Mookie Betts is the World Series Hero We All Need Right Now
The great ones are always a little more myth than they are man. And, man. Mookie Betts is having a mythical run at the moment.
The Dodgers took the 28-year-old right fielder off the Boston Red Sox hands for some spare parts and Alex Verdugo. They then locked him up for 12 years at $365 million.
It’s been a bargain.
He’s added invaluable contributions defensively, from the top of the outfield wall to the tip of this shoestrings. Every game that passes, his name gets a little bigger on the marquee. A sport that has had issues with finding the right manner to highlight their players and their respective personalities has its best shot of captivating a nation in the World Series right now.
He’s a gifted bowler who has rolled a perfect game several times over. The Guardian recently chronicled all the ways that Betts is better than you at, well, pretty much everything. That includes dunking a basketball, playing table tennis and completing a Rubik’s cube.
It’d be easy to hate on him but he’s better at being humble than most people as well.
In a sport dominated by towering hulks crushing balls and fans being wowed by exit velocity, Betts has put together a resume built on consistency. At 5’9” you wouldn’t exactly call him diminutive, but he’s hardly an imposing figure.
According to the L.A. Times’ Jorge Castillo, Betts' life in baseball started with questions about his stature. Little League coaches who should be dedicated to fostering inclusion took one look at the young ballplayer and passed.
“Nobody wanted Mookie at the beginning of his baseball life. His mother took him to the local Little League in Nashville to sign him up when he was 5 years old. He was tiny,” Castillo writes.
Betts’ mother, Diana Collins, decided to become proactive and started her own team with the other kids no other coaches wanted. A life lesson in taking matters into your own hands.
The profile is filled with great insight into a kid who would grow up to become one of the best in the game. It includes a wonderful anecdote of Betts doing as his mother said and getting into every single play, which led to him running down an opposing player from right field.
Betts now finds himself within a crow’s hop throw of his parents Collins and Willie Betts. They divorced when Mookie was a child, but according to the L.A. Times, have remained close and live in Texas where the series is being played.
There is no mention as to whether they will be in the stadium on Friday night, but I like to think they can hear the demurred roar of 11,000 fans who did find a ticket and will enjoy the singular act of being able to root on live sports in person this year.
What they will discover is a series that has been every bit as entertaining as you would have hoped. And it started with a Game 1 that featured Betts going 2-for-4 with a home run and a couple of stolen bases in an eventual 8-4 victory for the Dodgers.
In the fifth inning of that game, Betts stole second and then did something quite peculiar. He embraced Rays shortstop Willy Adames with a hug.
In a year when we are isolated from family and friends. When we converse with one another through a computer screen or through a mask, Betts and Adames were sharing a hug on the biggest stage in the sport.
While some still wonder as to the impetus, it’s really quite simple. Betts is all of us. We are distanced from friends and acquaintances and the compulsion to offer more than a passing hello is real and immense.
Adames told reporters that Betts has been friendly with him since he broke into the majors in 2018.
“Every time he gets to second he says, ‘Hi,’ to me,” Adames said, via WFLA, “and he talks to me and he treats me like he has known me his whole life and that means a lot to me.”
In Game 1, Betts did as we all do, but he just did it better than most people.
“The way he came up to me and talked to me that day,” said Adames, “he even asked for a hug. He was like, ‘Hey! Come here, little brother. I have not seen you in a while,’ and that means the world to me because a player like him and a guy like me, I am kind of new to the league and, for me to see that from him, it means a lot. That tells you how special he is and how he is such a great person with such a great heart.”
Adames continued, “The way he treats people. That is the best thing and I am just happy for the way he treats people and the way he has been treating me.”
The world is watching the World Series from their own respective couches. A paltry sum is being allowed to see it unfold in person precisely because we are still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, a global health crisis that has robbed us of so much of what we previously considered normal.
Sports have been turned upside down. Games have been canceled, postponed and rescheduled.
The best part of games used to be the underlying narrative, the heroes and villains that are scripted into the box score. Now we can't stop thinking about the uncertainty that colors each game.
But there is hope in the way athletes like Betts play, a selfless demeanor and optimistic energy that resonates profoundly.
We take our victories where we can get them in 2020. MLB players have sacrificed a great deal to bring us entertainment, a modicum of solace.
But it’s more than a respite when you watch a player like Mookie Betts. Watching the right fielder take the field is an inspiration we shouldn’t take for granted.
The most unusual season in MLB history draws to its conclusion. The series is tied at one apiece. It’s still anyone’s championship. Yet, players like Betts remind us that it’s not the end that matters but the journey.
Every highlight. Every dap. Every hug. It's a reminder that this game can be everything we need it to be, especially when it's played with humility and passion.