1. CHEMISTRY LESSON: If you saw the Royals’ unbridled celebration after their wacky walk-off (run-off?) win over the Chicago White Sox on Monday, you saw more than just a team pleased to win an important game.
You saw something that suggested a team filled with players who feel a certain bond with each other, a team brimming with chemistry.
This isn’t a necessity to winning, of course, and it wouldn’t amount to much worth mentioning without results. It assures nothing further, and for that matter, there are those who scoff at the notion that this is a particularly close team.
But as the Royals enter their biggest series since 1985 this weekend against Detroit, this, too, unity sure seems to be part of what motivates them.
From the inside looking out, this is what the Royals see and say about that intangible element of this team:
“Just because you can’t measure it on a spreadsheet doesn’t mean it’s not real,” said Raul Ibanez, the reserve first baseman and designated hitter. “I believe that the results are always a product of the thoughts and the actions and the attitude of what’s going on in the clubhouse. And that goes for any business.
“You can put the most brilliant minds in the same room. And if they have to work together to produce a product, they’re going to have a tough time doing it if there’s not camaraderie and chemistry and people willing to stay in their lane and put their egos aside and do everything the right way to benefit the team and the organization.
“So chemistry is very real, and we have great chemistry in this clubhouse.”
It’s in part because of that, outfielder Jarrod Dyson said, “We’re going to play every game like it’s our last.”
Even as he acknowledged with a laugh that this is the only major-league clubhouse he’d ever known, pitcher Danny Duffy said, “I just know this is something special. It’s always for the boys. We battle for each other.”
There’s something else, too.
“We want to do something special for this city together and be able to look back on it and say, ‘Dang, that was awesome,’” Duffy added. “That’s what we want. We want to be able to give this city what they’ve given us since I’ve been here.”
2. RESPECTING THEIR ELDERS: The makeup of the team helps account for the dynamic. It’s still a rather young core group, particularly when it comes to position players.
“This alley,” Dyson said, a few lockers from Duffy, “we all came up with each other in the minor leagues. This is our home. We’re comfortable in here.”
But the biggest influence in the room is veteran pitcher James Shields (32), and the average age went up substantially with recent veteran acquisitions such as Josh Willingham (34), Jason Frasor (36), Scott Downs (38) and the much-respected and heeded Ibanez (42).
“You’ve got to have it: You’ve got to have your veteran guys lead the young guys in here,” Dyson said, smiling and adding, “if not, then we’d be running wild in here.”
Not that it can’t be Romper Room, anyway.
Before a game at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago, for example, Dyson and outfielder Lorenzo Cain were piled on top of catcher Salvador Perez on a couch, play-fighting.
And then there’s the Shields-designed postgame celebration routine incorporating strobe lights and a smoke machine and shaving cream.
But whatever tensions and sub-texts there might be behind the scenes, it’s a chirpy, energized room that’s come with the winning … and just maybe has helped make it happen, too.
3. TOM WATSON RELATES TO YOST: Even as Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson was sorting and sweating out the last details for the competition next week in Scotland, he’s staying tuned in to the Royals’ pursuit of their first playoff berth since 1985.
If his phone works abroad, he said, he’ll be checking scores back here even while he’s on the course surveying his players.
Meanwhile, he can feel a kinship to Royals manager Ned Yost, knowing that he’ll be second-guessed for any decision that goes awry.
“This is the way I look at it, and it goes with any decision that you make: If you’re making that decision with the best information that you have, it’s your judgment to make the call, then that’s all you can ask of yourself,” Watson said at a news conference Wednesday. “If somebody second-guesses it, that’s their problem.
“You’re not going to make all the right decisions. You just simply aren’t. There’s too many decisions. You’re not going to be 100 percent. Nobody can be 100 percent.
“But the key is to make more right decisions than your opponent. That’s what I hope to bring to the table as a captain.”
He later added: “You look like an absolute genius when (a decision) works; you look like a goat when it doesn’t work. I have thick enough skin to understand that all of my decisions aren’t going to be good. I just hope they’re good enough for us to bring the cup back.”
4. NOW THAT’S AN ICE BUCKET: As a few of us were chatting with Watson after his news conference on Wednesday, I asked him if he’d taken the ALS Ice Bucket challenge because of his dedication to the cause in honor of his late caddy Bruce Edwards.
He playfully chastised me for not having seen it yet, wondering if I had access to this thing called “YouTube.”
Turns out I do, and it was worth cranking open to watch Watson and his wife, Hilary, get plunged.
5. SPROLES TOOK FORM EARLY: Olathe North and Kansas State product Darren Sproles is 31 now and still flourishing in the NFL.
On Monday, he had 203 all-purpose yards and a touchdown in Philadelphia’s 30-27 win over Indianapolis, a week after he triggered the a comeback win against Jacksonville with a 49-yard touchdown run.
But as told by Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, the key to the longevity and style of the 5-foot-6, 190-pound Sproles apparently remains his roots in the game in youth football in Olathe:
“He was 8 years old, and they had a mercy rule,” his father, Larry told Farmer. “If you got three or four touchdowns ahead, they called the game. We didn’t want to humiliate the kids. Every time ‘Tank’ would touch the ball, he’d score. There were times when he didn’t even get tackled and they’d call the game.”
Opposing parents complained because Sproles’ games would be over before halftime. Their kids weren’t even getting a chance to play because the mercy rule kicked in so quickly.
That lasted for two weeks. Finally, the coaches agreed to a new rule: Sproles could no longer receive pitches or run sweeps. Everything had to happen between the tackles.
“That’s how he became an in-between-the-tackles runner,” Larry said. “He had very strong legs, so he’d run over guys when they’d get near him, then he’d run away from you.”