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Former Champaign Centennial Pitcher Linked to Steroids

“Brilliant,” “illuminating,” “a one-man show,” is how he was described in The News-Gazette. Following Champaign Centennial’s 12-0 rout of Urbana High School on April 5, 1988, Matt Herges was lauded for a spectacular start to his senior season for the Chargers. In a game that was called after six innings due to the 10-run rule, Herges needed just 81 pitches to go the distance in tossing a dominating, 12-strikeout one-hitter. Only one Urbana batter managed to hit a ball out of the infield.

Sportswriter Fred Kroner noted that onlookers were taken aback by how sharp and overpowering Herges was in his first appearance of the season.

“He works at it all year round and you can see the difference,” his coach, Ben Bryan, commented. “Matt worked hard all fall and winter and it paid off. He’s stronger now and he’s in such good condition.”

Strength and conditioning have again made Herges newsworthy almost twenty years later, but this time the reason is not one to be celebrated. Herges’ name surfaced on Thursday in former U.S. Senator George Mitchell’s report on the significance of Major League Baseball’s performance-enhancing drug problem. Mitchell’s 409-page report, authorized by MLB commissioner Bud Selig, left no doubt: “For more than a decade there has been widespread illegal use of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances by players in Major League Baseball,” the report begins. Herges, who just two weeks ago signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract to continue pitching with the Colorado Rockies, is one of several dozen former and current big league players linked in the report to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). The list of names runs the gamut from the expected (Jason Giambi) to those who enjoyed but a cup of coffee in the majors (Cody McKay), and also includes players with obvious Hall of Fame credentials (Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens).

Herges had not issued a public statement as of Friday evening. However, before a Sept. 13 game this year, Herges did offer the Denver Post his thoughts on PEDs, which categorically includes steroids, human growth hormone (HGH) and other drugs that serve to enlarge muscles or increase the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity.

“The whole thing is an eyesore,” he told the paper. “[HGH] is something none of us wants in the game. I do think we need to do whatever it takes to eliminate all the doubt and all the garbage.”

Such comments contributed to what Herges’ brother, Kyle Herges, described as shock in finding Matt’s name in the report. Kyle, who is Champaign Centennial’s varsity baseball coach, told The News-Gazette: “Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined his name would be linked.”

Yet Matt Herges’ name appears several times in Mitchell’s report, which alleges that Herges’ history with PEDs goes back as far as 1999. At that time, Herges was in his fourth season pitching for the Albuquerque Dukes, the Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team’s strength and conditioning coach, Todd Seyler, discussed using PEDs with several of the team’s players, including Herges and Paul Lo Duca, who also has had a lengthy major league career as a catcher. In testimony provided to Mitchell by Seyler, Herges and several of his teammates are accused of purchasing and using steroids.

According to the report: “Seyler gave Herges a ‘few hundred dollars’ in cash to purchase steroids for him. Seyler understood that the other players were giving Herges money too and that either Herges or Lo Duca would buy steroids for the group from a source in Florida. Seyler did not tell anyone in Dodgers management that he or any of these players were purchasing steroids. Before a game in mid-July 1999, Seyler and the players met to inject themselves with the steroids.”

The report goes on to state that all six of the men did inject themselves with steroids. Seyler then devised a training program for the players to optimize the effect of the drug. While Seyler never again observed any of the players using steroids, he remained in contact with each of them and believed that each player continued to use steroids beyond their initial injection.

Herges is also linked in the report to Kirk Radomski, a former New York Mets clubhouse employee who was arrested and charged in late 2005 with illegally selling PEDs to major league players. As he began cooperating with federal agents, Radomski revealed a number of documents — from shipping labels and receipts to copies of deposited checks retrieved from banks — that potentially implicated many players and were later incorporated into Mitchell’s report. Through Radomski’s testimony, the report states that Herges was introduced to Radomski by Lo Duca, and that Herges purchased “two or three sales of human growth hormone.” The first sale “might have been as early as 2004 and [the] last sale was in late 2005, not long before federal agents executed [a] search warrant on Radomski’s residence.” A check from Herges to Radomski in the amount of $3,240 and dated Nov. 1, 2005, is also included in the report. Herges could face punitive action from Major League Baseball as a result of the report’s findings.

In the spring of 1992, Herges completed his four-year career at Illinois State after anchoring the team’s pitching rotation during his junior and senior seasons. He was undrafted in that year’s major league amateur draft, but signed as a free agent with the Dodgers organization in June 1992. He spent parts of eight seasons in the minors, stalling out as he reached the Triple-A level. After starting 21 games for the Dukes in 1999, 29-year-old Herges was called up to the Dodgers and converted to a reliever. He stuck with the club in 2000 and posted a fine rookie season as a reliever with an 11-3 record and a 3.17 earned run average. In the spring of 2002, he was traded to the Montreal Expos, which began a tumultuous year in his career in which he played for three different organizations. That pattern continues to this day: Over the past four seasons, Herges has pitched in the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) for Tucson and Colorado Springs, and in the major leagues for San Francisco, Arizona, Florida and finally Colorado, for whom he appeared in the 2007 World Series. His new one-year contract with the Rockies offers a club option that could extend the contract for a second season.

The trek for Herges, now 37 years old, from ace of the Centennial pitching staff to World Series contender was not one of great ease. That lesson is not lost on today’s high school youth. Centennial baseball player Dan Plecki, a News-Gazette All-Area selection, was asked for his opinion on the Mitchell Report’s findings: “I can’t say I’m surprised. It’s cheating; it’s wrong. But if so many people are doing it, the way to stay in the game is to do it as well,” Plecki told The News-Gazette. “I don’t think I would blame the players necessarily. Trying to stay on top is one of the bigger factors for [using PEDs].”

Champaign Centennial Athletic Director Brian Easter says that players who use PEDs may feel the reward outweighs the potential health and legal risks. Centennial has taken action to educate its students about such drugs.

“All our kids are required to take Health class during their sophomore year in school,” Easter told Smile Politely. “The dangers of using various types of drugs, including steroids, is covered in that course. Additionally, many of our head coaches will discuss these issues with athletes at various times throughout the year.”

Easter does not foresee any additional official educational programs being implemented in the immediate future.

“What I see as being more likely,” he said, “[is finding] new ways to emphasize some of the areas that are already covered.”

Mitchell makes certain in his report to signal out the impact of drug abuse at the major league level on younger athletes.

“Some estimates appear to show a recent decline in steroid use by high school students; they range from 3 to 6 percent. But even the lower figure means that hundreds of thousands of high school-aged young people are still illegally using steroids,” the report states. “It’s important to devote attention to the Major League Baseball players who illegally used performance enhancing substances. It’s at least as important, perhaps even more so, to be concerned about the reality that hundreds of thousands of our children are using them. Every American, not just baseball fans, ought to be shocked into action by that disturbing truth.”

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