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Let's do this thing.
Let's do this thing.

Fresh start, clean slate

Something weird happened to me around the beginning August last year: I started wanting the Brewers season to be over.

I’ve asked around, and it turns out I wasn’t alone. None of us real Brewers fans understood why this team had stayed in first place, and when they started falling apart, it was not even just expected, it was tragically appropriate. Most of us knew this wasn’t a good team, and rather than getting our hearts broken in the first week of October, we just wanted a reset.

That feeling somehow stuck with me all winter, to the extent that I almost didn’t go to spring training. I worried that Doug Melvin wasn’t making the right moves (um, Adam Lind?) and we’d see another underachieving squad in 2015.

But now I’m here, sitting in the press box, and excitement is back in the air.

Opening Day is an important holiday for me. In 1998, it marked my first day of self-employment – and thus, the first real day of – and I celebrated that milestone tailgating at County Stadium.

Now, it’s a more mellow, business casual affair, but an exciting one, personally, nonetheless. I watched Brewers batting practice from the field, saying hello to fellow media and Brewers employees I haven’t talked to in a while. And now I’m watching fans very slowly stream in. The Rockies are now taking BP and the crack of the bat is a welcome sound.

My off-season indifference will start to fade as the games become real. I remain concerned about this team, but I’ve watched many far worse Brewers squads over the year.

Baseball is back, and so am I. I think I’m finally ready for a fresh start.

John Axford was a great Brewer.
John Axford was a great Brewer.

7 recent ex-Brewers pitchers I miss

One of the many reasons I love baseball is the nostalgia factor. The history and continuity between players and eras and fans melds in such a poetic way, and it’s another reason Brewers fans should be thankful that we have someone like Bob Uecker to help us bridge these gaps.

While I’ve been a Brewers fan my whole life, I stepped up my game in 1994 and haven’t looked back. I’ve seen an awful lot of bad Brewers come and go, but some of them were great.

Here are seven recent Brewers pitchers that I would love to get back. Even if these weren’t necessarily the best players, they each brought something special to the crew.

1. C.C. Sabathia

I’ve never seen a pitcher like C.C. during his short stint with the Brewers, and I doubt I ever will again. His performance in 2008 was beyond dominating, and when the Yankees poached him, I was reminded again why baseball’s salary inequity will ultimately destroy small-market teams’ chances for sustained greatness. Had the Crew signed him after that season, they would’ve won the World Series in 2011.

2. Zack Greinke

You could say the same for Greinke, although I didn’t especially like his attitude on the team (secret injury during pickup game of basketball?!?). But you can’t argue with results. What an excellent, technical pitcher. I’m surprised he’s been able to handle life in L.A., though.

3. John Axford

I just miss Ax, but mostly for his personality and love for Milwaukee. He embraced the community, the Milwaukee Film Festival and the mustache. Classy, funny and approachable, he represented the Brewers so well. I still root for him.

4. Chris Capuano

So tenacious and tough, Cap worked so hard to rehab from his multiple injuries, and he clearly wanted to be a Brewer. Another guy I wish continued success.

5. Yovani Gallardo

Yo had his personality flaws (who among us doesn't?), but he was a hard worker, and when he was on, he was great. I wonder what the future holds for him.

6. Brooks …

Brewers everywhere.
Brewers everywhere.

7 less obvious reasons I love Brewers Spring Training

My 18th annual Brewers Spring Training trip is now complete, and I’m back in chilly Milwaukee, which actually feels a little better after a few days under the beating hot sun of the desert.

This trip was a good one. A really good one. New experiences, old friends and lots and lots of baseball. But you probably know about all that if you read my blog entries this week.

Instead of rehashing that, I’d like to offer seven less obvious reasons I love Brewers Spring Training. I won’t even mention the baseball on the field or the weather in the Valley …

1. The access

There are literally thousands of baseball people running around the greater Phoenix area. With 15 teams in the Cactus League, you get all the players (big league and minors), the front office, the broadcasters and the umpires doing more-or-less the same stuff you’re doing out there. That means you’re gonna run into some of them, and they love baseball just as much as we do and are happy to talk about it (if you’re respectful, of course). From obvious baseball joints like Don and Charlie’s, to the the not-so-secret umpire bar I blogged about yesterday, to just lingering around the practice fields, this is a mecca for fans of the game. Baseball simply takes over this area each March, and it’s embraced by most.

2. The like-minded tourists

A photo posted by Andy Tarnoff (@andytarnoff) on

Similarly, you’ll find yourself hanging out with a zillion happy fans, both at the ballparks and around town. Old, young, first-time visitors and snowbirds alike, it’s fun to travel when everyone (except Cubs fans, probably) are on their best behavior. Seeing all those smiles is infectious. You’re guaranteed to make new friends, ones you might see again … because no one ever says they don’t want to come back.

3. The different nightlife

For M…

A close play at the plate.
A close play at the plate. (Photo: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography)

Getaway day: behind the scenes, behind the plate

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — Sometimes, the best stories are the ones you can’t tell.

As a writer, this eats me up inside, because my main reason for being at Spring Training is to tell you about it. But I can’t this time. All I can say is this: Major League umpires bought me drinks last night after the obligatory "this is all off the record, son" when they learned a pack of reporters just bellied up to the bar. You’ll have to fill in the rest of the blanks yourself.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other stories to tell, but if someone ever makes a "what happens in the Cactus League, stays in the Cactus League" T-shirt, I’m buying it.

When I left off yesterday, I was feeling tan, rested and ready for baseball, and we made the 30-minute drive from Talking Stick Resort to Peoria Stadium a little before noon. Brewers fans were out in force for the game against the Padres. St. Patty’s Day revelry was in full effect.

That extended to the green caps on both teams on the field, and like every year, we noticed the party atmosphere everywhere at this ballpark. It’s been a few years since I’ve visited Peoria, but once again I’m struck by how even the most modest facility trumps Maryvale in every way. If I sound bitter about this, I am. The Brewers are no longer the club that needs to be laughed at. They deserve a spring home that is befitting of a great franchise owned by a forward-looking owner.

On the field, the Brewers looked good on Tuesday. Matt Garza was far from crisp, but Carlos Gomez cranked a home run in the Crew’s 6-4 victory. Notably, Ryan Braun continued his spring slump and remained hitless this spring. He didn't look mopey like what we witnessed last summer, but if his thumb is healed, Braun needs to start hitting. The Brewers are sunk if Braun is, and halfway through March, this is getting serious.

After the game, we hightailed it back to Scottsdale to meet up with our friends from the Scottsdale CVB for dinner at Hula’s Modern Tiki Lounge…