Clayton Kershaw arrived in Los Angeles for the restart of spring training with the Dodgers and was struck by the sight of people wearing masks while walking their dogs.
“It was a little unnerving, for sure,” he said Friday when the team gathered at Dodger Stadium for the first official workout leading up to the start of the season later this month.
Kershaw, his wife and three children, including a 5-month-old son, traveled from their offseason home in Texas, where they had been since the coronavirus pandemic first shut down much of the U.S. in mid-March, forcing the season to be postponed from its opening day of March 26. Masks are required to be worn in public in California; other states have differing rules.
“If these three months taught me anything, I really miss the game. I miss playing, I miss pitching, I miss the guys,” Kershaw said in a video conference from the bowels of the stadium. “It was a great feeling to come back.”
Third baseman Justin Turner concurred, saying, “There's a lot of energy and excitement.”
Kershaw indicated he trusts his teammates to act responsibly when they're away from the ballpark, while acknowledging it might be harder on players who are single or living in confined spaces like apartments.
“Everyone has to take accountability for being as safe as possible and I have trust in that,” he said. “If you want to see the season through, if you want to give it the best shot, you can’t be stupid. Some guys are still going to get it and they’re going to be as safe as possible."
Kershaw and his teammates returned to a renovated stadium on the same day Major League Baseball confirmed the All-Star Game won't be played in Los Angeles this summer as scheduled. Instead, the Dodgers will host in 2022. They'll be reminded any time they look at a sign near the right-field bullpen.
The Dodgers separated players by groups and staggered their arrival and departure times at the stadium, in the trainers' room, weight room, clubhouse and field. There were three groupings of up to eight pitchers and two groupings of up to six position players.
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Two players bumped elbows in greeting near the dugout and some coaches gave air high-fives, but the majority of players and coaches on the field at the same time kept a distance from each other. Some wore masks, others didn't while jogging and doing warm-up exercises in center field with music pumping throughout the empty stadium.
“My normal today is I get to coach baseball, I get to be around people in a responsible way, I get to be back at Dodger Stadium albeit spring training 2.0,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Each day I’m hopeful we get better at this and the numbers start to curve a little bit.”
With testing showing a rising COVID-19 positivity rate and increasing hospitalizations, Gov. Gavin Newsom has rolled back or limited some of the reopening of businesses in Los Angeles.
Turner said the phrase making good decisions has taken on new meaning.
“Now it’s about keep yourself safe and distanced from people and not put yourself in a position to come back and test positive,” he said.
The team's intersquad games will start next week. The major league schedule hasn't been announced yet, although the season is set to begin either July 23 or 24.
Kershaw said he would throw five innings Monday as he builds up. He was scheduled to be the team's opening day starter in March and assumes that is still the case.
The Dodgers will be seeking their first World Series title since 1988 during an abbreviated 60-game regular season that ends Sept. 27. Kershaw doesn't see any need to put an asterisk beside the eventual champion, even though the rules and conditions are different.
“There needs to be a whole different category for what this season is,” he said.