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Houston Astros Apologize For Sign-Stealing Scandal As Spring Training Opens


The Houston Astros are very sorry for the illegal sign-stealing scandal that has rocked Major League Baseball this offseason. That was the message today as the Astros began spring training in Florida. It was a remorseful start to what the team hopes is another successful season, one in which baseball fans forgive the team's cheating during its 2017 run to the World Series title. From West Palm Beach, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It was not the usual opening of spring training scene, punctuated by the sounds of birds chirping on a warm Florida morning or a fastball popping in a catcher's mitt. No, for the Houston Astros, this baseball season started with the team's audio guy.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Test, test. We good, guys? OK, I see a thumbs up. Fantastic.

GOLDMAN: TV cameras and a throng of reporters readied for a moment the baseball world has anticipated since last year. That's when the story emerged that Houston broke baseball's rules - OK, cheated - by using technology to steal the signs opposing catchers sent to pitchers signaling what pitch to throw. Knowing what pitch is coming is a huge advantage for the batter. The scandal cost four men their jobs, including Houston's manager and general manager. So there was anticipation for today. What would the Astros say now that they were all back together for the first time since the scandal was revealed?


JIM CRANE: I want to say again how sorry our team is for what happened.

GOLDMAN: Houston owner Jim Crane began a parade of apologies, followed by 2017 Astros players Alex Bregman...


ALEX BREGMAN: I'm really sorry about the choices that were made by my team and by me.


GOLDMAN: ...And Jose Altuve...


JOSE ALTUVE: We especially feel remorse for the impact in our fans and the game of baseball.

GOLDMAN: ...And new manager, the veteran Dusty Baker. He wasn't part of the scandal, but he's been brought in to lead the Astros back to the light.


DUSTY BAKER: I just want to ask for the baseball world, you know, to forgive them for the mistakes that they've made.

GOLDMAN: Beyond sorry, there wasn't much, except this - Astros owner Crane said at one point, implausibly, the sign stealing didn't have an impact on their championship season. Repeatedly, Crane cited the baseball commissioner's report on the scandal and endorsed the report's theme of not wanting to go backwards, meaning no taking away the 2017 title and no punishment for nearly all the players involved in the cheating.

Absolved of wrongdoing, Astros players still say they carry the burden. George Springer was a key player on the 2017 team. In the Houston clubhouse, he was asked why he didn't do anything to stop something he knew was wrong.

GEORGE SPRINGER: It's just tough, you know? It's a situation that until you find yourself in, you never really know what to do. You know, I wish I had done more, yeah.

GOLDMAN: Houston sees today as a first step. The team knows to expect angry fans on the road. There's talk of opposing pitchers taking revenge by throwing at Houston batters. And then there's a bigger baseball question that often came up when the game wrestled with the steroids issue, can fans trust what they see on the field, fans like Lisa DiOrio (ph), a snowbird from New York who is taking in the first day of spring training?

LISA DIORIO: Am I going to believe what I see on the field, or am I going to question it is what you're saying?


DIORIO: I'm going to question it. I think they'll be much more cautious because now the cat's out of the bag.

GOLDMAN: For Houston's part, Jim Crane says he'll make sure he has someone accountable, checking on possible electronic sign stealing constantly. We'll have controls in place, he says, to make sure it doesn't happen again. Tom Goldman, NPR News, West Palm Beach, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on
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