MESA, Ariz. – In the ocean off the Florida coast, Mike Fiers found a way to distract himself from everything for a few hours this winter and prepare for another baseball season.
Far from the Astros scandal. No whistleblower chatter. Just hard swimming in the surf and training with his buddies on Pompano Beach.
It's a off-season that the Oakland Pitcher relies on to convince him of the momentum he built up during a career year in 2019 and another playoff season when he unsuccessfully completed his second career and won 15 games.
Fiers made it clear that he was going forward after telling The Athletic in November that his former Houston team had stolen signs with a video camera in midfield during the 2017 Astros run for the World Series title.
"At the moment, I want to focus on this team and not on the past," said Fiers, who refused to talk extensively about the program or its decision to go public.
The revelations led to an investigation that shook several teams. The Houston manager, AJ Hinch, and the general manager, Jeff Luhnow, were released on the same day they were suspended by Commissioner Rob Manfred. Former Astros bank coach and then Boston manager Alex Cora was also fired, and former Astros player Carlos Beltrán lost his job as Mets manager.
"I'm glad we're at this point, and obviously Mike had a lot to do with it," said A manager Bob Melvin on Wednesday when pitcher and catcher held their first spring training. "The game is better from this point on. I think it's about coming over now and solving many of the problems you saw. It's supposed to be the same playing field, and it wasn't."
The A’s were one of the teams that brought Major League Baseball to the Astros, Melvin said. Oakland has won 97 games in the past two seasons and finished second to Houston in the AL West before losing the wild card game both years.
Fiers went 15-4 last season with a 3.90 ERA over 33 starts and most innings still at 184 2/3.
Still, he watched left-hander Sean Manaea take over the ball and defeat in the AL wildcard game against Tampa Bay. Fiers wanted to start that night, but understood that Melvin had made a difficult choice.
"I want this opportunity. Manaea definitely deserves this moment, ”said Fiers. "We supported him, but of course I want the ball personally. You can only give it to one person. "
Despite the disappointment, Fiers immediately got back to work and met with longtime friend Mike Dobre a few times a week.
In their college days, they got up at 5 a.m. to run on the beach. Dobre motivated Fiers and they enjoyed reuniting their intense training plans this winter after Dobre had spent the past few years as an Army Ranger.
"He's pretty crazy. He always got me up early in the morning," said Fiers. "We used to do our beach runs at 5:00 am. It's very mental toughness, things like that. Then we were in college. It changes your mind about a lot of things. A lot of people like staying in bed, sleeping and staying warm, but just getting up and exercising, I think it makes you stand out and creates this mental stage. "
Dobre now works for the sheriff's office in Broward County. This winter they usually trained in the afternoon.
They also had an eager young student: A & # 39; s left-handed left-handed Jesus Luzardo wanted an insight into the routine of his experienced teammate and joined them.
“I had a great time training Fiers again. I always said, "This guy outperforms everyone," said Dobre. “From mileage swimming over unknown distances to running the beach and weight room. I also include a lot of mental toughness in our training. We trained for so many years, but I had to go to the army. Now I'm back and it was great to have a full off season together. It was a pleasure to have Jesus out there. "
Luzardo, who has returned from strains to his rotator cuff and lat muscle to complete six appearances with an ERA of 1.50 and two saves over 12 innings, will be an important addition to the Oakland rotation.
“We were dead at the end of training. Seeing a veteran work so hard in the off-season and prepare so intensely for a season motivates you to see what you need to get through a full season of success to have and to have a long career, ”said Luzardo.
Melvin was not surprised that Luzardo took the initiative or that Fiers took on the mentoring role.
"Jesus is so mature for his age," said Melvin about the 22-year-old pitcher who has no innings limit. "He has a great head on his shoulders and we saw that with him from day one. It was just about making him healthy."
Fiers is grateful for Dobre's example over the years.
"His education, his work ethic, the way he does everything," said Fiers, "it took me to another level."