Bill Hall injected some laughs into Brewers camp Wednesday morning, when the position players were timed in the 60-yard dash on a back field at Maryvale Baseball Park. Hall, who signed a four-year contract extension earlier this month, was the last to run, but he surprised teammates when he abruptly stepped back from the line.
"This is too heavy to run in!" he suddenly bellowed. Hall stripped off his uniform, revealing a black spandex sprinter's suit. He pulled off his spikes and replaced them with shiny, black Nike track shoes.
Just like that, Michael Johnson was a Milwaukee Brewer.
"That was sweet, Bill," first baseman Prince Fielder said later. "You had the 'MJ' thing going on. Loved it."
Players were timed twice and Hall's best effort was 6.67 seconds, good, but not good enough to win the title of world's fastest Milwaukee Brewer. Outfielder Corey Hart took that honor with a time of 6.59 seconds, just edging infielder Hernan Iribarren's 6.61 second run, outfielder Drew Anderson's 6.69 and surprise contender J.J. Hardy's 6.71. Second baseman Rickie Weeks, one of the pre-race favorites, ran a 6.85, and another pole-sitter, third baseman Ryan Braun, ran a 6.90.
Manager Ned Yost announced his intention to time players in a 60-yard dash last week, and Hall said he immediately went online to order the outfit. He watched the NFL combine on television to iron out a pre-run routine.
"I had to give the boys a laugh," Hall said. "I feel good about how I did, especially because I've been sick the last few days and have been losing a lot of fluids. I'm spent now."
What will Hall do with the track suit now that the race is over?
"Maybe I'll frame it," he said.
Hart joked that he should get a trophy "with two little shoes on top" for his winning effort. That he "won" the race was not a major surprise; Hart led the Pacific Coast League with 31 stolen bases in 2005, even though he spent more than a month of that season in the big leagues. He has 131 steals in 644 career Minor League games.
"It's going to be hard, because the more I start playing, the more people realize I can run a little," Hart said.
Banged up: The drill did claim one casualty. Outfielder Gabe Gross pulled up near the end of his second heat with what later was described as a mildly strained right hamstring.
The Brewers hope to have a better handle on the extent of Gross' injury after he visits with head team physician William Raasch, who was scheduled to arrive in Phoenix on Wednesday evening. Gross, 27, was limited to seven pinch-hit appearances over the final month of last season after straining his left hamstring.
"I am highly frustrated," he said about three hours later. "When I first did it, it didn't feel that bad. It just knotted up. But it's pretty sore right now. I'm not sure what to expect out of this."
Gross was supposed to compete this spring for a spot on the Brewers' Opening Day roster. The team has seven outfielders in camp with Major League experience.
"It was a little bit discouraging, but you still gotta do what you gotta do," Yost said. "We weren't going to back away from trying to get times on these guys."
Catcher Damian Miller will also visit with Raasch for an idea about his calf injury, described Wednesday as a "moderate" strain. Miller was hurt running the bases in Tuesday's intrasquad game, and his injury is "clearly more severe" than Gross', assistant general manager Gord Ash said.
Several other position players took part in the rest of the workout but sat out Wednesday's sprint because of minor injuries, including Johnny Estrada (quadriceps), Tony Graffanino (ankle) and Vinny Rottino (hip flexor). Rottino said he would be timed in the 60-yard dash later in camp.
Last call: Players also practiced sliding on Wednesday. The most common instruction from new first base coach Ed Sedar: "Hands up!" ... The Brewers announced Wednesday that they had sold their one millionth ticket for 2007, the second-fastest climb to that milestone in club history. Individual tickets may be purchased online at Brewers.com , in person at the Miller Park Box Office or Tickets.com outlets or by phone at (414) 902-4000 or 1-800-933-7890. ... Claudio Vargas will start the Brewers' Cactus League opener Thursday against the Oakland A's and Brad Halsey. Zach Jackson, Manny Parra, Ben Hendrickson, Matt Wise and Derrick Turnbow are also scheduled to pitch for Milwaukee, with Vargas, Jackson and Hendrickson working two innings and the others getting one inning apiece.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.