It was only a matter of time before circumstances conspired to bring uniformed personnel from the Astros and Red Sox centerstage to address the issue of the era – the electronic cheating scandal that has rocked Major League Baseball.
Wintertime is when teams from around the league sponsor fan caravans to keep the hot stove burning in the weeks prior to the start of spring training.
These are normally times for light-hearted chit-chat, handshakes and selfies. The players mill around in a relaxed atmosphere answering questions no more vexing than whether the team can win the World Series.
But when the Red Sox gathered in Springfield, Mass., and the Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston over the weekend, there were other issues on the minds of the fans and media in attendance.
This marked the first time players and coaches from both teams were in public since the allegations, suspensions, firings and resignations were announced relating to the scandal. And not surprisingly, it filled the air at these events with a nervous tension.
From the sound of it, the Red Sox players and coaches who spoke to the media seemed well-prepared for the questions they knew they would be asked. Frankly, this is going to be the way it is once spring training begins. They all are going to be asked how they feel about the impact of the scandal. They might as well get used to it.
Frankly, there was little any of them could say about the specifics of the case, so most of their comments tended to be heavy on the reactionary, short on the details.
Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers admitted it was very difficult knowing the team’s manager, Alex Cora, would not be back after resigning his position last week.
“It’s sad for the organzation. It’s sad for Alex,” Hyers told The Athletic. “It’s one of those things we’ve got to battle through this. We’ve always thought of ourselves and the players as a family and got to pull together and keep moving forward, and obviously, we’ve got a job to do and get the team ready for this upcoming year.”
Most of the Red Sox seemed more interested in waiting for MLB’s investigation into how involved their 2018 world championship team was in the scandal to be over.
One exception was designated hitter J.D. Martinez. He said he’s certain the Red Sox would be cleared.
“It sucks, to be honest with you. It does suck,” Martinez said. “But, you know what, I know I’m excited for the investigation to be over with just so that they can see that there was nothing going on here.”
When a reporter followed by asking if Martinez was certain the Red Sox would be exonerated, the players nodded his head yes.
One immediate problem the Red Sox and Astros share is finding a new manager with the start of spring training less than a month away.
“I spent so many years playing this game and trying to do things the right way,” Red Sox bench coach Ron Roenicke said. “It’s hard. It hurts in all areas. You try to raise your kids for doing things the right way, you try to live your life that way, you try to be that way in your career. So anytime you see that, it hurts. I also realize that we all screw up. I’ve screwed up. Everybody has. It just happens this is a huge deal in what happened, and it’s sad to see that for the game, sad to see that for (the Houston) organization. I know we’re going through it in ours, and we’ll see what happens there.”
In Houston, the mood was pretty much the same, even though their organization has already been implicated, heavily fined and stripped of four high draft picks over the next two seasons.
“Believe me, in the end of the year, everything will be fine,” Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said. “We’re going to be in the World Series again. People don’t believe it, we will. We will. We made it last year, we were one game away of winning it all.”
Altuve also addressed the accusation he was among the Astros wearing an electronic device under his jersey top able to alert him of certain pitches.
“You know, we all know that some people made that up,” he said. “And like I said, the best thing to happen to me was the MLB investigate that and they didn’t find something.”
However, while Altuve was responsive to questions, his teammate, Alex Bregman, was not.
“The commissioner made his report, made his decision, and the Astros made their decision,” he said. “And I have no further comment on it. … I think in the 2020 year, our actions will speak louder than our words.”
A number of other Astros supposed to be at the event – including Justin Verlander and George Springer – but did not show up.
“I have two options. One is cry, and one is go down and play the game and [perform] and help my team,” Altuve said. “And you know what one I am going to do.
“It’s a tough situation, and as a team, we have to stay together and go through this as a team like we’ve been doing, always. We have to talk about it at spring training and try not to let things in the past distract us for next year.”