TORONTO — At 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon at Rogers Centre, Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello asked his entire team to meet him in the clubhouse. He wanted to tell them himself that he’d tested positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, an anabolic steroid, and been suspended by Major League Baseball for 80 games.
Blue Jays players were shocked to hear the news, and many were still coming to grips with what they’d just learned as media filed into the clubhouse following the meeting. Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin walked into the meeting a few minutes late and caught the end of Colabello’s emotional speech.
“He looked like he was blindsided by it,” Martin said. “It’s a tough situation. I just gave him a hug.”
According to a statement Colabello released through the MLB Players Association, the 32-year-old first learned of the positive test on March 13, right in the heart of spring training. In the statement, Colabello says he’s spent “every waking moment since that day” trying to determine how the substance found its way into his urine sample.
“The only thing I know is that I would never compromise the integrity of the game of baseball. I love this game too much,” Colabello said in the statement. “I hope that before anyone passes judgment on me they can take a look at the man that I am, and everything that I have done to get to where I am in my career.”
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins found out about the positive test Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. and met with Colabello shortly thereafter. He said the first baseman was emotional and disappointed.
“It’s obviously a very difficult situation. My initial reaction was empathy and extreme disappointment. The combination of the two because of what it means for our team and what it means for him,” Atkins said. “Chris is a remarkable person. So it’s something that was extremely difficult for him and extremely emotional. He was very concerned about what it means for him moving forward. Mostly what he expressed is how much he feels disappointed for the team.”
There are no rules that bar Colabello from being with the Blue Jays over the course of his 80-day suspension, but Atkins said it was likely that Colabello would go to the team’s facility in Dunedin, Fla., to work out and maintain his conditioning in hopes of returning to the field later this season. Colabello will be eligible to begin a 10-game rehab assignment near the end of his suspension.
However, according to the MLB’s joint drug prevention and treatment program, “any player who is suspended for a violation … involving a performance enhancing substance shall be barred from participating in the post-season (including, without limitation, being in uniform during his club’s post-season games) during the season in which his suspension commenced even after completion of his suspension.”
Essentially, Colabello could officially return to the Blue Jays or one of their minor league affiliates in late July, but he wouldn’t be eligible to be with the team if they made the playoffs.
“We’ll support him through this and work towards helping him through this. We support the program obviously and respect the program that’s in place. But we absolutely see him as a part of this organization,” Atkins said. “He’ll be more than welcome at our facilities.”
Many Blue Jays seemed completely shocked by the news they received Friday afternoon, but one who wasn’t was centre-fielder Kevin Pillar, one of Colabello’s closest friends on the team. He says Colabello told him about the positive test shortly after it happened, and kept him informed as he went through an appeal process. Pillar was adamant that his teammate hadn’t willingly done anything against the rules.
“This is a guy that got caught up in a flawed system,” Pillar said. “He fell victim to a technicality in the system. And I think that the drug testing policy and Major League Baseball are going to have some soul searching to do and they’re going to have to figure something out.
“Being around Chris, I know how careful he is with the supplements he takes,” Pillar continued. “He’s a guy who travels with his own stuff. He doesn’t go to a smoothie place and ask for the protein. He provides his own. It’s shocking.”
Pillar was drug tested shortly before the Blue Jays began a road trip last week, and said that—with Colabello’s experience in mind—it was the first time he’d been nervous while providing a urine sample. Pillar also suggested that Colabello’s appeal wasn’t handled appropriately, and that the Blue Jays first baseman was in contact with other athletes who had been suspended under similar circumstances to learn from their experiences.
“I’ve never been in that room, but just from his mouth, it doesn’t seem like it’s a system that’s pro-player. His story was heard, but I don’t know if the message was really delivered or his testimonies were heard. But they made their decision,” Pillar said. “We’re not talking about a couple of games here. We’re talking about a person’s integrity. A person’s career. He’s not exactly the youngest guy around either. These are all things that concern him—that this might be the end of baseball for him.”
After playing seven years of independent baseball in his early and mid-20s, Colabello reached the majors with the Minnesota Twins in 2013, at the age of 29. The Blue Jays claimed him off waivers in December, 2014 and watched as Colabello became a lynchpin of the team’s AL East winning lineup in 2015, batting .321/.367/.520 with 15 homers in 101 games.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he learned the news when everyone else did, just before batting practice Friday afternoon.
“Yeah, I’m disappointed it happened. But I’ve got a special bond with the kid, you know? I was the manager here when he made it. He’s a unique guy, he really is,” Gibbons said. “This hurts me just like it hurts him, because I love the guy. He’s beloved out there in that clubhouse.”