FARMINGTON — The best of today's Connie Mack players who are destined to advance to college or professional ball will face drug testing regimes at the next level and questions not just about the quality of their performance, but how they attained it.
Baseball has made headlines in recent weeks with suspensions of Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and more than a dozen other major league stars who were linked to performance-enhancing drugs. While a generation ago baseball's stars used steroids to launch home runs, in recent years players have turned to more subtle and stealthy substances, such as human growth hormone and synthetic testosterone.
Even some former Connie Mack World Series players, such as Manny Ramirez, have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs at the pro level. And Florida media reported federal investigators are looking into whether the Biogenesis clinic at the center of the scandal involving Braun, Rodriguez and others, also gave performance-enhancing drugs to high school athletes.
The approximately 200 players in Farmington this week for one of amateur baseball's most prestigious tournaments are not drug tested by the Connie Mack World Series, although some may undergo drug testing by their school districts.
"I've never seen a drug testing program in any summer league or recreational ball program," said Kim Carpenter, chairman of the Connie Mack World Series. "The cost is so prohibitive."
Carpenter, a former baseball coach and administrator at New Mexico Highlands University, said exposure of cheaters is good for baseball and young athletes.
"All of this is positive," he said. "It needs to come out, it needs to be exposed. People have turned the other way for years, and now it's time to face it."
Carpenter said rumors of PED usage have circulated locally, but no athletes using PEDs have been identified.
"We've had rumors within our school district," Carpenter said. "There's been rumors whether or not there's some kids on past state championship teams, whether they've used them. ... Without the testing here, you just never can tell."
The issue remains under the radar at the high school level. For example, Piedra Vista's code of conduct for athletes encourages sportsmanship and discourages drug and alcohol use, but does not specifically mention PEDs. The code of conduct is based on a similar document from the New Mexico Activities Association.
Farmington Schools Superintendent Janel Ryan also serves as president of the New Mexico Activities Association, the state regulatory body for high school athletics. Ryan said the organization is focused on discouraging drug and alcohol use.
"The primary concerns we have in New Mexico are alcohol, marijuana or prescription drugs," she said.
Ryan added: "Schools in New Mexico have not been required to test for steroids or anything like that, but it has not been an issue."
Si Pettrow, manager of the Southern California Renegades, said 28 future big leaguers have passed through his program. None of them have been connected to performance-enhancing drugs.
"We've been very lucky," said Pettrow, a longtime Connie Mack coach known for his baseball acumen as much as his mustache. "I'm sure kids do it. They're into weight lifting and supplements, and some of them may not know the difference."
Farmington Strike Zone manager Adam Morrissey said he had never encountered performance-enhancing drugs on the amateur level.
"It probably happens some places, but I haven't run into it personally," he said.
Jacob Nix, a Renegades pitcher, is committed to UCLA and also plays for Team USA. He said he doesn't like star baseball players sullying the game with performance-enhancing drugs.
"It's embarrassing, especially for such big names in the game," he said. "There's a lot of people who look up to them."
Nix said he wouldn't consider using drugs to get stronger.
"I hear people talk about it, and I don't listen," he said.
Nix and other players will face drug testing in college. The NCAA conducts year-round testing of Division I and II players for anabolic agents, stimulants, street drugs and other substances. Many major colleges have their own testing programs.
High school players who bypass college and enter the minor leagues will find drug testing there. Major and minor league players are subject to a 50-game suspension for a first positive test and a 100-game suspension for a second. A third positive test yields a lifetime ban.
Anabolic steroids are the best-known performance enhancing drug. They promote muscle growth and faster recovery from workouts, but come with many risks, said Dr. Sugar Singleton Marcy of San Juan Health Partners in Aztec. These include shrunken testicles, infertility, erectile dysfunction, baldness, prominent breasts, acne, liver problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even psychiatric disorders.
Human growth hormone is a newer and trendier substance. It is also tougher to obtain and not necessarily helpful to athletic performance, Marcy said.
"All of the studies have shown it hasn't really been conclusively shown to improve strength or endurance," she said. It also carries risks, including heart problems, diabetes and high cholesterol.
Marcy commonly conducts 10 sports physicals a day during busy periods before athletics seasons. Marcy said she had not encountered any local athletes using performance-enhancing drugs.
"I have not seen any students who are using them, and I have not had any students ask about them," she said.
Performance-enhancing drugs have become a widely discussed topic since the publication of former player Jose Canseco's book "Juiced" and revelations sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa used them to break home run records. It's a topic players and coaches will continue to grapple with.
Pettrow said he talks to his players about being good citizens and staying away from performance-enhancing drugs.
"We tell them there's no advantage to it," he said. "It's a disadvantage, because someone's always looking over your shoulder."