KANSAS CITY – Royals manager Ned Yost grew up a rabid Giants fan, but it’s a memory from the Oakland Coliseum that still brings a smile to his face.
He and his friends used to sneak into the A’s ballpark and hide in the bathroom until batting practice started, then they’d shag fly balls in the stands.
“One time Vida Blue was throwing a side session, and I ran down to get his autograph but I didn’t have anything for him to sign,” Yost recalled Monday. “The only thing I had was a dollar bill, so I asked Vida if he’d sign it, and he signed “Vida Blue” on the dollar bill.”
What a cherished possession it was – for about five innings.
“I was the happiest guy in the stadium until about the sixth inning, and I got hungry,” Yost said. “So I spent my Vida Blue autograph on a Colossal Dog.”
Nothing brought a bigger smile to Yost’s face on Monday than reminiscing about his local ties. So it’s a special experience for his Royals to host the Giants for Games 1 and 2 of the World Series before heading to the Bay Area to continue the Fall Classic. Yost, 60, attended Dublin High School and Chabot College in Hayward, but he’s not the only member of Kansas City’s coaching staff who will be going home.
Bench coach Don Wakamatsu and bullpen coach Doug Henry both attended high school in Hayward, and hitting coach Dale Sveum is from Pinole.
In high school, that trio played summer ball together on the same Connie Mack squad as future Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson. Now they’re coaching under Yost, who managed the Milwaukee Brewers from 2003-08 and now has led the Royals back to the Major League promised land for the first time in 29 years.
Not only had Kansas City not played in the World Series since 1985, they hadn’t even qualified for the postseason since then, the longest playoff drought of any professional team in any of the four major North American sports.
Yost earned his share of criticism during the regular season for some head-scratching strategic decisions, particularly regarding the use of his bullpen. But he also gets credit from those within the organization for instilling an aggressiveness and confidence in his players that’s helped the Royals sweep eight playoff games on the way to the World Series, the first team ever to do so.
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“Ned’s very fearless, there’s no fear in anything he does,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “He’s so intense, extremely competitive. There’s so much more to doing that job than what you see on the field. Ned’s been able to create a great culture in the clubhouse.”
But Yost said his managerial style has required some tweaks since his tenure with the Brewers.
“My mindset was always to try to mold my players into what I thought they should be, “ Yost said. “That comes from growing up in an environment (coaching with former Braves manager) Bobby Cox, who had very strict rules and ideas about the game. You realize now it’s a different type of player than it was 10 year ago, and a totally different player from when I came up. I think one of the big lessons I learned was quit trying to mold them to be like you and just let them be themselves.”
Yost grew up a huge Willie Mays fan and says he wore out about 15 Giants hats as a youth. And about 20 years after that memorable Coliseum experience, Yost found himself working a baseball clinic with Vida Blue, and he relayed his story about the famed left-hander to kids at the clinic.
“At the end of the clinic,” Yost said Monday, “Vida came up and handed me an autographed dollar bill. So that was cool.”