MIAMI — Ozzie Guillen emerged from the clubhouse tunnel three hours before game time Tuesday, saw the horde of media waiting for him in the dugout and uttered an expletive in surprise.
Returning from a five-game suspension imposed after he praised Fidel Castro, Guillen rejoined the team for Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago Cubs.
“I feel great,” said Guillen, seated in the dugout and facing about 50 reporters and cameramen three hours before the first pitch. “It’s nice to come back and do what I love to do.”
The talkative, opinionated, profane Guillen said he won’t change — but then added he’ll steer clear of certain subjects from now on. He also said he’ll be more careful about what he says around people he doesn’t know well.
“Obviously talking about some issues is not my business,” he said. “My business is to talk about baseball. … I learned a very tough lesson. You learn from mistakes. I hope this mistake makes me a better person.”
No demonstrations were evident at the ballpark Tuesday, and there was no reaction when Guillen took his seat at the dugout railing just before the game.
But in the fourth inning, a fan in the second deck stood, waved his arms and screamed several times, “Ozzie, you’re an …” while finishing the line each time with an R-rated synonym for “jerk.”
Guillen’s comments about Castro in a magazine interview outraged angered Cuban Americans, who make up a large segment of the Marlins’ fan base. The Venezuelan manager apologized repeatedly during an extraordinary news conference a week ago, then began the suspension only five games into his tenure with the team.
Contrite but upbeat, Guillen said he spent his idle week at home in Miami and watched Marlins games on TV, which he found weird. He said he visited with Cuban exiles and was moved by the stories they told.
“The most difficult thing was looking directly in their eyes,” Guillen said in Spanish. “One gentleman spent 26 years in prison. Tears came out. I asked for their forgiveness. I still feel bad because I injured many persons.”
He said he hopes to repair damage done by winning games and being active in community outreach.
“Obviously people are still a little bit upset,” he said. “I don’t blame them a bit, but I feel a lot of people supporting me. No matter what I do, it’s not going to be enough— there are some people out there who are going to feel the way they’re going to feel.”
When asked about the possibility he’ll be booed by Marlins fans, he shrugged.
“I can’t control that,” he said. “If they’re going to boo, I’ve been booed before — in way different situations. This one maybe hurts a little bit more or makes me a little bit more embarrassed, maybe.”
Guillen met with his players before the game with the message of getting back to business. First baseman Gaby Sanchez, whose parents are Cuban exiles, said the situation has been difficult but the team is glad to have Guillen back.
“Everybody knows how he is as a person and what he actual means and feels, so everybody supports him,” Sanchez said.
Closer Heath Bell agreed, and said the team can help Guillen by playing well.
“We knew where his heart is,” Bell said. “He messed up. He’s going to make up for it. All we can do is support him by trying to win for him, and don’t let the off-the-field distractions distract us on the field.”
Last week a group of about 100 Cuban Americans protested outside the ballpark during Guillen’s news conference, demanding that he be fired. Guillen said he never worried about that happening and was pleased to receive support from the organization, even if team officials were unhappy about the situation.
When asked if he considered his return from suspension a fresh start, he said no.
“I put myself on probation about growing up and being better and don’t trust too many people,” he said. “That was my problem. … I was hurt, and I hurt a lot of people.”
While away from the team, Guillen said, he spent time with a Cuban neighbor who taught him a lot. But Guillen said he didn’t read up on Castro to learn more about the retired Cuban leader.
“That’s the last name I want to read, believe me,” Guillen said with a chuckle. “I wouldn’t even think about it.”