MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers are in Ken Macha's hometown this week for a three-game series at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, but they won't see their former skipper sitting in the stands. He has baseball duties elsewhere. Macha is out of professional baseball for the first time in 36 years -- if you count his two seasons on the Red Sox's broadcast team -- but he has stayed close to the game by helping out at Westmoreland County Community College near his western Pennsylvania home. "The coach called me and said, 'Come on down,'" Macha said. "So I've been going down there to watch their games and try to help the young kids out. That's been fun. These kids, what they want to do is go to a four-year school and play, and it's fun to be around guys who are just playing the game because they love it.
"For myself, I didn't stay in the game all these years because I hated it. I love the game, and cool things happen when you go down there. They've got grandmas in the stands and dogs running around and little kids. It's pretty cool." Things were just a little bit more complicated over the past two seasons in Milwaukee, where Macha inherited a roster and most of a coaching staff coming off the Brewers' first postseason appearance in 26 years. Macha instituted a philosophy of using the team's 27 outs at the plate and not on the bases, but with a leaky starting pitching staff minus 2008 mainstays CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, the Brewers couldn't repeat their success. Milwaukee went 80-82 in 2009 and 77-85 in 2010, and Macha was dismissed the day after the '10 finale. Now, manager Ron Roenicke is in charge. If you read between the lines, Macha's presence is still felt in the clubhouse. "I haven't been on the negative. I've been on the positive," first baseman Prince Fielder said after a loss in the home opener against the Braves on April 4 left the Brewers 0-4. "I wasn't positive at all last year, and the whole clubhouse was kind of weird. So I just refused to ever feel like that again. Maybe I'm just being stubborn." Then there was left fielder Ryan Braun three days later, after the Brewers won their third straight game against Atlanta. "Baseball is fun again," Braun said. "We're just enjoying ourselves out there. We're playing with emotion and it's a tough game, so when you have some success, it's a good thing to enjoy it." The suggestion is that they were not able to enjoy it under Macha, who preferred a more businesslike approach. He was less than thrilled, for example, with Fielder's celebration after his game-winning home run against the Giants in September 2009, a pre-choreographed event in which Fielder jumped on home plate and raised his arms while his teammates simultaneously fell to the dirt. Macha opted not to respond directly to the early-season comments from his former star sluggers. "Did we have some tough times? Yeah," he said. "We were 10 games under .500 [by last May], and that's probably why the guys didn't have fun. When you're 10 games under .500 and you come to the ballpark every day, it feels like you're in a gigantic hole. It's tough to have a good time. ... "From my standpoint, I just enjoy players that respect their opponents and respect the game. Andre Dawson said it all: 'If you love this game, it will love you back.' Maybe I'm three generations removed from whatever, but I think there's still a certain amount of respect that goes out there for your opponents, for your teammates, for your general manager, for your owner, for your city, for your fans. That's just the way I feel about it, and I'm not going to change as far as that's concerned. That's I the way was brought up, and that's the way I still feel.
"If I'm going to be condemned for that, then that's fine. But I'd rather go out standing up than crawling on my knees."
Macha interviewed for the Pirates' managerial opening but didn't get the job. He praised Pittsburgh's hiring of Clint Hurdle, who "teaches the kids to play the game right" and is seven years younger than Macha.
Next season, who knows? Macha has stayed in touch with some of his friends in the game, including new Cubs manager Mike Quade. If an opening comes up for 2012, Macha would listen.
He said he left Milwaukee with some fond memories, including all of those hours spent talking baseball with general manager Doug Melvin. Macha texted Melvin a "good luck" message on Opening Day and has been watching the Brewers box scores. He thinks Melvin has assembled a pitching staff to compete in the National League Central.
"It's basically been totally rebuilt from the start of the year last year," Macha said, "and that's what they needed to do."
If the Brewers do have success, Macha feels he will have had a hand in it. It was under his watch that Casey McGehee broke through as Milwaukee's starting third baseman, Chris Narveson as a viable big league starting pitcher and John Axford as the closer. Macha played rookies Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, and they helped the Brewers land Zack Greinke in a December trade with the Royals.
But Macha will not be hanging on every inning of every game. He was watching ESPN the other night when the network joined a Brewers game in progress.
"I just flipped the channel," Macha said.
It's not that there are hard feelings. He thanked Melvin once again for bringing him to Milwaukee and said he's rooting for the Brewers to deliver a winner.
"Those fans deserve it," he said. "They support that team no matter what."
|"From my standpoint, I just enjoy players that respect their opponents and respect the game. Andre Dawson said it all: 'If you love this game, it will love you back.' Maybe I'm three generations removed from whatever, but I think there's still a certain amount of respect that goes out there for your opponents, for your teammates, for your general manager, for your owner, for your city, for your fans."|
|-- Ken Macha|