Brusdar Graterol, a right-handed reliever for the Los Angeles Dodgers, will always remember the day he saw his teammate Max Muncy sprinting straight toward one of the greatest moments of his life.
Muncy was not attempting to beat out an infield single. And Graterol was not standing on the mound or in the Dodgers’ bullpen.
It was April 24, and the moment came in Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The rest of the Dodgers were in Pittsburgh. Graterol stepped out of the bathroom, saw a man dashing down the hallway, and said to himself, “Oh my God, that’s Muncy over there! He’s going to have the baby right now!”
Graterol was well aware of what was happening because he and his wife, Allison, were quite busy in their own hospital room, also on the second floor of Cedars-Sinai, following the birth of their own daughter, Aria.
That two Dodgers teammates were on paternal leave at the same time and would welcome newborns into the world on the same day was coincidental enough. But how about five Dodgers — Graterol, Muncy, Mookie Betts, Caleb Ferguson and Evan Phillips — becoming new fathers during a one-month span this season between April 18 and May 9? And then a sixth, Yency Almonte, in early July?
In the amalgam of sabermetric acronyms, the 2023 Dodgers are excelling in their very own version of BABIP: Batting Average on Babies in Play.
“It all kind of happened so fast, and to bounce on and off of the paternity list, I’m sure it was a headache for the Dodgers,” said Phillips, the team’s closer, whose son, Beau, was born seven weeks premature on April 20. “It’s ironic the way it all panned out, but it was definitely a fun experience for us.”
The Dodgers, who this month will secure their 10th N.L. West title in 11 years, pride themselves on maintaining a family atmosphere. This certainly put that to the test.
“We’ve cleared most of it,” General Manager Brandon Gomes said, smiling. “We got a lot of the babies done earlier in the season all around the same time. Obviously, the No. 1 priority is that we can get the guys there to be with their wives when their kids are born. And then trying to navigate how it affects the team after that. Trying to understand what’s going on in a world where there’s so much uncertainty and creating contingencies along the way.”
The trickiest of those was the Graterol-Muncy two-step. The Dodgers concluded a series in Wrigley Field on April 23 and chartered to Pittsburgh. Graterol returned home from Chicago because the plan all along was that doctors would induce Allison’s labor on April 24, an off day before the series in Pittsburgh was to begin. The surprise came when Muncy’s phone buzzed at 7:30 a.m. on that Monday in Pittsburgh. His plan had been to sleep late, play against the Pirates and then be with his wife, Kellie, who would be induced when the team returned home on April 28.
“Then I was only going to miss a day or two because we would be at home,” Muncy said. “But then the little man decided to come on our first day in Pittsburgh and not cooperate with us. It’s just one of those things where I think everybody’s got stories like that. You try to plan it best you can, but life is going to happen when it happens.”
As Gomes said, moving players from the Dodgers’ Class AAA affiliate in Oklahoma City to Pittsburgh — infielder Michael Busch specifically in this instance — “is not the easiest thing in the world.”
Muncy countered, “Getting from Pittsburgh to L.A. is not easy, either. I can tell you firsthand.”
Especially on a deadline. Wyatt was born about 10 minutes after Muncy’s cross-country scramble and hospital arrival. Thus, his hallway sprint.
Some things worked out serendipitously: Ferguson pitched in back-to-back games in San Diego on May 6 and 7, so when the Dodgers flew to Milwaukee afterward, they allowed him to return to Los Angeles. His wife’s delivery date was nearing and Ferguson wouldn’t have been available for the first two games in Milwaukee, anyway.
“Then I was going to fly into Milwaukee for the last game, but it turns out my wife went into labor on the first day of that series, so the team really did me a huge favor,” Ferguson said.
The San Diego trip had started with the club giving Phillips permission to arrive late to Petco Park on Friday, May 5, so he could accompany his wife when they brought Beau home from the hospital following his 15 days in the neonatal intensive care unit.
“I’m not going to lie or sugarcoat, it was really hard when he left,” Elizabeth Phillips, Evan’s wife, said. “But we felt very fortunate he was able to bring Beau home with me and get settled, making the most of every second we had.”
It was the old Brooklyn Dodgers’ Hall of Famer Roy Campanella who once said, “You’ve got to be a man to play baseball for a living, but you’ve got to have a lot of little boy in you, too.” These Dodgers appear to have heard that as, “you’ve got to have a lot of little boys”: Of the six babies born this summer, five were males.
For Muncy and Kellie (Wyatt) and Mookie and Brianna Betts (Kaj), it was a second child. For the Graterols, Phillipses, Caleb and Carissa Ferguson (Brooks), and Yency and Tori Almonte (Kyson), it was a first child. Only the Graterols welcomed a daughter.
“A good group of guys to go through it together and watch everybody kind of figure out parenthood,” Ferguson said.
Mostly at this stage, their conversations involve sleeping: How did the baby sleep? How did the players sleep? How about mom? But as any parent knows, the questions evolve each week. Life is fluid.
The Dodgers’ annual family trip was scheduled to New York, Baltimore and Texas immediately after the All-Star break, and several of the new babies traveled. Which elicited more questions, especially regarding sleep and time zone changes.
“Figuring out what we needed to bring for him to sleep on the plane, to sleep in the hotel room. Things like that,” Evan Phillips said, adding that Beau “came through it like a champ.”
So, too, did the Dodgers. They won two of three games in all three cities.
“It was beautiful,” Graterol said of the odyssey, which included a charter flight from Los Angeles to New York and a train ride from New York to Baltimore. “There were babies right behind me, next to me. Beautiful.”
There were so many babies that the wives and girlfriends of the Dodgers players and coaches held a group baby shower in a Dodger Stadium suite during a 5-2 victory over Colorado on April 4. Ellen Kershaw played a big role in that planning.
“Oh my gosh, it was decorated so beautifully, coordinated with sweet little gift baskets full of baby items for everyone,” Elizabeth Phillips said. “It was almost comical how many people there were. It really supports the notion that baseball is family.”
Fittingly, Elizabeth’s husband earned the first of his 21 saves this season on that day. And with four of the six newborns having been born to relievers, the bullpen now talks playpens.
“You’re not sitting down there necessarily talking about the game or situations that could come up in the game the whole time,” Ferguson said. “You’re kind of talking about outside life, which helps keep your mind at ease the whole game.”
To that degree, fatherhood, the first-timers all say, has sharpened their mental games.
“Game-changer,” Ferguson said. “I used to carry outings home with me and hold onto them for a couple of days. And that wasn’t fair to my wife. But now, man, I get off the elevator right here in the stadium and I see him before I even get to my car. And he doesn’t care if I saved the game, struck out the side or if I gave up five runs. For me, that’s helped me forget about the work part of this and just enjoy my kid and my family.”
That type of feeling is going around.
“One thing that has really stood out to me most is, I have absolutely fallen in love with being a dad,” Phillips said. “And I think our overall love for him and the love that it has created from my wife and I, it feels like the next level of our relationship has been taken.”
So, too, in the Dodgers’ clubhouse.
“I think it’s also taken our friendships to new levels,” Phillips continued. “Because we have a different way to relate. Not only are we teammates and competitors on the field, but we can also bond over experiences we’re having with our kids.”