Shared from the 5/4/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

ASTROS

Game-changer

Osuna thriving as closer, but some fans remain bitter over trade

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Yi-Chin Lee / Staff photographer

Despite Roberto Osuna’s success since the Astros dealt for him last July, some will never forgive him for his 2018 domestic violence arrest.

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Elizabeth Conley / Staff photographer

Roberto Osuna, who has converted all 19 save chances in his Astros tenure, has addressed what had been the team’s biggest weakness.

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Godofredo A. Vásquez /Staff

Osuna has an ERA of 0.68 with seven saves for the Astros this season.

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Gary Fountain / Contributor

Astros Foundation chief Twila Carter calls domestic violence awareness efforts a priority.

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Richard Lautens / Toronto Star via Getty Images

Osuna leaves a Toronto courthouse on Sept. 25, 2018. A domestic assault charge against the former Blue Jays closer was withdrawn that day after he entered into a peace bond.

On deck: Astros vs. Los Angeles Angels

Where/when: Today at 6:05 p.m., Sunday at 3:05 p.m.; Estadio de Béisbol in Monterrey, Mexico.

TV/radio: ATTSW both days, plus ESPN on Sunday; 790 AM and 101.7 FM (Spanish) both days, plus 740 AM and 850 AM (Spanish) on Sunday.

Pitchers: Today, LHP Wade Miley (1-2, 3.24) vs. RHP Trevor Cahill (1-2, 5.93); Sunday, RHP Justin Verlander (4-1, 2.45) vs. RHP Matt Harvey (1-2, 6.54).

Astros (18-14) update: The first meeting of the year with the Angels marks the second MLB series to be contested in Monterrey this season. The Cardinals and Reds split two games there last month. … The Astros, who are coming off three losses in four games at Minnesota, lead the majors with a team .267 batting average but are hitting just .229 with runners in scoring position. … Carlos Correa is riding a 13-game hitting streak during which he is hitting .321 (17-for-53). … Through Thursday, Michael Brantley’s 40 hits topped the American League. …Yuli Gurriel is mired in a 4-for-36 (.111) slump and is 3-for-25 (.120) with runners in scoring position.

Angels (15-17) update: With four straight wins, L.A. is within three games of the AL West-leading Astros. … The Angels are the home team in this series. … Mike Trout remains the focal point of the offense. The center fielder is slashing .312/.492/.602 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs in 29 games. His on-base percentage tops the AL, and his 30 walks lead the majors. … Albert Pujols is two RBIs shy of 2,000 for his career. His two doubles Thursday gave him 645 in his 19 seasons, one shy of ninth-place Carl Yastrzemski on the all-time list. … Shohei Ohtani, who had Tommy John surgery and won’t pitch this season, isn’t quite ready to return as a DH. He might be activated next week.

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Elizabeth Conley / Staff photographer

Roberto Osuna hugs catcher Robinson Chirinos after finishing off an April 8 victory over the Yankees. Osuna says his Astros teammates have “welcomed me really well.”

The news reached Caitlin Berg on Twitter. She first doubted its validity. Perhaps names were mixed up in her head, or the account she stumbled upon was fraudulent. A few clicks confirmed they were not. Roberto Osuna was an Astro. A lifelong Astros fan who carried her allegiance across state lines to college, Berg consumes baseball content constantly if she can find spare time between exams and extracurriculars. Realizing her favorite team required bullpen depth at last season’s non-waiver trade deadline, Berg began to scan pitchers perceived to be available. Osuna’s name periodically appeared, beside it a sordid explanation of the wrath any team pursuing him would incur. The Astros accepted it, acquiring the righthander charged with one count of domestic violence and still serving a 75-game suspension levied by Major League Baseball. “In one instant,” Berg said, “I went from using the Astros as kind of a way to take my mind off of what was going on in the world and what my personal experiences were, (and) instantly, the two combined.”

Two years ago, when Berg neared the end of her first semester at George Washington University and was looking forward to winter break, she went out with a group of friends. The next morning, she awoke in the bed of an acquaintance, with no memory of the night or how she ended up there. Berg survived a sexual assault.

Months of counseling, therapy and anti-anxiety medications ensued.

The night caused her life to “take a very different path.” She changed her major, her priorities and how she views her favorite baseball team. Trips home from Washington often are filled with conversations among lifelong friends who share Berg’s feeling of betrayal.

“It went from this team we just adored, they could do nothing wrong, to we all got very uncomfortable and upset because abuse is a very, very real thing for all of us,” Berg said.

“Abuse is so common in America and in the world that you can’t ignore it when you’re a fan. All of us, we get uncomfortable, we turn off games early. I’ve been less invested in the Astros this season because of it, which is sad, because I adore the Astros and love baseball.”

Ten months since executing the most polarizing trade in the franchise’s 57-year existence, the Astros are confronted with this new normal.

Osuna is a lockdown closer, with a 0.68 ERA this season and a perfect 19-for-19 conversion rate on save chances in his Astros tenure. A native of Sinaloa, Mexico, he will pitch in his home country when the Astros face the Angels in this weekend’s two-game series in Monterrey.

But a faction of the Astros’ fan base will forever feel ostracized, harboring resentment that no statistics, passage of time or court ruling will assuage.

The organization has made pronounced progress in furthering its domestic violence awareness, something general manager Jeff Luhnow promised when the trade was consummated.

“At the end of the day, we knew we were doing something that was going to generate a reaction,” Luhnow said last week. “I don’t have any regrets in terms of executing the trade. He’s come in here and done what we’d hoped he would do, and he’s been a good teammate. There’s been no negatives as far as I’m concerned.”

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Regret lies in the delivery, not the deed.

When the Astros announced Osuna’s acquisition on July 31 in Seattle, a statement attributed to the general manager extolled the club’s “zero tolerance policy on abuse of any kind” — seemingly contradictory to the deal Luhnow had just executed.

Pressed on semantics during a conference call shortly thereafter, Luhnow hedged the claim. The policy, he said, did not take effect until a player became an Astro and did not apply to alleged actions while with another team.

“What I meant and the way that was interpreted and what it really means are two different things, so that’s one I’d like to have back,” Luhnow said last week. “You can think about that in different ways. Obviously, I understand the reaction. As I said, I think it was more around the communication where we could have done a better job, but it was my first time involved in anything like that.”

The team consulted “people that we thought were helping us think about the messages,” Luhnow said, but understood the visceral, vitriolic reactions the trade rendered. Two of his own players — Justin Verlander and Lance Mc-Cullers Jr. —previously had denounced domestic violence in pointed social media posts. Verlander did not back off from his stance after the deal was announced.

The charge against Osuna was withdrawn in Canadian court on Sept. 25 after the reliever entered into apeace bond. Under its stipulations, Osuna is not to contact his alleged victim for one year and must continue mandatory counseling. The alleged victim, with whom Osuna has a son, “wished to resume contact and parenting responsibilities,” the prosecutor said that day. She told the court she would not testify if the case went to trial.

“Not too many people talk about that anymore,” said Jose Altuve, the only player Luhnow is known to have consulted before the trade. “When you come to the field and put yourself in the situation where you have to go pitch and do it the way he’s doing it, I guess he’s handling everything pretty good.”

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Twila Carter balks at an assumption.

“You’d mentioned we ramped up our efforts a little,” said Carter, the executive director of the Astros Foundation. “I think we’ve ramped up our efforts quite abit.”

In the 10 months since the Astros acquired Osuna, Carter has spearheaded a deeper look at how the team can become more involved in domestic violence awareness and where its efforts are best concentrated.

The Astros partnered with the Texas Council on Family Violence, astatewide nonprofit organization of more than 1,300 members, to better focus their efforts. The council prides itself on effecting policy changes statewide and creating better legal protections to ensure resources are available to victims.

“Houston is important to us,” CEO Gloria Terry said, “and we often say the direction that Houston goes … the rest of the state will go.”

On Sept. 13, more than a month after Osuna was acquired, Terry met with Carter at Minute Maid Park. Terry communicated a series of requests to gauge the sincerity of the Astros’ commitment. The foundation was and continues to be amenable, Terry said.

“There are other sports teams in Texas that had a very similar situation happen, and connecting with them was not as successful as it has been in getting the attention of the Astros,” Terry said, noting the saga of former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted of domestic assault.

“It was not an engagement that happened because we were aligned in mission and purpose. It came about because of the acquisition of Osuna.”

With Carter’s approval, Terry observed apreviously scheduled violence training session presented to Astros personnel by an outside company. She sat silently alongside Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan the entire time, hesitant to critique training she later termed inadequate.

“Most of the time when a company or agency brings us in, they know they need to make improvements. There was absolutely room for improvement in that training, and I gave them my feedback,” Terry said.

During that September meeting, Terry asked Carter to meet with the heads of 16 Houston-area agencies that provide support to domestic abuse victims, including Aid To Victims of Domestic Abuse (ADVA) and the Houston Women’s Center. The foundation obliged. One by one, those leaders recounted harrowing stories and illustrated how the Astros could help their organizations.

“People don’t recognize the depth and pervasiveness of this issue in communities,” Terry said. “It can be said across the state and across the country. They took the time to listen to all of those concerns that were brought up by those agencies. That was critically important to say, ‘You did make a business decision, and how that business decision landed with people who do this work every day was important for them to hear.’ ”

At Terry’s request, Carter took a seat on the TCFV board, and she also sits on the board for ADVA. Carter said the Astros are focusing their efforts on young athletes, teaching “what a healthy relationship looks like” to help break the cycle of abuse.

According to Terry, the Astros Foundation has partnered with ADVA to fund three-year curricula for two programs — Coaching Boys into Men and Athletes as Leaders. Carter said the foundation has visited with numerous school districts in the Houston area.

“Ultimately, breaking the cycle, education and awareness equals prevention,” Carter said. “Rather than polarize a situation, talk about what’s in the news and what we need — resources for shelters and such — really get to the core of that, which is education and breaking that cycle in young people.”

In March, Carter lobbied at the Texas Capitol for a $6 million increase in appropriations for domestic violence services.

The Astros Foundation has donated funds to a Beaumont shelter to aid in its repairs from Hurricane Harvey. Another $50,000 pledge made the Astros a title sponsor of the Houston Area Women’s Center’s annual breakfast fundraiser.

Last month, they introduced an “MVP Coffee Series” at Minute Maid Park, where a panel of guests gathered and the Astros showcased their work in the community. The first topic was domestic violence awareness. Terry served on the panel.

“I think as an organization we learned a lot more about the topic by going through it,” Luhnow said. “This is now on the list of top priorities. I wouldn’t say it’s a reaction; I think it’s an evolution of our awareness of the topic, our understanding of the topic, and some sense of how to give back in a meaningful way.”

Last October, TCFV commemorated domestic violence awareness month with an event at Minute Maid Park. Astros owner Jim Crane spoke, as did Carter and Terry. Inside the ballpark, TCFV released its findings of a comprehensive analysis that determined Harris County has the state’s highest number of fatalities of women at the hands of a male partner.

Later that month, the Astros and TCFV designed flyers that now hang in every stall of every restroom at Minute Maid Park.

A QR code allows patrons to scan their smartphone camera over the flyer. When they do, a list of addresses and contact information appears for the 16 support agencies.

“I feel like we keep asking them for more and more, and they have not put up barriers,” Terry said.

Though she said it allays her feelings “in some ways,” Berg wonders if the Astros’ increased efforts are anything more than reaction to the severe backlash over the Osuna signing.

Carter scoffed at the notion. The Astros, she said, “are in it for the long haul. We’re not here to just clean up the mess and kind of keep moving.”

“I wonder if they would be taking action against domestic violence and supporting survivors if they hadn’t made this decision,” Berg said. “Would they have helped survivors anyway?

“It’s kind of a tricky situation, because I’m always very scared to say you’ve completely fixed your mistake. Because it’s a pretty grave mistake.”

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Two closed-door meetings preceded Osuna’s Astros arrival. Manager A.J. Hinch held one in Seattle with only him and his team. Crane and Luhnow sat in on another in Los Angeles, a day before Osuna arrived.

When he did, Osuna addressed the team in English after Hinch introduced him. The manager told Osuna he was “really lucky” to be an Astro, given the cohesiveness of the club and how it would “hold him accountable.”

“I thought it was incredible,” Hinch said of Osuna’s ensuing address. “I thought it was the perfect tone, perfect temperament.

“But his actions postmeeting over the last six, eight, 10 months have proven the words that he said in (Los Angeles) were exactly who he is and how he’s going to be.”

On a club with boisterous and bold personalities, Osuna is neither. During the two hours per day reporters are permitted inside the clubhouse, the pitcher is barely noticed. He listens to music on his headphones and sometimes banters with his fellow Latin players in Spanish.

Last week, reliever Chris Devenski lost a foosball bet with his bullpen mate. To atone for it, Devenski donned Osuna’s game jersey during pregame warmups in Arlington.

“We do everything together as a team. We have one of the closest-knit groups imaginable. In my 20 years in the league, this is one of the closest groups of guys I’ve been around,” Hinch said. “It doesn’t surprise me that they embraced him and pushed him to be a good person, a good player and a good teammate.”

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Some of the Astros players’ wives will model during the Safe at Home Luncheon and Style Show on May 9, all proceeds of which will benefit the team’s domestic violence awareness efforts.

Otherwise, players are absent in the franchise’s mission. Considering their notable influence over most of the young athletes the Astros are trying to reach, it’s peculiar.

Though Terry said there have been “early conversations” about involving Astros players in the club’s continued efforts on domestic violence, Carter said the foundation has not “directly connected any one player.”

“From my perspective and what we’re doing, no, I don’t see that it’s important,” Carter said. “Because, like I said before, we’re in for the long haul. We’re not doing something because of anyone. We’re doing something because we realize that there’s a great need.”

Carter added: “I can tell you that I’ve had conversations with Osuna, a nice young man, and I feel certain that if we ask him to do something, he’d do something for us.”

A few months ago, Terry attended a domestic violence forum. Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back exiled from football after a graphic domestic assault video surfaced, offered the keynote address.

Of the 150 people in attendance, Terry estimated all but 10 gave Rice astanding ovation at its conclusion. She was among those who sat.

“I never heard the words that would have been so meaningful,” Terry said. “I didn’t hear him say, ‘I behaved poorly, and my behavior gives other men a license to use violence.’ He didn’t say anything to that effect. That would have meant something.”

Canadian court records are not public. No video is known to exist of Osuna’s alleged incident. The reliever will not speak about it, either.

“I remain a little conflicted, and I’m not alone,” Terry said. “I think my colleagues and my peers that do this work are trying to navigate matters. I think we wholeheartedly believe that people who are bad actors and players in life —not just in sports — should be held accountable for bad behavior no matter who you are — if you’re Joe the Plumber or someone who is very recognizable.

“And then there’s also: All of us who do this work believe people can change. It’s navigating these conflicting perspectives.”

Osuna has seldom spoken with the media since become an Astro. He held one group session with reporters at the beginning of spring training and declined any additional interviews during the ensuing six weeks.

Twice in the past two weeks, the Chronicle tried to get asitdown with the closer — once through a team spokesman and another independently. Both pursuits were unsuccessful, as was a postgame request earlier this season to have Osuna simply talk about pitching. He did speak after throwing two innings in the Astros’ 4-3 home win over the Indians on April 27.

Addressing a group in English for five minutes before a game last week, Osuna spoke about his upcoming return to Mexico for the two-game series against the Angels. Asked if he had any regrets from the past year of his life, Osuna interrupted the questioner and said no.

“(The team) has been great. I’m so happy to be here,” Osuna said. “They welcomed me really well. I love every single guy in this clubhouse. The front office (and) the organization have been great to me. I’m proud to be here. I got to be honest.”

Whether Osuna accepts that some aren’t proud he wears an Astros uniform is unknown.

As part of abirthday present for her father, Berg took a trip to West Palm Beach, Fla., this past March and attended two spring training games. When the first few innings ended and Osuna’s time to pitch neared, she asked her father if they could leave the ballpark. Berg said she “didn’t feel comfortable,” and that the thought of seeing Osuna pitch “made me terrified.”

“There are plenty of good closers. You can sign someone else. Why are you sacrificing the rights of somebody else and what their experiences are and saying what you’ve been through doesn’t matter?” Berg said.

“It makes me uncomfortable to watch games a lot of the time. I’m still a huge fan, I watch games, but I can’t watch him pitch.” chandler.rome@chron.com twitter.com/chandler_rome

ASTROS VS. ANGELS 6:10 P.M. TODAY AT MONTERREY, MEXICO ATTSW; 790 AM, 101.7 FM (SPANISH)

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