Opinion: Chaos, animosity follow Astros on first full day of training camp thanks to cheating scandal
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Six Houston Astros players gathered around the big-screen TV Monday morning when it showed a replay of Jose Altuve hitting his pennant-winning homer last October against the New York Yankees, dancing around the bases, and then pleading with his teammates not to tear off his jersey at home plate.
They sat in dead silence as the MLB Network commentators questioned, like the rest of the baseball world, whether Altuve was trying to cover up something — such as wearing an electronic buzzer underneath his jersey that signaled Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman was going to throw a slider.
It’s baseball’s Big Foot mystery that remains unsolved. Teammate Carlos Correa divulged Sunday that Altuve simply was embarrassed by an unfinished tattoo to expose his chest on national TV, which, of course, drew ridicule and skepticism across baseball.
So, when Altuve walked into the clubhouse and saw about 50 reporters gathered around, he immediately took off his shirt. He threw it over his left shoulder, slowly walked to his locker, turned around and exposed his bare chest, with the tattoo, “Melanie," the name of his daughter, over a heart.
This has not been a standard spring training for the Astros. (Photo: Jeff Roberson, AP)
He smirked and walked away.
Altuve later acknowledged that he got the tattoo in San Francisco when the Astros were on a trip to play the Oakland A’s last summer. And, yes, it actually took two appointments to get it right.
That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it.
“I want to see the tattoo, man," Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle told USA TODAY Sports. “I saw a video where he had a blue shirt under his jersey in the eighth and ninth inning, but when he comes up to hit, there’s no shirt. I don’t know what it means, but it’s weird.
“Hopefully, he didn’t have to go to a West Palm tattoo parlor to get his story straight."
Across the country, more players continued with their vitriolLos Angeles Angels MVP Mike Trout said Astros players should have been punished, and Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner blasted MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, saying he has lost the respect for the man.
And when the Astros' entire team took the field for the first time this spring, vowing to leave the cheating scandal behind, the past blew up in their faces again.
As Alex Bregman, Correa and Altuve stepped up to take their cuts in the team's first batting practice session, a fan banged a trash can three times before running away ahead of security.
Welcome to the first full day of Astros camp, where the madness, hatred, animosity, disgust and zaniness continue to smother the franchise.
“You talk about pressure; the pressure on them to play well is insanely high," Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter told USA TODAY Sports. "Every game is going to be like the World Series. People are going to be screaming at them. The hate being spewed on social media has been ferocious.
“I don’t know how their personalities are, but I would be broken."
Manager Dusty Baker, who had his first team meeting since being hired, wants to believe the drama will only make them stronger. It’s going to be the Astros against the world.
They need to prove that three consecutive 100-plus win seasons, a World Series, two American League pennants and three AL West titles weren’t merely a result of cheating. They remain a deep and talented team. Their front-office analytics department has projects they will win 105 games.
“If anything, this might make them closer," Baker says. “Adversity sometimes makes you closer. It can break you, or make you closer. And these guys are close, big time."
Astros infielders come together during last year's World Series against the Nationals. (Photo: Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)
When Baker finished his press conference, he started to walk away and softly said: “I don’t think people realize how strong these guys are. I’m telling you, they’re tough. They’re strong. They’re going to get through this.’’
The Astros, who collectively apologized one last time Monday, said they’re going to move forward. Correa said they are done talking about 2017, and plan to talk only about the upcoming season.
They have been reading and watching every comment. They are offended by some, amused by others, but realize they can’t say a word. They’ve got no choice but to be a human pinata.
“Everybody has a right to say whatever they want to say," said Bregman, the AL MVP runner-up. “I’m not here to make excuses or point the finger at anyone. … We put ourselves in that position. What we can do moving forward is learn and work extremely hard to regain the trust of baseball fans.
“We know that won’t be easy. We feel the responsibility to do that.’’
Their greatest hope is that MLB’s investigation of the Boston Red Sox in the 2018 season uncovers evidence they also used live feeds from computer monitors. They hope there are other disgruntled players who spill their secrets on former teams. They realize what they did was wrong, but believe they were not alone.
“I think the best thing for us and the best thing for our game is to try to do put this behind us, however that’s possible," Astros All-Star outfielder George Springer said. "I think the most important thing is to have the trust of the guys who are here in this locker room, and to believe in each other, and trust each other. We’re all going to have to rely on each other a lot this year.’’
“We’ve got to live with it as a team and get through it as a team," said outfielder Josh Reddick. "We all could have stepped up and done something about it, but we didn’t."
There will be those who never forgive the Astros, their 2017 World Series championship forever tainted.
“We win, we shut everybody up," Reddick said. “If we go out there and win, we’re not only going to get a lot of respect from other people, but respect from ourselves as well.
“Winning is the biggest thing."
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale
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