No fan base in baseball does Opening Day better than Milwaukee. It’s more than an event. It’s the people’s event. Every ballclub has an entertaining “run of show” once inside the ballpark leading up to the first pitch of the season. But, what makes Milwaukee special is what goes on in the parking lots. NOBODY tailgates like Milwaukee. It’s a spontaneous community connection. No cues necessary. It’s an atmosphere that makes memories not just for fans, but for players alike. Recently, I had a chance to ask a number of Brewers players about Opening Day in Milwaukee:
Trevor Hoffman: “There is something special about that day, obviously a lot of the hype that surrounds it, the excitement of putting on a fresh uniform, getting out in front of your hometown crowd, getting to play that game again that you waited a long time in the offseason to get too. Opening Day is great, but you also don’t want to get too high from it, and understand that you have 161 games left. (Milwaukee fans) are passionate! Our fans are our voice and our ears, it’s fun to be able to come to the park and know that the energy is going to be in the ballpark, they are behind you the whole way, it’s a great atmosphere to play in.”
Yovani Gallardo: “Opening Day…it’s a feeling I really can’t explain. Obviously, just to go out there for the first game to kick off the season, having a sold out crowd in Milwaukee, it’s great. It’s just very exciting. I’m sure every player is as nervous as if it were their Major League debut. (Being the Opening Day starter) means a lot to me. A couple of years ago, I missed a whole year with (knee) surgery. It was a setback for me, but you know, I was able to get past that last year and get a full season under me. I think every starter would want to be the number one starter, and to start Opening Day…it’s a privilege. It’s just very exciting.”
Prince Fielder: “I’ve only played in Milwaukee, but I feel the fans are, like they’ve been waiting all winter for us to get there. They’re very excited, anytime you come home, come to your stadium, people are showing you that much love, and want you to do well, so it’s really motivating to see how much the fans even care about what your doing, because they really do care, it makes it really easy to come play everyday.”
Ryan Braun: “Last year, the thing I remember most about Opening Day was the traffic! We had come back from San Francisco, landed at about 3 or 4 in the morning, had a day game the next day…I remember a lot of guys struggling to get to the ballpark (laughs). Aside from that, a lot of energy, a lot enthusiasm, everybody is tailgating and the whole scene has more of a football game atmosphere. It’s amazing. It’s cool. It’s definitely something that I look forward to every year.”
Casey McGehee: “I’m definitely leaving the house a lot earlier than I did last year! I’m sorry to you folks out there who I cut off on the interstate trying to get to the park. Some may say Milwaukee is a small market, but the fans we have, we got 3 million again last year, and they’re not just showing up and sitting in their seats. Our fans are into it! It’s a fun place to play. It’s packed. It gets loud…you can’t ask for a better atmosphere. I’ll never forget coming in as a visitor the year the Brewers went to the playoffs. That last series of the year…it was unbelievable. We were in the clubhouse when they finally clinched it. When the last out was made of the Mets/Marlins game, we felt like we were sitting right out in the middle of the stands, it was so loud! The place was rockin’! I’d like to be in the home clubhouse and hear that one of these days.”
Alcides Escobar: “I’m excited because it’s my first Opening Day in the big leagues. I have a lot of emotion about it…my family, too. I’m a happy man!”
Standing behind the chain link fence on Field 2 in Maryvale actually puts you closer to home plate than the pitcher. Narveson struck out Hamilton during this at-bat.
Spring Training is in the home stretch. The Crew departs Phoenix April 1st for a two game exhibition series versus Detroit at Miller Park (April 2, 3). Can’t wait to get the season started.
Spring Training is almost here. It’s my favorite time of year. You’ll be able to watch or listen to the Brew Crew every day via television on FS Wisconsin (3 games), radio, or webcast. Please check the official Brewers Cactus League schedule for airtimes and outlets. The opener is March 4th on Brewers Radio. The first webcast is March 5th and the first telecast is March 8th. If you just can’t stand being away and are planning a trip to Phoenix, I thought I’d offer some insider tips for you.
First, get your bearings. The Phoenix Airport is near downtown. There is a giant loop that surrounds Phoenix known as “the 101.” The Brewers facility is located in Phoenix proper (inside the 101, west of downtown) but is commonly referred to as Maryvale.
Aside from the Brewers, there are 8 other teams in the West Valley (West of downtown):
Reds/Indians, together in Goodyear…outside the 101, south of I-10
Dodgers/White Sox, together in Glendale…just outside the 101, north of I-10
Padres/Mariners, together in Peoria…just inside the 101, north of I-10
Rangers/Royals, together in Surprise…outside the 101, north of I-10
…And 2 teams in Tucson (90 minute drive, south, from Phoenix):
If you’re staying a week or longer, renting a house/condo is the way to go. Call any Phoenix Realtor and you’ll have your pick. Furnished rentals are everywhere.
I like four locations:
1. Biltmore Area: Inside the 101, centrally located near downtown/airport and a perfect location if you want to cover it all.
2. Scottsdale: Great location to cover Brewers plus East Valley ballclubs.
3. Glendale: Great spot to cover Brewers plus West Valley parks. I like the Westgate area in Glendale (near football stadium/hockey arena). There are a ton of hotels from 2-star to 5-star and the easiest access to Maryvale.
4. Peoria: THE hot spot in the West Valley for baseball fans. Hotels and restaurants on every corner. The Peoria Sports Complex hosts a number of night games as well so “doubleheader” days are much easier to accomplish when you’re night game ends close to your hotel/condo.
Quality restaurants are not a problem in Phoenix but here are my slam-dunk, once a week favorites:
1. Don and Charlie’s, Scottsdale, an absolute must. It’s pricey but worth it. Great food in a mini-Cooperstown setting. Call for reservations.
2. Ajo Al’s Mexican Restaurant, affordable, multiple locations, muy bien!
3. Oregeno’s Pizza Bistro: Mesa, Tempe, Scottsdale. It’s been a family favorite for years but not a secret anymore. Don’t be in a hurry.
Other stuff besides baseball:
1. Take a trip to Sedona. Ninety minutes, north, from Phoenix, spectacular beauty…the famous Red Rocks.
2. Phoenix Zoo. Downtown location, very cool for kids. You can easily do the Zoo in the morning and the Brewers in Maryvale in the afternoon.
3. Hike a mountain. I’m partial to Camelback. As easy or difficult as you want it to be.
4. Golf: An embarrassment of riches if you want to tee it up in Phoenix.
At Maryvale, down the right field line leading to clubhouse. One thing to remember, the Brewers usually take batting practice at Maryvale before road games. Your best bet is to find a night, road game on the schedule…then post up at Maryvale for batting practice three hours prior. Another smart thing to do is to check “B” games. Sometimes “name” pitchers work in the morning B-games. Position yourself near the front entrance of main office and maybe you’ll get the signature you’re looking for.
My favorite ballpark is Maryvale.
My favorite setting is Old Scottsdale.
My favorite get away is downtown Cave Creek.
If I was 21 again, I would be in Tempe every night.
My favorite family road trip is Sedona.
My favorite hangout is the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale. They’ve been known to take care of Brewers fans…Tell them “Brian Anderson sent me,” and demand a 20% discount on all food and beverage orders.
“What kind of season do you think Alcides Escobar will have?”
That has been a popular question this winter. I have said many times, it wouldn’t surprise me if he hit .220 and made 20 errors. It also wouldn’t surprise me if he won Rookie of the Year!
That’s the beauty of the Alcides Escobar era, set to begin in 2010. A rookie shortstop at the wheel of what many believe will be a contending ballclub. He is coming off an impressive late season audition in ’09 and most recently, a confidence boosting run in the Venezuelan Winter League. In 45 games for Cardinales de Lara, the defensive specialist made some noise with his bat, hitting .393 with 2 HR, 19 RBI, and 16 SB.
From the Milwaukee side of the fence, Escobar faces plenty of pressure. He has the responsibility of inheriting a job at a key position at a young age (23 years old). He does so while replacing a wildly popular former All-Star shortstop in JJ Hardy, a mentor and friend to Escobar who was traded to the Twins to make room for the young challenger.
From the Venezuelan perspective, Escobar’s homeland, he knows his place as perhaps the “siguente” (next one). Venezuelan shortstops have made a significant impact on Major League Baseball. Chico Carrasquel, Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepcion, Ozzie Guillen, Omar Vizquel…all icons, all baseball patriarchs for Alcides Escobar. Scott Merkin of MLB.com recently penned a great story on the thread that ties the great Venezuelan shortstops together. Omar Vizquel will play for Ozzie Guillen in Chicago this season. He will wear Luis Aparicio’s retired number 11.
Escobar idolized Vizquel. His big league dreams came to life every night stargazing upon a Vizquel poster on the wall at his home in La Sabana. Escobar’s confidence erupted after Vizquel, then playing for the Rangers, praised him during a spring training game in Arizona last March. For Escobar, to be a Venezuelan in the Major Leagues brings about a certain kind of pressure. To be a Venezuelan shortstop in the Major Leagues takes it to an entirely different level. I asked Escobar whose “eyes” he feels are on him the most…Milwaukee or Venezuela? He said, “back home!”
The Brewers had ideas of expediting Escobar’s trek to the big leagues early in 2009. In May, when Rickie Weeks required season ending wrist surgery, Escobar had first dibs at Milwaukee’s second base job. After a few games at the position in Triple-A Nashville, Escobar looked as awkward as Bill Schroeder at a Hannah Montana concert. It was obvious to everyone, that Escobar was no second baseman.
But, is he ever a shortstop! He believes he was born to play the position. To carry a legacy at a position that made his country’s baseball players famous. He’s quick, he’s fluid, his speed and arm strength allow him to envision outs from angles that most shortstops don’t even consider. The last three years, Escobar has been under the wing of one of baseball’s great infield instructors, former Brewer Don Money. Ask Money about Escobar, He smiles and says, “Whew, you’ll see…” then laughs out loud, no doubt replaying images in a cinematic mind. Willie Randolph takes over Escobar’s tutorial now. Randolph guards his comparisons but get him talking long enough and out drops comparisons to Jose Reyes and Derek Jeter. Escobar is a natural born shortstop with tools to burn.
Buyer beware, however. He’s young and he’s going to make mistakes. The impact of recent homegrown products like Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun has created a nearly impossible standard for the next wave of prospects. And fans cannot expect a JJ Hardy-like relationship with Escobar. He’s quiet and protective. He won’t be nearly as visible to an English speaking public as Hardy. He’s far more advanced understanding the language than he is speaking it. I was so impressed with him last year watching him prep for 30 minutes for a three question interview on FSN. He wants to be a presence with English speaking fans away from the field, but it will take some time.
For Escobar, playing shortstop for the Brewers bears more responsibility than most Rookies. He’s waited his entire life for this chance and I think he’s going to do well. In 2010, Escobar has the potential to be as equally frustrating as he is exhilarating to watch. That’s why I say it wouldn’t surprise me if he hit .220 with 20 errors and it wouldn’t surprise me if he won Rookie of the Year…and you might as well throw in a Gold Glove with that order.
Only time will tell. My message is to be patient.
Following is a transcript of a live online chat with Brewers broadcaster Brian Anderson, who took questions from fans on Friday:
Brian Anderson: I’ve got a great view of a frozen Miller Park from the big bad board room … where all the magic happens.
buck75: Brian, what are your recommendations for Spring Training in Phoenix? What are your must-hit spots (besides Maryvale ballpark, of course)?
Anderson: Now that Spring Training expansion has moved to the West Valley of Phoenix. I suggest the Glendale or Peoria area. There is a great area called Westgate in Glendale and Peoria is just a few miles North. Staying on that side of town gets you easy access to the Brew Crew, the Rangers, Royals, Dodgers, White Sox, Reds, Indians, Padres, Mariners … and it is as far away as possible from the Cubs (in Mesa).
sagunsky: Did you ever play any baseball on a MLB team?
Anderson: There are a few Brian Andersons who have played MLB, but I’m not one of them. My baseball career ended in college. I was a catcher on an NAIA powerhouse back in the early ’90s. I’m still eligible to be drafted, but 17 years have gone by and I’m starting to think nobody wants me to play for them anymore. Plan “B” was broadcasting. I started calling games in the Texas League the year after I graduated from college.
buck75: Brian, what are the chances Jim Edmonds makes significant contributions to the ballclub this year? Who do you think will see more time, him or Jody Gerut?
Anderson: 50-50. It’s going to be tough to return after missing an entire season of facing MLB pitching. But, Gabe Kapler did it very well, and let’s hope Edmonds can do the same. I would just caution everyone to be patient with Jim this Spring. What you see from him at the plate on March 1 might not indicate what he’ll be on April 1. I wish him well. Confident, left-handed bats off the bench are hard to come by.
abdinos: As Fans, we feel sad and disappointed when a player we are attached to doesn’t return to the team for whatever reason. People like J.J. Hardy, Mike Cameron, and Jason Kendall will be missed at my house! How do you deal with players leaving?
Anderson: Appreciate former Brewers for their contributions and welcome the new Brewers. As a broadcaster, I realize players come and go and know that what matters to the Brewers are the players currently in a Brewers uniform.
ran522: What everyday position is the biggest question mark for the Brewers right now?
Anderson: Shortstop and third base. Handing the reigns over to rookies at such a key position is always cause for caution. I think Escobar is ready but only time will tell. I’m encouraged by the fact that Alcides had such a great winter ball season in Venezuela. In 45 games, he hit .393, 2 HR, 19 RBIs, 16 SB for Cardinales de Lara. I’m also anxious to see how Casey McGehee follows up on an outstanding rookie year. Now that his knee is healed, I believe you’ll see his true defensive talents … he can pick it at third.
dewdeck88: It seems we may have a quality problem heading into Spring Training with Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, Dave Bush, and Chris Narveson (he pitched great in late ’09) vying for the final two starting rotation spots. Does Bush/Suppan have an edge over Parra?
Anderson: That is a quality problem. Depth was an issue last year. Too early to say who has an advantage and I’m not sure Spring Training is going to be the best gauge either. Pitchers like Suppan and Bush use the spring to “work on stuff.” They might not have that luxury this year. Parra has the best pure stuff of the three, but he’s been effective in the bullpen as well (remember ’08 pennant race/playoffs). It’s a decision Ken Macha and Rick Peterson will have to make, and I’m sure they’ll take it to the end of spring.
StempDiggity: What are the chances the Brewers will keep Prince Fielder long-term? Have you ever spoken with Fielder yourself about this? What has he said to you?
Anderson: That’s the hot potato this year. Doug Melvin has made it clear that negotiations will not occur publicly. Here is what I know: It’s a 3-headed monster. The club, the player/agent, and the union. We’ll see who has the stronger voice. One thing to remember, there are some major impact first basemen hitting the free-agent market the same year as Prince in 2011 (Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez). Mark Teixeira is locked in N.Y. long-term, so that knocks out one of the few major cash cow’s. I hope Prince stays. Nobody plays the game harder every day than Prince Fielder. I know he loves Milwaukee, too.
StempDiggity: Will Rickie Weeks be able to pick up where he left off both offensively and defensively? I am concerned for both.
Anderson: I think so. Rickie is at the point of his career where he can really do some damage. My prediction is that this time next year, people will be wondering what it will take to keep Rickie Weeks in Milwaukee. What a talent! We saw a glimmer of that last year, and I’m confident you’ll see more in 2010 if he can stay healthy.
da_pontiff: Yo B to the A. … Would you consider yourself friends with Bill Schroeder outside of work? What about Bob Uecker? If so, who dominates the conversation? I bet its Schroeder.
Anderson: Yes, for sure. Believe it or not, I’m not a big talker off the air. When I’m around Uke and Rock, it’s shut up and listen. I wish everyone had the chance to sit on that bus at 4 p.m. heading to the ballpark. A front-row seat to Uke’s pure comedy and Rock’s pure grousing. Best part of the day! We’re lucky to be in the Bob Uecker era, and I think Rock breaks down a game as well as anyone in the business.
ddysart: BA, how has your job changed over the years? Specifically with the rise of fan interaction through social media and the “text the booth” stuff.
Anderson: My first year on the air was also the first year I had an e-mail address. The social networking has really picked up in the last decade. I think it’s great. What people used to say in their living rooms can be read anywhere. Some folks can be pretty harsh, but overall it’s a great tool to connect with the audience.
dewdeck88: Brian, when can we expect Brian Anderson bobblehead day at Miller Park?
Anderson: No chance. I try to live my life with a simple motto: “It’s not about me.” That applies to bobbleheads!
StempDiggity: What is your true opinion of Milwaukee and Wisconsin since you have come here? Aside from the job, do you like it?
Anderson: I love it here. I’m ready for Arizona, though. When the temp is zero and my belly is as white as my rear-end, I know it’s time for some sun! Wisconsin feels like home, now. Great people, great ballpark, I love the crew I work with and hope they’ll have me for a long time.
ecocd: With regard to starting in broadcasting, where would you suggest someone start looking for a job? And would you recommend sticking with something you know or any opportunity that presents itself?
Anderson: Do whatever you can to get on the air somewhere. I tell young announcers to make sure and get a stable second means of income or else you’ll starve. Listen to your games and keep the faith.
Anderson: Thanks for all the questions today. Our hour is up. We’ll do it again soon. Hope to see you all at the On Deck event Sunday or this spring in Arizona.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs
Hey everyone, I’m back from the abyss and looking forward to the countdown to Opening Day!
I’ve stayed busy this off-season jumping into family activities and calling College Hoops for ESPN.
I always consider the Brewers On Deck event as the official kickoff to a new season so I’m looking forward to Sunday at the Midwest Airlines Center. Doug Melvin and I have already made a number of appearances around the state recently. He’s a smart man and allows us (media/fans) inside his thinking more than any General Manager I know. He’ll be answering questions for fans Sunday so I hope you can make it. We had an incredible turnout last year and looking for a bigger and better experience in 2010. Every player on the roster is expected to be in attendance. (If Joe Inglett makes it, I’ll be doubly impressed)
I like the moves the Crew made this winter. I’m going to miss JJ Hardy but Alcides Escobar has earned the shot to play everyday and Hardy is too talented to play anything but shortstop. Picking up Carlos Gomez ensures the Brewers stay on pace defensively in centerfield. Defense helps pitching and we all know the pitching had to be addressed. We are a month from Spring Training and all the major roster work is done. Impressive.
Every scout, coach, or player that I’ve spoken to about Milwaukee’s Hot Stove agreed the Brewers did very well. Randy Wolf has posted terrific numbers the last two years and his outside the lines reputation comes with high marks. I’ve been told he’s great with the fans and great with teammates. Hopefully he can deliver on the mound as well and bring some stability to the starting rotation.
There is plenty more to talk about. I want to invite you to join me for a webchat Friday from 10am-11am. We can talk about the team the first half hour and broadcasting the second half. If you can’t make it, you’re always welcome to click on the comments icon below to submit your question.
Here’s to a great 2010!
…and a tune you might enjoy currently on my iPod: click
I hope you enjoyed our coverage of Brewers baseball this year. Televising 153 games is a gigantic task and I’d like to recognize the men and women who make up one of the best crew’s in baseball. Please help me salute the individuals who work hard everyday to bring you the sights and sounds of Brewers baseball.
PRODUCER: Chris Withers
PRE-GAME PRODUCER: Brent Valenti
DIRECTOR: Michael Oddino
TECHNICAL DIRECTOR: Lindsey Groeschel
Brewers pitching coach Chris Bosio joins baseball’s fight against cancer by hosting a charity golf tournament. The event takes place Thursday, October 8th at Ridgeway Golf Course in Neenah, Wisconsin.
YOU ARE INVITED!
Cost is $100 per player. A number of baseball celebrities will be participating. The growing celebrity roster includes: Chris Bosio, Tony Kubek, Gorman Thomas, Jim Gantner, Jerry Augustine, Don August, Brad Fischer, and Ed Sedar.
To pre-register, or for more information, contact John Leopold at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 920-831-5625.
Legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell has been in the news lately after it became public that he has inoperable cancer. While the cancer will silence the voice, it cannot touch his legacy. A legacy of character and faith that even outweighs a legendary career.
In 2007, I was in my room at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee. It was only moments after I had been introduced as the new television voice of the Brewers. My mind was racing with pride and doubt, excitement and fear. I was sitting on the bed wondering what in the world I’d gotten myself into…trying to digest just how dramatically my life was about to change. Then, the hotel phone rang. I picked it up expecting the Front Desk. Instead, a deep, booming, unmistakable voice came pouring through. “Mr. Anderson, this is Ernie Harwell calling from Michigan.” I was shocked and silent. This was a voice I knew well. I had spent hundreds of hours listening to Ernie’s play-by-play. I had a dozen cassette tapes of his games and had mimicked his delivery down to the “looooong gone” during my early years in broadcasting in San Antonio.
There was “the voice” on the phone. My first congratulatory call came from my broadcasting hero Ernie Harwell!
His call came eight years after I spent a memorable evening with him in Arlington, Texas. Lance Parrish, then the Tigers hitting coach, knew my admiration of Ernie and arranged a meet and greet during a Tigers/Rangers series. We met at the team hotel and five minutes into our conversation, Ernie invited me to spend the evening “shadowing” him at the ballpark. He said, “It might do you some good, if you don’t mind hanging out with an old-timer.” I jumped at the chance and was right by his side from pre-game prep to the post game wrap. Ernie was so gracious and willing to share. But when the day was done, our paths did not cross again – until the phone rang at the Pfister.
“Brian, I remember you.” Ernie continued. “I want to congratulate you, young man!” “I’m sure you have a lot to think about but I want you to know that you belong in the big leagues. Welcome to the club!” Ernie then went on to tell me how much he loved Milwaukee and how much he missed traveling there after the Brewers changed leagues. He told me how nervous he was during his first year with the Brooklyn Dodgers and warned me that I’d be fighting some “jittuhs.” He admitted that he worked his entire career with a healthy dose of paranoia about not being good enough (Crazy, I know!) and shared his affection for the Midwest despite growing up in the South, like I did. “You’re going to love working up here,” he said. “The people are friendly and passionate about their teams. Just be honest and be yourself and you’ll fit right in. You might want to buy a heavy coat, though!”
I have always thought of Ernie Harwell as the perfect broadcaster. As I’ve gotten to know him, I’m finding out he’s as close to a perfect man as we mortals can be. Before I met Ernie, I wasn’t sure how one lives in this fantasy world without losing one’s family, faith and peace of mind. He has kept all of these intact at a “hall of fame” level too while soaring to the top of his industry. As impossible as it sounds, he’s a better person than he is a broadcaster.
Every time the Brewers travel to Detroit, I call him. He joined me on the air in 2007 during Justin Verlander’s no-hitter against the Brewers. “That’ll teach ya!” he says. I spoke to him in June and he was pleased to tell me that (at age 91) he just signed a 10 contract with a 10 year option as a spokesman for a large corporation. Classic Ernie!
Ernie asked us not to refer to him in the past tense just yet. He certainly has a lot of living to do. He is as personable and pleasant now as he has always has been. When I heard the news of his illness, I wasn’t sad. I smiled. I know where his “next adventure,” as he puts it, is headed.
So if you’re wondering what you might say to Ernie Harwell right now? Don’t tell him how much his broadcasting meant to you. Tell him thanks for setting a gold standard for character.
Mr. Harwell, thanks for taking the time to make an impact on me. I’ll do my best to follow your lead, both on the air and on the ground.