MESA, Ariz. – A massive flat-screen television takes up a wall in the Hohokam Stadium clubhouse. It’s almost always tuned to NFL Network.
That removes the possibility that baseball’s biggest story will be brought directly into this A's sanctuary. Frontline starter Mike Fiers is a major player in the ongoing drama of the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. He exposed it to the world and didn’t request the anonymity given to whistleblowers in other walks of life. He put his name behind it.
That makes Fiers a hero to some, a villain to an illogical and vocal minority.
Both sides are discussed constantly in the press, with perspectives coming in from virtually anyone drawing breath.
It’s regularly on other screens dotting the A’s spring training facility, with Fiers as front and center as other Astros found guilty of cheating.
Try as they might to insulate Fiers from the controversy circling him, the A’s clubhouse is not an Astros-free zone. It infiltrates everything here in Arizona. And, try as he might, it’s something Fiers simply can’t escape.
“It’s the big topic,” Fiers said Thursday in a conversation with NBC Sports Bay Area. “I mean, what are you going to do? It’s going to be around. You have to play baseball. You have to do your job.”
That’s his primary focus these days, but Fiers concedes it’s impossible to maintain tunnel vision. He stays off social media but is often presented with its hateful toxicity. Members of the lunatic fringe have even threatened him with violence, per the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Athletics and Major League Baseball are aware of that, which is why commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday the league will do whatever is required to keep him safe. That could be an issue in Houston especially, whether or not he pitches during a three-game series beginning April 24 at Minute Maid Park.
“We will take every possible step to protect Mike Fiers wherever he is playing,” Manfred said, “whether it’s in Houston or somewhere else.”
Fiers isn’t sure what extra protection would do but doesn’t dwell on the issue much these days.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Fiers said. “I’m going to protect myself like I always do, but at the same time I have to focus on playing baseball.”
That has brought welcome respite. He has been able to hone in on his craft since reporting to A’s spring training. Focusing less on the fallout of the sign-stealing issues that have rocked baseball and his role in it both as a former member of the Astros and the person who brought this cheating to light.
“Being here in spring training and focused on baseball itself has made it a lot easier,” Fiers said. “I can get back to the game we grew to love as kids, and I can just go out there and have fun instead or worrying about what people are saying.”
Fiers has eased up on his no-comment policy regarding sign stealing and has come to accept the fact that the Astros controversy isn’t going away anytime soon. He also understands that he has a job to do as a pitcher and team leader, and those responsibilities deserve his undivided attention.
“It’s going to be around, but the more I focus on baseball the better off I’m going to be,” Fiers said. “I’m not trying to dwell on it or think about repercussions or retaliation or whatever it is. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. You just have to deal with it and move on.”