They noticed the difference in the opening weeks of camp. The daily staccato rhythm of trash talk was gone. So was the booming baritone and hell-raising laughter.
The departure of outfielder Jarrod Dyson in an offseason trade to the Seattle Mariners left a hole on the Royals’ roster. But it also left a void inside the clubhouse: These days, the place is a lot calmer.
“It’s definitely going to be a quiet clubhouse this year,” Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “Quiet plane. Quiet bus rides. But I’m going to miss it, though. Because I’m used to him yelling at everybody or getting on the rookies about something. He was always on somebody about something.”
Dyson, 32, is down the road at Mariners camp in Peoria now, preparing to be Seattle’s opening day left fielder and leadoff hitter. His days in Kansas City are over. But he will have the opportunity to reunite with his former teammates on Monday, when the Royals face the Mariners in their first Cactus League road game.
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Dyson is expected to be in the lineup after a day off on Sunday. The moment could offer an intriguing faceoff with Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Dyson has promised that he will not run on Perez during spring training. The real battle could wait until the regular season. But in the days before facing the Royals, he could not resist the opportunity to issue a warning of sorts.
“I told him I was going to try him,” Dyson said in an interview with The Tacoma News Tribune. “And if he gets me, I’m going to tip my hat running off the field. And if I get him, he’d best believe I’m zooming on him.”
Yes, the “zooming” — the ostentatious vroom-vroom gesture — became Dyson’s signature while spending parts of seven seasons in Kansas City. A former 50th-round pick, Dyson debuted with the Royals in 2010 and grew into a valuable reserve outfielder, recording 176 stolen bases in 206 attempts and providing premium defense in the outfield. He was part of two American League championship teams and a world champion in 2015. Inside the clubhouse, his brashness was beloved.
But Dyson was also set to become a free agent after the 2017 season. And with the Royals possessing a surplus of outfielders following the trade for right fielder Jorge Soler, the club sent Dyson to Seattle in exchange for right-hander Nathan Karns.
From a baseball perspective, the trade made sense. Karns will compete for the Royals’ final rotation spot during camp. He is under club control for four seasons, offering long-term value for a short-term asset in Dyson. But from an emotional perspective, the loss hit the clubhouse hard.
Dyson was particularly close with Cain and first baseman Eric Hosmer. In the weeks after the trade, the three friends traveled to Dallas to watch the Cowboys face the Green Bay Packers in an NFL playoff game. Dyson told Hosmer and Cain that he cried after learning of the deal.
“He shed a few tears,” Cain said.
A week later, Dyson met up with Hosmer again, joining a contingent of Royals who traveled to the Dominican Republic to attend Yordano Ventura’s funeral. The friendships will last, Cain said.
“I wasn’t a big fan of it, I guess,” Cain said of losing Dyson. “But (Royals general manager Dayton Moore) has to do what’s best for the team, and we’re all going to miss him.”
Inside the clubhouse, Dyson held a prominent role for a part-time player. If not a polished team leader, he existed as a spark plug of sorts, an agitator who motivated and energized his teammates with a never-ending supply of swag. In a room of All-Stars, his voice was ubiquitous.
“It’s going to be tough to not see him in the clubhouse,” Cain said. “But we all got to go our separate ways eventually. I just didn’t expect it to be this soon.”
In his first days with the Mariners, Dyson offered Seattle a glimpse of his style. He did not hold back. In one of his first interviews, he spoke of his championship experience.
“Wherever I go, the champagne flow,” he said.
Back in Royals camp, a clubhouse of players and coaches were not surprised. This is the Dyson they know. This is the Dyson they love.
“That’s his game,” Perez said. “He’s going to try to steal second base. I’m going to try to do my job. We’re going to see what happens tomorrow.”
So here comes the showdown. Dyson has promised to run on the Royals at some point, even if the moment does not happen on Monday. And Perez will attempt to throw out his friend. But in the days before facing the Mariners, manager Ned Yost and Perez caught word of Dyson’s warning. They offered similar rejoinders.
“He’s got to get on first,” Yost said.
“That’s the first thing,” Perez said. “It’s a little hard for him, but we’ll see.”