LEAWOOD, Kan. - With reports that as many as 20 major leaguers may soon face discipline for the use of performance enhancing drugs, younger athletes also say they feel the pressure to add power by packing on muscle.
"I'm always pressured to get bigger. I'm always being told that I'm skinny -- too skinny for the sport," said Joe Huber, a standout pitcher at Rockhurst High School, who will take his 90 mile-an-hour two-seam fastball to Rockhurst University this fall.
" I've never personally seen anything illegal, but I know it happens at every level," he said.
Huber is not alone. Other players and parents interviewed Wednesday at the Kansas City Sports Club in Leawood said the growing intensity of youth sports, and the pressure to excel early to compete for college scholarships, has led to an arms race that could include the use of performance enhancing drugs.
"I found if you're small, most colleges and scouts, they don't like to see that. They like the bigger guys. The more athletic and just … power is what they like," said Lake Morgan, a high school senior from Shawnee.
Morgan, who has the build of a football linebacker but pitches for his club baseball team, says the pressure to gain weight and muscle is constant, but that he doesn't personally know anyone who admits to using steroids.
"They're not good for you, especially if you overuse them," he said. "They cause lots of problems in the long run -- they're really going to hurt you in the long run."
Huber said he, too, knew steroids were a shortcut he wasn't willing to take, but said he wished his coaches at lower levels would have been more outspoken about their danger.
"Knowing that a coach is there to talk to you about it if somebody tries to pressure you into it, that would have been helpful," Huber said.
A 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics said that as many as six percent of high school students had used steroids at some point to gain muscle.
Parents of still-younger athletes said the bad example being set by some major leaguers needed to be countered with education for youth players.
"I absolutely think that pressure is going to be brought down to the younger age," said Denny Chinnock, the father of a six year-old aspiring ballplayer. "I'm hoping that you don't see kids before high school even considering steroids.
"I do think the education needs to start early, and the earlier we can start talking to these kids about it, the greater chance they avoid the potential problem."