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02/17/09 7:06 PM EST

A-Rod wants to be a change for good

With Hooton's help, All-Star committed to steroids awareness

TAMPA, Fla. -- Taylor Hooton was just another baseball player in just another town, with designs on making it to the Plano West Senior High School varsity team. He was a pitcher, all 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds of him. And he had baseball in his blood, with a brother who played college ball and a cousin who won 151 games for the Cubs, Dodgers and Rangers.

"We're a baseball family," his father, Don Hooton, said.

Taylor wanted that life, too.

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Taylor was working toward it back in 2002, as a junior on Plano's junior varsity team, when his coach told him that he needed to become bigger. To become stronger. But the coach didn't tell Taylor how.

His teammates knew. Half of them, according to his father's estimates, were taking some form of anabolic steroids, and Taylor fell prey to their influence, according to Don Hooton. Taylor began injecting one type of steroid and ingesting another, just another honors student with a competitive drive and, his parents believed, a penchant for protein shakes. Within three months, Taylor had gained 30 pounds of muscle.

Within six months, he was dead.

"Mom and dad were reinforcing the behavior," Don Hooton said. "The kid's working out. He's trying to get bigger."

And Don Hooton has been living with that nightmare since, for nearly six years now in his Texas home. He and his family founded the Taylor Hooton Foundation in 2004, in the hope of spreading awareness to high school steroid users and raising funds to educate them. When Hooton heard Alex Rodriguez mention in an ESPN interview last week that he wanted to alert young people to the dangers of steroids, he had an idea.

Hooton left a message with the Yankees, one with Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, and another with a representative for Major League Baseball. The next morning, he received a call.

A-Rod's voice crackled from the other side of the line. He wanted to help.

"He sounds sincere to me," Hooton said. "But in the end, I guess it's not up to us to judge the sincerity. I want to judge him by his actions."

And Rodriguez, in his closing statement in Tuesday's news conference, implored his fans to "judge me from this day forward." To that end, he has committed to help the Hooton Foundation by raising funds for education programs, by becoming a spokesman for video and live appearances, by helping to solicit corporate sponsorships and by parlaying his celebrity into widespread awareness.

"He thinks he can make a difference on this issue," Hooton said.

The problem, according to Hooton's associate, Rob Housman, lies in the fact that most young athletes go through school learning about the negative effects of cigarettes, alcohol and hard drugs, but rarely about the negative effects of steroids. Hooton said his son had little knowledge of how to gain muscle correctly, through proper diet and exercise -- only that steroids would help him reach the goal.

His parents, as Hooton said, encouraged his behavior, and the younger Hooton confided only in his brother. Only when his attitude began to decay -- what is commonly known as "'roid rage" -- did his parents begin to worry. They took him to a doctor once, then again six weeks later for a drug test. Hooton passed because his doctor, according to the elder Hooton, was unaware that steroids were not a part of the normal drug test program.

Yet the symptoms didn't dissipate, leading Hooton's parents to take him to a psychiatrist. Six hour-long sessions later, he admitted his steroid use.

The recommendation was that he quit cold-turkey, which created a new set of problems. Steroids, in their base form, fuel a person with artificial testosterone, and using them halts the production of natural testosterone. It can take up to a year to return to normal -- and in the interim, former steroid users go about their life virtually devoid of the hormone.

So it was with the 17-year-old Hooton, whose testosterone levels plummeted, triggering a typical side effect: depression.

"And the rest is history," Don Hooton said. "About four weeks later, he was dead."

Thoughts of Taylor Hooton's suicide still cause his father's eyes to moisten, making it easy to see how the tragedy led to the creation of the Hooton Foundation. Since creating the charity, Don Hooton has spoken directly to more than 50,000 youths and adults throughout the country, has testified to Congress on multiple occasions and has been instrumental in the passing of a Texas youth athlete steroid law, named for his son.

Recruiting Rodriguez was an opportunity that materialized out of the smoke of A-Rod's steroid admission, the shiniest of silver linings. And his celebrity status and influence, once weaved into the foundation's mission, could help Hooton solve the problems that he set about fixing five long years ago.

"I'm sorry to the parents," Rodriguez said in his Tuesday news conference, referencing Hooton by name. "I feel like this happened than for much bigger reasons than baseball. And I think God has put me in a position, a forum, where I can be heard and my voice can be heard. And I hope that kids would not make the same mistake that I made."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.