Pirates notebook: Players support suspensions, union, too

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In the wake of more than a dozen performance enhancing drug-related suspensions, handed down Monday, that could further taint Major League Baseball with doping concerns, many Pirates players believed the league's actions will better the game.

The league suspended 12 players for 50 games and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez for 211 games as part of its Biogenesis drug investigation.

"We're role models for so many people," reliever Mark Melancon said.

"I just want the game to get cleaned up so little kids can look up to us and know we're doing the right thing."

Those 13 players, and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who accepted a 65-game suspension two weeks ago, were tied to the now-closed anti-aging clinic after records indicated it provided performance-enhancing drugs to a number of major and minor league baseball players.

It marked the first time any baseball player has been suspended for doping without testing positive for a banned substance. None of those players were current or former Pirates.

Though the MLB Players Association has, in the past, battled the league in attempts to expand the drug-testing program, players applauded the union and MLB for their efforts in the Biogenesis case.

"The most important thing is leveling the playing field," said Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, the team's MLBPA representative.

"Unfortunately, people have tried to find ways to get around testing, through this whole Biogenesis thing. This just shows this is all working."

Rodriguez has pledged to appeal the length of his suspension, and MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner supported that decision.

Melancon, who was Rodriguez's teammate in New York in 2009 and 2010, said he is OK with the union's decision to back Rodriguez.

"That's the union's job," he said.

"It's not really whether it's a right or wrong thing as far as what they're fighting for. I think they're fighting over the number of games."

Walker and Jared Hughes, an alternate union representative, declined to share their personal views on Rodriguez's situation. But Hughes agreed with Melancon that the union is acting in good faith.

"Our union is extremely strong for a reason, and that's because we stick together and fight for what's right," Hughes said.

"The overall judgment call was that it was too strict of a penalty, and they want to appeal it. Me, personally, I don't know if my personal opinion necessarily matters as much as it matters for us as a union to stick together."

Vitale, wife get big welcome

United States Marine Corps Sgt. Doug Vitale and his wife, Alexa, were guests of the Pirates Tuesday.

They took in the team's batting practice and met several players.

Actor Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band, named after Sinise's character in the movie "Forrest Gump," will perform a benefit concert Friday night at Stage AE. The goal is to help build a smart house for Vitale in Peters Township.

Vitale was on patrol in Afghanistan in September 2011 when he stepped on an IED and lost both legs in an explosion.

He suffered two strokes, lost his speech, became paralyzed on his right side and developed coordination issues on his left side.

This is Vitale's first time in Western Pennsylvania since the injury.

He spent the past two years in a rehabilitation facility in Tampa.

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Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published August 7, 2013 4:00 AM


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