GLENDALE, Ariz. — Cody Bellinger is filming a commercial for sinus medication and a young woman is carrying a pot of coffee across the parking lot and pitchers and catchers and the rest are curling their shoulders against the chill.
“Cold,” they say on their way into the building. It comes out in a foggy puff.
It’s reporting day for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mookie Betts arrives before the sun is all the way up. David Price carries a couple pairs of sneakers, his fingers hooked into the heels. Max Muncy grins a hello.
“Cold,” he says.
Some 2,300 miles away, they’re replaying a championship in the least pleasant possible way, a championship the Dodgers did not win, the Houston Astros seeking forgiveness without going so far as to actually ask for it. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts misses that news conference, though it’s probably on a TV or computer somewhere. He is watching his guys hit, his guys throw, so all he knows is there is a news conference that will decide nothing, that will change nothing, that will further the insignificance of the news conference at best and that World Series at worst.
Golf carts haul boxes and duffel bags from car trunks to the clubhouse. Loitering reporters find a ray of sunlight to warm the backs of their necks and hop in place to revive their toes. Team president Andrew Friedman, bearded, sort of, holds a cell phone to his ear with one hand and bounces a Spaldeen with the other. Clayton Kershaw stops and says he’s already thrown a bullpen, says it felt good, and he’s smiling, so a long way from last October. More, young Cooper, the most recent Kershaw, is healthy and happy.
It all feels normal.
Losing a World Series in a seventh game at home is a terribly haunting fate, and yet the Astros have turned winning a World Series in a seventh game on the road into worse. The Dodgers left that result, and the hard feelings that came with it, behind two years ago. The Astros live with it.
As a general rule, Roberts says, “I do believe in karma.”
Also, in moving on.
The Dodgers return their gaze to baseball, to the pebble that will be a boulder that they’ll have to push up the hill that will be a mountain. They’re past three decades of starting over. Their hands are raw and their knees scabbed, but that thing, it ain’t gonna push itself, and it ain’t gonna feel sorry for the one doing the pushing, so it starts with a sinus commercial and a bullpen session and some long, hard regret at wearing shorts on a 38-degree morning.
Yet, those 2,300 miles away …
“You know,” Roberts says, “I think that our stance has been, you know, what happened, happened. There’s nothing we can do to change it. And so, to focus on going forward. Regardless of who’s involved or not involved, really doesn’t change our outlook on things.
“For us, our story is moving forward. And I think that’s good for us as an organization. I think it’s good for baseball. And a lot of good things are going to happen in ’20.”
The Dodgers get to live that story. The Astros must live theirs. That, of course, leaves the rest of the game, which copes with the existence of a defiant owner and a soiled trophy and countless miles of injustice and suspicion in a game that measures success and failure by the inch. The fraud the Astros may or may not have committed — and mostly did commit — does not limit to the New York Yankees or the Dodgers or Mike Bolsinger or Mike Fiers’ young teammates or the rest of the AL West or the fans of the Astros whatever damage is being assessed.
Put them all together and the damage is to a game that can only be judged by our faith in its final scores. Winners must have earned it. So must have losers. Without that, a few grains of wood on a bat barrel or a few revolutions on a fastball, the very foundation of the sport, are insignificant. All the technology the commissioner has pumped into the games in recent years in the name of getting it right, is insignificant. Every drop of Champagne, insignificant.
Every paycheck emptied out for four box seats and parking and a trayful of hot dogs and beers, guttingly significant.
For the first time this morning, Roberts does not smile.
“You know, the game,” he says. “The game right now has more talented players than it’s ever had, in my opinion. You know, speaking to our fan base, four million fans come through the turnstiles to support us. I think it’s an exciting time. I really do. So I think, you know, looking out to ’20, baseball fans have shown to be very resilient over the years. It speaks to their knowledge and love for the game. For the game itself and the players involved.”
So, he said, again, we move forward. We learn. We move forward again. With any luck, we heal.
“I think that kind of goes down in all walks of life,” he says. “If something happens, you know there’s that time period. But I think that I’m speaking for everyone involved, the sooner the better for everyone to understand why players are so upset across the globe. Absolutely. … Moving forward and looking out to this exciting time in baseball is important for all of us.”
Soon, it’ll be baseball again. With any luck, real baseball. In the absence of that, maybe, karma.
So everything can feel normal.
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