Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger hope lockout won’t force loss of regular-season games
The Dodgers’ franchise third baseman played the role of utility man Monday morning.
During his annual charity golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Justin Turner raced around the facility handling a little bit of everything, from welcoming guests to coordinating food deliveries and giveaways at his foundation’s largest fundraiser of the year.
“The amount of support this year has been insane,” Turner said of the event, which counted such other current and former Dodgers as Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Will Smith, Albert Pujols and Corey Seager among its attendees. “We had our kickoff party last night and actually branded it as the first official Super Bowl party of the week. So it’s been a huge success.”
Usually, the annual gathering marks another important date on the calendar, representing one of the last offseason events for Turner and his fellow players before the scheduled start of spring training in mid-February.
Brandon Gomes was sent the minors 12 times during his five-year career with the Tampa Bay Rays. Those trips sparked his interest in front-office operations.
This year, however, it remains unclear when the 2022 season will get underway, as Major League Baseball remains mired in a lockout that will almost certainly delay the start of spring training and is threatening opening day at the end of March as well.
“It’s not a position we want to be in,” Turner said. “We think we have the best fans in the country, and we want to be on the field and performing for them and letting them come out and enjoy America’s pastime. But at the same time, we just want a fair shot at it.”
Turner, a 13-year veteran who has previously served as the Dodgers’ union representative, and Bellinger, who also spoke to reporters Monday before taking the course, echoed many of the same concerns players across baseball have voiced on social media in recent days as the league’s owners and players union have traded a series of proposals for a new collective bargaining agreement without coming close to a resolution.
The players’ focus has been on reforming MLB’s compensation structure and competitive incentives. They want to reverse a recent stagnation in salaries, especially focused on increasing pay for players early in their career. They have also emphasized the need to deter the rise of apparent tanking tactics from some clubs over recent years.
“At the end of the day, we just want competition,” Turner said. “We want 30 teams that go out and try to win a championship. Hopefully, we’re making some progress in that department.”
Said Bellinger: “There’s things in the system that need to be fixed, and that’s what we’re working towards. Hopefully both sides can work together and see the big picture here and what’s important, and that’s getting the game going. But things have to get dialed in first.”
Turner maintained that he is “very hopeful” a full 162-game schedule can still be played this season, stressing the pitfalls that could come with the loss of regular-season games.
“In 2020, obviously [there was] the pandemic, but playing a 60-game season wasn’t good for anyone,” he said. “It wasn’t good for the players. It wasn’t good for the owners. So I hope everyone realizes that the best thing for everyone — especially our fans, who are the most important people in all this — is to play a full 162-game season.”
For Turner, the lockout has already impacted his typical winter routine.
In past offseasons, the two-time All-Star said he would go to Dodger Stadium to work out almost every day. But now that he’s barred from accessing the ballpark, he has resorted to at-home training, drill work at local junior college fields, and more sessions with his personal hitting coach, Doug Latta. He even has accompanied his wife, Kourtney, on runs around their neighborhood as she has trained for marathons.
“It kind of took me back to my minor league days, when it was a grind trying to figure out how to get everything done and get ready for the season,” he said. “It hasn’t been that difficult. It’s just different.”
Bellinger also has made some tweaks this winter, not being able to use the club’s Camelback Ranch spring training facility near his home in Phoenix.
“There’s so many baseball players in Arizona … you get to know a lot of the guys and work out together,” Bellinger said. “We’re lucky. You can face a live bullpen. You [can train] outside.”
Neither player was overly worried about the possibility of a delay to the start of spring training. Turner said he wouldn’t mind having a slightly shorter exhibition season, while Bellinger estimated he could get ready for the season in as little as a month.
The thought of losing regular-season games, though, still presents a major concern, especially as they see the rest of society returning to normal from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Turner pointed to his Monday event, which benefits the foundation he and Kourtney created six years ago to aid local hospitals and organizations such as the Los Angeles Dream Center, as an example.
“This year, we’ve had more sponsors than we’ve ever had. We had [sign-ups] early. We sold this thing out a while ago,” he said. “I think it’s an indication that people are itching to get back out and do things and try to get normal.”
Baseball, he hopes, can serve as another avenue for that this summer. But for now, the clock keeps ticking on a season in danger of not starting on time.
With the Dodgers losing Max Scherzer and Corey Seager in free agency, the team won’t have an easy road back to the postseason in 2022.
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