This is the drip-drip-drip of the scandal, how the protagonists and antagonists and foils drift out of and back into view, how they claim and play their parts, how they get on with it.
More than two months had passed since Mike Fiers cleared his throat and leveled the finest season in Houston Astros history and the dozens of men who had any place in it, himself included.
Four men, so far, are out of jobs, and that probably isn’t the worst of it. The slag of the scandal does not stop smoking when the commissioner puts away his pen. They’re going to fill stadiums again soon and play baseball again soon and ask that the final scores be honored again soon, except Fiers, after a costume change, has advised us not to be so sure.
He is the hero of 29 organizations, some of whom no doubt are wholly relieved Mike Fiers, now with the Oakland A’s, had no access to their video rooms and dugouts, and fans of fair play. Of competition. Of authenticity. He is likely to be cast as the villain in Houston, if not publicly then beneath the humiliation of having been caught, punished and made an example of. Accountability has a face. It’s 34 years old and bearded and has seen some things across nine seasons and four franchises. The simple escape is to blame him and his defiance of clubhouse codes and brotherhood bonds, because the alternative — introspection — is terribly uncomfortable.
Because this is how the world works, how humans work, and sometimes we get it backwards, Fiers drifted back into view Friday night in Oakland and was asked to explain himself, as though it weren’t entirely evident. More than two months ago he’d pointed a finger at the Astros and the most diabolically rudimentary — and illegal — system of sign stealing. And because he wasn’t a rumor or an unnamed source or an eye wink or a whispered gripe, because he was the face of (delayed) accountability, his story stuck. And stuck hard. And took a lot of people with it, along with that championship and those rings and those memories in that clubhouse. Though, to think of it, those had to be rather thin, thin as a con man’s conscience.
While most of his former teammates squirmed and apparently plotted their explanations or apologies, Fiers told reporters Friday that, basically, he’d said his piece. So, to whether he’d seen the firestorm coming or appreciated the support of his current teammates or was proud of what he’d done or would do it all again, he rocked on his feet and nodded his head and tried to let it pass.
“Hey listen,” he said. “I appreciate the question. I’m not talking about that right now. I’ll talk about baseball. I’ll talk about my team moving forward. But, right now, I just want to focus on this team and not the past.”
“Like I said, I appreciate the question,” he said. “I know you guys gotta ask. That’s your job. But, baseball. Baseball questions, please.”
Please, he said.
“I’m gonna focus on my job and be ready for my team out on the field,” he said. “Like I said, that’s my job — playing baseball, pitching for this team and leading them the right way.”
“You know, like I said, I don’t want this to be a distraction to them,” he said. “I want them to be ready for the season. So, for me, it’s all about getting ready for the season. Playing baseball. And not being a distraction to the team.”
“I said what I said,” he said. “Like I said, we’re moving forward. Like I said, I don’t want to be a distraction to this team. And that’s my main goal. I want everyone to focus on the season at hand and be ready for spring training and eventually for the season.”
Somewhere out there is another baseball season. Maybe that’s a comfort to him. Maybe it won’t always be. But, in at least some part because of him, maybe this season will be a little more about baseball under the lights and a little less about whatever was going on in the shadows. Some will despise him for what he did. Most will not. In the end, it won’t matter. The game should love him for it. And that’s better.
He rocked a little more. Nodded again. It probably isn’t going to get any easier, not right away. This is how he gets on with it.
“Yeah, keep playing baseball,” he said, “keep competing, going out there and trying to do the best I can for my team.”
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