Once again the Milwaukee Brewers jumped out of the gate this baseball season and posted a good record that had them sitting near the top of the standings in the National League Central Division.
It was last season that the Brewers also were an above average team, only to see them collapse in the second half of the season to end their 12th consecutive year with a losing record.
The Brewers made a few changes this past offseason that have paid dividends. They continue to fight in the division, even with a payroll that ranks as the fourth lowest in the majors. The biggest move of the past offseason for Milwaukee was obtaining slugger Carlos Lee in a trade with the Chicago White Sox.
The 28-year-old has been extremely impressive for the Brewers and is currently one of the leaders in RBIs in the National League. Lee was always a decent signer with the White Sox and that continued in his move to Milwaukee.
When Lee was in Minnesota recently for an interleague game, he basically signed whenever he was asked. On one occasion, he even signed multiples for the small group of collectors waiting at the team hotel.
Another reason for the early success has been the play of Brady Clark. The Brewers claimed him off the waiver wire after the 2002 season, and Clark has had a breakout season. The center fielder was an outstanding signer during the weekend series and was chatting with collectors.
Before one game, Clark joked with collectors about selling his autograph and getting loose change for his signature. Derrick Turnbow was another waiver wire find for the Brewers, who claimed the closer after the Angels decided to part ways with him last October. Turnbow has turned heads on the mound and was his usual gracious self by signing whenever he was asked, though his signature is just a quick scribble.
First baseman Lyle Overbay has emerged as a power threat for the Brewers, but that success has not gotten to his signing habits. Overbay was a great signer and was very friendly with fans.
Manager Ned Yost is well-known for being a gracious signer and he did not disappoint. Yost is also a great mail signer, who returns requests in quick fashion.
The one major disappointment with the Brewers did not come as a big shock. Hall-of-Fame member Bob Uecker is currently in his 35th year as a broadcaster, but he rarely will ever sign for fans. The former catcher who has made many appearances in movies and TV shows turned down requests whenever he was asked. Getting the usually grumpy Uecker to stop and sign is becoming a nearly impossible task.
Star pitcher Ben Sheets is usually good about signing autographs, but unfortunately he was not on the trip because he was on a rehab assignment due to an injury.
The other good signers on the Brewers included the following players and coaches: Mike Adams, Ricky Bottalico, Russell Branyan, Chris Capuano, assistant coach Bill Castro, assistant coach Rich Dauer, Doug Davis, Gary Glover, Bill Hall, J.J. Hardy, Geoff Jenkins, pitching coach Mike Maddux, Damian Miller, Wes Obermueller, Tommy Phelps, Junior Spivey and Matt Wise.
Blue Jays signers: Just days before the Brewers were in Minnesota, the Toronto Blue Jays came to town for their only visit of the season.
The Blue Jays lost slugger Carlos Delgado this past winter when he went to the Florida Marlins, but that is an improvement for autograph seekers who knew how difficult it was to obtain a signature from Delgado.
The Blue Jays have a tough task in the American League East with powerhouse teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles, but the first few months of the season have been good for Toronto. The man leading the Blue Jays on the field this season is again pitching ace Roy Halladay.
The 28-year-old is looking to have an improved year after his disappointing 2004 season. After winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2003 by winning 22 games for the Blue Jays, Halladay suffered through a rough year in 2004.
Injuries limited his effectiveness and he won just eight games all season. Through the first three months of the 2005 season, it looks like Halladay is back to his old form again in leading the Blue Jays’ young pitching staff. He was a decent signer while in Minnesota a few weeks back. He has usually been decent about signing and this year was again no different.
One of the main star position players for the Jays is former first-round pick Vernon Wells, who continues to provide highlight plays daily in the field. The center fielder who won a Gold Glove last season for his defensive abilities is also the main long-ball threat for Toronto. Wells is a good signer dating back to his early days in the league when he was a signer through the mail. Times have changed and Wells is not quite as accommodating in the mail, but he is still a very good signer in person.
One of the best signers with Toronto is free agent acquisition Corey Koskie, who left the Twins last offseason. Koskie was great with fans in Minnesota and that has not changed with his new squad.
Also good with the Sharpie was manager John Gibbons. The former catcher is the third Blue Jays manager in the past four seasons, and is probably the best signer out of that group.
Other good signers included the following players and coaches: Russ Adams, assistant coach Brad Arnsberg, Miguel Batista, Gustavo Chacin, Gabe Gross, Orlando Hudson, Ted Lilly, Frank Menechino, Scott Schoeneweis, Josh Towers and assistant coach Ernie Whitt.