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Column: Justin Turner talks coronavirus relief, his ‘Tiger King’ tweet and quarantine baseball

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner watches a foul ball during a spring training game against the Reds on March 2 in Goodyear, Ariz.
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, shown at spring training last month, has been busy raising funds to help feed Angelenos crippled by the economic devastation of the pandemic.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

We’re used to seeing Justin Turner break open a game with a single swing, but breaking the internet with one tweet is not his thing. But these are indeed unusual times. So when the Dodgers third baseman shared, “BREAKING NEWS FOLKS There will be 1 more episode of #TigerKing on @Netflix,” coupled with a video of one of the documentary series’ stars making the announcement, it made a strange sort of sense.

“My wife, Kourtney, had started her podcast, and on the second episode we spent about 20 minutes talking about ‘Tiger King,’ ” he said in an interview with The Times on Tuesday. “One of my wife’s friends thought it would be funny to go on Cameo (a site where you buy personalized shoutouts from celebrities) and get one of the ‘Tiger King’ people. She didn’t know Jeff Lowe beforehand, and we didn’t know he was going to tell us there’s a new episode.”

Which was a relief to hear. I don’t know about you, but after the initial glee of possibly having more Joe Exotic in our lives, I found myself asking: “Why does JT know ‘Tiger’ people?”

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“Watching this whole thing evolve from my original tweet to being posted everywhere has been crazy,” said Turner, whose video was approaching 700,000 views as of Tuesday night. “I’m hoping there really is an extra episode because it ended like a cliffhanger with no answers. We know Joe Exotic is in jail, but what else? What about the other people?”

Legitimate questions.

Speaking of questions, I had many for Turner. When I asked him who on the roster was closest to the exotic one, he replied, without hesitation, Tony Gonsolin. The pitcher’s mustache and hair were two reasons. Then there is his nickname: “the Cat Man,” for his love of cats and cat shirts.

As for the Dodger who most resembles Joe’s nemesis, Carole Baskin ...

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“I don’t know if I want to throw a teammate under the bus,” Turner replied, with a bit of hesitation. “We all think Carole is the evil one. There is something off about her. She tried to make herself seem holier than thou, but there is something strange about her. We don’t have any Caroles on our team ... maybe we got rid of them all.”

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When Turner isn’t binging on Netflix, he and his wife have been busy raising funds to help feed Angelenos crippled by the economic devastation of the pandemic. The Justin Turner Foundation has been working with the Dream Center and local restaurants to provide hot meals to those in need. The nonprofit Dream Center has served nearly 200,000 meals to date, with the assistance of not only Turner but also from Dodgers teammates Corey Seager, Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, Max Muncy and Chris Taylor. The couple is also working with his athletic apparel endorser, Adidas, to provide comfortable footwear for workers on the front lines who must stand for countless hours.

“We started the shoe initiative as a way to lift the spirits of people who are working hard for all of us but are going unnoticed,” said Turner, who personally combs through the nominations and selects the recipients. “Kourtney and I wrap up the shoes and ship them out to the winner as a way to say thank you.”

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Turner said he recently purchased more gym equipment and bicycles as a way to stay in shape until the season starts. It’s a season that had already been infected by controversy before a single pitch was thrown, thanks to the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal that robbed the Dodgers of a 2017 championship. He has shared his ideas about how to improve the game. Recently, he suggested teams play a single extra inning and if the game is still tied at the end of the 10th, the teams hold a home run derby to determine the winner. It’s a good idea.

He is asked about another idea, one that made the rounds Tuesday to less applause: the quarantine schedule reportedly being discussed by owners and players in which, to salvage the season, all 30 major league teams would play the season in empty ballparks in the Phoenix area.

That idea has invited a swift backlash, with critics citing a logistics nightmare compounded by the number of months — roughly 4½ — in which players and coaches would live and play in virtual isolation away from their families.

Would bringing back MLB amid the coronavirus crisis be a morale boost for a quarantined nation or an audacious grab of medical resources? Or both?
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“For my category of guys, it’s easy,” he said. “I’m married, but I don’t have any children. For the single guy or the guys with kids at home, that’s a lot tougher. You’re asking a lot more — to either be alone or not see your kids.”

Speaking for himself, Turner said he just wants to get out and play. If that means in a stadium with no fans, so be it. Arizona heat in the dead of summer? Bring it on. “I’ll pack plenty of sunscreen and sanitizer,” he said jokingly.

“I didn’t need any help loving baseball before, but during this time it really makes you appreciate the little things,” he continued. “Like driving to the field or being in the weight room with guys talking crap. The things you may normally complain about when things were normal, you are now like, ‘Man, I wish I was in position I could complain about those things right now.’ Whatever the season looks like ... it might be wacky, but I don’t care. ... I just want to find a way to get on the field.”


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