VIERA, Fla. -- Perhaps the most anticipated player to arrive at Nationals camp was Jonathan Papelbon, back with the team for the first time since a dugout incident on Sept. 27 in which he grabbed teammate Bryce Harper by the neck.
During a 10-minute media session -- Papelbon's first comments since serving a suspension for what he called one of the low points of his career -- Papelbon expressed remorse, apologizing publicly to Harper, the team, coaches and the fans.
"I think that with what happened last year, I was in the wrong," Papelbon said. "Should have never went down that way, and I understand that. I had a lot of time this offseason to reflect on that. I've had three months to think about it."
Papelbon revealed that he apologized to the entire team after the game that day. He reached out to offer Harper a separate personal apology during the offseason, and both players have said the issue is resolved. Papelbon even said he texted Harper to wish him luck in NL Most Valuable Player Award voting, which he later won unanimously.
The Nationals suspended Papelbon for four games as a result of the altercation, which, coupled with a three-game suspension from Major League baseball for throwing near the head of Baltimore's Manny Machado, ended Papelbon's season.
"The last week of the season, for me personally, that was tough," Papelbon said. "Obviously you want to finish the season out with your teammates that you've been fighting with all year long. … But I had to do what I had to do and step aside from the team. … It was a tough time, probably one of the toughest points of my career."
It would have been difficult then to imagine that Papelbon would ever play for the Nationals again, although he says he tried not to think about it during the offseason. He filed a grievance against the Nationals, which is still pending, for that suspension, which he called "[all about] the business side of things."
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"We had a lot of conversations with him from the end of last season through the offseason," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "I know how he felt, and he expressed his regret in the situation and that type of thing. He's a veteran player that's had a lot of success, and his teammates like him and he's a winner. We need winning players on the club."
When Papelbon walked into the clubhouse Friday, he seemed to be welcomed back without issue as he exchanged greetings and laughs with numerous teammates, including poking fun at Gio Gonzalez for his long hair. Whether he will be accepted back by the fan base, largely unhappy to see Papelbon remaining on the team especially after former closer Drew Storen was traded to Toronto, remains to be seen.
"I think the fans will see from me that I play with a great deal of pride," Papelbon said. "And with that pride comes … I'm not a perfect human being. I'm an imperfect person living in an imperfect world. I don't claim to be [perfect]. So for me, I realize that what I did was wrong. And the fans see that. And I see that."