SURPRISE, ARIZ. – At just after 11:20 a.m. on Tuesday, Ned Yost paced down the first-base line on the George Brett Field and approached a cluster of pitchers, standing in foul territory.
“Get out of here,” Yost shouted. “Go enjoy your day.”
The first full-squad workout of Royals spring training was less than 90 minutes old, and after playing catch and running through a brief version of pitcher’s fielding practice, the pitchers were free to go.
The slow pace was intentional, Yost would say, the light workload by design. As the Royals shifted into the next phase of camp, with position players joining pitchers and catchers, Yost sought a measured speed.
“We want to make sure that we we don’t go overboard early,” Yost said. “That we kind of just get our feet underneath us.”
The rhythms of this Royals spring training are both familiar and fresh. The cast of characters is largely the same. The drama is nearly non-existent. Save for a few minor position battles and bullpen spots, Royals officials know the club they will bring to Kansas City in April.
Yet the backdrop is largely new, the result of two consecutive American League pennants and a World Series championship, present nearly every day. At just past 10:30 a.m., Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz began a lecture on base-running on the George Brett Field, the main practice field in Surprise. As Kuntz began, a “SportsCenter” live shot assembled 20 feet away, on the dirt adjacent to the first-base dugout.
As Kuntz referenced two base-running errors that cost the Royals victories in 2015, ESPN reporter Tim Kurkjian quizzed former big-league third baseman Aaron Boone about the Royals’ chances in 2016, setting the over-under victory mark at 83 1/2 .
“Over,” Boone answered, “but not by a lot.”
The scene illustrated a common theme of this camp. The Royals are the reigning world champions, and the attention has been ratcheted up here in Surprise. They are also far from prohibitive favorites in their own division. That reality has not been lost on the clubhouse.
“It’s about going out there and getting it done on the field,” center fielder Lorenzo Cain said, standing before his locker on Tuesday morning. “We understand what kind of team we have. We understand what we need to do, how much work we need to put in, regardless of what we’ve done.”
For the Royals and Yost, Tuesday was largely about routine. Hall of Famer George Brett was in uniform for the first time, taking part in drills and field work. Former Royals great Mike Sweeney began the day by embracing long-time scout Art Stewart. Shortstop Alcides Escobar was the only absentee after heading home to Venezuela to be with family after the death of an uncle.
At 10 a.m., the Royals had exited the clubhouse and headed to stretch on an adjacent conditioning field. Outfielder Jarrod Dyson was among the last players out, his spikes slipping on a piece of asphalt. Dyson hit the ground hard. His manager, standing 40 yards away, cracked a joke about sliding practice coming later. Dyson shook off the spill and found his place in line.
“That’s a bad look right there, boy,” Dyson said. “I’m too old for that (stuff).”
From there, the drama waned. As Yost stood before a throng of media, a reporter asked him what he was looking for during the early days of camp.
“Nothing,” Yost said. “I don’t look for anything.”
Two hours later, the Royals had offered something, running through base-running drills, infield and batting practice. The day was light, Yost said, but it was a start.
“It’s time,” Cain said, “to turn the page.”