It was a year ago this week when the Los Angeles Dodgers traded Hector Olivera to the Braves for a package that included pitcher Alex Wood and prospect Jose Peraza. That this decision came just two and a half months (and 19 minor-league games) after the Dodgers won a bidding war for Olivera’s services — effectively meaning the organization was eating a $28 million signing bonus — likely meant one of two things:
• They discovered a serious flaw in Olivera’s game.
• They discovered a serious flaw in Olivera’s character.
At this point, we can’t be certain which is true. Possibly both. But the Braves, who are on the hook for another $28 million in salary through the 2020 season, will have a decision to make soon on what to do with Olivera, who is facing domestic-violence charges in Virginia and will be coming off an 82-game suspension after Aug. 1.
If the Braves hold on to Olivera, it’s only because they owe him a lot of money, not because he has proved anything as a major league player, and general manager John Coppolella is determined to make the worst decision of his early tenure look not so awful.
My view on domestic violence is the same as most non-neanderthals: zero tolerance. But in any legal situation, if a person has suffered the consequences of his actions and is considered free to earn a living, I don’t have a problem with that. The complicating factor here is Olivera’s next court appearance for a misdemeanor assault and battery charge in April during a Braves’ road trip has been pushed back to Sept. 8. That comes on the off day after the Braves finish a three-game series in Washington, likely not a coincidence.
Olivera spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday since beginning a rehabilitation assignment in the minors. He appeared contrite and answered all of the questions in an exclusive interview with the Journal-Constitution. While he couldn’t get into specific details about his case, he said, “I regret everything that happened and, yes, I do feel remorseful. Like I said previously, I just want to thank the organization for the second opportunity they’re giving me, and I want to make the most of it.”
He said the 82-game suspension “was justified.”
When asked if the incident should be considered telling of his character, Olivera said: “No. It was something totally out of the ordinary. I take a lot of pride in the person I am, and I take a lot of pride in helping my teammates, my family and other people. So for me, it was not something that was a part of my personality.
“I made a mistake. I’m serving my suspension. Now all I can do is grow from it, help out with community service and try to improve as a person.”
Some fans no doubt believe Olivera should be released. What would he say to those people? “I would say to them, ‘We’re all humans. We all make mistakes. I made a mistake. I’ve owned up to it and accepted full responsibility for it.'”
We judge people by their actions, not words. Olivera has much to prove on and off the field. He was hitting .211 (4-for-19) before the suspension. He was hitting .150 (3-for-20) with Gwinnett before Tuesday’s game.
Following is the transcript of a 17-minute interview, with the assistance of Braves interpreter Franco Garcia:
Question: Where are you at physically after the long layoff?
Answer: I feel good. I feel I was able to prepare adequately in Orlando. But with that being said, I just want to thank the organization for allowing me to come back and I’m very excited and emotional to get back and help the team any way I can.
Q: What were you doing to try to keep in shape with everything going on around you?
A: I was grateful for the support from the organization, John Hart and John Coppolella especially, during the time that I was off, getting the proper training staff so I could keep a normal baseball routine. So I’m thankful for that. I’m regretful for the way everything went down, everything that happened, but I’m just happy to be out here.
Q: Where are you at today mentally?
A: I feel great. I feel stronger. It was an opportunity to come through some adversity so I feel even stronger as an athlete and I feel like I’m a better person now?
Q: Why do you feel like a better person?
A: I’m just trying to make the best of the situation. It’s a real educational process. I’m just learning from the whole situation and it’s been a way for me to acclimate myself to the community here in the United States.
Q: I know you can’t get into specifics about your case, but what do you feel about what happened – remorse, shame, embarrassment?
A: I regret everything that happened and, yes, I do feel remorseful. Like I said previously, I just want to thank the organization for the second opportunity they’re giving me and I want to make the most of it.
Q: What was your reaction to the suspension?
A: I wasn’t given any special treatment. I just accepted it for what it was. I assumed I would be suspended obviously. I just embraced and accepted it.
Q: Was an 82-game suspension justified?
A: I accepted the suspension, and it was justified.
Q: In your view, was the incident telling of your character?
A: No. It was something totally out of the ordinary. I take a lot of pride in the person I am and I take a lot of pride in helping my teammates, my family and other people. So for me, it was not something that was a part of my personality.
Q: Most people have zero tolerance when it comes to domestic violence. Do you understand that?
A: I’m completely in agreement with that on domestic violence. I made a mistake. I’m serving my suspension. Now all I can do is grow from it, help out with community service and try to improve as a person. I feel I’ve done that so far with this experience. I want to play baseball and I want to contribute but I also want to continue to contribute to the community and improve myself as a person.
Q: I’m sure there are people who believe the Braves should release you and not bring you back at all. What would you say to them?
A: I would say to them, “We’re all humans. We all make mistakes. I made a mistake. I’ve owned up to it and accepted full responsibility for it.” As far as the Braves and me going our separate ways, I have no control over that. I’m just trying to do my part. I’m just trying to fulfill my responsibilities, working out, doing what I have to do.
Q: Can you be specific about the community service or other things you’ve done during the suspension?
A: I’ve done some events with kids and with my teammates. I went to a few classes regarding domestic violence, learning more and more about it. I went to about nine classes over a month or so. I also plan to do more speaking and to get involved with some organizations and donate time and money to raise awareness about domestic violence.
Q: If the Braves make the decision to bring you back, do you believe there’s damage you need to overcome with teammates?
A: Obviously I need to apologize to them for everything I put them through and take responsibility for my actions. Like I said, I regret what happened. I can’t apologize enough to my teammates and hopefully I can re-establish some of the good of the relationship I had with them.
Q: What was your family’s reaction, either here or back in Cuba?
A: My family was very supportive of me. They knew I made a mistake. Hopefully I can continue to improve as a person and move forward, move past this.
Q: What have the Braves told you about the future?
A: All I know is we’re focusing on getting through Aug. 1 and then we’ll be in communication.
Q: Do you remain confident you can be a successful major league hitter and player?
A: I do. The Braves have invested a lot of time and effort in me. I want to repay that in any way I can.
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