Unless manager Joe Girardi decides it’s time to look at his fifth center fielder of the season on the final day of April, Phillies fans are going to have a choice to make Friday night when Odúbel Herrera steps to the plate at Citizens Bank Park.
Boo and taunt him as some sort of demented retribution for the 23-month-old domestic violence charge he faced after a Memorial Day altercation in an Atlantic City hotel room with his girlfriend Melany Martinez-Argulo; or cheer for him to be both a center-field solution for the Phillies as well as a better boyfriend and human being?
The choice seems obvious to me, but I’m the son of a probation officer. My late father always wanted to see the good in people. He felt it was his job to extract the best he could from people, even those who did some really bad things.
That’s the voice in my head and I doubt it’s ever going away. It’s why I believe in second chances. Odúbel Herrera is back up at the plate. He had to earn this opportunity by serving an 85-game suspension that ultimately turned into a 145-game hiatus when the Phillies refused to give him a look during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
“It feels really good to be back in the big leagues,” Herrera said Tuesday before making his second start of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals in Busch Stadium. “That’s what I worked for, so I thank God and the Phillies for the opportunity.”
Herrera knows that he will hear some boos and disparaging words when he plays his first game in Philadelphia Friday.
“I completely understand if some fans don’t like me,” he said through Phillies interpreter Diego Ettedgui. “I get that is going to happen. Some fans will like me and some fans will not like me. All I can control right now is to keep working hard and to do my best to gain their trust back.”
That really is all he can do. He can’t take back the horrible thing he did on that late May night nearly two years ago. The police report said that “hand print markings” were found around Martinez-Argulo’s neck, a description that surely sounded familiar and sickened victims of domestic violence. Family and friends of those victims are probably the least likely to forgive Herrera, and that is understandable.
But we should all still be cheering for the best outcome for Herrera and Martinez-Argulo. They have chosen to stay together and undergo counseling in an attempt to improve their relationship.
“Right now, my relationship with Melany is really good,” Herrera said. “We’re in a really good place. It’s a very healthy relationship and every day that’s what we work on. Every day what I learned from counseling I apply with Melany. That’s how we have a good relationship, because we apply what we learned in counseling.”
Herrera said the couple has continued to receive counseling through Zoom calls during the pandemic. He declined to share the details of the counseling, but said “what I can share with you is that it has given me a sense of having way more responsibility, way more patience, and how to be a better man.”
That will be more important than anything Herrera does on the baseball field now that he is back in the big leagues, but sadly crowd reaction to the 29-year-old Venezuelan will likely be most influenced by how he plays the game of baseball.
The Phillies held a center-field competition in spring training, and nearly a month into the season it continues with Herrera getting the latest chance to win the job. The difference between Herrera and the other three candidates (Roman Quinn, Adam Haseley and Mickey Moniak) is obvious. Herrera was once good.
After being selected in the 2014 Rule 5 draft, he hit .279 with a .336 on-base percentage and .763 OPS in his first four seasons while also making an All-Star Game appearance along the way. And then he was terrible in 2019, hitting .222 with a .288 on-base percentage and .629 OPS in 39 games before being suspended. Even those awful numbers, however, would be a major improvement over the combined .101 average, .205 on-base percentage and .365 OPS the Phillies got out of center field in the first 21 games of the season.
“If you take a look at my numbers prior to 2019 … they were pretty good,” Herrera said. “I am not really worried about the numbers I had in 2019. I think that can happen to any ballplayer. I keep working hard and I think I’m ready to show what’s coming is the best that you’re going to see out of me.”
Time will tell if Herrera can fulfill that promise, and time will tell if he is truly a better man. That’s where his focus needs to continue to be regardless of how the crowd at Citizens Bank Park greets him Friday night and in the future.