It's the bottom of the fifth inning at Miller Park and shortstop J.J. Hardy is at the plate for the Brewers. FSN Wisconsin Davey Nelson is watching the game on TV in the media dining room behind the press box when the camera pans to a young girl holding a sign that reads: "Marry me, J.J.!"
"Remember what it was like when (Scott) Podsednik was here?" Nelson asks a reporter, referring to a popular outfielder traded to Chicago after the 2004 season. "They used to call him 'Scottie Hottie.' They really wore him out with that stuff. I was wondering if we'd have another one of those big-time, heartthrob guys after Podsednik left, and it looks like J.J. is the guy."
In 2 1/2 eventful seasons with the Brewers, Hardy has gone from promising prospect to injury-prone question mark to surprising home-run leader to soap opera guest star (Who could forget that cheesy line on "The Young and the Restless?") to National League all-star. A few weeks shy of his 25th birthday (Aug. 19), he has established himself as a leader among the young players in the clubhouse and as a fan favorite.
Before a recent game against the Giants, we asked him about his female fan base, his trip to the All-Star Game and his strategy for ending the hitting slump that has dogged him in recent weeks.
Enjoy this Milwaukee Talks interview with Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy:
OnMilwaukee.com: What is it like to be a matinee idol?
J.J. Hardy: What do you mean?
OMC: All the screaming girls in the stands with their signs? It's what every kid playing baseball dreams of, right?
JJH: It's a little strange.
OMC: It seems like one of those things that are better in theory than in reality. What is your fan mail like these days?
JJH: I haven't really been looking at that stuff very much lately. Even last year, I had dads sending me pictures of daughters.
JJH: Yeah, it was like, "She's graduating. Can you call her? Here is her e-mail address." I thought that was a little strange.
OMC: Look at it this way: you're exposing the Brewers to a new demographic.
JJH: I guess. It seems like it's always the 16-year-olds, too. (Rookie third baseman Ryan) Braun is starting to get a little bit of it, too. He can take some of it away. It's fun, though. It's fun for everyone else to make fun of me, I'm sure.
OMC: What's the social scene like for a single Brewer in Milwaukee?
JJH: I don't go out. I think I've been out once or twice in Milwaukee this whole season. I don't like the attention. I can't stand it.
OMC: Packers players have said the same thing over the years about living in a bit of a fishbowl in Green Bay. Milwaukee is a bigger city, tough. Is this a new phenomenon with the team winning and the soap opera and the All-Star Game?
JJH: It was getting bad last year, to the point where I didn't really like it. I just don't like the attention. You go grab a sandwich and someone recognizes you. All of a sudden, the whole place is looking at you. That's still weird to me.
OMC: Now that you've had a couple weeks to get back into the routine, how was your experience at the All-Star Game?
JJH: It was really awesome. It was a great experience. My family was able to come along and they had a great time. It was great.
OMC: With all the interviews and appearances and other obligations, were you surprised at how busy those two days are?
JJH: It was busy, but I wasn't really surprised, because everyone kind of warned me about that. Right after the game was the only time that I was able to really hang out with my family and say, "Whew!" and just relax.
OMC: What was the coolest part of the experience?
JJH: The whole experience was cool. I can't think of just one thing that stands out. The red carpet parade they had was cool. I wish I'd have brought my family with me for that, because I was sitting in the back of the truck by myself and everyone else had their family. I didn't really realize what was going on. We walked into this tent before the red carpet and they had all this stuff for us to grab. They had bags that we could fill up with all-star shirts and jerseys and stuff. That was really cool.
OMC: Did you get to hang out with other all-stars at all? Did you spend time talking to guys in the clubhouse or on the field?
JJH: Not as much as I thought. (Phillies second baseman) Chase Utley had a little party at some bar (the night before the game). It would have been better if it wasn't a sauna in there. It was pretty hot. But, it was still fun. For some reason, I spent a lot of time with the Phillies guys. I don't know why. I started talking to Cole (Hamels) and Aaron Rowand and Chase (Utley). I talked a little bit with (Pittsburgh's) Freddy Sanchez, too. I'd never really talked to him a lot. Brian McCann of Atlanta was cool, too.
OMC: Was it neat to be able to share that with your family?
JJH: That may have been the best part. I'm glad they were able to come and enjoy it.
OMC: You had a game in Washington, flew to San Francisco and had two days of non-stop activity with the All-Star Game. How tired were you after all that?
JJH: I was exhausted. I came home at 2 o'clock that next day and I barely got out of bed. The only time I left my house was to go to Quizno's to get a sandwich.
OMC: You've already eclipsed career highs in a lot of categories. In the coming weeks, you'll set new marks for at-bats and games played. Physically, how do you feel?
JJH: I feel really good. I'm not worried about the physical side of things at all. I feel better than I ever have this late into the season.
OMC: When Billy Hall and Geoff Jenkins are locked in at the plate, or starting to get locked in, it seems like they start hitting balls through the middle of the diamond. What impressed me about your hot start this year is that you were hitting balls hard to all fields. You were getting on top of inside pitches, hitting line drives to the left side and keeping the ball fair. Your timing has to be pretty close to perfect to do that. The $1 million question is "How did you do that and what can you do to get back to it?"
JJH: You just have to be confident and go up there with a plan. I've been jumping at the ball lately. It's like I'm going up there without any plan at all. You can't explain it. You have some bad at-bats and you get to where you don't feel comfortable up there and it's almost like you forgot what it feels like to be hot.
That's what slumps are like. You just have to keep working and wait until you come out of it. If this happened to me last year or two years ago, I'd have been freaking out. I'm not happy about it, but I know I'm going to come out of it.
It's weird how you can go from really feeling good at the plate to feeling totally lost to feeling good again. And, it can change in one at-bat. That's baseball.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.