When he reported to the Class A Greensboro (N.C.) Grasshoppers last month, Marlins prospect Jeff Allison was given a shadow: pitching coach Steve Foster. The decision to have the two live together had little to do with baseball. Foster, a 38-year-old former Reds pitcher, spent last year running a youth ministry in the Dominican Republic, and Allison, 20, was a man in need of guidance and redemption. The Marlins' top draft pick in 2003 had been out of baseball for over a year fighting an addiction to the painkiller OxyContin (SI, Dec. 20). "What I've witnessed is a person that has a clean life," Foster said of Allison last week. "I'm with him about 24 hours a day. I've witnessed nothing but a gentleman's spirit."
Last Thursday, in his first start since August 2003, Allison showed he also still possesses a pretty good right arm. Though his fastball topped out at 92 mph--about five mph below what he threw in high school in Peabody, Mass.--Allison had a sharp curveball and an effective changeup. He gave up three runs on seven hits and struck out three Delmarva Shorebirds. "I'm still getting through this right now," Allison says. "It's really tough, but I've got to deal with it. I became a man. I had to grow up quick. Now it's time to just move on."
LYNN HEY/AP (ALLISON)
Allison was lifted after throwing 69 pitches in five innings in his first outing for the Grasshoppers.