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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Need a team to root for in October? Try the Brewers


Go ahead, embrace the Brewers. They'll love you right back. (US Presswire)  
Go ahead, embrace the Brewers. They'll love you right back. (US Presswire)  

MILWAUKEE -- Hey, you. Yes, you!

Staring at another October with your Local Nine mothballed (hello, Orioles fans)? Your club going to get packed away with the summer swimsuits well before Halloween (hiya, Pirates)? Are you a baseball orphan looking for a home when the playoffs begin?

I've got just the team for you. There's not much room left on the bandwagon, but hurry, if you act now, I can get you a Racing Sausages T-shirt ($20), a Bernie Brewer pillow ($50) or an Ax-Man foam tomahawk ($6.50) in honor of Milwaukee closer John Axford.

"The organization created the excitement here," pitcher Randy Wolf says. "We knew in spring training that our job was to fulfill the organization's expectations."

Fulfill them they are, albeit with a big bump over the weekend when they dropped three of four at home to Philadelphia. St. Louis remains a wee bit too close for comfort.

But overall, the Brewers forge ahead, undaunted, as the leaves begin to change following what might have been the greatest, most exciting summer of baseball in Milwaukee in nearly three decades.

If you need a team this October, I've got one right here: The Brewers are sublimely skilled and outrageously fun, the city is warm and welcoming and, besides, who else is within an easy drive to the Mars Cheese Castle?

Yes, if you've been lookin' for baseball love in all the wrong places in recent Octobers, if you want to root, root, root for someone this autumn, here's why this Crew is for you:

Introduction to Psychology 101

"We've got a ton of personalities," setup man LaTroy Hawkins says, and he does mean "ton."

You might have heard. Prince Fielder's flamboyance. Ryan Braun's steadiness. Rickie Weeks' grit. Zack Greinke's social-anxiety disorder. Nyjer Morgan's ... ah, let's stop here.

"We've got a personality for whatever the average fan is feeling," Hawkins says. "Whatever personality you are, someone on our team can match up with you."

Indeed ... and we'll return to Hawk's personality challenge in a moment.

Zack Greinke hasn't played basketball in months

Greatest thing about the Brew Crew, and we've said this before, is that when it would have been so easy to trade Fielder last winter and plead Small Market Poverty, they instead went all in -- in the other direction.

Instead of dealing Fielder, an impending free agent, whip-smart general manager Doug Melvin traded for pitchers Greinke and Shaun Marcum. That's what ignited the excitement and those expectations Wolf touted. After missing the first month of the season with a rib injury sustained playing hoops, Greinke now is 14-6 with a 3.93 ERA. Marcum is 12-6, 3.25. Yovani Gallardo is 16-10, 3.66.

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Greinke, who has had a well-documented history of antisocial behavior, has surprised the Brewers.

"He's funny," Wolf says. "I like him a lot. He's quirky. He adds to the whole thing of different personalities.

"And he's cocky about his hitting."

Fielder could have told them that. He and Greinke were summer teammates for a time in high school during a handful of summer All-Star Showcase Games in Florida. Greinke played third and hit in front of Fielder. He was so good, in fact, Fielder thought Greinke's talent was as a hitter.

"I didn't know he was a pitcher until senior year of high school," Fielder told me earlier this summer. "I thought he was a third baseman. That's what he played in those Showcase games."

Of course, Greinke is hitting .167 this season, with one home run and one RBI. You'll see him on the mound in October.

You can learn something from Milwaukee's fans

Smallest media market in the majors, yet this will be the third time in the past four seasons that the Brewers will have drawn 3 million or more fans. They are passionate. They are knowledgeable. They are so insatiable that even Jerry Hairston Jr., acquired by Melvin in July to beef up the bench, is regularly recognized around town.

"Oh yeah," Hairston says. "They know everybody. They're so passionate about their sports here. They're so fanatical about the Packers, and now they're fanatical about the Brewers. They love baseball. Everybody talks about St. Louis, but Milwaukee's got to be up there in knowledge of the game and appreciating it."

"It's truly special," slugger extraordinaire and MVP candidate Ryan Braun says. "The more time I've spent in other cities, the more special I think this is here. The support, how badly they want to win ... for them to support us even during the down times, it speaks volumes.

"You go around the country and play in the bigger cities, and we play in half-full stadiums. We never have that here."

The Brewers this year are averaging 37,513 per game, fifth in the NL. That ranks ahead of both the Dodgers and the Mets.

"It's an overachieving population base," says Tyler Barnes, Milwaukee's vice president of communications. "It's a city of overachievers."

Who doesn't love overachievers?

"When it comes to their sports teams," Barnes continues, "I think they look at it as a challenge to keep up with the bigger guys."

Psychology 202

OK, regarding Hawkins' testament that the Brewers have a match for whatever your personality type? Pop quiz for the setup man, and Hawk takes us around the horn:

  Fielder, 1B: "Reserved outside the clubhouse, inside the clubhouse all hyped."

  Weeks, 2B: "Tough."

  Yuniesky Betancourt, SS: "Smooth, on and off the field."

  Casey McGehee, 3B: "A California guy living in Tennessee. Confused."

  Braun, LF: "Always reserved."

  Nyjer Morgan, CF: "Showman."

  Corey Hart, RF: "Consistent."

  Jonathan Lucroy, C: "Smart guy. He bunted earlier this year with the pitcher up behind him. We won't let him live that one down."

  Greinke: "Hmm. Hmmmm. He's completely different than everybody says. Completely different. But we all are."

  Marcum: "Wacky. Crafty. You don't see that many crafty right-handers. But he's a crafty right-hander."

  Gallardo: "Silent assassin."

  Wolf: "Guts."

  Chris Narveson, SP: "Smiley."

  Axford, closer: "Goofball. Movie buff."

Where else could you find this?

The closer for the Brewers, in a city obviously famous for beer, is a former bartender.

You could not make this up.

"He's stopped bartending?" Wolf quips.

Matter of fact, yes.

"I still go back to the restaurant I worked at and eat there," says Axford, who tended bar and sold cell phones in his native Ancaster, Ontario (Canada), for a time after going undrafted out of Canisius College. "The owner and his wife came down to see us in Pittsburgh when we were there.

"He always brings it up that we need to do a John Axford Bar Night."

The affable Axford, now in his second season as a closer and second in the NL with 42 saves, is interested. But he and his wife have a 3-month-old, they've just bought a new house that is in need of furniture and, well ... he may be busy throughout October.

"He's been outstanding for us," Wolf says. "I think the only thing that's changed is the amount of tweets he puts out."

The likely NL MVP resides here

No disrespect to Arizona's Justin Upton or the Dodgers' Matt Kemp, but Braun (first in the NL with a .579 slugging percentage, second with a .331 batting average) and Fielder (second with a .406 on-base percentage and tied for second with 108 RBI) probably lead the MVP race at this point. (All statistics are from before Milwaukee's 2-1 walk-off victory on Tuesday night.)

Which one should win?

"For both of us to even be in the conversation is amazing," the humble and friendly Braun says. "You have little control over the voting, but if you're in the conversation, it means you're having a good year and you're probably on a good team."

Good answer. Except, ah, you ducked my question, Ryan. You or Fielder?

"I think the award's going to be won in the next two weeks," Braun says. "Myself, Prince, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp ... Albert Pujols is carrying the Cardinals back into contention ... "

It's been a long, long time since 1982 ... or 1957

Last time the city of Milwaukee won a World Series, it was when the Braves of Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Frank Torre knocked off the Yankees in '57.

Last time this city set foot in a Fall Classic, it was when the Brewers of Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Gorman Thomas, Cecil Cooper and Ted Simmons fell to the Cardinals in '82.

In 29 years since then, exactly two playoff games have been played in Milwaukee. Two! That was in 2008, when the Phillies knocked off the Brewers of short-timer CC Sabathia in four games.

Yet through the years, through all of the ups and downs ... and downs ... and downs ... well, thousands in Milwaukee kept taking themselves out to the ballgame anyway.

"It was always a pleasure here," says Don Money, who played in the Brewers infield from 1973 through 1983. "They love their baseball. They'd tailgate ... we'd see 'em coming in, and we'd see 'em when we left. Same people. Still tailgating."

Today's Brewers pretty much see the same thing -- probably the children of the tailgaters Money and his Crew saw.

"People's expectations coming into the year were, hopefully, to watch a special team," Braun says. "All summer long, people have been fired up. It's been an electric atmosphere.

"People around town tell us how proud they are of us, how fired up they are. Everybody has a Brewers hat, T-shirt, jacket, sweatshirt, something."

It's been an extraordinarily special summer. The Brewers are 52-22 at home, their .703 winning percentage leading the majors. They've led the NL Central for 81 days this summer and have been in first every day since July 27.

They've got a strong rotation, a souped-up bullpen since Melvin traded for Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez in July, MVP candidates, you name it.

Now, here comes October, and a question that rarely has been seriously considered around here:

What if Milwaukee won it all?

"Oh my goodness gracious," Money says. "It would probably be like the 1950s when the Braves won. It would be unbelievable.

"When we got in the World Series in '82, a lot of people showed up at the parade they held for us. If we won, it probably would be a party night ... and the party might go all week."

Hey, you: If the Yankees and Red Sox aren't your style, if you're not a Phillies fanatic, if you're looking for a team ... who doesn't like a party?

The Milwaukee bandwagon is still taking customers. It's a great ride here, I can tell you that. Oh, and I can get you a navy blue T-shirt with the No. 2 on the back and the lettering "T Plush" above it and ... ah, never mind.

"The Ryan Braun T-shirt by far is our best seller," the man behind the concession stand says.



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