Twelve years ago Tucker was a first-round draft pick out of Southern California’s Temple City High School, in a San Gabriel Valley suburb of Los Angeles. For the next three years the promising pitcher with the prodigious fastball bounced around the Marlins’ minor league affiliates, training for The Show in quiet burgs like Zebulon, North Carolina, and Jupiter, Florida.
During that bush league odyssey, Tucker held fast to minor league baseball’s cardinal rule: To kill the pain of injury and the boredom of the bus-traveling life, consume all the alcohol and pills you need. But do not touch the weed.
In the minors, the rules are clear: Consume all the booze and pills you need, but don’t touch the weed.
Minor league towns in the South were notorious pot-prohibition strongholds. And minor league baseball’s cannabis policy was no less forgiving. Even if Tucker happened to meet someone cool in Zebulon, North Carolina, Major League Baseball prohibited cannabis usage in both the minor and major leagues, but only subjected minor league players to random drug tests. Once you got to The Show, cannabis remained a banned substance—but baseball’s strong players union made sure random testing wasn’t allowed in the majors.
Greensboro and Jupiter were real slogs for Ryan Tucker. He didn’t exactly earned the descriptor “phenom” as a starting pitcher. But things changed in Zebulon, the Marlins’ AA affiliate. He began revising his worldview. Which is to say that he developed one. Baseball was a business. His business. He was Ryan Tucker Inc. He took better care of his body. The Carolina Mudcats manager tried him out of the bullpen. Suddenly his fastball caught fire. Opposing hitters recorded more outs and fewer runs.
“It all just clicked for me” in the bullpen of that AA club, Tucker recalled. He won five