The end of the year is nearly here, so let’s enjoy some of the best Dodgers stories of 2021. I’m excluding my own stories, except to mention that I really enjoyed learning about how pitcher Yefrey Ramírez was optioned to the minors on August 3 despite being out of options.
In February, Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times wrote a wonderful and thorough profile of Clayton Kershaw after spending time at the future Hall of Famer’s home just outside of Dallas.
Throughout the piece, Kershaw and his wife Ellen mentioned the importance of being together as a family with their kids, with their oldest child, Cali, now in first grade.
“This is like your chance to get to hang out with your kids and be with them,” Kershaw told Castillo. “And so I don’t want to miss that opportunity.”
The words seem to carry even more weight now, with Kershaw in free agency for the first time, and having not signed through the first four weeks of the offseason before the MLB lockout. Staying home became a much more attractive option competitively once the Rangers signed Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Jon Gray. Seager said he reached out to Kershaw, as did Rangers manager Chris Woodward, a former Dodgers coach, which takes us back to this February Kershaw quote, from Castillo’s article: “Playing with one team your whole career is very cool, I think, but legacy’s not important to me on the baseball field. I don’t worry about that.”
Anyway, here’s Wonderwall
During the Dodgers’ championship ring ceremony, before the club’s April 9 home opener at Dodger Stadium, a creative twist was having older MLB stars provide a video introduction for each player. A lot of the choices were the Dodgers player’s favorite player when growing up, which provided a neat foreshadowing moment of Albert Pujols introducing Will Smith just months before the two would be sharing post-homer hugs.
But the oddest, and arguably most amazing video of the day came courtesy of Bronson Arroyo, who serenaded that day’s starting pitcher, Walker Buehler, with ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis.
Arroyo adding, “I love you. I’ll see you around the bend, brother,” was a great topper, but so was Pedro Moura calling Arroyo to dig deeper into his bond with Buehler. The Dodgers acquired Bronson Arroyo as part of a three-team, 13-player deal with the Braves and Reds at the 2015 trade deadline, a transaction most known for bringing Alex Wood to Los Angeles.
Arroyo was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and did not pitch in 2015. His inclusion in the trade was more for financial purposes, and the Dodgers later declined Arroyo’s option for 2016. Arroyo continued his rehab at Camelback Ranch in Arizona in 2015, and while there spent a lot of time at the facility with Buehler, the Dodgers’ first-round draft pick that June who was rehabbing from his own Tommy John surgery.
“If you hung out with those two in a locker room, you’d be like, ‘These two little fucking bastards are running around here driving everyone crazy,’” Arroyo said. “They both have a lot of energy, and they’re both very curious.”
A closing boost
Kenley Jansen was at a crossroads of sorts entering 2021, after getting passed over in key October moments in each of the previous two postseasons. In addition to the physical work Jansen put in with the training staff, he also started seeing a therapist last offseason.
Bill Plunkett at the Orange County Register chronicled it all:
Getting to that point meant clearing a hurdle that was not unique to Jansen.
“Because people think that’s weak. I was thinking that was weak,” he says of seeking out counseling to help with the mental side of being an elite-level professional athlete. “If you see great athletes, they all need it.
“I’m not shy to say that. I think it’s a great thing. I would encourage athletes to do that more often because that was career-changing for me, I feel like. This game is going to be hard. Sometimes you’re going to get beat. But don’t get beat by mental fatigue.”
A bat for a ball
Outfielder TJ Friedl made his major league debut for the Reds on Saturday, September 18 against the Dodgers in Cincinnati. He popped out in the infield against Joe Kelly in the eighth inning.
The next day, the Dodgers led 6-1 in the sixth inning, and Friedl got a second chance, this time pinch-hitting against Tony Gonsolin. Friedl slammed the first pitch over the right field wall at Great American Ball Park for not only his first major league home run, but his first hit.
That’s when things got cool, as Blake Harris chronicled.
“I remember yesterday on the big screen it said it was his MLB Debut,” said Mookie Betts, who was playing right field at the time of the home run. “He didn’t get a hit yesterday. I saw he hit a home run and I knew it was his first hit. I saw the guy who caught it.
“I just asked him for the ball, kind of sign language. He didn’t hesitate, he threw it right back.”
As a reward for throwing the ball back into the playing field, which was passed from into the Reds dugout for Friedl to keep, Betts before the bottom of the seventh brought one of his own bats out to right field to give to the fan in the stands. Not a bad trade!
“It’s incredible, just for him to do something like that is definitely just world-class of him,” Friedl told reporters after the game.
Betts and Friedl were reunited on Saturday, December 18 in Las Vegas, watching the University of Kentucky basketball team beat North Carolina. They were invited by UK coach John Calipari, who is Friedl’s cousin, and both spoke to the team.
Calipari after the game said Betts set an example for his team.
“Now, what is Mookie Betts going to get from that? Like why would — you know what that tells me? He’s got a good heart, and he’s got a good heart for people. He was getting nothing in return,” Calipari said. “I want these kids to do stuff where they get nothing in return, to understand what true joy is.”