Column: Dodgers FanFest turns into VentFest, players’ feelings clear
Most of them wore sunglasses, so you couldn’t see it in their eyes.
Their expressions were blank, so you couldn’t recognize it in their faces.
But during FanFest that became VentFest, biting words draped in somber tones made their feelings clear.
The Dodgers are mad as hell.
In their first baseball-related interviews Saturday since they learned they were cheated out of the 2017 World Series by the sign-stealing Houston Astros, the Dodgers seethed.
They’re infuriated, they’re injured, and you could hear it.
There was smoldering anger in baseball boss Andrew Friedman’s answer to my question about whether the Astros had shown enough remorse.
“In my opinion, they have not,” he said.
There was buried fury in manager Dave Roberts’ answer to a question about his feelings.
“Frustrating is probably the floor of my emotions,” he said.
Several Dodgers made their first comments about the 2017 Astros’ sign-stealing. ‘They cheated,’ Enrique Hernández said. ‘They got away with it.’
There was pure heat in Enrique Hernandez’s answer about a punishment that allowed the Astros to keep the Commissioner’s Trophy they won from the Dodgers.
“They cheated. They got a ring. They got away with it,” he said.
As part of their glad-handing FanFest duties in the Dodger Stadium parking lot, the Dodgers met the media amid an executive gag order from Major League Baseball and clear scandal discomfort from club officials. Nobody thought they would really address it. Everyone thought they would only give a company line.
But they all talked, in voices both brutal and bare, as if they’ve been waiting to talk, some for two weeks, others for three years.
Some said they always knew the Astros were cheating.
“In 2017 we knew there was stuff going on, you could just tell, they seemed to be step ahead of us in multiple situations … Brandon Morrow hasn’t gotten touched all postseason and all of a sudden he’s grinding through innings,” said Ross Stripling. “We kind of knew it and got over it and then it kind of comes out like it did … and we’re reliving it … we’re angry.”
Others implied that the Astros didn’t deserve to keep the trophy.
“I’m not 100 percent sure if they should be called champions for the rest of their lives,” said Justin Turner, later adding. “We know how hard it is to win a championship, and it’s something that you definitely have to earn. The evidence — it makes it hard to believe that it was earned.”
None of them supported the Los Angeles City Council resolution that Major League Baseball hand them the trophy.
“We don’t want it,” said Stripling. “We don’t want rings on our fingers. We don’t want a trophy in our trophy case. That’s not the way we want to win a championship.”
Only four notable people affected by the scandal didn’t speak. Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Cody Bellinger did not attend FanFest, and Tyler White declined to be interviewed, telling officials he would speak in spring training.
Tyler White? He’s a first baseman who played a dozen games for the Dodgers late last season after being traded in July from the Astros, where he played 22 games in 2017.
He didn’t play in that 2017 World Series but still … it’s going to be a little awkward, you think?
“I saw him for the first time yesterday, I kind of jokingly asked where he put his buzzer, he had a joke in response back,” Stripling said of White. “I haven’t really decided, maybe others haven’t decided, how they really want to go about asking certain questions.”
Stripling added, “I don’t think it’s awkward … maybe some guys just don’t want to know, they’re mad and now they’re over it and maybe they don’t want to reopen that wound.”
Too late for that. The wound is clearly open and oozing everything from outrage to sarcasm. Just listen to Hernandez.
“I’m really proud of our guys, we won a game in Houston where they knew every pitch that was coming,” he said.
Other mourned the long-term damage.
“The narrative is that we haven’t won a championship in 33 years,” Turner said. “And that obviously wouldn’t be the case if things were different.”
The Angels have agreed to sell Dodgers fan group Pantone 294 a block of as many as 800 tickets when the Astros visit Angel Stadium in April.
Still others explained exactly why what happened affected them – and affects all pitchers -- so deeply.
“You have the best players in the world at what they do know exactly what’s coming ahead of time … it’s absolutely game-changing, I don’t know how else to say it,” said Stripling. “If you told a middle linebacker what just went into Tom Brady’s headset and (linebacker) turns around and tells the team, ‘Hey they’re running it to the left side,’ my guess is that guy is not going to make it to the line of scrimmage.”
They all attacked the scandal from different vantage points, but they all attacked it together, and soon one realized there was something bigger happening here.
They were bonding over this new Texas-sized chip on their shoulder, and maybe this is just what this team needs to shake it out of three years of bad endings. Maybe this can be their new connection. Maybe this can revive their fight.
Did you notice what they weren’t talking about on Saturday, because few were being asked? They weren’t talking about that dismal end to the 2019 season in Game 5 of the division series against the Washington Nationals. They weren’t talking about the team’s failure thus far to add another offensive weapon to their roster.
The sign-stealing scandal has perhaps consumed the Dodgers’ story in both the worst and best of ways. It has caused them great pain looking back, but maybe given them a new unifying force moving forward.
They were cheated out of one championship, leading them to vow not to cheat themselves out of their next chance.
“We just want to move forward in 2020, get prepared this season, and do it the right way and get all those experiences,” said Turner. “Get to catch that last out, get to dogpile on the field, put on those shirts, put on those hats, have someone be the MVP and get a car, be in the locker room, spray the champagne, get sized for rings, take that parade that L.A. is dying to have and have that parade in downtown L.A. and do it the right way.”
Do it the right way. The Dodgers’ psyche may never fully recover from the stolen signs that swiped a title but, on a day that began in mourning and ended with a mission, those five words seem like a pretty good start.
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