Milwaukee Talks: Jim Powell, 2004
PHOENIX -- As the Brewers gear up for another year of baseball action, the time-honored tradition of Spring Training means another time-honored OnMilwaukee.com ritual: the annual pre-season interview with Brewers announcer Jim Powell.
Never before has the team encountered such a tumultuous off-season, and Powell, who pulled double-duty while his partner Bob Uecker recovered from knee surgery last summer, has plenty to say about it.
We caught up with Powell about half-way through Spring Training 2004, as the Brewers prepared to trounce the Kansas City Royals. The team has since cooled off a bit, but their early heroics provided us plenty discuss this insightful baseball guy. Enjoy this fifth annual Milwaukee Talks with Jim Powell:
OMC: What's going with the Brewers this spring? They came out of the gate firing, winning their first 11 out of 13 games.
JP: It all seems very natural to me. We hate to start putting labels on them or drawing conclusions. But the way they've played at this point reminds you of a couple years ago when the Anaheim Angels came to town. We knew they had some talent, and they rolled in for an inter-league series at Miller Park. We watched them bunt guys up, move guys from second to third, play flawless defense and do everything teams used to do a lot of 30 years ago -- that very few teams seem to do these days. They just bludgeoned the Brewers for two straight days. When they left town, we all said, "You know what? That's a baseball team." We all became Angels fans. I don't if that's what's happening with Milwaukee, but we're certainly seeing those things. They're not winning all these games on three-run home runs.
OMC: But the minor-league guys who are playing for the Crew in the late innings are pretty good, too.
JP: That's one big difference that we've seen this year. This year when Indianapolis or Huntsville are taking the field, it's J.J. Hardy and Price Fielder and Rickie Weeks. These guys can play.
OMC: Will we see some of these guys called up to the big leagues this season?
JP: We've been talking about some of these guys for quite a while. What's great to me is that we've been talking about how good J.J. Hardy and Prince Fielder are, and Rickie Weeks has only been in the system for nine months, and he looks like he's the best out of the whole group. We'll get another good draft in June.
They're just prospects, they're not players yet. We'll see what happens, but it's exciting to see young, talented players coming up to the big leagues. In this day and age, once guys have been in the league four or five years, you can only count on them being in your uniform for maybe that season alone. But when you get a kid up from the minor leagues, you've got his rights for six years. There's nothing he can do about it. You can only trade him, and you're not gonna let him go. If you're the fan, you have a chance to really embrace some of the players and know that if you covet a Rickie Weeks baseball card - in six years it will still be a Brewers uniform that he's wearing.
OMC: I noticed all the players are standing up on the dugout, and they look like they really care. Is this a new attitude?
JP: I think their attitude was good last year, but I definitely think you can draw a clear line from when Ned Yost took over. Last year there was still a pretty big talent deficit, but I think the attitude has been very good so far.
OMC: Went the Ulice Payne situation went down, we didn't hear anything from you. For obvious reasons, there wasn't much you could say. But now that we're a few months removed from the mess, what are you thoughts?
JP: It was a tough spot for anyone connected to the team. There was no way to win. The fans were angry. They were riled up by the whole situation. There was nothing I could say that would calm them down. It's not really my business; I call play-by-play. I definitely have opinions. But all I would really say about it as we look back now is that what happened was a real tragedy for the baseball fans of Wisconsin. I do believe they were unnecessarily riled up by the events that took place.
I think that no matter how mad Ulice Payne got over his differences and the arguments that were going on behind the scenes, I don't really care what happens between the board of directors and the team president. I don't belong in those discussions, but I know that in all major companies there are differences at the upper levels of management. I think the professional way to handle things is to quietly find a resolution. If not, you find a quite divorce. Especially in the case of baseball. When you're the Major League Baseball team in the state of Wisconsin, you're also the steward of the game of baseball. We're all trying grow.
I believe in baseball, it's in my blood. I've got the sickness. I get on the air and try to spread that sickness to other fans. I feel like the president and the board of directors has the responsibility to be leaders of the sport in the state. I think that some people lost sight of that responsibility. Even if it was personally the best thing to do to throw the fans under the bus to resolve those differences, I don't it was the right thing to do.
OMC: Are you happy with the results of the Richie Sexson trade?
JP: Yeah, so far. You can only judge trades years down the road, but I don't really see the downside. Richie was clearly not going to resign with the Brewers, but not because he didn't like Milwaukee. When you are at the upper end of the Players Association in terms of skills and status and entering the prime years for a big contract, even if you want to resign with your team at a home-town discount, the Players Union puts intense pressure -- that we don't hear about in the mainstream media - to be a free agent for the good of all players. Given that we were going to have nothing for Richie at the end of the season, I think getting six players of that caliber was a great deal for Milwaukee.
OMC: Will anyone buy the Brewers anytime soon? And if so, what's that buyer going to be like?
JP: The second half of that is unanswerable. The first half is also unanswerable. I do think it will sell relatively quickly. In the corporate world, it's all about "buy low and sell high." If you think about the Brewers, their position as a perennially last-place team that loses 90-100 games, their stock price is pretty low. If I'm a prospective buyer, I see a favorable lease, a new beautiful stadium with a retractable dome. If you do a little polling in the state of Wisconsin, despite some of the anger during the off-season, most people consider themselves to be baseball fans. All they are waiting for is a good team to appear, and they'll be back in droves. And you have the number one farm system in baseball and very few financial obligations down the road. I believe, in the next few years, a new ownership group will come in, and it will coincide with a revival of baseball in Wisconsin.
OMC: Did you have a good off-season this year?
JP: Yeah, I did. One of my kids turns eight tomorrow. I've got one that's six, and one that's three. They old enough now that they can sass back to their dad, and give me all the grief that I so richly deserve. I played a lot of tennis and really enjoyed Wisconsin. Every year we're there, we make more and more friends. It's more and more enjoyable to call myself a Wisconsinite.
OMC: I understand you had a little brush with the law out here in Arizona. Could you please elaborate?
JP: We had my three little kids in town, and my mother- and father-in-law came up for a week of Spring Training. We're on the top floor of an apartment, and the lady who lives below us, apparently lives by herself and has never had anybody living above her. I guess the pitter-patter of tiny feet on the apartment floor got her a little upset. She believed we were making more noise than we should be making. I'm thinking back to my college days with the stereos and the kegs. I know how to make noise, believe me. There are very few people in this world who can make more noise that I can. I'm proud of that ability. It's long-dormant, but it's there. In light of this lady's opinion, I'm thinking of breaking out some of those skills again, to show her what things really could be like. But all is good; I put wings on my children, and now everybody's happy.
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