PITTSBURGH -- Brian Parker knows the ill effects performance-enhancing drugs can have, and that is why he, along with the Pirates' training staff and closer Mark Melancon, stressed the negative effects of steroid use to a group of 120 children Monday morning at PNC Park as part of the national PLAY (Promoting a Lifestyle of Activity for Youth) campaign that sets out to raise awareness in children's health issues.
The kids -- ranging in ages from 9 to 14 -- listened to Parker, Melancon and Pirates head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk all share personal stories of when they've seen performance-enhancing drugs and other unhealthy choices ruin bodies, careers and lives. Parker, an educational program manager for the Taylor Hooton Foundation, said getting in front of these issues for the younger age group is essential.
"This is really the age group that needs to hear the stuff we're talking about," Parker said. "The reality is most of these kids are young enough where they haven't yet encountered these issues. So to get this information out can go a long way down the road when they do start to feel some of the pressures of getting bigger, stronger or body image pressure."
After listening to the presentations, the group stretched and did various agility and baseball drills in the Pirates' outfield and bullpen.
"We're here every day treating the elite of the elite, the best athletes," said Tomczyk, who grew up in nearby Bethel Park, Pa. "But to share our message with the youth, especially youth from Pittsburgh, it makes it that much more special."
This year marks the 11th for the PLAY program, which was created by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS). Tomczyk said partnering with Parker and the Taylor Hooton Foundation was "extremely important." The Taylor Hooton Foundation was founded to raise awareness about the ugly side of performance-enhancing drugs. The foundation's namesake took his own life after suffering from depression related to steroid use when he was a high school baseball player.
Parker spoke about Hooton's tragedy and also quizzed the audience on the side effects steroids have. Parker is in his eighth year with the Taylor Hooton Foundation and has gone across the country from ballpark to ballpark to advance his message. He calls days like Monday "by far" his favorite events to be a part of.
"It combines the excitement of being in the outfield of a Major League team with some crucial information," Parker said. "It's not just what I'm saying, it's what these other trainers and coaches are saying as well. It's a really well-rounded message that goes a long way."
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.