Might Daulton Varsho homer off of Willie Peralta? Maybe Jay Peters will strike out Ryan Braun? Anything can happen when two teams meet, even if college players are in one dugout and major leaguers are in the other.
That’s what makes UWM’s annual spring-training kickoff game with the Milwaukee Brewers so valuable, UWM head baseball coach Scott Doffek said Wednesday at the first Brewers Hot Stove event at the Union Ballroom.
“Only a handful of major league teams offer that opportunity to a college team, so we feel extremely fortunate,” Doffek said. “It’s an experience our players never forget. They’ll always remember pitching against Ryan Braun or hitting against a Brewer.”
With spring training just around the corner – pitchers and catchers report on Tuesday – Doffek and Milwaukee Brewers radio announcers Jeff Levering and Lane Grindle spent time talking with fans about the upcoming seasons for the Brewers and Panthers.
In the midst of a full-scale rebuilding project, the Brewers will give young players a chance. Prospects such as outfielder Keon Broxton and catcher Andrew Susac have a chance to become successful major leaguers, Levering and Grindle said.
And offseason acquisition Eric Thames should be interesting, too. The Brewers signed Thames, 30, out of the Korean Baseball Organization to replace Chris Carter at first base. The Korean league is considered a lower level than Japan, but Thames was “putting up insane, video game numbers in the Korean league,” Levering said.
The Panthers are coming off a strong season in 2016 and expect to build on that success. Projected for fourth place, UWM instead finished second in the Horizon League, led by Varsho at catcher and pitcher Brian Keller. Keller was the Horizon League pitcher of the year and was drafted by the New York Yankees. Varsho was the league player of the year and was named to the 2017 All-American team, a first for a UWM player.
UWM will begin the season with a game against Illinois on Feb. 17 in Beaumont, Texas. The annual matchup against the Brewers comes Feb. 24 at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix. The team will stay on the road before the Panthers’ first home game on March 31 at Henry Aaron Field.
“Getting to travel is a great bonding experience for our guys,” Doffek said. “That’s what college athletics should be: a great experience.”
UWM will also play a regular season game at Miller Park, when the Panthers face Horizon League rival Oakland University on April 30.
Two UWM alumni are doing well in the Brewers farm system, the announcers and Doffek noted.
Catcher Mitch Ghelfi, drafted by the Brewers in 2015, plays for the Carolina Mudcats, the Brewers’ new Class A minor league affiliate after the Brevard County Manatees jumped to the Atlanta Braves.
Pitcher Josh Uhen has made it to Class AA ball with the Biloxi Shuckers after being drafted by the Brewers in 2013.
“Uhen worked his tail off and really turned a corner here,” said Doffek. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him in Miller Park.”
The hot stove talk was the first in what’s planned to be an annual event. It’s part of a marketing agreement between UWM and the Brewers that includes advertising in Miller Park, 12 on-field recognition ceremonies for UWM, program ads and other efforts.