Instead of the usual platitudes of everyone being in the best shape of their lives, or talk of position battles, the Washington Nationals Spring Training started with an apology.
Jonathan Papelbon appeared before the assembled media at Space Coast Stadium and took responsibility for the dugout altercation that effectively ended the Nats season last year, triggered the trade of a fan favorite, and perhaps irreparably damaged the Nats standing for free agents this winter.
"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. 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."
But sometimes, the bad just lingers.
Sure, there will be folks that will be willing to move on now that Papelbon has made his public act of contrition. But these are folks that don't understand who Papelbon is, that this is his modus operandi: act like a knucklehead without thinking, issue standard variety apology, "put it behind us," and carry on...until the next incident.
Papelbon has gone about this way his entire career, burning bridges as he burned through clubhouses up and down the east coast.
Papelbon, the Nats and even the aggrieved party, Bryce Harper, all say the incident is behind them. That's fine, they have to say that. But it's not behind a lot of fans, who will voice their lingering displeasure with the perpetrator when he's introduced on Opening Day.
And if you believe the innuendo and thinly veiled excuse-making over the winter by some in the national media, free agents and their representatives certainly don't think the issue is behind anyone, as the rumor kept popping up that the Nats clubhouse is "toxic," with Papelbon's actions -- and the team's handling of the incident -- going a long way to fuel that.
Of course, the Nats fired tone deaf Matt Williams and brought in clubhouse guru and all around cool cat Dusty Baker, so any clubhouse toxicity will magically and immediately dissipate, right?
Sure, Papelbon apologized. But he couldn't have made any more excuses for what happened if he tried. Last season, he described it as "brothers fighting." Now, he blames his competitive nature for the incident.
"I think the fans will see from me that I play with a great deal of pride," Papelbon said. "And with that pride comes ... I'm not a perfect human being. I'm an imperfect person living in an imperfect world. I don't claim to be [perfect]. 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."
See, it's okay. He was an ignominious jerk, but it's all good because he wants to win soooo badly, so it's okay. It's better than okay, it's a good thing! If the Nats do go on to win everything this season, it's because Papelbon tried to choke out Harper and Papelbon can take reinforcement from his bad actions.
But then Papelbon stepped back even further from the original apology.
"I don't know, it just happened. Kind of like when you shake up a bottle and you open up the top, it explodes sometimes and you don't know why. I don't know why. That's a tough question."
Boom. He can't be held accountable for his actions because it's just a force of nature. Of course, any fourth grade science student can explain Papelbon's hypothesis. The bottle doesn't explode on its own. It needs a catalyst, a course of action, to create energy to cause the explosion. That's why. It's not a tough question.
Papelbon is that catalyst. He always has been. And he always will be.
They say, winning cures everything. And it might. But the Nats are going to have to win a lot to finally cure this.