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For Jeff Allison and the Marlins, the ballgame is over

    I remember the first time I saw Jeff Allison. In fact, it was one of the only times. It was shortly after the Marlins took the highly touted 18-year-old pitcher from Peabody, Mass., in the first round of the 2003 draft. When the Marlins traveled to Boston to face the Red Sox at Fenway Park later that same month, he was invited to sit with owner Jeffrey Loria in a box near the dugout. During batting practice, he stood on the grass in foul territory, talking to reporters and shaking hands with Marlins players.

   Jeffallison Turns out that was as close as Allison ever got to the big leagues.

    Allison's eventual downfall (and near death experience) from illegal drug use has been well documented, and there is no need to again go into those details that are already so familiar to many. But drugs are what decimated Allison as a baseball player, robbing him of his athletic talents and reducing him to a career minor-leaguer. Though he has always remained the property of the Marlins system, he didn't play at all in 2004, 2006 and 2007 due to his bouts with substance abuse. When he finally beat his addiction and returned to the diamond, he wasn't the same pitcher. His fastball was gone.

    He made it to Double A, but no higher. Last season, he went 3-4 with a 6.26 ERA for Jacksonville, after which he became a 6-year minor league free agent. The Marlins have no intention of hanging on to him any longer. His agent, Jeff Berry, also happens to represent Mark Buehrle, and when I asked him at Buehrle's press conference on Friday about what Allison's plans might be, he said he was unsure. There is a chance Allison could simply call it quits and bow out quietly. Only he knows.

    Every baseball person I've spoken with recently shakes his head sadly and says Allison has lost any chance of ever reaching the majors. But, in return, they all say he's reclaimed the most important gift of all: his life.