Mookie Betts doesn’t know exactly how he’ll feel during his long-awaited Boston homecoming this weekend.
“We’ll see what happens when we get there,” the Dodgers outfielder said Thursday morning, on the eve of his first trip back to Fenway Park since the Red Sox traded him in 2020. “I don’t know what to expect, so there’s nothing to get too up or down for.”
The emotions his return is likely to stir up among Red Sox fans, however, seem much easier to predict: ample appreciation from a fan base he dazzled for six memorable seasons — but also, more than a little wistful jealousy, particularly given the outfielder’s torrid play of late.
In three games against the Cleveland Guardians to start this week’s trip, Betts went nine for 11 with two walks, two doubles and three RBIs, helping the Dodgers bounce back from a Tuesday night loss to win twice Thursday, including 6-1 in the completion of Wednesday’s game which was suspended by rain.
In an excellent August for the 30-year-old, Betts is batting .463 this month and riding a 12-game hitting streak in which he’s had multiple hits nine times.
And, five years removed from winning the American League most valuable player award during the Red Sox’s 2018 World Series-winning season, Betts is in thick of an MVP race again, leading the National League with an 1.010 on-base-plus-slugging percentage while ranking in the top five in home runs (34), RBIs (89) and batting average (.310).
“I want to continue to play well just for me, to show myself [I can keeping being] consistent, like I’ve always been saying for the last three or four years,” said Betts, who matched a career high with five hits in Thursday’s first game, then went two for three in the Dodgers’ 9-3 win in the series finale. “I just want to continue to do that.”
This trip always was going to be meaningful to Betts for another reason, taking him back to the place where he became a superstar.
Betts was drafted by the Red Sox in the fifth round in 2011 and made his debut as a 21-year-old three years later. After establishing himself as a budding young talent with a breakout 2015 season, Betts then became a perennial All-Star, Gold Glover and MVP candidate — culminating with an award-winning 2018 performance in which he batted .346 with 32 home runs to help lead the Red Sox to their ninth (and most recent) World Series title.
“It helped me shape who I am today,” Betts said of his Red Sox success. “It doesn’t matter where I go or who we’re facing or what atmosphere you’re in. If you can play in Boston, you can play anywhere.”
For a while, Betts thought he would play in Boston forever. “I’m sure I would’ve been happy that way,” he said.
Alas, circumstances quickly changed. Despite another strong season from Betts in 2019, the Red Sox took a stark step back, slipping to third place in the AL East. After Betts failed to strike an extension with the team leading up to that offseason — when Boston embarked on a mini-rebuild ahead of the final year of his contract — he was dealt to the Dodgers in February 2020 and immediately signed a 12-year, $365-million contract.
“It was really hard,” he said of moving on from the Red Sox. “Harder than people would imagine.”
More than three years later, however, the disappointment of that departure has subsided. Betts not only has embraced his new home in Los Angeles, where he led the Dodgers to a World Series title in 2020 and has become a face of the franchise since, but he also has opened a new chapter in his career emerging as a more vocal clubhouse leader.
“Even though it wasn’t that long ago, it feels like it was forever,” Betts said of his time in Boston. “Now, I’m a completely different person.”
During his scrum with reporters Thursday morning, Betts did acknowledge some anxiety over how he’ll be received in his old ballpark, where some factions of Red Sox fans still believe he wanted to leave.
His return, however, seems likely to engender more envy than anger, with his recent, dazzling play reminding the Red Sox of what they let get away.
“It kind of got me to where I am today,” Betts said. “So I don’t have any regrets.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.