In baseball’s adaptation to the new normal, the morning routine is altogether odd. Dave Roberts likes to walk the neighborhood, pop in somewhere for a cup of coffee, get the postseason pulse of the town. But there is no walking the neighborhood this fall for the Dodgers’ manager, because there is no escaping the hotel.
This is the baseball bubble, in which the Dodgers have played at home for the past week without actually going home. Get on the bus to go from Dodger Stadium to the hotel, then get back on the bus to go back to the hotel, sleep, repeat.
“It seems,” Roberts said with a laugh, “like summer camp.”
The postseason started for the Dodgers on Wednesday with a 4-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, but without the postseason atmosphere.
On the field, well, that was obvious. The National League filled the final spot in its bracket with the Brewers, a team that had not boasted a winning record in one year and one day.
Yet the absence of fans, and with it the absence of joy and fun and October buzz, was painfully apparent in the hours and minutes before the Dodgers played the Brewers.
There was none of the ceremonial bunting draped over the rails at Dodger Stadium. There was no flyover. The players did not assemble along the baselines for pregame introductions, and no fans were there to boo Ryan Braun. Matt Kemp might forgive, but Dodgers fans do not forget, even nine years after a disputed MVP vote.
There was no one to sing the national anthem, no kids to run onto the field with the players, no one to scream “It’s time for Dodger baseball!”
The gates were locked in front of the Dodgers’ magnificent new center field promenade, with the “Blue Heaven on Earth” sign and Jackie Robinson statue awaiting the visitors anticipated since March. An advertising poster along the loge level — “It’s just not baseball without in-shell peanuts” — inadvertently reminded us that it’s just not baseball without fans.
The new normal is so abnormal that a manager fielded a question about what it would be like to play in front of fans. Major League Baseball said Wednesday that it would sell tickets to the World Series and NL Championship Series, the first games that would admit fans in this pandemic-hued season.
“I think it would be an adjustment,” Roberts said, “but I think it would be so welcomed by everyone.”
On the first day of the Dodgers’ postseason, Clayton Kershaw paused to remember that this October was by no means promised.
“I’m excited we get a chance to win a World Series,” Kershaw said. “I don’t know if I really thought that was going to be possible in April and May.”
In this weird and wacky October, the Dodgers would play any postseason series beyond this one in Texas. The last game at Dodger Stadium this season will not include the Dodgers.
It will include the Houston Astros, branded here forever as villains for cheating in 2017, the year they beat the Dodgers in the World Series.
The Dodgers and their fans could have celebrated their first championship in three decades with a parade. In this season, even if the team wins, the traditional parade would be sacrificed in the interest of public health.
The deities have taken mercy on the Astros. When the Astros visited Dodger Stadium last month, fans could not enter the ballpark, and jeering was limited to a spirited handful of fans outside the stadium gates. The Astros qualified for the playoffs with a losing record, but they have advanced to the American League Division Series, with Dodger Stadium as the neutral site.
They danced on the Dodger Stadium infield three years ago. They could do it again next week.
The Astros lost 16 of their final 24 regular-season games. Neither their ethics nor their record justified their inclusion in the postseason, but here they are.
“I know a lot of people are mad,” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said. “I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here. But what are they going to say now?”
Welcome to Los Angeles? LOL.