Outfielder Boog Powell has a few games left to serve on his 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs this season, but he’s still hoping to clear things up and receive some level of explanation about the positive test.
PEORIA, Ariz. — It’s the voice of a man that feels falsely accused and wrongfully punished. There is fear, anger, frustration and hurt with a tinge of hopeful vindication mixed in as outfielder Boog Powell speaks about this past year.
“It was definitely difficult and that might be an understatement,” he said.
Powell can’t say everything he wants to say about his 80-game suspension for testing positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, a performance-enhancing substance. But he will say the same thing that he’s always said since the day he was notified by Major League Baseball — he never knowingly took the drug and wants some level of explanation about the positive test.
On June 23 after MLB announced Powell’s suspension, he released a statement through the player’s association that read in part:
“I am extremely disappointed to announce that today I have accepted a penalty under MLB’s Joint Drug Treatment and Prevention Program. While I realize this has become a common refrain among athletes faced with such discipline, the truth is I do not know how this substance could possibly have been in my system. I can only say that this is not a reflection of my true character, and those who know me understand the deep respect I have for my fellow competitors and teammates.”
It was his second positive test for a banned substance. In 2014 as a prospect with the A’s, he was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for amphetamines.
With a handful of games left to serve on his current suspension, Powell’s quest for answers is ongoing.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “There is stuff going on where I’m still trying to clear my name and get everything right. But there’s some stuff I can’t discuss about it.”
The feeling of believing he’s innocent while accepting guilt still make his face flush while discussing it.”
“Yeah, it’s definitely frustrating,” he said. “That’s the way things are. Stuff happens to good people, stuff happens to bad people. Unfortunately, I got caught up in the mix and got accused of doing something that I didn’t do.”
At the time the suspension was announced, the Mariners released a statement expressing disappointment in Powell and full support of MLB’s “efforts to eliminate performance-enhancing substances from our game.” Once a suspension has been enforced, MLB typically does not comment on individual cases.
Powell was notified of the positive test early last season. With the process of appealing it ongoing, he was still supposed to play for Class AAA Tacoma until it was resolved. After receiving the call from MLB, he wandered into the office of manager Pat Listach and fell apart. The emotion of it all had overcome him.
“The first day I found out, I went straight to Pat,” Powell said. “I couldn’t play. I found out and I went straight into his office. I was crying and freaking out. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what was going on. Pat definitely helped me through. I wouldn’t be able to play if it wasn’t for Pat.”
Those who have played for Listach in the organization rave about his temperament and how he handles players, but this was a different challenge. It wasn’t a slump or a costly error. This was a player’s reputation and his whole world.
“I just told him that us as an organization, we are going to defend him as a person and he kept saying, ‘I did nothing wrong,’” Listach said. “I told him, ‘If you did nothing wrong, we’ll try to get to the bottom of it and we’ll see.’ I tried to help him out because he was really down.”
Listach could sense Powell’s unyielding anxiety about his situation. He would check in with Powell to see where he was mentally and emotionally.
“Every day,” Listach said. “We chose to take the pressure off him a little bit and bat him in the No. 9 spot. It was affecting the way he played. We did everything we could to help him out.”
When Powell finally accepted the suspension, he was placed in baseball purgatory. He could work out at the Mariners complex in Peoria on his own, but he couldn’t participate in any games.
“There were days when I would wake up and I didn’t even want to come to the field,” he said. “I didn’t want to be around baseball. I couldn’t watch baseball. It really affected me. It brought out the emotional side. But I had to move forward and kept trying to look to this year.”
Because he basically missed half a season of games, Powell played for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League to get those live reps back. It helped that Mariners third base coach Manny Acta is the manager for the team.
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“That was amazing,” Powell said. “Thanks to Manny for that opportunity. It was definitely big. Just talking to all the veteran guys in the Dominican and being around them and seeing how they play baseball and just everything, I loved it. I definitely want to go back.”
Powell hit .245 with a .344 on-base percentage in 42 games, but was hampered by a hand injury that didn’t allow him to swing a bat late in the season. Instead of heading home early, he stayed on the team to try and help make the playoffs.
“I hurt my hand and we faced like 15 lefties in a row and Manny knew my hand was hurting me, so I just turned into a defensive replacement and base runner guy because I couldn’t swing the bat,” Powell said.
There are no issues with the hand this spring and the game reps with Aguilas proved vital.
Powell has played well from the very first game of spring, with eight hits in 14 at-bats and more important, he’s impressed the coaching staff.
“I like what I see offensively,” manager Scott Servais said. “He’s really good in the batter’s box. He can put the bat on the ball, there is power there, he’s driving the ball more. … He’s stood out.”
A year ago, he was the darling of spring training, newly acquired and a sparkplug of athleticism that had been lacking on the roster.
This spring, he’s still on the outside of the roster looking in. An offseason of moves have lowered him on the depth chart.
“Obviously with what happened with the suspension, he’s still got a few games left to serve on that,” Servais said. “Over the course of the year, things change. We’ve certainly got more guys that are capable of doing the types of things that he can do that didn’t play well for us in the big leagues.”
When Powell is reinstated, the Mariners will also face a 40-man roster decision since he will come off the suspended list and need to be put back on. Could he be a candidate to be designated for assignment?
Powell won’t let that uncertainty impact his play. The recent past has shown him that a career in baseball can be fleeting.
“I had it taken away from me in a blink of an eye, so I just look at each day could be your last in this,” he said. “You could get injured or something could happen to where you can’t play baseball. I’m just going to go out there and play with a lot of emotion and be the best I can.”
Meanwhile the possibility closure and vindication in his situation will not leave his mind.
“That’s the hope,” he said. “Just waiting for the day when my name is cleared.”