It’s an annual tradition, although it came a little earlier this year than usual: As the Packers played their final down of the 2018 season on Sunday, it didn’t take long for someone on Twitter (this time it was Kyle Lesniewski of Brew Crew Ball) to launch the countdown to Brewers pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training.
By the end of this week that countdown will dip below 40 days until the first players are required to report to Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix, so it’s crunch time on the $60 million project to renovate that facility. For most of the players reporting to major league camp it’ll be their first opportunity to check out a new clubhouse building, renovated major league clubhouse, new batting tunnels, an agility field, covered practice mounds, new scoreboard, landscaping and much more. All of this work is expected to be completed before camp opens in February.
The project has come a long way, as shown by aerial footage released over the weekend by Roofing Southwest, the project’s roofing contractor. There is still a lot to do, however, and construction will likely continue right up to the deadline.
Completing a project this enormous in the window of time between the end of spring training in 2018 and the first day of camp in 2019 is no small feat, and has required some significant commitments. Contractors worked through the summer and fall in triple-digit temperatures during the day, and in many cases work continued through the night as well.
Players and coaches on the minor league side of the facility were working in the shadow of the construction site during the Brewers’ fall Instructional League camp in September and October, and they certainly noticed the efforts being made to keep the project on schedule.
“I get here every morning about 6 a.m., and they’re in the middle of it,” Wisconsin Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson said of the construction. “They’re working through the night, there’s never a time when you walk by this construction complex and people aren’t working on it. So it seems to be around the clock. The structure has gone up quite fast, with additions just in the ten days that I’ve been here.”
The project’s timeframe has been too tight to allow for many tours or visitors, so the players in camp this fall had not had an opportunity to go over and check out the progress. It certainly generated some excitement, however, and they’ll be eager to see it when camp opens this spring.
This isn’t the only major construction project the Brewers are actively involved in, however. As part of his annual roundup of the 100 most influential Canadians in baseball, Bob Elliott of the Canadian Baseball Network recently noted the work Gord Ash, a longtime Brewers executive, has been doing to supervise the work on a new academy for the Brewers in the Dominican Republic. That facility is expected to open in early 2020 and could play a big role in the organization’s ability to attract and develop high-level international talent.
This new commitment to development in the Dominican represents a significant change in organizational philosophy over the last decade. From 2004 until 2008 the Brewers were one of the few MLB organizations that did not field a team in the Dominican Summer League, opting instead to send all of their international signings directly to Arizona to start their professional careers. They’ve been fielding a team in that league again since 2009, and they’ve recently moved to having a team and a half, sharing talent with Cleveland’s organization to field an additional entry in the league.
The Brewers have a significant financial role in the projects in Phoenix and Santo Domingo, both notable investments for a relatively low-revenue organization. Both projects, however, could pay dividends for the organization in the long term.