January 2012

Tony Powerplay to take the ice

Brewers outfielder Nyjer Morgan needs another new alter ego.

Tony Powerplay.

Igor Plushski.

You can bet that Morgan — a.k.a. Tony Plush and a myriad of other monikers — will come up with something good when he returns to his sporting roots this week. Morgan is set to skate with his hometown San Jose Sharks during their Wednesday afternoon practice.

Morgan is a Bay Area native who grew up playing hockey and remains an avid fan. But he gave up on the sport about a decade ago to focus on baseball, a choice took Morgan and his many alter egos all the way to the Major Leagues and a spot in Brewers history after delivering the hit that propelled Milwaukee to last year’s National League Championship Series.

He’s already re-signed for 2012, but Brewers position players don’t have their first Spring Training workout until Feb. 25. That gives him a chance to test his legs on the ice.

“I’m really excited to get on the ice with the team,” Morgan told the Sharks’ website. “I’ve been a diehard fan since the team came to San Jose in 1991. I will never forget the George Kingston and Patty Falloon days. I’m not sure the guys are ready for me!”

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Greinke open to extension talks

Brewers ace Zack Greinke said he is still operating without an agent, but that does not necessarily scuttle the chances of a contract extension.

Greinke is entering his second season with the team and the final season of the four-year, $38 million extension he signed in January 2009. He severed his ties with CAA Sports last year, after the Brewers acquired Greinke in a trade with the Royals.

“It’d be me in charge as of right now,” he said. “So, we’ll see how long that lasts.”

Asked about a possible extension, Greinke said, “I’ll talk to them about it. I don’t really want to talk to anyone else about it. But I like the business of baseball. It’s exciting for me. It’s not like I plan on being my agent, but it is exciting being able to know what’s going on behind the scenes.”

Greinke had some nice things to saw about his Brewers experience in 2011. Check Brewers.com later today for that.

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Axford throws support behind Braun

As Brewers players, coaches, legends and prospects gathered at the Frontier Airlines Center on Sunday for the team’s “On Deck,” event, a long shadow was cast by one of the players who was not in attendance. Left fielder Ryan Braun passed on the event because his appeal of a drug suspension remains unresolved.

“It’s pretty big,” closer John Axford conceded. “But as a player, I’m not looking at it in a really negative way. We know Ryan. Playing with him for a few years, we know how hard he works and we know what he does. It’s not something negative we’re trying to look at. Obviously, people want to talk about it, try to figure out what’s going on.

“Being with Brauny and seeing how hard he works, I definitely have his back every step of the way.”

Axford would rather focus on the rest of the team, which will try to defend the National League Central crown.

“We have a great team once again,” Axford said. “Obviously, you’re going to lose some players each and every year, but you’re going to pick up some players each and every year. I think Doug and Gord and everyone has done a great job in the front office trying to fill those gaps. We have our entire starting staff coming back. We have [the eighth and ninth innings covered] and a great group of guys in the bullpen. On paper, the team looks great, I think.”

Axford spent some time discussing hair care with a crowd of hard-working reporters, including his famous mustache — he was named the 2011 Mustached American of the Year by the American Mustache Institutes, even though he’s Canadian — and the long hair on his head. Axford hasn’t had it cut since the end of the season, so he somewhat resembled a rock star.

As for winning the mustache award, he said with a big smile, “I’m the first Canadian to win, so I guess there was some controversy.”

Axford pointed out that Goulet was born in the U.S. but to French Canadian parents.

One more bit of Axford news: His wife, Nicole, is expecting another son in June. The couple already has one son, John Jr., who was born at about the same time in 2011.

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Ramirez looking forward to climate control

Aramis Ramirez will not miss those freezing April and May days at Wrigley Field. Not even a little bit.

The longtime Cubs third baseman signed a free agent deal in December with the Brewers, who play their early-season home games under the dome at Miller Park. Ramirez figures the climate control will help boost his production, which the Brewers are counting on given the departure of Prince Fielder and the potential absence of Ryan Braun.

“Chicago is tough to play early in the season,” Ramirez said. “It’s real cold, the wind blowing. Here, we don’t have to worry about that. I’m from the Dominican, from an island, so I don’t really like cold weather.”

In parts of 14 seasons with the Pirates and Cubs, Ramirez is a .261 hitter with 40 home runs in March/April and a .271 hitter with 38 home runs in May, significantly lower than any of the season’s other months.

His attendance at Brewers On Deck is marking Ramirez’s first significant interaction with Milwaukee fans and his new teammates. Ramirez attended the Bucks-Lakers game at the Bradley Center with some fellow Brewers on Saturday night.

“I’m new here, so I have to build a rapport with the guys,” Ramirez said. “It was nice, just to hang out with a couple guys. … I’m going to do my best just to fit in.”

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Braun saga hasn’t hurt Brewers at box office

The uncertainty surrounding National League MVP Ryan Braun has not hurt the Brewers at the box office, the team’s chief operating officer said Sunday.

As fans began filling the Frontier Airlines Center for this year’s iteration of Brewers On Deck, COO Rick Schlesinger said the team expects to parlay its 2011 NL Central title into a record-setting sales season in 2012, whether or not Braun is on the field for Opening Day.

“Our ticket sales have been tremendous,” Schlesinger said. “We are well ahead of last year, and we are expecting to have an all-time attendance record. Our numbers have been great.”

The Brewers set the record just last season, drawing 3,071,373 fans while setting other club marks with 96 regular-season wins and 57 wins at home. It marked the third time in franchise history and the third time in four seasons that the Brewers topped the three million mark.

They set another club record this winter by selling their one millionth ticket for the following season on Dec. 22, nearly a month ahead of the previous mark. That news came 10 days after ESPN reported that Braun faced a suspension following a positive drug test.

“There has been no decline or plateauing [in sales], even after the announcement that Braun was under investigation,” Schlesinger said. “I think fans are excited about the season.”

Braun was notably absent from Sunday’s “On Deck” event, which featured autograph and photo sessions among other events. He withdrew last week with the blessing of Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio, who cited the sensitivity of Braun’s confidential appeal.

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Hart on Fielder, playing first base

The Corey Hart quote that I retweeted from WSSP’s Mike Wickett this morning generated a bunch of responses, so I thought I’d pass along more of Hart’s comments from last night’s appearance on the station so readers can see the full context. My take is that Hart was complimenting Craig Counsell’s role on the team, and not sending a jab to his friend Fielder.

Hart was asked for his reaction to Fielder signing a nine-year deal with Detroit.

“Prince is more like family than a teammate,” Hart said. “Anytime you play with a guy, you’re around a guy so much and you get close, you’re happy when guys get their contracts and go where they want to go. I think Prince is pretty happy to go back [to Detroit].”

Fielder, of course, spent a lot of time in Detroit as a kid when his dad played for the Tigers.

Hosts Tim and Sparky then asked Hart about the leadership void left in the Brewers clubhouse with Fielder’s departure. Here is Hart’s answer:

“Prince is pretty vocal, but I wouldn’t have called him our team leader,” he said. “I think you actually lose more with losing Craig than you do with losing Prince. Obviously, [Fielder's] ability on the field is way above your average player, but I think we’re going to miss Craig Counsell more in the clubhouse than we are Prince. He’s agreat, fun guy, but it’s nice to have those older guys who have been there and won. Any time Craig talks, it doesn’t matter what was going on, you’re going to listen. I think Prince had the kind of makings of it, but you don’t lose as much as you do losing a guy like Craig Counsell.”

To me, that’s not a knock on Fielder at all. Prince was a clubhouse leader at times, but his biggest moments of leadership came in the way he played the game on the field, his intensity and his will to win. Can anyone name a superstar player who hustles on groundouts more than Prince Fielder?

Tim and Sparky also asked Hart about the potential of playing first base. I have not seem him quotes elsewhere since this idea came up, so I wanted to pass along that, too. Brewers officials have been raising the idea of Hart playing a limited number of games at first (20? 30?) while the team breaks in Mat Gamel. Hart is a right-handed hitter and Gamel hits lefty.

Hart said he’s taken grounders and throws at first base as recently as September.

“I didn’t think I was going to be a first baseman again, but you never know,” he said. “You see a lot of guys that play outfield who came up as an infielder, and there’s always a chance you can go back and mess around once in a while. I kind of thought there might be a chance in the future that I might be stuck over there again. I thought I’d go over there and mess around a few times this year. Practice is one thing, but you definitely need some game time experience to get comfortable over there.”

The part where he says, “stuck over there again” sort of jumps off the screen, no?  Doesn’t sound like Hart is dying to use his first baseman’s glove.

Host Tim Allen heard the same thing, and asked Hart, “Do you want to do it?”

“I talked to [general manager] Doug [Melvin], I talked to [manager] Ron [Roenicke] and I said I would do whatever helps us,” Hart said. “I told them, it’s going to be up to them to get me ready and comfortable, and I’ll do whatever they tell me to do. Every drill that they have me do, I’m going to do as much as I can to get better over there.”

Interesting. Yet another indication that this is a huge season for Mat Gamel. If he steps in and has a lot of early success, it would do so much to help this Brewers team in 2012.

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‘On Deck’ schedule released

With Ryan Braun’s status settled, the Brewers released information about Sunday’s “On Deck” event. Here’s everything you need to know:

Brewers On Deck, presented by Time Warner Cable, is Sunday, January 29 at the Frontier Airlines Center in downtown Milwaukee. Doors to the facility open at 7 a.m. CT and the exhibit hall opens from 10a.m. to 5 p.m.

The annual winter fan festival features activities for the entire family, including autographs and photos from Brewers players and coaches, baseball clinics and the always popular “Game Shows” with players, prospects, staff and even appearances from surprise Hollywood guests this year. The day’s activities also include interactive games in the Kids Area, game flashbacks with players, Q&A sessions, vendor booths with baseball memorabilia, and the Brewers Community Foundation Treasure Hunt.

The same system for autographs will be used for Brewers On Deck that was introduced last year. Recipients of autographs for Rollie Fingers, Zack Greinke and Robin Yount will be chosen through a random selection process. Numbered coupons to be entered into the random selection process will be available the day of the event only and will be distributed beginning at 8am at the Frontier Airlines Center. Coupon distribution will be available up to an hour before each designated autograph session. A schedule is listed below:

Player/Signing Time        Stage  Coupon Distribution   Winner Announced   Fan Report
Rollie Fingers 11:30-12:15   5        8:00 – 10:30                11:00                       11:15
Zack Greinke 1:30-2:15       3         8:00-12:30                   1:00                         1:15
Robin Yount 2:00-2:45        1          8:00-1:00                     1:30                         1:45

Fans can receive one coupon per event admission ticket and can use that coupon to enter the random selection process for any one of the select Brewers players. There is no cost for coupons to enter the random selection process; however, those holding coupons that are chosen must pay $25 at the respective autograph stage to collect their player signature. There will be 250 winners for each of the identified autograph sessions.

Players and staff not included in the above autograph list will not use the random selection process. Each of those players will sign 250 autographs at prices ranging from free to $25. The autograph opportunities are for signatures on photo cards provided by the team; the Brewers cannot guarantee that any player will sign other memorabilia, and personalization of items is solely up to the discretion of each player.

All autograph proceeds benefit Brewers Community Foundation. Please note that cash is the only acceptable form of payment for autographs.

Four stages will be set up throughout the convention hall, featuring programming and other activities throughout the day. The Brewers Main Stage will include various question and answer sessions with top Brewers baseball executives, game shows featuring players, and a roundtable discussion with members of the Milwaukee media who cover the team on a regular basis.

The Brewers Interactive Stage will feature the Kids Only Question and Answer session, where youngsters interview players, and Game Flashbacks with fans watching great moments in Brewers history and talking to players that experienced those moments on the field. The Newsradio 620 WTMJ Stage will broadcast live from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. and will include interviews with Brewers players and coaches.

Fans of all ages can visit the FOX Sports Wisconsin Stage to record their own sportscast tape. FOX Sports Wisconsin personalities will visit the Stage throughout the day for autograph opportunities.

Brewers Community Foundation will host a Treasure Hunt, featuring some hard to find Brewers items on sale as well as a live auction at 11:30am on the Interactive Stage. Additionally, Brewers Community Foundation will run two 50/50 Raffles throughout the day.

Fans using social media are invited to use the hashtag #OnDeck when tweeting about Brewers On Deck.

Tickets for the event are $15 in advance and $20 at the door for adults, and $9 in advance and $15 at the door for children 14 and under. NOTE: Tickets purchased at the door of the event on Sunday will be cash only.

There are a variety of parking structures and street lots surrounding the Frontier Airlines Center. For more parking information, please visit www.parkmilwaukee.com.

Details on the autograph and programming schedules are listed below. The schedule is subject to change, with the latest version and more information always available at brewers.com/ondeck.

Autograph Schedule

Stage 1
11:00 – 11:45      Bob Uecker ($25)/Mark Attanasio 
12:30 – 1:15         Jonathan Lucroy ($10)
2:00 – 2:45          Robin Yount ($25)
3:30 – 4:15           Eric Farris (Free)/Brock Kjeldgaard (Free)

Stage 2
11:30 – 12:15      Marco Estrada ($10)/Mike Fiers (Free)
1:00 – 1:45           Yovani Gallardo ($25)
2:30 – 3:15           Shaun Marcum ($10)
3:45 – 4:30           Corey Hart ($25)

Stage 3
10:30 – 11:15      Aramis Ramirez ($25)
12:00 – 12:45      Tim Dillard ($10)/Zelous Wheeler (Free)
1:30 – 2:15           Zack Greinke ($25)
3:00 – 3:45           Caleb Gindl (Free)/Mike McClendon (Free)

Stage 4
11:00 – 11:45      Mat Gamel ($10)/Logan Schafer (Free)
12:30 – 1:15         Randy Wolf ($10)
2:00 – 2:45           Alex Gonzalez ($10)/M.Maldonado (Free)
3:30 – 4:15           Chris Narveson ($10)

Stage 5
11:30 – 12:15      Rollie Fingers ($25)
1:00 – 1:45           George Kottaras ($10)
2:30 – 3:15           Rickie Weeks ($25)
3:45 – 4:30           Taylor Green (Free)/B. Kintzler (Free)

Stage 6
10:30 – 11:15      Manny Parra ($10)
12:00 – 12:45      Nyjer Morgan ($10)
1:30 – 2:15           John Axford ($10)
3:00 – 3:45           Hollywood Guests (Free)

Names in Bold require a winning coupon through random selection process. Additionally the following “Rising Stars” players will sign FREE autographs throughout the day in the Clinic Field area: Jed Bradley, Kentrail Davis, Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett, Taylor Jungmann, Hunter Morris, Michael Reed, Yadiel Rivera, Tyler Thornburg and Mike Walker.

Main Stage Schedule

10:15 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. – Meet the Coaching Staff – Brewers manager Ron Roenicke along with his coaching staff will participate in a Q&A session hosted by Brian Anderson.

11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Who Wants to be a Brewer? – Several Brewers players will participate in this trivia-style game show to see who has what it takes to win it all. NewsRadio 620 WTMJ/Brewers play-by-play announcer Joe Block will host the show.

12:15 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. – Meet Mark Attanasio, Doug Melvin, Gord Ash, Craig Counsell and the Newest Brewers – Brewers Chairman and Principal Owner Mark Attanasio, Executive Vice President – General Manager Doug Melvin, Vice President – Assistant General Manager Gord Ash, and Special Assistant to the GM Craig Counsell will join free agent acquisitions – Alex Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez – in a question and answer session with Brewers fans. The session will be hosted by Brewers Hall of Fame Radio Announcer Bob Uecker.

1:15 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. – Milwacky Squares – A spin-off of “Hollywood Squares,” the newest game show to hit Brewers On Deck, features Brewers Hall of Fame Radio Announcer Bob Uecker as the center square along with Brewers players and several surprise Hollywood guests.

2:15 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Rising Stars Q&A – Brewers prospects Jed Bradley, Kentrail Davis, Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett, Taylor Jungmann, Hunter Morris, Michael Reed, Yadiel Rivera, Tyler Thornburg and Mike Walker will take questions from fans regarding the future of the organization on the field.

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – Brewers Face Off – It’s the Brewers “family” of current Brewers against the Brewers “family” of future stars in what will certainly turn out to be a “feud.” Brewers television voice Brian Anderson will host this classic game show.

4:15 p.m. – 4:45 p.m. – Media Roundtable – Join host Craig Coshun in a discussion about the Brewers with members of the local media including Tom Haudricourt of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Adam McCalvy of Brewers.com and Andrew Wagner of FoxSportsWisconsin.com.

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Braun won’t attend ‘On Deck’

Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio released a statement today about the club’s weekend fanfest in Milwaukee:

“In working through the logistics of this weekend’s Brewers On Deck event in Milwaukee with Ryan Braun– and knowing how much he enjoys interacting candidly with Brewers fans — we came to the conclusion that this is too sensitive of a time in the confidential process for him to attend this year.

“I speak for everyone at the Brewers, including Ryan, in thanking our fans for their understanding and patience.”

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GM Melvin: Fielder was the key to Brewers’ resurgence

Here’s what Brewers general manager Doug Melvin had to say about Prince Fielder signing with the Tigers:

“People were saying, ‘What does [Boras] have? He doesn’t have any offers,'” Melvin said, “Whatever. You only have to have one team, two teams involved. Prince is a very valued player, and we would have loved to have him [longer] but we didn’t have that money. Scott got a deal that he likes and it looks like a pretty good deal for Prince.”

Melvin said he figured the Tigers could be players for Prince after news that another of their stars, Victor Martinez, suffered a knee injury in his offseason training. So he wasn’t totally surprised to see Detroit jump in at the last moment.

As for the fact that the Tigers are not on the Brewers’ schedule in 2012, Melvin said, “I wasn’t worried about that. My approach with Prince is that he helped turn this organization around. He took us from a level where we were rebuilding, and he was ‘the guy.’ He was here even before Ryan [Braun] was. Prince, I feel proud of the opportunity we were able to give him here, and he capitalized on it.

“We traded Lyle Overbay coming off a monster year for Lyle Overbay [at the 2005 Winter Meetings, clearing a spot in the lineup for Fielder], and that was a huge gamble. Prince stepped up. What else can you ask? The guy plays every day, every inning, and he brought a lot of great emotion to this franchise.

“In some sense, I’m glad he got a good contract that he’s satisfied with. We knew early on that we probably weren’t going to be in it. I think Prince probably knew that, too.”

As for the chatter recently that the Brewers were waiting in the wings with a one-year offer for Fielder? Not true, Melvin said.

“We never had that conversation, and if we did, it was way, way back so far I don’t even remember it,” Melvin said. “He was never going to sign a one-year contract. Whoever put that out there was obviously not involved in it.”

Melvin confirmed that the Brewers’ last serious talks with Boras and Fielder about an extension were during 2010 Spring Training. Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash flew to Los Angeles to join principal owner Mark Attanasio for a meeting with Boras. Melvin called it Milwaukee’s “best pitch,” though he would not say once and for all what the best offer was. It’s been reported in some places as five years and $100 million, and other places as six years at $120 million or more.

Since then, the Brewers have allocated resources elsewhere, including contract extensions for Braun, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Yovani Gallardo.

“We had to go on and do our business,” Melvin said.

The Brewers will get two Draft picks as compensation for Fielder’s departure. The 27th overall pick in the first round, from Detroit, plus another pick between the first round and the second round. Those are in addition to the first-round selection Milwaukee already owned: 28th.

“At least we get Draft picks,” Melvin said. “We’ve been screwed on that before.”

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Fielder to Tigers; Brewers get 27th pick in Draft

It’s been obvious for months, but on Tuesday it became reality. Prince Fielder, drafted by the Brewers nine years ago and developed into one of baseball’s most feared sluggers, is moving on.

Fielder has reportedly struck a nine-year, $214 megadeal with the Tigers first reported by CBSSports.com, pending a physical exam. It would end a Milwaukee tenure that dates back to June 2002, when the Brewers made Fielder the seventh overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft.

Tuesday was a sad day for Fielder’s many fans in Wisconsin, but the silver lining was that his long-expected departure could help Milwaukee bolster its next wave of talent. He was a Type A free agent, so the Brewers will get Detroit’s first-round pick in the 2012 Draft, plus a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds. Because the Brewers already owned the 28th overall pick by virtue of their 2011 regular-season record, Milwaukee will own back-to-back selections in next year’s first round.

But the big league club has a huge hole to fill. Fielder is a three-time All-Star, three times finished in the top four in National League MVP balloting and exits with 230 home runs, second in Brewers history only to Hall of Famer Robin Yount.

Fielder is also the Brewers’ all-time leader with a .390 on-base percentage, ranks second (to longtime teammate Ryan Braun) with a .540 slugging percentage and third with 566 walks. He’s sixth in club history with 656 RBIs, though every member of the top five played at least 150 games more in a Brewers uniform than Fielder’s 998.

“He’s been our franchise,” said Milwaukee right fielder Corey Hart. “He’s a star. He’s a game-changer. Having him made our team scary.”

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