02/19/09 3:16 PM EST
Lee arrives at Astros camp
Slugger late after saying he had wrong reporting date
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
This, of course, was a spin-off on the scene a couple of days ago in Tampa, Fla., when dozens of Yankees players attended Alex Rodriguez's news conference to show their support of their embattled third baseman.
The Astros' version was significantly less intense, which was part of the joke.
"We'll get through this together, Carlos," Lance Berkman proclaimed, while Roy Oswalt, in his effort to "show solidarity," sat stone-faced in a chair nearby.
"He's 100 percent backing me," Lee said. "Thank you, Lance."
The message was clear: Lee showing up two days later to Spring Training than everyone else was not a big deal to his teammates, even if it did briefly elicit some irritation among his fellow veterans, especially Berkman.
Berkman, incidentally, was one of the first people Lee saw when he entered the Astros' clubhouse early Thursday morning.
"I said, 'Where have you been, you sorry dog?'" Berkman said. "I said it in jest. He said no one told him he was supposed to be here."
Lee repeated his earlier stance that he was confused about the reporting date and he again offered an apology.
"You have a lot of young guys that are coming up and you don't want to get the impression that you don't care and you do whatever you want," Lee said. "I really thought [the reporting date] was Thursday. I take full responsibility for it, but there's nothing I can do about it now. All I can do now is try to catch up with all of the conditioning Lance gained in the last two days, to keep up with him."
"It's going to take much more than two days to catch me," Berkman responded.
Lee's repentance began almost immediately after he arrived to the clubhouse. He met with manager Cecil Cooper, behind closed doors, and both have decided to keep the details of most of the conversation "in-house."
But Cooper did offer a couple of details.
"I said, 'You owe me,'" Cooper offered.
Asked if the payback was 150 RBIs during the upcoming season, Cooper chuckled.
"That is one of the things I did lay on him, I will say that," Cooper said. "But I didn't go 150. I said 140."
Pressed for details of the rest of the conversation, Cooper shook his head.
"I've got stuff planned, but it's between [Lee] and I,'" Cooper said.
Like making Lee run until he gets tired, as Cooper mentioned two days ago when Lee was a no-show?
"What good would it do?" Cooper quipped. "Five minutes, he'd be done."
Plus, Lee added, "this isn't boot camp. This is baseball."
Speaking of baseball, Lee has plenty of that in his future. After being shelved for the last seven weeks of the season in 2008 with a broken left pinky finger, Lee will make up for lost time during the spring season, splitting time between Astros camp and Team Panama, whom he plans to represent in the World Baseball Classic.
"I'm planning on playing right now," Lee said. "I still want to play a few games in the workout. I haven't faced live pitching or been in a game, so I want to see how I hit the ball off the end or get inside of the ball. If the finger's going to be OK, if everything goes as planned, I'm ready to go."
The little finger on Lee's left hand, crushed by a Bronson Arroyo fastball last August, has a bump near the tip, and the nail is somewhat mangled.
"It doesn't look too good, but it feels good," he said. "Hopefully, when we get cold weather, it won't be sore. Right now, it's a little sore getting going again, but it's going to be OK. It's fully healed now and it shouldn't be a factor."
Lee does not plan to wear anything to protect the finger, nor does he intend to stop resting his finger on the end of the bat, which obviously leaves him vulnerable to injury.
"I would prefer he take that finger off the end of the bat, but it's a comfort level," Cooper said. "It was just a freak thing and there's not a whole lot you can do. I talked to him about changing, but that's his comfort level."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.