PHOENIX -- To watch the Brewers in 2017 was to be caught up in their joy and emotion. What if you went to a Major League Baseball game and a street party broke out in one of the dugouts?Amid the bear hugs and dancing and laughter, there was an unmistakable
PHOENIX -- To watch the Brewers in 2017 was to be caught up in their joy and emotion. What if you went to a Major League Baseball game and a street party broke out in one of the dugouts?
Amid the bear hugs and dancing and laughter, there was an unmistakable vibe: These Brewers didn't just love playing the game, although that was obvious.
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They cared about one another, and in a long season, a season when players and teams get tested and tired and beat up and beat on, this kind of thing matters.
And so in this spring of high expectations and relentless optimism, Brewers general manager David Stearns was most interested in seeing if his team had lost any of that certain something.
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"What I wanted to see was a continuation of this energy and passion that we've had in our clubhouse over the last two years," Stearns said. "I wanted to see that same culture exist and grow. And it is. It's been very positive."
About that. Do not try to define it because no definition exists. Do not try to understand how it happens, either.
First, there's manager Craig Counsell.
"He just really understands the whole concept of the team," Brewers pitcher Zach Davies said. "Counsell brought us together and said the key word was to stay connected with each other and to develop relationships in here and bring it onto the field.
"It's a testament to him, knowing that the game had changed, that guys celebrated a little bit more. Just being able to let that happen and knowing when it crosses a line and when it's a celebration of the team."
What's clear is that it exists for the Brewers, and that to a man, they don't want to lose it.
"You have to enjoy coming to the field every day," third baseman Travis Shaw said. "This locker room made it extremely easy to do. When you have fun, that's when success comes. I think this year will be just as fun."
Why do some teams have it and others don't?
"I think it has a lot to do with the people you have in that room," Stearns said. "I think it has a lot to do with how your coaching staff interacts with those guys, what your coaching staff prioritizes.
"There's no prescription for positivity or culture. It's how people live their lives. And we've got a lot of guys who care a lot about each other, and I think that shows up."
Is it why the Brewers came from behind to win 35 times? Is it why they were 25-22 in one-run games?
"We could argue that until the end of time and never get an answer," Stearns said. "I think the importance of that is it frees players up to be themselves. A lot of times players feel as though they're being put into a mold, they have to conform to a mold.
"What Craig has done an unbelievable job of is say, `We're allowing players to be themselves, to free them up to perform at their highest level.' I think that's been beneficial for the entire organization."
New right fielder Christian Yelich said he felt welcomed almost immediately. Catcher Stephen Vogt caught on when he joined the Brewers in late June last season.
"A lot of it is the personalities of the guys in the room," Vogt said. "There's a personality in this building that everyone loves each other. It goes without saying that winning teams have that a lot of the time."
Some of it came from young players like Josh Hader and Brett Phillips. They were thrilled to be in the big leagues and made no effort to conceal their joy. But it was also Jesus Aguilar, who'd been a leader on winter ball teams and who has an infectious personality that impacted almost everyone around him. It was outfielder Keon Broxton, an energetic and outgoing player.
And there were the celebrations. Counsell told his guys to let it rip and that he would tell them if they crossed a line. But he wanted them to feel free to express themselves.
Even on a routine morning in Spring Training, the Brewers will sometimes crank up the music and show off their dance moves.
"[Counsell] says there's things we do that make him uncomfortable," veteran outfielder Ryan Braun said, "but it works, so he allows it. I think that's a good thing when you allow guys to be themselves. They look forward to going to work more, and when you do, it puts you in the optimal position to be successful."
As for Counsell, he saw clubhouse environments develop in all sorts of ways during a 16-year career. He saw how managers like Jim Leyland worked to pull groups together and came to believe it was critically important to success.
"I think everybody contributes to that," he said. "That's the best way. You give everybody some ownership in that being part of their role here. That's hopefully what you get. If you trust them and it happens right, you get something like last year. I think when you give the right people ownership of it, they'll do the right thing."
He also knows it can't be forced, and that as the Brewers embark on this new journey, the vibe and the personality will be different.
"I will say you have a different team every year," he said. "The ingredients are a little bit different. The personalities change. Even the same person changes in a year. We're not trying to identically replicate what we had last year as far as that. It's a new team, and we've got to create a new identity."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.