Mookie Betts never wanted to live in Los Angeles.
He did not enjoy the short visits here as a visiting player. Bad traffic. Spread. It was tough for someone who had spent most of his life in Nashville and Boston, smaller towns that were easier to navigate. He never saw himself here.
But he was out of options in February 2020, not after the Boston Red Sox traded their franchise cornerstone to the Dodgers. It was introduced at an on-field press conference at Dodger Stadium. The next day he was in Arizona for spring training.
“Coming out here, I was already kind of skeptical,” Betts said last week.
A month later, Major League Baseball went out of business and the world shut down. Suddenly, it seemed likely that Betts, a free agent in the offseason, would never play a game in a Dodgers uniform. In retrospect, the hiatus could have cemented Betts’ future in Southern California.
The pandemic allowed Betts to drive around LA without gridlocked freeways, getting to know the city slowly. Betts was more comfortable with his surroundings when the 60-game season that began in late July was salvaged with three weeks of training camp at home. He envisioned the possibilities. He saw a future here.
That vision and $365 million prompted Betts to sign a 12-year contract extension the day before his first game as a Dodger. It is the second largest contract in MLB history.
“My idea to him was that we’re partners,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “Contractually, there’s nothing to worry about, and everything just helps the Dodgers win.”
Two years later, the 29-year-old Betts would start his first All-Star game at Dodger Stadium since 1980 as one of the faces of the franchise. He bounced back from a disappointing season to lead the Dodgers to the best record in the National League while earning the respect of his peers, by his own standards.
“I think everyone knows Mookie as a superstar, but he’s so nice, so kind, so polite to so many people,” he said. “I really respect him off the field, even more than on the field.”
It will be Betts’ sixth career All-Star appearance and fourth starting lineup. An outfielder has won a World Series with two of MLB’s flagship franchises. He was named American League MVP and National League MVP runner-up. He is a five-time Gold Glove winner, four-time Silver Slugger winner and batting champion.
Everyone agrees that he is one of the best players in the world. Everyone but Betts.
“He still doesn’t think he’s very good,” Dodgers pitcher David Price said. “I have to tell him every day how good he is, but that’s just the type of player Mookie is.”
No one in the Dodgers clubhouse has known Betts as long as Price. They were teammates in Boston for four seasons and won the 2018 World Series against the Dodgers before being shipped to LA. . egos often do not allow for vulnerability.
A story Price tells: In 2016, Price’s first season with the Red Sox, he walked into the New York clubhouse at 12:30 p.m. for a series opener against the Yankees. It was too early to believe his teammates weren’t in the batting cage yet. So when he and Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia heard rumblings coming from the hallway, they assumed it was the coach’s kid. It wasn’t.
“Mookie over there is hitting and after every swing he’s like, ‘Man, I’m not a sucker.’ What’s going on?’” Price said.
“He still doesn’t think he’s good. I have to tell him every day how good he is, but that’s the type of player Mookie is.”
– Dodgers pitcher David Price
Another story: Price sat out the 2020 season citing COVID-19 concerns, but has been in constant contact with players, coaches and members of the front office. When Betts’ Dodgers career got off to a slow start in front of the cardboard cutouts, Price spoke to Friedman.
“Go up to him and tell him what a good player he is, how much fun you had watching him play,” he said. “The real Mookie Betts came out after the first few weeks and it was really fun.”
The Dodgers posted the best record in the majors that summer and won their first World Series in 32 years. Betts was in the middle of it all, dazzling in the batter’s box, on the bases and in right field.
“I think that’s Mookie’s fuel,” Friedman said. “I think he goes through a lot of periods where he doesn’t feel like one of the best players on the planet and that probably contributes to his work ethic. But it’s amazing that he’s as talented as he is and the times he questions it.”
Then last year happened. Betts has been good, but his production has regressed in 2020. Injuries, particularly a hip problem, limited him to 122 games, but he said that wasn’t the reason he didn’t live up to expectations at the plate. “I was just in my head,” Betts said. “People play with injuries all the time and they always succeed. But this injury, although it hurt, only hurt from running. Hitting didn’t hurt. Hitting was something for me.”
His worst performance since 2017 was his .264 batting average and .854 batting average. The start of this season has been worse. He went eight for 45 with two extra base hits in his first 11 games. Then, on April 22, he hit his first two home runs against the San Diego Padres. After the game, he said he “had to own up to suck.”
“Once I was able to look in the mirror and own it, then I was able to take steps to help myself,” said Betts, who has been playing with a cracked rib for several weeks. “I didn’t blame others. I definitely blamed myself, but it was just, ‘Oh, I didn’t have a good swing,’ or ‘I got hit, so I didn’t really get the at-bat that I should have. .’ Things like that. These are all excuses. Everyone hurts sometimes. It’s not about that. It’s all about how you handle what’s next.”
Betts listened to mental health audiobooks to help overcome mental barriers. In early May, in a fit of intense tension, he said he was listening to the song “Can’t Hurt Me” by marathon runner and former Navy SEAL David Goggins.
He recently listened to actor Will Smith’s memoir, Will. “It completely changed my outlook on life,” Betts said. “He is the one who helps me in my existence [focused on] Where my feet are and not worrying about fear, not being afraid of anything – especially when it doesn’t happen.”
Ron Roenicke, a special assistant in the Dodgers’ front office, was Betts’ bench coach in Boston in 2018 and 2019. He didn’t hesitate to call Betts a perfectionist in everything he did, whether it was baseball or his off-field hobbies. he took it. “He’s not good at just being one of the guys,” Roenicke said. “He’s very talented, but you look at his frame [5 feet 9] and no matter what, 170 pounds, he buys everything he has. If she was just confident, not shy, she probably would have a different personality. He wouldn’t go after him like he did.”
And he probably wouldn’t have become a perennial All-Star with his generational wealth. He certainly wouldn’t live in Los Angeles. But this is home now.
He got married here in the winter. During the season, he spends his free time bowling at several alleys and keeping in touch with friends in leagues. He DJed during the pandemic and set up a turntable in the Dodgers clubhouse. He has a special handshake with everyone around him, down to the team’s sideline reporter and public relations official.
He is comfortable. Sometimes he is even confident.