Jason Vargas has filled the spring-training locker of James Shields. The Royals hope Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy can supplement the loss of Shields’ 225 innings on the mound. What the team is still searching for is the precise replacement for Shields’ place inside the clubhouse has yet to be determined.
Manager Ned Yost indicated when it comes to replacing Shields’ on-field production, "we’ve got it covered." But the clubhouse dynamic still needs time to develop. Yost expressed his confidence that veterans like Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios would add to the environment. And he felt the younger players absorbed, through osmosis, the qualities Shields sought to show. With Shields now pitching for San Diego, Yost believes his presence will still be felt.
"It’s not like it’s gone," Yost said. "He’s imparted that atmosphere in every player that was here. So it’s still here."
One question remains: Will the team continue their rollicking postgame celebrations?
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When Shields arrived in 2013, he brought with him an elaborate ritual for every victory. With the overhead lowered and the music blaring, a fog machine smoked up a room lit by up a disco ball and a neon sign of a deer’s backside. Shields would
"I’ve got something to say," he would shout.
"Say it," the players would respond.
Then Shields would designate a player of the game. His teammates would soak the player with water and dissolve into the type of general hilarity reserved for men who play baseball for a living.
There is one slight glitch in the narrative, though. For the last five months, the postgame reveries were run by Jeremy Guthrie.
"Shields didn’t want to do it anymore," Guthrie said. "Because he felt like he had to force it the year before. So he was real hands-off at the start last year."
Guthrie volunteered to lead the ceremonies. The momentum built as the Royals stormed into October for the first time since 1985. The team still has possession of the fog machine and the deer sign. But the players are unsure if they will attempt to replicate last season’s formula.
Guthrie declined to designate himself the leader for the coming year. He believes that role will fall to players like Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez. He is unsure if the postgame celebrations will continue. They must be organic, he said. He learned that lesson last season.
At one point in the middle of September, veteran outfielder Raul Ibanez told the team a story of Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes’ assault on Mexico. Cortes instructed his troops to set their ships ablaze upon arrival, so they lacked an option for escape.
"The idea was not only do you want to take the championship, but you want to burn the boats so no one can come and grab us from behind," Guthrie said. "Like, you want to totally finish somebody off."
Guthrie wanted to deliver a literal interpretation. Before the American League Wild Card game, he stopped at a Hobby Lobby and bought four wooden boats. He intended to procure 11 in all, one for each victory required for the title. During the postgame celebration, he wanted the designated player of the game to nail a boat to a board and set it ablaze.
After the team’s frenetic victory over Oakland, Guthrie assigned the task to Salvador Perez. A hail of champagne and beer interrupted the ceremony. Guthrie soon scuttled his plans.
"It could have been great," he said. "But no one cared. And so I just threw the things away."
He added, "Two guys asked, ‘Are we going to keep doing the boat thing?’ ‘No, the boat thing sucked. Nobody cared.’"