"It was an extremely long day, but they never let up for a second until the final out."
Those were the words of manager Ned Yost referring to his Royals club that played past 1:00am after splitting a doubleheader with the division rival Chicago White Sox. That's a nice statement to be able to make after such a long day. It's also a mantra that Yost and Dayton Moore, the team's general manager, hope to be true of the under .500 club after September is done and gone.
The dog days of summer are coming true in baseball. No other sport features such a grind during the regular season. The heat of August. Life on the road. Games and even series that collapse one into another. The routine of the sport is both the beauty and frustration of the summer and for teams that fail to find themselves in a pennant race, things can easily unravel for everyone involved.
The reason is simple: there's nothing to really play for. Players and coaches worry about next season. Veterans wonder if they'll have a roster spot. Pretty soon, giving your all for the team becomes a bad decision. After all, consider the center fielder who could go up for the big grab at the wall. In the thick of a playoff hunt, that becomes an obvious chase considering each out is essential in the standings. But if it results in an injury and could affect your paycheck in the offseason, why bother at this point?
That's the challenge before Ned Yost and company at this stage of the game. It's at this point that the most inspirational leaders separate themselves, getting guys to buy into intangible reasons of "team pride" and "work ethic" instead of personal goals of finances and posturing for future positions. The contracts are guaranteed, so little is left to play for in Kansas City. That's bad news for the fans and, quite possibly, the team.
But Yost describes his club as the opposite. They're giving it their all through an arduous August day. Here's hoping that stretch continues through September as the Royals continue to gel together, have their young players mature and give fans a reason to hope in 2011.