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For Kansas City Royals manager, only 2 seasons count

Friday, January 31, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — Royals manager Ned Yost laughs when he says that he could be the punch line of a joke told by one of his best buddies, comedian Jeff Foxworthy.

It would go something like this: "When you name the deer you are hunting, you just might be a redneck."

When Yost and Foxworthy hunt deer together in western Georgia, they are so familiar with the big bucks that roam their land they give them names.

"We don't name them all," Yost said. "Only the very special bucks get names."

For example, there was Will Smith, the trophy buck that Foxworthy recently shot with his bow.

"Jeff named him that because it had hair that reminded him of Will Smith's," Yost said.

Then there was Bo Jr., named after Bo Jackson. And Butkus, a brute that reminds them of former Bears linebacker Dick Butkus. And Bullwinkle, named after ... well, you know. And Chief. And Wil Myers.

Wil Myers?

"I named him that because I thought that buck had a lot of potential to grow into something special, just like Wil," Yost said of Myers, a former Royal who was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Then there was Batman, Spider-Man, Herschel Walker and — you get the idea.

Life is never dull at this deer camp.

When Yost and Foxworthy get together with other major-league ballplayers, such as Jon Lester, J.D. Drew and Kevin Millwood, who also live in their neighborhood, it's good ol' boy humor at its best.

"The great thing is that we're not on stage," Yost said. "We can just be ourselves.

"We have a great little deer-hunting community down here, and it's a lot of fun."

As part of that fun, the 10 friends who hunt together divide into two teams and have a season-long competition to see which can find the most success. One team is called the Killbillies. The other is the Thump Monkeys.

They hunt on the 700 acres Yost owns and the 3,000 acres 15 miles away that Foxworthy owns.

"I am hunting every day of the season," Yost said. "From the time baseball season ends and I get back to my ranch, I'll be out every day until bow season ends Jan. 15."

Many of those trips are spent alongside Foxworthy, Yost's longtime friend. They met in the 1990s, when Yost was a coach for the Atlanta Braves and Foxworthy was an avid fan. They found that they had a shared passion — hunting — and they hit it off immediately.

Foxworthy had long owned prime deer-hunting land in western Georgia and had hired professionals to manage the habitat, food and other needs of the deer. For Yost, the path to deer hunting in rural Georgia was more of an indirect route.

He grew up in California, where he loved the outdoors. But he was more into hunting ducks than deer. That changed when he married Deborah, who is from Jackson, Miss.

"A lot of her friends and family were deer hunters," Yost said. "She introduced me to some people, I started hunting with them, and I really had a great time."

Once he met Foxworthy, that passion for deer hunting only grew. Yost bought a large tract of land seven years ago and went to work to turn it into a deer paradise.

"It's 400 acres of pine, 200 acres of hardwoods and 100 acres of fields," Yost said. "The entire place is managed for deer and other wildlife.

"We plant beans, corn, clover, chicory — crops that deer like to eat. We grow some big bucks down here."

The photos tell the story. Although Yost says he isn't into posing with his trophy kills, there are a few photos floating around that show him with some monster bucks.

When he talks about the deer living on his and Foxworthy's land, it sounds like some type of math equation.

"We've taken a 178, a 165, and two or three 150s this season," Yost said, referring to the score of the measurements of the antlers. "Big deer."

Yes, Foxworthy, Yost and the others laugh and have a great time when they're in deer camp, but they're dead serious about their hunting. Using primarily archery equipment, the hunters shot 19 deer on Yost's land this season and another 70 to 80 on Foxworthy's farm.

Most of the deer were does, and the venison was donated to help feed the needy. But it's those special bucks — the ones with names — that they are after.

And when the group isn't hunting? Well, thoughts turn to fishing.

Foxworthy has a large lake on his land, and it has produced some 8- to 10-pound bass. Yost also had a 30-acre lake built on his land, and though it's only a few years old, it already has produced some 5-pound bass.

Ned and Deb are building a home that overlooks that lake, offering a peaceful view of the land they hold special.

This, after all, is Ned's sanctuary, his get-away-from-it-all place. It's far from the glare of the spotlight, the pressure of decision-making, the critics, the reporters.

He can hop onto his tractor and into his pickup truck and just be Ned, the farmer. Ned, the deer farmer.

"We go at it hard," Yost said. "But the (deer) season's over now.

"It's time for baseball, and I can't wait to get started."

 


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