You can see it, or what you think is it, nearly every day.
It’s running patterns in the Miller Park outfield as Nerf footballs fly through the air. It’s videos and 140 characters of encouragement shared on social media. It’s batting practice competitions, hand signals to the dugout after a base hit, the shaving cream to the face or Gatorade bath during postgame television interviews.
Such, "fun" is the physical manifestation of the ever-elusive, hard to define, but you-know-it-when-you-see-it chemistry of a sports team.
Judging by those superficial actions, it would appear the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers have it. First place in the National League Central provides some substance.
"Obviously that stuff helps, but I’m just going to go ahead and say that the team chemistry is one of the best ones that I’ve seen," said starter Marco Estrada. "The 2011 team had great chemistry. A lot of veteran players that any rookie could just go up to any of them and ask questions, they’d be more than happy to answer anything. Things were just done the right way. Everybody played hard. And I see the same thing this year."
Estrada provided a glimpse into the actual weight of that chemistry, which can be found inside the clubhouse, in the one-to-one relationships.
For this Brewers team, it’s about composition, and conversation. And that has helped lead to production on the field.
"That was always pretty good with our veterans, but now we’ve added some guys to it that – before maybe there was two guys they would go to and now there’s five or six guys," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "So I think it makes a difference. And every player is going to connect and have a better relationship with certain people, so whenever those connections are good; anytime you have that veteran – and the right veteran – that it’s going to help progress that player."
The average age of team (including everyone who has appeared in at least one game) is 28.5, with a wide variety of experience ranging from 22-year-old rookie Wei-Chung Wang to 37-year-old Lyle Overbay.
There are also "young" players like Carlos Gomez and Yovani Gallardo, each just 28 years old, who have nearly a decade of major league experience.
Scooter Gennett, Jean Segura and Will Smith, all 24, fit seamlessly with 10-year veteran Zach Duke, Kyle Lohse (14 years) and Aramis Ramirez (17 years).
"They’ve been there, done that," Gennett said. "A lot of people hear about all the success a guy’s had but they’ll share the bad and the good. It’s not like you feel better that they’ve gone through something bad, but they’ve been there and they understand and they can relate and help out."
It all can be summed up in the simple scene of Khris Davis, who had 153 career plate appearances in the major leagues coming into the year, and Rickie Weeks, who had 4,414, sitting, talking.
Of course, you can only have a conversation if there is a give and take between both parties.
For their part, the veterans have made it known they’re available.
"I feel like I’ve been around a while, the other veteran guys have been around a while, it’s kind of our job to do that," Lohse said. "You’ve got to take pride in that side of it too."
That goes for naught, however, if their teammates aren’t willing to engage.
"If a young guy is not willing to ask questions or listen you’re not going to get anything out of them, which isn’t the case here," Estrada said. "We have young guys that ask a lot of questions."
"That’s the thing – we’ve got a good group of young guys that are willing to listen," Lohse added. "Us as veterans, we’re not telling them we know everything, we’re telling them what works for us. I tell everybody, the pitchers, this is what works for me. It’s not going to work for you exactly like this but find something along those lines that’s going to work for you.
"We’ve got a good group that’s willing to ask somebody and we have a pretty open relationship as far as that goes. Everybody trusts everybody in here and we’re looking out for the best for the team, and the only way you can do that is to help everybody be on the same page."
Gomez, who bounces around the clubhouse to talk to whoever about whatever, smiled – as he often does – as he delivered what the overriding message on that same page.
"We try to inject to the young guys the more important is get that ‘W’ that night because if we get that ‘W’ then everybody forget what’s happened," he said. "Everybody looks at the positive thing."
That injection has taken.
Davis was asked recently if team had developed a specific, definable, personality.
"I think we just have fun," he said. "So, as long as we keep winning we’re going to keep having fun. That’s what it’s about here. The older guys just do a brilliant job as far as taking us younger cats under their wings to make us feel comfortable and show us it’s about winning."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.