Dodgers’ celebration produced one last unprecedented moment in pandemic-era season
Clayton Kershaw raised his fists and allowed himself a deep sigh of relief. Dave Roberts jumped from his seat and joined in on a dugout embrace. Justin Turner was nowhere to be seen, left alone with his emotions deep in the clubhouse.
So began a championship celebration befitting baseball’s reality in 2020, a pandemic-era season that produced one last unprecedented scene.
At the center were three men who’d thought they’d seen almost everything — short of this Dodgers team winning a championship of its own.
When that moment finally arrived Tuesday, the Dodgers claiming the World Series in six games at Globe Life Field over the Tampa Bay Rays, it played out unlike anything they could have possibly dreamed.
It was cathartic and chaotic. Triumphant but troublesome. Imperfect yet inimitable.
The Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6 of the World Series.
They couldn’t simply carry their trophy off into the night. That would have been too easy a conclusion for a season like this.
Instead, the complications began before the final out. In the eighth inning, Turner was suddenly removed from the game, an unexpected and unexplained defensive change with the Dodgers just six outs away from a ring.
It was only afterward that the news began to break: Turner had tested positive for the coronavirus, results that weren’t confirmed until late in the contest.
MLB avoided a full-blown debacle when the World Series ended in six games. The positive coronavirus test for the Dodgers’ Justin Turner could have delayed a Game 7.
“Basically, [I had] a trainer telling me he had to come out immediately because he tested positive,” Roberts said. “At that point in time, I was still trying to manage a game.”
Two innings later, the Dodgers were champions. The 27 other players on the roster dogpiled near the mound. Turner watched from a doctor’s office in the clubhouse, isolating away from the field per MLB protocols.
“Thanks to everyone reaching out! I feel great, no symptoms at all,” he wrote in a tweet after the game. “Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine. Can’t believe I couldn’t be out there to celebrate with my guys! So proud of this team & unbelievably happy for the City of LA.”
That seemed to be the end of it. Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the situation during an interview with Fox Sports, emphasizing the need to “prevent spread.” The Dodgers changed into championship T-shirts as the trophy was presented. And a long-awaited Dodgers coronation commenced at last.
“I guess ‘burden’ is the word,” Roberts said when asked what it was like to win with a franchise that waited 32 years for a championship. “But I’m just happy we finally did it.”
After peeling away from the initial celebration, Kershaw again clenched his fists and raised his arms, wearily waving them above his head like a fighter who’d lasted 12 grueling rounds.
He then started toward the right-field corner, where his wife, Ellen, and three children were waiting for him in a field-level suite. Two security guards initially blocked his path, apparently under orders to keep families off the field. But there was no turning away the first-time world champion. He was not going to appreciate the accomplishment without them.
“I’m so happy for my wife,” Kershaw later explained. “Just the sense of relief that she has that we finally did it.”
Kershaw reemerged moments later holding his 5-year-old daughter, Cali Ann, in one arm and clutching his 3-year-old son, Charley, with the other. Ellen and their toddler son, Cooper, made their way on the field soon after. Kershaw’s childhood friends and family from his nearby home in Dallas at one point caught his attention from the stands.
“There’s a lot of people out there that have always supported me,” Kershaw said. “Former teammates, friends, family, that have been there every single year when it hasn’t gone our way, my way. And my wife, my kiddos, my family, my friends, all those people that have seen the disappointment before, and they wanted it just as bad as I did — they wanted it for me.”
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the Dodgers and Lakers will indeed celebrate their championships with fans, somehow, some way. He is open to suggestions.
Similar scenes played out across the diamond, players embracing one another and sharing the moment with loved ones. Fans congregated behind the dugout to cheer their every move. No one donned goggles and sprayed Champagne or beer. It was as idyllic a setting as one could find amid a global pandemic.
“I feel like I’m a true Dodger now,” Kenley Jansen said. “After 32 years, the trophy going back to LA, it’s an awesome feeling. I will cherish and remember this moment my whole life. My kids were here with me, I can remind them of this moment, that we are world champs.”
But the longer the festivities dragged on, the harder it became for Turner to remain secluded. Suddenly, almost an hour after the game had ended, the club’s longest-tenured position player and soon-to-be free agent returned to the field, his orange beard poking out from behind a mask as he cradled the Commissioner’s Trophy in his arms.
Many observers wondered whether he was taking a significant risk of spreading the virus, especially as he embraced teammates and took off his mask for the group’s championship portrait.
Most Dodgers, however, had no problem justifying his presence.
Said Mookie Betts: “He’s part of the team. Forget all that. We’re not excluding him from anything.”
Corey Seager: “It’s gut-wrenching. It hurts me. I can’t imagine how he feels. If I could switch places with him right now I would. That man more than anybody deserves to take a picture with that trophy, celebrate with us.”
Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations: “I think the people who were around him were the people that would be in the contact-tracing web anyway, which is how closely a lot of us have been around each other. Now, I think subsequent tests we’re going to take are really important to figure out what we do and to make sure that any of us that are potentially positive do not spread it to other people.”
It seemed like an impossible balancing act, one not too dissimilar from what MLB faced this entire season. Where is the line between enjoying the sport and ensuring the utmost safety? At what point does the potential danger of spreading the virus become secondary to enjoying a peak experience?
Tuesday’s World Series celebration only made answers feel more unclear.
Photos from the Dodgers’ World Series championship win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, on Oct. 27, 2020.
Turner smiled as he sauntered around the field but never quite looked at ease. It was as though the awkwardness of this entire campaign — which saw outbreaks on multiple MLB teams and an ever-present doubt about whether this was all worth it — was painted across his face.
He celebrated, but not in the way he would have ever imagined. That bubble had burst. For the entire team, reminders of the rest of the world, where the pandemic continues to pose a threat, were ushered right back in.
Their long-sought championship was the only distraction from the challenges still ahead.
Veteran Justin Turner led the Dodgers on their quest for a real banner, the World Series. Mission accomplished after a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“It might not be the same tonight as other teams get to celebrate, and that’s not fair, obviously, to fans and us and everybody,” Kershaw said. “But we’re still the champs. And someday, someday soon, I hope, we are going to celebrate, and we’re going to be there, and there’s going to be a parade, and there’s going to be tens of thousands of Dodger fans.
“I don’t know when. I don’t know how soon. But whenever that day comes, I know J.T.'s going to be there, and it’s going to be a special thing.”
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