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Sports Nearing an end, MLB's postseason bubble 'made special by who you can share it with'

23:52  22 october  2020
23:52  22 october  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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ARLINGTON, Texas – It has been a month now since Major League Baseball asked its playoff-bound teams to quarantine in hotels, the better to protect its postseason from COVID-19 outbreaks.

For the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers, that’s meant bouncing from hotels near their homes, to sprawling and luxurious resorts in San Diego and suburban Dallas, properties fit for kings as they navigated through the playoffs and now stand alone in the World Series.

It has also given them the luxury of time, to get to know their teammates and even their own families better than they could have imagined.

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And in the case of A.J. Pollock, to watch his daughter grow up before his eyes.

Pollock’s daughter, Maddie, was born three months premature on March 19, sending his family into a haze of NICU visits, Pollock’s own bout with COVID-19 and then, finally, a 2020 baseball season.

Now, Pollock, wife Kate and Maddie are hunkered together, these weeks probably seeming much longer, given that the MLB quarantine has encompassed nearly 15% of Maddie’s life.

“She’s in the bubble and she’s loving life,” says Pollock of Maddie, who weighed 1 pound, 6 ounces at birth. “She’s doing great; she’s used to being in a bubble her whole life, so this is no change for her. She’s growing, she’s happy, she’s smiling, she has no idea what’s going on, just loving when I can come home and play with her.

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“She’s been a bright spot; when you’re looking to kill some time it’s amazing being around her and being able to do the simple stuff with her, before I have to go to the park.”

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Players and their families traveling together in the playoffs is nothing new; it usually means charter flights a little more occupied than usual, filled with spouses and girlfriends and parents and children, who giddily swarm the field in the wake of series-clinching victories.

a large crowd of people in a field: A view of Globe Life Field prior to Game 1 of the World Series. © Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports A view of Globe Life Field prior to Game 1 of the World Series.

In 2020, though, it means hunkering down and working around a pandemic. And so hotel conference rooms are turned into children’s playrooms, courtyards into communal meeting spaces, golf courses into walking paths.

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Since Oct. 4, the Dodgers have been sequestered at a 400-acre resort between Dallas and Arlington, a property that offers endless space and plenty of diversions. The Rays joined them Monday once the Atlanta Braves cleared out after losing a seven-game National League Championship Series to the Dodgers.

Yet playoff teams have found that despite the room to stretch out, the controlled environment brings them closer together.

“There’s a lot of things that came from this season we might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise,” says Rays infielder Joey Wendle. “On the road we’ll have a designated suite where players could get together after the game and hang out, where had that not been the case, we might have gone back to our rooms or done our separate things.

“So there was more time to bond as a team and now, more time to bond with families and have a little more interaction than before the postseason started and more than in a regular season, as well.”

For the Dodgers, that means throwing it back to a different era and, instead of gaming in their rooms or sampling nightlife, gathering and talking ball into the wee hours.

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It’s just that those convos don’t occur lingering in the clubhouse, but rather after congregating back at the ranch, as they did after their Game 7 conquest of the Braves.

“Guys were talking baseball,” third baseman Justin Turner says. “We tried to celebrate a bit, but everybody’s minds went right back to baseball.”

Says center fielder Cody Bellinger: “Usually, you’d celebrate in the locker room and then go your separate ways. Here, we’re in the bubble, so we have more time to celebrate with each other. It’s been fun, to be honest.

“The staff at the hotel has been absolutely amazing. It’s different, it’s been a fun experience, living right next to each other.”

The World Series fortress is certainly secure, featuring a gated entry, a police cruiser blocking the entry and Tier 3 MLB security on the perimeter. The totality of the enterprise has given players a grander appreciation of the massive efforts that went into putting this season together, from protocol adjustments after significant COVID-19 outbreaks involving the Cardinals and Marlins, to ultimately a postseason that has been free of positive tests for the coronavirus.

“You care about your teammates,” says Charlie Morton, who will start Game 3 for the Rays, “you care about the staff that has spent tons of time trying to improve your game, the fans, non-uniform staff, especially in this environment this year, all the sacrifices made by people not even directly affiliated with the game – security agents in hotels, the folks that work at the hotels here in quarantine, the clubhouse staff on the visiting side works here that haven’t been able to see their family for a month because they’re holed up and haven’t been able to leave their rooms.

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“I’ll appreciate everyone who made this possible for as long as I live.”

It’s not hard to detect a shift in tone from players and staff after transitioning from a 60-game regular season that, to almost everyone, felt far longer, to a postseason.

From July through September, travel meant isolation – from families, largely from teammates and the outside world. The volatility of a 60-game season meant there were few guarantees the best team might even win a championship.

But the playoffs have brought higher stakes and more comfortable living; the Dodgers haven’t had to mask up and hop on a plane in more than three weeks. The Rays had a 15-day run in San Diego before flying to Dallas.

It’s a far cry from midseason isolation, for many reasons.

“For me, the biggest difference is having family with us,” says Wendle. “To be able to spend time with my wife and two boys during all this and have them be a part of this is important to me, and important to a lot of guys on our team.

“We had a really nice setup in San Diego, where we could get outside and go for a walk, around a full resort. Same here in Arlington. Having family here is so important for so many guys.”

Particularly when so much is at stake. Morton is the only Rays player to win a World Series title, while Mookie Betts is the lone Dodger with a championship ring.

Morton acknowledges how eerie this neutral-site World Series is, even with 11,000 fans in the stands. The team bus pulls up to Globe Life Field to virtually empty parking lots, the dearth of massive TV trucks.

“It’s weird, it’s sad, but it’s still very exciting,” says Morton.

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That perhaps makes the reinforcement of home – or something like it – all the more important when the players return to their luxurious bunker: Familiar faces and, by now, familiar routines.

“Playoff baseball is special to be a part of,” says Morton, the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, “but it’s made special by who you can share it with.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nearing an end, MLB's postseason bubble 'made special by who you can share it with'

Reasonable end-of-season reactions for every AL team .
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