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Saturday, February 22, 2014
Cervelli: Biogenesis 'a mistake'

By Wallace Matthews

Francisco Cervelli
Yankees backup catcher Francisco Cervelli has moved on from last year's suspension.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Francisco Cervelli has crammed more bad luck into six short years than most Major League players do in an entire career. In 2008, he broke a wrist; in 2011, he broke a foot; last season, he broke a hand after finally winning himself a starting catcher's job. In between, he suffered a concussion that cost him a spot on a postseason roster.

But last season, Cervelli broke an MLB rule -- the one that says thou shalt not partake of illegal PEDs -- the only one of those bad breaks he was directly responsible for, and it is the one that seems to hurt Cervelli the most.

"Sometimes you make the wrong decisions, and you just gotta deal with it," Cervelli told ESPNNewYork.com in the Yankees clubhouse Saturday morning before the scheduled workout. It’s a mistake, you know? When you feel desperate or frustrated, you don’t always make the right decisions."

Cervelli declined to say exactly what his mistake was, except to repeat what he had said last spring when the records of the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic were first published by the Miami New Times and his name turned up in them. "I never failed a test," he said. "I took my suspension because I went to the place, and that's it."

Francisco Cervelli
Francisco Cervelli has had to fight throughout his Yankees career. And this season should be no different.
On the day his suspension was announced, Cervelli had other things on his mind; he was lying on the operating table at a New York City hospital, undergoing one of the three surgeries he needed to repair his left hand, broken by a foul tip less than a month into the season. Cervelli sat out the final 50 games of the campaign after accepting MLB's penalty without challenging it, something his friend and teammate Alex Rodriguez did not.

But Cervelli cited many of the same reasons in swallowing his suspension without a fight as A-Rod did to explain dropping his lawsuits against MLB and the Players Association.

"It’s in your mind all the time," he said. "I see my face every day on the TV like I’m the most-wanted guy on the planet. That was like a nightmare for me and especially for my family. Can you imagine you spend the whole winter fighting for something, and it’s not only about the money, it’s in your brain. You need peace. You got to go to sleep well, and between the injury and that thing, man, it was a tough year. So I took my suspension and that's it."

Last year, Cervelli said he went to Biogenesis to consult with Anthony Bosch about healing an injury. "But I left with nothing in my hand," he insisted. On Saturday, Cervelli refused to add to that story, or to say how he had come to know about Biogenesis and its proprietor, who once represented himself to clients as a medical doctor.

"That situation is over now, man," he said.

Manager Joe Girardi -- who has hinted Cervelli has an inside track on the backup catcher's job -- has accepted Cervelli's explanation, while not totally agreeing with his reasoning. "I think there’s a way to prove your innocence in the system that we have," Girardi said. "But he accepted what they handed down and moved forward, and we did as well. It’s behind us. We're all good."

Cervelli's aspiration to be an everyday catcher suffered another blow, possibly fatal, in the offseason when the Yankees signed Brian McCann to a five-year deal, likely relegating Cervelli to a career as a backup, barring a trade. "I don’t want to have the sticker on my back forever, that I’m a backup, because I’m going to be 28, so I think the next four years is make or break for me," he said. "But at the same time, it's better for the team. McCann is an amazing catcher, amazing hitter, and I like to win. But I'm still going to keep working at my dream."

Cervelli said he spent his offseason rehabbing in Tampa, with only one short break to visit his family in Venezuela. And when he learned about the McCann signing, he turned to his parents for advice, like he had when the Yankees sent him to the minor leagues on the last day of spring training 2012 after acquiring Chris Stewart in a trade.

"A lot of things went through my mind," he said. "A lot of mixed feelings like, 'Is it a good idea to keep working for a starting job?' and 'Is my life going to be as a backup catcher?'" He continued: "But my mom and my dad say enjoy what you got now, and whatever comes later, just adapt to the new things. Right now, this is what I got. This is my place. I’m a Yankee and I’m going to do everything Girardi asks me to do."

On Saturday, Cervelli was one of just two veterans -- Scott Sizemore was the other -- chosen to take some live batting practice swings against the Yankees' 22-year-old fireballer Manny Banuelos. Cervelli responded with a couple of good rips off the hard-throwing left-hander.

As always, Cervelli remains popular with his teammates because of his enthusiastic, and sometimes fiery, demeanor on the field. But also -- as always -- he remains wary that once again, something could go wrong in the spring that will derail his entire summer.

"You know what Jeter was saying the other day in the press conference about he wasn't having fun last year because he was hurt? That's been my whole career, man," he said. "Every year. It’s nothing new. I got to fight for something."

This season, that fight might include winning back the affection of the fans -- some of whom may not be willing to let his involvement with Biogenesis slip so easily into the past. "Everybody is going to have different opinions and I got to respect that," he said. "It was an embarrassing moment. But like I said, I got to deal with my own bad decisions. So I’m here and I’m going to play baseball, and I’m going to play the way I play all the time, with passion and a good attitude. Just move on, and that's it."