Teaching our youth the right way to win

Dan Potts loves baseball. Loves it the way Isaac Stern loved the violin, the way Richard Burton loved the stage.

He was a middle infielder at the University of Washington in the early 1970s. He played the game cleats-up hard even into his 40s in leagues around the Northwest. He coached amateur baseball for more than 20 years and now runs a training facility for elite high-school athletes.

When he is awake, some part of his brain is thinking about baseball. Potts is the kind of guy who, while taking a relaxing evening stroll with his wife, will stop to watch a group of kids play soccer and lapse into a semi-trance, thinking how he could incorporate their movements into his baseball instruction.

"I just love the movement of baseball. It's ballet on the field," Potts said, sitting in the sun outside his North Seattle gym. "I think it takes everything from all sports. It takes speed, hand-eye coordination, balance, power. And the most important thing — it is the greatest teacher I've ever had of never giving up in the face of failure."

Because of the passion he feels for the game, Potts is worried about its future. He is deeply concerned about the effect performance-enhancing drugs have had on the game.

He believes big-league baseball can be played cleanly, and he is angry with the major-league players who have abused the privilege of playing, who have cheated by using steroids, and who have wrecked the record books with their juiced-up statistics.

"If we reach a level of acceptance where it's OK to do this stuff to get to a certain level, where do we draw the line when we're talking to our kids about how to be successful?" Potts asked. "There has to be a certain level of accountability."

None of the game's recent revelations surprised Potts. Not the results of the federal investigation of BALCO. Not the grand-jury testimony of Barry Bonds or Jason Giambi. Not the March Congressional hearings or last week's suspensions of Mariners pitcher Ryan Franklin or Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.

"You might be able to fool the average Joe Fan in the stands, but you're not going to fool me," Potts said. "You see so many cases where steroids have made the athletes. You see guys who faced mid-90s fastballs and couldn't get around on it. You know, they got sawed off and they're walking back to the dugout with a chunk of lumber in their hands. And now, all of a sudden, that same hitter is being thrown some high cheese, in and tight, and his bat is through the ball and it's gone."

Potts has been around athletic training all of his adult life. He worked with many of the players on Washington's national championship football team. He has trained Olympic rowers. But his real passion is baseball and his program that he calls "Dynamic Strength Applications."

He believes it is his job to steer players in the right direction, away from steroids and toward hard work. But he also knows the players in his gym are subject to all the quick-fix temptations of every other athlete.

"We have to keep things in perspective," said Potts, who says he has worked with more than 200 local players. "At the baseball level, our program absolutely can compete with steroids. A young Barry Bonds would be just as strong if he had trained with us. But he wouldn't like it because it's harder.

"We work our guys in the healthiest fashion you can imagine. But you've got so many guys in the game who are using steroids, who wake up 3 ½ or four weeks after the injections and they're feeling stronger. It's like they just got new manhood and they're thinking that that's a pretty easy way to do it."

It has taken a decade of allegations, a book tour from Jose Canseco and finally some public pressure to get to the game to look at itself.

But more important to Potts than the future of the game at the big-league level is the idea that those players are role models to his players. And he believes those players have an obligation to his players.

"I work with kids and I see what shoes they buy. See what batting gloves they buy. I see everything that they do, and it's based on what they see," said Potts. "Sooner or later our kids are dodging all this performance-enhancing stuff all the time.

"They know what the players who are better than them, who play at a higher level than them, use and wear. And what the major-league players are using and wearing is what they want to use and wear. And that's dangerous."

For years a war has raged in sports between the chemists and the rule makers, between the cheaters and their games.

Last week the rule makers won, but the war will continue. And baseball needs more people like Dan Potts showing his players the right way to win.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com