Now she want a photo, you already know, though.
Somewhere in the Miller Park home clubhouse the line from Drake’s “The Motto” is canorously streaming through a pair of ear buds. Somewhere in the clubhouse storage is an unused locker plaque reading ‘Fielder’. Somewhere, for the first time since 2006, a player not named Prince dresses in the locker formerly yielding that plaque. And somewhere, the new sheriff of first base, taciturn to discussing his predecessor, prepares to destroy your team’s pitcher that day.
You only live once: that’s the motto, Mat Gamel, YOLO.
In only two weeks, the Mat Gamel Experiment has transformed into the “you-only-live-once” Mat Gamel Experience. Unnecessary head-first slides on triples, long singles off the ivy, gettin’ dirty on defense, dropping f-bombs on TV, sliding into thrown balls, avoiding tags, scoring game winning runs, leading the team in stolen bases, and– most importantly – the sporadic unbuttoning of the top button make up The Experience: Coming Soon to a Ballpark Near You. The rest of the baseball world calls him Mat Gamel, but the only way to properly summarize the Experience is dubbing him with the motto by which he lives (whether he knows it or not): YOLO.
With a start resplendent in base hits and admirable hustle, Gamel, at least within the Milwaukee press, has relieved himself of the
overhanging cloud that was Prince Fielder. Through the first two-plus weeks, the 26 year-old first baseman has been consistently productive in every facet of his game–a term that chimes music in every baseball fan’s ears.
A dismally slow start from Fielder’s cleanup spot replacement Aramis Ramirez has, in part, helped Gamel to avoid much of the media attention; but even had the Brewers $36 million man began the season hitting .500, the $481k Experience’s play would speak for itself within the realms of the holier-than-thou media. And while Ryan Braun hits .245 (including an 0-14 span with eight strikeouts entering play Saturday) coming off a drama-saturated off-season, Gamel has been able to bypass the comparisons to begin the season.
With the losses of Fielder and Albert Pujols to the Junior Circuit and Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard nursing an ACL injury, the marketability of National League first basemen has taken a hit. Despite these absences from box scores across the league, the NL still boasts established names such as Joey Votto, Todd Helton, and Gaby Sanchez, but YOLO isn’t being outperformed by any one first baseman in his first two weeks as a starter.
His .298 average ranks first among all qualified players at the position. No other first baseman in the NL has even one steal–Gamel has three. He ranks third in OBP behind Votto and Helton, both walk machines. Only Freddie Freeman of Atlanta possesses a higher WAR. His line drive percentage and w OBA are third. Only the Toddfather has a higher WPA, and his total is only boosted because of a 0.788-adding walk off home run.
You only have one chance to give Brewers faithful a good impression, and YOLO has acknowledged this with both his play and his nickname.
The Experience’s Tuesday night performance may have been the best game of his young career. He assuaged any arcane doubts among Brewers fans regarding his power with a Toyota Tundra blast in the second inning. After a seventh inning base knock, YOLO’s thrifty steal of second proved crucial when Norichika Aoki successfully squeezed him home from third. Down 4-3 in the ninth, Gamel wasn’t quite done. With Dodgers closer Javy Guerra evidently distracted by Carlos Gomez on second, Gamel won an extensive battle between the combatants and drew a walk on the eighth pitch of the at-bat. A masterpiece slide into home plate to score the winning run after the ball beat him to the dish resolved any questions pertaining to whether the assigned sobriquet fit him.
The nickname itself has taken a life of its own…at least from a cultural standpoint. After the aforementioned song was released, the “YOLO” idea spread to the trend-crazed American public. Getting drunk and passing out? YOLO. Snowball fight without a shirt? YOLO. Skipping class to go to McDonald’s? YOLO. The motto has been used by many people as reasoning for doing completely absurd things while the self-respected stand by and watch amused.
But from a baseball standpoint, Mat Gamel lives up to the YOLO notion. Sliding into throw home at a play at the plate? YOLO. In fact, that is precisely how Gamel was given the name. In front of a national audience on ESPN’s Monday Night Baseball, Gamel slid into a throw home to score on a sac fly, a leitmotif of only living once that was recur throughout the night. He proceeded to drop the f-bomb, unnecessarily slide into third on his go-ahead triple, stare down the Wrigley faithful, and give an unconvincing post-game interview.
During the off-season, the two major changes the Brewers underwent were replacements at the corner infield spots: Aramis Ramirez at third and a 50 pound changing of the guard at first base with Gamel. Realistically, the demotic expectations for Gamel were leaned more toward simply replacing the loss production–or lack thereof–of Casey McGehee; the job of driving in Fielder’s customary 100 runs was the unwritten expectation in Ramirez’s $36 million contract. Being an upgraded version of McGehee has been no trouble for the Experience, as he understands he can’t produce like Fielder.
“I’m not Prince,” Gamel said in March. “I’m not going to pretend to be Prince. I’m not going to try to be Prince. The man is
unbelievable. To sit here and say I’m coming in to replace him, it’s not fair to either of us.”
A blend of power, line drives, stealthy base running, solid defense, and quality at-bats make up YOLO’s game. He won’t hit 40 homers (yet) and, by no means, is at a Silver Slugger level (yet), but, to utilize an overused phrase, what you see is what you get. Gamel himself has said he’s not a base stealer, but is very keen at picking and choosing his spots to run. Without the blazing speed of, say, Gomez, pitchers have a tendency to pay less attention to Gamel and he turns it into the Experience, as evidenced by his three successful steal attempts.
At the outset of the season, manager Ron Roenicke said, “It’s time for him to be a major-league player instead of a great Triple-A player.” As past Reviewing the Brew interview and Brewers farmhand said, “the factor that separates [minor leaguers] from the guys on TV is mastering consistency”.
Remaining consistent is the factor yet to be seen of Gamel. Two weeks’ production as the every day starter in not nearly enough by which to fully evaluate Milwaukee’s new first baseman.
One thing, however, is for sure.
You only only live once: that’s the motto, Mat Gamel, YOLO.