The Houston Astros' Jon Singleton, among the top first-base prospects in baseball, is opening up publicly for the first time about his battle with marijuana addiction and his monthlong stay at a rehabilitation center.
"At this point, it's pretty evident to me that I'm a drug addict," Singleton told The Associated Press over breakfast on a recent day near the Astros' camp. "I don't openly tell everyone that, but it's pretty apparent to myself."
"I know that I enjoy smoking weed, I enjoy being high, and I can't block that out of my mind that I enjoy that," he said. "So I have to work against that."
Hours after the AP published its story on Singleton, the Astros released a statement and commended the player.
"We applaud Jon for the courage he has shown in tackling this issue head-on," the team said. "He has displayed a great deal of maturity and commitment over the past year and has the full support of the Astros organization. He is on the right track for his baseball career and, more importantly, for his life. We are very proud of Jon."
Singleton had avoided discussing the subject for more than a year. But on that recent morning, he shared his story with candor and ease, never bristling at the increasingly prying questions. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound native of Harbor City, Calif., sat up straight in a small booth, adjusted the baseball cap he was wearing backward and filled in the details of his private struggle.
The 22-year-old said he's stopped using marijuana and is better now. He is determined to rebound from a season that was all but lost because of his addiction and to make his major league debut.
General manager Jeff Luhnow said Singleton could start the season with the Astros, but it's too early to know. Singleton, a dynamic left-handed hitter with power and composure who can use the entire field, has been playing in big league spring training games and went 0-for-2 on Monday in a 4-0 win over Miami.
"He's still young and still learning about baseball and about life," Luhnow said.
Singleton, acquired by Houston from the Phillies in the 2011 trade for Hunter Pence, was suspended for the first 50 games of last season for a second failed drug test. At the time, it was characterized as simply a mistake or "a lapse in judgment," as his statement said.
That wasn't the full story.
His first positive test came in June 2012, and he said he quit using marijuana for the rest of that season, his first in Double-A. He went on to hit .284 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs.
At season's end, he went to the Arizona Fall League and quickly fell back into old habits.
He knew his situation was dire when he failed a second test in December 2012, but he said he continued to get high every day.
The 50-game suspension came a month later, and he was summoned to Houston to meet with Astros manager Bo Porter and to see a therapist, who evaluated him for addiction. Singleton was then admitted for a monthlong stay at an inpatient rehabilitation center.
"I knew I had a problem," he said. "Even after I failed the second drug test, I couldn't stop smoking weed. It was really bad. Me going there was definitely the best move."
He didn't feel that way when he first entered. Fearing the unknown, he said, he didn't sleep for three days straight.
"They would turn off the lights at 11:30, and I would just sit there and stare at the ceiling because I couldn't go to sleep," he said. "My heart was beating too fast. I would get night sweats. It was bad. I legitimately went through withdrawal."
Singleton desperately wanted to leave and wasn't open to the recovery process.
"But after I was there for so long, it just grew on me," he said. "I was like, 'I'm going to be here for 30 days, so I might as well get the best out of it that I can.' I used it as a learning experience."
At a time when he should have been getting in shape for spring training and a chance to make Houston's major league roster, he instead spent his days attending classes and therapy sessions with other addicts in a program for young adults.
One thing he didn't do: dwell on his missed opportunity.
"Not so much, because I knew I got myself into the situation so I had to deal with it," he said. "It wasn't like, 'I got myself here; now I hate myself.' It was like, 'I got myself here so I can't be mad at anybody but myself.'"
Although just 21 when he entered rehab, he already had a long history with marijuana, having used the drug "on and off" since he was 14. He blamed his start on the culture growing up in the Long Beach area in Southern California, where he estimated 80 percent of his friends knew not only where to get marijuana but how to get it within an hour.
Singleton clearly described his first experience with the drug and how it made him feel. To put it simply, he fell in love with that feeling.
And that's what drove his addiction.
"I guess I just don't like being sober," he said. "I like to change the way I feel."
In rehab, he had to identify why he needed marijuana and how to alter his behavior to avoid its traps.
"I've got to the point now where I know what I am," he said.
His stint in rehab helped him to quit using marijuana, and he said he hasn't smoked since -- a span of more than a year -- even though he was moved to Houston's 40-man roster in October and can no longer be tested for the drug.
Last season, when he made his debut in Triple-A after stopovers in low Class A and Double-A following his suspension, he struggled. He hit just .220 in 73 games, and his demons resurfaced.
"I went through some slight anxiety, some depression because I wasn't being successful," he said. "That was definitely difficult, and that drove me to drink."
He admits to abusing alcohol as a substitute for marijuana, getting drunk almost every day and "waking up hung over every morning."
After the season, he regrouped and prepared for the Puerto Rican winter league.
"I made up my mind to be my best, so hopefully better things happen because I'm not going out drinking and partying and doing all that kind of crazy stuff," he said.
The changes seemed to pay immediate dividends. He hit a league-leading nine homers in Puerto Rico and batted .268.
Singleton reported to Astros camp in good shape and in a better place mentally than last spring, hoping to show he is ready to compete for Houston's first-base job.
The team has been supportive during his battle, but Singleton knows he will have to stay clean to reach his goals.
He isn't receiving treatment for his addiction, isn't in a program and doesn't have someone traveling with him to keep him on track.
Singleton is confident he can avoid further relapses by focusing on his opportunity, keeping better company and avoiding bad situations. He calls his life a work in progress and is focused on not being so hard on himself this season.
"Recently I've been more or less just sticking to myself and worrying about what I need to do to get better and become better as a person, not just a baseball player," he said.
If he's able to do that, the Astros foresee a big future.
"My expectation is that with everything that happened to him, we want to build up the positives from the end of last year," Luhnow said, "and get off to a real good start in Triple-A and then force his way onto the roster in Houston."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.