Attanasio sees good things on horizon
Owner eager to see Brewers compete and finish strong
PHOENIX -- Brewers manager Ned Yost was apparently low-key during his first full-squad address on Saturday. The owner did his best to follow suit.
"Of the four years I've heard, I would say this is the most measured and understated Mr. Yost has been," principal owner Mark Attanasio said before the team's first full workout at Maryvale Baseball Park. "I think he's accurately reflecting the outlook for the season, and these players' temperaments. There is a high degree of confidence. He talked about 'expectancy' versus 'expectation.'
"Maybe he's looking for a job in Hollywood now that the writers' strike is over."
Probably not. But Attanasio, Yost and the rest of the Brewers are quietly confident this season, even after they frittered away a once-wide lead last season in the National League Central that they held for most of the year.
Attanasio thought the team would hold on. In fact, when his wife, Debbie, tried to schedule a party for Mark's Sept. 29 birthday, he told her to plan it for November, knowing they would still be playing on that date and hoping the team would also play into October.
The Brewers did not, of course, so Attanasio reported to camp on Saturday trying to mimic Yost's low-key mindset.
"I really thought we had a legitimate chance to go to the playoffs at this point last year," Attanasio said. "I think I learned firsthand how the season is a marathon and not a sprint. Having gone through that, which was really disappointing, I'm just measuring myself, too, right now."
This is admittedly not Attanasio's nature. He has been through three full seasons since his bid to buy the Brewers was approved in January 2005 and, while he has mellowed considerably since his white-knuckled ride through 2005, when he was up in the middle of the night during a family vacation to Italy to follow games on MLB.com, Attanasio has never been accused as a laissez-faire owner.
"It's hard," he said. "I think we're really good."
But he said he mostly kept his predictions to himself during Saturday's team meeting. Attanasio told players about his desire to provide support, that he appreciates the effort it takes to play 162 games in about 180 days, and that he was proud to see the small-market Brewers rank 12th in Major League attendance last season.
"Then I just [told them] that I always dreamed of owning a baseball team, and then, when I owned a baseball team, I always dreamed of this day," Attanasio said. "Spring Training is always great and full of hope, but we've got the team to this point ... where we've got fans lining up [for tickets]. We were on CNN today because we had fans lining up in zero degree temperatures, camping out since Tuesday. We have a huge amount of emotion in the community. And we have a team that's really good. That's what I always dreamed of happening."
Saturday was the first day that fans could buy individual tickets to 2008 games at Miller Park.
While fans shivered in Milwaukee, Attanasio, wearing sunglasses and a tan jacket he eventually shed, addressed the team just after 10 a.m. MT and then spoke to reporters while players stretched for the first full-squad workout.
He spoke of the balance between winning today and fulfilling his promise to field a perennially competitive team, saying the Brewers have reached that point earlier than he expected.
"When you talk to him, you can tell that he's with you," veteran pitcher Jeff Suppan said. "He's not just saying things, he does things. He articulates his thoughts well."
Is Attanasio a demanding boss?
"I wouldn't say that he's not demanding, because he's given us every opportunity to win," Suppan said. "He's done everything in his power to put us in a situation to win and now it's up to us."
But Attanasio said he is equally concerned about the idea of sustaining success.
"Even with your best efforts, you could be a winner one year and a fifth-place team the next year," Attanasio said. "We want to do everything we can to avoid that, and I think Doug [Melvin, the Brewers GM] has done a really good job in bringing in very high quality players with comparatively little long-term agreements in place. That's important, because we have a number of young players we want to consider signing here [to multi-year contracts]. We're trying to balance."
The new players include closer Eric Gagne, who agreed to a one-year, $10 million contract, and center fielder Mike Cameron and catcher Jason Kendall, who took one-year deals with options for a second season. The Brewers are only contractually committed to three players past this season: Suppan, reliever David Riske and infielder Bill Hall.
They also have the smallest big league camp in the Majors with only nine non-roster invitees and 49 players in camp (Washington leads the way with 71 players). Attanasio views that fact as a testament to how many positions are locked down by quality talent.
Most observers expect the Cubs and Brewers to compete once again for the division title. Attanasio is not willing to say it's that simple.
"That's what everybody is saying, but I think you always have to worry about the Cardinals," he said. "The Reds, you know, continue to make moves. They signed another starting pitcher [Josh Fogg] this week and I think the Reds have improved. The Astros have made a number of moves; bringing in [Miguel] Tejada is a 'win now' move for them. And the Pirates, everyone forgets that they have a young team, and maybe those young guys coalesce the way our young guys did. They're sticking with it.
"I think there's a lot of parity in our division which makes it hard to win. You don't have this disparity, which often creates situations where teams win a lot of games because there are easy pickings. We've been having trouble playing in Pittsburgh so there's no easy pickings."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.