LOS ANGELES -- The fans at Dodger Stadium have welcomed Cody Bellinger back to town with rousing standing ovations and cheers throughout this weekend. The crowd finally turned on one of their former favorites when he pulled off an all-too-familiar catch.
And Bellinger looked amused by the moment.
“The fans gave him a lot of love until he stole one away,” Cubs manager David Ross said.
In the second inning of Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Dodgers, Jason Heyward -- the former Cubs star, adding another layer to the intrigue -- launched a pitch from Jameson Taillon to deep center field. Bellinger glided back, checking the wall with a few quick turns of the head before timing the perfect leap.
Bellinger left his feet and snared the baseball before it could clear the baby-blue wall, robbing a would-be homer from Heyward. Bellinger's audience buzzed for a moment before agreeing that boos were now in order. The center fielder's warm reception had come to an end.
“I thought it was a homer off the bat,” Taillon said. “He looked like he thought he had a bead on it. That was one of the best catches I've ever seen. That was definitely a homer and I'm sure the people here in L.A. have seen him do that before, but I haven't seen that too many times out of anyone. That was cool.”
After tossing the baseball back in, Bellinger looked around the stadium and smiled. He extended both arms, as if asking his former home crowd what else he was supposed to do. They had seen plenty of jaw-dropping catches from him over his six-year career -- just not while wearing a different uniform.
“I thought it was funny,” Taillon said of Bellinger’s reaction to the crowd’s collective heckling. “Obviously he's done a lot of cool things here. It's been fun to see the reception.”
The jeers returned when Bellinger stepped to the plate for his next at-bat in the fourth inning. For the rest of the night, the volume of the boos spiked whenever Bellinger tracked down another fly ball in center field.
Bellinger was indeed entertained by his homecoming-heel turn.
“I think it was all out of love. I enjoyed the moment,” Bellinger said. “There was a lot of banter going on in the outfield between us these last few games and I'm just having a blast just being out there.”
Before Friday night’s game, the Dodgers played a heartfelt tribute video of Bellinger’s career highlights in Los Angeles. Ross called the montage “one of the better ones” he has seen for a returning player.
“You can tell the fan base loves him,” Ross said.
Bellinger may have just put that appreciation in the past tense.
The Cubs jumped at the chance to gamble on a strong comeback campaign from Bellinger, who was an instant upgrade for a team in need of plus defense in center and lefty power in the lineup. In the two games in L.A., he has a single, double and a pair of walks, giving him a .245/.321/.408 slash line through 13 games.
Bellinger is also working on winning over the fans in the center-field bleachers in Chicago.
“The fans are amazing, and they're extremely welcoming,” Bellinger said. “Playing in Wrigley Field is really special. It's a really special place. Playing center field out there, it's been real fun. The bleachers are right on top of you.”
He may still be learning how to navigate center at the Friendly Confines, but Dodger Stadium is a different story.
As soon as Heyward made contact, Bellinger instinctively knew the route.
“I've been toward that wall 1,000 times,” Bellinger said. “I know where the outfield warning track is, how many steps it is to the wall. So I was pretty familiar with that and I've made a few catches along that wall before.”
He just never had heard boos in the wake of a home run robbery.
“They booed the rest of night every time he got a ball,” Ross said. “That's what he does, man. He just floats around out there. He plays a phenomenal defense in center field. It's nice to have that guy out there.”