DUNEDIN, Fla. – Regret and remorse hijacked the usual sunny feelings inherent to reporting day for pitchers and catchers at Toronto Blue Jays camp, with Reese McGuire’s arrest and Dave Hudgens’ separate mea culpa shunting aside the season’s typical optimism and sense of renewal.
One of the stranger openings to spring training in club history took its first twist in the morning when word emerged that McGuire was arrested in Dunedin on Friday afternoon for “Exposure of Sexual Organs,” according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies were called to a strip mall parking lot Friday afternoon after a subject was seen sitting inside an SUV exposing himself. Once they arrived, they made contact with the 24-year-old catcher, “who was co-operative and did not deny the allegations,” according to the report.
No further details were provided by the sheriff’s office, but McGuire was given a notice to appear in a Clearwater court March 16. The Blue Jays released a statement saying they were aware of the incident and were gathering information, but that neither the player nor the team would comment further right now.
The day’s next turn came when Hudgens, the Blue Jays bench coach who served as the Houston Astros’ hitting coach from 2015-18, emerged from the clubhouse at newly renovated and christened TD Ballpark intent on commenting further on his former team’s cheating scandal.
Showing an accountability too often lacking from others on the 2017 Astros team found by Major League Baseball to have run an electronic sign-stealing operation, Hudgens said he is “sorry that I didn’t do something more to stop that when it was actually happening.”
He said he first learned of the system – one commissioner Rob Manfred largely pinned on Carlos Beltran in his report on the matter – during a regular-season game, when he kept hearing the banging on a trash can from the dugout.
“I asked one of the players, ‘What’s going on? What’s banging?’” recalled Hudgens. “He said, ‘Letting him know when a breaking ball is coming.’ OK. And it kind of went from there.”
He said the coaches didn’t really discuss it amongst themselves or with former manager A.J. Hinch, who was suspended for the year and then fired by the Astros, and he didn’t have much of an answer when asked what prevented him from trying to intervene in the sign-stealing.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I can’t even really remember why we did or why we didn’t talk about it. I really can’t. It was just one of those things that was happening that you heard and you went, is it helping, is it not? We hit better on the road. Obviously it’s something that’s not right and it shouldn’t have been done and we should have nipped it in the bud early.”
Did he feel it was clearly wrong and a line was being crossed?
“I didn’t think about it, to be honest with you,” Hudgens said. “I should have. It should have been something we thought about. But at the time, it kind of went over our heads.”
That answer won’t sit well with some, but at least he stood up and answered the questions now. At Astros camp Wednesday, the team took extra steps to keep media away from players, none of whom were available.
The Astros said no players will be available today. The area around their parking lot is roped off and heavily guarded by security. https://t.co/FxyV16Z393
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 12, 2020
Hunkering down isn’t a particularly effective way to make amends, so credit to Hudgens for not hiding out and trying to take a pass.
More importantly, before speaking with media he addressed his fellow Blue Jays coaches and plans to speak with certain players as they arrive, as well. Right-fielder Randal Grichuk is among the voices to have called for the Astros to receive harsher punishments.
“The only thing I can say is that I regret I didn’t do something. I wish I could go back and make that happen again and do something,” said Hudgens. “But that’s history, and we just have to deal with it from right now. …
“I don’t want this to be a distraction in camp. I want to make sure that everybody’s clear on where I’m at, and that I’m clear on where they’re at, too.”
While far from ideal, that’s a starting point to rebuild any trust that may have been lost, and, from a Blue Jays perspective at least, to turn the page on a scandal with ongoing fallout. Following a bizarre first day, the team will try to do that collectively, as well, when pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout Thursday.
After all, hope springs eternal at this time of the year, with a whole lot of “best shape of my life,” “throwing free and easy,” and “seeing the ball well” looming beyond the pall.