A peek inside Brewers' latest clubhouse obsession

June 8th, 2024
Sal Frelick and Jake Bauers handling a crossword. Credit: Adam McCalvy/MLB.com

This story was excerpted from Adam McCalvy’s Brewers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MILWAUKEE -- What’s a seven-letter word for “obsessed with crossword puzzles?”


Stroll through any Major League clubhouse and you’re bound to see ballplayers poring over crossword puzzles. That’s not new, but the Brewers have been especially engrossed this year. On a given afternoon you’re bound to find outfielder curled up on a couch with a clipboard in his lap and closer at a table with pencil in hand.

First baseman picked up the habit during the COVID-19 shutdown and never stopped. Reliever is one of the Brewers’ crossword newbies, who noticed so many of his new teammates poring over puzzles every day that he decided to give it a try.

Ditto for Williams, who has been in rehab mode since Spring Training due to stress fractures in his back. He found that spending time focused on puzzles helps him cope with his long stint on the injured list.

“It’s something that’s stimulating mentally when I’m not getting the stimulation I’m used to,” said Williams, who typically feeds off the intensity of the ninth inning. “It’s feeding your competitive nature. I’m competing with myself trying to finish these crosswords.”

Jared Koenig working on his own crossword puzzle. Credit: Adam McCalvy/MLB.com

He’s not the only one.

“I do it to stimulate my brain,” Koenig said. “I used to only do the Sudoku, but I felt like I was losing vocabulary.”

“I think it wakes you up a bit,” Bauers said. “I’m not going to sit here on Instagram all afternoon and scroll my phone. I’d rather do this.”

Feeding their habit is Brewers director of clubhouse operations Tony Migliaccio, who started as a batboy way back in 1978. Every day, he prints a variety of puzzles from newspapers ranging from USA Today to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. In the olden days, when crossword puzzles lived in the pages of newspapers, Migliaccio remembers laying copies of a preferred paper on the chair of Brewers players like Ben Oglivie and Ted Simmons.

During a break in their daily baseball work, those players would engage in a mental workout.

“Oglivie would crush it,” Migliaccio said. “He was kind of like Sal. So into it.”

Frelick may be among the most focused of the Brewers’ kings of the crossword, but he’s not the only aficionado. According to Williams, reliever was the most skilled crossworder, but others might have a case. One of them is Bauers, who was home in 2020 during the league’s COVID hiatus, with time to make the most of his New York Times subscription. One day, he stumbled on the crossword.

Devin Williams has taken to crosswords during his rehab process. Credit: Adam McCalvy/MLB.com

He got hooked, and carried the routine throughout his travels from the Guardians to the Mariners to the Yankees to the Brewers.

“It gets harder toward the weekend. Monday is the easiest and they progressively get harder,” Bauers said.

Koenig has a high rate of success.

“I usually finish them,” he said. “If I don’t, I’ll take it back to the hotel and keep working on it there.”

Williams has found himself doing the same. Earlier this season during a discussion of his crossword skills, he said he had yet to finish a puzzle. But as he creeps closer to throwing off a mound -- Williams said he’s getting there, but has avoided circling a date on the calendar lest he look beyond his task on any given day -- his skills on the page have steadily improved as well.

“I’ve finished a few of them now, yeah,” Williams said. “I’m a lot better now than I was a month ago.”

He’s a USA Today crossword man. Williams said he hasn’t tried the New York Times’ puzzle yet.

“It’s kind of scary, honestly,” he said with a smile. “I might sit there all day trying to do that one.”