The first time I met Eric Hosmer’s dad, I congratulated him on raising his son right: Eric could talk to the media for 30 minutes and not say a damn thing.
Fortunately, Eric and his dad thought that was funny and his dad admitted he’d advised Eric to keep it “vanilla” when talking with reporters.
But Hosmer doesn’t always keep it vanilla; he’s got the knack for saying the right thing at the right time, and Friday afternoon was no exception.
The Royals' annual FanFest opened Friday, and in between autograph sessions and public appearances upstairs, the players were visiting with the media and giving interviews downstairs.
Some of the players had just come back from Yordano Ventura’s funeral in the Dominican Republic, and all of them had just lost a friend and teammate, so it wasn’t your usual press conference; asking about their friend’s death seemed intrusive, and asking about baseball seemed callous.
So we did a little of both.
Christian Colon was visibly upset but gracious; he thanked Royals fans for their support and said Kansas City now feels like home to him.
Mike Moustakas said he had visited the memorial to Ventura on the main floor of Bartle Hall but could only stay for five minutes because he was “losing it” thinking about his friend. Several times Moustakas used the collar of his Royals jersey to wipe tears from his eyes.
Before long, it was Hosmer's turn to face the media.
Hosmer was headed for the media room and spotted me in the hallway outside. He walked over, put his arm around me and said I looked “well-rested.” Personally, I think I look like I should lay off the bacon cheeseburgers and eat a salad once in a while, so even though I don’t know exactly what he meant, “well-rested” seems like an OK thing to be.
Hosmer admitted he wasn’t.
He said he’d been “everywhere” lately and was exhausted. Despite being out on his feet, it was then time for Hosmer to face the microphones and cameras.
When asked about their relationship, Hosmer said he considered Ventura his little brother.
Big-league baseball has a tradition; if you make it — if you get to the big leagues and manage to stick – you’re supposed to help the rookies who have just arrived. The veterans advise the rookies how to behave, what to say, how to dress and what to avoid.
If the rookies make it and become veterans, then it’s their turn to help the next generation.
Hosmer was paying back a debt he owed by mentoring Ventura, his “little brother.”
After Ventura’s death, a group of Royals players traveled to the Dominican to pay their respects and attend his funeral. As the players exchanged Ventura stories, Hosmer realized just about everybody had the same relationship with him: they were all mentoring him, and he was a little brother to all of them.
His teammates could see Ventura had the talent to be an outstanding big-league pitcher and they all wanted him to succeed.
As Hosmer put it, they all had a piece of him.
Several players mentioned how stubborn Ventura could be, but after visiting his hometown, Hosmer realized Ventura's big brothers had been getting through to him. Yordano had been doing what big-leaguers do: back home, he’d been trying to make things better for the people around him who were less fortunate.
Every person who was asked — all the players and manager Ned Yost — thought Ventura was on the verge of turning the corner as a big-league pitcher. They thought their little brother was learning from his mistakes and was about to live up to his nickname: “Ace.”
After Hosmer finished with the rest of the media, he and I walked back to the room the Royals had set up for the players while they waited for their next appearance. I mentioned that this had been a bad offseason; first the Royals lost their human spark-plug, Jarrod Dyson — the guy who brought laughter and energy to the clubhouse — and then they lost Ventura.
“Don’t worry," Hosmer said. "We’ll find a way.”
Once again, Hosmer said the right thing at the right time. Whether it’s baseball, billiards or business, when something bad happens, there’s only one thing to do:
Find a way.