The Sounds Grow Up

Nestled in Nashville, Herschel Greer Stadium is the home of the appropriately named Triple A franchise called the ‘Sounds’. They have been to the top of the mountain as a Milwaukee Brewer affiliate. In 2005, a group of players including Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, Cory Hart and Nelson Cruz won the Pacific Coast League Championship. All four became All-Stars in the Major Leagues. Later, the Sounds had another interesting group of players, all capable of moving up to the major league club an hour airplane ride to  Milwaukee. Scooter Gennett, Sean Halton, Caleb Gindl, Khris Davis and Logan Schafer all made their mark in the ‘Athens of the South’. Gennett was the young second baseman who many figured would be some years away from making it into the Show because Rickie Weeks, an All-Star filled that position in the Cream City. Sean Halton was the first baseman. A star position in Milwaukee, the legacy of first baggers from Mike Hegan, an original Brewer via the Pilots to George ‘Boomer’ Scott, onto St. Cecil of Cooper to Richie Sexton, from Lyle Overbay to Prince, was a position the Brewers rarely changed.
Sean Helton (26), from Fresno, CA, is a first baseman and outfielder. He attended Lewis-Clark State College and was drafted by Milwaukee. In limited action with the big club, he hit .238, with 4 home runs and had 17 RBIs.
Caleb Gindl (25) from Pace, FL, an outfielder by trade, has been a minor league All-Star in nearly every stop he has made. He was an All-Star with teammate, Jonathon Lucroy in the Rookie League. He was an Arizona Fall League Rising Star. He hit .307 in Nashville. Last year, for half a season, he batted .242 with 5 home runs and 14 RBIs in limited action with the Brewers.
Schafer (27) with one of the most graceful left-handed swings in baseball and graced with blinding speed, hit only .219 with 4 home runs and 38 RBIs in 2013 seeing limited duty behind Gomez and Aoki in the outfield.
Scooter Gennett from Sarasota, FL, the youngest of this group (23) was the surprise of the season as he took over for Weeks at second base and batted .324 with 6 home runs and 21 RBI during the last part of the 2013 season with Milwaukee.
Khris Davis (26), an Arizona high school All-State player at Deer Valley High School playing outfield, turned down offers to sign with the Washington Nationals and attended Cal State Fullerton. He has been a .280 hitter in Single A Appleton and a .280 hitter in Double A Huntsville. In Nashville he found he could hit at a .310 level. While moving up to the Brewers last season, he hit .279, 11 home runs with 27 RBIs in limited playing time.
Five young ballplayers who have been top performers in the minors within the Brewers farm system and are now at the gateway to their future. Davis is being given the chance to win the left field position as management has traded away Aoki and moved Braun from left to right. Will he be the star player in left everyone believes he can be? Gennett will beat out Rickie Weeks this season if not injured. A huge fan favorite, the undersized second baseman could become the fixture that began with Gaintner which was passed down to Weeks. Now is Scooter’s time.
But the other three face a daunting task. Are they ‘tweeners’ or are they the stars of the future many believed they could become. Helton will have a tough job at keeping his roster spot as he will have to compete and excel above the recently acquired Mark Reynolds who is on the downside of his career. He will have to hope that Juan Francisco doesn’t learn the art of being patient at the plate. And he has to bang the cover off the ball in Spring Training when given the chance to play. And that will be an issue. He has to excel in the split games and make the Brewers want to put him in the lineup come the last two weeks of Spring.
Schafer will have to fly around the outfield like the gazelle he is and make all of those Carlos-type catches he can also make. He has to hit like he has never hit before in Spring Training. This is the make or break season for Logan. Is he an Oglivie or a Travis Lee? Is he a legit Big Leaguer or a Tweener?
Gindl may be the odd man out. He is not as fast as Schafer but he has proven he can hit. In baseball, that is the defining factor. He can and must hit to make this team and become a factor everyone thought he would be.
Of these three, who will make the Show this season or return to the music madness in Nashville? In a few days we will find out.
For those who do not, they may have to be  ready to call an end to their boyhood dream.
Play Ball!
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Melvinitis

The Milwaukee Brewers have had eight general managers in their lifetime. Names like Marvin Milkes (his teams won 64 and 65 games) and trader Frank Lane (coming in 1971-72 winning 69 than 65 games) were the first two. One of the things Lane did was trade for George ‘Boomer’ Scott who became the cornerstone of great Milwaukee first basemen. Jim Wilson lasted for just two years, but brought the City the first 70+ winning seasons since the Braves historic run in Cream City. He had teams that won 74 games then 76. Of course, in typical Brewer ownership fashion, Wilson was replaced and was followed by Jim Baumer. In three seasons, Baumer regressed as his teams won 68, 68 and then 67 games.

Then the owner finally realized that he was not the smartest person and hired he greatest of all Brewer general managers with unquestioned credentials was the late, great Harry Dalton. For 15 years, he brought the Milwaukee nine to greatness with great managerial selections, incredible trades which rank near the top of all-time in the history of the game and an incredibly sad time toward the end of his reign as the owner barely spoke to him, rarely acknowledging him in public and in private treated him like an unwanted employee. Yet no one could match him in intelligence or humility. He was an incredibly well liked individual and understood the game better than most. He immediately hired George Bamberger, a tremendous pitching coach from Baltimore. The team immediately began to jell. They were the first to win 90+ games, with 93 and then 95, dropped back a bit to 86 after which he made the greatest trade in history by gaining Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich and then fought for the American League East title in 198 strike shortened season. Finally, after 20+ years in existence, in 1982 with a record 95 wins, under rookie manager, Harvey Kuenn, the Milwaukee Brewers won their first and only pennant, an American League pennant, falling short to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games of the World Series. From 1978 to 1991, before being demoted to V.P, Special Projects, Dalton’s teams finished below .500 only four times.

In 1992 he was followed by one of the most ill-equipped general managers of all-time, one Sal Bando. One had the feeling that here was a guy who angled for the job, kissing up to an under funded owner who needed a miracle. The unfortunate aspect of Bando’s hiring was that he drove the once proud franchise into one of its lowest periods of in history. In his years with the team in this capacity, other than the 1992 team he had inherited from Dalton, none of his teams finished above .500. He was reassigned in August of 1999 making his tenure as a GM, sub par  for 7 & 1/2 seasons.

Dean Taylor was brought in. In 2000 the Brewers won 73; ’01 his team won 68 and in ’02, they could only win 56, losing a record 106. Therefore, in twelve years following Dalton’s architecture, the Brewers were below .500 every year.

Doug Melvin, after leading the Texas Rangers to three post season playoffs as general manager, the first in that team’s 48 year history, he is replaced and spends a season as a special assistant to the Boston Red Sox before being hired by the Brewers, baseball’s answer to the tunnel without a light at the end of it. After two season, he brought the Brewer fans a .500 season. Then they fell below again, then two seasons above, then below, again above for two seasons and below.

In eleven seasons at the helm, he has had his team finish above .500 four times, even at .500 once and the remaining six season below. He is not Harry Dalton. He doesn’t work for an owner who is strapped for cash. He has brought in countless players who have been overpriced and under performed. He has let a treasure go twice. Prince Fielder was allowed to leave because they didn’t want to pay him. The Tigers stole him. Then just this past week, while in need of a first baseman for a team that has a history of terrific first basemen from George Scott to Cecil Cooper to Richie Sexton to Lyle Overbay to Prince… briefly Hart…he had an opportunity to get Prince back for a price less than what they offered him just two years ago. Fielder is of Brewer blood. He was drafted by Milwaukee. He came up through the ranks. He was a fan favorite. Can you imagine the enormous boost in fan morale to bring their Prince back? But no. He was messing around with destroying one of the better players the Brewers have ever had, Norichika Aoki, who was not even on the Brewer’s radar because Melvin had no Japanese scouts to witness a six-time Japanese batting champion, the best since Ichiro, to take the place of Braun in case that player was suspended. But Braun won that arbitration. Aoki is the best leadoff hitter, arguably in the entire game. He is consistent. And he is one of the few left-handed hitters in the game who kills left-handed pitching. But here is Melvin having lunch with the owner discussing whether to move Braun to right field, thus eliminating Aoki for someone who has not proven himself over the course of an entire season, a rookie to replace the former left fielder in left.

Melvin has had a history of dubious moves. Gagne, Suppan, Riske and Wolf, all over priced over-the-hill pitchers. The renting of C.C. Sabathia for a couple of months, whom he could not resign with the club. The renting of Greinke, who could not be resigned. The inclusion of Nelson Cruz, thrown into the Carlos Lee trade. The hiring of managers like Ken Macha and allowing assistant coaches like the horrible third base coach of the Brewers right now. Here is a coach who actually loses games for the team, consistently.

This is the year Melvin has to have this team perform, not like in the past, but be able to beat the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates in their division at home and on the road. This is the year the team has to reach the playoffs and win the National League pennant. This is the year to prove that he is capable of winning and setting the stage for plus .500 seasons to come.

It has been a long time since Harry Dalton set the plan of winning in Milwaukee. Now it is time for Melvinitis. Let’s hope it is a solution and not a disease. He has to begin winning.

Play Ball!

If It’s Milwaukee, It Must Be Kielbasa

Doctors may say that the quickest way to solve a psychological condition is to eat. It’s comfort food time. It’s ‘get better’ time. It’s like ‘when the child is sick, give them some chicken soup’ kinda thing. The baseball team from the Cream City needs some chicken soup. Or….a Kielbasa.

This year the Brewers have had three major issues: 1. The psychological hurdle of AP;  2. The calamity of the Bullpen and #3. The problem of having an inexperienced manager at the helm.

The Psychological hurdle of AP

The Milwaukee Brewers this season are a team in transition, from the dynamic youthful bunch who came up through the farm system to AP, an era known as After Prince. For years, the Brewers have had great First Basemen. It all began with the popular Mike Hegan, a member of the original Seattle Pilots from whence the Brewers came. He carried on the Milwaukee tradition of big banging first sackers that was set in the days of the Braves with Joe Adcock/Frank Torre/Nippy Jones fame. George “Boomer” Scott followed up and set a new standard of banging the ball around the park, with his 36 home runs with 109 RBI in 1975 being the hallmark. Then St. Cecil of Cooper (32 home runs with 121 RBI and .313 batting average in 1982), the man who brought the Brewers into the 1982 World Series with one of the greatest clutch hits of all time to win the American League pennant over the California (nee Los Angeles, Anaheim, of Anaheim) Angels.

But the great first sackers didn’t stop there. John Jaha hit .300 with 34 home runs and 118 RBI in ’96. Richie Sexton is still legendary for hitting some of the longest home runs in the game hit 45 home runs in 2001 and 2003. Then came Lyle Overbay, who hit the cover off of the ball with more doubles (53 in 2004 while hitting .301) than any other Milwaukee first baseman before him or after. But he was just keeping the sack warm for the kid who everyone knew was the center of the first base universe storming up from the minors.

Prince Fielder was born to be a Milwaukee Brewer. He was everything a Milwaukee first baseman was all about. But Prince brought a new dimension to the game. He was an enthusiastic crusher with youth going for him. Here was the pillar of the young Brewers (50 home runs in 2007, 141 RBI and .299 batting average in 2009) and were everything the Milwaukee club was looking for ever since the great Robin Yount came up and spent the next 20 years making the Brewers a serious contender each and every year. He, along with Weeks and Hart came up through the ranks pounding the opposition with their youthful style and power (230 home runs as a Brewer). Prince was fun. Prince was the leader. Prince was the soul. Prince was the Man.

Then nothing.

If 2012 is remembered, it was for the silence of the void that was created when Prince left.

They wore Brewers on the front of their jerseys, but they simply were not the Milwaukee Brewers. Their Prince had left. Long live the Prince.

Then something very strange happened. Like the Autumn Spring, false hope gave way to a new and wonderous happening. The next ‘coming’ came and quickly went on the DL for the season. This created a nightmare of a lineup. But someone in the very mold of Adcock and Cooper moved into the outfield from his All-Star position in Right and after 2/3rds of the season, the Brewers began to look once again like the Milwaukee Brewers. Prince, for many diehards, was merely taking a vacation. And now Cory Hart took his position, not his place, but his position at first. Cory, long a favorite of the Keilbasa Krowd, began to hit the long ball once again, and did that crazy little shake of his hips to his teammates in the dugout when he banged a double time and time again.

With the help of the other corners, Aramis Ramirez at third, Norichika Aoki in right and of course Ryan Braun in left, along with the brilliant rookie catcher, Martin Maldonado, solid clutch hitting along with a couple of young rookie arms, brought back the excitement of the past few years where Milwaukee was averaging over 3 million fans at the gate. From way back, 14 1/2 to be exact, they began their move with an impressive sweep over the league leading Cincinnati Reds. Then came Houston.

The Calamity of the Bullpen

A microcosm of a season was in evidence in one single game this past Friday evening. Good fielding, good timely hitting. 24th blown save. K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez) is finished. His $8.5 million isn’t worth the paper it is written on. John Axford is useless. If you cannot get a breaking ball over the plate, you are finished in The Show. After a tremendous seven innings pitched by rookie Mark Rogers, K-Rod came in and promptly served up a home run in the 8th inning to the lowly Astros. Then Axford’s walked the lead-off batter and flummoxed his was to the minors to lose the game in the 9th. The Houston Astros this season have NEVER had a walk-off hit before Axford showed up on a humid, air-conditioned evening before the big train on the wall of a ballpark. Axford became the Enron of Minute Maid.

The Problem of Having An Inexperienced Manager At The Helm

After the game, Ron Roenicke the Brewers manager, was downright lost for words. He visibly had lost all confidence in the team. He had visibly lost confidence in himself. Most important, it appeared that he didn’t have any answers. He appeared to be on the verge of tears. He knew he had not learned a thing from the past failures that the Brewers earned throughout this Season AP. Here was a guy who seemingly prides himself on following baseball’s crazy tradition of backing the veterans until their wheels fall off. Wake up, Scioscia’s puppet. The wheels have fallen off. They fell off when your silly decision to keep Cesar Izturis as a backup shortstop ended the progress Edwin Maysonet was making earlier in the season. The wheels fell off when you insisted K-Rod had something left in the tank. He doesn’t. It’s empty. (NOTE: He took arbitration because he couldn’t get anything close to what he was making with the Brewers.) They fell off when you continued to use Axford. Tell Milwaukee’s President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Doug Melvin, John Axford needs to go back to the minors and work on getting his curve and screwball working again. It’s called ‘getting it over the plate’. He can get work on it down there and it won’t affect the big club’s record. Then take whatever you can get for K-Rod and save the last month’s salary for new hot water bottles for you to sit on or something. Anything but K-Rod.

You cannot fire this bullpen coach. You already did that as a miserable excuse for your inexperience in evaluating what was going on around you, Mr. Roenicke. When the fans in the stands begin to moan and get up to leave the ballpark when you walk out of the dugout and pull your ‘baseball veteran’ scam by taking out the starting pitcher and bring in the dynamic Blown Savers, you have to know, that we all know, you are going to a dry well. There is no more water in that well. It’s dry. That well dried up when the season began. You just didn’t believe it was dry because these two could still walk in from the bullpen. They are the ‘Walking Dead Arms’.

The Solution

It is time you faced the facts of the game in Milwaukee. When in doubt, eat a kielbasa. You need to understand the ‘Power of the K’. Do the honorable thing, Mr. Roenicke. Do what Max Surkont did. He ate himself out of The Show by dinning at those South side Milwaukee fans homes in the ’50s every night. That, plus a few of Milwaukee’s favorite brew, became his ticket out of baseball. But, let it be said that Big Max was more than just an expert on Polish sausages. He also was a bit of a linguist, a man of, one might say, unusual phrases. He once said, “Baseball was never meant to be taken seriously. If it were, we would play it with a javelin instead of a ball.”

So sayeth Max.

Eat, Mr. Roenicke. Don’t mess with the javelin. As they say on the South Side, ‘Eat them kielbasa and wash it down at the bubbler.’.  It is the honorable thing to do.

Then, when the urge comes to give that vet one more shot, forget it. Call in anyone except K-Rod or Axford. It is his time. And as you do that, just say, “Long Live Axford. He was the proverbial flash in the pan.”

Mr. Roenicke? Eat a Kielbasa! We will all be better for it.

Play Ball!