SAN DIEGO – Dove Tail Bats Model P13435, a 34-inch, 32-ounce piece of rock maple run on a lathe July 7 specifically for Eric Hosmer, has a nickname chiseled into its barrel: The Champ. About 4 inches away from the label of the bat Hosmer swung Tuesday night were muddled, light-blue, backward letters. Put up to a mirror, the stamp’s words became much clearer: ALL-STAR FUTURES GAME.
The combination of a fresh ball and the bat speed Hosmer generates with his vicious left-handed swing tattooed the logo onto the barrel during batting practice. It was a perfect portent for what happened in the actual All-Star Game a few hours later, when Hosmer launched an opposite-field home run into the Petco Park stands, hammered an RBI single, helped propel the American League to a 4-2 victory over the National League and won Hosmer All-Star Game MVP honors.
They could’ve just as easily gone to Hosmer’s teammate with the Kansas City Royals, Salvador Perez, who followed Hosmer’s second-inning home run with a two-run shot of his own. Both came off National League starter Johnny Cueto, who helped Kansas City win a championship last season. The Royals, beneficiaries of the World Series home-field advantage won through the All-Star Game in 2014 and ’15, paid it forward this time.
“I felt like a proud papa there in the second inning after those two guys gave us the lead, and I was really excited,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been that proud of two players in a moment like that, and that was really special for me.”
The whole rigmarole tickled Yost because Hosmer didn’t experience any of it last year. While eight of his teammates made the trip to Cincinnati for the 2015 All-Star Game, Hosmer stayed at home, not selected by the fans and passed over by Yost because of Mark Teixeira’s superior numbers at first base and Yost’s desire for third baseman Mike Moustakas to play in the game for his terminally ill mother, who later died.
Hosmer harbored no hard feelings, no ill will. He’s the unquestioned leader of the Royals at 26 years old and should have plenty more All-Star Games ahead of him. Still, he treated this week like a one-shot deal, party-hopping on Monday night and showing up a smidgen worse for the wear on the day of the game.
Not that it affected him or anything. Hosmer saw a 90-mph cutter from Cueto run over the plate and unfurled his swing, a long, gorgeous, torque-sponsored cut that gives him the sort of power to take out a ball to the opposite field.
“If you want to come in to Hosmer, you’ve got to come in hard,” Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera said. “He’s got a lot of power. If he can catch a ball there, you know what he’s going to do.”
He caught one, and 389 feet later, it tied the game at 1. Cubs star Kris Bryant had greeted Chris Sale, his crosstown rival, rather rudely in the first inning, depositing a home run into the left-field stands after having previously struck out in all six at-bats against Sale. The AL, which had won the last three All-Star Games and 15 of the previous 19, tucked into its pitching depth and let Corey Kluber throw a perfect second inning before Hosmer and Perez’s home runs.
The two have played together since Hosmer’s first season in 2008, when Kansas City chose him third in the draft and gave him a $6 million bonus. Perez barely got one-one hundredth of that, signing as a projectable teenager for $65,000 out of Venezuela and ascending through the Royals’ system known more as a glove-first catcher than one with a chance to hit 30 home runs.
While Perez’s swing proved the game winner, Hosmer’s rocket single off Jose Fernandez in the third inning put him in position to win MVP. It wasn’t lost on his teammates. Miguel Cabrera, the two-time MVP whose Detroit Tigers are almost even with the Royals in the AL Central, went up to Yost and told him he didn’t want to come into the game until after Hosmer’s third at-bat because it might seal the MVP award. Even though Hosmer grounded out to start the sixth inning, it didn’t lessen Cabrera’s gesture.
“He was already one of my favorite guys in the league,” Hosmer said. “When he does something like that – listen, I know he’s the best first baseman in the game. I know he’s the best player in the game. And there was no bitterness as far as not being the starter. For him to do that says a lot about his character and really stands out to me.”
Along with the truck he took home for winning MVP, Hosmer left with a crystal bat to commemorate the honors. Which was fitting, because Hosmer needed a new stick. The National Baseball Hall of Fame will display Hosmer’s bat – with the Futures Game tattoo facing outward, of course.
Beyond the gifts, Hosmer gets the memories of his first All-Star Game – of David Ortiz’s pregame speech, of getting ready to jump on Fox for an in-game interview when Perez loosed his homer, of Will Harris striking out Aledmys Diaz with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, of Kluber’s victory and Zach Britton’s save, of his manager now undefeated in Midsummer Classics and of his two swings and two indelible impressions left – one on the bat, the other on the game.