Cal second baseman Tony Renda was coming off a freshman season productive beyond his wildest dreams when everything unraveled. His father died of lung cancer last July and two months later his school dropped its baseball program. Renda needed the support of a friend, somebody who'd been through heartache and could offer perspective. So he jumped in his car and drove to the gym.
He knew his trainer would be there. Greg Anderson is at the same gym a few miles south of San Francisco all day every day, working with young athletes, middle-aged men and women, and even a few senior citizens. Baseball players are his specialty, and he puts them through a no-compromise strength and conditioning program while, sources close to him say, quietly emphasizing a no-tolerance attitude toward steroids.
To many people, the notion is more than incongruous, it's incredulous. Anderson was convicted six years ago for peddling performance-enhancing drugs, gained infamy for allegedly providing Barry Bonds and other major league stars everything from testosterone and human growth hormone to designer steroids called The Clear and The Cream, and was repeatedly sent to prison for refusing to testify against Bonds.
None of that matters to Renda, who along with his siblings and several friends began training with Anderson six years ago and has come to regard him as a mentor, even exchanging letters with him when Anderson was imprisoned.
This gym visit was different than most. It was about emotional support. Anderson reminded Renda that he'd lost his own father at age 10 and turned to baseball for comfort even though he lacked superior skills. He didn't say much about prison, or reveal details about the steroids that put him in the crosshairs of Jeff Novitzky and the BALCO investigation. But he described how he'd coped when his entire world crumbled and he was consumed by despair. How each day is still a struggle. He told Renda to persevere.
Renda is discussing his relationship with Anderson with ThePostGame.com over the phone from Omaha, Neb., where Cal not only has new life -- a $10 million fundraising campaign saved the program -- but played in the College World Series. And Renda again had an exceptional season, winning the Pacific 10 Conference player of the year award.
"Everything you hear and see about Greg is a false image," Renda says. "Walking into court on TV he looks mean, but he's a sweetheart. He's the best trainer around, and more than that, he's a good guy and a good friend. He helped me through the hardest time of my life."
Someday, Renda says, he'd like to return the favor. He might get the opportunity because the troubles Anderson brought upon himself when he turned to steroids just won't go away.
Five times Greg Anderson was placed behind bars. Now a chain-link fence separates him from the team he coached only two weeks ago. Anderson found joy leading 12-year-old ballplayers including his son, Cole. He couldn't make up for the time lost in jail. This was his best stab. He knew baseball. He enjoyed this.
And then, like the life he once knew, it was taken, swiftly and unequivocally.
Once again Anderson is paying dearly for his role in the tortuous BALCO saga and the bulking up of Bonds. Sources close to Anderson depict a man whose struggles separating past from present continue to haunt him. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity, not wanting their words to harm a man far more fragile, they said, than his hulking façade. Anderson declined to comment too, muzzled still by the case that, in addition to taking his freedom, has blocked his greatest connection with his son.
Anderson was informed that he can no longer coach in the Burlingame Youth Baseball Assn. because the board of directors decided to ban convicted felons. It's hard to argue with the rationale: Who wants an ex-con in a position of authority in a youth organization? Little League and other groups have implemented background checks and don't allow felons on the field.
Yet it seemed arbitrary, coming with two weeks left in the season and a few days after a New York Times article revealed his coaching role. Anderson's five years of volunteer service to the league weren't considered. The fact that the parents of Cole's teammates were unified in their praise of his coaching ability and decorum didn't matter. His mentorship of Renda and other top local high school and college players was ignored.
The record shows that Anderson accepted a plea deal for conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering and served three months in prison and three months of home confinement in 2005. And as the federal perjury case against Bonds developed, Anderson opted to serve more than a year in prison on four contempt-of-court charges rather than testify against his former client.
The adults remembered all that. But do kids? How aware of BALCO are Cole Anderson's contemporaries? Do the names Benito Santiago, Marvin Benard, Bobby Estalella and Armando Rios -- former San Francisco Giants steroid users Anderson once supposedly referred to as "my little guys" -- mean anything to a 12-year-old?
Even Barry Bonds is ancient history to this generation. Cole was 8 when Bonds hit his last home run. For him and other youth ballplayers in the suburbs south of San Francisco, the Giants are Tim Lincecum and his long locks, Brian Wilson and his black beard, Buster Posey and his beyond-belief poise. Bonds is a dim figure to anybody who finished the sixth grade this month, an incredible hitter a long time ago and a cheater who keeps having to put on a suit and go to court.
The kids might not realize Anderson knew Bonds when he was a sixth grader. The two of them played in the same youth league at Burton Park in San Carlos, a short drive from Burlingame. Bonds was two years older than Anderson, spending every free moment at the ballfield after his father, Gordon, was killed at age 33 during a night of dice and poker in nearby Redwood City. William Stanley Younger admitted to shooting Gordon Anderson and another man. He pleaded self-defense and the district attorney dropped the charges.
Greg became so withdrawn that he was mistakenly placed in special education classes for a short time and endured teasing. His refuge was the ballpark, and he'd already become friends with the best catcher in the neighborhood, Tim McKercher, whose older brother Bobby was the best friend of Barry Bonds.
Anderson was a marginal talent but a fantastic teammate, a coach's dream. He'd show up early and carry the bases from the equipment shed to the field. He was the first to congratulate a runner crossing home plate and he was the last to leave the park, making sure the field had been hosed down and the lock secured on the equipment shed.
He maintained that love of the game through high school in Grass Valley, Calif., where his mom moved the family. Soon she left with a boyfriend, essentially leaving Greg to fend for himself at 15.
He eventually moved on to tiny Butte Community College near Chico, Calif., and at Fort Hays (Kansas) State College, where a program teetering on extinction welcomed the scrappy, stumpy middle infielder. Anderson became a gym rat in Kansas, and his newfound strength made him an all-conference hitter in 1987. He also discovered steroids, according to the book "Game of Shadows," and when he moved back to the Bay Area after college he gravitated to a gym frequented by body builders.
Anderson soon became a personal trainer and an expert in the performance-enhancing drug trade, driving a bronze Chevy Tahoe with W8 GURU on the license plates (a truck he still owns, the odometer beyond 200,000 miles). And, as providence would have it, his old chum Barry Bonds began working out at the same gym. Bonds eventually allowed Anderson to work up a strength, conditioning and nutrition program for him before the 1999 season.
Soon Anderson had free reign of the Giants' clubhouse. He allegedly dispensed steroids to many players, and with drug testing on the horizon introduced designer creations The Cream and The Clear to Bonds after the 2000 season. By then Anderson had partnered with Victor Conte, who ran the BALCO operation a few blocks from the gym where Anderson put Bonds through punishing daily workouts.
Bonds won four consecutive MVP awards from ages 36 through 39 and in August 2007 set baseball's career home run record. He was paid $188 million during his 22-year career, $125 million of which came after he reached his 35th birthday in 2000, when he turned over his training regimen to Anderson.
Meanwhile, Anderson's compensation was a pittance. Bonds and other training clients slipped him enough cash to scrape by in an apartment and pay child support to Cole's mom. After he served time under the BALCO plea, Anderson's only income was from families including the Rendas. Tony's father, Frank, brought his two sons and daughter to the gym and soon gained the trust of Anderson, who to this day remains the personal trainer of all three Renda children, now adults.
"It's about loyalty," Tony Renda says. "It's about trust."
Those are qualities Anderson appreciates. Years later, as the perjury case against Bonds unfolded and it became apparent that a conviction would be difficult without his trainer's cooperation, the government tried in vain to get Anderson on the stand. Twenty FBI and IRS agents conducted a SWAT-style raid on the home of Anderson's 59-year-old mother-in-law, Madeleine Gestas, in January 2009, about a month before Bonds' perjury trial was scheduled to begin. They said they were seeking evidence of tax evasion but no charges were brought against Gestas.
It's long been assumed that Anderson's refusal to testify is blind loyalty to Bonds, and that may have played a part, but another reason speaks to Anderson's interpretation of right and wrong: He believes his original plea agreement in 2005 stipulated that he would not have to testify against Bonds or other players, and he believes the government reneged on that agreement.
"Greg felt that he accepted responsibility for his own actions and that he wouldn't create further harm for others," says Paula Canny, one of Anderson's attorneys. "That's why he agreed to accept the plea and go to prison. He felt he was doing the right thing. Now he believes the government is going back on their word by subpoenaing him to testify against Barry."
Prosecutors argued that the proceedings against Bonds were a separate case. Anderson's attorneys do not accept that distinction and he would rather sit in prison than take the stand.
Conte and others caught up in BALCO have publicly expressed remorse for their involvement in steroids. Anderson has not done so, and sources say it's because the Bonds case isn't resolved.
Last week Bonds asked a judge to overturn his April obstruction-of-justice conviction for testifying evasively to a grand jury. The jury had deadlocked on three perjury counts. The basis of the charges is that Bonds lied when he denied under oath that Anderson or anyone else injected him with performance-enhancing drugs.
A source said that had Bonds accepted the single guilty verdict, the government likely would have agreed not to re-file the perjury charges. However, because Bonds is appealing, prosecutors are considering retrying the entire case. They were scheduled to tell the judge their intentions this Friday, but on Tuesday requested a two-month postponement.
Another trial would mean another subpoena for Anderson. And, most likely, another refusal to testify. And another stint in jail.
Meanwhile, next year Anderson's son will move up to a league where the field is larger and the players wiser to the world. Most boys in their early teens are inquisitive yet introverted, cynical yet receptive to an adult role model. Anderson wants to start an elite 13-under travel team, an ideal circumstance for him to make a positive impression, as a coach and as a father to Cole.
However, he won't be able to tell the kids he's sorry for getting involved with steroids. He won't be able to explain his relationship to Bonds -- not when he might again be subpoenaed. Not when he again might return to prison. Not until the case against Bonds is absolutely, positively over.
Once it is, Anderson still won't rest easy. Sources say prosecutors blame him for their inability to successfully prosecute Bonds and have privately threatened to charge him with criminal contempt, which is defined as disobedience to a lawful order and could result in up to two years in prison.
"A human being is not wired to be chased by a tiger trying to eat you alive 24/7," Conte says. "Your brain feels like it's on fire. That's the kind of stress Greg Anderson lives with. Greg has served his punishment tenfold."
The motto on T-shirts Anderson gives to those he trains reads, "Strength and Honor." Renda says he is adamant about his young clients staying clean of drugs and alcohol and living lives of integrity.
"He really can't talk about what went on, and nobody asks him about it," Renda says. "It's understood."
Renda knows his association with Anderson causes consternation in some circles, much the way Chicago Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd's adherence to Conte's regimen of nutritional supplements does. Days after Renda graduated from Junipero Serra High in San Mateo in 2009 -- the same school Bonds attended -- the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned Anderson was his trainer, and within days a rumor circulated that his scholarship to Cal had been pulled because he tested positive for steroids.
No truth to that one, and the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Renda laughs at the suggestion Anderson slips him PEDs.
"It's on the athlete to train honestly," Renda says. "Besides, Greg wouldn't jeopardize me or anybody else at this point."
Anderson, sources said, believes federal law enforcement would love nothing more than to bust him again. He hasn't been implicated in anything pertaining to PEDs since 2004.
Nor has he been accused of illegally accepting payment from Bonds for refusing to testify. Plenty of folks speculate about that, and it's impossible to say whether Bonds might compensate Anderson in the distant future. For now, Anderson is on the tight budget of a personal trainer at the Foster City (Calif.) Athletic Club.
And if he needs any more reasons to stay clean, Anderson needs only look into Cole's eyes. The most difficult part of his incarcerations was the separation from his son. He reflected on the death of his own father and realized how it sent his life careening in directions it might not have otherwise. And later he saw the hurt in Tony Renda when his father, a man who professed unconditional trust in Anderson when everyone else doubted him, died prematurely.
No wonder Anderson's primary goal is to remain a stabilizing force in Cole's life, and steroids have no place in that scenario. Except that because of the feds, the PEDs won't vanish.
Given the chance, maybe Anderson could explain his past to a group of young ballplayers taking a knee and hanging on his every word. Maybe he could finally have a brutally honest chat with Tony Renda. Maybe his albatross could become his salvation. But those moments are a long way off.
As much as Greg Anderson wants to live in the present, his past just won't let go.
-- Steve Henson is a senior writer and editor for Yahoo! Sports. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @HensonYahoo.
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