First day of training camp again for Dodgers: 'We’re all figuring it out as we go'

LOS ANGELES — Searching for something good, a full breath, I sat in a press box for three hours Friday afternoon, my usual seat, second row, four from the center aisle. The first day of training camp. Again.

Down south a ways, Mike Trout had already admitted this baseball season might not be for him or his growing family. In most camps, the time-worn phantom IL became a literal ghost ship, teams no longer hiding healthy players there but required to conceal the identities of the poor souls on it. Jeff Samardzija took a healthy whack at 30 owners who this week were not swabbed or isolated or fired into the fray. The league announced 31 players (and seven staffers) had tested positive for the coronavirus that started all this and could very well finish it, an outcome that was framed as promising, a conclusion that is both accurate and could only be drawn by a nation willing to pretend anything anymore.

Makes you wonder what the bad days will hold.

Outside Dodger Stadium, weeds poked through the parking lot pavement, some three-feet high. A dozen weary cars slumped in the sun with their hoods raised, this apparently to keep rodents from nesting. They appeared to appealing to the heavens to lighten up on us a bit.

Inside, they’d prettied up the place. There’s a new concourse beyond a new outfield design, a soft remodel in time for this month’s All-Star Game, which won’t be played no matter what the right-field signage promises. Clayton Kershaw threw in the outfield, then in the bullpen. Teammates ran in twos and threes along the warning track. Pitchers jabbed at comebackers on the infield. A song by Run the Jewels played. Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger arrived.

The nearer I came to the baseball, to the men who play it and the stories they tell and the field on which they play it and the way they usually allow us to feel about ourselves, the less real it felt. The further away it was. Normal, today, is a map soaked in dark red and a virus curve that looks like the modern hitter’s swing path. Maybe it’ll just take some getting used to. Until then, separating what is going on out there from what is going on in here — bullpen sessions, batting practice, a guy in a mask hitting fungoes — seems an ill-gotten luxury. Thirty-eight more people are infected and possibly sick, which maybe doesn’t seem like much against the 2.8 million cases or 130,000 dead, but we can’t have become so adept at pretending that we can’t still see those 38. There’s no such thing as only 38.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts granted that “a group of guys” were unavailable for the start of this camp “for various reasons.” No names. No explanations. Just, not here, not yet.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 03:  Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger, left, and teammates runs in the outfield during the Los Angeles Dodgers first summer camp workout in preparation for the 2020 season due to the Coronavirus Pandemic in Los Angeles on Friday, July 3, 2020. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger, left, and teammates runs in the outfield during the Los Angeles Dodgers first summer camp workout. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

I do believe a person can be sad, even afraid, for the world and also be happy to have a chance at baseball again. I think I am one of those people. I was sure of it before Friday. Then, for whatever reason, the construct became too fragile, perhaps during the questioning by the guard at the gate — “Have you traveled internationally? Do you have flu symptoms? Have you spent any time with someone with flu symptoms? May I take your temperature?” Perhaps when I counted the number of reporters in the press box for the start of day one. There were five. Perhaps it was the empty hallways that led to the empty stadium that will, maybe, lead to an empty season. And I wondered why we were in such a rush. Are we really sure about this? Are each of those 38 still sure? And what of those who have opted out, and those who will?

Kershaw walked into a room near the clubhouse. He sat in front of a camera. His audience was elsewhere, scattered, hunched in front of computers, trying to remember to mute and unmute on command. He said he’d brought his wife and three children from Texas.

“The process was,” he said, “I think there’s a trust factor there with Major League Baseball, players’ union, my teammates. Everybody here has to take accountability for being as safe as possible. I have trust in that. I have trust that we’re all going to do everything we possibly can to do this and play baseball. At the end of the day I wanted to play and that’s one of the biggest driving factors with as far as feeling safe too. Because if we’re allowed to be here, if MLB and the players’ union agreed to let us be here and try to do this and get this off the ground, we can give it a shot. The guys that do opt out, I understand that. I get that decision.”

Otherwise, he said, he expects to get to 100 pitches by opening day, a start that surely is his, in 20 days.

The rest is so much more complicated for them all. The rest is about staying off the ghost ship.

“If you want to see the season through, if you want to play this season, if you want to give it its best shot, you can’t be stupid,” Kershaw said. “It’s just not worth the risk. It’s easier for me to say, I’ve got a wife and three kids. I can just go home and go to the ballpark and feel great about it. It’s going to be harder for guys that are single, living in apartments, or things like that. I understand that. But, if you want to get things off the ground, if you want to play, that’s as good of an incentive as any to do the right thing.”

That was day one. Guys threw, guys hit, guys tried not to get hit in the shins by comebackers. There’s probably something good in that. Actually, there’d better be.

“We’re all figuring it out, man,” Kershaw said. “I don’t know. It’s the first day. We’re all figuring it out as we go.”

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