It’s all right. I get it.
I understand that one exhilarating postseason run doesn’t erase twenty-six years of futility. I understand that CC Sabathia picked the Crew up on his over-sized shoulders and carried them into that series in Philadelphia. And, most importantly, I understand why no one gives my Brewers a chance to return to postseason play.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t.
It’s been several months since I last blogged about the Brewers hopes (or rather, mine) for signing CC. I want to make it very clear that I harbor no resentment for Carsten Charles’ departure to the Big Apple. (Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m not a wee bit pleased to see him get lit up a bit today in Baltimore.) This article is not meant to take anything away from the masterful second half of a season that CC composed or undermine what his performance means for this franchise. I just happen to believe that life will go on.
But before I go too far, let’s acknowledge that much has happened since my last blog. My long-time friend Brian asked why I haven’t been blogging of late, and my only answer is that I have been extremely busy with work, my playwriting hobby and my charismatic daughter.
But let’s take a moment to review what we have learned over the past few months:
1. We’ve learned that Aaron Rodgers probably would have got the Jets into the play-offs.
2. We’ve learned that Cleveland getting Mo Williams in exchange for Damon Jones has the rest of the Central division (and perhaps the entire league) cheering for the Bucks to be contracted.
3. We’ve learned that Arizona has a professional football team.
4. We’ve learned that a Bo Ryan team should never be counted as “off the bubble”, just because they’ve lost six consecutive league games.
5. We’ve learned that you don’t ask a blind guy to step away from the piano to shake things up a bit.
6. We’ve learned that success in the NCAA tourney is still dictated by point guards (Reynolds, Lucas, Lawson).
7. We’ve learned that, despite his inability to make a free throw, Marquette’s point guard was a pretty important piece of the success.
8. We’ve learned that Matt Sorenson can actually play a little wide receiver. (By the way, I feel sorry for anyone who decided to watch Friday Night Lights this season. Go back and watch season 1. And then desperately try to burn everything you’ve seen this season from your mind.)
9. We’ve learned that women in Wisconsin still play the best hockey (though I’m not sure that’s a positive for our tourism department).
10. Finally, we’ve learned that if you manage to get off a remote island, which has the unique quality of being able to travel through time, you never EVER intentionally go back.
And that brings us to today. April 6th. The night of the National Championship game and the home opener for most teams.
(By the way, it is completely idiotic that the Brewers start the opening series in San Francisco on Tuesday. Not only does that leave them with a horrible travel schedule for the home opener, it also gives them no wiggle room in the event of a rain out. I really hate the Giants. We take Ray Durham’s salary off their hands. We give them Ernest Riles for Jeffrey Leonard, and this is how they repay us? Jerks.)
A day of optimism. Of: what might be. Of: this could be our year.
But yet optimism for the Crew seems to be limited, at best. It started for me last week when several friends sent emails about a potential rough season. Then on Sunday, it continued when only one writer from the Journal staff predicted a postseason appearance for the Brewers. No one on ESPN.com had the Brewers in the post season. The same was true for the folks who write for Yahoo.
And like I said—I get it. So why, then, do I remain optimistic for the ’09 season? Well, for one thing—I pee Brewer blue. (Okay, really I don’t. But if there was a beer that allowed you to pee your favorite team’s colors, tell me you wouldn’t buy it by the case and buy stock in the company…) And also…I have a theory.
I call it the Van Horn. And it’s a phenomenon that occurs when a team overachieves, even after losing their star and essential heart of the team. To fully understand this theory, you have to rid yourselves of any memories of Keith Van Horn the Milwaukee Buck. Forget the pasty white forward who was the embodiment of the Bucks inability to play defense.
No, instead I need you to remember the pasty white college star from Utah, who was one of the most dynamic scorers college basketball had to offer in the late ‘90s. The guy who led his Running Utes to the Elite Eight in his final college season. And the guy who caused the pundits to write off Utah the following season because he was off to the NBA.
Do you remember what happened to that Utah team the following season? They not only got as far as the original team, they went two rounds further. They managed to knock off the top seeded and reigning champ Arizona Wildcats to get to the Final Four and then beat a second #1 seed (North Carolina) on their way to the championship game. They pulled off the ultimate Van Horn. And on this championship night, it is that team that should give Brewers fans hope for 2009.
It’s not like Wisconsin sports teams don’t have a history of Van Horning. The Wisconsin Badgers team that lost Alondo Tucker (who represented something like 97% of the team’s offense) Van Horned the following season quite nicely. The Packers wide receiving core Van Horned after Sterling Sharpe was injured and the whole world decided that Brett would now have no one to throw to…
So I say this 2009 Brewers squad can Van Horn too. Their sum can be greater than their parts. And here’s just a few reasons why:
1. Jeff Suppan. Come on. Do you really think he could be as bad as he was last year again? I figure Suppan is worth at the very least two more wins this season.
2. Ryan Braun. Just like that Utah team had Andre Miller when they Van Horned, the Brewers have their own spark plug for their offense. Like Miller, he sets the pace and leads by example.
3. Prince Fielder. The Brewers have a Doleac too. A big guy who is an enforcer (just ask Manny Parra) and can also knock one (from) deep.
4. Ken Macha. You hated how Ned Yost kept playing guys mired in month long slumps? Won’t happen this year. Not while Macha’s in charge. Not while McGehee, Duffy and Nelson sit on the bench waiting for their turn to swing it. Put up or shut up will reign supreme in Milwaukee this year.
5. Rickie Weeks. I know, I know. I can hear the guffaws and scoffs of Jonny and Darren from miles away. But by my math, had Rickie not been rushed to the majors, this would have been his second full season. It’s time for the unleashing. And if not, well then…see #4 above.
6. Alcides Escobar. I know I’ve already mentioned the three stellar plays he made in the four innings I saw of spring training ball last season. It was the sexiest debut I’ve seen since Jamie Presley first disrobed in Poison Ivy 3. The Brewers have (wisely) decided to let Escobar mature another year in Triple A. But don’t think for a second that he won’t be summoned if he manages to hit like he did in Double A, come July. He should also be a reminder that the future is still very, very bright in Milwaukee.
7. Dave Bush. Take away his horrible April last year, and you have a legitimate #2 starter to team with Yovani. So let’s do that. Let’s not have a horrible April, okay Dave? I’m predicting 15 wins from Bush this season, which will make for a huge escalator next year if the Brewers want to keep him…
8. Corey Hart and JJ Hardy. Many fans can’t seem to get past Corey’s September swoon. But this kid was an all-star for three-fourths of the season, and there’s no reason why he can’t become a little more consistent this year. I had been begging for JJ to hit in the 5 hole last year, and I’m glad Macha is putting it in motion. JJ is probably the best fastball hitter on the team, and if Prince is getting walked, he’s going to see a lot of fastballs for strikes. Although I’d still hit Corey 1 and Rickie 2, I really like having these two guys at the top of the order. Needless to say, I have big hopes for the top 5 in the order this season.
9. Yovanni. I’m really trying to temper my enthusiasm for this kid, but I just can’t wait to see what he’ll accomplish in a full season. He carries himself on the mound the way Braun carries himself at the plate. And that’s saying something.
10. CC Sabathia. I know, I know. We don’t have him anymore. But the fact that the Brewers went out and got him last year should never be lost on the fans. The ’08 Brewers still had to play well enough to convince Doug Melvin to go out and get CC. And I predict that this year’s Crew will have a better record come July than last year’s squad. Is there another CC out there? Who knows. The Cubs haven’t landed Peavy just yet. Halladay has already been mentioned in rumors. Options exist. Granted, there’s probably less payroll flexibility than year’s past, so a trade might have to include a major leaguer. But that’s where having major league ready talent like Escobar and Gamel can pay off. And if you think the Brewers cupboards are bare, think again. I’d guess that Escobar and Cain are the only two untouchable position players. Hope is only a Doug Melvin phone call away.
So go ahead. Tell me what a horrible bullpen we have this year. Throw out names like Riske and Julio. I understand your concern. Or if you prefer, give me your concerns about starters like Looper and Suppan. I’m not dumb. I get that they are average at best. Or tell me how we’re too strike-out prone and throw out names like Hall and Cameron.
(By the way, Doug Melvin should win an award for his PR work this season. Remember in Bull Durham, when Crash taught Nuke how to interview with appropriate baseball speak? How he made sure Nuke had phrases at the ready like “We’re just going to take it one game at a time”? Well Doug must have held a similar coaching lesson this off season. Go back and look at interviews of different players, coaches, Gord Ash, and even Doug himself and count how many times the following three phrases were used this off season:
1. “We’re not going to change who we are. We are a home run hitting team.”
2. “You don’t replace a player like CC Sabathia.”
3. “The strike-out isn’t the worst out in baseball. The double play is.”
I guarantee you’ll find those quotes from at least five different members of the organization. Kevin Costner, eat your heart out.)
And, I suppose if you really want to make your point as to why the Brewers are doomed, you’ll just mention two names: Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia.
But just know that I have a name for you as well.
Keith Van Horn.
And for the record, two rounds further would mean a trip to the World Series.