Aroldis Chapman returns to cheers, because cheers drown out conflicted feelings

NEW YORK — When Aroldis Chapman made his Yankees debut Monday night, before he lit up the radar gun in a two-strikeout performance in which he gave up a run in a non-save situation to close out a 6-3 victory over the Royals, he received a warm welcome from the crowd of 41,243 in the Bronx.It wasn’t an all-out ovation for the pitcher returning from a domestic violence policy suspension, but cheers, by and large, are a lot louder than people softly saying to themselves, “This guy is really good, but I’m conflicted, at best, about his presence on my favorite team, and this generally feels uncomfortable.” MORE: 's Dead Money All-Stars It does feel uncomfortable, and it should feel uncomfortable, though it really doesn’t seem to for the man at the center of it all. “I’m very excited and happy to have the fans receive me the way they did,” Chapman said through an interpreter. “But I was looking to stay focused and get the job done. ... A lot of people have been asking me about that, but after the reaction that I got tonight, I can say that it was incredible.” We still don’t know, and probably never will know, what really happened between Chapman and his girlfriend on that night last October when police came to the All-Star closer’s Florida home and did not arrest him.MORE: Jose Reyes facing hefty suspension Thanks to Major League Baseball having enacted a more stringent policy on domestic violence, Chapman, who was traded from the Reds to the Yankees for a cut-rate price after news of the incident broke, was suspended for 30 games after agreeing not to appeal. It wasn’t actually 30 games, because the terms of the agreement were such that New York’s rainout on April 10 counted.So, Chapman was eligible to return to major league action Monday night, with his new team, with the focus primarily on what he can do to help a last-place team turn around its early-season woes. Namely, that would be teaming with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller to form a back end of the bullpen that makes the Yankees essentially invincible if they have the lead from the seventh inning on.“Guys are on the top step (of the dugout),” Betances said. “It’s definitely fun to watch. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think the bullpen, the group as a whole, we’re going to be able to do some good things. If we get the lead, I like our chances.”MORE: Chapman: Latinos unfairly targeted in domestic violence casesThe Yankees happened to be playing the Royals on Monday, and Kansas City used this formula to win the American League title in 2014 and the World Series last year. The Royals are, however, far from the first team to build around dominant relievers late in games.“I came here in ’96 and we had a shutdown bullpen,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We had a shutdown bullpen in ’97, ’98 and ’99 and it just kept continuing. I think the Royals had three different guys that threw really hard, but if you think about the bullpens that have been here, they’ve been shutdown bullpens that have contributed a lot to success."I think you put together a bullpen anywhere, whether it’s (Jeff) Nelson, Mariano (Rivera) and (John) Wetteland, or you want to go back to (the 1990 Reds with Rob) Dibble, (Norm) Charlton and (Randy) Myers — it’s been going on for a while. When you get three or four guys that have the capability of doing it, it can really make a difference over the course of the season and the playoffs. I think we relied on our bullpen a lot during the years that we won here.”This is all well and good, and you can see how it might work for the Yankees, who have not cast themselves so far adrift as to make a playoff run out of the question and now have won three out of four to start a 10-game homestand. Having Chapman, a pitcher worth an average of 2 1/2 wins above replacement per season since 2012, makes New York a better team. It’s why, when presented the opportunity to acquire him for pennies on the dollar, the Yankees pounced.It’s just … it’s just not that simple. Whatever happened that night in Florida, happened, and Chapman has not made things any better by insisting that he is without blame, literally saying the words “I didn’t do anything” and blaming clashing cultures. Even if you give Chapman the immense benefit of the doubt and say that he never did lay hand on his girlfriend, never did anything wrong, the thing to do still would have been to talk about lessons learned, to show some comprehension of the weight of the issue.The issue will follow Chapman forever, because it should. He served that suspension after agreeing to it, and that is part of his record. He missed that month of baseball for a reason, and that is the victory of ’s policy as much as anything else. April 2016 will always be blank for Chapman, not because of an injury but because of his own actions. The policy that includes provisions that allow to issue discipline in absence of a decision in the judicial system means that unlike, say, Kobe Bryant, there can be no unspoken but seemingly universal choice made to pretend like none of this ever happened.MORE: Yankees hamstrung by aging rosterChapman’s teammates will support him because that is what teammates do. Home fans love to ooh and ahh at triple-digit radar gun readings, as they audibly did on the first four pitches Chapman threw in pinstripes — 100, 100, 101 and 101. When Chapman goes on the road, the reception will and should be less friendly.“It’s going to be different everywhere he goes,” Girardi said. “We’re not go

ing to know exactly what it’s going to be until we go through it. None of us do. We will be there for him. We will do what we can for him. I’m sure it’s going to be different every place we go.”It should always be different for Chapman. He served his penalty and can move on and do his job, but that penalty — for whatever it was that happened — cannot be swept aside. That is the reality of the new era that baseball ushered in with its domestic violence policy, and Chapman is the first player to live it.