Memorial Day used to be a type of baseball holiday. When I was a boy, teams played doubleheaders on Memorial Day. Now, you youngsters out there may have no idea what a doubleheader is. See, teams used to actually schedule two games on the same day. You would pay one admission price and stay in the park all day and see two games. It was pretty sweet.
Of course, they don’t schedule doubleheaders anymore. And even when a rainout forces a team to play a doubleheader, they make it a day-night thing so they can charge two separate admissions. That’s progress for you.
But while teams no longer schedule doubleheaders, at least we can count on ESPN to show us a doubleheader on Memorial Day, right? Well, not exactly. Not only is ESPN not showing a Memorial Day doubleheader, they aren’t even showing a baseball game! How can this be? Good’s gone bad, right is wrong and the world no longer makes sense.
At least the Braves are playing a day game in Milwaukee that TBS is televising. I’m excited because this gives me my first chance to watch rookie Ryan Braun. Now, I highlighted Braun in my Spring Training Update piece and then went out and drafted him in my keeper fantasy league. I enjoyed keeping track of his stats in the Minors and was excited when he got the call to the Majors.
In 34 games with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, Braun batted .342 with a .418 on-base percentage and a .701 slugging mark. Not too shabby. Braun produced that gaudy slugging percentage thanks to 22 extra-base hits in 117 at-bats, including 10 home runs. Just as importantly, Braun held his own in the field, as he made just three errors.
Meanwhile, the Brewers got off to a great start, despite some lousy production from the players they put out at third base. Corey Koskie was slated to be the team’s starter at the hot corner, but Koskie is still suffering from post-concussive syndrome and has yet to play a game this season.
In his place, the Brewers started the season with Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino splitting time at third base. Now, these two veterans did the job defensively, but they were a sinkhole at the plate.
Counsell is batting just .234 with a microscopic .309 slugging percentage. And he was the productive hitter of the two. Graffanino is batting just .187 with a .234 slugging mark. He produced just three extra-base hits in 107 at-bats.
Milwaukee put up with the lack of production from a power position like third base because the team got off to a terrific 24-10 start. But a 4-9 streak led them to promote Braun to help jump-start a struggling lineup.
Braun made his Major League debut Friday versus the Padres. He batted second and went 1-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. In his second game, Braun went 3-for-4 and posted his first home run and his first stolen base. Braun was moved to the third spot in the order on Sunday, but he could not keep the Brewers from dropping their fifth straight game. Braun took the collar as Milwaukee lost 3-0 to Jake Peavy and the Padres.
With the promotion of Braun, the Brewers now boast the only homegrown infield in the Majors. Shortstop J.J. Hardy, enjoying a tremendous season with a .303/.350/.587 line as a shortstop, was a second-round draft pick while the other three were all first-round picks. First baseman Prince Fielder was the seventh player selected in 2002 while second baseman Rickie Weeks was the second player taken in the 2003 draft. In the 2005 draft, Braun was the fifth player taken.
With outfielder Geoff Jenkins and Billy Hall, the Brewers everyday lineup features six players who grew up in the farm system. The surest way to build a solid club is through the draft and the Brewers have done a great job in this regard. After years of dismal play, the future is bright in Milwaukee and the team seems destined to post its first record above .500 since the 1992 season.
Even with their recent cold streak, the Brewers remain comfortably in first place in the NL Central. Milwaukee is the only team in the division with a record above .500 for the season. They sit at 28-22 entering Memorial Day and own a 5-game lead over the second place Cubs.
As for Braun, he’s 0-for-2 so far on Memorial Day. He struck out in the first inning and flied out to right on the first pitch he saw in the third. But he just handled a foul pop-up and looks like he belongs on a Major League roster. I look forward to seeing him play in the Majors for a long time.