01/31/2003 12:04 pm ET
Brewers Spring Training preview
Yost gearing up to make Milwaukee a winner again
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
Spring Training rundown
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Maryvale Baseball Park
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers general manager Doug Melvin spent the winter stockpiling a new manager and coaching staff, a handful of pitchers, catchers and outfielders, a new starting shortstop and a new third baseman.
He might also want to check the hardware store for one huge eraser. With Spring Training set to start next week at the club's sprawling spring home in west Phoenix, it's time to wipe the slate clean.
"The true blue fans are very frustrated with the way things have been," said manager Ned Yost, a Brewers reserve in the successful early 1980s. "But even though they are frustrated and mad, I think they're back to seeing a little ray of hope right now. They're excited because it's a new start and a new direction.
"They're willing to give us the benefit of the doubt to see if we can pull off what we're telling them we can pull off. To get that opportunity is really neat."
After 2002, it seems the only way to go is up. Milwaukee was 56-106, its worst season ever. Fans there haven't cheered a winner since 1992. They haven't seen playoff action since Yost wore the uniform back in 1982.
When Yost opens Spring Training at Maryvale Baseball Park he'll preside over a clubhouse full of new faces. Many of them, from holdovers Jeffrey Hammonds and Geoff Jenkins to newcomers Todd Ritchie, Royce Clayton and John Vander Wal, are coming off frustrating seasons and look to bounce back.
If you ask Wes Helms, the new third baseman, Yost won't take long to establish order.
"He's not going to back down from anybody, and if somebody talks bad about the Brewers he's going to get in their face," said Helms, who played under Yost in Atlanta. "He's one of the most positive guys you'll ever meet. He's got a heart as big as a mountain."
Yost's almost rabid intensity makes him a stark contrast to Jerry Royster, who took over from Davey Lopes 15 games into the 2002 season. And his unshakeable optimism makes him different from Lopes, who managed Milwaukee beginning in 2000 and rarely let down his hard-nosed demeanor.
"The organization needs somebody like that," said Wayne Franklin, a lefty who will fight for a spot in the rotation or the bullpen. "It's time for someone to stand up for the Milwaukee Brewers."
Change is already in the works. Yost had the stereo system removed in the home clubhouse at Miller Park, and Brewers coaches will dress with the players instead of in a separate locker room.
Other reasons to expect change? As the Braves third base coach, Yost knew only winning during 12 seasons of division championships. And he feels a genuine affinity to the Brewers fans who made his years in Milwaukee the best of his career.
"For me it's real important that we don't sell people a bill of goods," he said. "I don't want to have a lousy product and get everybody to believe it's good. Right now, I feel like our product is pretty good. I like what we've got."
To win, the Brewers will need comebacks from a number of veterans and breakouts from some unexpected sources. Melvin says it is possible.
"One year ago, no one knew Luis Vizcaino or Jayson Durocher," Melvin said, referring to the Brewers' most reliable relievers in 2002. "No one knew that they would have the impact on last year's team with their performance like they did."
The biggest competition starts Feb. 15, when pitchers and catchers report. As many as eight pitchers have an argument for the three spots in the starting rotation behind Ben Sheets and Glendon Rusch, and the Brewers will have no fewer than six catchers with big league experience in camp.
"I like the competition coming into Spring Training," Yost said. "We don't have anything that's the same, except for probably a few spots in our starting rotation. We've got guys who are going to battle."
The only thing missing this offseason was a big, attention-grabbing headline. Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash say it was by design.
"Everybody would love to sign the star players, but I'm getting the sense that fans do understand that one star player is not going to make the difference now," said Melvin, who led the Texas Rangers to their first-ever playoff berth in the late 1990s after decades of futility. "It doesn't make sense to mortgage your future to one veteran player.
"It's not going to get done overnight, but we have to explain fans that we're trying to move forward and get things turned around here. We need to show improvement and play better baseball."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com based in Milwaukee. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.