SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The 2015 Kansas City Royals came to Spring Training with a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality. This year's Royals have dropped the anger from that outlook, but they have retained the motivation.Last spring, the Royals were still nursing their wounds from losing Game 7 of the 2014 World Series to
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The 2015 Kansas City Royals came to Spring Training with a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality. This year's Royals have dropped the anger from that outlook, but they have retained the motivation.
Last spring, the Royals were still nursing their wounds from losing Game 7 of the 2014 World Series to the Giants. That gave them motivation to take the next and ultimate step, which they did with a World Series victory in five games over the Mets.
The mountain has been climbed. There is no longer any reason for that unfulfilled feeling. But there are still reasons for the Royals to remain every bit as committed to winning everything in sight.
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Sitting in the home clubhouse at Surprise Stadium on Sunday, Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer contrasted the two Spring Trainings.
"You want the same approach, but the mood definitely changes," Hosmer said. "When we came 90 feet from winning a world championship, there's a hunger. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But coming back from winning it, you realize how special it is. You realize how amazing all the experiences that come with winning are. It motivates you to get back right on that same stage.
"Any guy that plays this game, that's the ultimate goal -- to win a world championship. To do it with such a great group of guys, and to do it with a group of guys I came up through the Minor League system with, is special. At the same time, we realize that we have another opportunity to create some history, and bringing the playoffs back to Kansas City would bring that excitement back to the city."
Royals manager Ned Yost hasn't seen any change in his players' focus on getting ready for a season at the summit of baseball.
"They came in last year and they knew they had unfinished business," Yost said on Sunday. "That left a big hole in the middle of their chests, losing Game 7 of the World Series. They came in this year focused, and what's motivating them is making history. They know that they have an opportunity to go to three consecutive World Series and win back-to-back World Series. Quite frankly, they know they were 90 feet from going for a three-peat this year. They're every bit as motivated to come back and do it again."
Another intangible quality will help this team. The Royals are a close-knit bunch. They speak of a sense of community, a feeling of familial affection. They do not fit the modern stereotype of 25 individuals checking with their agents to see what their next move should be.
"This is more like a high school or a college team because of how close we are," Hosmer says. "I think that's special. That starts with [general manager] Dayton [Moore], not only looking for talent, but looking for character, looking for the right guys to come in and build a team with. When it's all said and done, we all realize how important character is in the whole thing. Just seeing how everybody has bought into our style of play and bought into our approach; that takes the character that Dayton looks for."
Further reasons for optimism spring from the fact that some of the Royals' core of everyday players can be considered as young and still developing. In that category, Yost lists Hosmer, catcher Salvador Perez, third baseman Mike Moustakas and outfielder Lorenzo Cain. Cain will be 30 in April, but his development was slowed by injuries earlier in his career, so he may still be on the way up.
"You just see them getting better and better every year," Yost said. "None of those guys have really reached their ceiling, even though they're experienced world champions. They're really a special group, because they know when to have fun, but they really know when to get after it, too. And when it is time to get after it, they get after it like no team I've ever had before. They know that they can continue to get better. I feel like none of them have hit their ceiling yet, and they can continue to get better. "
Of Cain's ceiling in particular, Yost said: "It's very high; you might need a pair of binoculars."
There is a very upbeat atmosphere around the 2016 Royals, and why not? They're the defending World Series champions. They're smiling more than they were last year at this time, but that doesn't mean their resolve is diminishing.
"It's a fun environment to be around," Yost said. "But they've got confidence in who they are now. Last year was a perfect example. We don't panic. We don't get uptight. They never stop believing no matter what the situation is. They never stop competing. They just play it out until the game is done. More times than not, they'll find a way to overcome obstacles and win baseball games."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.