Thousands of Brewers fans lined up early this morning at Milwaukee’s downtown Midwest Airlines Center for “Brewers On Deck,” a day-long fanfest that features autographs, photo sessions, memorabilia booths and a big corner stage for question and answer sessions and other events.
Here are the updates as they appeared throughout the day:
5:31 p.m. CT — Attendance figures are in, and 10,638 fans attended Brewers On Deck on Sunday. That’s 227 more than attended last year, when the team was coming off a playoff appearance.
5:05 p.m. CT – Ryan Braun is rooting for Prince Fielder to sign a longterm extension with the Brewers. Braun, after all, is under contract through 2015 and has the luxury of hitting in front of Fielder in the lineup. But Braun is not holding his breath.
“He’s going to do whatever is in his best interests, whatever is best for his family,” Braun said. “He’s earned the opportunity to go out there and see what free agency is like, see who’s interested and how much they are willing to pay.
“Obviously, I want him here. But it’s a business and I just want what’s best for him. I think everybody recognizes the circumstances and the situation that he’s in and that the team is in. To me, it’s going to come down to what’s best for his family. He’s close enough to free agency that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for him to sign a deal at this point. You have to be [realistic].”
3:36 p.m. CT – On Monday, David Riske will be just eight months removed from Tommy John surgery, a procedure that can require 12 months of rehabilitation. Still, the reliever is hoping to be active for the Brewers on Opening Day.
“I’d say it’s a long shot, but it’s a possibility,” Riske said. “It just all depends on how fast it responds, and then when I can face hitters and how fast it responds after that.”
Riske has been rehabbing at home in Las Vegas and began throwing off a mound two weeks ago. That’s a significant milestone.
The Brewers would love to get some production from Riske this season because so far his three-year contract has not paid off. Riske says his troubles began during his first Spring Training with the Brewers in 2007, when then-pitching coach Mike Maddux tried to introduce a curveball to his repertoire.
“I wish I would have never, ever tried to learn those breaking balls because that’s really what triggered it,” Riske said. “What do you do? You want to do what they want, and it gradually got worse and worse. … My whole career, I threw 95 percent fastballs, and I’ve had a pretty good career up until last year. I wish I would have just said no.”
Riske said he objected, but tried to pitch through the pain. He posted a 5.31 ERA in 45 appearances in 2008 and was shut down after Sept. 7.
Riske is due $4.5 million in 2010 and his contract calls for a $4.75 million option for 2011 or a $250,000 buyout.
He expects to be limited at the start of Spring Training and will follow a program prescribed by Brewers’ doctors. Pitchers and catchers will participate in their first formal workout on Feb. 22.
“I miss competition,” Riske said. “I’ve been competing with my boys at home, and that’s just not the same. I want that back. I just want to go pitch without hurting.”
2:25 p.m. CT – Jeff Cirillo
is staying busy these days. He’s an active investor in the Walla Walla Sweets
, a newly-formed baseball team in the West Coast League, a summer wood bat league for collegiate prospects. Cirillo produced his cell phone and showed off the club’s logo, a proud father showing a photo of his kids. The club is named for one of Walla Walla, Wash.’s chief exports, the sweet onion.
Cirillo is involved in everything from player procurement to business operations. He’s also a Major League scout for the D-backs and said he’ll also be involved in some on-field instruction this year.
1:27 p.m. CT — Prince Fielder Fielder moved into a new house this winter in Windermere, Fla., the upscale hamlet near Orlando made infamous in recent months because it’s also the home of Tiger Woods. With all of the commotion, Fielder has mostly stayed in, playing with young sons Jaden and Haven and staying in shape. Fielder’s new home is outfitted with a pool, a gym — “A little miniature-Ballys,” he said — and an indoor batting cage. He’s working to maintain his playing weight from last season, “or maybe to get a little better.”
“I have to work out or I’d be huge,” Fielder said. “That’s not an option for me. … I don’t want to turn into an obese person, because I can.”
He likes the Brewers’ offseason moves to far, and Sunday’s “On Deck” event gave Fielder a chance to catch up with newcomers like Randy Wolf, LaTroy Hawkins and Gregg Zaun. His contract could be a major issue swirling around the Brewers as they gather at Maryvale Baseball Park for Spring Training, but Fielder is much more interested to focus on baseball.
“I’m just looking forward to having a better year as far as the team,” he said. “Whatever happens after that is cool. As long as we improve, I’m happy.”
12:56 p.m. CT – Fielder isn’t sweating his contract situation, unlike so many of the Brewers fans who asked for his autograph at the Brewers’ annual fan fest on Sunday.
Fielder is two seasons shy of free agency, and the Brewers are already engaging agent Scott Boras in some casual conversations about a long-term extension. Trouble is, there is little or no precedent for a Boras client of Fielder’s star caliber accepting such a deal over the riches available on the open market, and many Milwaukee fans are already counting down the days to Fielder’s inevitable departure.
Not so fast, he said.
“In the end, it’s my decision,” Fielder said. “But as my agent, he’s going to make sure that I have the most information possible about what’s going to benefit me and my family. That’s what it’s about first. My family has to be happy, and then I go from there.
“There’s no urgency right now as far as that.”
Asked whether he was worried about the fact that fellow star first basemen Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Adrian Gonzalez are all lined up to reach free agency at the same time as Fielder, he responded with a smile, “I’m younger than all of them, and I’m pretty good.”
Fielder said he won’t set a deadline for talks, though he said he “could tell [Boras], ‘Beat it,’” at some point if he doesn’t want to talk business any more. If the negotiations don’t progress, Fielder would earn his $10.5 million in 2010 and be eligible for salary arbitration one more time this winter. If he has a season like the one he enjoyed in 2009, when Fielder belted 46 homers and tied for the Major League lead with 141 RBIs, it could be a record-breaking case.
The Brewers took a chance on Fielder in 2002, when they made him the seventh overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft and were skewered by some Draft analysts who were already expressing concern about Fielder’s weight. Instead, Fielder charged through Milwaukee’s Minor League system and took over first base at Miller Park for good in 2006. He set a franchise record 50 home runs in 2007, teamed with left fielder Ryan Braun to lead the Brewers
to their first postseason appearance in a generation in 2008, then set club marks for RBIs and walks in 2009.
That history matters, according to Fielder.
“I came up here and I love it here,” he said. “My thing is I want to stay here as long as possible. For now, I’m here for two more years anyway. All that other stuff, hopefully, will work out.”
Even though it’s a major long shot, Brewers fans sure hope so.
11:56 a.m. CT – Brewers bench coach Willie Randolph will begin the season on the disabled list.
Randolph underwent surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow and attended “Brewers On Deck” with his right arm in a brace. Randolph said the injury was the result of wear and tear from throwing so much batting practice in 2009 — coaches throw hundreds of pitches every day — and decided recently that he had to have the problem fixed.
Ben Sheets, of course, underwent flexor tendon surgery a year ago and missed the entire 2009 season. Randolph expects to be back earlier; he said he hopes to be back on the mound in May.
11:30 a.m. CT -- Manager Ken Macha and pitching coach Rick Peterson were first up on the main stage and answered questions from reporters and from fans. Most of the discussion, perhaps since Peterson was present and perhaps because it was such a disaster last season, was the pitching.
“It will all come down to the pitching,” Macha predicted.
Before he met them in person on Sunday, Peterson had already reached out to many of the team’s pitchers via telephone. Those conversations were mostly about building relationships, Peterson said, though he’s also spent time breaking down video and data and jotting down ideas about improvements.
Those nuts and bolts discussions will begin in Arizona, Peterson said.
“I want them to understand first that I’m an asset for them,” Peterson said. “Right now I’m doing my homework.”
So far, he likes what he sees.
“I think this could be a really special year,” Peterson said. “You think about winning 80 games last year and having the worst starting pitching in baseball. If we can make some incremental differences … I think that we can go into Spring Training with the hope of playing in October.”
Other highlights from the session:
- Macha again endorsed Rickie Weeks for the top spot in the lineup. “If I was to write a lineup today, he would be the leadoff hitter,” Macha said.
- Peterson said the team is in “wait and see right” mode with left-hander Mark Mulder. The sides have discussed a Minor League contract, and Peterson indicated that the ball was in Mulder’s court at this point.