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ANAHEIM, Calif. – By Wednesday afternoon, Jake Marisnick had spent 10 days in the public maelstrom that had stripped context and neutrality from a horrific baseball play that also was undeniably an accident.
For those 10 days he’d been eviscerated on social media, kicked around on television, heckled at the ballpark of his youth and suspended by his league’s office. Then he had a baseball heaved at his neck. It wasn’t over, either.
There remained time to serve as the guy who sent catcher Jonathan Lucroy to the hospital. Twice, if you were to include the ensuing surgery. It is Lucroy who suffers first and longest. It is Marisnick who roots hardest for his recovery.
The noise, the mess, the rage, the threatening language, all the trimmings of the new day, does sometimes come with the job.
The alternative view – not unlike the camera shot from behind Lucroy that should absolve Marisnick of malicious intent – is that the game, any game, will place people and objects and outcomes on the same patch of dirt at the same time, and that collisions of body and spirit are inevitable. What is not predictable when the world passes judgment, when the question is what to do next, is how one responds when cast as the villain.
Marisnick, a 28-year-old Houston Astros outfielder from nearby Riverside, California, an Angels fan almost before he was anything else, a .229 career hitter in 640 career major league games, and a newcomer to the maelstrom, chose dignity. And honesty. And regret. Not for his efforts but for the consequences of them. He chose calm. He sifted his words not through a public relations man, but gave them freely from his conscience. He had not intended to hurt a fellow player. He had not acted recklessly. In fact, he’d sought to avoid contact, only to discover he’d chosen incorrectly.
And so it has been quite the 10 days for a guy whose transgression was diving for the inside edge of home plate rather than the outside edge, a 17-inch miscalculation made in a split second that, first, injured Lucroy and, second, became Marisnick’s to explain.
He has been the adult in the room ever since, from the tenderness he showed Lucroy immediately after impact to the herding of angry teammates when the retaliation finally arrived. On Wednesday afternoon, by then well into Day 10, the latest news being the league’s disciplining of the Angels’ pitcher who’d hit him on the R in Marisnick the night before, Marisnick would say he’d had no plan to defend himself beyond the truth. See, he’d not been a villain before.
“Never before,” he said.
He’d certainly never been a villain in Anaheim.
“Never,” he said. “Never thought in a million years I would be. That’s the crazy part.”
And here he is.
“At the end of the day my teammates know me,” he said. “Guys I’ve played with know I would never have an intent to hurt another player like that.
“Things happen on the field you hate to see. I was raised to play hard and keep your nose down and stay out of trouble. I was never a troublemaker growing up. I’ve never had anything like this happen before, being at the center of a controversy. It’s a weird place to be. But that’s life. Things happen. You deal with them. Hopefully you move forward.”
He added, “I hate what happened.”
He’d apologized to Lucroy, but couldn’t say if he’d been forgiven.
“You gotta ask him about that,” he said. “I feel good with how I’ve explained myself in talking to him. I would definitely, once things kind of blow over, like to talk to him, sit down and have a longer conversation about the incident.”
This is the Jake Marisnick teammates and coaches know well, the man who shows up and plays, who cares, who was and remains bothered that another man cannot play because of a moment that involved him, who would take back the decision to make Lucroy whole again.
“His actions during this have been nothing short of sensational,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “From the very beginning, the collision, his first reaction going right to Lucroy, to the follow-up, to how he handled the media, the questions, the curiosity when we got back from the All-Star break. To then having the most difficult situation for him, is to come here and get the treatment he got here. And I’m not talking about getting hit. Getting hit was somewhat expected – in yesterday’s game, in today’s game, in the world of today’s game. The fans were incredibly harsh to him and he rose above it. He stayed with what he does. He kept his composure. He’s just a very well-balanced, well-intended, likeable guy.
“This game will often lead you to how you respond to failure, how you respond to negative press, how people respond to the struggles that are within this game. There’s a lot of really good people in the game. Jake is one of the best ... He’s not someone notable because he ran into a catcher. He’s notable because of how he’s carried himself, how he plays the game, how well respected and how well liked he is.”
What’s left is Lucroy’s recovery, which is the primary concern. Also, going forward, attention to a rule that does not fully account for unintentional contact between runner and catcher at the plate. The league suspended Marisnick for two games. He was fined. He has appealed, not entirely for himself. He’d like to be heard.
“Maybe it’s a chance to address this rule further and I’ll get a chance to voice my opinion on what we can do to further avoid collisions like this,” he said. “I mean, it can happen to anybody. I would rather it not.”
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