Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Everything's Different Now...

All right. Be honest now.

If I would have told you in early January that the Milwaukee Brewers would be ten games above .500 at the all star break, what would you have said? Honestly.

And if I had told you that they would be four and half games up on the division, what would you have said to that? Come on; be honest.

Those of you that know me well enough would have probably said that it was just Tom being overly optimistic again. You might have called me delusional or you might have made some joke wondering how a guy who drinks as little as I do can always talk like such a crazy flippin' drunk. You might have even asked me if I had talked to Scotty F lately.

(Since 4 of my 9 readers don't know who Scotty is, let me explain. In my life, I've had the privilege of meeting several hard core Brewers fans. It's very seldom, however, that I meet someone who is as blindly optimistic about their chances every year as Scotty. I think I can safely say that you will also never meet a nicer guy--which only adds to the lore of Scotty's pure devotion for the Crew. Now, Scotty wasn't necessarily what you'd call "cool" by high school standards, but I guarantee you that if anyone was messing with him, you'd have about 120 guys (and about 400 girls) ready to throw down. He was just that nice. And the simplest story I can use to illustrate his sometimes misguided loyalty to the Crew happened when he went with a group of us to a game in 1992. It was the Brewers against the Blue Jays, and it was still a couple months before Scrap Iron's boys really got hot that summer and started making their push. Left-hander Bruce Ruffin was on the mound, and the first 7 Jays to bat laced balls all over County Stadium so hard that you wondered if you were actually watching an extended batting practice. Before an out could be recorded, there were 5 runs in and 2 more guys on base. Garner came out to talk to Ruffin, and when he didn't give him the hook--the crowd exploded in ferocious boos. Just as the two-fisted slobbers around the park started to calm down, Scotty stood up and at the top of his voice yelled, "Come on, Bruce. Ruffin some feathers!"

Yeah. We didn't get it either. But that's what Scotty brought to the table. Every single Brewer game. And to this day, if the Brewers are getting roughed up, I still quietly whisper to myself, "Come on, Turnbow (or whoever). Ruffin some feathers.")

Anyhow, the point is that you would have been pleased as punch to know the Brewers would be in this position, had you known back in January. And you might have called it flat out "impossible" if I had told you that they'd be in first place despite Rickie Weeks batting .221; Hall having only 9 HRs and 38 RBI; and the new free agent Suppan having an ERA of 5.00.

And--if you think about it--if I had told you that the Brewers would finish 15 games above five hundred at the end of the year...but two games back of the Cubs, you would have been more excited than Richard Simmons at a Spice Girls concert. "Awesome," you would have yelled, "you mean the Brewers will still be in the hunt during Packers season? That would be so cool."

Ah. But how things have changed. I'm guessing, if you're anything like me, that wouldn't be quite so awesome anymore. Sure, we could try to spin it that a winning season would still be a step in the right direction, but the truth is--now that we've tasted first place for this long--there would be no satisfaction in second place. And that's why things are suddenly different for us Brewer fans. It's a whole new world. A world where, "just keep me interested until Packers training camp" doesn't cut it anymore.

Not after a 24-10 start. Not after all of the national attention. Not after having four legitimate all stars.

(And really as good as are four stars have been, let's not forget four other stars, who also made this remarkable first half possible:

1. Carlos Villanueva--Unbelievably solid in the pen. While I understand the desire to save pitches on Gallardo's arm, I still think Villanueva should end up in the starting rotation soon. He would be such a huge upgrade over Vargas, it's not even funny. I know people are going to throw the Brewers record in games that Vargas has started in my face as an argument for him. But let me just say this--giving Vargas too much credit for those wins is EXACTLY the same as the Bears giving Grossman credit for their winning record. Of late, the Brewers were winning Vargas' outings, despite his efforts. And as the pennant push continues, we're going to need someone who can actually pitch more than five and a third innings every time out. Moving Villanueva would leave a hole in the bullpen, however, so acquiring a Chad Cordero or Gagne might have to be the first move...

2. Corey Hart--Just when all of Greater Milwaukee was complaining about Tony Gwynn not playing enough, Corey Hart reminded everyone that he's a top prospect too...

3. Ryan Braun--Simply unbelievable. I'll be the first to admit that I questioned Yost putting him in the 3 hole and worried about putting undue pressure on the kid. I'm silly.

4. Jenkins/Mench--Both were disappointed about being in a platoon role when camp broke, but neither have let it affect their game. And their combined numbers--.271; 18 HRs, 61 RBIs, make for quite the left fielder.)

Players always say that it's far too early to scoreboard watch at this point in the season. But that's not true with us fans. Hell, I've been watching Cubs scores and Cardinals scores since early May.

So, finally--like Yankees fans, and Red Sox fans and Dodgers fans--we get to see what this pennant run stuff is all about. And prepare yourself; because I'm already getting a sense that it won't be all fun and games. There will be some tense moments. There will be some sleepless nights. There might even be some rashes and vomiting.

But I bet it's worth it.

And it's definitely better than Ruffin some feathers...

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