MILWAUKEE -- There was a shocking first-round draft pick. There was a blockbuster trade. There was trash talking. And that was all before the Brewers took the field under the lights at Miller Park on Tuesday.
Jedd Gyorko and Ben Gamel smashed two-run home runs in the first inning to the delight of a piped-in crowd, and Brandon Woodruff struck out Christian Yelich three times during a 78-pitch outing that would have been just about perfect had Justin Smoak not connected for a homer. The Brewers outscored the other Brewers, 4-1, in the opener of the team’s weeklong Blue-Gold Series.
“It's going to be fun because Braun and Yelich are always talking,” said Avisaíl García, one of the two captains for the event.
Ryan Braun and Yelich were the first two picks -- in that order -- during a 30-minute, rapid-fire, position-by-position draft with García and catcher Omar Narváez selecting players by position. Yelich was the 2018 National League MVP Award winner and the runner-up in 2019, and he’s healthy again after missing the end of last season with a fractured right kneecap.
But García, holding the first pick, passed him up.
“I want to compete against the best,” García said.
Narváez accused García of playing clubhouse politics.
“No, because then you'll say, 'Oh, wow, you took Yeli ... blah blah blah.' So I took Braunie,” García said. “He's a great player and let's give Omar ‘Yeli.’ Come on, bro. It's not political.”
Later, on a broadcast of the game called by the Fox Sports Wisconsin crew but carried on brewers.com, Yelich gave an alternate explanation. Yelich was wired up for the show and took questions from Brewers fans, 1,000 of whom were able to join the broadcast via Zoom.
“I’ve [stunk] so far,” Yelich said. “I’m trying to figure it out on a live broadcast. It has nothing to do with the microphone. It’s all on me for being late at the plate. That’s what you get in The Show.”
Yelich struck out swinging all three times up against Woodruff, who worked 4 1/3 innings and struck out six in all. He has one more exhibition outing before the start of the regular season.
What was the draft room like?
“’Murph’ [Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy] emceed it. It was awesome,” said Brewers third-base coach Ed Sedar. “There were cool pictures that would sometimes come up. You either could pick him or him. It wasn’t like picking right out of a hat. You had choices between two people.
“It actually was very entertaining. Wives and families got involved by sending pictures, so you’d look up at the screen going, ‘Who is that?’ It was very entertaining. Already there’s been a big trade. I don’t know if you guys have heard about it. Already the first trade of the Blue and Gold Series. I don’t know. Did you guys hear about it yet?”
This was breaking news. It was the first big trade, a swap that sent Braun and Orlando Arcia to Team Narváez for Yelich and Eric Sogard. More politics? Nope. Presumptive Opening Day starter Woodruff was pitching for Narváez, and Team García was stocked with right-handed hitters. He needed some lefties for balance so Woodruff could get his proper work.
And, after all that, Braun didn’t play Tuesday.
“Maybe there was some GM-ing going on,” Sedar said.
The series of intrasquad games is set to run through at least Friday, and definitely will feature a heavy dose of rule-breaking, per manager Craig Counsell.
It was part work, part fun, and all meant to better simulate the regular-season games on the schedule 10 days from Tuesday, beginning July 24 at Wrigley Field against the Cubs.
A trio of Major League umpires were in town to call the game, with Vic Carapazza working the plate. Miller Park public-address announcer Mark Richards called out hitters as they stepped to home plate. The scoreboard and ribbon boards were lit like a regular game. And while the Brewers originally didn’t expect to begin pumping in crowd noise until Wednesday, they began testing the feature on Tuesday, which became obvious with the roar when Gyorko connected with a Jake Faria pitch for the first of the two, two-run home runs in the top of the first inning.
But as Counsell promised, “multiple baseball rules will be violated.” That started with the rules of the game. The winner is not determined like a typical seven-game series in baseball, but based on points that will accrue throughout the week. Teams get one point for each individual inning they win. In the event a half-inning inning is “rolled” because a pitcher exceeds his pitch count, the opposing team is credited with an additional run for that inning. If the teams are tied at the end of the series, then the winner is determined by total bases in the series.
The Brewers are trying to stage as many live, competitive at-bats as possible over the next 10 days, aiming to get each hitter 20-25 at-bats in Summer Camp.
“It will never be the same as Spring Training when you get close to 50 at-bats,” Narváez said. “I’ve been trying to do things similar to a game. We’ll try to be ready for the season. What we’re going to start today will get us closer to what we should be in the season. As long as we compete, we are going to forget how many ABs we get. Once you compete, you forget everything.”
In a typical year, players might get a game or two in their home ballpark at the end of Spring Training to tune up for the real thing. The Brewers are trying to make the most of the unexpected time at Miller Park, especially newcomers to the team like Narváez and García.
“Oh yeah, 100 percent,” García said. “I like to get a feel for the stadium to see how the fences work, how the lights work, how the warning track works. I like that. I like having Spring Training here so we get used to [the ballpark] for the season.”
He and other hitters will get more hacks when the series rolls on Wednesday night.