Before Barry Bonds or Jason Giambi could take a swing at spring training, they were fielding questions about steroid use in baseball.
"They can test me every day if they choose to," Bonds said Monday after arriving at the San Francisco Giants' camp in Scottsdale, Ariz.
He and Giambi testified in December to a grand jury investigating the California supplements lab accused of illegally distributing steroids to dozens of athletes.
Giambi showed up at the New York Yankees' camp in Tampa, Fla., looking noticeably trimmer to manager Joe Torre _ and most everyone else.
Giambi said better eating habits and hard workouts left him leaner, and he lost four pounds during the offseason, leaving him at 228. He said he cut back on fast foods and did extensive rehabilitation from knee surgery.
"My weight is almost exactly the same," he said. "Just cleaning it up and losing some of that excess body fat I had."
Asked whether he had taken performance-enhancing drugs, Giambi said: "Are you talking about steroids? No."
Bonds, winner of a record six MVP awards, has repeatedly denied using steroids. His trainer, Greg Anderson, was among four men charged this month in an alleged steroid-distribution ring. All the men have pleaded innocent and no athletes have been charged.
"I feel bad for him," said Bonds, who turns 40 this summer. "I feel sad. We grew up together. We're friends. It's unfortunate what he's having to go through."
Giambi and new Yankees teammate Gary Sheffield both testified Dec. 11 before the grand jury probing the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, a company accused of providing steroids to sports stars. Being subpoenaed did not mean an athlete was a target of the investigation, which was focused on possible drug and tax violations by BALCO.
Giambi said he welcomed the commissioner's office testing players for steroids this season.
"Hopefully, everything is going to be fine," he said. "This has really shed a different light on everything."
In other news, Minnesota said Brad Radke will start its opener against Cleveland on April 5, and the Chicago White Sox said Mark Buehrle will start their first game at Kansas City the same day.
Esteban Loaiza passed on the chance to start the opener for the White Sox to repay a favor to Buehrle, who gave up his final start last season for Loaiza.
Buehrle, who will start his third straight opener, gave up his final turn last year so Loaiza could try to join Fernando Valenzuela as the only Mexican-born pitchers to win 21 games. Buehrle gave up a chance to reach 15 wins for the third straight season.
"It was a classy move what Esteban did, he remembered what I did for him last season," Buehrle said.
Loaiza beat Kansas City, finishing 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA, and placed second in voting for the AL Cy Young Award. Buehrle went 14-14 with a 4.14 ERA.
At Vero Beach, Fla., NL Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne started workouts with the Los Angeles Dodgers, fresh off his loss in salary arbitration.
Gagne will make $5 million this season after going 2-3 with a 1.20 ERA and converting all 55 save opportunities last year. He asked for $8 million.
"Arbitration's never fun," Gagne said. "I've never heard anybody say, `I had a lot of fun at an arbitration hearing.' Nobody likes to go to arbitration, but it's over with. We just have to go on and think about winning games."
At Bradenton, Fla., Raul Mondesi passed his physical and the Pittsburgh Pirates finalized their contract with the free-agent outfielder.
Mondesi, 33, hit .272 with 24 homers, 71 RBIs and 22 steals in 143 games with the New York Yankees and Arizona last year. His contract includes a team option for 2005.
"I told my agent I want to sign with a National League team," said Mondesi, who hasn't played a full season in the NL since 1999. "The Pirates wanted to sign me and I want to play for them, especially because (Roberto) Clemente played many years for the Pirates."
In Jupiter, Fla., the World Series champion Florida Marlins went through their first workouts.
"I think the guys are motivated," manager Jack McKeon said. "They realize all the good things that happened and the reason they came about. I think what we did in the playoffs will have a big carry-over effect. Confidence won't be a problem. But the other clubs will have something to say about it, too."
I wouldn't do steroids, and I hope my sons never do them. It's cheating. But the technology is constantly changing. They won't catch anyone with a functioing brain red-handed. They'll never ban anyone in MLB. At some point, MLB will adopt an NFL type program because it will make business sense. Still, the other hand, they haven't figured out that they have to contract at least 2 or 4 teams.
This all just seems like an excuse for baseball writers to pontificate as if they're doing some Watergate investigation as opposed to gettting paid to watch grown men play a game for little boys. Jon Heyman's parents must want a refund on all the college tuition they paid for their son's degree in journalism as he follows athletes around Florida with his piss cup in hand, asking them for samples. I can understand Gary Sheffiled being weirded out by such a request. It's bad enough that every day ballplayers are dressing and undressing in front of total strangers boldly asking them all manner of questions, but now they want urine? What is that- a lockerroom or the Vault?