Photo by Ben Smidt
Maybe it’s the smooth, slow-paced delivery of Ron Roenicke’s press conference answers or his generally relaxed dugout demeanor. Maybe it’s just that the 56-year-old has been in the big leagues so long – 1981-88 as a player, since 2000 as a coach or manager – that so little surprises him.
But whether you’re seeing the Milwaukee Brewers manager in person or through the magic of television, watching Roenicke work is usually a lesson in even-keeled calm. Do so without the benefit of sound, and it’s often hard to tell whether he’s talking about a win or loss. He can greet both outcomes with equal amounts of reserve, and still flash a little smile whether he’s delighted or dejected by a result.
Lately, it’s been a whole lot more of the latter. Fifteen times already in May, he’s had to talk about why the Brewers lost a game. The dismal stretch has been a trap-door trip to the bottom of the National League Central standings, where the Brewers have become reluctant roomies with the hapless Chicago Cubs.
So from a fan’s perspective, it surely seems easier to bail on the good ship S.S. Brewers than to believe it will be bailed out. But Roenicke doesn’t have that luxury. His job is to continue believing in his team and to see the ship is somehow righted. His job is to stay even-keeled.
He’s done it before. Back in 2011, before the Brewers won their first divisional title since 1982, they found themselves six games below .500 on May 6. And before last year’s late-season playoff push fell just short, the Brewers found themselves with a record of 17-26 on May 22, 2012.
That happens to be the exact same record the Brewers were stuck with on May 21, 2013. I had no idea about the identical records until Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Brewers beat writer Todd Rosiak mentioned it to me before Tuesday night’s game. For some reason, things seem so much worse this year than last. The 2-8 start probably has something to do with that, as does the fact that so many of Milwaukee’s wins came during a nine-game streak that ended on April 24, making them easier to forget about afterward.
But Roenicke and the Brewers know they’ve been here before. And if they needed another reminder about the past, they got it when Zack Greinke showed up in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform.
Here was a pitcher who’d helped lead the Brewers to that 2011 division championship. Here was a guy who’d never lost once in 24 games of pitching at Miller Park, and a guy who remained plenty popular among Brewers fans. Some 60 people sat in section 216 Tuesday when the Brewers first came to bat, and 20 of them wore a name-plated jersey or shirsey. Twelve different players were represented, but only two were represented more than once: Ryan Braun and Zack Greinke, each moniker stretched across five backs.
In Greinke, here was a guy who symbolized better Brewers times. And here was a guy the Brewers beat, 5-2.
True to form, Roenicke didn’t make a big deal out of it afterward. He did note how it was “a nice challenge for us” to go against Greinke. And perhaps if Greinke had won, he’d have changed “nice” to “difficult.”
Otherwise, it was just another day at the ballpark for Roenicke. A better one, to be sure, and the Brewers will need many more of those better ones if they’re to make something of this season.
And Roenicke’s role in the S.S. Brewers’ travels? Steady as she goes.
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