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The magnificence of Mookie Betts’ homecoming

A field report of watching Mookie Betts in Cleveland and Boston

Los Angeles Dodgers v Boston Red Sox Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

There are times when I ask myself why I put myself through the stress and the cost of traveling the country to attend Dodgers games. I am getting older and I have left the flower of my youth behind. It all comes down to a simple truth, it is not fame, fortune (ha!), or recognition that keeps me going.

There are moments when I get to realize my life is like a fairytale when sitting watching a baseball game on a perfect Sunday afternoon from atop the Green Monster.

Living the dream — one has to work for it

I hit the road because I love doing so and I love the chance to see something new. From “Get it out of the Bay” to “Oof, right in the face,” (coincidentally, also involving Max Muncy — I’m going to miss him when he’s gone), I have seen my fair share of things I never expected to see.

But over the week of August 22-28, I do not think I have ever seen anyone perform as well on a baseball field as Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman did that week outside of a video game — turned down to easy. Eric fully wrote how dominant Betts and Freeman were on this road trip.

On this road trip, Freeman had a slash line of .500/.536/.692 with five doubles and three RBI. Frankly, one would need to go to In-n-Out to find more doubles in a given week. But Betts found another gear that week that was almost superhuman or something out of fiction.

Speaking of said things, as an aside, did you know Mookie Betts did not (and does not) know what anime is? On a recent episode of his podcast, he asked Cedric Mullins about the anime Naruto. Mullins expressed the opinion that Naruto is the best anime of all time. (He’s wrong by the way, but that discussion is one for another time.)

Afterward, Betts asked Mullins if he knew what anime was. Mullins said that he did and then gave shockingly a vague, and completely wrong definition (“cartoons with a story”). Mullins’ definition could technically apply to anything hand-drawn, which is incorrect. Anime is hand-drawn or computer-generated animation that is from Japan — that’s it. Anime can be serious or silly or all points in between.

Why the aside? Because if you were to script what Betts has done so far this season, it would not ring plausible, even in fiction. Jumping ahead in the timeline a bit, Joe Davis had an excellent monologue about Betts on the Sunday, September 3 broadcast in the bottom of the seventh inning. No video clip exists, so I have transcribed what Davis said to the best of my ability:

“...We’ve talked about how much J.D. Martinez has meant to Mookie Betts. And [Betts] pointed to a couple conversations with J.D. The first one that he had with J.D. that led to his MVP-calibur season came right after Martinez signed with the Dodgers. They hopped on the phone and J.D. said “I’m coming there and you’re going to win MVP.”

[Betts replied] “Yeah, I love it. I love the sound of that. [J.D.] said “No, no, let me hear you say it. [Say] I’m going to win MVP.” Betts humored him and said “Okay, I am going to MVP.” J.D. said “Alright good. To do that — we are going to grind every single day.

And Mookie said “Yeah, of course, we are.” J.D. said “No. You’re not like Freddie [Freeman] where you can just roll out of bed and hit. Do you remember how hard we worked every single day in 2018 [the year Betts won MVP]?” Mookie thought about it and he said “You know what, I guess maybe after [2018], I did rely on feel and leaning toward trusting [myself] too much and drifted away from hard, diligent, pointed work.”

Davis at this point, pointed out that no one is saying that Betts has not worked since that date as Betts puts in as much training time as just about anyone. Davis continued:

J.D said “Let’s not forget what made you the MVP in 2018. I’m coming there and we are going to work and work and work the same routine every single day.” ... And, so from the moment J.D. Martinez arrived, these guys have had this routine together to get ready for their hitting, every single swing throughout the day has a purpose.

And when so Mookie gets to the game, he’s no longer searching for anything. It used to be he was looking for a feel, hoping that he had it on a given night, because he’s so athletic, he often would. But he said there’s none of that anymore, he doesn’t wonder if he has gonna have the feel. He has put the work. He trusts that he will and then goes out, has simple thoughts and has fun.”

[emphasis added.]

Training is a big part of most anime. And a story of someone plugging away, getting stronger to take down a goal, could be applied to a good number of classic heroes of the genre. Applying this framework to Mookie’s week in Cleveland and Boston, one can see the throughline.

Betts hit a slash line of .615/.655/.885 with four doubles, a home run (over the Monster - see above), seven RBI, and two steals. Unsurprisingly, Betts won National League Player of the Week honors. Then before publication of this essay, he won National League Player of the Month honors. You can laud Betts with just about every superlative known to man, compare him to any hero in fiction, and you would likely undersell his performance.

With all that prologue, would you believe that this athletic prowess was not the best thing I saw Betts do on that road trip?

Would you like to play catch — part two

In 2022, I met Nick Pesch, then-tour guide, now-home clubhouse assistant of the Milwaukee Brewers, who was fortunate enough to record a viral video of a fan playing catch with Mookie Betts while the Dodgers were in town. On the night that Noah Syndergaard demonstrated his mastery of the Dodgers, just after Betts moved from second base to right field, I was fortunate enough to play the role of Nick Pesch.

This family had been sitting by with a sign asking to play catch with Betts for the entire game. I posted a video of the encounter because it was a romantic moment about baseball that I was lucky enough to witness firsthand. A larger Instagram streamer took notice of the video and shared it with attribution, and the story has spread like a quiet wildfire over the past two weeks.

What stands out, apart from the kid’s unique throwing motion, is the fact each was throwing strikes to the other. It was a perfect moment that I am sure they will remember for the rest of their lives.

With a moment like this one, I will ask again: How can one not be romantic about baseball?

The Homecoming and the Monster

Field Level at Fenway Park. August 25, 2023.
Field Level at Fenway Park. August 25, 2023.
Michael Elizondo / True Blue LA

As historic cathedrals of baseball go, Fenway Park is indeed one of them. It is hard to not be overcome by the region, the ballpark, and the history (both ancient and recent). But not impossible. Getting a tour of Fenway while the Dodgers were in town was a minor feat, as I had to buy my ticket directly from the box office instead of online.

As to whether it was worth it, I will let you judge from the following gallery.

That said, it was hard not to be overwhelmed and one cannot fault Mookie Betts for jitters and emotions about coming back to Fenway. Like Freeman returning to Atlanta in 2022, there was likely no return to an old haunt more anticipated than Betts returning to Boston. Admittedly, as with Freeman and Atlanta, I underestimated the bonds that Betts had and has with the city and the people of Boston.

Unlike Freeman, whose decision to leave Atlanta was at least partially his own, Betts was not looking to leave Boston before he was traded to the Dodgers in 2020. Betts had been vocal on the record saying that he did not want to leave Boston, hoping to spend the rest of his career there. That emotion was fully on display throughout the weekend.

Mookie’s life and value in Boston were previously unknown to me as most non-Dodgers might as well be playing baseball on the moon. For a non-Dodger to enter my orbit of knowledge, they either have to have done something exceptional (Shohei Ohtani) or inspirational (Mickey Jannis).

I must have heard the following version of the same story the entire weekend I was in Boston: “I wish he was still here.” Countless barrels of ink have spilled on the subject, but at the end of the day, Boston did not want to pay to keep him. It really is as simple as that.

I can hardly imagine how much it stung to watch Betts romp in Fenway that weekend. Actually, I can imagine that sting a bit. The weekend was filled with reunions with Chris Martin (I never liked Coldplay anyway), Ryan Brasier, Enrique Hernandez, and one other fellow.

It’s the law: JT rakes when Michael is around

Justin Turner striking out. Fenway Park. August 26, 2023.
Justin Turner striking out. Fenway Park. August 25, 2023.
Michael Elizondo / True Blue LA

Contrary to what the above photo would indicate, Turner had himself a fun reunion with the Dodgers’ pitching staff with a slash line of .364/.462/1.000 with two home runs. The photo shows the only strikeout of Turner’s weekend.

Furthermore, Turner went 0 for 5 in the first game, meaning Turner went 4 for 6 the rest of the way. Honestly, the more surprising result was the 0-fer. Justin Turner over the past three years has done nothing but hit:

  • 2021 (30 games): .312/.395/.373, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 5 2B, 14 BB
  • 2022 (18 games): .333/.413/.481, 2 HR, 17 RBI, 2 2B, 7 BB

Now, Turner has had himself an up-and-down season in Boston, but it was nice on some level to see that the old dog could still hunt.

And with that, we conclude field reports for Cleveland and Boston. Up next, the weekend of September 14th in Seattle for the final road trip of the year. See you then!