PEABODY — Jeff Allison figures he’s told his story to about a dozen auditoriums full of high school students over the last year.
None of them meant as much to the 28-year-old former Major League Baseball first round draft choice than yesterday’s presentation back where it all began for him: Peabody Veterans Memorial High School.
For about 45 minutes, Allison spoke to Peabody’s senior class about temptation, peer pressure and his highly publicized battle with drug addiction.
Just a few hundred feet from the place where his No. 9 Tanner baseball jersey is framed in the lobby, Allison told an audience of 500 not to ignore the message.
“I was you, and there wasn’t a guy like me or Chris Herren that could come and give me this perspective,” he said. “I looked the other way every time someone spoke. Don’t do something that will make you say ‘I wish I listened to Jeff’ later.”
Allison graduated from Peabody High in 2003, “Ten years? It feels like 10 minutes ago,” he said.
Upon graduating he immediately signed a professional baseball contract with the Florida Marlins. He was in and out of baseball, rehab and jail for the next several years and had a productive minor league career from 2008-2011.
Clean now for six years, Allison’s been out of pro baseball for a little more than 12 months. He’s a pitching instructor and a travel team coach at Peabody native Steve Lomasney’s Show Baseball Academy, and he’s passionate about telling his story in the hopes that he can help somebody avoid repeating his mistakes.
“It’s something that’s important, in a sense. It gives me a sense of fulfillment and it’s comforting,” Allison said after his presentation. He’s never been one to run away from his past and he’d rather share it than bury it. Being around baseball remains a blessing.
“My story is an ever-evolving story. If I stay on the right path and people want me to talk, I always will. I enjoy it.”
Allison didn’t give a play-by-play of battle with addiction yesterday, and he probably didn’t have to. The kids in Peabody know his story; they know about the hospitals he woke up in and night he nearly died from an overdose in Lynn.
His jaw did clench a bit, and his voice rose with passion, when he addressed the use of marijuana. The drug, decriminalized in parts of America over the years, was his gateway down a path of destruction, he said.
“If you honestly, in your hearts, believe that using that is fun, you are outside of your mind. I was 19 years old and I almost died twice because I was a pot head. You have to be kidding me.”
Allison told the students that he never felt comfortable in his own skin in high school. Despite all the accolades, all the assurances of greatness in professional baseball and the adulation of his classmates, he felt like he wanted to escape.
“I didn’t know being me was enough. Everywhere I went (the pressure) was like invisible handcuffs,” he said.
To an audience that included people that taught Allison 10 years ago, classmates that have since become teachers, and 12th graders getting ready to take the next step in their lives in six weeks, Allison focused on decision making.
“I didn’t wake up and say ‘I think I’ll ruin my life today’,” he said. “Every negative decision will have two or three negative consequences. In my case, every negative decision I made had 10 consequences.”
Be the best you can be, Allison stressed. Find something you’re passionate about and go after it. He also told the students to cling to their support systems and be true to their friends. In fact, it was an ex-Peabody High teammate, now teaching in Melrose, that first suggested he give anti-drug speeches.
There were several childhood friends, and Show Baseball co-workers, in the audience yesterday supporting him.
“If you have a friend and you see them doing something out of the norm, do something about it,” Allison said. “If your friend tells you that, listen. Don’t put up a front.”
Allison’s speech was recorded by Major League Baseball TV and should be featured on its Web site in the future. He said he remains proud of his time at Peabody High and would relish the opportunity to tell his story to other students both in Peabody and around the area.
“The message is real,” principal Ed Sapienza said.
Don’t give in to peer pressure, Allison said. Be accountable. Don’t have faith that your transgressions might stop at one thing, because you may go looking for a new feeling.
More simply, have respect for the world, because once you leave high school, it’s real.
“It sounds cliche, but believe me because it bit me. It got me good,” said Allison. “I was the guy on top of the world ... or so I thought.”