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Frosty Microbrews: A lot of baseball in Erickson's life

December 16, 2015

This is the fourth of a four-part feature on the past, present and likely future members of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers who participated in the Milwaukee Brewers' Instructional League camp this fall. The first installment, an introduction to instructional ball and its participants, was posted on November 4 and can be seen here. The second, about 2015 Timber Rattlers shortstop Jake Gatewood, was posted on November 18 and can be seen here. The third, about likely 2016 Wisconsin outfielders Trent Clark and Malik Collymore, was posted on December 2 and can be seen here.

In the lower levels of the minor leagues, change is one of the few constants. Players, coaches and even parent organizations come and go as time passes, making way for a fresh crop of new faces to experience the Midwest League.

Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson, however, has been the exception to that rule. 2015 was the Appleton West grad's seventh season in his hometown with Wisconsin, and his fifth as manager. With his extended tenure in the organization comes some increased responsibilities and opportunities: This year he managed the Timber Rattlers at spring training and throughout the regular season, spent a homestand in September coaching with the Brewers, returned to Arizona for Instructional League play and wrapped up the year with a two-week visit to the Brewers' academy in the Dominican Republic.

"There's a lot of baseball in my life throughout the calendar year, for sure," Erickson said in November.

Visiting old friends

Having been with Wisconsin since 2009, Erickson has coached or managed nearly every homegrown player that has reached the Milwaukee Brewers in recent years. A total of 15 2015 Brewers spent a portion of their minor league career playing for Erickson, plus a few more that have spent rehab assignments with his teams. For some, Erickson's time coaching with the big league club in September was a chance to renew some old habits.

"One of the best days we had while I was there, (2010 Timber Rattlers outfielder) Khris Davis came by the office and said 'Hey, do you have some time?' and I said 'Absolutely,'" Erickson told Chris Mehring on the Rattler Radio podcast. "I didn't know exactly what he wanted to do but he said, 'Meet me in the dugout in five minutes.' So I go down to the dugout and Khris and Scooter (Gennett) came down. When they were here I was the hitting coach, and one of the things Khris liked to do was he'd make a broomstick and he had a bag of pinto beans, and he wanted me to soft toss pinto beans to work on hand-eye coordination."

A Dominican debut

After his time with the Brewers and a month of instructional ball in Arizona, Erickson received another first-time opportunity: A two-week trip to coach at the Brewers' academy in the Dominican Republic. It was an interesting cultural and baseball experience for Erickson, who admitted he only speaks "a little bit" of Spanish.

"It's funny, in the game of baseball, the baseball language and the Spanglish that you pick up," Erickson said. "And the Brewers do an exceptional job of teaching our young Latin players English. All of our Latin players at the academy have English class every day, and when they come up here I believe it's three times a week when they're in Arizona. Then throughout the season, the first half of the season for sure, when they're in Appleton all of our players have English classes at least one time every homestand. So they're expected, by the time they get to the low-A level, they're expected to communicate with their coaches in English. It's not always the case, some are a little bit ahead of others, but it's my responsibility to communicate with all players, so I'm doing my best to learn as much Spanish as I can."

Within a span of just a few months Erickson went from coaching the organization's top players in Milwaukee to working with its youngest, most raw talents in the Dominican. Most, if not all players at the academy were between 16 and 21 years old.

"The talent level is good. There's some raw talent. Like the young kids that are here, the consistency level is not there. You'll see flashes of, 'Wow, that's a big league play,' or 'that kid could have played in a big league game on that particular day.' But then the next day it doesn't look like he retained that information or was able to execute the routine play," Erickson told Mehring.

Returning home

Erickson is back home in Appleton for the winter, but no official announcement has been made regarding his potential return for an eighth season with the Timber Rattlers.

"If the Milwaukee Brewers see me as more valuable in another position, then that's what I'll do," Erickson told Mehring.

2015 was Erickson's first year working with new Wisconsin pitching coach Gary Lucas, and the former major league pitcher and veteran minor league coach said he was very impressed with Erickson's ability to remain responsive and consistent over a long season.

"We had a tough situation. We had a young team, and that's not an excuse," Lucas said. "We tried a lot of new guys, and I think Matt's experience now in all kinds of situations helps him day-to-day even more. He's had a winning team in Wisconsin that won it all in 2012, and he's had some teams that weren't as good. Each day's the same. As far as change, I think he adjusts and adapts real easily. I think that's a strength of his, and I think the players feed off that."

Lucas said he's "never had an inkling" to try managing a team, and the challenges of handling a 12 or 13-member pitching staff during the season is demanding enough for him. He praised Erickson, however, for his ability to reach all the players on his roster.

"He knows how to handle all the players. The pitchers, the position players, hitters, he could run a whole team and be just fine," Lucas said. "He really handles people very well, and I was very impressed with that. His presence in the clubhouse, on the field, in meetings, he gets it."

If the two coaches are back for another season together in 2016, then Lucas looks forward to spending more time on the golf course with Erickson.

"I just hope that he saw what my golf game was and he'll be very considerate this year when we play and give me a couple of strokes. That's all I can ask for," Lucas said. "He's a natural and I need a lot of work, so he's seen that up close. When we've got some down time or a day off we play a little golf, and we had a blast last year, that's for sure, as much as you can with a losing season. So we'll hope that things get better this year and we'll carry that forward."