Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: St. Louis
Re: Possibly: Pujols Back Friday
I don't think this article was ever posted over here, but this is a good place for it.
By Joe Strauss
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
"I have nothing to worry about."
PLEASANT VALLEY, MO.
The wall inside the entrance to Millhouse AEP is covered with framed autographed photos of major league first basemen Albert Pujols and Mike Sweeney. The player wearing Cardinals red is connected to the area by his upbringing; the other, wearing Kansas City Royals blue, by his current team.
Until last Tuesday the wall also featured pictures of veteran pitcher Jason Grimsley.
The men's lives intersect here at the suburban Kansas City facility run by personal trainer and former coach Chris Mihlfeld. Pujols, Sweeney and Grimsley rarely worked out together, opting for individual sessions. But they came to befriend each other and respect their "guru" Mihlfeld, a local athletic legend who served as strength and conditioning coach for several major league teams, most recently the Royals.
Last week an unpleasant glare followed them all - most harshly Mihlfeld - because of a shadow Grimsley created by his admitted use of performance-enhancing drugs. That's when Grimsley's pictures came down.
"Jason's a friend," Mihlfeld says. "But that's not what I stand for. And the people who come here, that's not what they stand for."
When federal investigators in Phoenix released an affidavit June 6 detailing Grimsley's ties to human growth hormone, steroids and amphetamines, an Internet web site and MSNBC television cited an anonymous source to list Mihlfeld as one of the blacked-out names.
The affidavit quoted Grimsley as fingering "a former employee of the (obliterated team's name) and several Major League Baseball players, once referred him to an amphetamine source."
Grimsley quickly asked for and was granted his release by the Arizona Diamondbacks and on Tuesday received a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball.
"Mike doesn't deserve any of this. Albert doesn't deserve this. I don't deserve this," Mihlfeld said while waiting to start a program at Millhouse.
Pujols addressed the matter Wednesday night.
"It's not about me. It's not about Mike Sweeney. I don't resent this as much for myself as I do for Chris," Pujols said. "He's got no way to defend himself against somebody who puts something out there that's not true.
"I've said before I have nothing to worry about. If they want to test me and Mike, then let's go. I'll do it tomorrow. No problem. But Chris has been put in a really unfair position. I know it bothers him. I hear it every time I talk to him."
Pujols said he would pay any legal fees should Mihlfeld seek redress for being linked to the growing scandal.
"This isn't right," Pujols said. "All Chris wanted was his place and a chance to help kids and help us. He doesn't even want us to pay him."
Pujols addressed his training habits last month, angrily dismissing suggestions he ever had used any artificial help.
(To be safe, Mihlfeld said Pujols recently stopped drinking protein shakes that include Creotine.) Pujols also defended San Francisco outfielder Barry Bonds by reminding that the embattled slugger never has tested positive since the commissioner's office implemented its steroid policy in 2003.
The matter has become an irritant to Pujols, who still leads the major leagues in home runs and RBIs almost two weeks after landing on the disabled list because of a strained muscle in his right side.
"Why would I do something like that to my family? Why would I do something like that to God? Why would I do something like that to my team?" Pujols asked. "Just to try to gain some small extra? It's part of what I believe: What you do in the dark will come into the light. I have nothing to fear. I'm just tired of hearing about it."
Pujols said he has spoken to Mihlfeld numerous times since the trainer's name was linked to the affidavit.
"I don't have too many friends, but Chris is one of my best friends," Pujols said. "To see and hear him go through this bothers me a lot. I just hope when everything comes out they remember what's been done to this guy."
Sweeney began training with Mihlfeld when the trainer joined the Royals' staff in 2003. Last week Sweeney wasted little time confirming his friendship with Grimsley while maintaining he knows the reports about Mihlfeld to be erroneous.
"The only common denominator Albert, Jason and I have is that we train with Chris," Sweeney said. "Unfortunately, a number of people want to point a finger at that common denominator and infer guilt. I know the names of the people on the affidavit. Even before I knew, I would have bet my life savings that none of us three would be on it."
A muscular man who prefers his head shaved, Mihlfeld has spoken to them all while experiencing the G-forces caused by a rocket ride from relative obscurity to an alleged facilitator. A resident of nearby Liberty, Mo., Mihlfeld plans to move his wife and three small girls into a new home soon. Meanwhile, recent reports have complicated his current situation.
Mihlfeld said he has received numerous threatening e-mails since the Internet report appeared. A pick-up truck full of hecklers rolled by his current address last week to shout insults. Mihlfeld's children were outside at the time.
"I know none of it's true but that doesn't make it any less difficult on my wife and children," he said. "That's really the hard part."
Mihlfeld worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Devil Rays before spending 2003-04 with the Royals. Grimsley pitched in middle relief for the Royals from 2001-04.
The affidavit's description fits Mihlfeld neatly, except he says Grimsley and Grimsley's lawyer insist his name appears nowhere in the document.
Grimsley's story broke shortly after Sports Illustrated and Sporting News published profiles about Pujols that in part detailed his strong relationship with Mihlfeld. Last winter Pujols spent weeks working out two to five hours daily at Millhouse with his instructor. The "intense" sessions shifted from cardiovascular work to hitting to weightlifting, sometimes with a lunch break in between.
Performance-enhancing drugs are taboo to Mihlfeld, according to Sweeney. The first baseman said Mihlfeld once threatened to end their relationship if Sweeney accepted a colleague's advice to use a form of steroid to accelerate his recovery from a back injury.
"That's not his way and it's not our way," Sweeney said. "If you have a polygraph or a blood test, any of us - myself, Albert, Chris - we'd be glad to take them because we have nothing to hide."
Mihlfeld had strong words, too, about banned supplements.
"It's a short cut. It's cheating," Mihlfeld said. "I know it's received a lot of attention in the game recently. But Mike and Albert don't take short cuts. These guys are pure. They're Christian men who live their ethic."
As for Grimsley, a popular player with teammates, Mihlfeld said, "He made a bad mistake and he's paying for that mistake. He understands that."
Leased by Mihlfeld, Millhouse AEP opened to the public last January. It's in a corporate-industrial park about 20 minutes northeast of downtown Kansas City. Mihlfeld declines to discuss his financial arrangement with Pujols, but notes his business would not have become reality without the Cardinal first baseman's assistance.
Pujols purchased much of the equipment found within the warehouse-sized operation. Pitching machines, several hitting cages and free weights each have their place.
The business' initials sometimes are mistaken for Pujols' but instead stand for Athletic Enhanced Performance.
Mihlfeld and Pujols' relationship goes far beyond athlete and personal trainer. Pujols speaks of Mihlfeld as "like a brother." Mihlfeld, 37, sometimes speaks of providing a parental influence and often refers to El Hombre as "a great kid."
Pujols and his wife, Deidre, had yet to marry when she introduced him to Mihlfeld in 1998 during Pujols' senior year at Fort Osage High School. Pujols did not yet speak fluent English and Deidre did most of the talking, recalls Mihlfeld, then baseball coach at nearby Maple Woods Junior College. Mihlfeld eventually recruited Pujols to attend Maple Woods but accepted a job with the Dodgers as assistant strength and conditioning coach before Pujols' first junior college game.
The last week's tremors have unsettled a community that remembers Mihlfeld, who first became famous as a sophomore for throwing the final out of Winnetonka High's 1985 state baseball championship.
"When Chris commits to doing something, it's total," says Hank Reese, Mihlfeld's assistant wrestling coach at Winnetonka. "You'd better not be faint of heart if you train with Chris. He'll grind you. Chris is also not one to compromise his values."
Adds Reese: "I saw the reports and read the papers. That was the thing that popped into my head. I can't fathom Mike Sweeney would do anything like this. I can't fathom Albert would, either."
Mihlfeld compiled a .500 record as a sophomore before winning the state wrestling title in the 155-pound weight class as a junior. He then won the 167-pound class as a senior before attending Central Missouri State to play third base and continue his wrestling career. At CMSU, Mihlfeld twice became a Division II national wrestling champion and an All-America third baseman.
"Chris was a hard worker who did more than what was asked," says former Winnetonka wrestling and baseball coach Don Giannola. "He really worked hard to get better. What you see in Albert is the way Chris was. You can see how Chris has influenced Albert that way."
Added Giannola: "I really don't understand who started this. I know what they're saying - (Mihlfeld) is connected with Grimsley, so Pujols must be the same way. That's ridiculous. That's like saying since once politician is corrupt, they all are. They're just trying to find any speck of dirt on anybody and exploit in the papers and television."