01STOCK_BASEBALL

OK, who is No. 32? That was one of the first questions asked at the spring training game between the Reds and the Brewers in Maryvale, Arizona, two Sundays ago.

It was my annual trip to see a few Brewers games, soak in some sun and drink some beer.

This year, I made it a point to dish out $5 to get a program once inside American Family Fields of Phoenix. In most seasons, I don’t need one because the players wearing numbers in the 60s, 70s (except No. 71 Josh Hader), 80s and 90s won’t be in Milwaukee, and I can identify nearly everyone else.

This season is different. The only thing you need more than a program at a Brewers’ spring training game is Sunblock 30.

Sure, the players wearing jersey numbers in the 70s, 80s and 90s won’t be in Milwaukee later this month, but I didn’t know several of the 20s, 30s and 40s—many of whom will be at Miller Park on March 26 when the Brewers host the Cubs in the season opener.

The only players I recognized that took the field in the first inning were Lorenzo Cain in center field and Manny Piña at catcher. In most spring training games, that number usually is five or six with three or four guys that you have to go, “OK, who’s No. 62 in left?”

On Sunday, March 1, there were seven such guys out there. Thus, the program.

Which was fine, except No. 32 was out there at shortstop. My $5 program roster did not have No. 32 listed.

The unknown No. 32 was identified when the Brewers came to bat and he was the leadoff hitter.

It was Brock Holt.

The Brewers signed the 31-year-old Holt on Feb. 23 to a one-year, $3.25 million contract.

Apparently these programs were printed prior to Feb. 23.

Holt is 5-foot-10 and played eight seasons with the Boston Red Sox. He was an all-star in 2015.

Last year, he hit .297 with three HRs and 31 RBI while playing second base, third base and the outfield.

So, naturally, he was at shortstop in this spring training game. The Brewers stress versatility.

Two days later, my high school buddy, Jay, and I were in Claim Jumper, a West Coast chain “restaurant and saloon.” It is right across the busy four-lane street in Tempe from the InnSuites that our group has stayed at for the 15 or so years we’ve been going down there.

There has been a female bartender there for the past two years who is an avid Boston Red Sox fan. She wears a Red Sox cap and jersey on every shift.

She was there Tuesday and recognized us and our Brewers gear. About the first thing she said was, “You guys have Brock Holt.”

Now Brock Holt did not do anything extraordinary in that Sunday game, nor would he in a Wednesday game against the White Sox. In those two games, he went 0-for-6 with two strikeouts.

But this Red Sox fan assured me the Brewers got a steal with this guy.

“I’m more distraught we lost Holt than Mookie Betts,” she said.

For those of you who don’t know, it is assumed Betts is going to receive the first $400 million contract in MLB history when he becomes a free agent next season. The Red Sox traded him to the Dodgers last month because they figured they could not afford him.

If Brock Holt can approach Betts’ statistics, every Brewers fan will know who No. 32 is.

Other observations

  • The Brewers went 1-2 in the three games I attended. They won that Sunday game 5-4 against the Reds, looked terrible in losing 9-0 to the Padres (one hit, three errors) and then lost 5-1 to the White Sox.
  • Logan Morrison was the most impressive new guy on the block. He hit homers in two games while I was down there and has three this spring. He has played with six different teams in 12 seasons, and hit 38 homers with Tampa Bay in 2017. He’s 32 and plays first base, but has only played in 124 games the past two seasons due to injuries. Maybe David Stearns has come up with another find.
  • Keston Hiura hit a homer that flew over the giant black batter’s eye screen in center field against the White Sox. He also booted a grounder, then threw it away for two errors that led to four unearned runs in the Padres’ seven-run inning. That summarizes his young career.
  • With Holt starting at shortstop for two of the three games I attended, regular shortstop Orlando Arcia only played a few innings in the one game he did get in. He made a great “ole” snag of a hot smash at his feet and threw the runner out. The 25-year-old Arcia leads the team with five homers this spring. The Brewers’ trade for 22-year-old Luis Urias—who is still recovering from wrist surgery—might have lit the pilot light in Arcia’s internal furnace.
  • I’ve never been to Los Angeles, but if the traffic there is worse than Phoenix’s, I wouldn’t want to drive there. Interstate 10 runs east-west through Arizona. In Phoenix, it’s six lanes either direction and is packed weekday afternoons.

On weekends, it’s not as bad, but it is still busy. On the Sunday we were driving to Maryvale on 10, a large group of motorcyclists wearing black came roaring off an entrance ramp. We couldn’t make out the name of the gang on the back of their leathers, but these cycles were weaving in and out of lanes like a downhill Olympics slalom course. There might have been 100 or so cycles, weaving through six lanes of traffic going 70 miles per hour-plus.

After about four miles, they were out of sight. I figure they must have pledge nights every other Monday to restock their membership.

  • One of the highlights of the trip was seeing Ferguson Jenkins, the former great Chicago Cubs pitcher, who was signing autographs and memorabilia to raise money for his benefit foundation. Jenkins, who pitched in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, won 20 games in six consecutive seasons, which included 97 complete games. He still is a stringbean at 77 years of age.

Wait, 97 complete games in six seasons? I’ve forgotten what a complete game is.

  • And, finally, there aren't any better weather conditions than 75 and sunny in the desert. A trip there in March should be a must-do for all baseball fans.

Tom Miller is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette.

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