his own pointed finger.

Sammy Sosa's sudden failure to remember even rudimentary English was soon followed by his bat being struck mute, too, in Baltimore, and a year later, Slammin' Sammy has slunk back to Santo Domingo, unemployed and unloved.

And here is Schilling, on the eve of a new season, and in the wake of the announcement of another steroid investigation -- this one called not by Congress but by Major League Baseball and headed by George Mitchell, the former Maine senator and current Red Sox director -- emboldened to speak more forcefully than he did on Capitol Hill, but frustrated that his attempts at changing a needle-scarred terrain -- especially at the high school level -- have so far gone nowhere.

''I don't know what this thing is going to entail," Schilling said, ''and no one else does, either. I have the same questions everybody else does."

What Schilling had that everybody else didn't, or so he thought, was an opportunity to be heard at the center of power after last year's hearing. He served on an advisory panel to the committee. Also on that panel was Don Hooten, father of Tyler Hooten, the Texas high school athlete who hanged himself after taking steroids, and the parents of Rob Garibaldi, another young steroid user who took his own life. Major League Baseball has given $1 million to the Hooten foundation, which is dedicated to enlightening kids about the risk of steroid use.

''There are a lot of things that can be done," Schilling said, ''but I found out very early on that this committee was more about 'let's come up with some cool ideas and pass them along' -- as opposed to the parents' reaction on the committee, who felt like me, 'Let's do something.'

''I don't want to fly to D.C. and sit for six hours and walk away and say, 'That's a neat idea,' and nothing gets done. That's a waste of everybody's time and tax dollars."

Schilling had some ideas, namely to consider a random testing program for all high school athletes, but he acknowledges that the funding for such programming would be prohibitive. But he frets about the high school football star in, say, Pennsylvania, who dreams of playing for Penn State and in the NFL, and if steroids get him there, why not? He talks about parents and coaches needing to be educated and involved, and kids being accountable, but now, on this day, it was back to talking about Barry Bonds, who got a free pass from Congress last spring presumably because he was still the subject of a federal investigation. But there are no free passes for Barry now.

Schilling, who once had the same agent as Bonds and said they were friends when they were younger -- the players and their wives had dinner together at least once -- said to some extent he feels sorry for what Bonds is going through.

''I feel bad for anybody going through this," he said.

But there is a limit to his sympathy -- for Bonds, for McGwire, for anyone else who might have stuck a needle in his butt, or slipped ''The Clear" under his tongue, or rubbed ''The Cream" on a muscle.

''From anybody's standpoint who hasn't done anything like this, it's very black and white," he said. ''If somebody writes a book and says I did cocaine, well not 30 seconds after I hear this I'm going to call my lawyer and sue for slander and libel, and we're taking this person to the cleaners, because it's not true. Isn't that what you do in that situation?

''My understanding of [Bonds's] lawsuit is that he wasn't disputing the facts. To me, it's very cut and dried, either he did it or didn't do it, because they're ruining everything about him, tainting everything he's done."

Schilling liked McGwire. Most people do.

''I look at him and say, if he didn't do it, it's a no-brainer," said Schilling. ''Just say, 'Absolutely not.' But he couldn't say that. If he couldn't say that, that leads you down the road to another answer, which sucks. He answered all the questions I had about him that day."

And now, there will be many more questions that will take investigators down many other roads, in search of answers that will undoubtedly bring pain and shame to a good many people as yet unnamed.

''The hard part is, all of the extremes are coming into play now," said Schilling. ''Guys are saying who didn't do it, who did do it, it's racist, it's this or that."

It is the face of baseball in 2006, with a needle sticking out from just under the seams.

Indians betting big on Sizemore

Mr. Cleveland? That would be 23-year-old center fielder Grady Sizemore, who last week was signed by the Indians to a six-year, $23.45 million contract the team says is the richest ever given to a player with fewer than two years in the big leagues. Almost. In March 1998, the spring after Nomar Garciaparra was named American League Rookie of the Year, then-Sox general manager Dan Duquette, in a visionary (and ultimately economically beneficial) move, signed Garciaparra to an extension worth a guaranteed $23.25 million over five years. With the option years, that contract totaled close to $45 million.

Indians GM Mark Shapiro, who acquired Sizemore as a Single A player in the Bartolo Colon trade with the Expos -- for which he was almost universally crushed in the media -- sees Sizemore as the same type of franchise player that Duquette foresaw Garciaparra as.

''Everything we do, we have to bet on the right people," Shapiro said. ''Grady is a guy who typifies our approach to winning. He sets the tone for the way this team plays and the way it wins. I know this contract won't change that."

Just as the Indians locked up their top young talent back in the '90s when they had the Albert Belle-Manny Ramírez-Kenny Lofton-Omar Vizquel-Jim Thome powerhouse teams, they are doing so again, committing over $76 million to pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Jake Westbrook, catcher Victor Martinez, shortstop Jhonny Peralta, and Sizemore.

Josh Bard, the new Sox backup catcher who played with Sizemore in Cleveland, said it was a great move by the Indians.

''To me, Grady is what a young player should be," said Bard. ''He's an ultra-talented young player, a super humble guy, he plays the game the right way, he plays hard, he expects to do well, not in a cocky way. ''More than anything, he's just a good teammate."

Wells will be ready to come up with a new pitch

David Wells, who turns 43 May 20, was musing last week about his plans for retirement after this season, and whether he'll miss the game. One way he might stay in the game, he said, is as a broadcaster (get that seven-second delay ready).

''I've talked to a lot of guys who are out of the game and they missed it," he said, ''the fellowship, the cutting up, having fun. Yes, I'm going to miss it, but there are a lot of things I've missed over the years that I've wanted to do in the summertime, spending time with the kids, that type of stuff.

''I created other opportunities for myself to do other things with the ranch, hunting, something I'd love to do, but I'd like to get back in the game some. Whether it be broadcasting, doing something with pitching -- obviously I kind of know what I'm doing, or I wouldn't have been around this long. I know I can help others out. So it's not out of the question. But I'll take it easy, relax a year or two."

Wells was not in Clearwater, Fla., last Sunday when Josh Beckett objected to what he thought was some unnecessary posing at the plate by young Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who in his defense said he was trying to pick up the flight of the ball. But Wells said he was definitely siding with Beckett.

''If you watch a lot of basketball, a lot of football, you see these guys showboating all the time," Wells said. ''I don't think it's good for the game, sitting there and admiring something, because guys take their jobs seriously, especially pitchers. I don't go out and show guys up when I strike them out, you know, in a big situation, bases loaded. I get excited, but I don't sit there looking at the hitters.

''Pedro [Martínez] stares at the hitters. A lot of these guys sit there and pimp a home run or do something. I've just never been a big fan of that. I've let people know, if you admire something, I'm either going to drill you or I'm going to put you on your back, because that to me is disrespect."


Mutual admiration
Trent Durrington's first minor league manager when he came over from Australia? Joe Maddon, now in his first year as a big-league manager with the Devil Rays. ''He's just a positive guy, he'll bring positive air to anything," Durrington said. ''A great guy, on and off the field. There are not words to describe how he is on the field. He's up front, he communicates, no b.s. I think that's enough said, really." Maddon has fond memories of Durrington in the Angels system. ''One of my originals, when he came over from Australia," Maddon said. ''He's wonderful. A live body, a little guy that still runs well, works a good at-bat, a great teammate, a good guy to have on your team. He's a big character. He works so hard, insatiable work habits, and he used to play hard, on and off the field."

Nothing but the best
Maddon, who replaced Lou Piniella, insists he's undaunted by being in the loaded AL East. ''I love to be in this division, I swear to God, I do," he said. ''If you want to be the best, you got to beat the best. Playing against the better teams like this is going to make us better sooner."

Snow days
Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, who was the Giants' assistant GM when J.T. Snow was there: ''Best defensive first baseman I've ever seen since I worked in baseball. A clutch hitter, too. He remade himself at Pac Bell, because when we got him, his power was to right, right center, which means it's more difficult there to hit home runs. He adjusted, went the other way, hit more doubles. He's special to the people in San Francisco because he was one of our linchpins after '96."

His bat isn't first-class
Colletti is effusive in his praise for the way Garciaparra has adapted to first base. ''He's so athletic, he's made plays over there that make him look like a 10-year veteran," said Colletti. What he didn't talk about was Garciaparra's bat, which has just looked old this spring. Garciaparra had just two extra-base hits, both doubles, and one RBI in 55 at-bats while hitting just .236, and showed little of that line-drive power that made him such a force here. Maybe it's because he has focused so much on learning a new position, but second baseman Jeff Kent, who just signed a contract extension, could move over to first base when Cesar Izturis returns. Izturis, thought to be out until July after elbow surgery, is way ahead of schedule and could go on a minor league rehab in a couple of weeks.

Word to the wise
In the wake of the explosive rape allegations against the Duke lacrosse team, a story that also has powerful racial and class themes, it is useful to note that the Sox, for the second straight spring, had Peter Roby and fellow staff members from the Center for the Study of Sport in Society address the team's minor leaguers as part of its Mentors in Violence Prevention Program, which specifically deals with gender issues. The Sox and Patriots have both participated in the program, as do the Blue Jays, but MLB would send a strong message if it required all 30 teams to take part in this or a similar program.

Tiger tales
One big-league scouting report on Curtis Granderson, the new Tigers center fielder who not only beat out incumbent Nook Logan for the job, but indirectly was responsible for Logan's surprise demotion to the minors: ''He's a nice player, not a great player, but he's going to be a nice player. He's got great makeup, makes the most out of his ability. He's been a steady player for a while. He clearly won the job. He's always caught up with the leagues he's played in." But the drums continue to bang loudest in Tigers camp for kid pitchers Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander. ''They're special," said an AL executive who watched them frequently this spring.

Hollywood ending
David Eckstein, who still looks like everybody's little brother and is coming off a terrific season in St. Louis, had an eventful offseason. Eckstein got married to actress Ashley Drane, whom he met while playing in Anaheim. She has been a regular on ''Blue Collar TV" and among other credits has appeared on ''That '70s Show."

Pecking order?
Two season ticket-holders who ordered a Phillies highlight DVD were sent instead a Spanish-language cockfighting video. The club apologized for the unexplained occurrence.

Abbott and Costello revisited
And a true ''Who's on first" story, as related by Tony Jackson of the Los Angeles Daily News.

Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo's best friend in the organization is minor league infielder and fellow Taiwan native Chin-Lung Hu, who was walking across the clubhouse when veteran center fielder Kenny Lofton spotted him.

''Hey Kuo, who's that guy you been hanging out with?" Lofton said.

''Hu," Kuo said.

''The guy you been hanging out with," Lofton said.

''Hu," Kuo repeated.

''That guy I saw you with yesterday," Lofton said.

''Hu," Kuo said yet again.

Finally, laughing Dodgers prospect Matt Kemp explained it to Lofton.

''No, no, it's like this," Kemp said, waving his arms to emphasize his point. ''Hong-Chih Kuo hangs out with Chin-Lung Hu."

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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