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Mookie Betts Goes To Jupiter

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Mookie Betts (Photo by Stacy Jo Grant)

JUPITER, Fla.--Worlds away from Fenway Park, nowhere near playoff baseball, Mookie Betts steps onto a Marlins practice field--silently, unassuming. He smiles to a couple of knowing fans as he passes home plate, jogging lightly, but he doesn't break stride until he reaches the third base coach's box.

This is Betts' home for the next few days. Instead of the October postseason chill, he's got the relentless rays of the Jupiter sun beating on him; instead of a Red Sox jersey, he's wearing a Dulins Dodgers hat, pullover and matching cleats. He's relaying signs to high schoolers, waving them around third, positioning them in the outfield, clapping and rooting them on. There isn't much fanfare, nor does Betts expect it.

This isn't Mookie Betts, 23-year-old phenom outfielder for the Boston Red Sox; this is Mookie Betts, 23-year-old youth coach.

Even more--this is fun.

“I'm just here for vacation," Betts said, smiling, “and being around baseball as well--so win-win."

Betts is lending a helping hand with the travel team he used to play for, the Dulins Dodgers, as they push through the World Wood Bat Association World Championship--the last major event of the high school showcase season. Betts served as the team's third-base coach on the first day of the event Thursday and has stuck with the team throughout.

Drafted in the fifth round out of Overton High in Brentwood, Tenn., in 2011, Betts was playing in the same kinds of events himself not too long ago.

“It's great just trying to give back to where I came from," Betts said. “Never forget where you came from."

The Dodgers, led by Tim Dulin, have produced more than their fair share of big leaguers since 1990, including Betts, Matt Cain, Zack Cozart, Logan Forsythe, Julio Borbon and more. In total they've produced 70 professional players and six first-round draft picks, and on the college side, they have 40 active players in Division I.

At the moment, Betts is perhaps their brightest shining alumnus. He flew through the Red Sox system and has just as quickly become a fan favorite, hitting .291/.341/.479 with 18 homers in his first full season in the big leagues. All the while, he's kept in contact with Dulin. It was Betts' idea to come down for the WWBA World Championship--an idea Dulin welcomed with open arms, knowing how much of an impact Betts could have on his current roster.

“It brings just a smile and energy that he plays with," Dulin said. “He's got the same kind of personality, and he was really excited about coming down here and doing it and getting a chance to coach and working on his signs in the hotel room.

“Having a guy that's that young, who's not too far removed from playing with us to come back, and for our guys to be able to hear it from him, some of the same things we tell them, it's going to be different coming from a guy like Mookie who's played in the big leagues."

But Mookie doesn't carry any sort of star baggage. There's no fuss, no camera crews following him around, no entourage. He's been just as engaging with the Dodgers off the field as he has on the field, spending time with them, joking around, playing pool and mini golf.

“Believe it or not, he's shy," said righthander Riley Self, a 2016 Mississippi State commit and one of the top prospects on the Dulins Dodgers.

Self said when he and his teammates first found out Betts would join them in Jupiter, they were in disbelief; they talked about trying to get his autograph. Now, he's just like one of the guys.

“We're like, 'Oh, hey Mookie!'" Self said. “We're eating breakfast in the hotel, 'Oh hey, what's up?'

“We were talking about bowling the other day. We were just messing around with him, being sarcastic, 'How many 300s have you bowled?' And he's like, 'Most of the time I go bowling, I bowl about a 300.' And I'm like, 'You're good at everything you pick up.'"

Betts, who was an accomplished bowler in high school and who will participate in a Professional Bowlers Association event in December, certainly appears to have a knack for coaching, as well.

“He's really good at it . . . His maturity level at this age is unreal," Dulin said after the Dodgers won their opening game of the WWBA World Championship. “He engaged with kids throughout the course of the game. Our center fielder made a great play to end the sixth inning, and he had him positioned exactly where he had to be, so he was quick.

“I told him he was undefeated as a manager."

Rumor has it he's undefeated in pool and mini golf, too.

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We Tried To Imagine A World Without Baseball And It Wasn't Fun

Mookie Betts the bowler? Vin Scully the golf announcer? The world would be much different without our beloved pastime.

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