Players split on who might have taken steroids

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- It's 30 minutes before the biggest game of the season and the kids from the French Creek Valley American Little League team are arguing about who's on "the juice."

Apple juice? Gatorade? Tang, perhaps?

No, these kids are talking about which big-time slugger might be on steroids, proving that even the littlest of Little Leaguers isn't immune from the controversy engulfing the majors.

"I think it's cheating," French Creek Valley player Mitchell Wood said before his team played recently in the Pennsylvania Little League tournament for 9- and 10-year-olds in Bellefonte.

Organizers of the Little League World Series, the tournament for 11- and 12-year-olds starting Friday in South Williamsport, expect talk about steroids to come up there, too.

"We're disappointed and concerned with what message that it's sending to Little Leaguers," said Stephen Keener, president of Little League Baseball and Softball. Keener says Little League, which doesn't test players for drugs, has no plans to address the steroids issue during the series.

To the boys from French Creek Valley, at least, it's all about answering "Who's on the juice?"

Taking a break under a tree as teammates took batting practice, several French Creek Valley players rattled off a list of names they'd seen hit home runs on the nightly highlights over the year.

Mark McGwire? "Yeah," some say in unison while a couple others say "No." McGwire has denied using illegal performance-enhancing drugs but refused to do so under oath while testifying before Congress in March.

Sammy Sosa?

"I think Sammy's too good a guy," says 10-year-old David Bradley about the Baltimore Orioles outfielder who denied having used performance-enhancing drugs at the same congressional hearing.

Bradley's teammate John Macken interrupts.

"No, he's on the juice, David," the 10-year-old says.

Macken is even more convinced about Sosa's teammate, Rafael Palmeiro, suspended 10 days earlier this month for violating Major League Baseball's new steroids policy.

"He's a great ballplayer, but what he did wasn't right," Macken said.

Many coaches say steroids doesn't come up when the teams are practicing, and they don't address it as a team.

"During practice, we're all business," said Mike Houston, manager of the 9- and 10-year-old team from Upper Darby. "But they see it on TV. They know what's going on."

In Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, a few kids teased fellow Little Leaguers if they went deep during a home run derby, said Little League coach Greg Courdy.

"If a kid sees someone on TV hit a 450-foot homer, they'll say that guy is on 'roids," Courdy said. "But other than that, it's not a big issue."

Back in Bellefonte, Chris Smith, a coach on the local Little League team, says he talks about steroids with his 10-year-old son, Taylor.

"We tell him he has to work hard, and he does work hard," says Smith, who was a spectator at the Bellefonte tournament.

"It's not worth it right?" Smith asks as he turns to his son, who is nibbling on pretzel. He shakes his head side-to-side,
signaling a no.

Taylor's favorite player?

"Barry Bonds," he says. "I don't really know why I like him."

While the injured San Francisco Giants slugger and single-season home run king has publicly denied using steroids, he told a federal grand jury investigating steroid distribution by the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative that he used substances prosecutors believe were illegal performance enhancing drugs, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Keener says parents must address the steroids issue first with their kids. As far as Little League, a statement on its Web site says the use of performance-enhancing substances "is completely contrary to the mission and ethics of Little League."

"The 'even playing field' is and always has been Little League's goal," Keener said in the statement.

Boys being boys, some Upper Darby Little Leaguers just couldn't stop kidding each other.

Pat Vanderslice, 10, suggested that teammate Aaron Ross, the team's best hitter, "was on the juice -- the O.J.", he said,
drawing laughs.

Ross smiled, turned to his teammates and said, "No, it's just Wheaties."