ARLINGTON, TEXAS – Neil Allen returned to the Twins on Thursday, embarrassed and humiliated, he said, by his drunken driving arrest in late May — but mostly thankful, too.
The Twins, the team’s pitching coach said, “probably saved my life.”
That’s because the team, rather than firing him, enrolled Allen in an outpatient treatment program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, a program that allowed him to halt, he said, a descent back into the alcoholism he thought he had conquered 22 years ago.
“Alcoholism is something you think, after 22 years, ‘Not me,’ ” an emotional Allen said shortly after addressing the Twins in the visitors clubhouse at Globe Life Park. “Well, it happened. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just go away because you’ve been dry 22 years.”
Allen was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving in downtown Minneapolis early on the morning of May 26, pulled over, he said, after drinking again for the first time since giving up alcohol in 1994. He was placed on indefinite suspension until completing the Hazelden program, which he did Tuesday. Eric Rasmussen filled in for six weeks and returned to his job as minor league pitching coordinator.
Allen flew to Texas with the Twins on Wednesday, then called a team meeting before batting practice Thursday to thank players for their support.
Allen said in retrospect, he could see several red flags over the past six months which culminated in the incident, and they had nothing to do with baseball or the Twins’ difficult season. The arrest and suspension was “one of the worst nights of my life. One of the toughest things I’ve had to do was talk to my son [Bobby] and talk to [Twins players] today,” he said, briefly choking up at the thought. “It was a humiliating time, it was an embarrassing time, but I realize who I am 22 years ago doesn’t just leave you because you’ve been 22 years dry. It can happen and it did.”
Allen has not yet faced charges stemming from the incident, but said his case “is in the hands of the lawyers now.”
Manager Paul Molitor said the Twins were happy to have Allen back, and happy he got the help he needed.
“For the most part, he’s going to be the same guy,” Molitor said. “Without divulging too much, it was time for him to reflect on some things in his life that had happened, and get some perspective back, as well as strength.”
Allen’s wife, Lisa, died in 2012, leaving him to raise his now-16-year-old son, with the help of his extended family.
Allen emphasized his gratitude toward Twins owner Jim Pohlad, President Dave St. Peter and General Manager Terry Ryan, because “they could have very easily told me to take a hike,” he said. “But they probably saved my life by putting me into that program.”
For that matter, he said, the arrest itself “might have been a blessing in disguise, because who’s to say a block from where I got pulled over, maybe I run a red light and I get broadsided and killed? Maybe I kill somebody,” he said. “There was a reason it happened.”
Attending daily meetings for five weeks with fellow alcoholics was an eye-opening experience, Allen said.
“When I went into it and saw the lies and the stories and the things that are happening to people, [I realized] we live behind sheltered walls in this life,” he said. “It makes you appreciate how lucky you are to be part of it. There are people who have been to hell and back and hell again.”
Ryan said the team “never gave any consideration” to firing Allen, adding: “He needed help as a human being. You can’t possibly consider deserting a guy in that state, it’s just not fair. He made a mistake and a huge mistake, so we did the right thing. We got him help.”
Ryan kept MLB apprised of Allen’s situation and suspension, and no further punishment is expected.