WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — On Saturday, the Houston Astros played their first baseball game since the world found out, and then had confirmed by a Major League Baseball investigation, that they cheated in 2017. The spring training stadium that they share with the reigning champion Washington Nationals was dominated by Nats fans, who booed every opportunity they had (which wasn’t many — in a rain-shortened game, the Astros started only players who debuted in 2018, or later, or not at all yet).
But among the triumphant red T-shirts and at least one custom polo that said “CHAMPS VS CHEATS,” there were also Astros fans — people who love baseball enough to be at a spring training game over 1,000 miles from Minute Maid Park; people who have nothing to do with the now infamous trash-can banging scheme. When the Astros betrayed the baseball world, they betrayed these people too. Or maybe most of all. Or maybe they don’t feel that way.
Fan stories come with a built-in caveat. Every archetype could be contradicted or undermined by a dozen other examples. There’s nothing to be concluded about Astros fans en masse. Beyond that, the concourse of a spring training facility is a self-selecting group. The people here in West Palm aren’t the ones who decided this offseason to abandon the Astros. Even so, I wanted to know how they felt about their team’s indiscretions and the subsequent scandal.
For what it’s worth, all of the Astros fans I approached were willing to talk — about the cheating and how it made them feel. I’ll let them explain.
How did you feel when the story first broke, more defensive or more disappointed?
Matt Wuenschel: I was probably a little bit defensive at first. I wanted to hear all the information, wait for it all to come out, ‘cause I wasn’t exactly sure what happened.
Chris Walton: So at first I was disappointed. [...] So the first story came out, in my head all I’m hoping for is that they have no evidence and nothing is gonna come up and this will just blow over.
Jimmy Perez: A little bit of both. I was disappointed that they went and did that but I mean it’s still my team and I still support them. It’s like your kids, you know, even if they mess up, you’re still gonna love them and you’re still gonna support them and hope they learn from their mistakes.
Amanda Vair: Defensive in the fact that it’s not a secret that sign stealing has been around for a very long time. Now does that make it right? Absolutely not. I was disappointed a little in a way that it’s really not cool. But tell me one team that has not sign stolen and I’ll call you a liar.
Billy Wleczyk: I’d say a mixture of both. I mean, I don’t think they needed to do it to win the championship. So from that perspective, disappointed. But also defensive ’cause I know how good these guys are, they can win without doing anything wrong.
Jared McMillan, wearing a shirt that says “Forever Champs”: Disappointed. Definitely disappointed. I’m a big baseball fan, I spend a lot of money going to games and memorabilia, so yeah. We were at the 2017 World Series, we were at Game 2 and Game 5, after all that magic happened, to see what’s happening, yeah it’s disheartening. Those memories are never going to change, [but] yeah it makes it not as sweet. From a fan’s perspective, it hurt.
Matt Cluthe: Disappointed.
Brian Eads: At the very first, until the commissioner's report came out, I was defensive ...
How did your feelings change as the offseason progressed or as spring training has gotten under way?
Brian Eads: … and then I was disappointed. I know every team is trying to gain an edge. I was not happy with the fact that they used electronic devices like other teams have been accused of and other teams were accused of in 2017.
Jimmy Perez: My disappointment as far as MLB goes, I think there’s a lot of rocks being thrown out of glass houses. And I think a lot of other players are forgetting that the ‘Stros are not the only team that’s done this. I’m not excusing it, but I don’t think it’s right for them to get crucified while other teams have done it, and they haven’t received the same bad media.
Amanda Vair: It becomes, I don’t want to say personal ‘cause I’m not a baseball player, but to threaten people’s lives and to put fans and people in danger — yeah we know the facts: they cheated, they did. And they’ve all admitted to it so OK, let’s play baseball.
Jared McMillan: The more info that came out, again, it hurts. But I’m born and bred in Houston. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m a fan of the Astros, it’s not gonna change that. They have a little more to earn my respect again.
Chris Walton: When the report finally came out and I read it, it was like your uncle bought you every Christmas present you ever wanted and then a year later you find out they were all stolen. But with all of the pile on and pile on that’s been coming about things that there is no evidence or proof of, it’s all speculation, and now I feel like all I’m doing is defending the team every time I turn around.
Matt Cluthe: It’s kind of evened out. I have a lot of buddies that are big Cubs fans talking a lot of trash, so I’m a little defensive. But I also know the facts. And the fact that [Astros owner Jim] Crane came out and fired [Jeff] Luhnow and [AJ] Hinch, I think that was a step in the right direction. Players apologizing is another step in the right direction. It’s just going to take time.
Will it impact your fandom for the 2020 team?
Jimmy Perez: Absolutely not. I’m still going to be here and support.
Amanda Vair: Oh, hell no. I’m still a full-time season ticket holder and I will be at every single game unless I’m sick or I have to go to work.
Jared McMillan: No. I’m a baseball nerd so I’m excited about baseball. I’m ready to put all that crap behind us and move forward. Hopefully this team will prove everybody wrong and that they didn’t need to cheat.
Matt Cluthe: No, not at all. This is a bucket list dream for me to come see them in spring training. Still watch every game just like I always have. It stings a bit but they just have to make up for it on the field.
Matt Wuenschel: No, I love this team to death.
Chris Walton: I feel like I’m going to have to fan harder. I’m gonna have to work harder to represent my team and let them know, ‘Hey, not the whole world hates you.’ We’re still here, we still wanna win. We still want to fight for it.
Notes from the baseball internet
Meet Mason Saunders, the secret rodeo identity of Madison Bumgarner, by Andrew Baggarly and Zach Buchanan at The Athletic
What’s perfect about this story is that it is outrageous, but also now that I’ve read it I wouldn’t believe you if you tried to tell me that Madison Bumgarner is not secretly also a rodeo cowboy. MadBum mythologizing at its apex.
He Let the Astros Players Slide. Now He’s Paying for It., by David Waldstein at The New York Times
Sign-stealing and the fallout from that will define Rob Manfred’s commissionership, and even as the story continues to unfold, this piece provides context as well as a behind-the-scenes look at how and why he has made the decisions that brought us to this point.
More from Yahoo Sports: