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Suspended Myrtle Beach Pelicans fly coop

The three Myrtle Beach Pelicans who the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball says tested positive for a banned amphetamine are not allowed to be around the team during their 50-game suspensions and have reportedly left Myrtle Beach.

Second baseman Albaro "Yoel" Campusano and first baseman/outfielder Gerardo Rodriguez have reportedly returned to the Dominican Republic – their native country – while second baseman Amadeo Zazueta is expected to stay in Arizona or return to his native Mexico.

Pelicans general manager Scott Brown said the players cannot take part in team activities, including practice, until their suspensions expire, and the Pelicans’ parent club, the Atlanta Braves, can’t release them while they are suspended.

So their possible future in the Braves organization won’t be known until the suspensions are complete, which is scheduled to be July 16 barring game cancellations or postponements.

The Pelicans will be at home July 16 against Lynchburg and there will be 49 games remaining on the team’s 2010 schedule.

The commissioner’s office said each player tested positive for an amphetamine that is classified by Major League Baseball and the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program as a banned, performance-enhancing drug. The suspensions were announced Friday.

Teammates say the three players were interviewed at the team hotel in Wilmington, N.C., Friday by Minor League Baseball drug testing officials. They collected their belongings in the Pelicans clubhouse when the team bus arrived from a series in Wilmington the early morning hours Monday.

Rodriguez is a power-hitting prospect who leads the Pelicans with eight home runs and 24 RBIs this season, and hit 23 home runs with 83 RBIs in 123 games last year between low-A Rome and Myrtle Beach.

Zazueta is a smooth-fielding shortstop who was batting just .163, and Campusano is a second baseman batting just .192.

Zazueta said through Pelicans first baseman Gerardo Avila, who he has been living with in a Myrtle Beach apartment, that he did not want to speak to the media and had no comment. Avila called Zazueta from the ballpark on Tuesday. Neither Rodriguez nor Campusano could be contacted this week.

Ginny Batchelder, who housed Rodriguez this season as part of a lodging program through the Pelicans booster association, said in an email that she believes the players tested positive as a result of a cold medication they took.

Pelicans trainer Chas Miller said ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which is a stimulant and decongestant that is prevalent in many cold and allergy medications, are among the substances banned in baseball.

“Pseudoephedrine is a big no-no,” Miller said. “That’s in a lot of cold and allergy medications. Colds, allergies and sleep aids are the three biggest things guys take for granted when they go and purchase something on their own. . . . It’s a very broad [drug] test.”

Pseudoephedrine is an ingredient in common brand-name medications including Advil Cold & Sinus, Aleve Cold & Sinus, Zyrtec and Claritan. Medications containing pseudoephedrine are required to be behind the counter in U.S. pharmacies, but are available to anyone with valid identification. They are more readily available in most foreign countries.

“If you go to a third world country like the Dominican or Panama, places like that, and you purchase something, you don’t know what’s in it,” Miller said. “So some players put themselves at risk with that.”

Pelicans manager Rocket Wheeler said the three players are quality individuals. “What amphetamine [they tested positive for] I don’t know,” Wheeler said. “But if you take something that has ephedrine in it, it’s going to show positive on the drug test. If they took it, they didn’t take it on purpose.”

Players in the Braves organization are briefed on the minor league drug testing program every season.

“Every year during spring training we have a talk with all these guys and let them know there are substances and over-the-counter drugs and stuff like that, that are available to the public and are readily available to them,” Miller said.

The club suggests weight-lifting supplements that are approved by the non-profit “NSF International, The Public Health and Safety Company,” because those products are also approved by Major League Baseball and shouldn’t test positive for banned substances.

“If it doesn’t have an NSF sticker on it, they are putting themselves at risk, and that’s what we tell them in spring training, and we drill that into them during spring training and after spring training,” Miller said.

Miller said the players are told to consult the Pelicans training staff if they have any doubts about the legality of a product, and the Pelicans’ training staff has approved weight-lifting supplements and cold and allergy medications for sale to the players.

Miller said the Spanish-speaking Latin American players don’t have a hired translator to explain what the trainers are telling them each spring, but they have bilingual players to convey the information. Rodriguez and Zazueta speak and understand a fair amount of English, while Campusano speaks little English, according to Pelicans personnel.

Rodriguez and Campusano have both been in the Braves organization several years, and Zazueta is new to the organization this year and has limited minor league experience.

“It’s obviously disappointing, but you would think they would know better,” Millers said. “Those three guys are good kids. They must have taken something that was obviously illegal, but something they didn’t know better. If you take it upon yourself to get something outside the training room and outside the weight room, you put yourself at risk.”