It has been a while since I've written anything in this space. The reason for that is two-fold.
First, I am the proud parent to a new baby boy (he's a month old today, as a matter of fact)! Second, the team hasn't exactly given me much in the way of motivation to sit down and really put forth any concerted effort.
In all honesty it is the former that has kept me away more than the latter. I can write about my favorite team in the dead of winter when they're not even playing with no issue. Certainly I have had plenty on my mind during these recent lean days, but diapers/bottles/baths/bonding/etc. really chew up my "free" time.
I was going to sit down and write a free-form rant (I even advertised it on my blog's Twitter account—twitter.com/BrewerNation), but I got busy and calmed down while caring for my little boy who can't care for himself yet.
That's kind of a metaphor for the 2010 Milwaukee Brewers so far this year.
I know that the team will tell you that they are maturing and that they don't want to be seen as the team that other teams love to beat, but if you ask me, all they've accomplished by toning down their youthful exuberance is to rip their own heart out.
They no longer seem to be having fun while playing a fun game. They no longer seem to be enjoying their days at the ballpark which is an enjoyable place. They no longer seem to have that swagger that carried them to a 90-72 record and a postseason playoff berth WAY back in 2008.
Yeah...2008. Remember when CC Sabathia couldn't be stopped and this team was having fun all summer long, culminating in the picture above? It doesn't seem that long ago when you think about it outside of sports, but in Major League Baseball so much can change in two short years.
I could list things such as that they've had three managers since then, or that they've burned through four pitching coaches, but the main thing that's changed from 2008 to 2010 isn't tangible like that.
It's the fun.
Let me break it down for you this way. They say that a group takes on the personality and characteristics of its leader. But has there ever been a seemingly more mismatched pairing than Ken Macha and the majority of this Brewers roster?
Macha is admittedly old school. Don't get me wrong, I like a lot about old school baseball. I like (most of) the unwritten rules. I like drilling a guy for showing up the game. I like a good old-fashioned bench-clearing brawl.
The players, and perhaps it's mostly a by-product of their median age, are decidedly new school in a lot of ways. The earthquake celebration against San Francisco, Braun and Fielder's boxing celebration after home runs, the untucking of their jerseys after victories...it is all about having fun.
They never were trying to show anybody up. They were simply trying to enjoy each other and each other's successes on the field.
But apparently somebody got in the ears of the clubhouse leaders over the offseason and planted a distinctive "knock it off" somewhere in there.
Sure, Braun and Fielder still celebrate home runs and now Fielder and McGehee have even developed a little foot shake routine. And yes, if they were still untucking their jerseys with a 16-26 record, it might seem a touch out of place.
My argument, though, is that once this team stopped having fun this team stopped playing loose. They've been uptight, trying to be too perfect (I'm looking at you, pitching staff), and generally almost seem to be playing scared.
Not that they're afraid of the ball or anything, but they've got "What's going to go wrong tonight?" syndrome.
When you arrive at the ballpark and expect to lose, you generally lose. I'm not saying that any players have told me that they feel this way, or that I've heard any of them say it or even imply it. It's just my feeling as a very interested observer.
Maybe getting Trevor Hoffman fixed will be the spark that this team needs. It can't be easy when the innings are getting late and you don't have at least a four-run lead. Hoffman was so maddeningly inconsistent that you almost had to assume failure and be pleasantly surprised if he came through.
Maybe getting healthy will provide the boost that this team needs. When your Opening Day center fielder and right fielder have missed time and 40 percent of your starting rotation has been replaced due to injury or ineffectiveness and your setup man is on the DL and now your starting catcher will miss at least two weeks...
Then again, maybe simply getting a few wins will be the ointment that heals the wounds of so many losses.
If you win, maybe you loosen up. If you loosen up, maybe you win some more. If you win some more, maybe you stay loose and go on a run.
So the question becomes: How do you win to start that chain of probabilities?
My answer to that question sounds simple. In fact, it sounds so simple that one might wonder why it isn't already happening. It sounds so simple that one might question why it was ever abandoned in the first place.
That answer to the Milwaukee Brewers? Find a way to enjoy the game again.
Untuck those jerseys, watch a few home runs a little too long, pump your fist when you strike out a guy in a key situation on defense, hoot and holler and get the other guy's dander up, put a target on your back again if you must.
In short...just relax and be yourselves.
You might find out that it's what's been missing this whole time.
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