By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – The alarm clock in his room at the Doubletree Hotel still rings too early in the morning for Cardinals’ catching prospect Cody Stanley’s liking, but as he rolls out of bed, it also serves as a daily reminder of a mistake he never wants to make again.
It was because of the 6:15 a.m. wake up time during spring training that Stanley was looking for a little extra pick-me-up when he walked into a store last February and bought an over-the-counter product which was supposed to give him more energy and pep in the morning.
Stanley took the pill once.
“At 6:15 in the morning you’ve got to get something to get you going, so that’s what I did,” Stanley said Wednesday morning as he sat in his corner locker in the Cardinals’ clubhouse. “It gave me a lot of energy, but I didn’t like the way it made me feel. It was terrible. It was like drinking five cups of coffee at once. It made me jittery and kind of lightheaded.
“I took one pill, and that’s the God’s honest truth.”
The next morning as Stanley arrived at the Cardinals’ clubhouse, he found out he had been selected for a random drug test. He thought nothing of it as he gave the required sample and then went on with the rest of his day.
A month later, in the final days of spring training, Stanley was back in his hotel room in the afternoon when the telephone rang. It was John Vuch, the Cardinals’ farm director, calling to inform Stanley that he had received an e-mail from Major League Baseball informing the club that Stanley had failed a drug test and was being suspended for 50 games, or roughly the first-third of the minor-league season.
“I almost fainted, I almost passed out,” Stanley remembers. “I asked them to send me the information on what I got suspended for. That’s when I found out the ingredient in the supplement I had taken was a synonym for a banned substance.
“I took one pill and got tested the next day. Had it been 24 or 48 hours later it would have been out of my system. I usually am pretty thorough in checking the ingredients before I take something, but this time I failed to do that and I failed a drug test because of it.”
The pill Stanley had taken, he found out later, contained methylhexaneamine and tamoxifen, both on the banned substance list.
Stanley, the Cardinals’ fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft out of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, knew immediately what people would think, and how harmful the news would be to his reputation. He wanted everyone to know as soon as possible that he had made an honest mistake, and had not intentionally taken a banned substance.
“I would never do anything intentional to hurt the reputation of the club, the reputation of my family and the reputation of myself,” Stanley said. “It’s not worth it. I would rather quit and go home and find a new job than crush a reputation.”
Stanley told Vuch what had happened. He told the coaches and his teammates during an on-field meeting.
“Everybody agreed with me that it was an innocent mistake and that I would never do anything to hurt any kind of reputation,” Stanley said. “That was extremely comforting for me and helped me get through the suspension and the season.”
Still, though, Stanley knew there would be more consequences for what had happened.
“Not many people asked me about it, but I feel comfortable talking about it because I have nothing to hide,” he said. “But the first thing you see on me is about my suspension. It’s always going to be bad. I don’t want anybody to look back and say ‘he had a good first two seasons because of PEDs.’”
Stanley made it through the suspension by working out daily with the Cardinals’ extended spring training program, practicing with players who would be assigned to short-season clubs when their seasons began in June.
It wasn’t easy, but Stanley worked to get through it. “Every day I knew I had to get my work done or I wasn’t going to come back as strong as I wanted,” he said.
The suspension ended in June and Stanley joined the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals. He played for a week and thought his life was finally looking up.
Then came one errant pitch, which Stanley says now he should have simply let go by him and then retrieve it. Instead he reached out and tried to stop it – with his bare hand.
“The ball hit my middle finger and dislocated it,” Stanley said. “My hand went numb and I looked down and my finger was completely sideways. I went into the dugout and the trainer popped it back in place, then I went to the hospital and got stitches. I thought I was done for the season for sure.”
The injury healed more quickly than expected, and Stanley returned to the lineup a month later. He was back behind the plate a few weeks later when he got hurt again.
Stanley was waiting at the plate for a throw from an outfielder with a baserunner charging toward him. The runner’s shoulder collided with Stanley’s temple, leaving him with a concussion.
“He wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me, and he tried to slide, but his shoulder just hit me in a pretty vulnerable spot,” Stanley said.
He was sidelined for another two weeks. “After that I knew nothing else could happen,” he said of the trying season in which he played in only 48 games, hitting three home runs and recording 35 RBIs.
Despite all of the things that went wrong last year, Stanley does not consider it a wasted season. He ended the year by getting to play in the Arizona Fall League and saw that he could succeed against tough competition, hitting three more home runs in only 13 games.
“It wasn’t a lost year, especially mentally,” Stanley said. “On the field I hit .280 and got 150 at-bats, so I got something out of it. Most of what I got out of it was a train of thought that no matter what happens you’ve got to keep pushing forward.”
One person who saw that attitude from Stanley was his manager at Palm Beach, Johnny Rodriguez, who also had been his manager in 2011 at Quad Cities, when Stanley made the league’s mid-season All-Star team.
“He is a gutsy individual, and he plays hard,” Rodriguez said. “He’s not afraid, and as a catcher that’s what you need. He’s gotten better every year because of his work ethic.”
Stanley is a left-handed hitter, but the main questions about how far he will continue to advance in his career consider his defense and his ability to call a game. Rodriguez has no doubts that he projects as a major-league caliber hitter, but it’s the other phases of his game which will have to continue to improve for him to reach that level.
“The way he goes about his business I think he is going to be able to do it,” Rodriguez said. “He just has to improve his consistency defensively and prove he can handle a big-league staff. Those will be the two things that define him.”
Even though he is in the major-league camp, serving as an extra catcher, Stanley’s goal this season is to be the regular catcher at Double A Springfield. He already knows, before he hears it from anybody else, that this will be a critical year for his career.
“Cody is a good kid,” Vuch said. “Last year was not the best year for him, and he needs to re-establish himself. Playing at Springfield is a realistic goal.”
The good news for Stanley, now 24 years old, is that what happened last spring may not be forgotten, but is certainly in the past. And that’s where he and the Cardinals hope to keep it.
“He served his penalty and we’re moving on and will go from there,” Vuch said.
Said Stanley, “I was disappointed in myself. I don’t blame anyone else. I should have been more diligent in my research of what I was taking.”
He promises he will never make that mistake again.
“I welcome more tests,” he said. “There is nothing to worry about.”
As for that 6:15 wakeup alarm, Stanley has found a couple of new perfectly legal ways to get himself up and going in the morning.
“Coffee and a cold shower,” he said.