By DJ Sixsmith
Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett is having a career season. The 26-year-old has a career-high in home runs, stolen bases and walks. The Ohio native made his big league debut just three years ago and is already one of the cornerstones of the Brewers franchise.
Gennett sat down to talk about the ups and downs of his baseball career, the story behind his nickname and being teammates with former NL MVP Ryan Braun. Plus, Gennett discusses the toughest pitchers to face in Major League Baseball, the keys behind his early success on the field and why he loves pottery.
When did you first realize that you had a future in baseball?
SG: I first realized I had a future in baseball when I was really young. My family and I moved from Ohio down to Florida when I was nine years old. In Ohio, my Dad asked me how serious I was about baseball. I told him I loved the game and that’s when we decided to move somewhere where I could play year round. Ever since then, baseball has been a priority of mine and a dream of mine. I always wanted to play in the majors.
There is a very interesting story behind how you got your nickname Scooter. How did your love of the Muppets and not wearing a seatbelt inspire this nickname?
SG: I was a big fan of the Muppet Babies and my favorite character was Scooter. I also wasn’t a big fan of the seatbelt when I was younger. My mom would start driving and I would unclick my seatbelt. I did it for attention. She got tired of it one day and drove over to the police station. We walked into the station and I remember seeing a big officer with a badge. I thought I would get arrested if I told him my real name, so I told him my name was Scooter Gennett. I prefer Ryan, but everyone called me Scooter from that point on.
Getting back to baseball. You went from high school right into the minors. What was the hardest part about that transition?
SG: Living on my own. A lot of people learn how to do their laundry and take care of themselves in college. Your roommates can help you along with that stuff, but I didn’t have that luxury. I had to do all that stuff on my own and there was a learning curve. On top of all that, you are playing everyday and spending 10 hours per day at the ballpark. It was a challenge. I learned the most about life, myself and how to prepare to play everyday during that first year.
In 2012, you played in the MLB All Star Futures Game. What was that experience like for you?
SG: It was awesome. I wasn’t playing that great at the time and didn’t expect to be the Brewers representative in the game. I was very fortunate that the organization had so much confidence in me. It was a great experience to play in front of 40,000 people. You just don’t get that in the minors. It was something I will always remember, especially because I got to share it with my family.
You made your MLB debut less than a year later. You had a hit against the Oakland Athletics. What do you remember most about your first game?
SG: I remember the butterflies and the energy from Miller Park the most. Going from Nashville with 500 or 1000 fans to Milwaukee with 30,000 fans was kind of surreal. You dream about that day and think about how things will be and it turns out to be totally different. It takes a little while to realize that you’re living out your dream when you’re in the moment. Once I got that first hit, I realized it was just the same field and the same game in a different environment.
In your first 70 games, you hit .324 and crushed five home runs. Looking back on it now, what was the key to your early success?
SG: I didn’t change anything. I just stuck with what got me to the majors. The most important thing for me was the pre-game work. I tried to control everything I could before the start of the game. Some guys get to the big leagues and stop working. I reminded myself everyday there was someone always after my job and that fueled me to get better. I didn’t want to go back down to the minors.
Going off that point, injuries and struggles against left-handed pitchers forced you to go back down to the minors. How hard was it to establish yourself as a legit major leaguer after these setbacks?
SG: It wasn’t easy. You live and learn. Getting sent back down the first time was because of the business side of things. My average was going up once I got back to Milwaukee, but then I got hurt and got off to a slow start in my second season. I’m blessed to play this game. The only thing I can control is my work ethic. The guys who have success at this level control what they can control. Going back to the minors helped me get to this point in my career.
You’ve been openly public about the role of faith in your life and your baseball career. How hard is it to be a Christian and a MLB player?
SG: Being a Christian doesn’t mean I’m going to be perfect. It’s actually the opposite; it means that I am going to make mistakes. I try to live a clean life and be an example for young kids. Everyday I wake up trying to be a better teammate, a better player and a better husband. It’s not easy because there are a lot of vices. As I mature in my faith, I realize those are just temptations. I don’t have to fall into those traps. I have the ability to say no.
It’s been a rough couple of seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers. What teammate have you learned the most from in your career?
SG: Ryan Braun is a great teammate. He isn’t the loudest guy or yelling at his teammates, but he leads by example. It’s truly amazing how he consistently prepares and how he goes about his business. Braun plays the game with respect. He is a good example of a good leader.
Who is the toughest pitcher to face in the league?
SG: Mike Leake has always been a challenge for me. He doesn’t throw extremely hard. He has six pitches, throws them at all different speeds and works fast. Johnny Cueto is another guy, who has become a tougher pitcher to hit as his career has gone on. He consistently changes your timing as a hitter whether he is going from the stretch or the full wind up with the back turn. It is hard to get a rhythm on guys like Leake or Cueto.
Finally, you have a lot of different interests outside of baseball. How did you become interested in pottery?
SG: I took six ceramics classes while I was in high school. It was a great way to escape from the pressures of high school and it gave me an outlet when my Dad was diagnosed with colon cancer during my sophomore year. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed for a long time. I actually had a chance to do some ceramic work for charity recently and it was an unbelievable experience. During the offseason, I go back to my high school and visit my old art teacher. It’s a great way to escape from baseball.
DJ Sixsmith hosts CBS Sports Radio Roundup from 2-6pm. The Fordham University graduate is also a play-by-play announcer who has called games on Fox Sports, ESPN 3 and the Big East Digital Network. Follow DJ on Twitter @DJ_Sixsmith.