Dan Shafer
True Blue

Growing up Brewers, Bold predictions for 2012

By - Mar 16th, 2012 04:00 am

Without a doubt, Wisconsin is a football state. But in certain corners of the southeast region, nothing is more important than Brewers baseball. I happen to come from one of those corners.

Milwaukee baseball is as much a part of my family as Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas Eve, and overtold jokes. Every conversation from when pitchers and catchers report to camp through the last game of the season revolves around the success and/or failure of our beloved Brew Crew. In fact, if it wasn’t for baseball in Milwaukee, I might not even be here.

After serving in the Korean War and graduating college on the GI Bill, my mother’s father moved to Milwaukee. He was beginning his career as a stock broker, and spending what little free time he had cheering on the Milwaukee Braves. This was the heyday of legends like Eddie Matthews, Lew Burdette, Johnny Logan and a promising young outfielder named Henry Aaron.

My grandmother was also living in Milwaukee at the time, and mutual friends set her up on a blind date with my grandfather. Never one to let others make decisions for him, my grandfather was resistant, but instead of backing out, he chose a location where he could listen to the Braves game. My grandmother, always open to something new, had no objections.

Milwaukee Braves Warren Spahn, Vern Bickford, and Sibby Sisti on the dugout steps at Braves Field. (Photo courtesy: Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)

As the story goes, my grandfather started off the night paying more attention to the game than to my grandmother, but it wasn’t long until my grandmother began to talk about the hometown Braves, and her favorite player, the incomparable Warren Spahn. Grandpa’s attitude quickly changed. As it turned out, Grandma knew as much (if not more) about the team than he did. Long story short, they’ve been married for more than 50 years.

I was born just in time to grow up with another group of local legends. I didn’t care about superheroes as a kid – we had Yount and Molitor.

On September 9, 1992, my dad found last-minute, partially-obstructed-view seats in the lower grandstand on the first base side, and took me along. My grandparents were also in the stands. Robin Yount was sitting at 2,999 hits. He started the night 0-2. The night pressed on, and as a sleepy six-year-old, I was starting to nod off. My dad begged me to hold on for Yount’s next at bat, and sure enough, Rockin’ Robin looped a base hit over the second baseman’s head for number 3,000. I can still see that ball dropping in front of the Cleveland right fielder as the crowd went bonkers. That hit sealed my fate: I was officially hooked for life.

I am not an expert, I am not a player, and I have no intention of chasing stories with the Haudricourts and McCalvys of the world. But I will be writing this column, True Blue, the only way I possibly can – as a diehard fan. I will get way too emotional about the team, and on occasion take ill-advised, mean-spirited shots at those goons in St. Louis (Sorry to Cardinal fans Mr. Senior Editor Tom Strini, Sir, and Mr. Podcast Host, Mark Metcalf, Sir. Just know it’s all in good fun.). And I will defend Rickie’s every last weakness.

Today, as an added bonus for those of you who have made it this far, I have three bold predictions for the 2012 season.

1. Zack Greinke will contend for the NL Cy Young

Greinke’s first year in Milwaukee was a constant case of good news, bad news. Good news: GM Doug Melvin was able to broker the trade for the former Cy Young winner. Bad news: Greinke broke his ribs and missed the first month of the season. Good news: Greinke led the league in strikeout rate (an otherworldly 201 Ks in 171 innings). Bad news: his ERA hovered around 4.00 all year. Good news: a 9-2 record during the stretch run. Bad news: giving up 15 runs (12 earned) in three postseason starts. Advanced stats will tell you that Greinke had an extremely unlucky season, made worse the abysmal defensive duo of Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee patrolling the left side of the infield (who both have moved on from Milwaukee).

This season will be different. Greinke appears comfortable in the Brew City, and is coming into the season at full health. When you consider a likely statistical jump and improved team defense, along with his already world-class skills, Greinke is poised for a monster season in 2012. ESPN is projecting 15 Greinke wins and 233 strikeouts, and my unscientific projections say that he’ll topple both of those numbers en route to competing for his second Cy Young.

2. Corey Hart will have his worst season to date

Hart is coming off of two excellent seasons. In 2010, he hit 31 home runs, drove in 101, and had an .865 OPS. In 2011, despite missing the first month with an injury, he hit 26 home runs, drove in 63 and had an .866 OPS. I, for one, am not expecting this to continue on into 2012. He very well could be the Brewer that suffers most from Prince Fielder’s absence.

Once again, Hart is limping into the season with an injury, and was a virtual no-show in the 2011 playoffs, with a meager .633 OPS and eight strikeouts in 10 games. I’m expecting the 6’5” right fielder to have a season closer to his 2008 campaign (20 HRs, 91 RBIs, a .759 OPS, 23 stolen bases) minus the 23 steals (he doesn’t run anymore) and with fewer RBIs (especially if he bats in the leadoff spot). That said, I really, really hope I’m wrong.

3. Miller Park will once again bring in more than 3 million fans

Prince Fielder’s absence will certainly be felt in 2012, but team owner Mark Attanasio and GM Doug Melvin have shown us time and again that they’re willing to go above and beyond for the Brewer faithful. The best fans in baseball know this, and attendance will once again be 3 million strong.

But does this team have a chance to return to the playoffs? How will Aramis Ramirez fare on the other side of the I-94 rivalry? Will Yovani Gallardo make the leap to bonafide ace? How many different alter-egos will Nyjer Morgan come up with this year? How absurd will John Axford’s mustache get?

Check back in two weeks for the True Blue season preview.

0 thoughts on “True Blue: Growing up Brewers, Bold predictions for 2012”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I for one am looking forward to this column. It’s about time sports begin to get a little love on TCD. As a TCD regular and theatre lover; I also have other interests. I would imagine I’m not the only reader either. Thanks Mr. Shafer.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wainwright. Furcal from the start. Beltran joins what is still a monster line-up even without Albert. The best catcher in baseball. An established closer. A bonafide starting center fielder. The reigning World Series champs enter 2012 better shape than they entered 2011.

    But the Brewers have a good shot at second place. And anything can happen in the playoffs. So buck up, Dan. — Strini

  3. Anonymous says:

    Tom, Everything you said is true. And St. Louis almost missed the playoffs last year. It’ll also be interesting to see what kind of impact losing LaRussa has on the Cards. It should be an entertaining summer. Let’s hope for another NLCS rematch!

  4. Anonymous says:

    All valid points Tom, if the Cards stay healthy, they’re as good as anyone in the NL. Gonna be a fun year!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Oh, I am going to have fun reading this column!! Looking forward to it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    […] Click here of the first instal…True Blue. Follow Dan Shafer on twitter @danshaferMKE. […]

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