Marcus Hayes: Pridie gets a clean start with IronPigs

Posted: June 28, 2012

ALLENTOWN — You worry about Jason Pridie.

You worry, because he isn't worrying for himself.

Neither is his new team.

Pridie tested positive for a "drug of abuse" this past spring training while with the Oakland A's. It was his second positive test; the first came in 2006. The second cost him the first 50 games of this season.

A professional lefty hitter with moderate power, a second-round pick of the Rays in 2002 who finally got a good taste of the majors with the Mets last season, Pridie, 28, is scorching now for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He is hitting .370 with a homer and six RBI in 12 games. He is elated to have a second baseball life, unconcerned about testing positive again, which would be an almost certain baseball death.

Pridie, an outfielder, discounts both tests as instances of poor judgment, youthful indiscretion, bad luck. He said both were aberrations, both occurred during times of personal duress. He said that they were his fault alone, and that they will never happen again.

But, for all of his candor, Pridie will not disclose the drug or drugs for which he tested positive, the personal issues that drove him to use them, or the people with whom he indulged.

Those are his rights, certainly.

"I'll never go into the details of what happened," Pridie said. "It was me. I made the mistake. I spent the 50 days serving the time. I took the punishment."

And he was struck with a predictable epiphany:

"I realize how quickly things can be taken away, for dumb things. How quickly I went from being in the big leagues, and possibly being in Oakland, to missing 50 games and looking for a job."

Still, you worry. He says you shouldn't. He says that he spent his 7 weeks of shame purging himself of any temptation to stray again.

"I have a wife. I have a kid coming. I just feel like I'm living with more meaning," Pridie said Tuesday night, before the best hitting performance of his career. "With what happened, I very easily could be looking for a different job right now, with a wife and a kid on the way. But, fortunately, I'm still playing the game I'm blessed to play.

“My time to be immature is over."

A few hours later, Pridie came 10 feet short of hitting for the cycle.

It was his second-best day as an IronPig.

The best: The 0-for-4 debut June 15 for Lehigh Valley. That game marked his baseball resurrection. He grounded out to second in his first at-bat that night, his first real game since the suspension, and he found himself beaming on the bench. He called his wife afterward and shared his elation.

His wife lent a knowledgeable ear. She is the former Bianca Cruz, Arizona State third baseman and Maxim magazine uber-hottie. They have been together since 2007. They married in August.

Pridie left the Pigs on Wednesday morning to return to Phoenix, where she was scheduled to have labor induced for the delivery of Knox, their firstborn.

He will be a talented, handsome lad, almost assuredly. He will have a father who will dote on him.

But you worry for the boy.

Why?

Because, when Pridie took the drugs that led to the failed test, he had so much to lose.

He was newly married to a stunning woman, who was pregnant. He had just gotten a real look in the major leagues after 11 years of minor league indenture.

The next positive test will earmark him as a bad risk.

The next positive test, and Bianca might not be as understanding. She was embarrassed this time — they live in the Phoenix area, their hometown — but she might be more than embarrassed next time.

Don't worry, Pridie says. There won't be a next time. He's not like, say, Josh Hamilton, Texas' reclamation project.

"I never had a problem. I'm not some druggie, or something," Pridie said.

OK.

That's what the A's said, though they granted him his release willingly. Pridie's Triple A roster spot was occupied, ironically, by Manny Ramirez, who was coming off a suspension for a performance-enhancing drug.

The Phillies said OK, too.

"He's hit wherever he's been," said minor league director Joe Jordan.

Pridie is a career .276 hitter in the minors, with 83 homers. He hit .231 with four homers in 101 games with the Mets last season.

Not once in Jordan's description of Pridie's talents did Jordan mention the words "drug" or "suspension."

Pridie's reputation with Jordan's contacts around baseball, as well as Pridie's candor in discussing the matter with Jordan, put to rest any such concerns. See, Pridie and Jordan had a telephone conversation prior to the Phillies' signing him 13 days ago.

IronPigs manager Ryne Sandberg said he has not discussed any of Pridie's more sensitive issues with his new player.

Clearly, the Phillies aren't worried.

Pridie certainly causes no concerns with his baseball abilities. He worked out at the A's facility in Phoenix during his suspension. He ran and threw and took batting practice, but could not participate in games. He then spent a week in extended spring after the suspension ended, but he didn't want to play below Triple A, so he asked to be released, knowing the Phillies needed a real hitter in their system.

"He could help the big club," Jordan said. "In the near future."

Pridie is swinging more freely than ever now.

"I feel better than I've ever felt. Mentally."

Until the next party?

"I've never been a party guy. That's another stigma: People will assume I was partying, getting crazy. That's never been me," Pridie said. "For that whole time [since 2006] I didn't put myself in those situations. I'm not worried, because I don't put myself in those situations."

But you worry for him.  

Send email to hayesm@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/MarcusHayes.

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