Ned Yost strode through a ballroom inside Bartle Hall, where the Kansas City Royals were having their annual fan festival, unsure of who will be in his lineup when spring training begins next month.
The often-crusty manager was smiling, anyway.
The reason was twofold: Yost is excited about the future of the organization, which is expected to rebuild around a wave of young players after the old core became free agents, and he's feeling good after a terrifying fall from a hunting stand last November left him with a broken pelvis and other injuries.
"I'm still supposed to be in a wheelchair right now," Yost said, "so I'm way ahead of schedule."
Yost was checking the stands on his Georgia farm when one of them suddenly buckled, sending the avid outdoorsman on a perilous 20-foot drop. The fracture pelvis led to so much bleeding that surgeons wondered whether he would survive, and four broken bones only complicated the healing process.
For weeks, the only movement Yost was allowed was to reposition himself in a lounge chair, and he passed the time by responding to an avalanche of text messages and staring at the wall.
He didn't read books. He didn't watch TV. He didn't do much of anything.
"I don't know why but time just flew," he said. "After eight weeks I was supposed to be 25 percent of my weight on my leg for a month, and I tried that for a day or two. I felt great, I was moving, so I dumped everything to see how far I could go. I haven't looked back."
No wheelchairs or crutches anymore. Just two legs to take Yost wherever he wants to go.
"The other day I got home, I looked at the watch – it counts your steps – and I had over 11,000 steps on there," he said, "so that's a pretty good day moving around."
Yost will have a cart available when the team congregates next month in Surprise, Arizona, though he doesn't expect to use it much. Then again, he'll probably be covering more practice fields and checking on more players than in recent years, when his lineup was mostly established: Eric Hosmer at first base and Mike Moustakas at third, Alcides Escobar at shortstop and Lorenzo Cain in center.
That quartet led the Royals to back-to-back American League pennants and their first World Series title in three decades before slipping last season, then hitting free agency once it was over.
Hosmer and Moustakas remain unsigned, and there is still an outside chance a slow free-agent market allows them to return to Kansas City. Cain agreed to an $80 million, five-year contract to return to the Milwaukee Brewers, while Escobar and the Royals are discussing a deal for his return.
"All of them could end up back here, here's hoping," pitcher Jason Hammel said, "but it's not really a thing we can control. So I don't think we're really too worried about it."
Regardless of what happens, this year's Royals figure to look a whole lot different.
"I'm excited about seeing some of these young guys more than anything else," Yost said. "We're a little bit farther along than the last time because (some of them) have had big league success."
Power-hitting outfielder Jorge Soler has had a taste of the majors. So has fellow outfielder Jorge Bonifacio and infielder Raul Mondesi Jr. All of them are expected to compete for starting jobs.
"Obviously we knew these guys were leaving. I think that's why there was such a big deal last year about them leaving, the potential for moving on," designated hitter Brandon Moss said. "Those guys will end up A, where they want to be, and B, with a contract they deserve."
In the meantime, Yost and the Royals are going to focus on who is already in camp, and the young players in the pipeline – former first-round pick Bubba Starling, for example – who could compete for a job in the starting lineup during spring training.
"I'm really excited. The group of guys we have up there, the majority of guys I played with and came up through the system," Starling said of the Royals' new, young core. "I've had my ups and downs but I'm looking forward to playing with them a lot."