Home runs, dunks, Rubik’s Cubes and strikes: is Mookie Betts the perfect athlete?

The Dodgers outfielder can dunk, catch passes from a quarterback and bowl perfect games. Luckily for MLB, he stuck with baseballBaseball is extraordinarily lucky to have Mookie Betts. It’s not just the fact that Betts is, once again, in the World Series and providing memorable highlights. It’s not even that baseball, trapped in a crisis partly of its own invention, was in desperate need of a player as exciting and charismatic as Betts to step up on its biggest stage. It’s also just the fact that as great as Betts is at baseball, and he’s otherworldly, we have so much evidence that he could do practically anything. He didn’t necessarily need the game.Betts is arguably the most talented all-round athletes in America. When he is not busy making incredible game-saving catches in back-to-back playoff games, Betts happens to spend his time as a professional bowler and has rolled a perfect game (that’s 12 strikes in a row) at the World Series of Bowling. Like many gifted athletes, Betts played both baseball and basketball in high school, and his coach has said that he could have gone on to be a highly-rated point guard had he pursued the game in college. He can even dunk, which isn’t that impressive if you’re 6ft 8in like LeBron James but an incredible feat if, like Betts, you’re only 5ft 9in. While Betts didn’t play football in high school, his mother was – probably correctly – worried about Betts getting injured playing the sport, a recent viral clip suggested he could have been a viable wide receiver than the water boy he ended up being. When you watch Betts play it’s hard not to get the feeling that he could do absolutely anything. Stories about Betts’s abilities include descriptions of his skill in ping-pong but it’s not just on physical matters that he excels: he can also solve a Rubik’s Cube in under two minutes. And, to cap it all, he sets an example away off the field: after starring in Game 2 of the 2018 World Series he spent the rest of the night distributing food to homeless people in Boston. Yet maybe he was born to play baseball. Mookie, whose nickname came from NBA guard Mookie Blaylock, was christened Markus Lynn Betts, with his initials partially picked to correspond with those of Major League Baseball. So, yes, maybe it’s not quite right to say that baseball got “lucky” that Betts happened to fall in love with the sport, it was practically predetermined.In fact, it was his mother, Diana, who also happens to be an avid bowler, who ended up putting together his first Little League team, formed out of a group of kids too small to compete elsewhere. Diana would later admit that they were the worst team in the league. Yet it was in this last-place team that Betts showed the first flashes of talent that would one day make him a star. (Speaking of family ties, it’s probably also worth a mention that Betts is a distant cousin of Meghan Markle, and the two actually have briefly met.)In these days of increased specialization, Betts has developed into one of those rare players who dazzle in every aspect of the game. His offense, defense and base running are all, in themselves, good enough to change the course of games. For evidence, just look at the three ridiculous catches he made against the Atlanta Braves that helped the Dodgers make the World Series. He’s such a natural that you suspect he could a decent job as a pitcher too.Even considering everything he’s shown that he can do on a baseball field, Betts’s performance in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday felt special. The stat sheets show that Betts had two steals, two runs and a home run in the 8-3 Dodgers win over the Tampa Bay Rays. The last player to put up similar numbers in a World Series game? That would be … nobody. Even those numbers, as eye-popping as they are, didn’t quite do Betts’s presence justice. When he’s in a game, it feels like something big is going to happen. Betts partly looks like he’s at home on the game’s biggest stage because he’s been there before. Betts helped the Boston Red Sox win the championship back in 2018, that same year he also won the American League MVP. He had another great year in Boston in 2019, winning a fourth consecutive golden glove in centerfield and his third silver slugger. Yet, it became obvious that the Red Sox were determined to trade their young star, who is arguably second only to Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels among position players in the league. In the offseason, the Red Sox traded Betts, pitcher David Price and money to the Dodgers for outfielder Alex Verdugo and two minor leaguers.The Red Sox, theoretically, were concerned about not being able to keep Betts when he became a free agent and wanted to ensure that they would get something back from their star player. Critics suggested that ownership simply wanted to save money rather than investing it back in their team. In any case, any thoughts about free agency ended up being moot as Betts did not test those waters. Instead, the Dodgers opened up their wallets and bet big on the 28-year-old, signing Betts to a 12-year, $365m extension in July.How did that deal work out? Well, it’s too soon to start conjuring up the Ghost of Babe Ruth, but the Red Sox finished bottom of the AL East standings at the end of the pandemic-shortened regular season, while Betts helped the Dodgers put together the best record in baseball. Now, he could help the franchise win their first World Series since 1988. There’s a long way to go, and the Rays proved that they will have some say in the matter with their 6-4 win in Wednesday’s Game 2, but three more wins by the Dodgers could establish Betts as the face of baseball.Considering how many different ways this season could have turned out, one would think that MLB would gladly accept that for an ending.

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