A few weeks ago when the Brewers non-tendered Chris Carter, I think they became the first team in major league history to non-tender the previous season’s home run champion. Carter hit 41 bombs in 2016 to tie the Rockies Nolan Arenado for the National League lead.
A few weeks after dumping Carter, the Brewers did something even weirder. They signed Eric Thames to a three-year contract. Thames spent the last three seasons playing in Korea. I listened to the press conference welcoming him to Milwaukee. Manager Craig Counsell admired the journey Thames had taken to play baseball and looked forward to his journey continuing in Milwaukee. Thames said the pitching in Korea was a lot slower and that it would take some time to adjust to major league velocity.
The transaction was very inspiring. I was almost tempted to drag my bat to the nearest batting cage and rig the machines late at night when no one was watching, take some swings, get up to snuff and try out for the Brewers first base job, but instead I’ll just dedicate the next two paragraphs to Eric Thames and his new life as the Brewers first baseman.
The grapes were bigger that summer. The newspapers blamed it on too much rain. Mr. Crimkins said it was all the dogs licking trees and bushes, spitting nutrition into the fruits, he insisted. Eric T stuffed a handful in his pockets,braved the steps in three monster leaps and stole away into the basement. That’s where he enjoyed the next few months of his life, sitting down there among a bat collection. He had all kinds of bats – yellow birch, hickory, ash, maple, all sizes too and all kinds of players – Lyman Bostock, Ned Yost, Pepper Martin, and Rob Picciolo, just to name a few.
Eric T entered into a zone after leaping down those basement steps. It was like incense fumed in his head or a siren sounded. It was a call to attention – to work out the kinks of his stance – Cooper crouch or spastic Morgan twitch or maybe both and that holy trinity of medicine – spit, swing and swat grapes and popcorn seeds every which way.
Yes, he had popcorn seeds in his pockets in addition to grapes and he spit them both out his mouth; hit them hard too, so hard, that Eric T dreamed up wine and popcorn afternoons, but more importantly was the repetitive motion. It quickened his wrists and smoothed his hip tango gyrations.
Eric T. rose from the basement into the full bloom of the 2017 season and in early April showed signs of swat and being selective too. His on base percentage hovered near .400 for a while and little by little, Brewers fans forgot all about Chris Carter’s 41 home runs.