If you play for the Dodgers, this is your game-day routine: You park your car, walk into the stadium, step into an elevator and descend to the lowest level. The doors open, and a gallery of glory surrounds you.
Maybe you walk right past, with your head down and your headphones on. Maybe you are in conversation with teammates or employees. You walk this corridor all the time. No big deal.
This is Corey Seager‘s first memory of Dodger Stadium, before he ever set foot on the field.
The elevator doors open, with Gold Gloves to the left, World Series trophies and most valuable player awards to the right. More awards: Silver Slugger, Cy Young, rookie of the year. As you head into the clubhouse, you see the Dodgers’ retired numbers, and pictures of the men who wore them.
If Dodger Stadium is Blue Heaven, this corridor is Blue Cooperstown.
Seager was sad last summer. The game-day routine was upended by coronavirus protocols. The players came and went every day, but the route did not pass through that corridor.
“I still catch myself all the time, going through the trophy cases,” Seager said. “That’s the one thing I tell everybody that comes out to visit for the first time. They need to come down here and see that, see the history.”
Seager forever etched himself into the history of a storied franchise this time last year, when he was honored as the most valuable player of the Dodgers’ first World Series championship since 1988.
His honor came with a trophy. It also came with a sport utility vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe, which his wife Mady happily drives.
“That is the exact same car she wanted for a wedding gift — color, make, everything,” Seager said. “It worked out great for me.
“We got it, like, a week after our wedding. It was perfect. Showed up to the dealership, there it was, drove it home.”
Seager appears primed for another outstanding October. Over the final month of the regular season, he batted .385 with nine home runs. He walked more than he struck out, drove in 21 runs in 28 games and got on base 46% of the time.
“He’s getting two, three, four hits every game,” Mookie Betts said. “I pretty much have one job: to get on base and let him hit me in.
“It’s super fun to watch.”
That is what could make the Dodgers’ 2021 postseason run so bittersweet: Seager is at the top of his game, yet these could be his final games in Dodger blue. Free agency is weeks away.
Does he want to be back with the Dodgers?
“I’ve left that all for the offseason,” he said.
Do the Dodgers want him back?
“All of our focus is on this next month,” said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations. “It’s that time of year. Obviously, we have thought about it a lot. I’m sure he has thought about it a lot. But I think all of our collective thoughts and efforts are focused on what is right in front of us.
“I will say he has meant a great deal to this organization. As we get into the offseason, he’s put himself into the position to do what is best for him and Mady. If that ends up being here, and this is somewhere he wants to be, that’s great. But we’ve got other things to focus on right now. We’ll shift our attention to that, hopefully after a parade.”
Perhaps Seager’s big brother could provide a clue. As I waited for Kyle Seager to emerge from the visiting clubhouse one recent day in Anaheim, another man in a Seattle Mariners uniform heard I was writing for The Times and helpfully offered to do the interview in place of Kyle.
“I don’t know where Corey is signing next year,” faux Kyle Seager said.
The real Kyle is 33, six years older than Corey. If he knew, he wasn’t telling.
He is proud of his little brother — he once wore “Corey’s Brother” in place of his last name on his uniform — and just a smidge jealous too.
Corey has played seven years in the major leagues, and his team has made the playoffs in every one of those years. Kyle has played 11 years in the majors, and his team never has made the playoffs. The odds of that are pretty, pretty long.
“Math is what it is, but it absolutely has happened,” Kyle said. “It’s been incredible for Corey. Even that year he got called up in September, he’s been in the playoffs every single year. It’s been a lot of fun for me to get to watch him in all these playoffs.
“It’d be a lot of fun to play in these playoffs, too, but it’s been a lot of fun watching him.”
In 2014, after Kyle made the All-Star team, the Mariners signed him to a seven-year contract extension. Corey has made two All-Star teams, won the rookie of the year award unanimously, twice finished within the top 10 in National League MVP voting and won that World Series MVP.
Kyle shrugged off the question of whether he was surprised the Dodgers never signed his little brother to a contract extension.
“I think it’s worked pretty well for both sides over there, considering they just won a World Series,” Kyle said. “It would be hard to be too critical of them.”
Under Friedman, the Dodgers rarely pursue contract extensions in advance of free agency. Justin Turner, a two-time All-Star as connected to the community as any player in team history, had to wait out free agency twice before the Dodgers would re-sign him.
The Dodgers cherish positional flexibility. They could let Corey Seager walk and still have Trea Turner and Gavin Lux to play shortstop.
The Dodgers also cherish elite talent, and Friedman sees that in Seager.
“When he is right,” Friedman said, “he is as lethal as any bat in baseball.”
This was supposed to be the winter of the great free-agent shortstop class. Francisco Lindor and Brandon Crawford signed extensions, but a class of Seager, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Marcus Semien and Trevor Story still is a pretty good group.
“I think he’s pretty much surpassed the group,” said the agent for Seager, Scott Boras.
Seager has the highest on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the group, both for this season and for his career. He and Correa are the only ones in the group without a 30-homer season, and the only ones not to play 140 games three times. Baez is the only one with a Gold Glove.
Lindor had two Gold Gloves, three 30-homer seasons and four seasons of 140 games when he signed a $341-million extension with the New York Mets last spring, one month after Fernando Tatis Jr. — at age 22 — signed a $340-million extension with the San Diego Padres.
To potential suitors that might be concerned Seager might not be able to play shortstop into his mid-30s, Boras already has his comeback.
Seager hits so well, Boras said, that a team could move him to first base or third base toward the end of the contract without sacrificing offense at those positions.
“Corey has that dynamic about him,” Boras said. “He can go play other positions and be an elite offensive player at those other positions.
“You get the present, and the bow on it.”
If the Mariners do not pick up their $20-million option on Kyle Seager, both brothers could be free agents. The New York Yankees are expected to shop for a shortstop. Kyle, who plays third base, hit 35 home runs this season. He and Corey bat left-handed, which is ideal for Yankee Stadium.
The Seager brothers have thought about playing together somewhere.
“That would be a great experience,” Corey said. “I got to play with our middle brother, Justin, in high school, which was a lot of fun and not so much fun, you know what I mean? Teenagers, him being the boss, and everything else.
“But, yeah, the experience alone, to be able to say you played baseball with one of your brothers, that would be really cool.”
In order to win the World Series amid a pandemic last fall, he lived with his Dodgers brothers in a baseball bubble in Texas for three weeks.
“You didn’t have to travel,” he said. “You didn’t have to worry about all that stuff. You just got in” — he snapped his fingers — “and you went. I thought that was fun.
“The camaraderie part about it — you felt like you were at a 12-and-under AAU tournament, staying in the same hotel as all your buddies. It was cool in that aspect, being able to be around each other all the time, going away from the field, talking about what happened, talking about what’s next. It was definitely a cool experience, but it was long, and it was tough, and the obstacles in that weren’t fun.”
The one day that forever will be missed: the day Seager would have hoisted a trophy aloft, beaming at a million fans surrounding their team, a city celebrating a championship.
“We absolutely know what it meant to the city, and I think that’s what hurts the most: knowing what it meant to the city and not being able to celebrate that with them,” he said.
“We had the ring ceremony, which was great. But it’s definitely not the same as a parade, and seeing everybody out there, seeing the excitement on their faces, seeing the excitement on ours, being able to take in that experience. It hurts. It still hurts. But that was the time we were in, and that was what had to happen. It’s just unfortunate.”
Seager was born in North Carolina, raised there, still lives there. I did not intend for this to be an exit interview, but I did want to ask him, after seven years in L.A., if he thought there was something special about being a Dodger.
“Absolutely,” he said, “from every aspect of the culture that’s involved with it, the amount of years that have been involved with it, the fan base that’s involved with it, all the people that have come before, all the barriers that have been broken with this team.
“Every aspect of the history of our game comes through the Dodgers at some point. That’s a really cool thing to be a part of.”
For at least one more postseason game, when it’s time for Dodgers baseball, it’s time for Corey Seager.