In one world, a virtual version the coronavirus outbreak has not touched, the 2020 Dodgers are 9-3 and tied atop the National League West standings.
Gavin Lux is in control thousands of miles from Dodger Stadium at his home in Wisconsin, PlayStation 4 controller in hand, headset activated for the “MLB The Show Players League.” It is the only MLB-sanctioned version of baseball being played. For Lux, an avid gamer, it’s something fun to do while he waits out the pandemic.
“I’d be playing video games at night anyway,” Lux said in a conference call with reporters Sunday. “So it wouldn’t really change my daily routine.”
This was supposed to be the beginning of Lux’s real-life breakout season. He might not have made the Dodgers’ roster out of spring training — the club could have chosen to limit his service time for an additional year of control — but he would have come up soon enough to contribute to a team expected to reach the World Series. Starting at second base, the Dodgers’ top prospect would have been a favorite to win the National League rookie of the year after plowing through the minors and making his big league debut last September.
It still could happen. Hopes for a 2020 season aren’t dead. Among the options to avoid a canceled season, MLB is contemplating having all 30 teams begin the season playing only in stadiums in the Phoenix area without fans. There are many obstacles.
The endeavor would require keeping thousands of people — from players to hotel workers — in a bubble for an extended period of time and readily available tests for all of them. It could require players to be separated from families for months. A few prominent veterans, including Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout, have reservations about playing if quarantined from their families.
That complication doesn’t concern the 22-year-old Lux. He’s single and has no children.
“For me, it’s not a big deal. I would definitely do it,” Lux said. “But you got to look at both ends of the spectrum with guys with families. I would completely understand if you didn’t want to do that and be away from your kids and your wife.”
As for the games, Lux knows what it’s like to play professional baseball games in empty ballparks in the middle of an Arizona summer.
He was assigned to the Dodgers’ affiliate in the Arizona League after they drafted him in the first round in 2016. He appeared in 48 games over two months until the end of August. He remembers miserable batting practice sessions with temperatures consistently reaching triple digits. But most games were played at night, when the desert cools down, making games manageable.
“It was a little bit of a grind, but, at this point, you gotta do what you gotta do,” Lux said. “So I wouldn’t complain about it.”
In the meantime, Lux is trying to stay in shape in different ways. A close friend owns a gym in Wisconsin and gave him a key. The drive is30 to 40 minutes each way, so Lux limits the gym workouts to a couple of days a week.
“There’s literally no one in there,” Lux said. “So I just kind of blare the music and then try to get my work done.”
When he doesn’t make the drive, he works out at his makeshift home mini gym with dumbbells. If it’s not too cold — Aprils in Wisconsin aren’t kind — he takes batting practice from his uncle, Augie Schmidt, the No. 2 overall pick in the 1982 draft, at his high school field. Lux hits a bucket or two of balls at a time before he and his uncle scatter to pick them up.
“At this point, give me 15-20 at-bats and I’ll be ready to go,” Lux said.
The workouts take two hours a day. He spends chunks of the rest of his days playing video games. He mostly plays “Call of Duty,” sometimes with Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson. He said he hadn’t played much of “MLB The Show” before the league started last week, but he thought it would be an enjoyable avenue to engage with fans and players around the league.
Each team is represented by one player and will play every other team once for a total of 29 regular-season games before the playoffs. Players compete in four three-inning games every few nights. Every game is streamed on several platforms. Lux streams his games on his own Twitch channel, which he created after starting a YouTube channel during the offseason.
“It’s another way to be able to interact with fans and be a little more relatable so they . . . get a little more info on you as a person,” Lux said. “So I thought it was a cool idea to be able to interact and engage with some fans.”
Once a real season starts, Lux said, those channels will go dark. His focus will turn to helping the Dodgers win their first World Series since 1988. Until then, he has the virtual Dodgers, holding the third-best record in the majors, to lead to a championship.