BALTIMORE — Nelson Cruz was branded a cheater and punished accordingly. As he waited to be introduced on his first opening day in Baltimore, the former All-Star wondered how Orioles fans would react in the aftermath of the 50-game suspension he received last year for using performance-enhancing drugs.
“As a new player, you don’t know what to expect,” Cruz said. “You hope for the best.”
He couldn’t have asked for more. The sellout crowd collectively yelled, “Cruuuuuuze!” as the slugger ran across the orange carpet, and after Cruz hit the tiebreaking home run to propel Baltimore past the defending champion Boston Red Sox, the chant was even louder.
“It was very, very nice to have that kind of reception,” Cruz said.
Cruz, Ryan Braun and Jhonny Peralta each served hefty suspensions in 2013 for violations of baseball’s drug agreement following the sport’s investigation of Biogenesis of America, a now-defunct rejuvenation clinic. At home games, it seems all is forgiven. On the road, opposing fans won’t let them forget.
Braun responded to jeering Philadelphia fans Tuesday by hitting three homers and driving in seven runs.
“All I can do is focus on things I can control,” Braun said.
Aided by the support of his new teammates, Cruz easily made the transition into the next stage of his career after leaving the Texas Rangers for Baltimore.
“It was a hard decision. You had a chance to be in one place for a long time,” Cruz said. “But I made the right call. I’m happy I made it.”
Braun, who stayed with Milwaukee after a 65-game suspension, was cheered by Brewers fans at the home opener and jeered later that week in Boston. Peralta, now with St. Louis after serving a 50-game suspension with Detroit, heard boos in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh before getting a warm reception from Cardinals fans in his home debut Monday.
“When we’re playing Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, fans are going to talk no matter what,” Peralta said. “But I don’t try to pay attention to people when they say a lot of stuff. I try to play the game and try to forget about the past.”
That’s what’s great about baseball, Cruz said.
“What you do in the past is over, whether you have good or bad moments,” he said.
The reception Braun has received on the road is not surprising, even though he apologized several times this offseason after accepting his suspension July 22.
“It’s going to be hostile everywhere he goes,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “We’ve talked. He knows what’s going to happen. He’s been going through this thing for (a while). Really, any great player goes into certain cities and they get booed. Alex Rodriguez got booed in every city he went just because he signed a big contract.”
On his way to hitting a major league-leading 53 home runs last year, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis openly criticized those who use performance-enhancing drugs. But he welcomed Cruz to Baltimore and is one of his most vocal supporters.
“Obviously, when a guy tests positive, you’re not happy about it. But at the same time, there has to be some point in time when we forgive and move on,” Davis said. “The biggest thing to remember is: How did he handle it? Did he try to run away from it? Or did he stand up and say: ‘I’m going to serve my suspension. I’m going to come back and rebound from it.’”
After explaining that he used a banned substance to treat a gastrointestinal infection in 2012, Cruz accepted the suspension with the words, “I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error.”
“They supported not only him, but what he stands for,” Davis said. “The guy plays hard. He has a good time. He’s going to give you everything he’s got. I think the fans appreciate that, and seeing them get behind him was pretty awesome.”
Cruz was cheered again when he homered in Baltimore’s second game. He received no reaction, positive or negative, during the Orioles’ opening road series in Detroit.
“In today’s world, none of us would like to have our lives judged by our worst decision, including me,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I can’t speak for other people, but I think Nelson is pretty sincere about trying to go forward instead of looking back. It doesn’t surprise me with our fans.”
Peralta was batting .074 through Tuesday, but Cardinals fans are treating him as one of their own.
“The fans here, they’re pretty good with me,” he said. “What’s happened is in the past and I’m trying to put this away and trying to focus on 2014.”
As with Cruz and the Orioles, Peralta and the Cardinals made peace with his teammates soon after his arrival.
“Everybody around here had their conversations, and he had the ones he needed to have around here,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. “After that, we just moved forward.”