Close friends Danny Duffy and Eric Hosmer face off in Spring Training game
It was one thing to grasp the mere idea: Eric Hosmer no longer is a Royal, no longer a presence around the clubhouse in Surprise.
There are voids to fill without him in the organization that raised him and looked to him as the impossible future that came true and hoped he might yet be a link in the next rebuild.
But it was another to actually see him in the wrong uniform across the field on Friday at Peoria Stadium, where Hosmer and the San Diego Padres played host to the Royals in a spring-training game.
“I’m not used to seeing that Royals blue on the other side,” Hosmer said, smiling and later adding, “If I were to tell you there was no weird feeling in my body before the game, I’d be lying.”
Weird but cathartic, too -- notwithstanding that the result itself (a 13-5 Kansas City loss) was essentially meaningless and the casual spring-training aura had no resemblance to what a regular-season matchup would feel like.
The Royals may or may not have needed a touchstone moment to truly process all this, but they got one Friday in ways that were both touchingly reassuring and purely practical.
For the latter, we turn to Royals manager Ned Yost, who could not have been less publicly sentimental about having faced Hosmer for the first time.
For instance, here’s what Yost said when asked if he had been intrigued by Hosmer facing pitcher and dear friend Danny Duffy for the first time in a decade:
“Move on, man. It’s done. It’s done. I mean, it’s gone. It’s over. He’s with that team. We’ve got our team. And we go on.”
Blunt but true from a man who admires and respects Hosmer as much as anyone … despite any lingering disconnect over whether Hosmer did or did not send text messages to the admittedly hallucinating Yost when he was recovering from a broken pelvis.
Their time together was wonderful when it lasted, right up until the time Hosmer signed an eight-year, $144 million contract with the Padres that was the resounding final word on the end of one era and a clarifying statement on how next phase would begin.
It’s done. It’s gone. It’s over, and the Royals have to amble forward without his coveted skills and leadership that were instrumental in the franchise’s rise from the ashes to make back-to-back World Series appearances and win it all in 2015.
“It’s nice to see him,” said Royals catcher Sal Perez, who lives near Hosmer in Florida in the offseason and has been in contact with him regularly. “But to be honest with you guys, a little sad to see him on a different team.”
Even if that feeling does this Royals team no tangible good, there still was a beauty in that sentiment -- one that reminds of the lasting treasure Hosmer was crucial to and the bond that he’ll forever hold with Kansas City and his teammates.
It shows up in Hosmer wearing No. 30 in honor of late Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura.
It’s evident in Hosmer taking out a full-page ad in The Star to thank fans.
And it was on display in many ways on Friday.
Before the game, Hosmer made his way into the Royals clubhouse and visited for 15 or 20 minutes with former teammates and others –- including Yost.
He sought out Royals administrators and asked about family members by name.
When he came to the plate against Duffy, Hosmer tapped Perez with his bat and got a big hug back that later could be viewed on Perez’s Instagram account with the words, “Forever Brothers.”
“It will never change, what we’ve all been through,” Hosmer said. “That goes for everybody in the organization. I’ve got nothing but love for everybody. I’ll always continue to root for these guys.”
The sentiments were encapsulated in his one at-bat facing Duffy, whom Hosmer recently called the best teammate he ever had and has equally strong feelings for him.
“I love the dude … best human being I know,” said Duffy, who noted that in a perfect world he’d never have had to face Hosmer.
Duffy was drafted in 2007, a year before Hosmer.
But it might as well have been the same year as Duffy and the likes of ongoing free agent Mike Moustakas and Perez and the wave that came of age together -- including Alcides Escobar and the since-departed Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain.
“These are the guys we all grew up together with, and, really, we went from 18 years old to grown men,” said Hosmer, who called that connection much deeper than baseball. “And we all kind of went through that maturation together.”
To a point, anyway, at least if you consider some of the silliness between Duffy and Hosmer on Friday.
Evidently, the last time they’d faced each other was in an intrasquad game soon after Hosmer joined the organization.
Each remembered Hosmer taking Duffy about 500 feet -- albeit with an ongoing asterisk that the homer had come after what should have been strike three.
“Now I get to put that one to rest,” Hosmer said, “and Duffy gets to talk some mess to me.”
This time around, Duffy and Hosmer had eye contact and words before, during and after the at-bat.
When Hosmer playfully suggested to Duffy that he was ready for the quick pitch to open the at-bat, knowing him too well, Duffy reconsidered the idea and went fastball.
When he got up 0-2 on Hosmer, Duffy shook off Perez’s call for a breaking ball because “I really wanted to blow him away, fastball up.”
After Hosmer popped it up to Escobar, Duffy said “Jam!"
Just under his breath … but hoping Hosmer would hear him.
That said, he also was grateful Hosmer wasn’t in midseason form.
“That ball,” Duffy said about two hours later, “might still be in the air right now.”
Meanwhile, now there’s nothing left up in the air between the Royals and Hosmer.
Hosmer allowed as how he’s getting acclimated as a Padre now, saying that everything is going as smoothly as it can in the transition.
But he’s no less a part of Royals history … with a living legacy, too.
“We’ll always be brothers,” Duffy said. “Nothing changes, outside of the jersey that he’s wearing.”
That’s a reality it’s time to appreciate -- both in terms of what he left behind and making a clean cut to looking forward, not back.