Gamel making the most of his shot
So the Brewers had a plan. Actually, they had a pair of plans. They had their once-future third baseman try a couple of different positions, an idea Gamel initially balked at. But the road to the bigs was blocked by the lightning in a bottle found in McGehee, and Prince Fielder's days in Milwaukee were numbered. Gamel had little recourse.
The first plan was to have Gamel learn to play first base and take over for whenever Fielder left; either via trade or after the 2011 season. The second plan was to have Corey Hart potentially move back to his natural infield position from right field and have Gamel move to Hart's old spot.
After watching Gamel struggle with fly balls, it was quickly determined that Plan A was their working model.
This spring, after toiling for three frustrating yet successful seasons in Nashville, Gamel led the club with six home runs and also knocked in 14 runs. After seeing an unmotivated and overweight Gamel the previous spring, manager Ron Roenicke continually remarked this year how much different he looked in even just the way he carried himself.
After all, the last impression Roenicke got of his new first baseman was a shocking rebuke from Gamel's former manager with the Sounds, Don Money.
"If he can get his head right, and that's the thing," Money told MLB.com's Adam McCalvy last September. "He's hard-headed. He doesn't carry himself well. You have to carry yourself like a professional, and he doesn't do it and I've said it to him."
Money also said that the only reason Gamel hit 30 home runs last season was because he was going for the personal milestone and that he was furious when passed over for another September promotion in favor of third baseman Taylor Green, another left-handed hitter.
"Maybe it's an awakening that, 'Hey, I'm not the big boy on the block anymore,'" Money said at the time.
Perhaps it was a wake-up call that Gamel needed. Perhaps the knowledge that he had a Major League job ready and waiting for him all winter long inspired Gamel to come into camp in shape and ready to make an impact. Perhaps his home life is now more settled than it was in 2008. He and Julianne are now married and have added another daughter to their family, and Gamel seems to not be brooding as much as in the past.
Through the first two weeks of the season, Gamel has been clutch, tying for the team lead in hits (16) and even leads all major league first baseman in stolen bases.
"Mat's done a nice job," Melvin says. "We knew he wasn't going to replace Prince Fielder. Aramis Ramirez wasn't going to replace Prince Fielder's (offensive production). We were hoping a combination of the two was what we were looking for; Ramirez and Mat to replace Prince and McGehee's production. But no one is going to replace Prince. That's why he got $200 million."
Moreover, Gamel is winning respect in the clubhouse as a worthy successor to Fielder. Not that anyone could make Brewers fans forget their former superstar who now plays on the other side of Lake Michigan. But still, Gamel, a player who has always thrived on every day at-bats, is showing that he belongs in the Major Leagues with not only his play but his attitude as well.
"As far as Mat goes, this is the first time that he's had an opportunity to play for an extended period of time," Melvin continued. "He's come up with some big hits for us, he's played well at first base, and he's been very good on the bases. He's starting to feel confident."
In other words, don't look for his locker out in the parking lot anytime soon.
"Mat has shown a lot of maturing along (the way)," Melvin concludes. "Previously, he would get discouraged playing behind Prince, and playing behind Casey McGehee at third base, but now he feels he belongs."
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