Betts trades bat for foe's 1st HR ball

September 19th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- Mookie Betts simply gets it. The Dodgers' right fielder understood that a first Major League hit is special and something to cherish -- even when it happens against his own team.

Leading off the bottom of the sixth inning for the Reds as a pinch-hitter with his team trailing, 6-1, TJ Friedl hit the first pitch from reliever Tony Gonsolin into the right-field seats at Great American Ball Park. The home run was Friedl’s first big league hit. The Dodgers went on to win the game, 8-5.

“I remembered running at third and heading home to really live in that moment and just embrace everything going on. That’s a one-time thing,” Friedl said. “You’ll never get that back. You never get your first hit back. For that hit to be a home run, it’s so meaningful. I didn’t black out. I remember all of it. I tried to take it in as much as possible.”

It only got better from there for Friedl, who received high fives from teammates and a big bear hug from catcher Tyler Stephenson in the dugout.

Aware of the moment’s meaning, Betts saw the fan in the seats who caught Friedl’s home run ball. Thinking fast, he went to the wall, got the fan’s attention and asked for the ball.

The fan obliged and tossed the ball down to Betts.

“I just asked him for the ball. I just told him kind of [through] sign language,” Betts said. “I just said, 'I’ll throw you another ball, but that’s his first home run, can you throw it back?' He didn’t hesitate. He threw it right back.”

Betts signaled to the Reds' dugout that he had the ball. He threw it to Cincinnati first-base coach Delino DeShields, who tossed it to the dugout to ensure that Friedl received his cherished memento.

“That’s just first class. It’s incredible,” Friedl said. “For him to do something like that, it’s definitely just world class out of him. I want to go over there and just say thank you in person. Thank you is all I can really say because it means so much. Just to get that ball back, for it to be my first home run, just for him to know that and turn around to the fan.”

As the Dodgers took the field for the bottom of the seventh inning, Betts carried an autographed bat, went to the fence and gave it to the fan.

“I was going to throw him a ball, but I just thought about the bat instead. It’s something he can remember forever,” Betts explained. “Those type of interactions are kind of everlasting. I think one of the last times I talked to [NBA legend] Kobe [Bryant], he reminded me that by the time the game’s over and you leave, somebody knows who you are, somebody recognizes you. It’s just another way for somebody to impact somebody’s life. I wasn’t really doing it for the cameras. I was doing it because he immediately threw the ball back and didn’t even ask.”

Just as a Reds clubhouse worker told Friedl that the team had the ball for him, the rookie noticed Betts jogging to right field with his bat.

“Chills, honestly. For him to do that for me was incredible,” Friedl said.

Reds manager David Bell called the moment one of the nicest gestures he had witnessed during a game.

“I don’t know Mookie, but man, it just says so much about him as a person, as a player,” Bell said. “It confirms basically everything I’ve ever heard about him. To think that selflessly or to think outside yourself that much in the heat of the game and to be that thoughtful, it’s amazing.”

Friedl was called up from Triple-A Louisville on Saturday and popped out to the middle of the infield as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter in Cincinnati’s 5-1 loss.

Obviously, he had better results Sunday. Friedl stayed in the game to play left field and added a single to center field in the eighth inning. Because of Betts, he has a keepsake from his big day.

“I’ve got it in a glass case in my locker for now. I’m just going to keep it with me,” Friedl said of the ball. “When I go back home for the offseason, just keep it. I’ve got the scorecard from last night as well for my first game. I will make something nice out of all that and put it somewhere in my house.”