After a long offseason of silence following his suspension from the Nationals, Jonathan Papelbon officially returned as their closer by reporting to 2016 spring training in Viera, Fl. on Friday.
He greeted his teammates, then met with the media to speak at length about his fight with Bryce Harper last September and the fallout that ensued. Papelbon was contrite in his comments, asking for forgiveness from the organization and their fans.
"I've apologized to [Harper]. I've apologized to my teammates. I want to apologize to the fans and the coaches and everyone included. I think that with what happened last year, I was in the wrong. It should have never went down that way and I understand that. I had a lot of time this offseason to reflect on that. I've had three months to think about it. I've done a lot of reflecting and I think sometimes in life, good things can come out of bad situations," Papelbon explained.
Papelbon said he spent a lot of time with his family throughout the offseason and that their support helped him find peace with his actions.
"My family's my No. 1 support group. It was a tough time, probably one of the toughest points of my career," he said. "I wish I could take it back and go talk it out in a more peaceful way. I don't know, it just happened. It's kind of like when you shake up a bottle and you open up the top, it explodes sometimes and you don't know why."
The Nationals and their players seem to have forgiven Papelbon, Harper included. But his return to Nationals Park this spring will be interesting to watch given his unpopularity among the fanbase.
Papelbon shared some thoughts on Nationals fans and what he hopes they understand about him.
"I didn't feel like I got to say and apologize the way I wanted to apologize to the fans and everyone the way I wanted to last year," he said. "I think the fans will see that I came here for one reason. I came here to bring a championship to a city that's never had a championship. And that's my No. 1 goal. That's the No. 1 thing that I want to do this year, to be a part of an equation that has a team that's great. To me, that's the ultimate satisfaction."
"I think the fans will see from me that I play with a great deal of pride," he continued. "I'm not a perfect human being. I'm an imperfect person living in an imperfect world. I don't claim to be. So for me, I realize that what I did was wrong and the fans see that, and I see that. But my whole point is that good can come of this. I can redirect this, and we can go out and win 95 games this season and go into the playoffs and be hot and go win a world championship still. That does not deter from that."
Quotes courtesy of the Washington Nationals