By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Mar 03, 2005 at 5:05 AM

{image1} PHOENIX -- Mark Attanasio looked like a kid peeking through a knothole at Spring Training recently. Actually, the Brewers' new owner was in Maryvale to address his team.

Attanasio told the players he has "always been part of a team in business," and urged them to "look out for each other" in good and bad times. He assured them he and his partners are dedicated to building a winning, successful franchise in Milwaukee.

After his talk with the team, Attanasio met with media, including OMC. A lifetime baseball fan, he admitted he felt like a kid again when talking with the players.

"It's so exciting to come here and actually get into baseball," Attanasio said from his office overlooking the playing field at the Maryvale baseball complex. "We announced this (the purchase offer) at the end of the season, and a lot of the discussion has been about closing the deal and on the business side, and I'm doing it for my love of baseball. So, to actually walk out on the field and see all the players in their uniforms, it's a real thrill. There's nothing better. The view from here is great."

Attanasio said he is very happy to be doing business in Milwaukee. "I think it's a great sports market. It's a great sports town. It's an up-and-coming city," he said.

"And, it's a city that managed to get a new ballpark built. There is no question that if the Brewers had not managed to get a new ballpark built, it would have been an extreme challenge to keep a team there. Just look at the numbers. We can't command a media contract like the bigger markets can. But, with the support for sports shown in the city, there is great potential there.

"If you do things in a top-notch way -- look at the Calatrava as an example -- you can be successful. We were 20th in baseball in attendance last year, I might be wrong, but somewhere right in the middle. I think we will be up this year. There's no question the city can support baseball. We can't be New York or Chicago, but we can have a successful baseball franchise in Milwaukee."

The Brewers have increased their payroll to $42 million, up 50 percent over last year. They will continue to spend the money necessary to become competitive, Attanasio said.

"It's really driven more from the baseball side than the business side," said Attanasio. "We're not going to spend money to say we spent the money.

"I, frankly, was very pleasantly surprised that we were able to get the players we did. If we hadn't been able to trade for Carlos Lee, or sign Damian Miller, we might have had a much lower payroll. We weren't going to sign players to just say, 'hey, we signed them.'"

Attanasio said a top priority will be signing pitcher Ben Sheets to a long-term contract. Sheets signed a one-year deal a couple weeks ago to avoid arbitration.

Other priorities will be to decide whether the club should name a new president, since it has been without one since the departure of Ulice Payne, and finalizing the ownership team. Attanasio did say in the interview that Milwaukee businessman David Lubar has officially joined the ownership group and that the group will include eight investors, plus him.

While Attanasio will continue to be based in Los Angeles, he will be in Milwaukee, "As much as I need to. I'll be in Spring Training a couple of weekends. Then, I'll be in Milwaukee the middle of March. I'll spend a couple days there and meet some more of the local business leaders. I'm doing breakfast with the mayor. We'll start having weekly business calls. I'd like to spend more time in person with some people. I'm going to be there when I need to be there. The one thing you can be sure of -- I'm going to always want to be there."

Attanasio concluded the interview by repeating a paraphrase of a line from the movie "Flamingo Kid," the same line he had told the players: "When you are doing something you want to do, and are good at it, God is smiling down on you. God truly is smiling down on all of us in baseball. Make the most of it."

Cactus League Notes

Ben Hendrickson and Chris Capuano will start when the Brewers open this exhibition schedule with split-squad games against the A's and Mariners Friday ... Rookie J.J. Hardy knows he has to play good defense to earn the starting shortstop spot. "As little as they are expecting from me on offense, I have to field my position well," he said. "I have confidence in my defense." ... Brady Clark, who has performed well as a reserve outfielder for two seasons, will get a chance to start in center. "It's been a long journey," he said. "I want to make the most of the opportunity. I have always prepared myself as if I was going to play in every game." See more about Hardy and Clark in subsequent columns.

The Name Game

The Bucks' Michael Redd gets the second Sports Buzz Athlete of the Month award, after having several big scoring games despite suffering some injuries in February. Plus, Redd didn't end up getting traded. Now, he has to re-sign with the Bucks after the season. The Wave's Greg Howes, who had back-to-back hat tricks, and UWM's Ed McCants get honorable mentions...McCants was picked the Player of the Year in the Horizon League. UWM's Bruce Pearl was picked the Coach of the Year for the third time.

Beyond Milwaukee Sports

UW-Stevens Point beat Whitewater, 87-77, to win the WIAC men's basketball tournament. Stout beat Oshkosh, 68-53, in the women's championship game ... Italians Marco Catteneo and Lara Peyrot won the men's and women's division championships at the Birkie cross country race last weekend ... Anne Wilson of Viterbo scored 23 points, had 14 rebounds and tied her school record of six blocked shots in a 66-50 win over Grand View.

Hot Tix

Redd and the Bucks play at Minnesota Friday night and host the Bulls in an Interstate 94 rivalry game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Bradley Center.

In college basketball, the UW Badgers wrap up the regular season with a game at the Kohl Center Saturday against Purdue. Tip-off is at 1:30 p.m. The Badgers start Big Ten tournament play next Thursday.

Marquette ends its rather disappointing regular season against St. Louis at noon Saturday at the B.C. The Golden Eagles likely will have to win their conference tournament to get into the NCAA, and that seems highly improbable.

UWM, the regular season champion in the Horizon League, enters conference tournament play.

The Wave plays at St. Louis Thursday and hosts Philadelphia at the U.S. Cellular Arena at 7 p.m. Sunday. The Admirals play Utah at 7 p.m. Friday and Grand Rapids at 2 p.m. Sunday at the B.C.

Tournament action has started for college women's teams and prep teams. March Madness is underway.

Finally, in the warmer climes of Arizona, the Brewers open Cactus League play with the split-squad games Friday. They play the A's again Saturday and the Royals on Sunday.

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.