Five years ago today, Eric Hosmer made his Major League debut against the Oakland Athletics at the age of 21. The Royals were off to decent start at 17-15, but they would drop 35 of 54 in May and June on their way to a 91-loss season. Kila Kaaihue was the starting first baseman up to that point, but with the 27-year old hitting .195/.295/.317, the Royals decided to bring up their 2008 first round pick, the 21-year old Eric Hosmer.
30,000 fans came out to see Hosmer, with nearly 10,000 tickets sold after the club announced his promotion. Among those in attendance were Eric's mother Ileana and his father Mike, who tossed batting practice to young Eric when he wasn't working long shifts as a firefighter.
"When I called my family, I didn’t say ‘ I made it.’ I said ‘ We made it,’ " Hosmer said during a news conference Friday. "It was a complete family effort."
Hosmer would face a buddy from his native South Florida, A's starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez. Hosmer drew a walk in his first two Major League plate appearances, and thrilled fans by stealing second in the fourth. The slugger came up in the eighth and ninth innings, with the Royals trailing Oakland 3-2. But Hosmer would fail to put the ball in play in Major League debut, striking out looking both times.
But the game itself didn't matter. What the promotion signaled, was that the Royals youth movement was here. As former editor Will McDonald wrote at the time:
This is, essentially, our wedding night with Eric Hosmer. A new life is starting, all anticipation and hope. He has never failed at the Major League level yet. Anything is possible. In some sense, it will never be better than this. He might be a Hall of Famer! And after years of waiting, he's here. To paraphrase the legendary scout Art Stewart, this actually is probably a day we will remember.
However, Hosmer's arrival is also an important moment in the history of the franchise. Since, oh, about mid-season last year, the buzz and hype and excitement surrounding the Royals farm system has grown almost hourly. Yes, it is fun to talk about these guys as they progress through the minors, but with Hosmer's promotion Dayton Moore's Hyped Youth Movement is Truly Beginning.
And begin it did. Alcides Escobar was already the starting shortstop. Jarrod Dyson was on the club for Hosmer's debut, appearing as a pinch runner. Danny Duffy would his make Major League debut a few weeks later. Mike Moustakas would get the call in June. In August, Royals fans would witness the Major League debut of Salvador Perez. Lorenzo Cain would join the Royals in September. Kelvin Herrera would see two innings of Major League action that September as well.
A few days later, in Yankee Stadium, Eric Hosmer announced his presence.
Hosmer has had his ups and downs, hot streaks where he looks like a superstar mixed with power droughts that would make Chris Getz blush. But it is hard to deny that Eric Hosmer has become the star of this team, the spokesman for the club on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the player featured in ads for "MLB The Show", the one mobbed at Justin Bieber concerts, the one dating a model.
He also has some of the biggest post-season hits in franchise hits. The triple in the Wild Card game. The home run in Anaheim. The "booty knock" against the Astros. The mammoth home run in Houston. His single against the Blue Jays. His walk off sacrifice fly in the World Series. And of course, his most iconic post-season moment wasn't even a hit, it was a mad dash home.
Has Eric Hosmer met all the expectations thrust upon him? Yes and no. He has never made an All-Star team. He has never had a 4 WAR season. He has never had a 20 home run season. He is a career .282 hitter.
On the other hand, he was the integral part of two pennant winning clubs and one championship team. He was the bat we all wanted up in the most clutch situations. He is the one whose name adorns the backs of t-shirts seen at the K. He is the one that smiled on stage in front of 800,000 screaming fans dressed in blue at Union Station last fall.
And all it took was five years.