Giancarlo Stanton kept the conversation about baseball on Friday afternoon.
Even though the buzz surrounding the Marlins was focused on larger matters.
“Happy first day back,” said Stanton, when asked about his reaction to the recent reports of owner Jeffrey Loria potentially selling the franchise in the near future.
It shouldn’t be hard for Stanton to not let the rumors become a distraction heading into spring training, which begins next week in Jupiter.
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Not after dealing with the emotional toll the end of last season took on the Marlins following the tragic death of ace Jose Fernandez, who was killed in a boating accident.
Pressing on without Fernandez is the next challenge Stanton said the team will have to face together.
“His locker won’t be there,” Stanton said. “His smile won’t be there or the energy he brought. It’s another thing we’ll have to go through together.”
On Friday afternoon during the club’s media luncheon at the Miami Marriott hotel near Biscayne Bay, nine of the Marlins, including Stanton, wore the white jerseys they will wear this season.
A black circle patch with Fernandez’s No. 16 in white was stitched on the front on the left side of their chests near their hearts.
Stanton spent the better part of the offseason traveling around the world and paying tribute to Fernandez along the way.
One of his stops was Brazil, where he, closer A.J. Ramos and former teammate Ricky Nolasco painted a mural in Fernandez’s honor in Rio de Janeiro.
“That was fun and just a way to celebrate his life, and give a part of him to the world on our vacation,” Stanton said. “It was a good experience for us.’
Stanton said the getaway, which included a trip to Egypt, was helpful for him and his teammates to clear their minds after a season that was difficult for him personally for multiple reasons.
“I don’t think anything was tougher than the end of last season,” Stanton said. “The trips were kind of peace for us. We were at the center point last year when it happened with cameras everywhere. I think it was actually good for us to have some peace and time to ourselves. It was good for us.”
From a baseball standpoint, Stanton said he didn’t take many positives from last season.
Although he became the first Marlin to win the Home Run Derby, and did so in record-breaking fashion by belting 61 home runs at Petco Park in San Diego, Stanton hit just .240 with 27 home runs and 74 RBI.
And the power numbers came in spite of a major slump that dipped his average to as low as .193 on June 15. Following the Derby victory, Stanton was having a better second half before that was halted by a groin strain that sidelined him for nearly a month during a stretch in which the Marlins were still in contention for a playoff spot.
“Not one to remember for the good,” said Stanton about last season. “It was a learning experience. I didn’t take too many positives from it. But you learn some things the hard way and look back at what went wrong and get stronger from it.”
Stanton, who has had various injuries throughout his career, said Friday he felt good and that he accomplished all of his goals in terms of offseason training and physical preparation for the upcoming season.
But learning how to avoid prolonged hitting droughts is an area he hopes to improve starting this season.
“When you’re in that deep of a hole, you have to find different ways to get out of it,” Stanton said. “I felt like I kept a good mind-set, but you have to break out of it faster.”
Stanton does feel optimistic about the team’s outlook for 2017 after retaining its core and adding some pitching help.
“We didn’t need [to acquire] much lineup-wise,” Stanton said. “We have a solid core, and we all have to find a way to be on the field at the same time. We’ve had waves and spurts, but this year we have to do it.
“Last year was a lot on all of us, so I think it’s good to start clean [with] a new year and get ready for baseball.”