Ned Yost is 60 years old and now a World Series champion so he absolutely, positively, no-question-about-it does not need to be here, standing above four bricks stacked on top of each other, his fists going up and down, up and down, ready to turn an otherwise quiet Tuesday morning into an impromptu World’s Strongest Manager contest.
“He’s either going to break his wrists,” says Donnie Moore, the motivational speaker here presenting to the Royals, “or he’s going break those bricks. One of the two.”
Yost is into it. His players and coaches are packed inside the batting cage, and the noise is a bit like the hype before a heavyweight title fight. This is Ned vs. The Bricks. Each brick is about 1 1/2 inches thick, and said to require 100 pounds of force to break, and that’s assuming you hit them exactly in the middle, at their weakest point. If you’re off just a bit to each side, you need more force.
Yost is a showman, in his own way. He squats behind the bricks, and smiles out toward his players. He raises his hands and flexes his fingers. There are many ways to break bricks. You can use your forearm, or perhaps the back of the arm above the elbow. Yost is opting for two fists. No subtlety with this man.
He puts one fist inside the other and pushes down on a small towel placed on top of the bricks, there for a target and protection. Yost raises his fists once, then twice, and on the third he pauses just for a quick moment before bringing everything he has down and through a stack of concrete.
The bricks collapse into the middle, and later his left arm and both hands will be marked with large, deep scars. But at the moment, it’s adrenaline and testosterone and accomplishment as Yost raises his arms in triumph and looks out on a standing ovation with the kind of smile reserved for winning a fight or a World Series.
Moore and his partner, Dean Johnson, do presentations like this a lot for a company they call Radical Reality. Their focus is high school kids, and find that the shock-value of breaking bricks or ripping phone books or bending frying pans gets the attention of kids who need it.
Moore is the Oakland A’s team chaplain, so word has gotten around baseball. These meetings are more fun than anything. They presented for the Royals before the 2014 season (won a pennant), and before the 2015 season (won the World Series). They’ve done dozens of others, for teams across the sport.
“I’ve never been present to see a manager or coach or player or anyone break the bricks like that,” Johnson says.
With the bricks crumbled in front of him, Yost high-fives Moore and Johnson, and then does what amounts to a victory lap around his players. Luke Hochevar is there for a high-five. Lorenzo Cain is standing in awe. Eric Hosmer is laughing.
“That was legit,” Hosmer says. “He’s got all those scars, and it looked pretty bad, but he’s tough. A lot tougher than we thought.”
In theory, at least, Yost is doing this to deliver a message to his guys. As Moore put it, if your leader will stand up and do this, there’s nothing he won’t do for you.
But, yes, sure, absolutely, this is also sports and the day of spring training game No. 16, so in reality this is more about fun and bonding and creating a story to tell. Mike Jirschele, the third base coach, laid on his back with a cinder block on his chest as Moore stood above him, swinging a sledgehammer. Jirschele’s sternum survived. The brick did not.
And maybe the key to all of this is to act like it’s no big deal. That is Yost’s approach, anyway. The idea of a man nearing retirement using his fists to break a stack of bricks is enough on its own. The feat loses some luster if it’s pimped too much, so you have to respect Yost’s decision to treat the whole thing like he took out the garbage.
“Nothing to it,” Yost says. “I can handle all the feats of strength myself.”
He doesn’t laugh when he says this, but even a short time after, the scar on his left arm is swollen. The blood is thick and dried and dark. He goes into the clubhouse for a time while the players and coaches start their daily workout.
He comes out a half-hour or so later, by now the scar on his left arm visible from 30 feet away. You see him walk toward the field, point to your own arm, and ask if his is throbbing yet.
“Nah,” he says. “Just scrapes.”