ARLINGTON, Texas — David Price was sitting in his spacious Scottsdale, Arizona home Sunday night, watching his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates celebrate on the field at Globe Life Park, winning the National League pennant, when a text message shot across his cell phone screen.
“So, who are you rooting for? LOL.’’
It was from Tampa Bay Rays ace Blake Snell.
“The guys in blue,’’ Price responded.
This will be the most unique World Series in history, played on a neutral site, with sparse attendance, mixed in with canned crowd noise, between two teams who didn't play a regular-season game in the Central Time zone all season.
The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate their NLCS victory over the Braves. (Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)
It’s the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays meeting in Game 1 Tuesday night (8:08 p.m. ET, Fox) with the Dodgers trying to win their first World Series in 32 years, the Rays trying to win the first title in their 23-year history and the player with strong connections to both sitting at home.
The last time the Rays were in the World Series, in 2008 against the Philadelphia Phillies, Price, now 35, was their phenom rookie pitcher.
The last time Price was in the World Series, he was pitching against the Dodgers, leading the Boston Red Sox to the 2018 World Series title.
And now, with Price’s past intersecting with his present, he is home, believing that in the year of the improbable, mixed in with the horrific, the impossible has occurred.
The World Series is taking place in the heart of Texas in the middle of a pandemic.
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“To be honest, I never had the conviction this would happen,’’ Price told USA TODAY Sports. “I didn’t think there was any way. Even when the season started, and the Marlins and Cardinals had their outbreaks, I didn’t know if the season would go on.’’
Price, in a way, staked $11.9 million that it wouldn’t.
It was the amount of salary he forfeited by opting out of the season, staying home with his wife and two young kids, unwilling to risk the health and safety of his family.
“At the time, the world was going through a lot," Price said. "I definitely felt the need to be with my family. I put baseball first for almost my entire life. I have a wife and two kids, I needed to be home with them.
“I just didn’t think it would work. It wasn’t just each player taking care of themselves, you had to depend on your teammates to do the thing. You had to depend on your teammates’ family members and friends. Everybody had to make sound decisions. I didn’t think that would happen.’’
There were times it looked like the season was doomed. There were 31 players who tested positive for COVID-19 when they arrived in spring training. The Miami Marlins had 20 players and staff members test positive the first weekend of the season. The St. Louis Cardinals had an outbreak of 18 players and staffers, shutting them down for 16 days.
Yet, the games went on and the 60-game season was completed. Players were separated from the families and quarantined beginning the final week of the season, and they couldn’t return to home until their teams were eliminated. And so now, the Dodgers and Rays are left standing in seclusion in a Dallas suburban resort for the World Series.
“It was very challenging," said Rays veteran starter Charlie Morton. "You adhere to the protocols. You make sacrifices. You don’t see your family. Guys are social distancing from their families at home, sleeping in different rooms, telling their kids they can’t hug them.
“This has brought out a level of humanity and empathy that we wouldn’t have seen in a regular season.’’
This 2020 season had the fewest regular-season games played in history, and it will have the most postseason games in history.
This season was the first with no fans in the stands until the NLCS. This will be the first time the Rays will see fans all year, and with the capacity limited to less than 11,500, it may feel like a home game at Tropicana Field. The Dodgers will play in front of a sea of empty seats, but will hear their raucous fans, who traveled to Texas.
The environment will be like no other, but it will be a real World Series.
“If you asked me before the season, I would say no, that a World Series championship wouldn’t feel the same because they won’t have gone through a 162-game grind,’’ Price said. “My answer has changed now because of how tough this season has been, and the sacrifices that have been made by the players. These players and training staffs and organizations deserve a lot of credit.
“The 2020 champion is going to be remembered for a very long time for what they have gone through.’’
There’s a brotherhood that every championship team experiences, no matter how long they’ve been together, whether they were stars or bench players, or what kind of performance they had during the World Series.
This one, where social distancing has been mandatory, with players not even sitting together in the dugout, or dressing in the same clubhouse, still brought a unique cohesiveness.
“I know we haven’t been able to be around family, but I feel this team is family," said Dodgers All-Star right fielder Mookie Betts, who won a World Series with Price in Boston, before being traded together in February. "We spent so much time together at the hotel, here at the field, and no one is getting tired of each other
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys, going through this season with COVID (protocols). It hasn’t been so bad because we have these guys.’’
Now, with quarantined family members permitted to stay with them at their hotel, and family and friends allowed to be in the stands, with real fans, there’s a true sense of normalcy.
“It’s been tough in so many ways,’’ Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “There was a lot asked from all of us. This is a test. You like to see how the group of guys around you act when life throws you a curveball."
And, for the first time all season, there will be a real celebration on the field and in the clubhouse, champagne sprays and all, when this series ends.
“We’ve done a great job making it as fun as possible,’’ Rays catcher Mike Zunino said. “There’s confetti, silly string. We tried to embrace it for what it’s worth. But I’ll tell you what, there’s nothing better than popping bottles, and wearing goggles, and it’s still seeping in and burning through there and burning your eyes.
“There’s one time we get to do that, and that’s winning the World Series.’’
Take it from the last man to beat the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series, throwing the final pitch, and celebrating with his teammates two years before the world was turned upside down.
“You really enjoy the burn of champagne,’’ Price said. “I don’t like the taste of it. It burns your eyes so bad. But it feels so good.
“I’m going to miss that."
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