A contrite Odubel Herrera asks teammates and fans to trust him again originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Odubel Herrera cleared a couple of hurdles in his bid to rejoin the Phillies roster on Tuesday.
For the first time in 21 months, since he was first sidelined and later suspended for violating Major League Baseball’s policy against domestic abuse, he played in a game wearing a Phillies uniform.
Before taking the field in a spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida, Herrera, at his request, met with some teammates.
“I told them the last two years were hard because I was away from baseball,” Herrera said in a videoconference with reporters after the game. “I told them I love this uniform and I feel happy to wear this uniform again.”
The meeting lasted only five minutes, Herrera said. As he first did publicly over a year ago, he expressed sorrow for the incident that occurred in Atlantic City in May 2019 when he assaulted his girlfriend, Melany Martinez-Angulo. Legal charges were dropped and Herrera served an 85-game suspension without appeal. The joint agreement between MLB and the Players Association prohibits releasing or voiding the contract of a player who violates the policy against domestic abuse.
Herrera, signed through 2021, was removed from the Phillies’ big-league roster and assigned to the minor leagues when the suspension ended after the 2019 season. He ended up sidelined again in 2020 as the pandemic claimed the minor-league season. Now, he’s back in spring training, still technically a minor-leaguer, trying to win back his old job in center field — and so much more.
The 29-year-old native of Venezuela opened his videoconference with a statement.
“I just want to say about what I did in 2019, I feel sorry because I made a big mistake,” he said. “I know some people are not going to forgive me and I understand that. But I spent the last two years earning Melany’s trust back and I am grateful because she forgave me. Now I would like to have the same opportunity with my teammates, our fans and the Phillies family.”
Herrera said he received positive feedback from the teammates he spoke with before Tuesday’s game. However, he did not speak with the full club, just the players who traveled to Dunedin and that group did not include any veteran regulars. It’s possible that he still may have some work to do with some of the team’s high-profile players before he gains acceptance back into the clubhouse, should he make the team. Herrera has already spoken with Aaron Nola and the pitcher has publicly said he’s in favor of giving Herrera a second chance. Herrera said he has yet to speak with Bryce Harper, who in many ways is the face of the franchise and a clubhouse bellwether.
Gaining acceptance in the clubhouse is vital, but it may turn out to be an easier challenge for Herrera than gaining acceptance from fans. At least full acceptance. If Herrera plays in a game for the Phillies this season, be it on opening day or in mid-summer, he surely will hear some boos. Maybe a lot of them, depending how many fans are permitted in the ballpark. The public relations aspect in all of this is something the team has carefully weighed.
“You have to have thick skin and understand that there's a reason that you're getting boos,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He's taken responsibility for his actions. He's just got to learn to ignore it. There's a lot of insults hurled at players during the course of a season whether you have an incident or not, and you have to learn to ignore them and just not get caught up in some of the negativity that's thrown at the players. There's some nasty stuff that's said. At this level, you have to learn to ignore it.”
How would Herrera handle the boos?
How will he gain the acceptance of fans?
“Working hard, playing hard, having fun and being a good teammate inside the clubhouse,” he said, listing the steps that he hopes lead to acceptance. “I’m just going to focus on my game and I’m going to prove to them that I am a better person.
“I learned a lot these past two years. I feel more mature. I have changed a lot with my personality. I’m a better person now.”
Other than paying Herrera the nearly $13 million he is still owed as part of a five-year, $30.5 million contract signed after his All-Star season of 2016, the Phillies have no obligation to bring Herrera to the majors. In fact, they could release him for baseball reasons — i.e., if he plays poorly this spring. They also could keep him in the minor leagues. But none of what’s going on in Clearwater with Herrera appears to be fake. If he performs well, he could end up on the team.
In his first game in a Phillies uniform in 21 months, Herrera made a solid showing Tuesday. He batted three times, struck out once, but had a base hit, stole a base and scored a run. The evaluation will continue as Girardi said Herrera could be back in the lineup in a couple of days.
“I thought he looked pretty good,” Girardi said. “Base hit, stole a base, was part of the rally, made some good plays in right field, charged a ball hard on a throw to home. I thought he looked pretty good.”