It had been eight years since I last saw Eric Gagne in person. He spent the end of 1998 and all of ’99 with the Double-A San Antonio Missions, where I spent my minor league broadcasting days. Back then, Gagne spoke with a thick French-Canadian accent. He was a straight shooting, blue collar, tough as nails student of the game who was loved by his teammates and was easily the baddest hombre in the Texas League (1999 Pitcher of the Year). Eight years later, with a Cy Young Award (2003), three All-Star selections, and some impressive Major League records on his resume, it did not take long to find out that Eric Gagne is still the same fascinating character I knew in Double-A.
Between the lines of competition, he would be the last player you’d cross. As a member of the Canadian Junior National Hockey team, Gagne spent more time in the penalty box than on the ice. As a teen, he performed as a BMX stuntman. English is his second language. He taught himself the language with help from American television. He picked up golf five years ago and now regularly shoots in the 70’s. Off the field, he’s a husband, a father of three and a true family man. He still speaks french at home but has planted his Quebec roots in the Phoenix area. He’s even written a children’s book.
Despite having blown only ten saves in his entire career, back and elbow injuries have sent Gagne from the land of the absolute (he once saved an MLB record 84 consecutive games) to the land of the unknown. An unknown the Brewers are willing to gamble on as they roll the dice on hopes that Eric Gagne is primed to resurrect his career and return to the form of his not so distant past.
Following his press conference and still beading with sweat from an extensive physical examination that apparently proved he’s a risk worth taking, Gagne stopped by for a visit in the House of Blogs.
Brian Anderson: Welcome to the Brewers, Eric. What was the key in making the decision to come to Milwaukee?
Eric Gagne: First of all, it’s a team that’s going to get to the playoffs. I want to win and it’s hard to "save" losses. It’s my goal to help a young team get to the playoffs.
Second, it’s the energy and the way they play the game. They’re really young, really energized and that’s what I like. It makes ME feel young again. I think it’s a really good mix of players and when I saw Jason Kendall signed here, I saw they were going in the right direction.
BA: Can you comment on Milwaukee’s attractiveness as a Free Agent destination, now?
Gagne: I think players see Milwaukee very differently now. I know I do. Players used to look at the Brewers not as a destination, but as a last resort. But now, especially after last year, I think they’re really close to the ultimate goal, which is a World Series. If you look at the guys on the roster, it’s a great mix. They’ve got a lot of really good pitchers. A true #1 in Ben Sheets. It’s an exciting team and an exciting place to be.
BA: There are a lot of questions about your past injuries. How healthy are you?
Gagne I am 100% healthy! I’ve been telling all my friends how good it feels to be able to do what I need to do to get ready for spring training. The last two off-season’s, I was just trying to physically be able to pitch. Now, I’m ready to pitch. I’m ready to go. I can run when I want to run, workout when I want to workout. I can concentrate on just getting stronger every day.
BA: What kind of off-season workout regimen do you have?
Gagne: A lot of running, a lot of cardio, a lot of lifting. I changed (my routine) after my back injury. I can get big pretty easily so I’m trying to keep my weight off to protect my back. I do yoga. I’m lucky that I’m very flexible. I have my own trainer who used to be the Dodgers trainer so he’s known me for eight years and (puts me through) a lot of different stuff.
BA: What kind of process will it be getting to know new teammates this spring?
Gagne: It’ll be the same as it was last year in Texas. Last year, I was really nervous about going to a different organization. I didn’t know what to expect. With a bunch of new guys, it takes a little time to get to know each other. I take a lot of pride in a good bullpen. Whether it’s something I’m trying to teach (my teammates) or something I’m trying to learn from them. Spring training is going to be good time to get to know a lot of new guys and I think it will be easier than people think.
BA: You will be reunited with former teammates in Mike Maddux and Guillermo Mota? Since you know him as well as anyone, what can you tell us about Mota?
Gagne: We were teammates with the Dodgers. I had a really good relationship with him. I think he can be a great pitcher. He throws hard with a great changeup. He’s very durable. He can go two innings everyday and you don’t see that in baseball much anymore. He’ll give you a lot of quality innings and is going to be a great addition to the bullpen.
BA: You mentioned Jason Kendall, what is your history with him?
Gagne: I don’t know him personally, but I know him as a catcher. I see the mix of young guys that are here and I see the bullpen is really deep. But, when you add Kendall to that…that’s a good mix. I think Jason Kendall is a really good leader. He knows how to control a ballgame and that’s important.
Gagne That’s a good one. Derrick’s wife (Becca) helped deliver my last baby. She was the nurse at the hospital. My baby’s name is Bluu. Becca helped deliver her two years ago…a pretty small world, huh?
I played golf with Derrick once. I had only known him on the field and had my own ideas of what he was like. I thought he was going to be a mean guy but he’s a really good guy. He’s awesome…a funny guy.
BA: Speaking of good guys who have a mean persona…how about your presence on the mound as the closer?
Gagne: It’s just me. It’s me between the lines. People think the same thing about me that I thought about (Turnbow). They tell me I’m a mean guy. I’m a competitor. Anytime I’ve got the ball in my hand, I want to beat the guy who’s trying to hit me. I think that’s what makes a competitor able to take it to the next level when that adrenaline kicks in. It’s an unbelievable feeling to know that you’re out there in the ninth inning…you’re the last guy out there…and if you fail, the whole team loses and the fans are mad. (Persona) is not something you can act. That’s just me. I go on the mound, I’m really aggressive and I don’t want to lose. I hate losing.
In tribute to the Brewers newest Canuck, here’s a tune you might enjoy. CLICK
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