You would think I learned my lesson already. I was unreasonably excited about Josh Selby’s arrival at KU last fall, and downright giddy the day he debuted against USC. That didn’t work out so well, after the first five games or so.
Four years ago, I was pumped for Alex Gordon’s arrival in Kansas City. That excitement quickly disappeared and did not return until this season, when Gordon seems to have finally figured things out. 1
Yet, there I was Friday night, giddy again over a young kid with a lot of potential. This time it was Eric Hosmer, the first baseman called up by the Royals on Thursday. We’ve heard the raves for months and now, at least a month ahead of schedule, here he was in the Majors.
I wasn’t the only one. 10,000 people bought tickets to Friday’s game after Hosmer got promoted. The crowd stood at saluted him during every at bat that night. Each time he made contact over the weekend, the anticipatory roar was a little louder than normal. When he cracked a deep drive off the top of the fence Sunday, radio announcer Ryan Lefebvre’s voice rose an extra level or two, conveying the drama of the moment. One Royals blogger even wrote that Hosmer would “probably” hit his first home run this week, into the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium. Imagine that, assuming a rookie up less than a week will go to Yankee Stadium and hit his first homer, and it doesn’t seem completely crazy.
You can excuse us for being excited. It’s been a long, slow, well-documented slog from the 1985 World Series, Bo Jackson’s arrival in 1986, and those last few years of contention before the 1994 season ended early. There have been few moments of hope since then.
Johnny Damon arrived with some hype, and even did a famous commercial with George Brett. But I don’t remember people thinking he would turn the franchise around by himself. The Royals did all they could to get rid of Mike Sweeney before he finally earned a chance to play. Carlos Beltran arrived with Carlos Febles, and it was more about Dos Carlos than Beltran that season. Alex Gordon was the Can’t Miss Kid and people were excited about him, but he was a singular talent rather than the beginning of a wave of prospects like Hosmer. And Gordon sucked from his first at-bat.
Thus, I think it’s safe to say no Royal has ever arrived with as much hype, with as much anticipation, with as much pressure as Hosmer. It’s asking a lot for a 21-year-old to immediately become the face of the franchise, it’s best player, and the leader in the clubhouse. But it feels like that’s what is expected of him.
Based on his first few games, it looks like he’s both worthy of the hype and capable of dealing with it. His approach at the plate is unlike any Royal prospect I can remember. The guys who came up under Tony Muser were famous for hacking at the first hittable pitch they saw. Gordon had gigantic holes in his swing and couldn’t help but swing when the pitcher attacked those spots. Tuesday night, Hosmer watched six pitches go by without swinging, calmly earning a walk with a runner on late in the game.2 No way would Damon, Sweeney, Beltran, or Gordon have been patient enough to keep their bats on their shoulders in that situation.
I think Hosmer is indeed different than all those others. And it helps that he will be joined by more hitters and a lot of pitchers in the next couple years. It isn’t just up to him, or the offense, to turn the franchise around. Based on his demeanor, I think he’s prepared and comfortable to be the first one up.
I just hope my giddiness isn’t misguided. Again.
Update: I wrote most of this during the day on Wednesday. Wednesday night, Hosmer did what was expected: crushed a pitch into deep right field for his first Major League home run. A few hours later his sacrifice fly plated the winning run in an 11-inning win over the Yankees. So far, so good.