OnMilwaukee.com caught up with Jerry Hairston, Jr. as his Los Angeles Dodgers were in town to play the Milwaukee Brewers.
Hairston, Jr. has been coming to Milwaukee for years as an opponent, but last season he spent 45 games with the Brewers as a late-season acquisition. The veteran didn't disappoint, hitting .274 with 18 extra base hits during the season and then a robust .361 in the playoffs.
OnMilwaukee.com: You signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Dodgers on the first day of the winter meetings in December, but the Brewers also were interested in bringing you back. Can you talk about that decision-making process?
Jerry Hairston, Jr.: I had other offers, not just Milwaukee, not just the Dodgers. There were other offers, too. I had to weigh a whole lot of different things having a family – I live in Arizona, on the West Coast – so I had to kind of factor in a lot of things. Obviously, I wanted to come back to Milwaukee. I had a great time here. It just didn't work out that way. They had a busy offseason with a lot of different things going on, so I understand. I really do. But I had to do what I had to do. L.A. was extremely interested from the very start, and I'm very fortunate to be here. It's a great bunch of guys here in L.A. I love the guys and I love what we're doing here. It's a fun clubhouse, too.
OMC: Since leaving Chicago, you have experienced some success, obviously in New York, here in Milwaukee and in San Diego. How important was that element in picking a new home this season?
JH: It's fun. You want to be on good teams. You want to be a part of good teams and have a chance to win. Believe me, that was a factor in my decision making in the offseason. Obviously, Milwaukee is always going to be there. Obviously, this team (the Dodgers) with the second half they had last year, I knew guys like Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw and with what we did in the offseason, we have a shot. You always want to have that shot, that opportunity, to get in the postseason. That was a big, big factor for me.
OMC: You were acquired late last season during the Brewers' playoff run – what was that like, joining that clubhouse?
JH: (Smiles) It was a fun clubhouse. Great guys. You know it's amazing – I felt like I had been there the whole year. I played against those guys a lot playing with Chicago and Cincinnati, but it was just a fun atmosphere. Different types of personalities – from Zack Greinke to "T-Plush" Nyjer Morgan to Prince Fielder – so it definitely was a fun clubhouse.
OMC: In situations like that, do players compare teams, or the feel in a clubhouse, to past experiences – specifically talking about the 2009 New York Yankees team with which you won a World Series ring?
JH: I try not to. Every season is different, every team is different. But obviously I wanted to have the same success we had in 2009. We had a special team. Any time you're in the final four, you have a great team. You need some breaks to go your way to win a World Series and unfortunately for us it just didn't happen. All in all we had a great year.
OMC: Over the years, fan support at Miller Park has been a hot topic in Milwaukee. What was the atmosphere like for you?
JH: Last year they drew over 3 million and I know in the second half it was absolutely electric. The fans really rallied around the team here and it was an unbelievable atmosphere. They were a big part of the success last year. They really have the Brewers back. It's definitely one of the best places to play.
OMC: You played basketball in high school and follow the NBA pretty closely – talk about Earvin "Magic" Johnson being part of the new ownership group for the Dodgers.
JH: He was there on Opening Day in San Diego. Magic is very excited because he knows what the Dodgers mean to L.A. Having a guy that understands not just pro sports but understands the business aspect of how big the Dodgers can be, not just in L.A., but globally. He said owning a baseball team was one of his lifelong dreams and you look at what he's done off the field, it's been pretty impressive. He's been just as successful off the field as he's been on the field, and that's saying something – he's a five-time champion. Guys are excited. And I'm excited not just because I'm a Dodger, but I'm excited for baseball – I think it's good for baseball. It kind of raises the stakes too for every other team. It's a good thing.
OMC: Having come through town on countless road trips – and then the few home stands you had here last year – where is the "must go" place for you in Milwaukee.
JH: (No hesitation). Mo's. It's great. (Smiles). The steaks.
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.