Here stood Lucas Duda, in his first public moment as a Royal, suddenly up against a wall in an interview room next to a poster of the Sports Illustrated special issue commemorating the 2015 World Series championship.
The scene was absurd and ironic and symmetrical all at once.
Bless his heart, as longtime Royals coach Rusty Kuntz might say, Duda glanced at the image of Salvador Perez hoisting the trophy overhead and let out something between a groan and a throat-clearing.
Not that he didn’t appreciate what that championship represented to the team that beat his Mets.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to the guys in that room,” he said.
Manager Ned Yost would insist that there was no “elephant in the room” in the acquisition of Duda, whose errant throw from first base (and attached scouting report by Kuntz noting a vulnerable arm) will be forever tethered to Eric Hosmer’s mad, magical dash to tie the decisive Game 5 in the ninth inning.
No elephant in the clubhouse, sure.
But certainly one rumbling around outside, considering that play is virtually the only context for Duda held by Royals fans.
Now the wacky twist on the context is this:
After the free agent signed a one-year contract for a reported $3.5 million, Duda essentially is further entwined with Hosmer by being entrusted as his replacement for the immediate future.
He’s here to inject the Royals with veteran experience as they seek to usher along prospects in their rebuilding scheme and add a much-needed left-handed power bat that in his last three mostly full seasons has produced 87 home runs, 88 doubles and 220 RBIs.
“It’s funny how baseball works out,” Duda said.
While Duda may or may not need some sense of redemption, he certainly will be trying to prove himself anew with the franchise that instigated a low point in his career.
“You definitely learn from failure,” he said. “It makes you strong as a person, as a player. And for the Kansas City fans out there that don’t think I’m maybe the right fit or whatever it may be, I’m out to prove them wrong.”
As a part of Royals history who sets about now trying to help build a bridge to their future.
It was an “easy choice,” said Duda, noting he entertained a few offers from other teams but “felt this was the best fit for me and my family. And here I am.”
A long way from Game 5 and its aftermath.
In the spring of 2016, he was quoted by Newsday as saying Kuntz’s opinion had “no substance” and clearly was irked by his words even while acknowledging the misfire had made for a restless offseason.
When Dayton Moore said on Wednesday that the Royals considered him “a very under-rated first baseman,” he didn’t say that included his own team in the past — as memorably put by Kuntz after the game when he said, “Bless his heart, Duda. He’s a good bat.”
Asked to speak to that previous assessment, Moore nimbly and somewhat playfully added, “Every player, every team, has areas of vulnerability … That’s just part of it. Players aren’t perfect. General managers aren’t perfect. News media aren’t perfect.”
Or as Yost put it: “It was a one-time play. We make the play again and he might have thrown Hos out by 10 feet. You don’t know. It was just something that happened. But we’re extremely excited to have him.”
The ever-jovial Kuntz, now a roving instructor with the Royals, said he’d already had a good exchange with Duda and was struck by what a great guy he seems to be and his size and power.
But neither quite broached the specifics of his 2015 comments.
“No, it never came up,” Kuntz said, laughing. “We just keep moving on, that kind of a deal.”
Which is the developing part of the story here.
Duda wasn’t going to let that moment defeat him, even if it will always be attached to him.
Since the tortured moment that made him as much a source of ire among Mets fans as it did an object of derision for Royals fans, since missing four months of the 2016 season because of a stress fracture in his back, Duda rebounded last year by hitting 30 home runs in just 127 games with the Mets and Tampa Bay Rays.
Never mind that those numbers may not translate easily to cavernous Kauffman Stadium.
“We’ll see,” he said. “Maybe they’ll turn into doubles.”
Still, it’s understood his role is meant to be more transitional than transformative.
He has valuable experience and understands “the rhythm of the major leagues,” Moore said, and he can impart all of that while helping ease the pace of weaving in Hunter Dozier or whoever is to be next in the Royals’ youth movement.
“Doesn’t mean that their time won’t happen at some point during the 2018 season, but we’ll see,” said Moore, adding that in his experience it puts an unnecessary extra burden on prospects to break them in on opening day.
Meanwhile, for his part, Duda considered the clubhouse and veterans like Sal Perez and Alex Gordon and “some young talent, some great arms” and said, “It’s going to be fun. We’re going to surprise some people.”
Which would make for yet another level of oddity in a tale that already features plenty.