Justin Turner has a dentist appointment Tuesday morning in Los Angeles.
He scheduled it once he saw that the Boston Red Sox were going to be in Anaheim to play the Angels. Initially, he was going to drive up from the team hotel. Then he realized the drive would probably take 90 minutes. Too long. So on Monday night he plans to sleep at his house in Los Angeles — the one he and his wife, Kourtney, kept even after his time with the Dodgers ended because Los Angeles is home.
For nine years, figuring out a good day for the dentist during the baseball season was easy. Everything was easier playing for his hometown team. He and Kourtney also have a home in Arizona so spring training was a breeze. Turner would just throw his baseball bag in his car and make the drive from Los Angeles every February. They would remain in Los Angeles once the season ended and most everyone else dispersed. There was never a need to pack for anything longer than a trip.
“The setup in L.A. was dreamy,” Turner said.
Turner, 38, hoped the dream would continue in 2023. But it abruptly ended in mid-December while he was at Chris Taylor’s wedding. That was the day the Dodgers signed designated hitter J.D. Martinez. The reality gut-punched Turner immediately.
“It's like, 'Damn, it's over,’ ” Turner said. “ ‘That nine-year run's done.' ”
A day later, Turner and the Red Sox agreed on a one-year contract with a player option for 2024 and $21.7 million guaranteed. That meant finding housing in Florida for spring training and in Boston for the regular season. That meant his wife driving the dogs from Los Angeles to Florida and from Florida to Boston. That meant a barrage of change.
Nowadays, Turner's locker is by an entrance on one side with an empty locker on the other at Fenway Park. It’s a hint at his standing in the room, where he’s already considered a leader for a team that has surpassed external expectations in a loaded American League East six weeks into the season.
And yet the visual — Turner in a Red Sox uniform, his signature pine tar stain above the No. 2 on his back — remains jarring.
“I still look at him sometimes during games and it's just like, 'Damn, this is kind of weird still,' ” Red Sox utilityman and former Dodger Kiké Hernández said. “Two months into the season, after two months in spring training, it's still weird. But as weird as it is, I'm happy that I get to be his teammate again.”
The Dodgers have lost popular core players to free agency in recent years. Hernández, Joc Pederson, Corey Seager and Kenley Jansen have all departed since they won the 2020 World Series. But the loss of Turner has been the most glaring.
Turner arrived at Camelback Ranch for spring training on a minor league contract in 2014 not knowing where he was going — he reported to the minor league side for a few days before moving to the major league clubhouse — just looking for a spot on the team. Over the next nine years he became a franchise cornerstone and a year-round presence in Los Angeles.
On the field, he batted .296 with an .865 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, made two All-Star appearances, and delivered clutch October hits. Off it, the Justin Turner Foundation’s work was so impactful the Los Angeles City Council voted to recognize Jan. 22 as Justin Turner Day in 2019. Fittingly, his last public appearance as a Dodger was to accept the Roberto Clemente Award for his charitable contributions in Philadelphia during the World Series.
Two months later, he was a member of the Red Sox.
“I never pictured myself wearing another uniform,” Turner said. “And when my option was declined, I made that clear to multiple people. …There [were] multiple people that I told, 'Hey, I want to come back. I want to get this done as fast as possible. Let's not beat around the bush. Let's not drag this thing out. This is where I want to be.'
“So, from my perspective, I wasn't playing any games or trying to leverage anything. I made it clear what I wanted. So I don't know what happened, but it happened.”
Turner ending up in Boston started with a call.
Hernández was walking his dogs one day over the offseason when he reached out to Turner. He wanted to, first off, check in on his friend and former Dodgers teammate. Turner was still a free agent and his future was unexpectedly cloudy. He also called with a question.
“I was like, ‘Look, calling to catch up, but ... I’m going to go straight to it: Are you willing to leave L.A.?’ ” Hernández remembered this week. “And he said yes right away. And we had a long talk, then and there. Basically my entire walk with the dogs, which is 30, 45 minutes.”
As soon as Hernández hung up, he called his bosses: Red Sox manager Alex Cora and Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. The conversations launched an aggressive recruitment campaign.
Jansen joined the effort once he signed with the Red Sox in early December. Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek called Turner. Bill Belichick texted him (Turner didn’t mention he’s a diehard Miami Dolphins fan). The mission proved a success. But Boston’s pitch only worked because the Dodgers weren’t willing to meet Turner’s market value.
In an interview on AM 570 in November, Turner said he had spoken with Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, and manager Dave Roberts “several times.” The message, Turner said, was figuring out how to proceed with the competitive balance tax in mind.
“Once those chips fall then we’ll see where I stand,” Turner told the radio station.
In the end, the Dodgers, after declining Turner’s $16 million option, tried negotiating a lower salary. They wanted Turner back on a deal similar to the one they wound up giving Martinez — one year for $10 million. Turner sought a multiyear contract.
The impasse resembled the one between the parties two offseasons earlier when they didn’t agree to a two-year deal until four days before pitchers and catchers reported for spring training in 2021. This time, though, it prompted the Dodgers to sign Martinez.
“I have no idea,” Turner said when asked why he wasn’t a Dodger for his 15th major league season. “No idea. That's not a question for me to answer because other than being extremely happy with where I am and loving all these guys and being a part of it, like, the honest truth is I did not see myself ever playing for another organization for the rest of my career. And that's just the truth.”
The Red Sox, meanwhile, didn’t offer Martinez a contract. Bloom said they were in the market for a designated hitter who could play infield and spell rookie Triston Casas at first base. Turner fit the job description. Martinez did not.
“That's really what it came down to for us,” Bloom said. “The best fit for the guy who's going to get the lion's share of DH at-bats was going to be somebody who could do those other things.”
The start of Turner’s Red Sox career took a scary turn in March when he was hit by a fastball in the face during a spring training game. Turner, who left the field gushing blood, needed 16 stitches. He returned two weeks later.
“It's pretty lumpy in there still, but on the outside you can't really tell,” said Turner, who has a scar under his red beard and tissue buildup inside his mouth. “It’s all good.”
The uniform may be different, but Turner’s production has so far followed a similar track from his Dodgers days.
A notoriously slow starter, Turner batted .259 with two home runs and a .723 OPS in April. So far in May, he’s hitting .321 with three home runs and a .935 OPS in 14 games. On Wednesday, he went two for five with a home run over the Green Monster as the Red Sox stopped a four-game losing streak against the Seattle Mariners. On Thursday, he added three more hits and his fifth home run in another win.
This week, Red Sox hitting coach Peter Fatse credited Turner for setting the example of working to grind at-bats and chase starting pitchers early. The influence has helped an offense that ranks third across the majors in runs scored.
On Thursday, the club traveled to San Diego to begin a three-city, nine-game trip. For the Red Sox, it’ll be a significant test. For Turner, it will be the first time on the West Coast since leaving Los Angeles for spring training. His dentist is waiting.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.