ST. PETERSBURG — American League Cy Young Award winner David Price, along with the Rays’ head athletic trainer, Ron Porterfield, and members of his staff, Major League Baseball Charities, and Don Hooton, founder of the Taylor Hooton Foundation, played host to about 60 youngsters, ages 7 to 17, and their parents on Saturday morning at a free two-hour clinic at Tropicana Field.
The event was part of the 2013 national Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth (PLAY) campaign to educate young people about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs and the importance of leading healthy, active lives.
“Eighty-five percent of our kids have never had a parent, coach or teacher talk to them about steroids,” explained Hooton, whose cousin is former Major League Baseball pitcher Burt Hooton.
Hooton started the foundation after his son, Taylor, a high school pitcher, committed suicide as a result of steroid use.
“[Taylor] began using steroids in January of 2003, when he was 16,” the elder Hooton recalled on Saturday, as he addressed a rapt audience of parents and grandparents, while the kids — many wearing Rays T-shirts bearing the names of their favorite players — rotated through a series of stations on the field that touched on healthy eating, injury prevention, and strength and conditioning. “He died in July of 2003, a few weeks after his 17th birthday.
“We had all the warning signs. But we were shocked because we didn’t know what we were looking for.
“[There were] the mood swings. He would get so mad he’d put his pitching hand through the wall. Fifteen minutes later, he’d come downstairs crying, apologizing to me and his mother. Taylor put on 30 pounds of muscle in 90 days. He was working out at the gym twice a week. He had severe acne on his back. We took him to a dermatologist. He had bad breath. One of those big bottles of mouthwash lasts me six months. Taylor was going through one of those big bottles in a month or six weeks.
“We didn’t know what we were looking at — but we knew we were looking at something wrong. He swore to us that he wasn’t using drugs — and I think he really believed he wasn’t doing drugs. In his mind, those weren’t drugs. Those were performance enhancers.”
Finally, the Hootons took their son to see a psychiatrist. The doctor told their son to quit “cold turkey.”
“In hindsight,” Hooton said, “that was his death sentence.”
PLAY, in conjunction with the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) and the Hooton Foundation, will hold similar events in all 30 Major League ballparks this summer.
“Our biggest supporter has been and continues to be Major League Baseball,” Hooton said.
PLAY’s upcoming schedule includes clinics in St. Louis and Cincinnati (June 4), Arizona (June 17), Cleveland (June 18), San Francisco (June 20), Baltimore (June 26), and Miami and Colorado (June 28).
The PLAY program was formed in 2004 to raise awareness about children’s health issues and the obesity problem in the United States. Since then, the PLAY has conducted more than 125 events inside all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums, reaching thousands of young people with a positive message about making smart life choices and the importance of having an active, healthy lifestyle.
The Taylor Hooton Foundation joined the PLAY campaign in 2008, incorporating its anti-steroid education program and generating increased awareness about one of the fastest growing drugs in America.
“Everybody,” Hooton said, “pays a price for using anabolic steroids.”
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