Life is complicated for Astros fans right now. Their favorite team cheated — the Astros used technology to steal signs and relay those signs to batters in real time — and got caught, and now is dealing with the ramifications, both the punishments handed down by commissioner Rob Manfred and the pointed, angry criticisms of their peers on the field. Which means the fans are dealing with the ramifications, too. The difference? The Houston players deserve it. The front office deserves it. The owner deserves it. The fans? They don’t deserve any of the crap, for lack of a better term, heaped on them this offseason. But here we are. If you’ve interacted with any Astros fans on social media in the past month or so, you’ve probably felt their anger. Social media, Twitter especially, isn’t the venue for nuanced thoughts, informed dialogue or productive conversations. And Astros fans will be the first to tell you — as they’ve relayed to me in calmer moments — they haven’t always handled it well. FOSTER: If even Nick Markakis is talking like this, players are really mad at AstrosI wanted to know exactly what it feels like, so I asked a handful of Astros fans questions via Twitter DM. “My thoughts? S— sucks,” @Miguelg1984 wrote. “We cheated and risked it all and it came to light. I think this will be a very grueling season.”We’ll get to their bulk of their responses in a moment, but first a few more thoughts. The thing to remember is that there are layers. Astros fans can admit that their team was in the wrong, but still defend their Astros from over-the-top, vicious and personal attacks, or the spreading of wild conspiracy theories and flat-out lies. Wouldn’t you? And, as we all know, the vitriol directed at the Astros and their fans has been intense. The Astros are a punching bag right now, for both opposing players and fans of other teams, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time. Maybe ever. And here’s the thing I keep coming back to: It’s not just that Astros fans watched their team win the World Series championship in 2017 — the year they cheated — and that title is now tainted. That championship was special for Houston. It was about so much more than just winning a World Series title, even more than winning the first World Series title in franchise history. In the summer of 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated the entire Houston community. I was in Houston and saw first-hand what that awful, horrible storm did to the people there. Just brutal. The Astros helped, in some little way. In the grand scheme of things, of course, baseball didn’t matter. But the success of the baseball team gave a little lift to the community at a time when any sort of reprieve meant the world. Watching their favorite team win the World Series was, for many Astros fans, cathartic. And this cheating scandal, tainting those memories? That sucks, for want of a better term.”The championship meant SO much to this city,” @lloydofhouston wrote, “especially after Harvey and so many years of the Astros choking in the playoffs. Manfred may not have taken the trophy away from us, but we all know that it will never mean the same to us again, and that hurts.”I asked six Astros fans a handful of questions via Twitter DM, and I’ve included a handful of their answers here. I’m grateful for their honesty and insight, the type that’s not possible one tweet at a time. The responses have been minimally edited for clarity and length. How do you reconcile your experiences in 2017 with what you’ve learned about the [email protected]: “That entire season was incredibly special to Astros fans. At a time when so many Houstonians were left with nothing and couldn’t find a reason to even smile, the Astros brought that spark back. Watching those guys play phenomenally on the road, not just at home, will always stick out to me in that experience. I will never forget that moment I shared with my family, including my children, the night we won it all. The emotions we felt together, the tears, the timing of it after our city went through hell … that hasn’t been and can’t be taken from me.”@HTownSportsTake: “This question strikes to the heart of the matter for me personally. Jose Altuve’s throw to Yuli Gurriel to clinch the Series was the moment I felt joy for the first time in eight months. I experienced the deaths of many people in my life that year and had to watch hopelessly, nearly 400 miles away, as my family and hometown were being changed forever from Harvey. The title, as a fan, was incredible and I repped my Astros gear every day in hostile territory. Everyone in my life, from friends and coworkers, to former students and current patients, to friends I only know through social media, literally, everyone, knew how special that day was for me.”Today, I feel like I’ve been duped and made a fool of by players I considered some of the ‘good guys’ in all of sports. The title, the players, and the great game of baseball that is as much a part of me as anything, has me questioning what is real and what isn’t. Honestly, I’d probably feel better about the organization, the players, and the chances of regaining respect in the league if the organization at least offered to vacate the title. I know I’m in the minority of Astros fans on this, but it may be the only way to ever have this group of players and this franchise be seen positively. Maybe it’s simply too soon to know how I really feel about it, but as of right now I feel betrayed, saddened and hoodwinked. Hopefully one day I’ll feel differently.”@lloydofhouston: “Every pitch and every at-bat during the 2017 playoffs took a lot out of me, but we were all in it together, and this city was connected in a way that it maybe never had been before. When they won the Series it really did lift the spirit of the city in a way that not much else could. I think it would have been much worse for us if the allegations went public right after the Series, but it still hurts. That asterisk will always be there even if we try to deny it. Even worse, we know that the team was good enough to win without cheating, but we will never know.”At what point did you accept that the illegal sign-stealing actually happened? @Miguelg1984: “I waited for the commissioner’s report to come out before judging. JomBoy_ dropped the bomb on the trash-can banging but the audio was a red flag. Thought it was possible but needed the hard proof, which came out later.”@BruceWahlie: “I accepted that it happened pretty early. I wasn’t sure MLB really was gonna drop the hammer quite so hard.”@AnthonyLpz20: “The Athletic article was published Nov 12, and after reading it and going back to watch that matchup against Danny Farquhar and I heard the multiple banging, I knew that some shady stuff went down in 2017. As more video evidence came out, the more obvious it became and harder to ignore.”@strosbeforehos: “I was sure when we first heard anything about it that, on some level, sign-stealing took place. I was sure because this is something that has been a part of baseball forever. We’ve heard about it quite a bit in recent years from other teams, and I don’t see why we’d be in the minority when it came to seeking an advantage. I just had no idea to what degree.”@HtownSportsTake: “I, like others that follow baseball closely, had heard the accusations that the Astros may be stealing signs. So when the story broke in November, in my gut, I knew it was not going to end well. I was willing to accept it if there was a ‘smoking gun’ of evidence presented. And, of course, ultimately there was enough presented on Jan. 13 for me to accept it fully. I was ill prepared for the firing of A.J. Hinch, however. I can’t imagine the pain he feels right now. He’s a good man and he, of everyone involved in this, has the self-awareness to make himself a better person and learn from his mistakes. Jeff Luhnow, as brilliant as he was, probably needed to go anyways, especially after the multiple PR nightmares prior to this scandal.”MORE: Players must speak loudly, publicly to stop cheating in real timeHow has your social media experience [email protected]: “Scrolling through my timeline is like walking through a field of land mines, every single day. It’s tough, and seeing certain tweets from certain people bother me. However, I also think it’s important to understand others’ viewpoints, because it’s important to be a critical thinker in a situation like this. But I have muted certain accounts. Out of sight, out of mind.”@strosbeforehos: “I think any Astros fan would say social media has been a difficult experience since the report emerged. All non-Astros fans have been unabated in their comments not only to Astros fans and players, but players’ families as well. It’s tough to watch sometimes. I have avoided Twitter more than usual just so that I don’t have to read too much ignorance from other fanbases and even some players. There’s an awful lot of fans out there who believe (and players who pretend) their teams are squeaky clean. Not to mention it appears everyone has accepted what the report has to say about 2017, but will not accept the findings on 2019. Now they’ve come up with silly ideas about buzzers and it doesn’t help that the media runs with false information without bothering to confirm. I can only read so much of it.”@Miguelg1984: “Meh. I still have my avatar of me wearing Astros gear. I’m surprised how supportive Dodger fans have been all around me. They know we messed up and haven’t given me too much smoke. I think Yankees fans are taking it a lot harder. Hard to say we didn’t cheat last year with that dinger off Aroldis Chapman and ’Tuve running to locker room.”Have your thoughts on Mike Fiers have changed between November and [email protected]: “I think he’s a rat and not much more to say on that guy. Keep that s—t in the locker room. Now you’re forever known as a rat. He shook up MLB and changed the game. Can’t wait to face him after we play the Angels. Hopefully we see Alex Bregman or Altuve crush one off of him. Sometimes doing the right thing can still backfire.”@AnthonyLpz20: “Mike Fiers was a big contributor to the 2017 team, leading the team in innings pitched was huge and we needed it from him, his contributions were valuable … but I can’t help but hold a grudge toward him. I know it sounds questionable to do so but I guess that is the nature of fandom.”@BruceWahlie: “I’m a little confused why Fiers is being labeled a hero. Has he turned his ring in? Where was the bravery in 2017?”@strosbeforehos: “My thoughts on Fiers definitely have not improved. To know the guy didn’t say a word while this was actually happening, and gladly accepted his World Series ring, only to say something once traded away is pathetic. Carlos Correa said to ask Fiers about Altuve, because Fiers knows Altuve didn’t participate. But when asked, Fiers refused to comment. Suddenly he doesn’t have much to say. Considering he’s the one who blew this thing open, he should absolutely be fielding questions on all of it. And if he’s really such an honorable guy, as so many believe, be honest about those who DIDN’T engage in the cheating. If you’re going to tell the truth, tell it all.”@HtownSportsTake: “I’ve actually spent a lot of time reflecting on Fiers. At first, I was angry with him. The reality is that Fiers was a huge part of that team in 2017. He did what he felt he needed to do. Astros hitters really touched him up last year and his A’s couldn’t quite get over hump so maybe he had personal and professional reasons for it. Nevertheless, he broke a clubhouse rule and it’s likely his career will be impacted. Will his own teammates trust him? Will other players around the league trust him? The media loves him and see him as courageous. Maybe he is, but I don’t hate him or anything like that. I wish him well. He’s not the story here, the league-wide problem of technology-based sign-stealing is the story, with the Astros cast as the villain. When all is said and done, Fiers will be a trivia answer about this scandal.” Has this changed how you feel about the Astros as a team/[email protected]: “Don’t get me wrong, I have felt my share of disappointment over their choices. A lot of it is because we didn’t need to go to those lengths in the first place. We showed exactly how good we were on the road, including during the WS. We just didn’t need to do it, and we chose to anyway. Poor decisions. It’s frustrating and disheartening. I’ll always wish we’d thought better of it. But I still love my team. I’ve been die-hard since about 6 years old, thanks to my parents, and that isn’t going to change. I’ll be showing up at the park to support them this season just as much as I always do.”@BruceWahlie: “Hasn’t changed my feelings toward them at all. If anything I feel closer to Astros fans and the team now.”@Miguelg1984: “I always have my team’s back. It’s like if your kid ends up getting arrested for selling drugs … do you hate him? No, it’s your job to always love them and defend them and that’s how I feel about my Astros. It’s ugly, but have to ride or die with your loved ones.”@lloydofhouston: “I will always love the Houston Astros, no matter what. This team obviously did something that they should not have done, but we know the players, we have seen all the good that they do for the community, and we will not let this define them. We will support them.”@AnthonyLpz20: “The Astros are my ride or die. I, however, do not agree with Jim Crane’s remarks and half-ass apology. I wish the Astros could’ve handled a lot of things differently for sure, but I forgive the players. I am proud of Correa and thought his initial apology was strong and straight from the heart. I am also proud of the way he stuck up for his teammates, while also taking blame for his role in the scandal. “This is such a unique and weird situation to be in as a fan. I’m so excited to watch this team compete in 2020. I hate to say we have that ‘us against the world mentality’ seeing as how the Astros dug their own grave, but I think as fans it’s important that we maintain open-mindfulness and just accept the villain role, and have some fun with it once real baseball starts. I also hope for another Yankee matchup and hope the Astros once again eliminate them (lol). This season will be so interesting to watch. Ride or die. Those /players/ have my support.”And one more insightful response, to my “anything else you think I should know?” [email protected]: “As much as I’ve learned about baseball in over four decades of obsessed fandom, I would be incredibly naive to think this stops with the Astros. But, in a weird way, if the Astros have to fall on the sword to put a stop to it all, then so be it. It is what it is. I’ve made the personal decision to not partake of MLB this season. While everyone is perhaps rightfully throwing the Astros under the bus, I think the commissioner’s handling of this situation by MLB may cause fans to leave for other sources of entertainment. That said, I still hope the Astros win in 2020. They have the most talent, in my opinion. I’ll support them in thought if not via the wallet. I’m just not sure when I’ll put myself out there again with the chance of being crushed and heartbroken. Maybe I’ll do more camping this summer.”*** (Getty Images) https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/3f/4d/astros-parade-2017-021920-ftr-gettyjpg_6kqto1svksxj1qs105j7dkrnq.jpg?t=1577622344&w=500&quality=80 Look, the point here isn’t to change anyone’s minds. I’m not trying to absolve the Astros fans who have fired back with as much or more vitriol as they’ve received. There’s plenty of wrong to go around. Just don’t be an ass, you know? As with most things in life, this is a complicated issue, and complicated never gets solved on Twitter (no matter how many tweets are threaded together). Hopefully, these six baseball fans have given you a little perspective on what it’s like to be a fan of a team like these Astros. Because you never know, it could be your favorite team caught up in something like this next.