That was Cody Bellinger on his couch in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Thursday afternoon, beside his mom, his eyes red and his lips trembly, having just been told he was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in his third big-league season, that a .305 batting average and 47 home runs and all the other numbers were just enough.
That was Bellinger, whose most common public presentation of himself is a cool stoicism, whose apparent objective is to reveal as little of himself as possible. Whose preferred means of communication is a shrug.
Then, suddenly, having been affirmed as the best player in his league at the age of 24, he was tilting back his head to catch the tears, grinning through it all.
It reminds us there are few things as satisfying as a long, weepy and proud hug from your dad. And that we all miss our dogs when they are gone.
An hour later, Bellinger chuckled at his momentary loss of composure and explained he was OK with his mom in joyful tears, OK with the round of applause from friends and family in his condominium, and wholly lost it when his dad wouldn’t let go. See, dad — Clay Bellinger, who played parts of four major league seasons, gathered three World Series rings and to whom, Cody said, “I owe everything” — is the emotionally sturdy sort himself, right up until his kid was the MVP.
Asked, to be polite, if he were easily moved to tears, Bellinger laughed and said, “No. Absolutely not, man. I honestly haven’t cried in a long time. I think the last time I cried was a few years ago when my dog died.”
That was Angel, a Labrador retriever.
(Clay, perhaps coincidentally, played for the Angels in 2002. He had one at-bat. He struck out.)
But, you know, you hit .260 one season, hit 25 home runs, strike out 151 times, have a viciously poor postseason and decide, “That wasn’t the player I wanted to be,” and a year later found you’ve worked your way to this, to that trophy, well, maybe a guy finds out something about himself. Even left by itself, it comes welling up from somewhere deep, then here comes dad, who played all that catch and threw all that BP and went to all those games and led all those talks and promised all these good times.
“It’s just a dream come true,” Cody said.
Except, in real life, he added, “You never think it could be you in this situation.”
He’d outpointed Christian Yelich, 362-317 across 30 ballots, on which he drew 19 first-place votes to Yelich’s 10. Anthony Rendon, the Washington Nationals third baseman (and current free agent), received the other first-place vote. Bellinger had been first or second on 29 ballots, fifth on another. Two years ago, he was the NL Rookie of the Year, unanimously.
So, he thanked his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates and hitting coaches Robert Van Scoyoc and Brant Brown. He said his first priority remains a World Series championship, which eluded the Dodgers for a 31st season. (“Myself included,” he said, “we’re going to have to find a way through it.”) He admitted one of the highlights of the day came when a friend noted, “Dude, you just won the same award as Mike Trout,” which is when a ballplayer might understand he’s done something right. And he mentioned how much he’s come to like Yelich, who pushed Bellinger for the award in spite of playing 26 fewer games, the result of a broken kneecap in the second week of September.
“Without him having this good of a year, I think he pushed me to be a better player,” Bellinger said. “He’s an unbelievable player but he’s honestly a better dude.”
That’s a heck of a day that followed a heck of a season. Would’ve been a dry day, too, like all the others since Angel. Except along came dad with that look on his face, those tears brimming, that hug that said everything they needed to say to each other. Yep, a heck of a day.
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