Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 3/8/12
PHOENIX As the Milwaukee Brewers transformed from an also-ran to perennial National League Centralcontender over the last few years, they did so largely on the collective back of home-grown talent.Players like reigning National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun, right-hander Yovani Gallardo, right fielder Corey Hart and second baseman Rickie Weeks were all products of Milwaukee's farm system and all drafted within years of each other.Most of those players, for varying amounts of time, played their way up the organizational ladder together, leading to a close bond by the time they reached the major leagues. Those who followed were able to find familiar faces.All of that has led to a close-knit clubhouse, one with a reputation for being fun-loving and full of energy and now, a reputation for winning.That atmosphere has been readily apparent to opponents and for newcomers joining the Brewers, it can be both intimidating and a breath of fresh air."You can tell playing against those guys that they have a lot of fun and enjoy being around each other," said infielder Brooks Conrad, who signed with the Brewers as a free agent after playing three years with the Atlanta Braves. "That's something you pick up on right away. Just how they go about their business and and how day in and day out, they're playing the game hard and having a great time doing it. It's very noticeable and you gain a great deal of respect for the ball club."Walking into such an environment can be somewhat intimidating, coming in as an outsider, but Conrad said that he immediately felt welcome and "one of the guys" upon joining the Brewers this spring."They let you be yourself," Conrad says. "From top to bottom, everybody here is pulling for each other and wanting each other to do well. We have fun and joke around but when we get between the lines, we play hard and we play the game right. That's a great mix to have on a ball club."Catcher Jonathan Lucroy was the Brewers' third-round selection in the 2007 MLB draft. When he joined the organization, the team was a year away from snapping a 26-year playoff drought and moved quickly up the ladder, making his MLB debut midway through the 2010 season.A touted prospect, but unproven youngster, Lucroy was thrown into the fire quickly as the starting catcher on a maturing team. It took some time, but Lucroy quickly became "one of the guys" and today, is a key part of the Brewers' young and talented nucleus."I think it's talking and communicating more than anything," Lucroy says. Gord and Doug do such a good job of bringing in guys who are good players but also good people. I think that's important to the chemistry of a ball club, bringing in good, quality, moral people. Whenever you do that, it enables everybody to get along and kind of work towards the common goal. That's important. It's easy to have good chemistry when you have good guys."Last season, Taylor Green was tearing up the minor leagues when he finally got the call to the majors. He admits that joining the Brewers was somewhat intimidating at first but he quickly realized that the team was welcoming and willing to accept anyone, so long as they were respectful and dedicated to winning."The first couple times you drive to the field, it's a little nerve-wracking but once you get here, you start to realize how good of guys they really are. It's fun to be a part of it," Green says. "They rip on you a little but, but they make you feel like you're a part of the team right away. That made it easy for me to make the transition."Most players agree that manager Ron Roenicke sets the tone in the clubhouse and on the field, giving the players the freedom to be themselves and enjoy playing the game and each other provided that, once between the lines, it's all business."He's a cool, calm professional and he's created an environment here where we can joke around and have some fun," said Lucroy. "Nobody's afraid to talk to him. He's not intimidating at all. It's cool because you can tell he cares. Everybody can see that."Roenicke, beginning his second season at the Brewers' helm, said that attitude is by design and not just happenstance. From Day 1, he wanted to create a comfortable atmosphere for his players. "Everything we do is for that purpose," Roenicke says. "I think the atmosphere is really easy for guys to walk into."Look at (Norichika) Aoki, that has to be the hardest situation there is. He's come into a situation where he doesn't speak English and there aren't' any other Japanese players on the team but I think he's been OK with everything. He fits in real well.If you talk to some of the other new guys, they'll agree. If you talk to Alex (Gonzalez) or Aramis (Ramirez), they'll tell you it's a very open group."Ramirez came to the Brewers after spending the last nine seasons playing for the arch-rival Chicago Cubs. Once he signed a three-year contract to play in Milwaukee, Ramirez says he immediately felt welcomed by his new teammates."They're all great guys," Ramirez says. "They embraced me and I'm looking forward to playing here."The key to winning over the Brewers, Ramirez says is to simply come in, be yourself, be respectful and most importantly, perform. The greatest byproduct of good team chemistry is winning and the Brewers have done plenty of that in recent years, advancing to the playoffs twice in the last four seasons."When you're playing 162 games a year, plus spring training, it means a lot. It's easy because you're on the field, you're all fighting for the same goal and trying to win the game. You know that, no matter what, your teammate has your back and you have his back, that's team chemistry working together." Follow Andrew Wagner on Twitter.
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