It’s Gamel’s time to take a major turn

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Michael Hunt
Friday, March 9, 2012
— Everyone has known a Mat Gamel. Some have even been a Mat Gamel.

You know, that guy. The one blessed with an inordinate share of natural-born ability, but for whatever reasons unwilling to put forth all the necessary effort to fully develop those skills.

Maybe too lazy. Maybe too arrogant. Maybe a little too unaware of the opportunity. Maybe a little too liberal with the cruise control.

Not saying all that applied to Gamel, but its a fact that the big-time prospect typically showed up for spring training out of shape and became an injury waiting to happen. Or, when given a chance to make or stay with the big-league club, he could suddenly neither hit nor secure the baseball until it stopped rolling.

The frustration was apparent on both sides near the end of spring training last year, when Brewers general manager Doug Melvin announced he was sending Gamel to Nashville for the entire season to learn how to play first base.

It was a turning point of sorts for the franchise and its prospect, the first real sign that Prince Fielder wasnt coming back and the signal Gamel would finally be given a chance, with just enough rope to hang his baseball career should he not change his approach and, more important, his attitude.

I think he realizes the position hes in, manager Ron Roenicke said. Its time for him to be a major-league player instead of being a great Triple-A player.

I cannot predict if Gamel will still be the first baseman when the season ends, but the suspicion here is that Gamel, at the age of 26, has come a long way in being a grown-up responsible for what he wants from life.

At his locker, Gamel was stand-up and honest enough to say, Some people mature later than others. They realize things later than others. Unfortunately for me, Ive always been the guy to learn things the hard way.

Some of us are like that. Some of us want to do things our way until they realize it aint working. And unfortunately for me, Ive been that way my whole life.

For someone making a living as a professional athlete, Gamel admitted he wanted nothing to do with the weight room. Until now. Or that he was conscious about his diet. Until now.

Its a different attitude, growing up, realizing what it takes to get my body in shape and realizing what I had done wrong in the past, Gamel said. I think it was about time I proved to the Brewers that I do want this and that Im willing to do what it takes.

It wasnt the 11th hour, but Gamel isnt young by baseball standards anymore. A select few on the planet are given the chance to play the game at this level. Its his life. He could have decided at some point to go back to Florida and do something else to pay the bills. Instead, he wised up to harsh realities of natural selection in a brutally competitive profession.

For now, the Brewers are taking Gamels new outlook on faith. Melvin said they are going to give Gamel every opportunity to succeed because they want him to be confident they have every confidence him.

Its an awesome feeling, Gamel said. It allows you to relax and feel like you dont have to come out and go 4 for 4 every day. It definitely calms the nerves. Now, all you have to worry about is going out and playing the game weve played forever, not beating yourself up if you swing at a bad pitch or not curling into a shell if you make an error.

Such a perspective, combined with skills and an attitude adjustment, project success. There is no guarantee that Gamel will hit big-league pitching as he did in the minors or that he has fully mastered the mental ability to concentrate only on the next play should he kick one at first.

Naturally, the Brewers have contingency plans at the position Fielder vacated should Gamel stumble, because first base is too important to treat with a casual attitude by a team that intends to make the playoffs again. While it would be lunacy for anyone to expect Gamel to do what few can do, which is to hit like Fielder, it is time for Gamel to become a major-league player.

Im here to be me and do what I can do, Gamel said. Thats to stay healthy and show everybody Im here to work. And that Ive matured and Ive grown up and taking this serious. This is my job and this is my livelihood.

With those realizations, Gamel is more than halfway there.

Last updated: 7:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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