The shadow of the steroids issue tints every monster home run hit by a major league baseball player not named Shawn Green. There are guys in college baseball, though, who can pop the ball nearly as far, albeit with metal bats off less-than-professional-level pitching, without raising any eyebrows and attracting few questions as to the validity of their performance.
Such scrutiny wouldn’t be unwarranted, but it appears that very few college baseball players are on the juice. Surprisingly, education about drugs and supplements seems to have more to do with the lack of steroid use than diet or disciplinary regulation by the coaching staff of the Gaucho baseball team.
“I’d say steroid use is very limited at the college level and almost nonexistent,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema said. “We put the players through nutritional meetings and they listen to talks to enhance their nutritional knowledge, but we don’t put them on anything.”
At these meetings, Gaucho senior third baseman Nate Sutton recounted, a school nutritionist goes over things such as how to gain muscle mass and how to stay hydrated, but these dietary hints are merely recommendations and it is up to the players to apply them. Lists of legal and illegal substances and articles about them are posted in the locker room, and the players are encouraged to ask questions before taking any performance-enhancing material.
“It seems like we have to ask about everything, even something like taking a lot of Red Bull before a game could be illegal,” Sutton said, with “illegal” referring to NCAA standards. “Everything’s kind of on your own here, but you know what’s legal and not legal.”
The line gets blurred when new substances are on the market, and college athletes must take caution because the NCAA has banned supplements that are available over the counter at places like GNC.
“The only gray areas happen when new stuff comes out that’s heavily advertised or really hyped,” Gaucho junior right fielder Matt Wilkerson said. “Creatine and protein are pretty much all you can take that’s legal.”
As far as accountability, the NCAA only requires tests for football players and track and field athletes at random during the regular season, but baseball players can be subject to such testing once they reach the postseason. Wilkerson suggests that trainers at UCSB could sense whether or not a player was using steroids because of expected progress in training compared to actual time spent in the weight room.
Fear of getting caught is not the only motivation to avoid steroid use, however. The nature of college baseball is such that it doesn’t make sense to risk everything for only a promise of signing a professional contract, not to mention the generally more realistic promise of a future outside of professional baseball.
“I’m not going to make $2 million if I hit five more home runs this year,” Wilkerson said of the mark that translates to 15 to 20 more home runs over the course of the major league season. “It’d be nice, but it’s not worth it to go to that extreme.”
Sutton echoed Wilkerson’s sentiments, downplaying the temptation to take steroids in college. Brontsema posited that temptation might exist at the college level, but that it would not move most student athletes to take the risk.
“Temptation might start at this level, but it won’t take hold until guys get to the minors where you’re trying to make a living playing baseball,” Brontsema said. “Some guys might think about it a little more once they get there and see what they’re up against.”