Amid his first big-league road trip in May 2011, less than a week after his major-league debut, 21-year-old Eric Hosmer coolly ascended onto the grand scene at Yankee Stadium with his first career home run and a game-winning sacrifice fly in a 4-3 Royals victory.
By VAHE GREGORIAN
The Kansas City Star
Im always going to remember that moment, Hosmer said before the Royals forgettable 10-4 loss to Oakland on Sunday and their trip to New York for a four-game series that starts today.
Among many in the stands to see Hosmer was his father, Mike Sr., who that day described the sensation as just a giant deflating of a balloon, a sense of relief.
Whatever happens from here on out is gravy, Hosmers father told The Associated Press at the time.
But as easy as it might have looked then, and as simple as it has looked the last six weeks for the scalding-hot Hosmer, much of his time in between was more about coping with gravity than savoring that gravy.
After completing a terrific rookie season (.293 batting average, 19 homers and 78 RBIs) and finishing third in American League Rookie of the Year balloting, Hosmer tumbled back to earth last season when he hit just .232.
And despite an offseason of reflection and mending a shoulder injury, and renewed dedication and enhanced analysis and tweaking of technique, for the first two months of this season he was suspended in a fairly tame place between the peak of 2011 and the funk of 2012.
At the end of May, Hosmer was hitting .261 with one home run and 16 RBIs, a phase that fused to last season made it reasonable to be skeptical about his future.
But because of his instant initial impact and because of the Royals need for him to be all he could be as soon as possible, if not sooner, it was easy to forget how young he was and to overlook how fast a track hed been put on.
It was easy to overlook that hed played only two full minor-league seasons and that his future was very much in front of him not already frittering away as he was becoming a fossil at 23.
Easy for others. And maybe even easy for Hosmer.
But whatever doubts he had, and surely he had more than he wants to let on, Hosmer also knew he had the stuff to make it because hed already flexed that form. He knew it was all in there, even if he was groping to make it resurface.
And he knew, too, what ultimately defines every elite athlete but perhaps is most on display in baseball isnt the knockdowns but the dusting off.
You go up and get three hits out of 10, and youre an All-Star; most jobs, thats not going to cut it, he said. Its all about how you deal with it.
You never lose your confidence; you always feel like its going to happen the next day. I think thats how you make it to this level, being basically headstrong. You just know its a long season. You dont cash out after a month, and you dont cash out after a week or so. You play the whole entire season out.
And in Hosmers case, its clearly played out an entirely different way since George Brett and Pedro Grifol began working with Royals hitters on May 30.
Entering his two-for-five Sunday, Hosmers slugging percentage had gone from .333 before they took over to .588 since June 1.
Including Sunday, he is 15 for 33 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in his last nine games, extending his surge from a June in which hed been chosen Royals player of the month by hitting .303 with six homers and 17 RBIs.
Its definitely a hot streak, but I feel that Im capable of doing this on many nights, he said after hitting a key two-run homer in the Royals 10-7 rally to beat Cleveland on Thursday, later adding: Thats how this game works: You get hot, and youve got to make the most of your hot streak.
So, that something has changed profoundly is obvious.
Just how is another matter, even as Hosmer explains its about learning through situations of failing to learn and not missing his pitch when he gets it even though hes not thinking about what pitch hes going to get but his own approach.
As for what hes done with Brett and Grifol, Hosmer vaguely explains, Weve installed an approach that we stick to every day and a routine that weve created and stick to, so that basically when youre in the box you let all the work youve done and all the talent take over.
That doesnt explain much, which is perhaps testimony to it all still feeling like a work in progress. Maybe getting his groove back is too fresh or fragile to potentially jinx or subject to possible paralysis by analysis.
But Hosmer did allow one glimpse within: that his legs have been a key part of his turnaround guided by the fresh coaching.
Just using my legs more and really sinking down and getting the full use out of them, he said. Because Ive got a lot of leverage in my body. Im a tall guy, and you want to use every piece of your body you can to create force on the ball.
And thats basically what (weve done): just learn how to use my legs a lot better.
Just the same, he added, Weve got a lot of good work still to get done.
No matter how easy it might look at times and how hard it might look at others.