BOSTON (AP) — Mookie Betts was surrounded by his past when he stepped onto the Fenway Park field on Friday night for the first time since he was traded by the Boston Red Sox in 2020.
The Los Angeles Dodgers slugger was greeted by a huge ovation as he walked toward the batters' box leading off the game, prompting him to pause and tip his helmet. He then stepped in to face pitcher Kutter Crawford, who was wearing the same No. 50 Betts wore for six seasons in Boston.
Alex Verdugo, one of the players Boston acquired for the 2018 AL MVP, led off the batting half with a home run.
Time has helped him find closure about his six-year tenure with the Red Sox.
“I think because it took so long before I came back that I didn’t really have much of a choice,” Betts said Friday before his first visit to Fenway Park since his February 2020 trade.
Betts was 26 after the 2019 season, a year removed from a World Series title.
He went into that winter a year away from the chance to test the free agent market, but in negotiations to remain with the Boston franchise that drafted him in 2011. The Red Sox packed Betts with left-hander David Price in a salary dump designed to save the team tens of millions of dollars and help them dip below the luxury tax threshold.
Then Betts' world went into overdrive.
Following the trade, the coronavirus pandemic hit. As he adjusted to that reality, the Dodgers won the 2020 World Series title. He and wife have since had a second child, and he's started a production company and podcast.
“I think it slowly kind of went into the back of my mind,” Betts said. “Four years later, I’m happy to be here.”
He also insists he doesn’t carry is any hard feelings about the decision the Red Sox made to trade him.
“It’s business. And both sides have got to take care of themselves. Sometimes it may not be in the best interest for both,” Betts said. “That’s not where we are now. We’re in an LA jersey. … I’m super happy where I’m at.”
Betts isn’t interested in is rehashing whether he was offered a $300 million deal by the Red Sox. He ultimately signed a $365 million, 12-year agreement with the Dodgers in July 2020.
“I’ll let Chaim and those guys explain that. Or John Henry," he said of Boston chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox owner. "If they ever want to explain it, I’ll let them explain it. We’re not even there, so it doesn’t even really matter. We’re in LA. Those things, they’re in the past and probably just need to go ahead and leave them alone."
No acrimony was on display.
As rain fell on Fenway prior to the scheduled start of the game, Betts and Bloom were seen talking and exchanging some smiles.
Betts also said 30-40 family members and friends will be in the stands during the series.
While they will add some familiar faces to Fenway faces, only manager Alex Cora, third baseman Rafael Devers and pitcher Chris Sale remain from the 2018 World Series team.
“It’s just the way the cookie kind of crumbled. Priorities changed. Things changed. Players change. Nobody really keeps a team together forever, right?” Betts said. “We had our run."
Cora exchanges texts with Betts about twice a month.
“The thing that I’m really enjoying now is that he’s able to kind of show people who he is,” Cora said. “It’s not about Boston or LA, I think it’s mature kid who has two kids, the wife and the family and is kind of like, ‘You know, what I’m comfortable now.’”
One example Cora gave of how their friendship remains tight is how Betts was one of players to first reached out to him after Cora was given a yearlong suspension by MLB in 2020 for his role in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
“He was one of the few to say in contact to make sure Alex was doing well,” Cora said.
Though he only will have about 72 hours in town, Betts does plan to soak in as much of Boston as he can.
“I think all the circumstances allowed me to have closure a little easier. As far as wondering if I was going to be with the Red Sox, yeah, I thought that was going to be the case,” Betts said. “But it didn’t happen. And that’s OK. That’s part of life. So it’s OK. Turned out to kind of be a blessing. And, like I said, I’m super happy.”
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