As he was growing up in Dublin, Calif., little Ned Yost would thwack rocks with a bat for hours by himself in a lot near his home.
In the soundtrack of his mind — and maybe he blurted it out loud a time or two that way that kids announce their lives — he was Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Tom Haller or another San Francisco Giants star.
Even amid those fantasies, though, he never brought himself to consider what it would be like to be an All-Star.
“Never. Never thought about the All-Star Game. Ever,“ said Yost, who went hitless in 36 at-bats as a junior still relegated to JV ball in high school but went on to a modest major-league career. “Never thought I’d be an All-Star. Really.”
Never miss a local story.
As Yost is saying this on Monday, he is navigating a thicket of people in The Westin hotel, brimming with reporters and throngs of autograph seekers on the prowl for All-Star players.
Yost passed through without any particular recognition, which is just as he’d want it.
But as he chatted, the manager of the American League All-Star team divulged what passed for a point of pride from a man who makes it his way to deflect credit and, at least playfully, embraces the rap that he’s not “the smartest man in the world.”
“This is actually the first time I’ve earned the right to go,” said Yost, who coached in multiple All-Star Games with the Atlanta Braves. “The other times, Bobby (Cox) took me because I was on his staff.
“So this is the first time that really through an accomplishment I’ve earned the right to come. So it’s kind of special.”
Yost would never say this publicly, and maybe not even privately and maybe he’d never even think it.
But it has to be all the more special because of how he was long-ridiculed as a manager, a job from which he was fired in 2008 in Milwaukee … with an 83-67 record.
It’s the nature of the job, of course, to be a lightning rod for criticism, especially because many think they understand what it takes based on surface elements, but few are interested in the substance and intricacy of the broader work.
Strategies that didn’t work almost always left Yost called a blundering dunce, regardless of whether there was a long-term consideration in his thinking (letting now-All-Star Alcides Escobar hit when he couldn’t do it well) or it was reasonable or, in fact, just ill-considered.
If you dared to suggest he was less than a dolt or that perhaps he hadn’t committed a crime against humanity, well, you were an idiot, too.
Compound that reactionary mind-set with simply becoming the latest man to guide a seemingly rudderless franchise, a past tendency to be cantankerous and the growing pains of a young nucleus, and no wonder Yost absorbed the brunt of the ire of a generation of frustration.
Even as he was helping cultivate the breakthrough that was bubbling up unseen.
Now there is vindication of the sort that never can be taken from Yost, 60, who this season has become the all-time victory leader among Royals managers and seems destined to one day be in the Royals Hall of Fame as the man who steered and stirred them back to life.
This is all the more so, of course, because seven Royals players were chosen on this All-Star team, a point Yost made with subtle poignancy when he said “It’s going to be special to spend that time with my boys.”
That’s a telling term in multiple ways.
All at once, it speaks to Yost’s fondness for his players, the nurturing mentality he had in coaxing them to their resurgence (an AL championship a year ago; the most wins — 52 — at the All-Star break for the Royals since 1973) and, in fact, his growth in finding the way to do it.
“He allows us to be men now,” All-Star outfielder Lorenzo Cain said. “He allows us to be ourselves.”
In the process …
“I think we’ve watched him become himself, too,” said All-Star reliever Wade Davis, a veteran who joined the team in 2013. “He always talked about how he used to be like a stern guy and used to get upset about things and he would just come down on players, which (isn’t necessarily) the wrong thing, but maybe some people don’t respond that well to it.”
Perhaps no single Royal reflects the virtues of Yost’s encouragement, patience and evolution more than All-Star third baseman Mike Moustakas, whose career appeared stalled last year when he was sent down to Class AAA Omaha.
“All the tough times that I’ve had in this game … he’s always there to give me a hug,” Moustakas said. “First one to give me a hug. First one to tell me everything’s going to be all right.
“He is kind of like a dad to all of us.”
As such, though, Yost had to find a way to straddle the vague and complicated line between imposing his long-held ways and beliefs on players and letting them become who they are.
It wasn’t easy to find that medium, especially when Yost often was torn between trying to instill confidence and discipline.
“In the beginning, it definitely had to be tough for him …,” Moustakas said. “We were young guys; we didn’t really how the big leagues operated …
“We were all running this as a crash course together, and (Yost) in the beginning stages was a lot more hands-on, trying to teach us the way to do things and teach us the right way to go about the game.
“As the years progressed, he kind of let us free, let us kind of roam out a little bit more. And you see what happened. Kind of brought us up the right way.”
Asked what Yost had tangibly done by way of letting go, a grin came over Moustakas.
“I think when he started dancing in the clubhouse,” said Moustakas, who believes that was late last season and remembered thinking, “ ‘All right, we can have some fun now.’ It’s pretty cool. He comes in the clubhouse and hangs out with us (now). It’s fun.”
From Yost’s perspective, everything changed after the wildest of wild-card games, the astonishing comeback against Oakland.
After that, Yost believed one phase of his job was complete.
Now, he could just manage the games, instead of constantly playing Dale Carnegie trying to instill positive thinking and belief.
Something changed publicly in Yost after that, too.
He relaxed and let in reporters more, revealing himself more than ever — even in the most blinding of spotlights, the postseason — to be engaging and funny.
He’s handled the All-Star buildup with the same graciousness and thoughtfulness, including the reverence with which he’s talked about the game and how he hated to leave deserving players out and how important it is to win it.
As he considered on Monday the meaning of playing in the All-Star Game, Yost said it “sticks with you for the rest of your life.”
“Everybody from here on out,” he said, “is going to know you as a major-league All-Star.”
He wasn’t talking about himself.
But as he walked through The Westin, the point was made that that now included him.
“Yeah,” he said, flatly.
Then he paused, smiled and said, “Yeah.”
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com