KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- George Brett was back in uniform at Kauffman Stadium with that familiar No. 5 stitched to the back of his jersey, hanging over the dugout railing Tuesday night and watching with a vested interest.
The Hall of Fame third baseman was appointed the Royals' interim hitting coach during their latest road trip, so their return to Kansas City for a nine-game homestand meant that Brett was back in the dugout for a game that truly mattered for the first time since his playing days.
Brett has remained close to the Royals over the years, serving as a vice president and helping out in spring training. But he had always balked at the opportunity to a full-time coach.
"I'm real excited today because I get to go out on the field," said Brett, whose first attempts at batting practice during the road trip were scuttled by the schedule and lousy weather. "This will be the first day of being out on the field with them, so I'm really looking forward to that."
The last time that Brett wore a Royals jersey at the K for a game that counted was Sept. 29, 1993, his last home game as a player. He drove in a run in a 3-2 win over Cleveland.
That's precisely the kind of production the Royals hope that Brett can help produce as a coach.
The team ranked near the bottom of the league in just about every offensive category when hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David were reassigned to the minor leagues last week. Young cornerstones such as Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas haven't been hitting, and the team had dropped to its familiar spot in the AL Central cellar after starting off the season on a 17-10 run.
Nobody seems to know whether Brett will be as good of a coach as he was a player -- he went to 13 All-Star games, after all. In fact, even Brett has tempered expectations by saying that he'll evaluate where the team is after a month on the job and consider whether to continue all summer.
"If everybody goes out there and does their job, we have a chance to be competitive," Brett said, "but if everybody goes out there and tries to be somebody they're not, we're going to struggle. I think that's what you see on a team that's never really won before when they go through streaks like this."
Brett said that he spoke to the team along with special assignment coach Pedro Grifol before Tuesday night's game against the Minnesota Twins, and "you could hear a pin drop."
"I'm not lecturing them," Brett added. "I'm just telling them to enjoy themselves and give a few pointers here and there. Once the game starts, see the ball and hit it."
If only it were that easy.
Brett agreed that he was a natural hitter, one of the very best to ever play the game. His pursuit of the .400 mark during a memorable 1980 season came up just short, but the .390 batting average that he finished the year with is so iconic that a sports bar at the K is named for it.
"I told the guys today, the old expression, `Easier said than done?' It's easier for me to do than say," Brett said. "'I'm going to relate to you guys. I'm going to do my best to relate. But again, it's easier for me to do than talk about it."
Brett underscored his point by bringing up Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams and Charlie Lau, a journeyman player who earned acclaim as one of baseball's best hitting coaches.
"They said Ted Williams was the greatest hitter of all time. My dad told me that my entire life," Brett said. "Ted Williams wasn't a very good hitting coach. Charlie Lau wasn't a very good player, but he was one heck of a really good hitting coach. You don't find many guys who were good hitters that are good coaches, but that doesn't mean I can't try when the organization has asked me."
Brett said he's trying to get the Royals' young lineup to simplify their collective approaches, and that many of their slumps have been compounded by too many thoughts running through their heads.
He wants just about everyone to get back to their fundamentals.
"It's going to take some time," said Royals manager Ned Yost, who along with general manager Dayton Moore was instrumental in finally managing to convince Brett to come aboard.
"I see little glimpses of improvement already," Yost said, "but it's going to take some time. We're not going to be able to flip the light switch and all of a sudden everything is going to be great. But I think in the long run with George everything is going to be great."