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Nottingham gets family tribute in ink

MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

PHOENIX -- Brewers catching prospect Jacob Nottingham wanted his latest tattoo to make his father proud, and he found inspiration in family tragedy.

Nottingham reported to camp this year with new art on his left shoulder, a portrait of Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig looking down upon his grandmother, Nancy Nottingham, and aunt, Laurie Nottingham. Both women died from the disease that took Gehrig, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS.

PHOENIX -- Brewers catching prospect Jacob Nottingham wanted his latest tattoo to make his father proud, and he found inspiration in family tragedy.

Nottingham reported to camp this year with new art on his left shoulder, a portrait of Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig looking down upon his grandmother, Nancy Nottingham, and aunt, Laurie Nottingham. Both women died from the disease that took Gehrig, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS.

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The artist was Wes Hogan of Artistic Element in Yucaipa, Calif. Nottingham got the tattoo in January, and surprised his dad before reporting to Spring Training. Dad teared up when he saw it.

"It was special for my dad," Jacob Nottingham said. "He lost his mom at a very young age, and he lost his sister. I have two older brothers and we look up to my dad a lot. It's special because our family is so into sports."

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Nottingham was a freshman in high school when the disease took his Aunt Laurie, and was moved to meet others affected by the disease two summers ago when the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers hosted an ALS awareness night at the ballpark. That experience has stuck with him.

"I feel like I'm part of that family," he said.

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Nottingham was among the 11 players, mostly prospects, cut from big league camp on Friday. The move was expected; Brewers Minor League position players formally reported for the start of their own Spring Training earlier in the day, and it's time for Nottingham to prepare for his sixth season in the Minors, and third since a trade brought him over from Oakland's system.

Nottingham has already logged two full seasons at the Double-A level before his 23rd birthday. He has not hit much -- a sub-.700 OPS in each season since the trade -- but has answered the other big question that tends to dog a 6-foot-2 catcher.

"When we got him, the project of catching, frankly, we weren't sure. He was a big guy, 20 years old, and it was, 'This is going to be a really big man. Is he going to be able to catch?'" said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "Now, when I see him catch, I credit the work that our catching instructors have done. He looks so good receiving a baseball. He's made so much progress."

Said Brewers catching coordinator Charlie Greene: "It's about getting low, getting underneath the ball. Get his eyes below the ball. I think he's not as muscle-bound this year, but his arm still looks great. He's freer this year, more flexible."

That was by design, according to Nottingham, who reported to camp 12-15 pounds lighter, after working all winter on flexibility. He's feeling quicker on his feet.

"It's a good feeling that it shows, and everything is coming together," Nottingham said. "Now you have to keep going. Stick to what I've been doing and learn from the older guys."

Video: Nottingham on mentality, offseason coming into spring

As for his bat, Greene noted that the Southern League produced only four .300 hitters last season. And that Nottingham does not turn 23 until April 3, meaning he is the same age as the four-year college players drafted last year, with five professional seasons under his belt.

Greene said Nottingham left a good impression with Brewers coaches in camp. He was 4-for-16 with two doubles and a home run in the Cactus League.

"You've got two jobs," Nottingham said. "One job, is to take care of the pitcher, try to make his job as easy as you can. When you're catching, that's the main priority and you have to learn how to split those. You can't take your at-bats into your catching.

"Obviously, that's hard. That's something I've been learning to get better with."

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Nottingham hopes someday to establish his own foundation to spread awareness of ALS, and raise funds to search for a cure. Obviously, the Major League stage helps for that sort of thing.

Does it scare him to know ALS struck two close family members?

"I try not to think about it," Nottingham said. "It's part of life and you can't focus on it. You do your best to go day by day and live your life."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Jacob Nottingham