Amid his first big-league road trip in May 2011, less than a week after his major-league debut, 21-year-old Eric Hosmer coolly ascended onto the grand scene at Yankee Stadium with his first career home run and a game-winning sacrifice fly in a 4-3 Royals’ victory.
“I’m always going to remember that moment,” Hosmer said before the Royals’ forgettable 10-4 loss to Oakland on Sunday and their trip to New York for a four-game series that starts today.
Among many in the stands to see Hosmer was his father, Mike Sr., who that day described the sensation as “just a giant deflating of a balloon, a sense of relief.”
“Whatever happens from here on out is gravy,” Hosmer’s father told The Associated Press at the time.
But as easy as it might have looked then, and as simple as it has looked the last six weeks for the scalding-hot Hosmer, much of his time in between was more about coping with gravity than savoring that gravy.
After completing a terrific rookie season (.293 batting average, 19 homers and 78 RBIs) and finishing third in American League Rookie of the Year balloting, Hosmer tumbled back to earth last season when he hit just .232.
And despite an offseason of reflection and mending a shoulder injury, and renewed dedication and enhanced analysis and tweaking of technique, for the first two months of this season he was suspended in a fairly tame place between the peak of 2011 and the funk of 2012.
At the end of May, Hosmer was hitting .261 with one home run and 16 RBIs, a phase that fused to last season made it reasonable to be skeptical about his future.
But because of his instant initial impact and because of the Royals’ need for him to be all he could be as soon as possible, if not sooner, it was easy to forget how young he was and to overlook how fast a track he’d been put on.
It was easy to overlook that he’d played only two full minor-league seasons and that his future was very much in front of him — not already frittering away as he was becoming a fossil at 23.
Easy for others. And maybe even easy for Hosmer.
But whatever doubts he had, and surely he had more than he wants to let on, Hosmer also knew he had the stuff to make it because he’d already flexed that form. He knew it was all in there, even if he was groping to make it resurface.
And he knew, too, what ultimately defines every elite athlete – but perhaps is most on display in baseball — isn’t the knockdowns but the dusting off.
“You go up and get three hits out of 10, and you’re an All-Star; most jobs, that’s not going to cut it,” he said. “It’s all about how you deal with it.
“You never lose your confidence; you always feel like it’s going to happen the next day. I think that’s how you make it to this level, being basically headstrong. You just know it’s a long season. You don’t cash out after a month, and you don’t cash out after a week or so. You play the whole entire season out.”
And in Hosmer’s case, it’s clearly played out an entirely different way since George Brett and Pedro Grifol began working with Royals hitters on May 30.
Entering his two-for-five Sunday, Hosmer’s slugging percentage had gone from .333 before they took over to .588 since June 1.
Including Sunday, he is 15 for 33 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in his last nine games, extending his surge from a June in which he’d been chosen Royals’ player of the month by hitting .303 with six homers and 17 RBIs.
“It’s definitely a hot streak, but I feel that I’m capable of doing this on many nights,” he said after hitting a key two-run homer in the Royals’ 10-7 rally to beat Cleveland on Thursday, later adding: “That’s how this game works: You get hot, and you’ve got to make the most of your hot streak.”
So, that something has changed profoundly is obvious.
Just how is another matter, even as Hosmer explains it’s about “learning through situations of failing to learn” and not missing his pitch when he gets it even though he’s not thinking about what pitch he’s going to get but his own approach.
As for what he’s done with Brett and Grifol, Hosmer vaguely explains, “We’ve installed an approach that we stick to every day and a routine that we’ve created and stick to, so that basically when you’re in the box you let all the work you’ve done and all the talent take over.”
That doesn’t explain much, which is perhaps testimony to it all still feeling like a work in progress. Maybe getting his groove back is too fresh or fragile to potentially jinx or subject to possible paralysis by analysis.
But Hosmer did allow one glimpse within: that his legs have been a key part of his turnaround guided by the fresh coaching.
“Just using my legs more and really sinking down and getting the full use out of them,” he said. “Because I’ve got a lot of leverage in my body. I’m a tall guy, and you want to use every piece of your body you can to create force on the ball.
“And that’s basically what (we’ve done): just learn how to use my legs a lot better.”
Just the same, he added, “We’ve got a lot of good work still to get done.”
No matter how easy it might look at times — and how hard it might look at others.