There were times in the not-too-distant past when a beat writer could become somewhat isolated from the public. Feedback was then often limited to letters and the occasional phone call.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
The email explosion changed that several years back, and the astonishing growth of social media interaction -- like this online exchange from twitter questions -- virtually obliterates the chance to become isolated.
Or so I thought.
I spent the open date Thursday catching up on personal business, which included a trip to the doctor -- and that doctor, once he discovered what I did for a living, couldnt stop talking about the Royals. Ive long believed Kansas City is a baseball town with a fan base simply aching for a team worthy of its passion. Still, the doctors enthusiasm caught me off-guard. I hadnt even known, from previous visits, that he was a fan.
Now, hes convinced this team is going to win 90-plus games, reach postseason and make some noise in October. He wanted no part of my cautionary responses, such as: I still think the Tigers are better.
The doctor is like many fans that Ive encountered over the years. He holds fond memories of the 1970s and 1980s. And he wants so hard to believe. I dont think hes alone.
The season isnt yet two weeks old, but the Royals, at 6-3, occupy first place in the American League Central Division (one game ahead of the Tigers) as they prepare to open a weekend series tonight against Toronto.
I dont know how much it means, in the long run, to be in first place on April 12, but I have a new appreciation for how much it means to a lot of people. This city wants to love this team.
If the Royals can play to their potential -- and maybe Im underestimating them by still putting the bar at finishing with a winning record -- it could be an interesting summer here in the Heartland for the first time in a long time.
On to the questions:
@ebelden: How do hitters warm up to face a pitcher like Dickey? Footage, or is someone around to throw knuckleballs in BP?
Clubs have tried all sorts of things over the years, and theres no consensus (that Im aware of) that any single approach is best in preparing for a knuckleballer.
In part, thats because knuckleballs vary so much from pitcher to pitcher (the few pitchers who throw them, that is). Torontos R.A Dickey, who pitches Saturday, throws a harder-than-average knuckleball.
Dickey won the National League Cy Young Award last year by going 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA for the Mets, but hes 0-2 for the Blue Jays after permitting 12 runs and 15 hits in 10 ⅔ innings in his first two starts.
@ChuckJames919: are the royals a great team or the greatest team? Once I would have just assumed this question was ironic snark or, at best, hopefully tongue-in-cheek. (And Im guessing it is one or the other-- but Im just guessing.) Serious answer: Neither. But this is a club worth paying attention to.
@blamberty: Any rumblings that the #Royals are hearing from teams that may be searching for pitching already (Cards, Halos)? I havent heard anything yet, but there was interest in spring training, although that seemed directed mainly at efforts to acquire Luis Mendoza before he won the rotation spot over Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar.
The Royals, I believe, are willing to listen to offers for Chen and Hochevar, but I sense they arent willing to eat any salary and want something of value in return.
@P2Danaher: To what do you credit Francoeur's recent success at the plate? This question (and others like it) seem based in the belief that Jeff Francoeur is going to be unplayably awful this season. Im guessing that stems from his very disappointing 2012 performance. The Royals always believed he would be far better.
Francoeurs production this season -- insert small-sample-size disclaimer here -- offers some encouragement but is far from dynamic.
He enters the weekend at .286 (10 for 35), but he has just two RBIs in nine games. And his OPS+ is 99, which means he is still a tick below average.
@chrisabe02: do you expect any prospects to be called up and seriously contribute to the club this season? If you mean guys who have been here before -- such as Will Smith, Everett Teaford, Louis Coleman and Irving Falu -- almost certainly.
If youre referring to prospects yet to make their big-league debut -- such as Yordano Ventura, Christian Colon and Kyle Zimmer -- making a serious contribution, Id say thats less likely.
@mll_ksu: at what point will the royals need to move the line up around to take some pressure off the young hitters? What do you want them to do? There are a lot of young hitters in that lineup, but they need to produce for this team to be successful.
For example, if youre referring to Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, both of those guys have logged over 1,000 plate appearances. Theyre young, but theyre not rookies.
@MastTerBase: are the royals getting concerned with starlings development? Ive heard no rumblings to that effect -- quite the opposite, in fact. But Bubba Starling, through Thursday, was two for 26 through seven games with 11 strikeouts at Lo-A Lexington. Thats not encouraging.
@pfunk270: at what point will the royals look towards a big move? Im not sure what that big move would be at this point. Where do you see a major problem through nine games?
Unless injuries force a major reassessment, most teams tend to wait at least 40 games or so to see how their roster shakes down. At least 40. The feeling is that doing anything before that smacks of panic and, in effect, throws out the assessments and evaluations made throughout the off-season and spring training.
My guess -- and thats all it is at this point -- is the Royals, if they are in contention by the All-Star break, will closely examine a possible impact move prior to the July 31 trade deadline.
@JordanDrew30: Do you consider Luke Hocheaver the last option out of the bullpen? The Royals dont. Manager Ned Yost makes it clear that he views Hochevar as part of the late-inning setup mix with Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow and Tim Collins for closer Greg Holland.
@huddleup0722: Level of concern for Hosmer and Moustakas? Not the kind of start we were all hoping for. The Royals would like (and need) more from both but, again, were talking relatively small sample sizes. A three-for-four game tonight would pump up the numbers for either guy. Even so, I get the point.
Its easier for the Royals to wait for Eric Hosmer to click because hes batting sixth, but Mike Moustakas is batting fourth after mashing his way through spring training.
Moose is six for 31 with one RBI in nine games. I dont know how long the Royals can live with that from their cleanup hitter.
@TonyCankles: just wanna know the best place to stream the games! Other than buying the MLB package, I dont have a good answer. Anyone?
To reach Bob Dutton, Royals reporter for The Star, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.