As much as I enjoy the relentless snowfall and sub-zero temperatures here in Milwaukee, my job requires me to start preparing for the rigors of Spring Training baseball and the harsh reality of Arizona’s sunny, seventy degree days.
We’re less than a month away from my favorite declaration of the year, “pitchers and catchers report for duty.” Actually, voluntary camp opens February 9th and pitchers and catchers are due to arrive in Maryvale February 13th. The entire roster is required to report February 17th and the first official Spring Training game is scheduled for February 25th versus Oakland. Every Spring Training will be broadcast live either on the Brewers Radio Network/WTMJ or via the webcast at Brewers.com. Stay tuned for the official on-air schedule. Fox Sports Wisconsin will also televise three Spring Training games.
As for me, I’ve enjoyed just being a husband and a dad this off-season. I don’t take many free-lance broadcasting gigs in the winter so I can get involved in my daughter’s activities and do projects around the house. You can imagine my ‘honey-do” list after seven months on the road with the Brew Crew. I played a lot of golf in October and spent some time in Texas in December. Once the deep freeze arrived, I was able to catch some football at Lambeau and Camp Randall, some hoops at the Bradley Center and the Kohl Center, and a number of great live concerts at the Pabst and Riverside Theaters. The Marcus Center and Discovery World have been family hot spots this winter as well.
This month, I’ve been lurching around the office trying to catch up on what’s new at Miller Park. Ticket sales are strong and the big offseason projects are on schedule. The new Club Suites are sweet! The major renovation project is almost complete and they look great, very hi-tech, not that I’ll ever be in one for a game. The Fan Zone got a nice makeover. More stuff, more room, cool fixtures and ladies, you’ll be happy to know you now have your own “womens only” section. There is a new Harley-Davidson area in the outfield that should really add to the character of the ballpark. Also, joining the ’57 and ’82 Party Suites, there is a new ’08 Brewers room available to the public this season. You’ll notice a number of tributes to the ’08 Wild Card champs around Miller Park in ’09.
I’ve also done a few public appearances with General Manager Doug Melvin this January. Since he’s stuck with me for 3-4 hours during these outings, I get the chance to pummel him with questions about the ballclub. He always offers great insight and a ton of information. My notebook is full so in the coming weeks, I’ll report his breakdown of the organization piece by piece. But, until then, here’s a quick overview of current state of Brewers baseball:
-Trevor Hoffman was a huge sign. He’s excited about Milwaukee and the Brewers are excited to have him. He fills a big hole at the back end of the bullpen and is an influential personality. Every time he saves a game, you get to witness a record setting day at the ballpark. The Brewers have visions of a pennant race and Hoffman’s 600th save coinciding this season (He’s 46 away – why not?).
-While Yovanni Gallardo and Manny Parra will be asked to blossom into big league stars (they’re certainly capable), landing another starting pitcher is key. It adds depth to the rotation and strengthens the bullpen. Braden Looper is the name that continues to show up but there are a number of others on the wish list as well. Free agent Ben Sheets appears to be headed in a different direction but the door is never closed until he is signed. Reports on Chris Capuano (elbow ligament replacement surgery) are positive. He could see action this spring and a late-April return to the Majors is not out of the question. Any success he has would be a nice bonus.
-The lineup is pretty much intact. Still right-handed heavy but full of All-Stars now boasting post season experience. Competition at third base could offer some left-handed balance.
-The day has come for the young nucleus of talent to cash in during arbitration. Long term deals have been offered to all of the young stars, only Ryan Braun has accepted. That means a shift in payroll is required. Basically, the bench goes from high priced veterans to low-priced youth and second chancers. Left handed options are the goal. Free agent Craig Counsell, a lefty, is a versatile backup and is still unsigned. He’s highly regarded and has an open door if he chooses to stay in Milwaukee.
-The minor league system is thin in starting pitching but strong in every other area, especially catching. As evidenced by the CC Sabathia trade last July, there are two kinds of currency in Major League Baseball; the Yankees kind, old fashioned $…and the Brewers kind, blue-chip prospects. The Crew is loaded with minor league talent that other clubs would love to acquire so a mid-season impact trade is always a possibility.
The bottom line, the Brewers are in very good shape and there is good reason for optimism for the upcoming season. I’ll be able to chat with new Manager Ken Macha, his coaches, and a number of players at Bob Uecker’s Winter Warm Up and Brewers On-Deck events so I should have plenty of interviews and new information here on the House of Blogs soon. Please feel free to send any questions by clicking on the “comments” icon below and I’ll take them directly to the target.
Until then, I hope the hot stove keeps you warm!