Baseball, Headlines

Confessions of the only* Milwaukee Brewers fan in Melbourne

The first professional baseball game I ever attended in person, if you can believe, was a 1991 Toronto Blue Jays game at the Toronto SkyDome. It’s probably as far as you can get from my then hometown of Jakarta, Indonesia, and much of that memory is fleeting. What I do remember, for some reason, was that Kelly Gruber was on that team. So out of a roster that included Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar and Toronto legend Joe Carter, I remember Gruber. He wasn’t very good, but was sufficiently talented to earn two All-Star berths and of course, a World Series ring with the Blue Jays. It was perhaps, a foreshadowing of what would become of me as a baseball fan; off beat and decidedly off kilter, and somewhat irrational.

Let’s start by saying, if you aren’t born in a North American city with a baseball team in it, then your choices come down to a certain selection criteria you can abide by. Now of course, for those of you born into baseball heritage and cities filled with its rich sporting history, then by all means, you are a legacy fan- born of a Yankee father, or a Red Sox mother, or a parents and grandparents of Cardinal lore.

For those like me, it can come down to one or two things:

1. Marketing exposure/bandwagon jumping: It’s easy, you’re a Yankees fan, a Red Sox fan (after 2004), a Cardinals fan (why?), or, like I see so many here in Melbourne; Dodger fan (because they’re from LA?). Being so far away from the action, and not being an American transplant, it will be apparent if you’re fan of a big team whose marketing prowess (or in the case of a few teams, their on-field success) is fuelled by deep pockets and savvy PR. For some, searching for some American identity, a well-known team like the Red Sox or the Dodgers becomes an easy team to like.

2. Gut instinct and true, unbridled passion for the team:  For some time, I thought myself to be a Phillies fan. Having lived in Philadelphia through high school, I thought supporting the local team would be the way to go. And so I followed along with a loose connection without ever really feeling a strong passion for them. They won a World Series and I thought, “that’s nice”, and when they lost one the next year I thought, “that’s too bad”, but was never really moved either way.

Enter the Milwaukee Brewers. It was an instant connection, my passion for baseball, thought long dormant by my pseudo fandom for the Phillies, was brought back tenfold when a game of MLB2k12 randomly landed me in control of the Brewers. It was passion at first play and since then, I’ve done everything I can to prove that while my fandom took time getting there, wavering through fairweatherness, it’s now found its footing. Like going through life with many girlfriends before finally finding your future wife; once you know, you know. And now I can safely say, that I’m the only* Milwaukee Brewers fan here in Melbourne, Australia, the first since Dave Nilsson packed his cleats and left Wisconsin for Japan.

Just a guy named "Scooter"

Just a guy named “Scooter”

This year marked the first year I can well and truly say I am part of the Brewers faithful. Continents removed from Miller Park, I passionately embraced every BrewCrew win, joyously celebrating Carlos Gomez homers, Jean Segura steals and Lucroy RBIs (the first two earning their well-deserved trip to the All-Star Game). 2013 was of course, an excruciatingly testing year for the Brewers, hobbled by injuries to Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez, the ceiling came crashing down when its once proud son, the future of the franchise, Ryan Braun became the joke to a disgraceful BioGenesis PED scandal once reserved for the likes of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. It was a painful blow for a small market team, having chosen Braun over Prince Fielder as its one monster contract player; the team is now saddled with Braun’s hefty contract until 2020.

But I’m still here. Instead of cheering on Braun and Hart homers, I revelled in stunning Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura plays. I stuck around when the losses piled up and the team stunk through woeful pitching, anaemic batting and less than stellar luck. I was there, for almost 162 games, of mediocrity, flashes of brilliance, and a hopeful look towards 2014.

I will forgive Ryan Braun when he comes back and welcome him with open arms, and until then, I’ll tell myself Logan Schafer is just as good. Rickie Weeks is old and hobbled, but who needs him when you’ve got someone named Scooter. And yes, I’ll even tell myself that someday Johnny Hellweg will win a Cy Young (and yes, for the Brewers).

It’s that irrationality and loss of all common sense that proves I’m true Brew. Not because irrationality and loss of logic is synonymous with Brewers baseball, but because it goes hand in hand with true fandom.

My name is Billy, and I am a true Milwaukee Brewers fan.

 

 

 

 

*clearly, this is not true. It just feels like it sometimes in the sea of Yankee, Red Sox, Dodgers garb. 

[hr]

Advertisements
Standard
Baseball

The Fall of Ryan Braun

I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary again, where in the supplementary Tenth Inning, a great deal of time is dedicated to Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire’s home run chase of 1998. It was swing and after beautiful swing, every crack of the bat, and the long soaring flight of all the balls as they sailed out into the crowd, into the decks, and into oblivion, one after another. It was such a beautiful time in baseball. Reeling after the crippling strike of 1994, the home run chase proved to be the perfect elixir to the greed doldrums, and both Sosa and McGwire became icons of the sport for not only enthralling a nation mired in a Presidential scandal, but one that was looking for solace in its old pastime.

Innocence is beautiful” says Pedro Martinez as he flashes a smile. There is a glint in his eye as he talks about his countryman Sosa, yet he knows that time and history will not look back on Sosa’s accomplishments with the kind of love and fervour America and the world showed him and McGwire as they chased, and ultimately, smashed Roger Maris’ record. But for that moment, for that year, as the world looked in on every at-bat, it was one of the greatest races in sports.

“Innocence is beautiful” -Pedro Martinez, talking about 1998 in the documentary ‘Baseball’.

Innocence however, hasn’t been beautiful for Ryan Braun. Now suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season for violating the MLB’s “Basic Agreement and Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program”, the much promised and talented Milwaukee Brewers star will live for the rest of his career under the same cloudy murk McGwire and Sosa live under thanks to this disgraceful Biogenesis debacle. His long stubborn stance proclaiming innocence looks ridiculous in hindsight, and his vehement protest against the process in which the 2012 drug test progressed is both awkward and rather ridiculous (even dragging Packers QB Aaron Rodgers into the mess as he stood up for his friend). It seethed of arrogance, and now with hat in hand, much of his words are neither entirely apologetic and/or filled with accountability. It’s a new kind of “what you do when you get caught”.

Perhaps this wasn’t too unexpected, but there was still a part of me, as a Brewers fan and as a fan of the game of baseball, that players in this day and age would have learned some, any, lessons. Or at the very least, have been collectively savvy enough to avoid the potential pitfalls of strip mall prescriptions. Maybe we want our stars to have learned their lessons, but in truth, when we all put so much on the success of these stars, it’s not hard to see the pressures of expectations and promise from such a young age.

Ryan Braun will probably never be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the Brewers have to accept the fact that the face of the franchise, our superstar, our beloved hero, is much less than we all hoped he would be. For this season, it won’t be too much of a loss. The Brewers are mired in mediocrity and have been without Braun for long stretches of the season, so continued reliance on talented youngsters like Jean Segura will be nothing new. There’s a chance for the likes of Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl to make an impact, while consistency from veteran players like Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy and Aramis Ramirez will continue to make a difference. But next year and the years ahead? We’ll have to wait and see Braun’s return to Miller Park and whether hometown fans will welcome him back with open arms (no doubt in opposing parks however, he was already hearing the chorus of boos before this suspension).

One of my Brewers shirts has Braun’s name emblazoned on the back. I’ll still wear the shirt because I still love the team, and a part of me wants to ignore the consequences of his actions because there’s a belief that the club, the franchise, will always be bigger than any player. But in baseball, that isn’t always the case. And because as a fan, he’s your guy, on your team. Innocence is beautiful and the support for your team is blind.

Buster Olney’s words on Braun are perhaps the most painful. For baseball fans and for fans of what we perceive to be heroes and ambassadors of the game;

“Their Cal Ripken is not Cal.”

One of the greatest falls of recent times.

Standard
Baseball

Silver Lining Playbooks: Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura tabbed for All-Star berth

Jean Segura: One of the bright spots for the Brewers this year.

Jean Segura: One of the bright spots for the Brewers this year.

 

It’s been one of those years for the Milwaukee Brewers. The kind that seem to go on forever with every possible disastrous turn of events sinking the team lower and lower into the depth’s of season’s despair. The latest, Johnny Hellweg’s pitiful ERA, is just another layer in the crap cake that’s being served at Miller Park this year. It’s hard to put too much on Hellweg however, the poor kid’s being thrown into the deep end with little or no support, but there’s little forgiving a 12.79 ERA through two starts. Yet, you can’t really put it all on the kid’s shoulders. Fielding errors in the last few games (with plenty of blame to go around- Segura, Ramirez) have added to the team’s lack of run production. Without Ryan Braun in the lineup, Ramirez on shaky knees, and no Corey Hart for the season, much of the hitting production has been left up to the likes of Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Nori Aoki and a round robin of youngsters yoyo-ing up and down from Triple-A Nashville (Josh Prince, Caleb Gindl, Scooter Gennett). The Brewers need more from the Jonathan Lucroy and Rickie Weeks, otherwise waiting around for guys like Yuni Betancourt and Juan Francisco to hit big means we’ll probably be waiting for a long, long time.

Then there’s the mediocre pitching all around. It seems that every time you tune in, Kyle Lohse is struggling, or John Axford stinks again, and lately, Hellweg getting knocked out of games early. A feared pitching rotation it is not. Silver lining? Both Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura were picked to represent the club at the All-Star Game. It’s not much but both have been putting in the hard yards and have kept afloat a struggling ball club. Carlos Gomez has been fielding a few beauties lately and Segura’s play at the plate has been significant.

Long season’s are part of every club’s cycle. 2013 will be a season to forget in Milwaukee but there’s still the opportunity for some of the youngsters to get in a few games and build on some promising futures. The Brewers could nab themselves some decent draft picks come next draft, so the team will continue to get some young legs in. It wasn’t long ago the Brewers were plying their trade in the NLCS (just two years ago), and in time and continued play from the likes of Gomez and Segura, Miller Park will be home to important games again. Just not this year.

Standard