Royals Clubhouse Hijinks, Contention Questions, and More
The 15-10 start enjoyed by the Royals has the club in high spirits and over the past week, they’ve garnered attention for the hot start locally and nationally. There were many questions entering the season and most analysts didn’t think the Royals moves over the winter were enough to make serious noise in 2013.
It’s early, but some of those sentiments are changing.
May 1, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain (6), left fielder Alex Gordon (4) and right fielder Jeff Francoeur (21) celebrate at the end of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won 9-8. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
With winning comes celebration and for everything the Royals have done well on the field, a few of the intangible elements have creeped into the story. It’s just the nature or sports that a team doesn’t win without some kind of intangible quality, and while I can accept that to an extent, I don’t think it’s enough to significantly sway performance (but it certainly can’t hurt).
This week, the Royals have started to get a little demonstrative. There was Jeff Francoeur‘s greeting of Eddie Rodriguez after a triple in Tuesday’s win. Then there started to be all of this reporting on the hand signals the players do when they reach base. Josh Vernier did some digging:
- Francoeur and Alex Gordon will share a “you can’t see me” move (mimicking WWE star John Cena).
- Mike Moustakas and James Shields use a “C” to represent California.
- Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain, and Moustakas make a “wolfpack” sign, as Vernier describes.
Then Billy Butler tried a few things out. He singled on Wednesday, then pointed to his bicep, grinning like a kid in a sandlot.
Later in the same game, he doubled and was motioning on second base as if he was playing air guitar. Apparently, though, as a nod to his Country Breakfast nickname, he was acting as if he was frying bacon, flipping it twice for each base on the hit. Joel Goldberg called it “Air Bacon” on FSKC.
So winning obviously is making the team feel good, and the morale is high. Winning will do that, but James Shields brought along a strong clubhouse presence to Kansas City along with a nasty changeup, and it’s paying dividends (so says the narrative). He’s started a tradition in the clubhouse involving a neon deer. The “King of the Game” gets to turn the light on after every win and everyone celebrates. I’m sure it keeps spirits up and, as Shields says, it allows the team to focus on the win and not someone’s 0-4 day, so there’s no harm in it. That’s not to say that if there was a neon light-up deer in the clubhouse last year that the Royals would have won. It still takes talent.
But they’re winning, so national writers are taking notice. Buster Olney of ESPN acknowledged that judging baseball results after just one month can be pointless, but mentioned that the Royals have played tough teams and won despite struggles from Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
Jonah Keri discussed Ervin Santana‘s contributions so far in light of the initial reactions to the trade. The slider has been a big weapon early on, but Keri pointed out that Santana has to keep it up and that there are still question marks – but he didn’t go so far as to dismiss the idea of the Royals having something brewing, either.
SI.com’s Jay Jaffe looked at research into hot starts by other teams in baseball over the years and suggest that there’s reason for optimism for the Royals this year. It’s encouraging. Did you know that since 1995 (and the wild card), of the 54 teams to start exactly 15-10, 26 made the playoffs in some form? Jaffe has other nuggets like that in his column.
So it’s easy to see why the clubhouse in treating this season’s start like it’s the feel-good montage of a baseball movie where the underdog succeeds against all odds. They’re trying to be that team this year. Whether they get the happy ending or not remains to be seen, but more people are paying attention the more they win.