'Claws Up!' is Crew's '21 rally cry ... but why?

October 8th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- Around these parts, the claws have come out.

A national television audience tuning into the Braves-Brewers National League Division Series is about to wonder why in the world the Milwaukee Brewers are bearing their claws on the bases and in the dugout every time someone gets a big hit. The answer lies with veteran catcher , whose silly moment back in May began a tradition that led to American Family Field this week covered in banners proclaiming, “Claws Up!”

Piña explained that it started during the Brewers’ visit to Kansas City from May 18-19, when it struck him that the 2021 Brewers lacked a celebration like the “beast mode” yell of Prince Fielder in 2011, or the way raised his arms and wiggled his fingertips asking fans to “show me the love” in 2018.

“I was thinking, ‘We have to do something. I don’t know what,’” Piña said. “I was in the clubhouse that day and yelled, ‘Wong!’”

That’s , the Brewers' second baseman who signed Feb. 5 after years in St. Louis.

Wong looked back, befuddled at why a teammate was suddenly screaming his name across the room.

“Wong, I am the tiger!” Piña bellowed.


“Yes, I am the tiger!”

“What do you mean?”

Piña kept screaming and roaring like a tiger. Wong let out a laugh. Two minutes later, Cain walked by and the confused back-and-forth repeated itself.

That night, Wong led off the game with a single. He heard Piña yelling from the dugout.

“He looked at me, yelled at me to do the thing,” Wong said. “So, I did it back, not realizing what it was. It was funny how fast it caught fire.”

When the Brewers returned home, a tiger shrine of sorts appeared on the wall next to the video room in the clubhouse. Photos of players’ “tiger moments” have been added to the wall along the way, and the claws have become tradition for players and fans alike. When the stadium was decked out for the postseason this week, Piña’s brainchild suddenly had a social media hashtag: #ClawsUpMKE.

Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, an usher at the Brewers’ first game in Milwaukee in 1970, stood below one of those banners at City Hall on Thursday to declare his support. Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge and 25 other local landmarks will be lit in Brewers blue and yellow throughout the postseason, including City Hall, Fiserv Forum, the Milwaukee Public Market, the Mitchell Park Domes and downtown’s tallest building, the U.S. Bank Center.

Milwaukee’s ABC affiliate interviewed fans under a “Claws Up” banner at the Public Market, and many were stumped about the meaning of the phrase. Piña hopes that changes as the Brewers play in the postseason.

“It’s a little more motivation, an emotional thing,” he said.

All of which begged the question: Why a tiger?

Piña explained again.

“When I was a kid, when I started playing baseball, my dad always told me I had tiger hands,” Piña said. “He always called me ‘Tiger Hands.’ I played shortstop before I caught, and he always told me that. I was reminded of when my dad said to me and it was like, ‘Ah, we are the tigers.’ Wong started it right away. Cain, [Willy] Adames.

“We needed something. It was something like, ‘We are here.’”

The Brewers were in need of a boost at the time, and while the tiger claws don’t explain why Adames took off after joining the Brewers on May 22 or why the team ran away with the National League Central, the energy proved contagious, as Piña put it.

“This game is so repetitive. It’s every single day,” Wong said. “You kind of get caught up in the mental grind, the physical grind of it. Something like that, you kind of forget about yourself and get back to the team aspect.”

That perfectly describes Piña, as Wong sees it. The two knew each other as NL Central rivals over the years, as Piña is Milwaukee’s longest-tenured player. (Apologies to Cain, who made his Major League debut for the Brewers in 2010, was traded to Kansas City, and re-signed with Milwaukee in 2018.)

Wong was always impressed with the way Piña embraced different roles with the Brewers, be it starting catcher, seldom-used backup or somewhere between. He struck Wong as a team-first player.

“I think that’s why we feed off him, even in the limited time that he’s had,” Wong said.

“It was a little struggle early May and late April, like starting the season,” Piña said. “But [the tiger claws] were a small thing we could figure out in the games. Something positive to give to the team. That’s going to help, for sure. Anything is going to help.”