KANSAS CITY -- Royals pitching coach Cal Eldred has been close friends with new manager Mike Matheny for close to 25 years.
Eldred and Matheny go on hunting trips together, as they have done on treks to Wyoming and Colorado in the past. Their families, with five children each, take vacations together.
Eldred and Matheny first met when Matheny broke in with the Brewers in 1994 and Eldred already was established on the Brewers staff. Their careers later crossed again for two years in St. Louis from 2003-04, and then again for three years there when Matheny was manager and Eldred was a special advisor to the general manager.
In other words, the friendship runs deep. But Eldred doesn’t think that closeness will affect them professionally within a pitching coach-manager relationship. The overall mission of the Royals has to trump their friendship, Eldred said.
“I think it’s going to be fantastic,” Eldred told MLB.com by phone. “I know how he thinks, so that helps a lot. But there are times I know we won’t agree. But we know how to handle that. And I think it’s healthy to disagree. You want to have as many viewpoints as you can. We’re friends but that won’t interfere with our duties.”
It's also fortunate for Matheny that he will inherit a pitching coach able to already give honest appraisals of every Royals pitcher.
“We’ve had discussions, sure,” Eldred said. “And I think we both feel there is an opportunity for many of these pitchers to take a huge step forward. This is an important offseason for a lot of them.”
Perhaps no one in the Royals organization was more pleased with the Matheny hiring than Eldred, who said Kansas City fans will come to appreciate Matheny for his loyalty and intensity.
“To tell you the kind of guy he is,” Eldred said, “I was with the White Sox in the late ‘90s and he was with Toronto and we were playing in Chicago. I got hurt while pitching. And after the game, outside the tunnel, he was waiting for me to see if I was OK. He hadn’t even taken his jersey off. He just had to know if I was OK.”
Eldred also can see the obvious about Matheny: A strong connection with general manager Dayton Moore.
“I’m really excited about that aspect,” Eldred said. “I think Mike’s a good manager. I think the way he and Dayton will work together will really be beneficial. They have a few differences but that’s good. They both want to win and they won’t let up.
“I think in today’s game it’s important to have that manager-general manager relationship. You see front offices structure rosters and want them to be used a certain way. Coaching staffs have to be on same page.
“And Mike knows how to button his lip and take bullets. His communication skills to the players is really good. He’s a nonstop worker and you have to have that.”
Eldred saw first-hand what went on with Matheny in St. Louis, with Matheny was dismissed midway through the 2018 season.
“Yep, I saw what was going on,” Eldred said. “If you look at their team, and you take personalities and personnel out of it, take the GM and club president out of it, and the one thing they lacked since Albert Pujols left was a presence in the middle of the lineup. Did they have success? Sure. But ultimately, that lack of presence in the middle really hurt them.
“In the end, there has to be a fall guy. I don’t necessarily agree with it. Mike’s a friend.”
Eldred is eager to get started, working toward 2020.
“The thing Mike and I will be talking about is basically how to get the most out of what we have,” Eldred said. “We’re not going to be big spenders on the free agent market. So, Mike and I have to take inventory and figure out what we have going forward and how to best utilize them.”