It was a mostly meaningless at-bat in a mostly meaningless game. The Milwaukee Brewers had the lead and a chance to sweep the third place Pittsburgh Pirates. There was a runner on first base, two outs and Keon Broxton was at the plate. In many ways, Broxton is the player who best represents what Milwaukee is doing in this ongoing franchise rebuild. He has tons of potential and if it all works out, things could be pretty great, but that is no guarantee that it will, and at the moment it feels more than a little uncertain it will. He’s hitting .171/.299/.305 on the season and the Miller Park crowd seems to just want his at-bat to be over so the ninth inning can start and the Brewers can hopefully escape with a win. They have a two-run lead and Jeremy Jeffress is warming up. This can be over soon. The Brewers can win, for whatever that’s worth, and everyone can go home.
“I want to win, and I don’t see us winning in the foreseeable future. I want to go to a World Series.”
Jonathan Lucroy said that in January, and Brewers fans spent the next six months wondering when it would finally happen and what players would come back in exchange for him. It wasn’t an “if” or a question of whether the front office should or shouldn’t deal its beloved backstop, rather an accepted inevitability.
On Saturday, it seemed to have finally happened. Jonathan Lucroy would be going to the Indians for a package of prospects highlighted by switch-hitting catcher Fransisco Meija and shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang. Brewers fans frantically Googled the minor leaguers’ names, trying to find out everything they could about the haul that Lucroy brought. It seemed like they did well. Baseball writers thought Milwaukee got a good return. All that was left was for Lucroy to approve the trade, for him to say yes, since the Indians were on his no-trade list. Of course he’d say yes, right? He’s the one who said that thing about playing in the World Series. Sitting firmly in first place, Cleveland seemed to fit the part of a contender. In the minds of Brewers fans, the deal was done. To most, Lucroy belonged to Cleveland and everyone would root for the Indians to win the World Series.
About midway through the at-bat there was a buzz in the Miller Park stands. It wasn’t because of anything Broxton was doing at the plate, but because people started to notice who was standing in the on deck circle. It was him.
He wasn’t supposed to be here. He was supposed to be an Indian or a…something else. He definitely wasn’t supposed to be a Brewer and he definitely wasn’t supposed to be on deck, but there he was. Suddenly, Broxton’s at-bat took on a whole new level of importance as the crowd went from tepid indifference to wanting to see the guy on deck get his chance. Miller Park needed to see Lucroy hit one more time. Somehow, some way, the fans seemed to will the guy with the .299 on base percentage to not get out. Broxton drew a walk.
It was happening. Jonathan Lucroy was batting at Miller Park one last time.
By this point, we all know Lucroy did not go to the Indians. He had a no-trade clause and he exercised it. That’s why contracts exist and it was well within his rights to do so. We can speculate Lucroy’s reasoning, analyze the rationale of Cleveland’s staff, but none of that really matters. He vetoed the trade. The Indians moved on. The trade was off.
A lot of times that would be it for a transaction of this nature, but not for this one. Jonathan Lucroy would be traded this season, come hell of high water. Sunday afternoon, with just over 24 hours until the trade deadline, it was still only a matter of when and to whom Luc would go. There was a game starting soon and the All-Star catcher wasn’t in the lineup. The message was clear: his Brewers days were numbered.
People stood and clapped before his name was even announced. He gave a little wave and tried to get to work, but when they finally announced his name, the few who hadn’t figured out what was happening got up to speed with the strange scenario unfolding before them, causing the cheers grow louder. Then came the familiar chants of “LUUUUUUC!” You heard one and then another and another, each person realizing they’d never get to do it again and trying desperately to get that final string of vowels out before it was through.
He soaked it in and waved to the crowd. The cheers grew louder, the subtle acknowledgement only fueling the fire. He tipped his cap and it happened again. This was a moment. Tears formed. People cried. It was a scene befitting of a movie, one where Lucroy would hit a home run and the entire ballpark would explode with love.
It’s the Mets then, right? No, it’s not the Mets. The Mets aren’t contending. Did the Indians come to their senses and guarantee Lucroy a starting spot next season? No, Cleveland is still a no-go. Los Angeles? What would the Dodgers want with him? That is a thing people are saying, though. Detroit? Nah. The Rangers? People keep saying the Rangers.
In the end, it is the Rangers. Texas gets Jeffress, too. In exchange for the catcher and closer, the Brewers get two top 60 prospects. Lewis Brinson is the star of the return, and he’s a top 30 prospect in all of baseball. He’s got power, speed, and a great glove, but he strikes out a lot. He could be the next Mike Cameron. Comparisons to the package Cleveland reportedly offered aside, it’s a good haul and Brewers GM David Stearns just had himself a hell of a deadline. Between this move and the Will Smith trade, Milwaukee’s future is a lot brighter than it was a week ago.
Despite the overwhelming emotion of the moment, Lucroy had a nice at-bat. He took two balls and the tension mounted, with the packed park sensing it was a hitter’s count and what that could mean. Then he fouled a few pitches off, took another ball and worked his way into a full count. A director couldn’t have drawn it up any better. It had the makings of a storybook ending for the best catcher the Brewers ever had. The pitch came and…it was foul.
Okay, let’s try that again.
The next pitch led to a soft flyout to right field. The inning was over. The moment was over. Jonathan Lucroy’s Brewers career was over.
Trading Lucroy closes the book on a fan favorite’s career in Milwaukee. It should help start the next great Brewers story, but it’s still sad. It’s sad that he doesn’t retire here to solidify his standing as the best Brewers catcher of all-time. It’s sad that Milwaukee couldn’t be the one that took him to the World Series and leave his legacy intact.
That moment in Miller Park was special. It was real feelings from real fans. All at once, it was gratitude for everything one man accomplished in a Brewers uniform, hope for what his premature departure would bring for years to come, happiness for the future, and longing for better days. Sunday’s box score shows a simple fly out, but those who watched it unfold experienced a loud out and a strange-yet-fitting end to an unforgettable Brewers tenure. It was a feeling that was unique to a baseball team and especially so to Milwaukee’s baseball team. As baseball’s smallest market, we don’t get to have that storybook ending here, we just get the end that so often allows a player’s story to live on in a new setting.
Lucroy’s second act is a wrap on Milwaukee. All we’re left with is this: one final at-bat. One last goodbye. One huge thank you. One inimitable Miller Park moment. Here, marooned somewhere on the unfamiliar road between a prosperous past and a bright future, that’s enough.