Royals manager Ned Yost is a compulsively sarcastic, smart-alecky, old-school baseball guy.
Snarky, they call it today.
Part of this disposition is that he is a devout contrarian. Ask him a question, and his first instinct typically is to dismiss the premise … only to generally ultimately answer it well.
A few times this season, you could hear him say “no” and “yes” in the same breath as he was trying to transition.
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Never mind that he can be quite funny, because it can be hard to distinguish when he’s joking.
His enduring persona isn’t endearing if you don’t have a sense of where he is coming from, and even then it can be complicated. And there is a certain boomerang effect from this.
Especially from a fan base that has been exposed to him at his most raw, through condensed sound bites, and has become conditioned to thinking he’s a dunce despite guiding a team that is 33 games over .500 over the last 17 months.
So it’s no small wonder Yost was condemned for noting the sparse turnout on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium, where fewer than 14,000 showed up to see the first-place Royals play Minnesota.
Yost brought it on himself with a gratuitous deviation from a question about the delirium created by Alex Gordon’s walk-off two-run homer.
Instead of basking in the Royals’ most exhilarating late-season moment since … when, exactly? ... he made a crack about how few people had been there to see it.
That pried open the door for a follow-up request to elaborate that Yost had the temerity to actually try to answer.
But if Yost did himself no favors by broaching the topic as he did, it’s also hard to understand what was so inherently offensive about objecting to the meager turnout.
That aspect was derogatory only in the sense that saying the emperor is wearing no clothes is.
Now, there are many reasons fans don’t show. And any reason any fan doesn’t want to go is valid, whether it’s about money or weather or the ease and luxury of the home-viewing experience.
For that matter, even if it’s because of a lack of trust after more than a generation of futility and heartburn.
There is baggage from the past that those of us who are relatively new here can’t fathom.
A dear friend who is a voice of reason texted about this Wednesday morning and spoke for what might be many others:
“When they lose two games, the old doubt starts to creep in. Felt like the start of a skid. We can’t help it. Sounds crazy when you say it out loud.”
So it ain’t easy being Royal.
But then there’s this:
The same time-frame of torture that might make it hard to invest — emotionally or otherwise — is the reason to seize the moment.
Relatively speaking, the Royals are in the midst of a full-on phenomenon.
What else can you call something that hasn’t been approached since they won the 1985 World Series?
And even if you might believe this is no blip but on trajectory to more good times ahead, no one should know better than a Royals fan how fleeting these windows might be.
Consider that a magical Royals era didn’t just peak in 1985 but abruptly ended.
Who would have guessed then that, poof, it was all over for the foreseeable future?
So these are precious days, no matter how you want to capture or savor them.
“You’re in a moment in history for this city, something that can just be legendary, something that could outlast anything you do on the field,” designated hitter/first baseman Raul Ibanez said. “To be a part of that in a place that’s suffered for a long time, just to have that opportunity is so special for all of us in here.”
Now in his second stint in Kansas City, where his son was born, Ibanez is more attuned to the terrain than Yost.
He also has a more upbeat vibe and more polished way with words than his manager.
But in his own way, mangled some by how he introduced it, Yost essentially was trying to make the same point.
Reasonable minds can disagree on this, but Yost might well have been making more of a plea than he was chastising.
Asked Wednesday to clarify his thoughts from Tuesday, Yost naturally first said, “I don’t think I need to clarify” … then set about doing so.
The electricity a big crowd brings to the stadium, he said, is “a definite advantage to us.” He gets “a thrill,” he said, to see fans “going nuts” after a win and “little kids jumping up and down wearing their Royals” gear.
“It’s a special time; it’s been a long time since our fans have been able to enjoy a playoff run …” he said. “You don’t know when this opportunity is going to come again.”
So he seems to want them along for this ride for any number of reasons, and there’s no reason to doubt that’s true.
He could have said it better to begin with, and it’s a complicated topic to take on, too: The reason this is a special time is directly related to the reason people might be reluctant to embrace it.
But when Kauffman Stadium (capacity 37,903) sits more than two-thirds empty during the stretch run of a season that so far is what fans have clamored for for nearly 30 years, you can’t blame the manager for noticing and wanting it to be different … even if you don’t like how he said it.