LOS ANGELES — Cody Bellinger on Friday played in his 410th career game at Dodger Stadium, including the regular season and playoffs. It was his first wearing something other than a Dodgers uniform.
Before the game, fans cheered as a tribute video played at Dodger Stadium, then the crowd erupted afterward, when Bellinger tipped his cap from foul territory just behind first base, as ‘Hotel California,’ his old walk-up song played.
Bellinger got another ovation before his first at-bat, leading off the second inning, and was dinged for a pitch timer violation by not being ready in the batters box in time. He grounded to first, off Noah Syndergaard.
Petty pitch clock violation alert: Cody Bellinger gets a long ovation in his first at-bat back at Dodger Stadium. Is given a violation for his troubles. pic.twitter.com/ZUF6ARiatC— The Comeback (@thecomeback) April 15, 2023
Did Bellinger think he would be a Dodger forever?
“At one point for sure, you know?” he said. “Life is not always planned, as we all know as we grow older. God works in mysterious ways. I just try to be in the moment and appreciate what comes next for me.”
Bellinger with the Dodgers won the National League Rookie of the Year in 2017, was voted NL MVP in 2019, hit a pennant-winning home run in Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS en route to a championship, then delivered the NLDS-winning single in the ninth inning of Game 5 between the 106-win Dodgers and 107-win Giants in 2021.
After that pennant-winning home run, Bellinger separated his shoulder during the celebration, setting in motion of chain of misfortune that derailed his time with the Dodgers. In his first four seasons, Bellinger hit .273/.364/.547 with a 137 wRC+.
But after shoulder surgery and a broken fibula that derailed his 2021 season, followed by several swing changes in trying find his old form and compensate for those injuries, Bellinger hit just .193/.256/.355 with a 69 wRC+ over the last two seasons, one of the worst hitters in baseball.
Bellinger redefined the concept of ceilings and floors.
“If you’re looking at the whole body of work, he was a heck of a ballplayer,” manager Dave Roberts said before Friday’s game. “Why he wasn’t an MVP or an All-Star every year? Because it’s hard. Why wasn’t he as consistent as he would have liked, we would have liked? I think the injury had something to do with it. That’s why it’s so difficult. There’s no one answer.
“Cody has to take responsibility for it. Us as coaches have to take responsibility for it. Sometimes maybe a different voice can re-unlock some things for him. Because you can’t debate the skillset or the talent.”
Before Bellinger’s return Friday, Jack Harris at the Los Angeles Times chronicled the ups and downs of the outfielder’s six seasons in Los Angeles, from Rookie of the Year to MVP to injuries and the multitude of swing changes that followed during two down seasons.
Fabian Ardaya at The Athletic also recounted Bellinger’s time with the Dodgers:
“Each time he came up, I felt like that was going to be the moment where things really turned,” Friedman said. “It never really got there in a sustained way.”
“I hope he does well. I hope he has a great career, and Chicago treats him well,” Clayton Kershaw said in an interview with David Vassegh for SportsNet LA (starts at about 1:50). “I love Belli. I really want to see him get going this year.”
“It gonna be weird...I hope he has a great career and I hope Chicago treats him well.” Clayton Kershaw expresses how much he misses Cody and wants him to succeed in his future before the first matchup against him. pic.twitter.com/tZViBro5E9— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) April 15, 2023
“The fans here showed me nothing but love for seven years,” Bellinger said before the game, “so I’m excited to go out and roam center field”