SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Many of his Colorado Rockies teammates still don’t know.
Those that do, don’t really ask.
The Rockies management addressed the issue with him when he arrived to spring training, mostly making sure that he was OK, offering their support.
First baseman C.J. Cron is baseball’s only active major leaguer who has admitted to using opioids.
Cron was one of four former Los Angeles Angels players who testified under oath last month in a trial in Fort Worth, Texas that he used opioids.
He said he was supplied on eight occasions by Eric Kay, the former Angels communication director. Kay was convicted of distributing a fentanyl-laced opioid to Tyler Skaggs that resulted in the 2019 death of the pitcher.
Cron, playing for the Minnesota Twins at the time, was devastated by Skaggs' death. The two were close friends, and Cron attended Skaggs' wedding the previous winter. They just had breakfast together six weeks earlier in Orange County.
Almost thee years later he was testifying in federal court that he was a former opioid user. Kay would leave opioids in his locker or in his shoes during his three years with the Angels. He also obtained opioids from Kay during the 2018 season with the Tampa Bay Rays.
“It was pretty rough, emotional," Cron told USA TODAY Sports. “It was a long time, but to go through that again …’’
Cron’s voice softened, looked away and shuffled his feet.
He knew for nearly two years he’d likely be in court one day, with the DEA and government trying to determine who was responsible for Skaggs’ overdose. Cron’s testimony was used by federal prosecutors as evidence to convict Kay of distribution of a controlled substance that resulted in Skaggs’ death.
Kay is scheduled to be sentenced on June 28, facing a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life in federal prison.
Cron, who signed a two-year, $14.5 million contract in October, will be playing baseball for the Rockies.
“They (the Rockies) pretty much understand it was a long time ago," Cron said, “and they had nothing to do with it. They have been very supportive of me."
Cron said he was never addicted to opioids, and quit using several years ago. He called it a mistake to even try opioids, which he used primarily as pain killers, and never mixed them with alcohol.
The most difficult part was not going cold-turkey and abruptly quitting opioid use, but telling his family and friends of his past.
“It sucked obviously, admitting your mistakes," Cron said, “but at the same time, you have to man up and take responsibility for it, and move on. It was definitely a mistake. Fortunately, it happened a long time ago, so it’s all over with now. I’m glad I could move on."
MLB officials said it plans to launch an investigation in the aftermath of the trial. Cron will not be suspended, but he could be referred to an evaluation treatment board, which will develop a treatment plan that Cron must follow or face discipline.
The disciplinary action will be different for Matt Harvey, who played for the Angels in 2019. He is subject to at least a 60-game suspension if he returns to baseball. Harvey testified that he provided Percocet pills to Skaggs on several occasions, which qualifies as distribution under MLB’s drug policy. Any player who participates in the sale or distribution of a prohibited substance is subjected to a 60-90 game suspension under the Joint Drug Agreement.
MLB began testing for opioids and cocaine in December, 2019, classifying them as drugs of abuse, but in the two years of the program, no player has tested positive, two MLB officials said on the condition of anonymity because details of the program are private.
Drug testing in baseball resumed this past week after no testing was conducted during the 99-day lockout.
It would be naïve to believe that the Angels were the only team with a drug problem. There were 10 million people who illegally used prescription opioids in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and yes, some happen to play baseball for a living.
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Cron, 32, realizes that he’s quite fortunate he never became addicted to opioids. He was able to quit, and was never again tempted to take the pills.
“It was pretty easy to stop because I was never dependent on them,’’ Cron said. “I didn’t need to do it anymore. It was over.’’
It’s unknown whether Cron and any of his teammates will be called to testify in the wrongful-death lawsuits filed by the Skaggs family against the Angels.
“The trial showed Eric Kay’s drug trafficking was known to numerous people in the Angels organization, and it resulted in the tragic and unnecessary death of one of their most popular players,” attorney Rusty Hardin said in a statement after the trial. “We have no doubt that the Angels knew what Eric Kay was doing, and the team is morally and legally responsible for his conduct. In the upcoming civil cases, we are looking forward to holding the team accountable.”
The Angels say they conducted an investigation and found no evidence that any front office executive was “aware or informed of any employee providing opioids to any player.”
Cron said he will never get over the heartache he feels over Skaggs' death. He has managed to bring back his baseball career.
Cron was unemployed a week before spring training last year when he signed a minor-league contract with the Rockies. The contract wasn’t guaranteed, and if he made the club, it would pay him just $1 million, a huge drop-off from his $6.1 million salary in 2020 with the Detroit Tigers.
“I wanted to pick a place that would give me the opportunity to play every day," Cron said. “I knew with the injury, 2020 wasn’t a reflection on what I could do. (Manager) Bud Black believed in me, and, hey, it worked out pretty well.’’
Cron was one of the top first basemen in baseball last season, hitting a career-high .281 with 28 homers, 92 RBI and a .905 OPS. In August, he hit .387 with a .463 on-base percentage and .828 slugging percentage, including 11 homers and 34 RBI.
It was the best season by a Rockies first baseman since the days of Todd Helton, and the Rockies wasted little time bringing Cron back with a two-year deal.
“I always believed he could be a productive hitter,’’ said Black, who knew Cron when he was the Angels’ pitching coach in 2016. “We had Albert (Pujols) at first base, but I saw the talent in there. You saw the potential. He just needed some regular playing time."
Cron went on to hit 30 home runs in 2018 with the Rays, 25 homers the following year with the Minnesota Twins, but struggled during the COVID-shortened season in 2020, hitting .190 with four homers in 13 games for the Detroit Tigers before undergoing season-ending knee surgery.
“I knew he had been coming off a tough year, but I really thought he would be a great fit for us," Black said. “Knowing his personality and his talent, I told our guys, 'This could really work.; He became one of the best offensive first baseman in the game last year, and we got him back.’’
Who knows if Cron would have gotten a bigger payday if he hit free agency? Who knows how many teams believe he’s the real deal, and not a byproduct of the friendly confines of Coors? And who knows if the Rockies or anyone else would have had any interest in him after his testimony in the drug trial?
“All I know is that I’m here, and I love it here,’’ Cron said. “They love their baseball in Denver. It doesn’t matter how well we’re playing, the fans always come out and support us. It’s a great fan base. And such a beautiful place to play. It’s perfect.
“I’m right where I’m supposed to be.’’
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rockies' C.J. Cron on opioids after testifying at Tyler Skaggs trial