Danville, Kentucky---Folks, in this strange and wonderful game we call baseball, there’s no worse feeling than losing, and no worse way to shake off that feeling than being denied the opportunity to wake up the next day, retake the field and redeem yourself. That’s why my nephew and I spent today's off-day in Lexington at Chili’s happy hour, eating appetizers, drinking margaritas and watching little-league game tape on the kid’s i-pad.
On his off-day, Eric Hosmer did no such thing. During his ride to Kauffman on Tuesday, Eric Hosmer will be similarly quiet and reflective.
On Friday night, Hosmer and the Royals had decisively defeated division foe Detroit to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the first match-up of the season, prompting Royals fans everywhere to consume copious amounts of Fireball Whiskey & White Castle in celebration of the glory of baseball and the associated youthful hedonism. The world was in the palm of their hand; the Tigers had been tamed, tamed like a man being dragged by his third wife to IKEA to witness her draining his savings on tacky furniture that he doesn’t know how to assemble.
One Cy Young and one Royal-killer later, the boys in blue were left with a 2-2 split and an off-day to get the bitter after-taste of cinnamon and sliders out of their mouths.
Left to his own devices, Hosmer rests his head against the car window and lets his thoughts drift off to familiar places: his mighty two-run jack in the 11th inning of ALDS game 2, which announced his arrival onto the stage of glory with authority. The 2014 World Series, which was so real and so tangible to Eric, yet beginning to feel like a distant memory.
More than anything, Hosmer will contemplate the growth and maturation of his friend and brother-in-arms, Moustakas. The hopes and dreams of so many people had been hoisted upon their shoulders for so long, with phrases like “youth movement” and “future of the franchise” being lobbed around with all the thoughtfulness of a drunken karaoke night at the Danville Applebees. Yet, now more than ever, and in spite of the frustrated hopes of 2014 and the past weekend, Eric could see himself and his companion Mike blossoming into the players they were always meant to be; the players nerds once thought they could be, before they lost patience and revised their projections downward as nerds are so wont to do.
Buoyed by this new found sense of confidence and purpose, Hosmer and Moustakas will lift the Royals to a 5-3 victory over Salazar and the Racists. Vargas will not be sharp, but it will not matter, as MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has forbidden Cleveland from beating left-handed pitchers. Later that night, in an uncharacteristic display of maturity, Eric will invite Mike and Dyson back to his hotel room for a glass of scotch, muted celebration, and subdued conversation. No Fireball or White Castle will be consumed on this night.
Dyson will wonder out loud if times will always be this good, and if such bonds of friendship can endure in the face of time’s cruel march. The young third-baseman will retort: “All things must pass, especially in this business. Players get designated. Prospects get traded. Stars walk for bigger paychecks and bigger markets. But that doesn’t make what we have right here in this moment any less real.” Dyson will nod appreciatively at Mike, and drift into a peaceful slumber while sitting in the arm-chair in Eric’s hotel room, exhausted from an evening spent chasing Jason Vargas gopher-balls around Kauffman.
Before going to bed and helping Dyson to his room, Eric and Mike will share a knowing glance, and see within each other’s eyes their own unfulfilled potential reflected back at them. Nerds may have lost faith in that potential when they projected the Royals to win less than 80 games, but Eric and Mike never doubted each other for a second.