The final week of the exhibition season is upon us and Tuesday night we open up a window to the Cactus League. Brewers TV is back on the air (9pm CST) on Fox Sports Wisconsin for the Brewers and Padres from Peoria, Arizona.
We will also televise Wednesday’s game from Maryvale (Brewers/D-Backs) at 3pm CST on WMLW.
Producer Chris Withers, Director Michael Oddino and new sideline reporter Telly Hughes are all in the Valley to join Rock and me for the telecast. Spring Training TV is unique in that we are allowed in the dugout for interviews during the game. We hope to hear from Ken Macha and a number of players as they exit the game. Tune in.
Speaking of television, with the crew in town we took advantage of the access by spending most of the morning interviewing multiple players and coaches. You’ll see it all during the opening week of the season but here are some of the highlights:
Craig Counsell …said there is no Opening Day in the big leagues better than Milwaukee (he’s seen a few)…then reminisced about skipping school on Opening Day to see the Crew at County Stadium. Craig discussed his swing changes, saying he contacted Dale Sveum almost immediately this winter to formulate a plan. Why? “Because I hit .220!” he said. Despite his batting average, the Brewers are a better team with Counsell on the roster.
Yovani Gallardo…told us he looks forward to his FIRST Opening Day assignment. Remember, last year Yo started the season on the DL after his first knee surgery. He talked about dealing with the ”future ace” label saying, “that’s nice of people to say.” Gallardo is unfazed. I asked him about Jason Kendall’s comments that he could win multiple Cy Young Awards and he replied that he has trust in his catcher and that Kendall first said that to him right after he was injured last May…talk about rehab motivation.
Jason Kendall…says the pitching staff is underrated. He feels better about the staff right now than at this time last year. He told me the players enjoy Ken Macha’s no nonsense approach and all the talk about a sour relationship between he and Macha in Oakland is “crap” and was blown out of proportion. Kendall loves Milwaukee (the city and the fans), dropping more pleasantries than any Chamber member could dream of. He also said he is no .240 hitter and expects much better production at the plate in ’09.
Rickie Weeks…is trying to slow everything down. Offense, defense, baserunning. He’s always been a player to react fast (which explains the highlight-reel plays) but the game does not always have ”react-fast” moments. He admitted he had to learn in the fish bowl of the big leagues and feels he is now ready to “let the game come to him” in 2009. It shows this spring. Rickie also downplayed the Sheffield-like “waggle” in his swing saying as long as he has the bat quiet and in the right place prior to pitch, it’s not an issue. Rickie’s skills are off the charts and he has impressive mental discipline and work ethic. Nothing bothers him. Physically, he’s put on about 15 pounds of muscle and looks like he could run through a wall. When he puts it all together, look out!
Ken Macha…honest, straightforward and interesting. I could talk to him all day. Every answer is thoughtful and informative. He was “surprised” at just how good the Brewers position players really are. In Oakland, he managed based on pitching and defense. Here, it’s about run production. Don’t look for the Crew to risk giving away outs on the bases. Macha also explained why he set up the rotation as he did. Suppan, Gallardo and Parra to start the season allows his three most experienced pitchers, all right-handers, to face the Cubs (Looper, Bush, Suppan). Makes sense. I asked him if working in TV (NESN) the last two years changes his outlook on managing a second time around. He said he thought it might but checked his win-loss total as a Major League and Minor League manager and has decided (with a smile) to keep things the same. He’s never had a losing season. In four years in Oakland, he won two division titles. He’s supremely confident. Why else would he hire two of the candidates (Dale Sveum, Willie Randolph) that interviewed for his job?
That’s all for now, see you on TV!