Before we get to what he said, it is important to know something about Ned Yost: He is not much for ceremony. The Royals manager does not waste words and hates to waste time. If you ask a question that can be answered with one word, you will get one word. Distractions are his mortal enemy, especially when theyre distracting from baseball.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
Just last week, Yost sat on a bench in Chicago and basically pooh-poohed the pomp and circumstance of opening day. Yost is not the kind of man who would ever use the phrase pooh-poohed, of course, but thats what he did all the same.
No, he said, he did not care much for the flyover and baseline introductions and extra attention people pay to baseballs opening day. Baseball is our most grueling sport, game after game after plane trip after game, played with the most minuscule margins for error. Yost will meet anything that threatens that routine like a home intrusion. Thats just who he is.
By now you know that the Royals beat the Twins 3-1 in loud, comeback fashion in their home opener on Monday. If you werent there, you missed a party. More than 40,000 people packed the stands and, just as an example, gave Chris Getz a standing ovation for a sacrifice bunt.
So with all that in mind, you might have an idea how Yost would respond when asked if winning this particular game meant more than an ordinary day. I know I had an idea. I expected a lot of pooh-poohing. Instead, I heard this:
It means a lot, Yost said. Yeah.
He went on. He talked about the letdown of last year, when the Royals were so bad in their home opener they got booed 16 minutes after the first pitch and were down seven runs before they even came to the plate.
He talked of a fun spring training, when the Royals won the Cactus League and people back home read about a new attitude and a new expectation and at least developed some cautious optimism. He even talked about the fans, and their energy, and the importance of making a good first impression in a season with so much riding on it.
When you looked at the stadium and saw all the blue and the light blue, quite literally, it took your breath away, Yost said. Then you get back focused on the game, but it was an amazing sight.
The Royals deserved this. More important, their fans deserved this. Did you know its been five years since the Royals won their first home game of a season? Thats before the Kauffman Stadium renovations. That was Trey Hillmans first year as manager.
Baseball, especially in places like Kansas City, is largely about hope, and the problem is the Royals have been as good at squashing hope as any franchise in baseball over the last two decades.
Last year, it wasnt just the embarrassment in the home opener they didnt win at the K until May. Most years, the Royals are so bad so early they dont give their fans a chance at the fun we saw on Monday.
Now, the basic tenets that Yost normally lives by are still in place. This is just one game. There are Royals fans who will read this and say, 155 more games to let us down. Kansas City sports fans come by their skepticism honestly.
But this is a heck of a different start for a team thats supposed to be a heck of a lot different than its rotten predecessors.
Whether intentional or not, you can see the clues. That started in spring training, when James Shields ingratiated himself with his new teammates in part by taking road trips to games in which he wasnt pitching virtually unheard of for veterans. You cant quantify what things like that mean, exactly, but they have to mean something.
The Royals won on Monday despite an offense that produced exactly nothing for the first seven innings. Starting pitcher Ervin Santana was terrific eight innings, one run and seven strikeouts in protecting a spent bullpen but what would it matter if the offense couldnt score?
That changed in the eighth, when Lorenzo Cain doubled into the right-field gap and scored on a sharp single by Alex Gordon. The fans stood up, chanting, and watched Alcides Escobar drive in the go-ahead run with a double to right. Mike Moustakas climbed to the top of the dugout railing, as high as he could go, making some secret hand gesture out toward Escobar. Sal Perez, with his shin guards on, met Gordon near the plate and skipped back to the dugout like a psyched fourth-grader. This is a group of friends, happy for each other.
Again, nobody can know what this season will bring. This could be the peak. This could be the beginning of a fun summer. This could be anything in between. But right now, this is hope, and thats an improvement over the past.
You know, right after Yost talked about the meaning of winning the first home game in front of a starved fan base, he said something else worth remembering. Just since Friday, the Royals have won after being down four runs in the first, burning through three relievers in the ninth inning, and now trailing until the eighth.
So Yost talked about the importance of his guys believing. He said the hitters have confidence in the pitchers. He said the pitchers have confidence in the hitters. If they are down, they have confidence in each other.
The most important thing that we have this year that we probably havent had in the past is a true confidence in each other, Yost said.
A few more games like this, and he could say the same thing about the fans.