Atlanta Braves outfielder Marcell Ozuna says he has addressed teammates and is sorry to fans for an arrest last year on charges of aggravated assault by strangulation and battery after police officers said they witnessed him attacking his wife.
Ozuna returned to the team this week for the first time since his May 29 arrest. He was placed on administrative leave during Major League Baseball’s investigation and missed Atlanta’s World Series championship run last fall.
MLB suspended the 31-year-old retroactively for 20 games under its domestic violence policy in November, allowing him to return for the start of the 2022 season.
“Yeah, I talked to my team,” Ozuna said Monday, the first day of full-squad spring training workouts. “I spoke to my team and said, ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake.’”
Ozuna was welcomed by teammates in the clubhouse Monday, and several Latino players gathered around his locker before practice began, just like old times.
“It’s good to have him back,” teammate Ronald Acuña Jr. said via interpreter. “You know, he’s a such a good ballplayer. You know, on and off the field and, you know, the things that happened off the field, those are challenges for everyone. Certain things that happen off the field, they can happen to anyone.”
Police body cam footage obtained by TMZ Sports two days after MLB announced its suspension appeared to show Ozuna grabbing his wife’s neck as officers arrived at their Georiga home. The Sandy Springs Police Department said in a statement in May that it also observed Ozuna throwing her against a wall and striking her with the cast on his injured left hand.
Ozuna said he has completed the requirements of a pretrial diversion program, a condition provided by the Fulton County District Attorney’s office in order to have charges dropped. The program included 3-6 months of supervision. Ozuna also was ordered to complete a 24-week family violence intervention program, at least 200 hours of community service and an anger management course.
“I learned everything,” he said of counseling. “I learned how you treat a person, how you be a better person, how you be the best daddy, how you be a human being. You learn everything from that.”
Ozuna said he is now “on the same page” with his family. He said he didn’t think he had ever spent alone time with his three children prior to last summer and has been taking them to the playground and toy stores.
“I give time to my kids, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “Family first. That’s what I worry about right now, my family and then coming here, working hard, being honest with my teammates. That’s the most important thing.”
Ozuna said he hoped the public could forgive him.
“My fans, I’m going to give you the best and I’m going to be a better person, and I’m sorry,” he said.
Ozuna was asked specifically what he would say to fans who are also victims of domestic violence.
“I just tell them, just treat me as the person that I was before,” he said. “Like, I was an amazing person out in the field. So I want to be like that. I’m going to give you my smile. If they think it’s not time to give me like good crowd, it’s OK.”
Ozuna’s ban cost him $1.55 million of his $12 million salary last season. He is entering the second year of a $65 million, four-year contract with the Braves.
ACUÑA AT 95%
Star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. also returned to the club this week after tearing his right ACL in July.
The 2018 NL Rookie of the Year said the rehab process was difficult, doubly so because it sidelined him through a World Series championship run.
Asked where he is with his power and strength, Acuña estimated he’s at 95%. He said he’s resumed baserunning and defense drills but will wait for the green light from trainers and medical staff before returning to game action.
“If it was up to me, I’d say I’d be ready for opening day,” he said via interpreter. “But we all know it’s not my decision. So either way, I’m just going to be ready.”
Atlanta hasn’t put a timeline on Acuña’s return.