Since he was promoted from the Pirates' Latin-American academy in 2012, Starling Marte has become a mainstay for the Pittsburgh outfield, and an All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner. But after playing in at least 129 games for each of the past four seasons, Marte missed 80 games this year after a suspension for testing positive for Nandrolone. He speaks with Marly Rivera about taking responsibility for the suspension, returning to the team and his words for young ballplayers.
You grew up in the poor community of Villa Mella, lost your mother when you were a child and grew up with your grandmothers and your aunts. How was it growing up surrounded by all those women?
I have a fabulous family; they have always supported me. They are always there for me, telling me little things that make me feel good. We are still very close. There were a lot of women! Between my two grandmothers, they had 10 daughters! They have always given me everything I have ever needed, emotionally, mentally, and we get along really well, thank God.
How did growing up like that shape who you are?
Well, they taught me everything. They taught me to get along with people. They have taught me to raise my daughter. I have a little girl now, and I am trying to raise her with the same upbringing they gave me. It has been a privilege to be raised by so many women and almost everything I have today is thanks to them.
What do you appreciate the most about being back in baseball after your suspension?
What I appreciate the most is how I was able to overcome that obstacle, and my relationship with my teammates. It's something that gave me the strength to come back, to put in all my efforts, to continue working hard, to help the team as much as possible. We are all so close; they never get tired of telling me (encouraging) things. Sometimes when I'm feeling low, (Gregory) Polanco, (Francisco) Cervelli, (Ivan) Nova, or any of the guys will come over, because they know that's not who I am, and they lift up my spirits. For me it is a great source of pride to be surrounded by people that can help one another.
How difficult was it to come back and face the fans after the suspension?
It was really difficult. You know, sometimes I couldn't figure out just how to say things. But at the same time I took a deep breath, and I said to myself okay, let's get on with it. I trusted in God that everything would go well. I simply told the truth and thank God, the fans, not everyone, because everyone has their own opinion and I respect that, but many gave me their support. From then on I felt more confident to continue working harder.
How important was your relationship with Polanco and Andrew McCutchen to help you in that process of rejoining the team?
Well, everyone knows that we get along really well. We are a group of outfielders that never shies away from speaking our minds. If we have something to say to one another, we do. Then that person will put that into practice or else we'd say, well, it's not like that; I think this. And that is why we are such a tightknit group. We are able to help each other, we are not afraid to tell each other anything, and that makes us stronger. Our relationship is really strong and we are always together, always talking about little things that we can improve upon.
You said you "made a mistake" and "did not know" how you tested positive. However, nandrolone is a steroid that is consumed by injection. So how do you explain that?
I talked to people from the MLBPA when they called me (to tell me I had tested positive) and they explained everything when we had a meeting. There I was told there are only two methods (of consuming nandrolone): There is a pill, something that many people don't know, and there are injections. I told them that it wasn't by injection because all I do is a vitamin IV infusion, like everyone does. I always buy the infusion at the drugstore, I buy the vitamins there, and I put it on. If it was a pill, then it must have been someone I trusted or someone who told to take this, and I, without investigating, then it happened to me. But the reality is that it was in something that I consumed, and that teaches me to make better decisions about taking anything. I have to ask before I take anything I don't know, asking those who know. But it is very difficult to know how, because as athletes, we consume a lot of things and there could be something there without sometimes one knowing. But in my case, it was my mistake. I don't know how. But I paid for my mistake. I was suspended 80 games. I paid my suspension. And now I'm here again. I'm here giving the best of me.
After that happens to an athlete, after a suspension, do they constantly test you or does it continue with the regular testing process?
It's the normal process. But (every season) I've always had a lot of tests. Whenever they come to me I say, is it my turn? And I get it done. But so far, yes, they have continued in a normal fashion.
What is the biggest lesson you learned that you would like to tell Dominican kids, like those minor league players who just tested positive or anyone who is thinking about taking PEDs?
Well, what I would tell them is to do their research. It costs nothing to ask, to investigate. That is one of the biggest mistakes an athlete can make. Not only in baseball, in cycling, in water sports, in a lot of disciplines. But also never stop putting your faith in God. But you must investigate first. And you have to know what kind of people you surround yourself with. But you have to move on. It's very difficult, you know. It's a mistake that frustrates you. You get countless things in your head. Things happen in your head that you don't want anyone to go through that. But it happened, and you have to pay the price. And then you have to move on. I have actually had the opportunity to talk to many young players.
What did you tell them?
I gave them the same message, to face the music. I made a mistake, I did, but now I have to move on and not allow it to ever happen again. And don't ever stop reaching out to God. There will always be something that will ease your worries. Think about your family. That is the best support one can have, your family. Talk to them. Explain things to them, how it happened. If you don't know how, talk about it, get it out of you, because if you leave it locked up inside it will consume you and you will never be able to move forward. Look at me know, I am here.
How do you see the probabilities of the Pirates making it to the playoffs and how difficult would it be to not be able to be there with them?
Well, I had the best example in front of me last year, when it happened to (Abraham) Almonte (of the Cleveland Indians). I know that for him it was very difficult, really difficult not being able to take part in the playoffs. So far we still have a chance to take this team to the playoffs. We are several games behind (in the wild-card race) but with faith in God the team is going to get better. We will continue to fight hard and we will continue to show that we can climb up and get to the playoffs. Since I can't play, I'll be here or in my house supporting them as much as I can, sending them positive energy, talking to them. I will make them feel that I am supporting them emotionally, and it's all about playing ball, and that's what we know how to do. I will continue to play hard and enjoy doing it. I love being back there in left field with a group of fans who adore me. I am so thankful to God for being a part of this team and it's about moving forward day by day.