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Friday, September 23, 2011
The funnest team around

By Rick Reilly
ESPN.com

Milwaukee Brewers
Corey Hart, Ryan Braun and Nyjer Morgan are key members of the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers, the most lovable and easy-to-root-for team in this year's MLB postseason.
One reason baseball ranks behind lawn darts in American sports popularity is that there are so few lovable teams.

The Yankees? It's like rooting for a hedge fund.

The Phillies? Just another checkbook champion.

But this year is different. This year, we have the Milwaukee Brewers. If you can't root for the Brewers, your rooter is busted.

The Brewers are a foamy phenomenon. How could a team with a smaller television market than Raleigh-Durham win the NL Central for the first time in 29 years?

This is a team whose three most famous members are stuffed sausages. How could a team with a comedian for a play-by-play guy get so seriously good?

Because it's Milwaukee, where baseball is actually fun.

The Brewers are a rolling carnival in metal spikes. One day this year, their stud left fielder, Ryan Braun, fell flat on his face between third and home and was tagged out. The next day, there was a body outline on the grass, a present from his teammates.

One night, their center fielder, Nyjer Morgan, smashed a walk-off double, only he didn't know to walk off. He thought it was the eighth inning.

The Brewers are a foamy phenomenon. How could a team with a smaller television market than Raleigh-Durham win the NL Central for the first time in 29 years??

This is a team where the star Japanese reliever, Takashi Saito, owns a Stetson cowboy hat and the star American starter, Zack Greinke, owns a samurai sword.

Take Morgan. He has at least three alter egos -- maniacal Tony Plush, countrified Tony Tombstone and Tony Gumble, the calculating "Professional." None of the four would back off from a starving grizzly.

One night in early September, Morgan got into it with St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, who didn't appreciate the way Morgan had mouthed off after a home run earlier in the season. So when Morgan whiffed swinging, Carpenter added, "Eff you!" as salt to the wound.

To which, Morgan replied, "Eff you!"

The two started walking toward each other. Running in from first base came the Cards' 6-foot-3, 230-pound all-galaxy first baseman Albert Pujols, also repeating the phrase of the moment. Five-foot-10, 175-pound Morgan had to be held back by teammates from attacking him.

Afterward, I asked Morgan what was cross-wired in his brain that he would invite violence from Pujols. After calling Pujols a very bad word, Morgan said that Pujols needed to "get back to first base."

Me: "You're sayin' you could take Albert Pujols?"

Morgan: "Oh, please. I'da f---ed him up. I'da one-punched him."

Morgan is such a hotdog he should be entered in the sausage race.

"I only come around once in a lifetime," he says. For a lot of NL pitchers, that's too often. He just had his finest year in the bigs.

Once you've dealt with Morgan, you have to face the very un-Morgan-esque Braun, who looks as if he escaped from an Abercrombie & Fitch poster. He's got Hollywood looks and four-and-a-half-tool talent. Braun almost won the batting title with an average of .332, hit 33 home runs and drove in 111 runs. The half-Jewish 27-year-old winters in Malibu but just signed to summer in Milwaukee until he's 37. Why would a Malibu mensch live among the meatballs of Milwaukee half the year?

"Because," he says, "we all look forward to coming to work every day here. How many jobs can you say that about?"

After the Hebrew Hammer, you have to get past a man built like a Hummer, Prince Fielder, a raking machine who sets the bat in his right hand against a callus the size of tangerine. I've seen it. It's alarming.

"I don't even feel it," he says.

Fielder callously thumped pitchers for 38 home runs and 120 RBIs this year, second in the league in both categories. Alas, the Brewers can't afford him after this year, so he'll probably be moving to one of the corporate monoliths in the AL. But how can a guy named Fielder be a DH?

Nyjer Morgan
Brewers outfielder Nyjer Morgan is a tough competitor on the field and a free spirit off it.

Their closer, gangly 6-5 John Axford, has a Fu Manchu he won't cut and a slider you can't hit. He didn't allow a run in September. The team wears T-shirts with his face on them that read: Carpe Diem. Seize the Day. Axford almost always does. He blew only two saves all season.

Presiding over all this madness is a librarian in a manager's uniform, bookish Ron Roenicke, who refuses to go by the book. The rookie manager hates the intentional walk (he used it only 16 times all year), brings in Braun as a fifth infielder occasionally and refuses to keep a left-handed reliever on his staff because "then you're stuck with him."

He looks the other way for most of the insanity, and there's a boatload of it. For the team fantasy league draft, the vets made rookie Taylor Green wear a tight dress and heels and serve them beer."But at least they invited me," Green says. "They invite everybody to everything."

As right fielder Corey Hart says, "This is the funnest team I've ever been on. I'm lovin' it."

OK, so they're loose with grammar, too. They're loose and fun and wildly talented. Like Morgan, this might be a team that comes along only once in a lifetime. Don your "Fear the Beer" T-shirt and get on board.

Carpe annum.

Seize the year.


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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "Monday Night Countdown," "SportsCenter," and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.


Feel like taking a detour from sane sports? Try Rick's latest book, "Sports from Hell."