The Muscle Men

Page 2 of 9

Athletes make personal sacrifices, but even if they don't get paid millions of dollars, they get to play a game for a living.

So desensitized are we to steroid talk and hearings that new news seems like old news. Many fans would rather not hear about the latest players linked to clinics or dirty clubhouse assistants. These fans wonder, "Who's the victim?"

The first time he got the package in the mail, he wasn't sure what to do with it. "There were a bunch of little bottles of liquid and syringes," he says. "Each stack had six or seven different things in it. Growth hormone, testosterone, muscle builder, stuff to balance it all out. It was more complicated than I expected."

He is a minor-league baseball player we'll call J. He is exactly the kind of client the rejuvenation centers were built for, according to investigators. He received drugs from Signature Pharmacy at least three times. His name appears on records seized from Signature during the raid but has not been disclosed publicly or, to his knowledge, to his team. Last month, at his apartment in Palm Beach County, he agreed to discuss his steroid use on the condition of anonymity.

J says he paid about $1,000 per stack. A "stack" is a combination of steroids and HGH that comes as a package. It's generally used for a one-month workout cycle. When his first stack arrived, he says, he called a number he had for Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center to figure out how to use it. "I didn't want to inject the wrong thing — this into that or in the wrong order or whatever, and have something bad happen." The conversation was awkward initially, but he got the information he needed.

Near the television in his apartment, J has a photo of himself and two friends posing in a weight room. He was a late-round draft pick out of high school only a few years ago. The signing bonus offered to him was less than $100,000, but it was enough for him to decide to forgo college (and scholarship eligibility) and move straight into rookie-league ball, the bottom of the minor leagues. He had mild success his first season but got hurt halfway through. He was injured again early into his second season.

"That's when I started thinking of ways to heal faster," J said. "By then, everyone was talking about how HGH can get you healthy and strong again fast."

He says he didn't want to risk bringing up the topic of buying the substances around the clubhouse — "too risky if someone doesn't like you or something," he says. Instead, he went to his computer to Google. He typed in H-G-H. There, near the top of the sites Google found, was a link to Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center. The site advertised more muscle mass, less fat, more strength, more stamina, more (and better) sex, and no unwanted side effects. J filled out a page saying he wanted more information about the uses of human growth hormone. He entered his phone number.

A representative from PBRC called him the next day, J says. "He talked a little about how safe it was and how it can fight off aging." He says he told the man he wanted to heal quickly and get stronger. "He said something about better sex, like trying to tell me that was the right thing to call it." J says he read his credit-card number over the phone. The representative told him he would need to have blood work sent in. He went to a doctor the next day and said he needed work done for a physical.

Within two weeks of his first visit to the website, J was opening up his first stack. He says he doesn't remember the name of the prescribing doctor on the label, but "I had never heard the guy's name before."

Each stack came with several vials of liquid and syringes. The liquids were synthetic human growth hormone protein and stanozolol, an anabolic steroid that sometimes goes by the brand name Winstrol, along with other testosterone boosters. The packages also came with two bottles of pills: clomiphene citrate, a female infertility drug steroid users employ to counteract estrogen buildup, and anastrozole, a breast-cancer drug that blocks water retention.

Doctors believe that the combination of HGH and steroids is so popular among athletes because HGH helps the muscles get bigger and the anabolic steroids then make the bigger muscles stronger. "Guys would sometimes talk about HGH being a last resort because it actually makes your body grow," J said. "It's not like a monster or anything or like the head-swelling stuff you hear about Barry Bonds. It's just noticing your glove is a little tight, so it's just time to buy a new glove."

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael J. Mooney