During nearly four months away from the game, Mookie Betts said he "stayed away from baseball to keep myself sane." It's not hard to understand why.
The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player was jolted by a January trade from Boston to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team for which he may never play thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
He has a mere 60 games to further establish his market value before hitting free agency – a once-glorious proposition now somewhat dulled by an industry roiled by infighting and decreased revenues due to the pandemic.
And like the rest of the nation, he watched as George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer and saw the international reckoning that followed – and agreed with the perception that Major League Baseball's delayed response came up short.
"I think baseball did not do a good job with that," Betts, among the mere 8% of MLB players who are African American, said of the initial response. "But I think voices were heard, and I think that’s the main thing that we got our voices heard to make some changes.”
Meanwhile, four days into MLB's "summer camp" to gear up for a July 23-24 start to a 60-game season, COVID-19 testing problems briefly paralyzed workouts for a half-dozen teams, and while the Dodgers, manager Dave Roberts said, have been fortunate in getting results, the problems did not escape Betts' notice.
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Since spring training shut down March 12, Betts golfed and fished for catfish and cherished time with 20-month-old Brianna, "probably the best three months I’ve had to get close to my daughter," he said.
And he and Dodgers fans both were left to ponder that he might never play a game for them after they dealt Alex Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong to the Red Sox for Betts.
Now, weeks later, even with stringent protocols in place, Betts realizes it will take some good fortune to get this season off the ground.
"I can’t say that I’m confident because it hasn’t been shown yet," Betts said of the league testing policy, which may imperil getting through 60 games and the postseason.
"That definitely comes into play. We’ve got to get to the season first."
But he'll play. Unlike longtime teammate David Price, who opted out of this season after coming over in the trade from Boston, Betts needs this year to get the season of service time necessary to reach free agency. He reportedly turned down a $300 million contract extension from the Red Sox, and should still top that in free agency, even if the market is depressed.
Per a March agreement with MLB and the Players' Association, Betts and other veterans will receive service time if the season does not get off the ground. So he'll find a permanent home come December – with so many unknowns between now and then.
"Free agency is nothing that I’m thinking about right now," says Betts, who turns 28 in October. "There’s a lot going on that needs to be addressed and free agency is not one of those things."