MILWAUKEE (AP) – The arctic cold that encased the Midwest this winter didn’t exactly make for the most ideal of conditions to grow new grass for the Brewers, even with the retractable roof closed at Miller Park.
But the groundskeepers pressed on with the new sod. Even brought over some grow lamps from Europe to give the field an around-the-clock dose of synthetic sunlight.
All to get ready for Monday, when baseball returns to Milwaukee. The Brewers will host the Atlanta Braves to open the 2014 season for both teams.
”This was a little harsher winter than we had anticipated. We’re hoping for a little better spring,” said Michael Boettcher, the team’s director of grounds. ”But regardless of what Mother Nature gave us here, we’re going to have it ready for Opening Day.”
The new field was lush and green for a two-game exhibition set against the Kansas City Royals over the weekend. Players gave it rave reviews.
The team was scheduled to get the grow lamps even before the brutal winter. Turned out to be perfect timing when the contraptions arrived this month.
”It looks absolutely fantastic,” outfielder Logan Schafer said. ”It’s a lot firmer underneath. Last year, we’d do a lot of burnouts trying to get jumps and we’d kind of kick up a lot of grass. But you look it looks great out there, playing great.”
One less thing for Ryan Braun to worry about as he switches positions from left to right field. But as if that wasn’t enough of a transition, the Brewers’ top player is also returning from a 65-game doping suspension by Major League Baseball stemming from Biogenesis scandal.
So far, Braun looks as if he’s going to follow through on his vow to again become one of baseball’s top sluggers. The 2011 NL MVP hit .417 this spring with three homers and nine RBIs, and manager Ron Roenicke is also pleased with the way he’s handled the move to right.
”He’s working hard at it and he feels comfortable out there,” the skipper said. ”I think with the range that he has he’ll save us a lot of runs.”
Other than reliever Francisco Rodriguez’s painful run-in with a cactus during a day off in Arizona, and what appears to be a minor shoulder injury for All-Star shortstop Jean Segura, the Brewers (74-88) enter the regular season relatively healthy. It’s a relief for the franchise after a 2013 season that was burdened by injuries to Braun (right hand), third baseman Aramis Ramirez (left knee) and Rickie Weeks (left hamstring), among others.
In contrast, the Braves are trying to keep up with mounting injuries, especially among their pitching staff.
Pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy are already done for the year with elbow injuries. Mike Minor will open the season on the disabled list as he recovers from a sore shoulder. Gavin Floyd is recovering from elbow surgery in May.
That left Atlanta tabbing Julio Teheran (14-8, 3.20 ERA) as the starter for the opener against Yovani Gallardo (12-10, 4.18) and the Brewers. Teheran followed up his nice rookie campaign with a terrific spring, with a 1.80 ERA and 26 strikeouts to just four walks in 25 innings.
With a lineup led by Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton, the Braves (96-66) are hopeful they can withstand the injuries to remain an NL East contender.
”We always find a way to do it and get over it. Somebody else will step up,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ”I have the confidence in our club that they’ll overcome that.”
At this point in the year, everyone has hope – groundskeepers included. The high temperature could reach 60 degrees for Monday’s opener, downright balmy for Milwaukee.