Wait Till Next Year
Carlos Lee made a practice of jogging around the basis. He will be missed, but the players they recieved in his place will be a big part of the Brewers Future
Prince Fielder led all rookies with 28 homeruns. He finished with 81 rbi, and .271 ba.
Bill Hall was the ultimate utility man, spending time at third, short, second, and centerfield throughout the season. He settled into the shortstop position when J.J. Hardy went down with a sprained ankle. He finished with a career high 35 homeruns and 85 rbi, and led all short stops in homeruns and slugging%.
Miller Park still draws big crowds, averaging 28,000 for the season. Sports Illustrated listed Miller Park as one of the best sporting venues in baseball, and it still continues to draw fans on a consistant basis.
Wait till next year. That's generally the mantra coming from teams that either fail to make the playoffs after a long, close race or a team that comes up short in the championship series or the World Series. It is generally a phrase repeated with a bit of pride, knowing that while the team referred to did not win it all, they still accomplished a lot and have a lot to build on. There usually seems to be good reason for why next year will indeed be the year when they break out and get one level higher than the year before. Whether it's the playoffs, into the World Series, or champions outright.
In the annals of baseball, however, there is one team that defies the traditional mantra. There is a team that year-in and year-out will break your heart. Right when you think that this could be the year, this could be the time when we finally turn things around, the ghosts of seasons past come around and remind you that it is all just a fantasy.
Again, people usually talk like this when they are talking about the Red Sox, who by the way have the whiningest fans in baseball, or the Cubs who haven't put together back to back winning seasons in like 60 years. No, I am not talking about these teams. These are teams that at least provide their fans with some much needed hope every few years. I am talking about a team that hasn't put together a winning season since the break of the Gulf War. I am talking about a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since Reaganomics was in its infancy. I am talking about the Milwaukee Brewers.
This was another year where Brewer fans had reason to believe that this could be the year. Playoffs? No, a winning season. That is how we have come to measure success here in Brewer country. We have come to measure success not in terms of how many games out of first place are we, but rather how many games under or above .500 are we. This is a place where taking two games in a three game series means that they have just gained a game in the race for .500. This is a place where four and five game win streaks are about as rare as getting walked by Greg Maddux or getting out of a rundown.
2005 finished with a glimmer of hope. The Brewers finished 81-81, their first non-losing season since 1992. While they lost two of three to the lowly Pirates in the final weekend to squelch their chances of an actual winning season, Brewer fans could finally say that their team was not a losing club. With this natural high, fans felt like they could carry this momentum into next season and produce a truly competitive ball club, with playoff hopes looming in the short future.
2006 started with many bright spots. The future of the Brewers was up together for the first time on a full time basis. Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, and J.J. Hardy were populating the Brewers lineup and manning the infield. This core of young players, along with the super utility man Bill Hall, were the backbone of a team that was being built to be a winner. This group of players has been the hype of the Brewers media all winter, and you get the idea that it could be the new Robin Yount/Jim Gantner/Paul Molitor combination that could bring some pride back to Milwaukee. That coupled with the off season additions of veteran third basemen Corey Koskie, and the addition of 40 plus homerun guy Carlos Lee one season ago left fans with the feeling that this could finally be the year.
The Brewers started the season with five straight wins. Could this be? 1987 started with a major league record 13 straight wins. Could this be a replay of that season, or at least that memory of starting off as hot as any team ever has? Well, in true Brewer fashion they lost their next 3 games, and it only took 9 more games to fall below .500 again, a mark that they struggled to maintain throughout the season.
The Brewers got some big performances early out of some key players. Closer Derrick Turnbow started the season 14 for 14 in save opportunities. Carlos Lee hit 10 homeruns in April. Rookie Prince Fielder batted .344 in the opening month. Bill Hall added 5 homeruns and batted .323 in that first month. The Brewers finished April with a 14-11 record. Then things started to go south.
The Crew was hovering around the .500 mark for a while in late June and early July. They reached .500 5 times in a span of 17 games and failed in 4 of the attempts to get over that hump. The fifth time they finally got over it. They were 44-43 on July 7th, and then they went on a five game losing streak, ending up with a record of 44-48 by July 15th. That was the closest they would be to .500 the rest of the season. After being selected to the NL All-Star team, Derrick Turnbow had lost his dominance, blowing 4 straight saves to begin the second half of the season. Geoff Jenkins continued his season long struggle at the plate, and the longest tenured Brewer found himself riding the bench for a period in August. A brief glimmer of hope sprang up in late August when they got to within 3 games of even, only to follow up with a 10 game losing streak, crippling any chances they had of finishing with a winning record.
Throughout this brutal second half, the Brewers were throwing around the possibility of a Carlos Lee trade if the Brewers fell out of playoff contention. Lee was a free agent at the end of the year, and the Brewers did not want to lose a player of his caliber without getting anything in return. As bitter as many fans were that Lee had been traded, the addition of Kevin Mench and Francisco Cordero helped ease this pain. Cordero finished the season with 16 straight saves before blowing one on the last road trip of the season. Derrick Turnbow, on the other hand, finished with 8 blown saves and 9 losses on the season.
Like most seasons, the Brewer had a chance to play spoiler in the last month. And they did their best, achieving a 4 game sweep of the Giants, helping to eliminate them from any playoff hopes, along with taking 4 out of 7 games from the Cardinals, making the NL Central race a 1 game difference in favor of the Cardinals over the Astros.
This season ended like many of the last 14 have. But as an ever-optimistic Brewer fan, I look ahead to next season with the same hope and excitement about the Brewers finally getting above the .500 mark as the fan whose team just lost the World Series is about his team winning it all. Despite the torment caused by so many loses (I have been to probably 20 games in my lifetime and I have only witnessed them win twice), I am hopeful. With the cast of Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano, Weeks, Hall, and Fielder, along with the hopeful return of Hardy, old vets like Koskie and Jeff Cirillo, the new comers Cordero and Kevin Mench, the up and comers Jose Capellan and Corey Hart, and the still state-of-the-art Miller Park, I still will look forward to next season as the season where they finally break out of the basement of the baseball dungeon.
The Brewers have been a part of my pastime. They have worked their way into my heart, and they will forever be the best team in baseball. I am a loyal fan, and no amount of losing, as long as I feel that the teams are putting forth good effort, will cause me to lose my faith in a team that I have come to love. And although the players come and go, and seasons bring little to be thrilled about, I will always find myself listening to the classic voice of Bob Uecker on a hot summer night. Wait till next year? You better believe it.