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Your Brewers Holiday Gift Guide

The holidays are rapidly approaching, but if you haven’t finished your shopping yet, don’t panic: I’ve put together a Brewers Gift Guide for you, so this year, you can give the gift of the season…The baseball season, that is!

Even though it is the offseason, there really are a variety of options out there, so let me help you find that perfect present for every fan on your list.

Read on!

For Every Fan

  • Holiday 4-Packs

There is a reason they’re called Holiday 4-Packs–because they’re the perfect holiday gift for any and every Brewers fan on your list.

Starting at just $60 & featuring some of the season’s biggest games, when you get them a Holiday 4-Pack, you’re not just giving them tickets to a game, you’re giving the gift of Brewers Baseball, family time, memories and summer. Plus, for each pair you purchase, you’ll get a free ornament featuring Hank the Ballpark Pup.

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Want to give a 4-Pack as a gift, but don’t know your recipient’s schedule? We’ve got you covered. With the Fan’s Choice 4-Pack, your recipient can choose their games at a later date. These are only available for a limited time, so be sure to check out brewers.com/4packs today.

  • Gift Certificates

Everyone always loves gift certificates! Brewers gift certificates are good towards the purchase of tickets to ANY 2015 Milwaukee Brewers regular season baseball game at Miller Park as well as Spring Training home game tickets in Arizona.

  • Brewers On Deck Tickets

They don’t have to wait until April 6 to see the Crew in Milwaukee. Get them some tickets to spend some quality time with your favorite Brewers at Brewers On Deck, Sunday, January 25 at the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee. A host of Brewers players as well as coaches, alumni, front office executives and broadcasters will be attendance for the Brewers annual Fan Fest. And with autographs, photo opportunities, coaches’ clinics, interactive games and more, Brewers On Deck features something for the entire family.

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  • Brewers Gear

You also can’t go wrong with the gift of Brewers gear. Shop at the Brewers Team Store at Miller Park or online at brewers.com for some of the latest & greatest new merchandise–we’ve got everything from jerseys and caps to footwear and accessories!

 

For the Kids

  • A Brewers Kids Club Membership (14 & Under)

For just $25, get them a membership to the Brewers Kids Club! They’ll receive an I.D. card with lanyard, Brewers Kids Club card, Hank the Dog magnet, Milwaukee Brewers poster, drawstring bag and water bottle, plus six Terrace Reserved ticket vouchers. In addition, they’ll have access to a few special events and unique opportunities, such as a tour of Miller Park, a party with the mascots, a pre-game parade and more. Click here to purchase/learn more.

Brewers Kids Club KIT

For the Dog Lover (& Dog!)

  • Hank the Dog Merchandise

We all fell in love with Hank the Ballpark Pup this year and if there’s an especially big fan of Hank on your list, you’ll want to check out some of the newest Hank items available in the Brewers Team Store:

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Plus, Hank merch is the gift that keeps on giving: 20% from the sale of Hank-related items benefits the Wisconsin Humane Society.

Extra-Special Gifts

  • Big Screen Video

Did one of your friends, family members or colleagues make it up on the Brewers scoreboard during a game this season? Surprise him or her by ordering a copy of that video–turn that memory into a lasting memento!

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  • Think Spring…Training

Looking for an extra-special gift? How about planning a trip to Spring Training in sunny Phoenix, Arizona?  Spring Training tickets are on sale now.

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  • Fantasy Camp (30 years +)

Send them to Brewers Fantasy Camp this January! This package includes airfare to and from Milwaukee and Phoenix, hotel, instruction and coaching from Brewers legends and much, much more.

And there you have it, a whole host of ideas to make Brewers Baseball your one-stop for holiday shopping. I hope this was helpful to you!

For more ideas and links, you can also visit brewers.com/giftguide.

-Cait

@CMoyer

Win a Gift from #SecretBrewer Kyle Lohse!

This holiday season, fans across the league have a opportunity to win a gift from an MLB star.

Starting last week, fans had the chance to enter on Twitter for a chance to win a gift from a #SecretBrewer player by following @Brewers and tweeting #SecretBrewer.

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Today, it was revealed via Twitter that Brewers pitcher Kyle Lohse is the #SecretBrewer:

 

Fans have until 10:59PM CT on Saturday, December 13 to enter for the chance to win a gift from Kyle.

No purchase necessary. See Team Official Rules for complete details.

You can view the other teams’ participants and gifts by clicking here.

12/10/14 Update: Kyle revealed his gift on Twitter today!

Wow! What an excellent gift. Tickets, a ball, a jersey AND the chance to play Golden Tee with him.

Not a golfer? No worries, for the uninitiated, Golden Tee is a video game often found in restaurants and pubs. That means the playing field is pretty level, even for a scratch golfer like Mr. Lohse.

Happy Holidays!
-Cait

@CMoyer

MILLER PARK NAMED BEST BALLPARK IN SPORTING NEWS FAN POLL

The Sporting News announced that Miller Park has been voted the Best Ballpark in their online poll of baseball fans. The home of the Brewers, which was seeded number 12 at the outset, eventually defeated second seed Fenway Park to take the title after a series of match-ups in a tournament-style contest.

The tournament was held online at SportingNews.com and was based on the rankings of the home fields of all 30 Major League teams by M.E. Anderson, founder of the Twitter account @MLBCathedrals. Based upon those rankings, two 15-team brackets representing the American and National Leagues were created. Readers voted round-by-round until each bracket was left with one team.

Miller Park faced a tough battle in the first round, squaring off against Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. The Brewers’ hometown field defeated Coors Field and then went on to best San Diego’s Petco Park in the second round. Miller Park downed division rivals Pittsburgh’s PNC Park to move into the finals of the National League bracket against the World Series-champion Giants AT&T Park.

After successfully winning the National League bracket, Miller Park was pitted against Major League Baseball’s oldest stadium, the highly-acclaimed Fenway Park, in the finals. After several days of voting, Miller Park was declared the victor earlier today.

“We are thrilled that Miller Park has been voted as the Best Ballpark in the Major Leagues in the Sporting News Ballpark Bracket,” said Brewers Chief Operating Officer Rick Schlesinger. “The fans’ opinions are our ultimate report card, so prevailing in this fan vote means a great deal to our organization.”

This is not the first time that Miller Park has been deemed the Best Ballpark in the Major Leagues through a tournament-style bracket. In 2012, Miller Park won ESPN’s Battle of the Ballparks Bracket in a similar fan vote contest.

Earlier this year, Miller Park also earned honors in ESPN The Magazine’s annual “Ultimate Standings: Fan Satisfaction Rankings. Fans voted the stadium experience at Miller Park the 10th-best overall out of 122 professional sports franchises (MLB, NFL, NBA and the NHL) included in the survey.

Thank you to those who voted to help make Miller Park #1!

-Cait

@CMoyer

Major Leaguers Set to Promote Baseball Around the Globe; Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke Heading to New Zealand

Following another successful tour of Japan, Major League Baseball (MLB) players and coaches will travel this offseason to share their passions for the game with fans and young players from developing baseball countries on three other continents. As part of this initiative, Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke is slated to head to New Zealand shortly after Brewers On Deck, from January 28 through February 2.

Currently, Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays is in South Africa as part of the MLB South Africa Elite Camp staff, which also includes the hitting coach for the 2014 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, Hensley Meulens, and will participate in youth baseball clinics.

Gift Ngoepe, a native South African and professional player in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, and Tim Leiper, the first base coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, are also serving as instructors at the Elite Camp.

Later this month, Archer’s Rays teammate, Australian Grant Balfour, will make a number of appearances in his home country where MLB opened the 2014 Championship Season.

In January, relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins will serve as a pitching instructor at the MLB Brazil Elite Camp. The staff will include Hall of Famer Barry Larkin along with former Major Leaguer Steve Finley. Brazilians Andre Rienzo, Chicago White Sox pitcher, and Paulo Orlando from the Kansas City Royals organization will train with the Elite Camp participants. Rienzo will also make a series of appearances at various youth initiatives across his home country throughout January.

“Major League Baseball is dedicated to the continued growth and development of our game around the world through our Ambassador Programs and Elite Camps,” said Paul Archey, Senior Vice President, International Business Operations, Major League Baseball. “The players and coaches who have dedicated their time and effort during the offseason to help bring their knowledge of baseball to different parts of the world is a testament to our commitment to the future growth of baseball globally.”

Archer, Meulens, Leiper and Ngoepe are serving as instructors at the MLB African Elite Camp in Johannesburg, South Africa for 37 of Africa’s top young baseball players. Fifteen coaches from the participating nations – Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda – are on hand to learn from the experienced MLB staff. In addition, MLB staff has also hosted clinics for 70 aspiring baseball coaches from across Africa to improve their knowledge of the game. A youth clinic was conducted for promising young baseball players in the Alexandra Township, one of the most disadvantaged urban areas in the country. The MLB African Elite Camp started in 2011, and has reached 116 players and 50 coaches from seven African nations. Three players from the Elite Camp have signed with MLB clubs, including 2013 camper Rowan Ebersohn (South Africa) with the Minnesota Twins.

Balfour will return to his native Australia, December 12-21, to participate in a number of community baseball events around the country. The trip will include appearances at various Australian Baseball League (ABL) games and clinics with local junior players. He will also attend the ABL All-Star Game where he will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The ABL is a six-member league started in 2010 that features homegrown talent as well as many players who hail from outside of Australia playing a 48-game season running November through February.

Roenicke will travel to New Zealand to train and work with top players on the New Zealand National Team, many of whom represented the country in the Qualifiers for the 2013 World Baseball Classic, along with many of the nation’s top 18U, 15U and 12U national development players. In addition, he will conduct clinics for youth baseball players and coaches in three cities – Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington – and run baseball sessions in schools across Auckland, the nation’s largest city.

Hawkins, Larkin and Finley will serve as instructors for the MLB Brazil Elite Camp from January 26 – February 4. Rienzo, Orlando and members of the Brazilian National Team who competed in the 2013 World Baseball Classic will train alongside the camp attendees. This Elite Camp, which has taken place each year since 2011, will bring together 50 of the best players, ages 14-17, from Brazil and Argentina to participate in morning instructional workouts, afternoon games and nightly seminars led by MLB field staff. Players will receive Major League instruction from top professional coaches and showcase their talents for Major League Scouts.

Throughout January, Rienzo will participate in a number of community baseball events around the country. His activities will include attending Brazilian national baseball tournaments and taking part in a youth clinic in Recife, Brazil, and visiting the Nautico Baseball Team, a professional soccer club that has adopted baseball into its programming through a partnership with Major League Baseball International.

In addition to these efforts, MLB is working with a leading Brazilian institution for physical education and the arts, SESC (Serviço Social do Comércio) to implement several development initiatives including an after-school baseball program, appearances by current and former Major Leaguers and clinics featuring Brazilian National Team players.
About MLB International
Major League Baseball International (MLBI) focuses on the worldwide growth of baseball and the promotion of Major League Baseball and MLB Club trademarks and copyrights through special events, broadcasting, market development, licensing and sponsorship initiatives. MLBI is committed to showcasing the world’s best baseball talent through international events around the globe. MLBI executes and supports game development programs targeting players and coaches from grassroots to elite levels. With an extensive list of marketing partners worldwide, MLBI continues to grow its position as a leader in the international marketplace. MLBI is supported in its mission through presences in Beijing, New York, London, Sydney and Tokyo.

Will Smith’s Father-Son Trip to Wisconsin

Brewers reliever Will Smith is back in town this weekend, along with his dad, Charles, for a special father-son weekend that includes a Bucks game, a Packers game and a trip to Miller Park.

Yesterday, the duo left their home in Georgia. Early in the evening, they touched down in MKE and headed over to the BMO Harris Bradley Center to watch the Milwaukee Bucks take on the Miami Heat.

And this afternoon, I met up with Will and Charles at the ballpark to give them a little tour. Charles has been here before, but this was a nice opportunity for Will to be able to take him inside the Clubhouse, on the field, etc.

It was also a great chance for me to show off the rest of the stadium, as Charles hasn’t had the chance to explore every level and Will’s experience has been limited mostly to the Clubhouse, field and bullpen.

And of course, there were the obligatory photo ops along the way…

Will Smith Media Interview Room

Will Smith and his dad, Charles, pose in the Media Interview Room at Miller Park.

We started our tour in the Media Interview Room and then progressed into the Clubhouse and out on to the field. It was interesting for them to see the field that’s been “put to bed” for the offseason. I shared with them my experience of helping the Grounds Crew with that process a few years back.

Will Smith and Charles Smith Miller Park

Then, we had to pay a visit to the bullpen:

Wil Smith and Charles Smith Bullpen

 “This is my office,” Will said to his dad as we entered the bullpen, which has also been tarped for the winter.

Will Smith and Charles Smith Baseball GloveAs I mentioned, Will has not had a lot of time to explore Miller Park himself (and just got his first taste of tailgating at the end of the season), so it was neat to take both guys around and show off all the stadium has to offer. We hit the U.S. Cellular Power Playground (above), the Harley-Davidson Deck, the Johnson Controls Stadium Club, the Meeting Rooms, and the Suites… we even stopped in my office!

I had told Will that the Brewers Clubhouse Sale was going on today (it wraps up at 7 p.m. CT tonight) and they decided they wanted to check it out.

I was curious to see how many people would recognize Will out of uniform and out of context. We rode down the elevator from the Hot Corner to the Service Level with some fans and walked through the Service Level to the Sale. Along the way, one fan stopped Will and shook his hand.

Inside the sale, the pair checked out all of the merchandise, including Will’s own locker nameplate that was for sale in the Authentics area and Will was only approached by one other savvy fan.

Will Smith Clubhouse Sale

Athletes… they’re just like us. Will Smith shops the Brewers Clubhouse Sale.

It was nice to catch up with Will, who said he is having a low-key offseason, getting in his workouts and playing a lot of golf. This trip back to Milwaukee is the only travel he had planned.

Will and Charles have dinner plans tonight and will do some more exploring tomorrow before taking a shuttle up to Lambeau Field for the Monday night Packers vs. Falcons game, along with Will’s brother-in-law and his father, who are flying in later this weekend to join them.

Being from Georgia, they are all Falcons fans, but they are excited for their first visit to Lambeau.

However, they do have some trepidation about the weather. “When we left Georgia, it was 71 degrees,” Will said. He noted that he brought all his hunting gear, including his boots with heated insoles, so he hopes he is prepared.

We’ll all have to follow him on Twitter (@White_Willy31) to see how the rest of their trip goes!

-Cait

@CMoyer

Cait’s 2014 Clubhouse Sale Preview

I’m not quite sure how it is December already, but it is. I’m nowhere near ready for the holidays, but thankfully, the Brewers Clubhouse Sale is this weekend, so I can make a dent in my shopping!

The sale, held in the Visiting Clubhouse, is open to the public Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. and features some amazing deals.

Today, I got a sneak peek and I’m going to share my finds with you. Think of me like your advance scout for the sale.

When you first walk in to the Clubhouse, on your right you’ll notice this display.

Brewers Grab Bags

For $75, fans can purchase a grab bag containing a Brewers jersey! How fun is that?

You’ll also notice the Brewers holiday items that are available for sale. Trim your tree with all sorts of Brewers ornaments, including high heeled shoes, snowflakes, sleds, sweaters and more. These types of items always make great stocking stuffers, too. Or, you can get really creative and tie one on to another gift as part of the wrapping–two gifts in one!

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There truly is something for everyone at the Brewers Clubhouse Sale, from infants to adults.

I love, love, love little tracksuits on kids. I don’t know why, but I think they are just so adorable. Anyway, this set from Adidas is available in both the current and retro colors/logos for $35.

A couple of years ago, I had picked up one of these for my goddaughter, Makena,and she loves it. Isn’t she cute?

But I digress, if tracksuits aren’t your kids’ style, there are plenty of other youth and toddler items available, as well as infant items, too.

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Guys: You’re going to be overwhelmed by the selection this year–they’ve got everything from t-shirts and hoodies to golf shirts and sweaters. And of course, plenty of jerseys, too!

And don’t worry, ladies, you’re certainly not left out! Hoodies, t-shirts, tanks and more await you.

Here’s one thing that caught my eye immediately:

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Are you familiar with Victoria’s Secret PINK MLB Collection? If not, you should be! In my opinion, they offer some of the cutest options since the brand really understands the female customer. I already own this “Play Ball!” t-shirt, otherwise I would have snapped it up for just $15. There are other PINK brand offerings at the sale as well.

If PINK isn’t your style (or like me you already have all of it), there are plenty of other items to choose from, some that are the color pink!

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Looking for outerwear? Here are a couple of items guaranteed to help you bridge the gap until the Boys of Summer return:

In terms of head wear, there are a plethora of Brewers caps available…

…as well as your more unconventional:

IMG_8831Love this Brewers trapper cap from 47 Brand for the winter. All you need are some goggles and you’re that “I like the Wizard of Oz” kid from “A Christmas Story.” These are selling for $20 at the sale. (Note: If you buy one, please be sure to email me a photo of you wearing it at caitcoversthebases@Brewers.com or Tweet it to me @CMoyer. I’ll put together a gallery if we get enough, so fun!)

Of course, Brewers Authentics has a huge presence at the event. They were still setting up when I went down there, I saw plenty of game-used baseballs from $15, game-used bats from $35, game-worn caps from $15 and game-worn jerseys from $50. The Authentics section is always one of the most popular spots at the Clubhouse Sale and items are extremely limited, so I recommend getting there as early as possible to get the best selection on these items.

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All kinds of memorabilia can be found at the sale, including Locker Name Plates and Batting Helmets.

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We create tons of signage to promote various items & events all year long. Score one of these unique pieces to add something different to your Fan Cave, starting at just $2!

ANNNNDDDD…. While you’re shopping for merchandise, you can also pick up other Brewers-themed gifts for the fans on your list, including the 2015 Brewers Kids Club Kit .

Brewers Kids Club KIT

And don’t forget about Brewers Holiday 4-Packs (which come with a FREE Hank ornament!). Members of our Ticket Sales team will also be on hand at the event.

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A few more housekeeping details:

Coupons of 10%, 20% and 30% off will be offered to the Brewers Team Store by Majestic for those spending $100, $200 and $300, respectively, at the clubhouse sale. Coupons are valid on December 5-6 only.

The Brewers Team Store by Majestic will feature a variety of activities during both days of the clubhouse sale. Eight prize drawings will be held at the team store each day. Prizes will include shopping sprees and special Authentic Collection packages at the Team Store. A meet-and-greet event with Brewers mascots will take place on December 5 from 10 a.m. – noon. Shoppers can take photos with Santa on December 6 from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. at the Team Store. Fans should bring their own cameras.

In addition, when fans spend $125 or more in the store, they will receive a special gift with their purchase – a pair of tickets to Brewers On Deck. This offer is valid while supplies last.

Shoppers can access the Clubhouse Sale by entering Miller Park at the Hot Corner entrance near the Brewers Team Store by Majestic and following the posted directions to the visiting clubhouse. Cash and credit cards will be accepted (no personal checks). Admission and parking is free.

The Brewers Team Store by Majestic at Miller Park is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. For more information, contact the team store at (414) 902-4750.

Happy shopping!

-Cait

@CMoyer

Brewers and Admirals Announce “2-Man Advantage” Ticket Package

Today, the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Admirals today announced the continuation of the “2-Man Advantage” ticket package that was originally introduced for the 2008 season. The joint ticket opportunity is a part of the partnership established by the two teams in 2005.

For only $19, fans get one “Stern & Bow” ticket to one of three Brewers promotion nights at the BMO Harris Bradley Center for an Admirals home game and one Terrace Reserved ticket to one of three select Brewers games at Miller Park during the 2015 season. The package is valued at $37.50.

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The dates available to fans for the ticket deal are as follows:

Friday, January 23, 2015 – Milwaukee Admirals vs. Iowa Wild at 7:00 p.m. –

Brewers/Admirals Fleece Gloves Giveaway (First 2,500 Fans)

-or-

Friday, February 27, 2015 – Milwaukee Admirals vs. Grand Rapids Griffins at 7:00 p.m. –

Brewers/Admirals Fleece HeadbandGiveaway (First 2,500 Fans)

-or-

Friday, March 27, 2015 – Milwaukee Admirals vs. Chicago Wolves at 7:00 p.m. –

Brewers Buy-One, Get-One Free Ticket Voucher (All Fans)

-AND-

Friday, April 24, 2015 – Milwaukee Brewers vs. St. Louis Cardinals at 7:10 p.m.

-or-

Wednesday, May 13, 2015 – Milwaukee Brewers vs. Chicago White Sox at 7:10 p.m.

-or-

Tuesday, May 26, 2015 – Milwaukee Brewers vs. San Francisco Giants at 7:10 p.m.

 

For more information or to purchase tickets, please call the Brewers Ticket Office at 414-902-4000 or visit Brewers.com/admirals. These packages are also available by contacting the Milwaukee Admirals Ticket Office at 414-227-0550. Packages will be available beginning this Friday, December 5 at 9 a.m. and continue through Thursday, March 26, 2015.

In addition to this special ticket package, the Admirals will continue to sport the “Ball and Glove” logo on their jerseys as the Brewers are the exclusive jersey sponsor of the team. Announcements during the game, dasherboard signage at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, radio spots during broadcasts and in-game promotions where fans can win Brewers prize packs are also a part of the partnership between the two clubs.

The Milwaukee Admirals are a member of the American Hockey League and are an affiliate of the Nashville Predators of the National Hockey League.

 

BREWERS ANNOUNCE FOUR-YEAR PLAYER DEVELOPMENT CONTRACT EXTENSION WITH CLASS-A WISCONSIN TIMBER RATTLERS

The Milwaukee Brewers have announced a four-year player development contract extension with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest League through the 2020 season. The announcement was made jointly by Brewers President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Doug Melvin and Timber Rattlers President Rob Zerjav.

“We thoroughly enjoy the professional working relationship that President Rob Zerjav and the Timber Rattlers provide to the Milwaukee Brewers,” said Melvin. “This long-term relationship continues to show the trust and confidence that we have in working together as we continue to develop future Major League players.”

The 2015 season will mark the seventh season of affiliation between the Brewers and Timber Rattlers. The partnership officially began on October 1, 2008 as part of a four-year agreement. The organizations announced a four-year extension through the 2016 season on June 29, 2011.

This past season, the Timber Rattlers went 72-67 during the regular season and qualified for the postseason after clinching a second-half Wild Card berth in the Midwest League’s Western Division. It marked Wisconsin’s second postseason appearance over the past three seasons (also 2012 when they won the Midwest League championship).

“Our relationship with the entire Brewers organization has been a special one for the Timber Rattlers, for the local business community in the Fox Valley and, most importantly, for our fans,” said Zerjav. “The Brewers provided us the team that brought home the first Midwest League championship in Timber Rattlers history and it has been great to see the success of former Rattlers now making an impact at the big league level in Milwaukee. We look forward to many more years of this great partnership both on and off the field.”

The Timber Rattlers play their home games at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Brewers Up for Three Social Media Awards–Vote Now!

Voting is open for the second annual MLB Network Social Media Awards (#MLBNSocialAwards) and the Brewers are finalists in THREE categories this year!

Here are the items you should be sure to vote for. Take note that, not surprisingly, two of the items involve Carlos Gomez, our 2014 #BrewersMVT!

Best Selfie (#BrewersTeamSelfie, taken by Carlos Gomez):

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For more background on the #selfie seen ’round the world, click here.

Best Team Promo (#SeeUMarch31: Countdown to Opening Day):

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For more background on this promo, click here.

Best Videobomb (Carlos Gomez, as  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, behind Mark Reynolds on Intentional Talk):

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For more background on this story, click here. 

Be sure to cast your votes via Twitter by Sunday, December 7. For an extra vote, be sure to check out MLB Network on Facebook and comment appropriately on the following links:

Best Selfie (Comment “Milwaukee Brewers”)

Best Team Promo (Comment “#OpeningDay”)

Best Videobomb (Comment “Carlos Gomez”)

Then, tune in to MLB Network on Sunday, Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. ET to find out the #winners!

-Cait

@CMoyer

Catching Up With Rob Wooten on the Japan All-Star Series

Earlier this week, I caught up with a jet-lagged Rob Wooten who recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Japan that included stops in Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, Sapporo and Okinawa.

In addition to getting a crash course on the food and culture, Rob was pitching for the MLB All-Stars in the Japan All-Star Series.

In case you missed it (and you may have since most of the games were aired in the States overnight due to the time difference), the 2014 MLB Japan All-Star Series was a championship held in a best-of-five format (plus two exhibition games) between a team comprised of an elite group MLB players and Japan’s national team (Samurai Japan). Held for the first time since 2006, this year’s championship took place from Friday, November 14 through Tuesday, November 18, with Samurai Japan winning the series, 3-2.

If you follow Rob Wooten on Twitter (@RobWooten35) and I suggest you do, you may have already seen many of the great photos that he tweeted out during his time overseas, but I had the chance to chat with Rob and get a little more background on his travels, what it is like to pitch in another country with a very unique stadium environment, and the game of “Dare” going around the team which led to players photobombing, serenading, and eating fish guts.

Read on as I dissect his timeline and take you beyond 140 characters.

Back in June, the MLB Players Association began asking which players might be interested in participating in the Japan All-Star Series. Rob put his name in and got a call shortly after the season ended saying he had made the team.

Although Rob knew Jerry Blevins, a pitcher for the Washington Nationals, a little bit as a friend of a friend back when Rob was in Triple-A, he had not played with any of his MLB All-Star teammates during his career, but had played against most of them. However, in this type of environment, especially with his bullpen mates, it was easy to form bonds.

Saturday, November 8: The Team Departs for Osaka

On Thursday, November 6, Rob and his wife Katie boarded a plane from North Carolina, where they reside in the offseason, to Los Angeles. The MLB All-Stars worked out November 7-8 and took a team photo before boarding a 12 hour and 45 minute flight to Osaka.

This is a photo of Koshien Stadium in Osaka, which has an all-dirt infield.

“When Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, when that team went over in 1934, that’s where they played. So it’s kind of like their Fenway. It’s a really old ballpark, but it’s pretty neat….I hadn’t played on an all-dirt infield since Little League, so it was different in that aspect. Even from the mound to home plate, it looked very different, being all dirt,” Rob said.

For their first game, MLB All-Stars played an exhibition game here on Tuesday, November 11 vs. the Hanshin Tigers/Yomiuri Giants. The MLB team won the exhibition game 8-7.

The next night, they played Game 1 of the Japan Series at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka. They were defeated 2-0.

Here’s a photo of Rob and Katie at a party hosted by the Yomiuri Giants.

If you follow Rob on Twitter, you know he’s a big fan of Starbucks. “I was very excited. There was one right across from our hotel in Osaka,” he said, noting that he found Starbucks in both Osaka and Tokyo, but not the other cities he visited in Japan.  He was also surprised to find many of the Starbucks employees he encountered were able to have a conversation with him in English.

Thursday, November 13: Kyoto

The team had an off-day in Kyoto, so Rob had the chance to explore a bit. He took in a few temple tours and then had a lunch set up with a geisha show before the team took headed to the next city.

“It was only for us and it was nice to get a peek into their culture,” Rob said.

“They have a lot of shows on the field before games, too…. I would usually only catch the end of it, but I would walk out there and the stadium would be silent because everyone was watching the show that was on the field. It’s pretty neat.”

Friday, November 14: Tokyo

The team then traveled to Tokyo where they played the next three games of the series at the Tokyo Dome on Friday, November 14, Saturday, November 15 and Sunday, November 16.

That’s also where he got his first taste of what it was like to pitch in Japan, making appearances in the games on Friday and Sunday.

Once major difference? The bullpens there are not on the field. They are underneath, near the clubhouse.

“The first time you’re exposed to the atmosphere is when you’re on the mound. You’re in the bullpen and it is dead quiet and you’re watching the game on TV…and then all of a sudden you’re in mayhem, horns, drums all kinds of stuff.”

“You really have to calm your emotions down real quick. If you let your emotions get to you, you’re going to be pretty jumpy out there. I actually think I did a pretty decent job of that and got right to work pretty quick. I think the first pitch I threw was a strike, so that calmed me down and then it was just baseball after that,” he said.

Samurai Japan took the first two games in Tokyo (including a combined no-hitter by four pitchers on Saturday), bringing the series to 3-1.

Besides the bullpen location, Rob also noted some differences in fan behavior.

“They have very good fans with a high baseball IQ. Everything is extremely different, but at the same time really similar as far as the game goes. I noticed most of the time it was really, really loud when they were hitting but when they were pitching it was pretty quiet. For instance, I noticed when it was two strikes and two outs and all they have to do is get one out to win the game and the series, nobody was standing. Nobody was clapping. It was extremely quiet—here in the States, your closer is on the mound and there are two outs, 40,000 people are standing and cheering to get that last out—but then once the out was made, everyone started standing up and clapping. But when they are hitting, it’s a whole different world. There’s cheering, people jumping around, there are horns, there are drums… it’s just, wow.”

While in Tokyo, the MLB All-Stars visited the U.S. Embassy.

“We got to see Caroline Kennedy, which was pretty sweet and Katie and I had the chance to hang out with the Aoki family as well,” Rob said. Of course, Rob is talking about his former Brewers teammate and favorite while he was here, Norichika Aoki.

“Nori was actually at the first game in Osaka, which is where I saw him first….In Japan, obviously, it is respectful to bow and everything, but he had an entourage of people around him, paparazzi, and I came up and gave him a great big bear hug,” Rob laughed. “It was good to see him there, but then it was nice to get to hang out more with him and his wife at the U.S. Embassy.”

Rob tweeted this photo of the national anthem which took place before the game on Sunday, November 16. Rob pitched a scoreless inning in that game, which resulted in a 6-1 win for the MLB All-Stars.

When in Japan. Rob said the sushi in Japan was very different than what he was accustomed to.

“It’s so good because it is so fresh. We’ve all grown up on the fried and cooked fish and that’s really good, but in Japan, you can’t really find that. Everything is raw. Also, the noodles were incredible over there,” he said.

He also noted that breakfast in Japan was not anything like what we’re used to in America. Although some of the hotels tried to provide an Americanized version, in Japan, you’re more likely to find raw fish, noodles and even salad for the morning meal.

Tuesday, November 18: Sapporo

The team then headed to Sapporo for the final game of the Japan Series.

“We only spent one day in Sapporo and it was really cold and snowing, actually,” Rob said.

The MLB All-Stars won that game 3-1, but lost the overall series, 3-2.

Here’s a photo that a fan tweeted of Rob signing autographs. Rob said that one of the best parts of the trip was all of the fans.

“The people over there were so polite. They welcomed us into their country with open arms,” Rob said. “Not one time did I feel uncomfortable. It’s crazy how much knowledge they have of the game and us. I’ve only been in the Big Leagues for parts of two seasons and everyone knew who I was. I’d be walking out of the hotel and there would be people everywhere asking for autographs. I signed pictures I had never seen before of myself. It was pretty wild. And I know with [Robinson] Cano and [Evan] Longoria, they got it even more than I did.”

Wednesday, November 19: Okinawa

Before heading home, the team had one more stop. They headed to Okinawa to play another game vs. Samurai Japan; however, this one was considered an exhibition. While they were there, Rob and his teammate Jerry Blevins from the Nationals, paid a visit to an all-boys orphanage where they posed for photographs and took part in a Q&A through an interpreter.

“They were really nice, really polite, but it was also very sad as well. I wish we could have stayed longer and done more for them,” Rob said. He noted that all of his teammates made similar appearances in the cities they visited, including places like hospitals and even tea parties.

He also had dinner at Sam’s, a steakhouse in Okinawa. It was at Sam’s that Rob completed a dare—but more on that later.

On Thursday, November 20, the teams played their final game. There was an impressive pregame ceremony for the finale.

“That was kind of like the grand finale of a fireworks show,” Rob said. “There were people coming out of every corner of the stadium with drums, instruments, costumes, it was really cool.”

Rob pitched a scoreless inning in that game, but Samurai Japan ended up winning 6-4.

All in all, Japan won the official five-game set 3-2. And the teams split the two exhibitions.

“Everybody has asked me what was my favorite part of the trip…just to be associated with the team that I was with and just being in the clubhouse with those guys was really neat for me….As far as one particular moment, I don’t know if there is one. Everything was so great from the start.

“Interacting with the fans over there was something I’ll never forget. It was kind of difficult to carry on a conversation, but just the one-on-one, even for two seconds, you could see that we were making a difference in their lives and they in ours. We don’t go over there often and they were so excited for us to come and they rolled out the red carpet everywhere we went. Just the fans and the people over there were unbelievable,” Rob recalled.

Twitter Truth or Dare-Minus the Truth Part

Aside from baseball, appearances and sightseeing, one other thing kept the MLB All-Stars occupied during their time in Japan: a giant game of Twitter Truth or Dare—minus the Truth part. Basically, players began daring each other to do things and they had to prove they had completed the dare by filming it and posting it to Twitter.

Here are few examples:

Rob dared Jerry Blevins of the Nationals to eat “fish guts pickled in salt of the tuna,” a menu item at one of the restaurants where they dined:

Here’s Jerry completing the dare:

“He struggled to get it down, but he did it,” Rob said. So, in turn, Jerry dared Rob…

…who held up his end of the bargain:

“There was no English, so I had to somehow get them to let me get in the middle of them and take a picture. It ended up working out pretty easily. They had a good time with it. They were excited,” Rob recounted.

For your viewing pleasure, here are some of the other dares that were pretty amusing:

Looking Forward

Rob said he enjoyed bonding with his teammates and it certainly seems like all of the players had a great time in Japan.

It was great to connect with Rob. He was blown away by the fans in Japan, as well as the country’s cleanliness and beauty. I could tell just how much he enjoyed the trip and cherished this special experience and opportunity, but I also know just how much he, like us, is looking forward to 2015.

“As fun as this was, as great as this was, my focus is now completely on 2015,” he said.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Rob’s trip as much as he enjoyed taking it and I enjoyed hearing about it. It’s certainly always great to have a little extra baseball to tide us over until Spring Training.

-Cait

@CMoyer

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