It’s been pretty cool reconnecting with some of the unique personalities I worked with during my quarter century with the Cubs – as I’m on a mission to track down players I worked with to talk about their playing days and find out what they’re up to now.
I recently caught up with Brooks Kieschnick – an outfielder for the Cubs in 1996-1997, and later a relief pitcher for the Brewers in 2003-2004.
Chuck: I’m going to start by saying I want to learn more about what you’re doing now. It sounds like everything you do is in the medical field.
Brooks: “I work for a medical distributorship and I sell spine implants. I’ve been doing that since I retired. I really enjoy it. I get to go into the (operating room) and I’ve seen a ton of surgeries. It’s been a really neat opportunity for me for life after baseball. I’ve been with them for a while now. I also own Alamo Ice House (in San Antonio), and we serve barbecue, beer and wine. And we have live music as well.”
Chuck: I hope after going to your restaurant/bar that people don’t need work on their spine. The two aren’t connected, right?!
Brooks: “Exactly. No, they do not coincide.”
Chuck: You said you get to go into the OR. You really get to watch?
Brooks: “I do. Absolutely.”
Chuck: How did you get into the field?
Brooks: “Toward the tail end of my career, one of my family friends said she’d think I’d be great at this. I started talking to them and went through the interview process, and they said the same thing and basically offered me the job. The more I started thinking about it, ‘Whenever I retire, I’m in.’ I started the process of learning everything about the spine and about all the equipment and all of the stuff like that. It was a smooth transition – but also one that was very hard to make.”
Chuck: The information you’ve learned being in this field – could any of it have applied to you during your playing career, or are they two totally separate entities?
Brooks: “As far as what I’ve learned about the spine – no, not really. But one thing that does coincide is selling yourself. There are tons of products out there, and a lot of those products are the same. All of the products are FDA approved, so they all work. Put them in the right person’s hands … as a salesperson, you’re selling yourself. That’s what I did during my playing career. You’re not only playing for the team you’re on, especially during spring training … you’re playing to be seen by all 30 teams as well.”
Chuck: That’s an interesting way to look at it. If there’s one message that you want people to know about the products you sell, what would that be?
Brooks: “My products relieve back pain, leg pain, neck pain, arm pain. All the pain that you have is due to your spine. We will fuse your back and restore height. Also, any kind of bulging disc or any kind of stenosis – which is the narrowing of the canal – we’re able to relieve that. Don’t wait too long to where you start losing function – especially if you have neck pain – losing function and muscle. Get it done. The surgery itself will be painful, but the long-term effect will be great for you.”
Chuck: That was definitely an interesting career switch. Now I’ll switch over to your playing days. What memories do you have of playing in Chicago?
Brooks: “It was amazing. Wrigley Field, there’s nothing to really compare it to. It’s the field of all fields. Without being too cliché, it was a ‘Field of Dreams’ to be able to play at Wrigley Field. One thing I can say about it – it was too short. I would have loved to have played there for a long time. But such is life. My time at Wrigley Field was just incredible. The history and the mystique of playing there was awesome.”
Chuck: You came in as outfielder with the Cubs – and ended your career as a relief pitcher and jack-of-all-trades with the Brewers. How do you characterize your career? It might not have been real long, but it was unique.
Brooks: “You know, it was long – but it wasn’t long in the big leagues. I played 13 years. I considered myself a baseball player. Maybe I wasn’t a pitcher. Maybe I wasn’t an outfielder. I was a ball player. I just wanted to play. I didn’t care where you put me – first base, outfield, third base, pitch, catch. I didn’t care. I just wanted to play and to do anything to help the team win. I guess somehow along that line the first few years in Chicago I got labeled as an insurance policy – a guy you can put in Triple-A and call up if somebody gets hurt and be serviceable. For some reason I got labeled that early in my career. Given the time that I played full years in the minor leagues, getting 400 to 500 at-bats, I always put up numbers. That was one thing I wanted to get a chance to do in the big leagues. After you get labeled, then you just continue to try to reinvent yourself. After leaving Chicago, I did that. The worst thing was getting hurt in ’98 and basically missing the whole year. Coming back in ’99, I put up great numbers in Edmonton. In 2000, I put up big numbers in Louisville and ended up getting a cup of coffee with the Reds. Then putting up good numbers in Colorado and spending half a season in the big leagues with them. After that, when it wasn’t happening for me as far as getting a job where I’d have a chance to make a big league club, I decided ‘You know what, I’m getting tired of being the insurance policy. I’m tired of being that guy. I pitched in college – I want to give pitching a shot. If it doesn’t work out, then I’ll leave with no regrets.’ ”
Chuck: You did something that pretty much no one has done. You worked your way back and put yourself in a position where you’d come to the ballpark every day knowing you would play – but you didn’t know what position that would be. Not to throw stats at you, but in 2003, you became the first player in major league history to hit home runs as a pitcher, designated hitter and pinch hitter in the same season.
Brooks: “I had so much fun in Milwaukee. I really enjoyed the game again. Yes, it was still a business. But it was a lot more fun for me. I felt like I was back in college. I got to pitch. I got to DH in interleague games. I got to pinch hit. I played the outfield a couple times. Man, it was awesome. This is what baseball is to me. It was fun, and I was having a good time doing it that way. And not grinding. And not trying to get two hits in one at-bat, if you know what I mean. It was a deal where I knew I had value with them and they valued me and really enjoyed what I brought to the table. I was lucky enough to play for an awesome manager in Ned Yost – who you wanted to play hard for. He loved his players. He loved the effort. And Milwaukee was a really blue-collar town that was awesome. They loved to see the guys that maybe weren’t the superstars who were out there battling every day. And I was never a superstar and never claimed to be. You played the game, you played it hard and you played it the right way.”
Chuck: If you could have done it again, is that the way you would have wanted your entire career to be – knowing you’d be playing every day, but in a different role?
Brooks: “There are a lot of clubs that wouldn’t allow you to do that. I was very lucky to have Doug Melvin be that GM to tell me, ‘You know what, what you did last year in Triple-A with the White Sox is what we want you to do here in the big leagues with Milwaukee.’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely. I’ll do whatever you want me to do.’ And Doug Melvin put his neck out. Being a small-market team like that, he took a chance on me – and it worked out for a couple years. It allowed him to keep an extra pitcher or an extra position player because I was able to do multiple things. It allowed him to keep people he might not normally keep because I could fill in certain areas or certain positions for him.”
Chuck: What was your biggest baseball moment? Was it in the majors, or was it as a pitcher/hitter at the University of Texas?
Brooks: “It’s funny, when you say biggest baseball moments, one that comes to mind was in high school – hitting a walk-off home run on live TV news. It was an extra-inning game, and it was the first time I played a baseball game on live TV. I think one of my greatest moments, too, was having Coach Gus (Cliff Gustafson, Texas’ baseball coach for 29 years) my junior year – we’d won the regionals, and we were about to go to Omaha for the College World Series – and he called me out onto the field to address the fans. He said in his 20-plus years of coaching he had never called a player out there before to address the fans – and that was really a humbling, phenomenal moment in my career. Professionally, you’ll always remember your first hit. You’ll always remember your first home run. I was lucky enough to do that and also get my first win on the mound. To me, every day in the big leagues was a memorable moment. Every day you got to walk to the ballpark and put on a uniform and play in the big leagues – those were the best moments. There’s not one I can just pick out and say, ‘Oh my gosh, that defines my career.’ My career was defined by being able to go to the ballpark in the big leagues and throw on a uniform.”
Chuck: Do you go back to Austin to see games there? Do you ever notice No. 23?
Brooks: “Oh yeah. It got retired about seven years ago. It’s pretty neat to know that nobody will ever wear my number there again. It’s enshrined – and it got rewarded for leaving a lot of blood, sweat and tears out on that field. It was awesome and humbling for me – to go to such a big university and get recognized by that.”
Chuck: This has been terrific. I’m looking forward to sharing all of this.
Brooks: “So you get to tell your stories. But do you remember any stories about me. What do you remember about me during my short little two-year stint there? What’s your take on that?”
Chuck: You’re either going to love this story or hate this story.
Brooks: “Either way, it’s a story.”
Chuck: The one that jumps out is when Al Goldis, who drafted you for the Cubs, was describing you to me before the 1993 draft. All he kept talking about and demonstrating was how you swiveled your hips at the plate – and that the women were going to love watching you bat just to watch your hips.
Brooks: “Yeah, that was it. In college, we’d go to our rival – Texas A&M – and they’d wave dollar bills at me. They’d call me Elvis and all that kind of stuff. It was funny.”
Chuck: Like I said, I wasn’t sure how you’d take that.
Brooks: “Al is a great guy. I love that he took a chance on me and loved what I brought to the table. It was a really different time then in Chicago. From 1993-1997, we went through two or three GMs and three or four managers. It was always ever-changing. If they had stayed with the same regime, different things might have happened. You just never know.”