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Original Issue

Circus Maximus

Mystery trainer caught in the middle of a steroid spat

JOSEPH DION hardly lives up to Jose Canseco's pseudonym for him. There is nothing Max about the former personal trainer of Alex Rodriguez. Dion is minimalist. His bald silhouette is Mr. Clean. His wholesome diet is Mister Rogers. In a crowded Coral Gables, Fla., restaurant last week Dion ordered a glass of water, salmon and brown rice. The suggestion of dessert by a waiter made his 5% body fat stew.

Dion is a traditionalist. Each day the former U.S. infantryman wakes up at 5 a.m. without an alarm. Before he runs five miles on a beach or crunches through 1,200 sit-ups, Dion treks to Starbucks for his one indulgence: a grande soy latte with two Splenda and a dash of cinnamon. "I don't drink regular milk," Dion explained last week, after confirming to SI that he is the man called Max in Canseco's book Vindicated. "It has too many chemicals from cows."

A load of bull? In Vindicated, Canseco portrays Max not as a devoted purist but as a Canadian-born steroid pusher he knew from his playing days in Toronto, a doping expert whom he personally introduced to Rodriguez and who then "signed on" A-Rod to a training program rooted in chemical enhancement. Dion just shakes his head. "I'm so far away from Max," he says. "Alex was clean when I trained him. I guarantee it. What Canseco wrote is hurtful, yes, because none of it's true." Canseco may also have unwittingly dragged Dion into the perjury investigations of Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada. Canseco was scheduled to meet with federal agents on Tuesday to discuss the players' alleged use of steroids. On Monday, Canseco's lawyer, Greg Emerson, said Canseco was expecting to be questioned about Max's steroid ties. "That's fine," says Dion, whose identity was revealed by last Friday. "I have a clear conscience. I have nothing to hide."

Betrayal is a staple of the BALCO era. Personal fitness gurus have all but become the new mistresses of baseball. They are the "other trainer" in players' secret lives, meeting their clients in hotels on the road and in gym joints. These trusted insiders feed players' egos, heal their bodies with magic potions and enjoy being confidants to superstars.

It's a stirring existence until someone is caught cheating. Some trainers—like Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds's former workout guide—go quietly to the side. Others boil rabbits in a pot. In front of Congress, Brian McNamee testified in detail about shots of Winstrol he injected into his famous client Roger Clemens, saying he squirreled away dirty needles and bloody gauze to protect himself. Although McNamee was once part of the furniture at the Clemens family estate, he has shown no desire to sleep on a prison bunk for his former boss—unlike Anderson, who, federal prosecutors believe, administered a designer steroid known as "the Clear" to Bonds. By refusing to flip for the feds and choosing razor-wire confines over personal freedom for the bulk of 2007, Anderson underscored his unconditional devotion to Bonds.

Scorned or lovelorn? Dion fits into neither category. "I don't know why I'm [in Vindicated]," Dion said. "I think maybe I'm only a middleman in a feud between Alex and Jose." Canseco does not disguise his contempt for A-Rod. In an interview with SI in late March, Canseco denied he was jealous of A-Rod's wealth or angry over a collapsed business partnership. "What made me furious was I know almost for a fact that he had an affair with my wife, Jessica," said Canseco. Said Rodriguez when asked on Sunday about the alleged affair, "I have no comment on that whatsoever."

If Dion knows the seedy details of the Canseco-Rodriguez rift, he doesn't seem ready to spill them. And yet people close to Canseco launched a whisper campaign to explain why Max's real name isn't in the book: Max wanted money from Canseco. "No," says Dion, who maintains he hasn't had any contact with Canseco in years. "I would never take dirty money or get involved writing a book. No. No. No."

Dion describes himself as a hardworking 49-year-old who was adopted in Canada by a Spanish family, grew up in Miami and lives in an apartment with his 92-year-old mother. Most of the clients he sees at a strip mall Miami gym are everyday people who long to ditch their love handles. He still trains a few pros, including Titans linebacker Stephen Tulloch. He also picked up Indians reliever Rafael Betancourt last year. Dion says he was unaware Betancourt had been suspended for violating baseball's antidoping policy in 2005 until he was asked about it last week.

Dion smiles at his days as a trainer to Spanish soap opera stars but doesn't dish on anyone. He is not a gossip. He admits he noticed the Macy's-parade biceps of Canseco in the late '90s, but "it wasn't my business to ask him about it." But Dion says he never suspected A-Rod was unnatural. They were together when A-Rod rented a house one off-season near the beach at Casa de Campo so he could train in the hills of the Dominican Republic. For three hours a day Rodriguez and Dion sprinted, stretched and lifted. Sometimes, the soon-to-be Mrs. A-Rod, Alex's fiancée, Cynthia, joined them on runs.

"He took a nap; I took a nap," Dion said. "He went to his room; I went to mine." Strictly business; nothing personal. To this day Dion doesn't know why A-Rod left him. When Rodriguez signed a $252 million deal with the Rangers in 2001, he stopped calling. "I guess he wanted to try something different," Dion said, noting that they remain cordial.

In the off-season Rodriguez can be found in a red-vinyl booth at the back of the Bagel Emporium diner near the University of Miami. Often Dion is only a few tables away, eating egg whites or cereal. "I'll say, 'Hi, how are you, sir?'" Dion said. "That's about it."

His only visible link to A-Rod is in a plastic binder you'd buy in the school-supplies aisle. Among testimonials he uses for his résumé, Dion has an autographed photo of A-Rod. That picture of health is now under scrutiny because of Canseco's tales of Max.

What's another trainer thrown into the drug traffic? Will the steroid scandal ever be Max-ed out?

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"[A-Rod] was clean," says Dion. "What Canseco wrote is hurtful because NONE OF IT'S TRUE."