Familiar face, different place
Geoff Jenkins experienced the emotional farewell at Miller Park, the stomach-churning uncertainty of the free agent process, the introductory press conference in Philadelphia, the Phillies winter caravan, the long plane ride from Arizona to Florida and the stiff, somewhat awkward introduction to new teammates, coaches, trainers and clubhouse attendants.
After all those things, it was a simple thing that drove home the realization that he was no longer a member of the Brewers.
"For me, it was the red cleats," said Jenkins, 33. "It was like, 'Whoa.' That was the big eye-opener for me."
Jenkins put on the red cleats Wednesday night when he played at Miller Park for the first time as a visitor. After enjoying lunch with Brewers ace Ben Sheets, he entered the ballpark early, greeted team employees and dropped by the Milwaukee training room for a 30-minute visit before eventually watching his former club take a spine-tingling 5-4 victory behind two homers from Prince Fielder and a resounding save by embattled reliever Derrick Turnbow.
"I made a lot of friends here, on and off the field," Jenkins said. "It's fun to see everybody."
In one way, it was business as usual. Jenkins prepared to play a baseball game -- something he has done for much of his life.
In another way, though, it was weird.
"You try to take it as another day, but it's not just another day. It's different," Jenkins said. "It's not like you played some place for a couple of years. When you play somewhere for a decade, that's a long time in your life. All I had known was the Brewers."
A first-round draft pick in 1995, Jenkins played in 1,234 games for the Brewers, which ranks sixth in franchise history. He hit .277 with 212 homers (second behind Robin Yount) and 704 RBI.
A popular player who toiled on teams that mostly hovered between mediocre and horrible, Jenkins ended his affiliation with Milwaukee when the Brewers declined to exercise his $9 million contract option for 2008.
In his final game last fall, Jenkins received a rousing ovation. He got another one when he was introduced on Wednesday.
"I think I went about my business the right way," said Jenkins, who signed a two-year, $13 million deal with the Phillies. "I hustled and did everything I needed to do as a baseball player. I think people respected that."
Brewers manager Ned Yost agreed.
"He had a great career here," Yost said. "He's a really good player. I think he'll get a great ovation because he did nothing but play his heart out in this city for 10 years. Fans understand players who give full effort, and it doesn't matter if you're in another uniform or not."
Though the Brewers were the only organization he knew, Jenkins quickly became comfortable in his new surroundings.
"The transition has been great," he said. "(Manager) Charlie (Manual) is great. I knew Pat Burrell and some of the other guys already, but once you're in spring training and you spend 10 hours a day together.
Jenkins, one of the better defensive outfielders in Brewers history, made a diving catch to rob Rickie Weeks of a hit in the second inning. He went 0 for 3 with a walk at the plate.
"In two days, I'll start cheering for him," Sheets said, wryly.
At one point during lunch, a fan approached Sheets and said "Hey Brett, how are you enjoying retirement?"
"I'm not Brett," Sheets said, pointing at Jenkins, who was mistaken for Brett Favre early in his career. "He is."
The confused fan walked away as the players laughed.
"I loved it," Jenkins said. "And he was dead-set that it was Sheeter. Now that I'm gone, I guess I'll pass that on to Sheets. I passed the torch."
I won't miss him swinging at 3 pitches in the dirt with runners on second and third and only one out.
Aww I miss Jenkins!! I didn't know whether to cheer or not when he caught Rickie's ball! :) I'm so glad to see the fans in Milwaukee are such a class act - giving Jenks a warm welcome back.
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