They hugged. In the middle of a baseball field, in the heart of Game 1 of the World Series, Mookie Betts, right fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Willy Adames, shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays, hugged.
Right out there at second base. In front of everybody.
Betts had walked and stolen second in the fifth inning. Adames was in the area.
Just getting started dismantling the Rays, Betts paused to hold out his arms.
“Hey, come here little brother,” he said. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
Betts is older by three years and about 800 big-league hits. Adames walked right into those arms.
There is not a lot of cross-team hugging at second base during World Series games. There also aren’t many like Betts and Adames.
Betts you probably know about.
You watch Adames play. You watch him watch from the dugout rail. You watch him laugh and encourage and shriek at stuff and you think, there’s a light there. There’s something there. Definitely something.
It’s the way teammates find him along the edgy corners of a postseason in which he has hardly hit at all, the way he gets out in front of the nascent rallies and the others must figure he knows something they don’t, that he sees something good coming, and nobody wants to be last in.
When the Rays are at their best and when they are searching for something close to that, and a single postseason game can bring it all, Adames is part of the spirit — and the precision — that makes the Rays so engaging. If you think the team is somehow greater than the sum of its lineup card, then there are two possibilities — you don’t know the Rays very well or they plug talent deficiencies with how they play.
It could be both. It could be that he always sees something good coming.
“Well, it’s rare for a player his age, but once you get to know Willy, his personality is pretty infectious,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “There’s just people that have those traits where people just kind of flock to them. And Willy’s at the top of the list in our clubhouse. In our organization. Coming up through the minor leagues, every coach, every former teammate, just raved about the guy.
“And I give Willy a lot of credit. We talk about Brandon Lowe’s struggles, Willy’s had a rough go offensively. Not for one second have you seen that change his mentality in between innings or while we’re hitting or on defense. He’s been a rock star at shortstop for us, making just tremendous plays, web gems all over the ballpark, and he’s gonna get his bat goin’ too. But the personality about Willy is one of the many reasons that makes him so special.”
Adames, 25, sat in his hotel room Thursday afternoon, a day off between Games 2 and 3, his phone propped on a desk, his elbow holding up his head.
“Willy,” the moderator said, “is it possible to turn your phone sideways? You’ll have to undo the lock.”
“This is weird,” Willy said, now horizontally aligned. “But let’s go.”
He smiled, said hello to all the tiny squares on his phone with heads in them, and said he met Mookie Betts in his first hours as a big leaguer. Adames was 22, six years since signing out of the Dominican Republic with the Detroit Tigers, four since being the return to the Rays when they traded David Price. His first major league hit was in his debut, a home run against Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale on May 22, 2018, a day Betts hit a three-run home run. Betts was on his way to his third All-Star Game and first MVP award. Adames was learning everyone’s names.
“Since then,” Adames said, “every time I get to second he says hi to me, talks to me. He treats me like he knew me his whole life. That means a lot to me. That’s a player that you look up to and you enjoy watching him play, for the energy he brings to the game and everything he brings to the game.”
So you watch Adames and you think about that light, wonder if you’re seeing it right. It’s just a few games, just a couple summers, you don’t even know the man. When he’s in the field and players gather at the mound, he’ll sometimes rest his head near a teammate’s shoulder, even a pitcher’s shoulder sometimes, like he’s soothing them, telling them they’re not alone up there, sharing his own light. You know he worked and played his way from there to here, hit some, defended a lot, and helped lift this team into the World Series. That’s what you know.
And then Mookie Betts gets to second base, dusts himself off and waves him in. He must see it, too.
“For me to have him to talk to me that way, you know, every time he gets to second, even off the field we text each other, it’s been really fun,” Adames said. “The way he comes up to me and talks to me. That day, he even asked for that hug.
“That means the world to me. Because, like, a player like him and a guy like me, I’m kind of new to the league. For me to see that from him, it means a lot. That tells you how special he is. Such a great person. Such a great heart. I think that makes him special, the way he treats people. That’s the best thing. I’m just happy for the way he treats people and the way he’s been treating me.”
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