July 23, 2009
I'm Jim Parque, former major-league pitcher, and I took human growth hormone.
I know that in admitting to this, I am a cheater, a villain and nothing more than a drug user in the eyes of the media and some fans.
I cannot and will not ever speak for other players, as this is my story, my life and my career. The decisions I made are mine to deal with, and I take full responsibility for them. They are decisions I'm not proud of, decisions that haunt me to this day, but decisions you might have made if presented with the same circumstances and pressures.
For those of you who would have made the right decision, you have my utmost respect, and we all could learn from your strength and integrity.
But in making this admittance, I am opening up the real Jim Parque. I wasn't paid for this story, nor am I looking to benefit from it. I live a simple life in Washington state -- hunting, fishing, hacking away on the golf course and coaching kids. The days of pitching in front of 50,000 fans are long gone, but I am content being a husband and father to my two beautiful daughters. Through my story, I hope fans will understand the man behind the uniform, the regret I live with every day and the lesson kids can learn.
I want to take you back to 2000, the best year of my career, the year that took me thousands of hours, failures and sleepless nights to accomplish.
I broke into the big leagues at 22. I was catapulted into the spotlight because of my ability to spot an average fastball, work hitters and put them away with efficient offspeed pitches. I was never a front-line starter, but a middle-of-the-rotation guy that gave his team six innings and kept the score within reach. But in 2000, I went 13-6 with a 4.28 ERA and was given the ball to represent the great city of Chicago against the Seattle Mariners in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
Everything I had ever wanted came down to this game. All the Little League games, the high school games, the long travel all over the nation, the mechanical work, the physically exhausting workouts -- they all prepared me for this one game.
I gave it all I had, something my dad had taught me to do as a young boy during long practices in the city parks of La Crescenta, Calif. It was supposed to turn out like I had dreamed about since I was 5, but it did not. It ended in tragedy, leaving a broken man with a shattered career.
It was the sixth inning. There were two outs, and John Olerud was up. I had retired the last nine batters I had faced and was on my way to securing a Chicago victory. I threw a slider, striking him out looking, but I felt a pop in my left shoulder. I returned to the dugout filled with adrenaline, but the fear of the unknown clouded my thoughts. I had sacrificed so much for my dreams -- no girls or partying in high school, a limited social life, sacrificing a normal life for the rigors of baseball -- and just like that, with one pitch, it was all gone.
I spent that offseason rehabbing and then flew to Chicago on Jan. 1 to see team doctors because my shoulder was not healing. I got bad news. I had a torn labrum that needed rehabilitation. I started the 2001 season off poorly, going winless before shutting it down in May. Surgery followed, and I rededicated myself to coming back stronger than ever.
Work, work and more work. Pain, pain and more pain. And for what? A shoulder that gave me a 75 mph fastball, a below-average high school curveball and an eephus-like changeup that registered in the low 60s. I came into spring training in 2002 as a starter. I did everything I could, but the shoulder just did not respond. As a result, I was sent to the minors.
Where was my mind then? I felt disgusted, bitter, guilty and -- most of all -- scared. Scared was the key word. I was married, had a child on the way and had bills to pay. For the first time in my life, baseball potentially was going to end. I had eaten and breathed baseball for 20-plus years, and now it was being ripped from my soul and I could do nothing to stop it. The mind was there, but the body was not.
What was I going to do? I had no job skills, no experience in the real world. I had given this game everything I had, and it was all I knew. The competition, being a part of something bigger than myself -- I wasn't willing to give up those things.
The father in me was racing to find an alternative in an effort to provide for my family. The player was screaming that failure was not an option and never was. It wanted baseball to stay and would stop at nothing to preserve my livelihood. These two people lived within Jim Parque, and it ultimately proved to be too much of a struggle to make the right decisions as a baseball player.
Bad decision No. 1 came when I acted like a baby and lashed out against my general manager, Kenny Williams. He knew my shoulder was not ready and made the right decision to leave me off the roster. But at the time, I could not handle it.
So, Kenny, as I have stated personally to you, I publicly apologize for putting you through what I did, mainly because you were the one responsible for giving me a chance. Your ability to separate the personal relationship we shared from business is a testament to why the White Sox won a World Series and have continued to be productive.
I was released by the Sox in 2002, closing the door on a place I still consider home and often think about. I proposed to my wife, made a home and performed for thousands there. It is a great city, possessing the nation's most loyal fans, and is truly America's greatest sports town. To be provided the opportunity to perform for four years in Chicago and win the hearts of fans and feel their pain are things I will remember until I take my last breath.
At the end of 2002, I was still unable to break a pane of glass with my fastball. During a rough season, I learned how to pitch, as I improved my control and mental game. But it proved to be inadequate to get back to being an everyday starter. Faced with no takers during the offseason, an emptiness began to engulf my life. I feared the unknown. My career was shattered, and I had no real-world job skills. What was I going to do? I had a family to provide for, a young daughter to raise and no future.
Now hold on: For those of you who think all baseball players make bank, the media concentrates on the large salaries marquee players make. Trust me, if I was good enough to make that upper-echelon salary, I would have said, ''See ya,'' but I needed baseball for my family and for myself.
I made good money, but it was not enough to retire on or feel financially secure for the rest of my life. I was in my prime working years, and all I kept thinking was, ''What the hell am I going to do for the rest of my life?'' Crazy thoughts go through your mind when a lifelong journey is ending.
With my career in jeopardy, I turned to performance-enhancing drugs, like some other players did. I never had needed them before, but with a shoulder that wouldn't heal, it was realistically the only thing I could turn to.
Work harder, you say? Take vitamins and get in better shape? Did it, and I was rewarded with pathetic Triple-A stats, a fastball now in the low 80s and an average high school curveball.
I prided myself on working hard every day, eating properly and taking care of my body. For those of you who think otherwise, have you ever seen me in person? I stand 5-11 and weigh 185 pounds. I graduated high school at 5-5, 132 pounds. I looked like William Hung, another reason I spent many a dateless night in high school.
HGH was not banned by Major League Baseball when I ordered it. It was controversial and unethical, but it was not banned. When the HGH arrived, it was unmarked -- just some needles and vials. I was very nervous about injecting the substance because it was unmarked. The needles and boosters looked like they were for an elephant, and some of the vials contained fluids with different consistencies and colors. All of this was contrary to the information I had researched on the Internet, as I knew very little about performance-enhancing drugs or injecting them. However, I trusted that what I ordered was what I received, but these surprises raised a red flag.
I had done just enough research to know that what I was about to do had huge risks. Because I did not obtain the drugsfrom a lab, they could be tainted or entirely different than what I ordered. I was uncomfortable, but I injected the substance about six times. It immediately made me sleep deeper. My skin became baby-soft, and I could feel my workouts improving. It never gave me more strength or bulked me up, but it provided quicker recoveries. I began to throw harder because my shoulder felt no pain. I was able to withstand more throwing, creating a work environment that I had not experienced in two years.
The negative thoughts of baseball ending were soon replaced with a euphoric sensation that I would resurrect my shattered career and be able to provide, once again, for my family. However, because I took only a few injections, the results were short-lived.
I could have continued to use the rest of the HGH to stay competitive. I could have continued to put my body at risk, but I did not. I realized that my priorities were not focused on my family. The euphoric feelings that HGH provided were false and clouded my ability to think clearly. I also felt I was risking long-term health issues that could jeopardize my family. I am proud of the fact that I put my family first during this time, but I made the wrong decisions from the start as a baseball player.
Kids should learn from my poor and unethical decisions, as everything steamrolls downhill when one enters into the world of drugs. Although HGH is considered a mainstream pharmaceutical, it still is a drug, and any time you inject yourself with an unknown substance, things can go wrong.
I want everyone to know that I fully understood what I was doing, the ramifications of the unethical decisions I made and how it potentially could cast a dark shadow over my career. For that, I truly feel sorry. Although I did not truly know if the drug I took was, in fact, HGH (although I am confident it was because of the way my body felt after the injections and my Internet research), I still chose to inject it, and I am fully responsible for my actions.
In 2006, a year and a half before the Mitchell Report broke, I spoke to about 100 kids and parents at my baseball training facility about drugs and the pressures they will face when they enter the next level. Unsolicited, I fully admitted taking HGH and openly talked about everything that surrounded my unethical decision. It is my belief that I am a role model and teacher, but people often forget that good teachers allow their pupils to learn from their mistakes as well as their successes.
I played the game all-out. I never held back, and that is how I lead my life and train kids. Am I living with regret? Yes, but by coming forward and telling my story unsolicited, fans can see why I made these decisions. They were the wrong decisions, but everyone can learn from them. Hopefully, I can move on and continue to stay passionate about building young baseball careers.
I have never asked anyone to agree or disagree with my decision to take HGH -- just to take into account the personal struggles and pressures I faced. But for those of you who rightfully are disagreeing with my unethical decisions, have you ever done anything unethical or illegal in your life? My question does not take into account if you were caught or accused. Have you ever made a poor decision that compromised your integrity, ethics or the law? Does that make you a bad person? Does it define you as a person? Is everything you ever did in your career now tainted?
Welcome to my world and the world that some of us major-leaguers have created for ourselves. Live with it, deal with it and move on -- those are the only things we can do. I just thank God I am still healthy and now have two beautiful daughters and a wife who still loves me. Whether you agree with what I did, I hope you will respect that I ''manned up'' and faced my fears by coming out unsolicited.
For those of you who still are thinking I did have a choice, you are correct. I fully agree. It was the wrong decision from a pure sporting standpoint. I should have walked away from the game and entered the real world. I should have been a better man and turned the HGH down.
But I still have to ask you this, husband-to-husband, father-to-father and man-to-man: What would you have done?
You have a bleak future and a family to provide for. You are taking a substance that is not banned. You can live your boyhood dreams. Millions of dollars, glory and fame are there for the taking. If you take the non-banned substance, you hold on to your job -- a job that is all you have ever known. If you do not, you enter an unknown world with no known path to success.
The pressure was unimaginable. I would wake up the day after a loss, knowing there was little I could do to get my body back. I literally would throw up because of the utter disgust I had for how my career was going and how I was failing. There were nights I would walk Michigan Avenue at 3 a.m., searching for a way to get my arm back. When you have the world at your fingertips and it all comes crashing down, it humbles you and makes you realize life is as brutal as it is captivating.
Our childhood circumstances help make us the adults we are. I grew up poor. My father was a hard-working man who gave everything he had to his family and had very little to show for it. My mother, a Vietnamese immigrant, worked at a sewing factory in Chinatown, riding the bus to and from work. We struggled considerably as a family from unemployment, long work days and very few material possessions.
I never wore designer clothes, never knew the right people and got no respect outside of the baseball field. However, when I put on a uniform, it energized me and gave me respect and a future. That is why I worked hard at baseball -- to have a better life. Was I willing to give that up? Was I willing to put my family's future at risk?
No. A good man will do what it takes to ensure his family is happy and their future is bright -- as long as it is not hurting others.
''As long as it is not hurting others'' is the quandary I struggled with when I decided to take HGH. Who am I responsible to, the game or my family? Even though the game gave me a lot, my family means everything to me, and I must put them first. Were they going to starve if I stopped playing? No, but I did not want to sacrifice our lifestyle or put them in a situation in which ''the unknown'' was dictating our future.
Did I hurt people? Did I disgrace baseball? Yes, but I was trying to preserve a financial future, keep my family's lifestyle intact and keep a lifelong journey alive.
Eventually, I made the move into the real world. I took what I learned from those dark days and have made the transition successfully. They say, ''Do something you love, and you will be successful,'' and I am, once again, living the dream. I train kids, college players and a few professionals in Washington state at my indoor facility called Big League Edge -- no pun intended. Each of the 2,500 players I have trained has been exposed to my successes and failures. I want to share every aspect of my baseball life so they can learn from me.
When the Mitchell Report broke, I held an academy-wide meeting that was open to anyone. Hundreds came, and I talked about the report and my involvement. A funny thing happened after that meeting: Enrollment at my facility rose almost 30 percent. I could not understand why, but one parent summed it up best:
''Jim, we look to you to lead our kids,'' I was told. ''This does not mean you have to be perfect, but when you stood up there under the unimaginable pressures you faced that day and took the time to talk to us and address our kids -- that, to me, spoke volumes about how much you care about kids and their well-being. You made a bad decision. However, it was something you did for your family, and we as fans do not always understand that side of things.''
I understand that people will not be able to forgive or forget, as major-leaguers are supposed to be superhuman and perfect role models. That is what we ballplayers sign up for when we walk onto a major-league diamond.
This is my story, and I hope that at least I have better informed you of the athlete's side of this controversial issue. It does not justify our actions, but as men behind the uniforms, we feel the same things as everyone else. We are all vulnerable, need friends, enjoy family and love to laugh. I hope my story starts conversation and encourages others to talk about their past decisions.