Flashback: It was Deer's season
Slugger wasted no time making his mark
By Mario Ziino / Special to MilwaukeeBrewers.com
As Brewers fan-favorites go, they don't get much better than Rob Deer.
The free-swinging slugger was known in Milwaukee for his strikeouts and his tape-measure home runs, few of which were more impressive than his first. In this excerpt from a 1986 story from What's Brewing
, the official team magazine, Deer remembers his big debut.
Here it was, finally, the opening game of the 1986 season.
Rob Deer arrived at Chicago's Comiskey Park early and sat near his locker fidgeting in his seat. From time to time, he would glance at the clock on the clubhouse wall. He'd shift his attention to the lineup card, which had his name inked in the sixth slot of the batting order, and then back to the clock. Time becomes a factor. It has a nasty way of slowing itself down, forcing one to think. Deer had plenty of it, time that is, to ponder over his baseball fortunes.
He began thinking about how he came to being in the Windy City instead of Houston, where his former and only big league club, the San Francisco Giants, opened their campaign against the Astros. It was only four months earlier that he was traded for a pair of minor league pitchers. His mind was wrestling with the notion of starting over in a different league. Playing as a part-time outfielder with the Giants didn't give him the opportunity to flex his muscles as he had in the lower ranks. In the San Francisco minor league system, he had won three home run championships to go along with four strikeout crowns. For free-swinging power hitters, though, one seems to go with the other. But the shift from the National to American League was on his mind. Could he handle the American League breaking pitch? Could he perform every day?
Moving out to the playing field, the sun shone brightly as he stepped into the batting cage. Bullpen coach Larry Haney was tossing batting practice and Rob felt good swinging the bat.
As he headed back to the dugout, other thoughts raced through his mind. When Spring Training opened at Chandler, Ariz., Deer reported as a non-roster hopeful. There were eight outfielders on the Major League roster and he had to beat out four of them. Could he impress the Brewers brass in such a short time? Could he live up to the minor league reputation?
He now stood in the on-deck circle watching future Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver retire Ernest Riles on a pop-up to left fielder Carlton Fisk for the second out in a scoreless second inning. Seaver, who has had more success against the Brewers than any other AL club, had allowed just an infield single to Robin Yount through the first five batters he faced.
Stepping into the batter's box, Deer tried to unscramble Seaver's arsenal. What should he expect on the first pitch? Would it be the fastball, Seaver's bread-and-butter pitch in the old days? Would it be the curveball, something the wily veteran has come to rely on late in his career?
It didn't take long to find out. Deer guessed right.
Seaver's first pitch -- a thigh-high fastball across the heart of the plate -- was too inviting to let nestle in the catcher's mitt. Deer swung his mallet, launching the ball into orbit. The baseball took a direct path out of the stadium via the left-field roof, landing on 34th Street below. That's right, Rob Deer's first American League hit was a home run out of Comiskey Park, only the 41st time a ball had exited the premises since 1927.
As he circled the bases, his questions were answered. A smile broke across his face as he headed to an assortment of awaiting high-fives in the dugout.
"When I started on Opening Day -- that was the opportunity I wanted," Deer said. "I was going to do the best I could and work as hard as I could to keep the job. I didn't want to leave any doubts about the opportunity. I worked hard for it and I didn't want it to slip away."
He clung to that dream as hard as he could. Deer blossomed into the power hitter he and the Brewers knew he could be at this level, finishing the season with 33 home runs, the most by a Brewer since Ben Oglivie slammed 34 homers in 1982. His totals were the most ever by a Brewers right-fielder, eclipsing the mark of 28 set by Sixto Lezcano in 1979. And in August he hit 11 homers, falling one short of the club record set by Gorman Thomas in 1979. To say the least, Deer had faith in his ability.
"I always try to believe in myself," he said. "All I ever really wanted was a chance, an opportunity to play. I always will remember what my father told me as I grew up. He said, 'As much hard work as you put into it, is what you get out of it.' I've always tried to base my career around that." ...
Although pitching, to most experts, is 90 percent of the game, [manager Tom] Trebelhorn is quite aware of the importance a long ball threat can be to a club.
"Rob Deer is a fine person -- a very good baseball player. Sure, he's going to strike out. But he's going to hit the ball a long ways, that is important to a club," Trebelhorn said. "Here is a player who was looking for an opportunity when he was in San Francisco. He was given a chance here and took full advantage of it. He has that hunger for the game because his approach to the game is always 100 percent -- be it batting practice, offense, defense or on the bench -- his concentration is good."
Deer played five seasons in Milwaukee and enjoyed an 11-year big league career that ended after the 1996 season. He belted 230 home runs in his career and led the league in strikeouts four times. Today, Deer participates in Brewers fantasy camp and spends the season as a coach in the San Diego Padres minor league system.
Mario Ziino is now the Brewers director of publications.