Odúbel Herrera stood Tuesday afternoon in a small clubhouse in Dunedin, Fla., shortly before playing his first game with the Phillies in nearly two years.
He was arrested in May of 2019 on domestic violence charges, suspended for the rest of the season, dumped from the 40-man roster, exiled last spring to minor-league spring training, and left at home last summer.
But Tuesday -- wearing his old No. 37 -- Herrera was back in a Phillies uniform.
Herrera said he spent the last 22 months regaining the trust of his girlfriend, who declined to press charges against him after an Atlantic City police report said she had “hand print markings on her neck” and “small scratches” on her arms.
Herrera said he attended counseling, matured, and strengthened his relationship with his girlfriend.
“I feel sorry because I made a big mistake,” he said. “I know some people are not going to forgive me and I understand that. But I spent the last three years earning [my girlfriend’s] trust back and I am grateful because she forgave me. Now I would like to have the same opportunity with my teammates, our fans, and the Phillies family.”
Tuesday afternoon was a start. Herrera, standing in the visitors’ clubhouse before a 4-2 Grapefruit League loss to Toronto, addressed his teammates for five minutes.
“I told them the last two years were hard because I was away from baseball,” Herrera said. “And I told them I love this uniform and I feel happy to wear this uniform again. That’s it. ... Everything was good. After that, everybody was happy with me because I talked. It felt good.”
The group of players that traveled to Dunedin included just four regulars from last season -- Adam Haseley, Zack Wheeler, Alec Bohm, and Scott Kingery. Herrera, one of the 18 players in the spring training minicamp, is not in the major-league clubhouse this spring, so Tuesday afternoon was the first time he was with the group.
He has yet to address clubhouse leaders like Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and J.T. Realmuto. Herrera said he plans to speak with everyone.
“I feel like I had to talk to them before I play,” Herrera said.
The Phillies, under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, were not allowed to penalize Herrera after Major League Baseball suspended him for 85 games, the remainder of the 2019 season. They could not release him for non-baseball reasons nor deny him the remainder of the $30.5 million contract he signed in December 2016.
So they invited him last month to spring training, entering Herrera into the competition for the starting job in center field. Manager Joe Girardi stressed last week that Herrera “isn’t even in major-league camp,” but Herrera was wearing his old uniform number on Tuesday.
He’s not being treated this spring like a minor-league long shot but instead appears to be a legitimate contender. Herrera, who played right field Tuesday, is expected to play again this week and will see time in center as he competes with Haseley, Kingery, and Roman Quinn.
A strong spring and Herrera could crack the roster, but it could be a challenge for baseball reasons. He has played just two games -- both of which were this winter in the Dominican Republic -- since his arrest and could have difficulties assimilating to major-league pitching.
Herrera struck out on four pitches Tuesday in his first at-bat before lining a single his next time up. Herrera stole a base and eventually scored, and made a nice catch in right field. He looked pretty good, Girardi said.
“I worked hard. I’m feeling good,” Herrera said. “I think if I keep playing, I think it’s going to be better to get rhythm back.”
Herrera said he is confident that he will be accepted by his teammates if he is to return to the majors. His conversations this spring will likely smooth over any tension.
The team announced Tuesday -- shortly after Herrera spoke in the Dunedin clubhouse -- that they will have fans in the stands starting with opening day. If Herrera is in Philadelphia on April 1, that means he’ll have another group that he has to win over. The reception at Citizens Bank Park might be a bit different than what Herrera received Tuesday in the clubhouse.
“You have to have thick skin and understand that there’s a reason that you’re getting boos,” Girardi said. “He’s taken responsibility for his actions. He’s just got to learn to ignore it. There’s a lot of insults hurled at players during the course of a season, whether you have an incident or not, and you have to learn to ignore them and just not get caught up in some of the negativity that’s thrown at the players. There’s some nasty stuff that’s said. At this level, you have to learn to ignore it.”
Herrera said he plans to win back the fans by “working hard, playing hard, having fun, and being a good teammate.”