Former slugger to work with Burroughs

Updated: March 17, 2004, 7:13 PM ET
Associated Press

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Ken Caminiti is back in baseball, at least temporarily, as a spring training instructor with the San Diego Padres.

"I've been trying to stay away from it. Just everything that's happened. Shamed, embarrassed, whatever. I just stayed away," Caminiti said Wednesday.

"I was nervous coming here. You don't know what to expect. I still don't know what the hell I'm doing. Just walking around with a fungo in my hand," the former San Diego slugger and Gold Glove winner said.

Padres owner John Moores and general manager Kevin Towers figured it would be good for Caminiti to get back into baseball, even for a few weeks. It took some prodding, and he finally arrived in camp on Tuesday.

"I feel I have a lot to offer," said Caminiti, who'll work with third baseman Sean Burroughs and be available to talk with players about his various experiences.

After the Atlanta Braves dropped Caminiti from their roster for the 2001 NL championship series, "I walked out, and I got in all that trouble," he said. "From there it was downhill. It's been a good cleanup period for me. It's been real positive."

Caminiti was arrested on drug possession charges in November 2001 after authorities said he was found in a Houston hotel room with crack. He pleaded guilty the following March and was placed on three years' probation and fined $2,000. He tested positive for cocaine use in January 2003 and was ordered to a state-run drug treatment facility.

In May 2002, Caminiti told Sports Illustrated that he used steroids during his MVP season in 1996 with the Padres, when he hit a career-high .326 with 40 home runs and 130 RBI. He estimated half the players in the big leagues were also using them.

On Wednesday, Caminiti briefly touched on why he began using steroids, but declined to comment on baseball's current steroids scandal.

"Maybe at another date," he said. "Right now, you know what, they're pretty much doing a good job of getting steroids away from everybody. I don't really care to discuss it. I guess everybody's really scared to talk about it. Maybe that's why I got in so much trouble with it, because everybody was scared to talk about it at first.

"Maybe that's another reason I stayed away for so long. I thought I stepped on a lot of players, which I never intended to do," he said.

Caminiti said he hasn't paid attention to the case against the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.

"Every time there's something about baseball and steroids, I just turn the sound down. I don't read about it, I don't want to know about it," he said.

Caminiti, a switch-hitter, tore his left rotator cuff early in the 1996 season. He played through the pain the rest of the year, leading the Padres to the NL West title and winning the MVP unanimously.

Caminiti's shoulder required reconstructive surgery that offseason.

"The lack of strength in it, that's when everything happened for me," he said. "That's when I started experimenting with things here and there, trying to make my shoulder strong, just getting it to where I could lift it."

Asked specifically about using steroids, he said:

"I don't know if they put me on the field. They might have enhanced my play. But I would have played with it anyway. Steroids didn't kill the pain."

Caminiti said he also used a substance that stimulated his body's production of hormones.

"I just abused that," he said.

With his Popeye-like forearms, the 40-year-old Caminiti still looks as if he could walk up to home plate and swat a ball over the fence. But there are touches of gray in his goatee and his face looks haggard.

Caminiti, who's also battled alcohol abuse, said his problems are behind him "as long as I want them behind me. I've got to just be happy and take care of myself. You know what? I say that just because I've relapsed enough to know. It can sneak up on you anytime. You've just got to be realistic. I'm really not as scared to talk about it as I used to be, just because I've had so many problems with it."

Last September, as the Padres played their final games at Qualcomm Stadium, Caminiti was a guest of Moores and received a standing ovation.

"It was pretty touching," Caminiti said. "It was by far the best feeling I've had in a baseball setting."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press