SAN DIEGO -- The hole he wanted to dig never got dug. The sleep he needed came on a comfortable bed in an Arizona house he and his family actually furnished this winter ... not in the dirt in that hole.
Whatever happened to Brooks Litchfield Conrad?
Let's just say this: The hugs have changed from teammates whose hearts were aching for him last fall ... to teammates whose bellies are full because of him this spring.
|Braves infielder Brooks Conrad says there a lot more lows in the game, especially on the offensive side. (Getty Images)|
"I had some orders from some of the guys," says Conrad, the backup infielder who grew up about 25 minutes from Petco Park. "And I brought in about 10 more so I didn't get flak from the others."
Smart guy. And no, he didn't mishandle the bags en route.
The hops have improved since that gut-wrenching day in October when Conrad committed three errors to help snuff the life out of his own team in Game 3 of the playoffs against the Giants.
They were the kind of plays that made you think, "I could have fielded that ground ball. I could have caught that pop-up."
They were the kind of errors that made you await an ambulance to remove Conrad from the broken glass and dislodged bumpers.
Instead, Conrad, who had committed an error in Game 1, too, simply stood by his locker afterward, running away from nothing.
Among other things, anguished, this is what he said that day: "I wish I could just dig a hole and sleep in it."
Who hasn't been there? Who hasn't wished that?
For all who have ever missed a game-tying free throw with one second left on the clock in the eighth grade, choked a test score on a college entrance exam or blown a job interview, this guy was for you.
Life normally isn't what plays out in your backyard.
Stuff happens, dreams explode.
"Don't blame anybody but yourself," Conrad says. "If you look at it, that's the way life goes."
There isn't always time for a full dress rehearsal.
Having just completed his first full big-league season following nine hard years in the minors, Conrad was only playing because of season-ending injuries to Chipper Jones and Martin Prado. But it wasn't as if he was incapable. Last May 20, he belted a stunning, pinch-hit, ninth-inning grand slam to beat Cincinnati. It was a game the Braves trailed 9-3 heading into the ninth.
Then he walloped another pinch-hit, grand slam last July 24 to become the first rookie ever to hit two in the same season.
"Magical," Conrad says -- still -- of 2010.
"He's one of my favorite teammates of all time," says Eric Hinske, who has had a whole lot of them while playing for six big-league clubs. "Nothing has ever been handed to him. He's had to work for everything he's ever had."
Post-elimination, Conrad went home to his wife, Jessie, and his two children -- Jaxon, who will turn 4 in July, and Reese, 2 -- in Gilbert, Ariz. The wind was knocked out of him, but not for long.
"We got to fill up the house with a little furniture," he says. "So that was fun."
The Conrads had purchased the home two winters ago but, well, "we didn't have enough money or time to fill it up. It's starting to look like a home now. We've got some couches to sit on."
By late January, he was on the Braves' Winter Caravan for stops at the military base in Fort Benning, Ga., and a couple of children's hospitals.
"It's really neat to get the opportunity to go meet some people who are a lot more important than what you do," he says. "And you meet some kids who are going through some tough times, having a lot tougher days than you have."
Kids who would gladly cash in their illnesses for a three-error day in the playoffs.
Conrad had to win back his utility job this spring ("That's what I'm used to, the way it should be"), but truth be told, he probably had more of an incumbent's advantage than he realized.
"You know what?" first-year Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez says. "The biggest thing I saw in spring training is that he's a stand-up guy. He didn't hide last fall, and the team circled around him.
"I think that's all you need to say: When your teammates circle around you, that means they love you."
At 31, the clock ticks on his career. Yes, he's making good money, but that $427,250 salary won't set him up for life. So he stays sharp for his next opportunity. So far, he's played in only 12 games, all as a pinch-hitter. He has a single in 11 at-bats (.097).
But he fits because, while stars may be this game's muscle, survivors are its heartbeat.
"Bottom line is, I'm doing what I love to do," Conrad says. "I'm playing baseball every day.
"I'm extremely happy."
A Brave clutching a burrito nearly as long as a Louisville Slugger interrupts, hugs, and Conrad advises that there's salsa in the players' lounge.
"People don't understand the highs and lows of this game," he continues. "There are a lot more lows, especially on the offensive side.
"It's a funky game. It'll knock you down a whole lot more than not.
"But I'm so blessed."
From hot potato to hot sauce, it's still not a bad life.