They Weren't Yelling "Soup!"
"Welcome to Miller Park," the lot attendant says to each and every car he greets, ours included.
"Hi, enjoy the game," says the club level attendant as she checks your ticket and points you on your way.
Each usher, bartender and vendor seems to go out of their way to make you feel welcome at the ol' ballyard.
The courtesy isn't extended from the stands to the field, though, when a player fails to live up to expectations. For him, Miller Park is a cold, cold place, even on a 90 degree Sunday in May with the lid open and brilliant sun baking the fan base.
Enter Jeff Suppan, who many of the paying customers serenaded in the key of "boo" when he flamed out against the Mets. His walk of shame to the Milwaukee dugout generated some of the longest, lustiest, guttural raspberries I've heard in a long time--remember, I've been around to see the flame-outs of Derrick Turnbow, Dan Plesac, and Bill Champion.
Plesac lived next door as his Milwaukee career was coming to a less-than-satisfying conclusion. The guy who seemed automatic in the late going had suddenly lost his stuff, and the fans were being brutal. It wasn't easy on he or those around him. Even I got crap from buddies about my neighbor's mounting flame-outs.
Plesac would leave Milwaukee and go on to have a long, successful big-league career. Was it new coaching that found a flaw in his delivery? Or, was it the change in venue that allowed him to stop pressing and to get his head on straight?
Fans don't know why Suppan doesn't have it any more as either a starter or, of late, as a mid-reliever. All they see is a guy knocking down $12 million a year turning a 2-2 tie into a 6-2 deficit en route to a 10-4 Brewers loss. They respond as fans do everywhere the 40 thousand GM's in the stands question Doug Melvin's sanity.
Suppan came on after another so-so start by another big-money Melvin pickup, Randy Wolf. The innings-eater Wolf was billed as failed to show up again on Sunday, struggling to go five with a bullpen already in tatters after Saturday night's win over New York that required the use of four relievers when Manny Parra spit the bit. Suppan was one of manager Ken Macha's few relief options Sunday--and, as has all to often been the case this season, Macha's calls end up biting him in the you-know-what. That's why Trevor Hoffman is out as closer and the ghost of Rollie Fingers' mustache is getting the late call.
The faltering Suppan. The inconsistent Wolf. The ailing Doug Davis. The no-longer-a-closer Hoffman. The leadoff-hitter-who-is now-batting-sixth Carlos Gomez. The injured Greg Zaun. It's easy for we rabble to wonder what Melvin was thinking as he doled out the franchise's scarce free-agent dollars. One of Melvin's previous finds, Casey McGehee, is the steadiest bat in the lineup so far this season. Macha even had McGehee batting cleanup Sunday, moving Ryan Braun into the two-hole and batting Prince Fielder third.
Second-guessing Macha is right up there with the planting of geraniums in terms of springtime Milwaukee activities, although I think a lot of the sniping is, as the skipper is wont to say, "poppycock." Macha can't be blamed if the guys he's been given don't come through. And, he can't be faulted when his bench is so thin that he's forced to used starting pitchers as pinch-hitters in extra inning contests. That's on Melvin.
Picking a pitching coach, though, was Macha's call and he went with his bud, Rick Petersen. The move was deeply scrutinized with Petersen being hailed as a new-age wonk with unique approaches to the art of hurling. Some, including me, went so far as to say Petersen would prove to be the team's most significant off-season acquisition, such was the fanfare that accompanied his arrival. Petersen would be the guy, we thought, who'd teach our starters to be more aggressive, go deeper into games, and preserve the bullpen that was the team's undoing in 2009.
What are you seeing so far, fans?
It takes time for players, especially veterans, to buy into a new system. Injuries haven't helped in the quest for mound consistency and the Brewers had to use a few patch-work arrangements just to have enough arms to start toward the end of the most recent road trip. It's disturbing, though, to see such inconsistency from Wolf, Parra, Davis, and even Yovani Gallardo who still needs way to many pitches to get through way too few innings. And, I guess I'm still stinging from the short leash given Petersen's predecessor, Bill Castro, who got bounced last season when the pitching staff started to falter for reasons beyond Castro's control. I didn't think he was given enough time to work his way out of the problem, which would prove to be the team's fatal flaw the rest of last season even after Billy was gone.
Petersen seems to have time, and management, on his side. So do Macha and Melvin. For all of their problems so far this season, no one ran away and hid with the N-L Central, meaning the Brewers could still play their way back into contention. Seeing a few Miller Park wins this past homestand after starting out 4-14 in Milwaukee is a good start.
Suppan's role is a question mark, and his salary an albatross on a team that just can't afford big-money mistakes. Macha can no longer bring Suppan in when the game is on the line, joining Hoffman on the team's "Not Doing What I Was Originally Signed To Do" list. It's one that is two names--and two big paychecks--too long for a team in Milwaukee's delicate financial straits. Moves like that put teams behind eight-balls, put careers in bulls eyes, and turn otherwise-friendly Miller Park into a very hostile place.