Justin Turner’s full circle with Dodgers is drawn by hard work, powerful fate
Via The Orange County Register
John Turner was the third employee hired by NC Dynamics, a machinery firm in Paramount.
That was 37 years ago. Now 183 people work there. It’s the type of business that let John leave at 2 p.m. and coach the Mayfair High freshman baseball team, then come back to work at 6.
John’s son Justin was on that team, with the school just a few blocks away. Later, Justin started for four years at Cal State Fullerton, even as a 120-pound freshman, and he passed through three organizations before the Dodgers signed him in 2014.
Now Turner hits walk-off homers in the playoffs, finishes second in the National League batting race, leads the Dodgers to 111 wins.
John and his wife Betsy will hold their usual anniversary dinner Monday night, their 35th, at Captain Jack’s in Sunset Beach.
The next night they will watch Justin play in the Dodgers’ first World Series since 1988.
Much has happened since, but Justin is still the kid who sat on the porch with glove, ball and bat, waiting for John.
Or the kid who sat in the living room with the new Mayfair coach and discussed practice plans for three hours. Justin did the talking. The coach took the notes.
Or the kid who sat in front of the TV and correctly predicted the hit-and-runs and the steals. “It was ridiculous,” said Jill, Justin’s sister. “How did he know that?”
Or the kid who won a summer game against a team organized by his cousins. On the way home Betsy asked him, “I was nervous when you came up.”
Justin replied, “Really? I like pressure. The pressure isn’t on me. it’s on the pitcher.”
GAME OF THEIR LIVES
It’s a baseball family. Jill works for the Legacy Group, which represents Justin. John celebrates his birthdays at spring training. Betsy celebrates hers at opening days.
They try to add two new major league parks every summer.
“And I’m J.T.,” John said. “I know they call him J.T., but he’s always been Red.”
So they understand the superstitions, and why Red wears his hair so and his beard so identifiably thick.
“I do wish he’d clean it up a little bit,” Betsy said.
“I don’t think the Dodgers are doing their job,” John said, with a familiar-looking grin. “They should be getting him a deal with Lucky Charms.”
LOST AND FOUND
And, as baseball people, they know they’re not in control.
You work and work and then hand off your life to inexorable fate.
They have learned that in easy and hard ways.
They were at the College World Series in 2003, the year before the Titans won, the second of Justin’s three.
The Stanford pitcher was Matt Manship. His fastball hit Turner in the face.
A surgeon, watching at home, immediately told his wife, “I’m going in and this is going to be a long night.”
He raced to Bergan Mercy Hospital, attended to Justin, kissed him on the forehead and said, “Someone is looking after you. A quarter-inch either way and it’s really bad.”
Turner was back in the dugout for the 10th inning, although his ankle started hurting.
“But when the surgeon said somebody was looking out for him, I immediately knew who it was,” Betsy said.
It was Ruben Gonzalez.
When Justin was 13, Ruben was his friend and summer teammate, a 6-foot power hitter. His feet stuck out of the short beds on which they slept. For John, there is little doubt Gonzalez would be in the big leagues.
“We were going to Vegas for a tournament and we heard Ruben had been killed in a wreck,” John said.
“It was devastating to us. But we knew he was the one the doctor was talking about.”
Team USA didn’t want to use Justin that summer because he might be gun-shy. In his first summer at-bat Turner immediately faced the pitcher and tried to bunt, just to prove something.
By then his ankle was worse. A second diagnosis discovered it was broken, thanks to the force of Manship’s fastball.
BARELY A DODGER
That’s how baseball was played at Lakewood High, when John Herbold coached, between Long Beach Poly High and Cal State L.A., on his way to 918 wins. His team was known as Herbold’s Hustlers, and John Turner was one.
That’s how it is still played at Fullerton, where Red was a bat boy on teams with Mark Kotsay and Aaron Rowand.
Rick Vanderhook, the head coach, was an assistant then. Florida sent the Turners a recruiting questionnaire, and John showed it to Vanderhook, who grabbed it, filled it out and sent it back.
“Too late,” he wrote. “Justin Turner is a Titan.”
Spirits kept intervening. Turner didn’t have a contract in February 2014. He went to the CSF Alumni game, and Tim Wallach, the Dodgers’ third base coach, talked with him, then recommended him.
“He was 10 minutes from signing with the Red Sox,” Jill said. “And that’s when Ned Colletti (then the Dodgers GM) called. It was a dream to play here. He just didn’t know if he’d be distracted by being home.”
“He could have worn out that wall in Fenway Park,” John said.
Turner went to camp with no guarantees. Alex Guerrero was supposed to be the second baseman, and Turner was butting heads with Chone Figgins for a roster spot.
Then third baseman Juan Uribe came to camp out of shape and then pulled a hamstring. “That opened the door,” John said.
Turner never stopped knocking. He revamped his swing – “certainly not the way I was taught,” John said – and became a power source.
He analyzed his 2016 performance and frowned at his 107 strikeouts and his .209 average against lefties. This year he hit .380 against lefties and struck out 56 times, with 59 walks.
“We’ve always said he was lucky,” Betsy said. “And people would say what he is doing this year isn’t luck. I know, but you don’t get a chance in the majors until somebody else fails or gets hurt, not unless you’re one of those 5-tool players. You just keep working and be ready once that happens.”
Now all the decks at Dodger Stadium and tens of millions of viewers look down on Justin Turner and a pressured pitcher.
The Turners do, too, with someone they know.
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