MIAMI (AP) — Dee Gordon walked into the Miami Marlins clubhouse four hours before game time and was greeted at his locker by a three-foot-high stack of boxes — bats, gloves, shoes and more, all new.
"Three months of stuff," he said.
That's how long he had been gone. Gordon returned Thursday from an 80-game suspension for a positive drug test and went 0 for 4 batting leadoff as the Marlins lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 5-4.
In conjunction with his reinstatement, Gordon issued an apology on social media addressed primarily to his young fans.
"I know I let you down, and I'm sorry," the Marlins' second baseman said in a video. "Complacency led me to this, and I'm hurt. I urge you guys to be more responsible than I am about what goes into your body. I wouldn't wish this on anyone."
Gordon, who won the NL batting and stolen base titles last year, was suspended in late April after testing positive for two performance-enhancing drugs.
At the time, Marlins president David Samson said Gordon had betrayed the team and fans. Now, Samson and the Marlins say they're glad to have Gordon back.
"We're a pretty forgiving society," Samson said. "It's important Dee ask for that forgiveness, and he has, and he'll receive that. He's got to continue to work to get himself back in with his teammates and the fans, and my son."
Teammates — even Derek Dietrich, who filled in capably at second base — have said they're glad to have Gordon return. Manager Don Mattingly said Gordon has the backing of the clubhouse and organization.
"Obviously there was disappointment early on, and then you really want to support him from that point forward," Mattingly said. "He has been remorseful. He has paid his price."
Gordon's father, former major league pitcher Tom Gordon, attended Thursday's game. The elder Gordon said he both scolded and embraced his son when the suspension occurred.
"He has learned a lot," Tom Gordon said. "He will bounce back and be an even better person."
In his video, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Gordon said he learned from his mistake.
"I thought being the smallest guy, I would never fail a drug test," he said. "I didn't pay attention at all and I didn't meet the standards. That's my fault and no one else's. But don't give up on me."
When Gordon was suspended, he said he unknowingly took the banned substances. Speaking to a cluster of media in the dugout before batting practice Thursday, he declined to elaborate.
What lesson did he learn?
"Don't be complacent just because you're small," he said. "I got complacent and made a mistake."
Gordon's hitless effort Thursday dropped his season average to .255.
"I thought he seemed a little quiet and probably a little nervous," Mattingly said. "As the game went on he seemed more like himself."
To make room on the roster for Gordon, the Marlins designated for assignment infielder Don Kelly, who had two triples in Wednesday's victory over the Phillies.
Even without Gordon, the Marlins have remained in contention for their first playoff berth since 2003.
"I kept in touch with my teammates pretty much on a daily basis," Gordon said. "I told them thank you for keeping their end of the bargain. I asked them to keep it close until I got back, and that's exactly what they did. Now I've got to keep my end of the bargain. I've got to help us get to the playoffs."
As part of his punishment, Gordon will be ineligible for the postseason.
Last year he led the majors with 205 hits and 58 stolen bases, batted .333, became an All-Star for the second time and won a Gold Glove.
The breakout season earned him a $50 million, five-year contract in January. Is he optimistic he'll play the way he did last year?
"I know I can," he said. "Wait and watch."