A tick after 4 p.m. on Monday, the Royals clubhouse opened for a gaggle of media — and to a panorama of where this team is perceived to reside right now.
“Ain’t seen this many people all year,” outfielder Lorenzo Cain declared just after the door opened.
That may or may not have been quite true, but there were plenty of reasons for a larger crowd than usual.
Start with the fact it was the Royals’ first game back at Kauffman Stadium after a 7-2 road trip, one that at least momentarily changed the complexion of the season as they climbed to 3 1/2 games out of first place.
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Moreover, hey, there was breaking news to be had at the ballpark: Courtesy of Star reporter Rustin Dodd’s story on the impact of reliever Peter Moylan’s espresso machine, Moylan was the center of a swarm as the focal point of their most notable good-luck totem since Rally Mantis.
“The ‘sledge-iatto’s’ a national story,” second baseman Whit Merrifield said, laughing.
Then there was the presence of media covering Boston, which led to an exchange with third baseman Mike Moustakas that spoke to the constant backdrop on all this.
With the Red Sox seemingly coveting a third baseman and Moustakas, among others, considered potential trade material as a pending free agent after this season, a probe was launched about his future with the Royals.
“I’m a Kansas City Royal. I’m going to be a Kansas City Royal until I’m told otherwise,” he said. “So you go out every single day and try to win a ballgame for this team.
“I’ve been here my entire life as a ballplayer, spent 10 years in this organization. This is more like a family than anything. I love being here. I love everybody here. And I couldn’t say enough about this organization from top to bottom.”
This was largely a refrain Moustakas has struck before. But something about the follow-up question — “so you would like to work something out here?” — set off his sensors.
“You know what, dude, you throwing words in my mouth is pretty interesting,” said Moustakas, who abruptly ended the interview a moment later.
So went a sequence that offered glimpses of about every facet of this fascinating time for the Royals.
It’s a time of legitimate optimism since they redeemed their abominable 10-20 start with a 24-15 record since then.
Even so, it remains a time of great implications, because every single trend is scrutinized with the looming free agencies of Cain, Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar and Jason Vargas and the trade deadline lurking on July 31.
So in a certain sense, the challenge remains the same as it did when the Royals were in their funk:
Stay in the precious present.
With one notable difference.
It’s one thing to think the core of a fine team still is present and waiting to wake up; it’s another to see it play to its potential like it has the last few weeks.
That may or may not continue, but it affirms there’s reason to hope.
“There’s always a level of doubt that exists in every human being who has to produce, no matter whether in the limelight or not,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “There’s always a level of doubt … ‘Do I still have it? Can I still do it?’ ”
For his part, Moore has contended all along that he saw no earmarks of what would make for the precipitous plunge that seemed to be building in April.
“The players tell you everything you need to know: Are they competing? Are they hungry? … What’s their general health like? What’s going on in their personal lives?” he said. “There are so many different things that you have to factor in.”
All of those told him a correction was on its way — even if he couldn’t predict when it would take or how it will all play out in the long run.
So still nearly six weeks from the trade deadline that seems ever-present because of what could be seismic shifts ahead if the Royals are in sell mode, Moore has no reason to focus on that, even as others do it for him.
And, yes, it would be different if the Royals were 10 games out.
“Oh, yeah, no doubt,” he said.
Instead, they’re in the thick of the American League Central race after turning prolific at the plate for most of the last few weeks.
Presumably, they’ll be bolstered by the return in the next few weeks of starting pitchers Danny Duffy and Nate Karns.
But none of this is about a few weeks from now or what the team will look like next season.
It’s simply about how a team that is sufficient to stand but free to fall navigates each day now — no matter how many different ways its trajectory might be assumed from the outside looking in.