'It can be galvanizing.' How Dodgers' Korea trip could help bond their new-look team


As soon as the question was asked, Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts grabbed at the translator listening device sitting in front of them, eager to hear how new teammate Shohei Ohtani would answer.

Before the Dodgers’ first full workout in South Korea on Saturday — in preparation for their season-opening international series against the San Diego Padres next week — the team’s three superstars were holding a news conference in a packed media workroom at the Gocheok Sky Dome.

And near the end of the session, one reporter asked Ohtani for details about his new wife, retired Japanese woman’s basketball player Mamiko Tanaka: How they met? If he was excited to have her on the trip with him? And what part of her he liked the most?

By the end of the question, Ohtani was blushing.

Sitting beside him, Freeman and Betts were cracking up.

“I gotta hear this one,” Freeman said while laughing as he slipped on an earpiece providing a live translation of Ohtani’s answer. “Come on, Sho!”

It was a brief moment of levity, one that subsided after Ohtani simply replied that the trip would create “really great memories for both of us.”

But the comical interaction also illustrated a potential benefit of the Dodgers’ trans-Pacific travel to open the season.

For a roster full of new players facing championship expectations, a week in Korea could forge bonds to last the whole year. By the time the group returns home next week, they’re hopeful they’ll have created lasting memories between themselves, too.

“I think it’s definitely a team-building thing, team chemistry thing,” Betts said. “Walking around together. Eating breakfast together. Being in the hotel together. We’re all learning the culture together. I think it’s super cool.”

Echoed manager Dave Roberts: “I think it can be galvanizing. We all had a chance to bring a significant other. You’re going to another country. So I think it’s allowing for our players and family to come together.”

On Saturday, the best example came during the star-studded pre-series news conference.

In the latest reminder of the intense attention Ohtani attracts, dozens of photographers captured every moment the trio spent behind the mic. For the entire 15-minute session, camera flashes continuously illuminated their faces. The sound of constant flutters echoed with the players’ every word.

Even for former MVPs like Freeman and Betts, the scene was startling.

“It’s been a lot, but it’s cool,” Betts said, as he gestured toward Ohtani. “It’s kind of what comes when you get somebody like this, an international star.”

“When you have this kind of going on,” Freeman added, “it’s because something really, really special happened in the offseason. I think we’re kinda starting to get used to it a little bit. But I don’t know if anybody can get used to this like this.”

Ohtani has learned to handle the attention throughout his career, even though he says he’s still not completely used to it.

“I just try to focus on what’s in front of me,” he said.

All of his new teammates have gotten a crash course themselves over the course of the spring.

“Seeing all this, it’s cool, it’s super cool,” Betts said. “But it kind of is what it is. Just got to make sure we take care of our job.”

That’s where the Dodgers believe the Korea trip will help.

The club’s travel roster includes four new faces on this year’s team: Ohtani, opening-day starter Tyler Glasnow, No. 2 starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto and outfielder Teoscar Hernández. (Another key offseason addition, left-handed pitcher James Paxton, stayed back in the U.S. since he wasn’t scheduled to pitch any of the games.)

The rest of the roster is facing familiar World Series-or-bust expectations, but under the kind of spotlight they haven’t quite experienced before.

“When you have great players like we have and you see the excitement,” Roberts said, “I think this is a sign of what’s to come when we go to play in other cities.”

That much was clear from the moment the Dodgers arrived at Seoul’s Incheon Airport on Friday. Hoards of fans lined the terminal as they walked through the concourse. Camera flashes again accompanied their each and every step. At one point, a bystander even appeared to throw an egg in Roberts’ direction (according to the Associated Press, the man was later detained by airport police).

“It’s perspective,” Roberts said of the airport reception, describing it as a positive — and instructive — experience for the team.

“I just think it speaks to where the game of baseball is globally. The interest, the excitement for Major League Baseball is at an all-time high.”

So too, however, is the pressure on the team to perform this year; not only because of their $1-billion offseason spending spree, but also the haunting memories of their recent postseason collapses.

“We know we have to show up and be ready to play, especially after the last couple of years and falling short,” Betts said. “So it’s really important to enjoy ourselves while we’re here, but we also understand we have work to do.”

In their ideal world, the Dodgers could accomplish both in the next week — aiming to grow closer together in a foreign setting, while also setting the right tone for the rest of their high-pressure, high-profile season.

“Teams that seem to be in it every year, there is a bond that I think is created that withstands ups and downs,” Roberts said. “I think this is going to be good for our guys. Yeah, you can’t win the World Series in March. But I do think [it could help our] guys create a bond, and also a way to play.”



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