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Rosenthal: Mookie Betts’ last goal? Become a “gaming legend”


GLENDALE, Ariz. — Bets on Mookie continues to raise the bar. He spoke last season about want to become a member of the Hall of Fame. His latest goal: to become, in his words, “a legend of the game”.

Betts, 31, made the statement in an interview I conducted with him Tuesday for Fox Sports. I asked him, after winning two World Series and an MVP award, what enabled him at this point in his career. What motivates him. What fuels it.

“My family, obviously,” said Betts, who is married with two children. “But then, just a drive in me to be great. I want to be great. When I’m done, I want you to remember not only the baseball player, but also Mookie. I want to be a legend in the game.

“How I create this, I have no idea. I just go about it and make people smile when I can, try to sign autographs when I can, try to be the best player I can be when I play, be the best teammate I can can be.

“Whatever happens, I’m just going to try to be the best, no matter what.” If it’s sitting on the bench, I want to be the best cheerleader. It doesn’t matter what it is. I think if I can do that, I feel like it will create some sort of legacy that I can leave behind. You won’t remember everything that happened on the field, but I definitely want people to remember who Mookie was off the field.

The major leagues rarely talk that way. Until recently, the culture of sport discouraged any form of individualism. Free speech is increasingly accepted, as evidenced by the league’s “Let the Kids Play” promotional campaign in 2019. But even today, few players openly discuss their individual goals, preferring to focus solely on on the team.

Betts, of course, is determined to Los Angeles Dodgers win the World Series, something they did during the shortened 2020 season but haven’t accomplished in a full season since 1988. After the team’s billion-dollar offseason , which included the additions of Shohei Ohtani And Yoshinobu Yamamotohe spoke of a “sense of urgency” this spring.

“We’ve been to the playoffs time and time again and we haven’t made it,” Betts said, referring to the team’s 11 consecutive playoff appearances. “We have one, but one for nine or ten is not very good in our sport, in general.”

Betts placed ground balls at Camelback Ranch earlier this month. (Rick Scuteri / USA Today)

To become a “legend of the game,” at least from the perspective of Dodgers fans, Betts knows he has to perform better in October. He was brilliant in the 2020 postseason, but went a combined 2 for 25 as the Dodgers were eliminated in the final two division series, first by the San Diego Padresthen by the Arizona Diamondbacksboth times after winning 100 or more games in the regular season.

Yet when Betts talks about his goal of becoming a legend, he’s not necessarily talking about performance on the field. I asked him when he realized it was possible for him to achieve such status, and that it was even something he wanted. His response was revealing.

“My friends really stick with me,” Betts said. “They tell me to accept who you are. Hug when you walk in somewhere and someone wants to come over and take a picture or someone gets nervous. I used to get away from it a bit. Now, when I see someone who’s kind of shy, I’ll talk to them. I will humanize myself.

“I’m a normal person like everyone else, but there are some things I do a little differently, and there are some lives I affect a little differently, and I think I should accept that. I try. I am doing my best. It’s weird to me, and it’s weird to even say something like that. But this really comes from my friends. They’ve been with me since I was in fifth grade, so they saw where I was at that point. We didn’t know this was going to happen. »

“That” includes his remarkable 2018 season with Boston Red Sox, when he won the American League batting title with a .346 batting average, helped the Red Sox win the World Series and was voted AL MVP. It also includes seven All-Star appearances and six Gold Gloves, not to mention a $365 million contract, the third-largest guarantee in major league history.

Betts’ popularity, however, comes not only from his immense all-around skills, but also from fans relating to a player who is only 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds. Betts is far from a monster. He also displays, at times, an endearing, almost childish joy of play.

The Dodgers plan to use Betts primarily at second base this season — he recently joked to reporters that he left his right-field glove and cleats in Los Angeles. Last season, he moved deftly between right field, second and shortstop, demonstrating rare versatility, especially for a superstar.

“I just felt like I was able to be a kid again,” said Betts, a native of Nashville, Tennessee. “Growing up, I never played just one position. I was almost like the utility guy. I had four uniforms, and whoever called and needed a right fielder or a shortstop or a second baseman or a third baseman or a first baseman, that’s kind of where we’ve been. It’s almost weird playing only one position, especially in the outfield.

Wait, Betts played for four different youth teams at once?

“Wherever they needed it,” he continued, smiling. “Sometimes I was just going to throw, and sometimes I was going to play left. It didn’t matter. My dad, I appreciate that from him because I think it really taught me how to be a baseball player instead of just playing one position all the time.

For Betts, it was the start of something big, a major league career that is about to enter its 11th season. The Hall of Fame seems within his reach, and yet he wants more. To win another World Series. To be admired on and off the field. Become – yes, he said it – a legend of the game.

(Top photo by Mookie Betts: Masterpress/Getty Images)


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