Suter aims to strike out clubhouse waste
Recovering from TJ, lefty creating environmental awareness
PHOENIX -- Jhoulys Chacín grabbed his cap and glove and headed down the stairs from the Brewers' clubhouse to begin warming up for his spring debut on Wednesday against the Indians. This time he carried something new, too; a glass water bottle wrapped in protective blue rubber. It was a gift from Brent Suter, the team’s resident environmentalist, who is trying to help the planet one plastic water bottle at a time.
“We go through plastic like water,” Suter said the other day without a hint of irony.
To be more precise, the Brewers consume approximately 20 cases of bottled water a day in the Major League wing of their sprawling new digs at American Family Fields of Phoenix. Suter, a 31st-round Draft pick of the Brewers in 2012 who graduated from Harvard with a degree in environmental science and public policy, noticed the waste five years ago and began using a reusable bottle for his hydration needs.
Now, Suter is trying to create a similar habit among his teammates. Thanks to social media, fans are catching on.
“It’s just an easy way to save a lot of plastic waste,” Suter said. “My cousin and I were sitting on the couch a couple years ago and we made the hashtag #StrikeOutWaste and made the Twitter profile. We said, ‘When the time is right, we can do this if we want to.’ We figure the time is right now.”
The time is right because Suter is sidelined by Tommy John surgery that he underwent last July, and while he is deep into a throwing program -- three sets at 75 feet on Wednesday morning, with 90 feet up next -- his afternoons are unconsumed.
So he partnered with the bottle manufacturer Zulu Athletic, which sent a first batch of 20 bottles to Brewers camp this week. Suter distributed them Wednesday morning to the names atop a list of teammates, club staff and media who have all committed to stop using throwaway plastic bottles this season. The list was already going on 70.
“Zulu has been great to work with,” Suter said.
Chacin was one of the first 20 to get a bottle.
“People who don’t know Suter, you don’t know what a good guy he is and how he wants to protect everything,” Chacin said. “As his teammate, it’s great to have a guy like him. He literally teaches you something every day.”
Suter was pleasantly surprised by how many teammates said yes.
“I was telling them upfront, like, ‘This is a commitment,'” he said. “You can’t just go to the refrigerator and open a plastic bottle. You have to take your time to fill up the water bottle. But they’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re in.’ Fingers crossed that it stays that way.”
Suter is already committed, in ways large and small. He uses his social media reach to trumpet cases like Players for the Planet, which hosted a beach cleanup in the Dominican Republic that featured Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz. Suter is also a supporter of Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center.
On a more personal scale, Suter may be the only player known to pack his lunch in a reusable meal kit. Last week, he cheered the Brewers for switching to biodegradable to-go boxes in the commissary.
“The ocean is filling up with plastic,” Suter said. “Just finding an easy way to cut some unneeded single-use plastic out would be great for trying to preserve a future for our kids that’s healthy and happy. … In terms of awareness, I’m seeing reusable straws and reusable bags in place of plastic bags. I know San Francisco and Massachusetts are getting rid of all plastic bags in general. I think there’s a movement. If we can do some of the easy stuff first and get momentum and gain that awareness, I think it could be the start of something cool.”
Perhaps his clubhouse effort will inspire similar projects for fans.
“That’s what I was hoping for, that people would say, ‘The Brewers are doing it, maybe we want to do it, too.’” Suter said. “Now their office has reusable water bottles and is filling up at the office water cooler. It can apply to coffee, protein shakes. Just the thought to reuse rather than throw away.”
His elbow rehab, by the way, is going “great.” Recovery from Tommy John surgery typically takes 12 months, so Suter hopes to help the Brewers on the field down the stretch.
“My mechanics and my arm are feeling great,” said Suter, who had surgery on July 31. “Every time, my balance points are getting better. I’ve got another week at 75 feet, and then, next week, barring no setbacks, I’m going up to 90 feet.
“So I’m crawling along here, but feeling great.”