July 17-- The lounge at Pirate City, the minor-league complex in Bradenton, Fla., has a pool table, a Ping-Pong table and some TVs hooked up to video game systems. Usually you can find some minor leaguers hanging out. For the past few months, you might have found Starling Marte watching Pirates games with the youngsters.
He said he enjoyed watching games with his sons, 7-year-old Starling Jr. and 3-year-old Smerling. But sometimes he'd watch in the facility, quizzing the minor leaguers on situations that arose.
Marte, a year removed from an All-Star selection and months after replacing Andrew McCutchen in center field, watched every one of the 80 games he missed because of a performance-enhancing drug suspension.
"I know that this has brought a lot of pain to many people," Marte said Monday at PNC Park, the day before his suspension ends. "I know that this has caused some harm."
Much about Marte's suspension is unknown. Who knows how many of the 41 losses could have been avoided with his bat in the lineup, his speed on the bases, his glove in the outfield? We also don't know-or at least, he's not saying-what caused the suspension.
Marte tested positive for Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid used for more than half a century and thus easy to test for. The steroid is almost always injected with a syringe into muscle.
"I have no memory of anything being injected or any steroid or anything like that," Marte said in Spanish, with interpreter Mike Gonzalez translating.
Marte declined to answer specifically how, then, something that caused him to test positive for Nandrolone found its way into his body. He said he takes supplements that he gets from the Pirates, which are approved under MLB and the players union's joint drug agreement, and tries to take enough with him to the Dominican Republic to him the offseason.
"Every supplement that I took was from here," Marte said. "However, unfortunately somewhere I became careless in the offseason in the Dominican Republic and I must have taken something that got in my body that showed some bad results when it came to the testing."
Deca Durabolin, a derivative of Nandrolone, can be taken without an injection and can sometimes cause a test result to read positive for Nandrolone-but Deca is banned, too.
For Marte's teammates, what he took and when he took it didn't matter. What mattered is they would lose his services for half a season. The Pirates entered Monday's series against the Milwaukee Brewers 44-48, seven games back of first place in the National League Central.
"Some of them were upset, some of them were disappointed, and I completely respect that and understand that," Marte said.
He's back for 69 games. Maybe he can help them run down the Brewers. Maybe not.
"We're getting a heck of a player back, I know that," Jordy Mercer said. "It's a five-tool player. I don't know how the crowd's going to react, I don't know any of that stuff, but I just know that it's going give us a boost."
Marte had some thoughts about how the crowd would react.
"I can't lie to you, there is a bit of a concern, especially because I love the fans, I love our fans," he said. "I love the interaction that I have with fans and how much support and love they've given me and vice versa. But I respect anything that's thrown my way. I understand it. I would wish that things would go smoothly but I can't say that they will."
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