Seldom can a season at baseball's lowest full-season level -- Class A ball -- be viewed as much more than a grind, one of the first tastes of pro ball for youngsters riding buses on the back roads of America. And then, every so often, a guy with a World Series ring drops by to remind the kids of the possibilities ahead.
04/22/2008 12:30 PM ET
Gabe Kapler's adventures in baseball
Brewers outfielder has had a diverse set of experiences
By Hal Bock / MLBPLAYERS.com
At age 31, with parts of nine years of Major League experience with Detroit, Texas, Colorado and Boston behind him, Gabe Kapler and his 2004 World Series ring decided there was something appealing about spending a summer in South Carolina. So he abruptly retired last year, signing on to manage the Red Sox Class A team at Greenville, S.C. The Drive finished 58-81, good for seventh place in the South Atlantic League.
And Kapler loved it from start to finish.
"It was fantastic," he said. "I enjoyed every minute. You develop relationships with the kids. It's their first time away from home. They're learning to do their own laundry. They're finding out how to eat healthy in fast food restaurants.
"Everything that happened last season was different. It's still baseball, but you're seeing it through a different set of eyes. It gives you a different perspective on how to approach a day."
The season in Class A was part of Kapler's eclectic personality. He is not afraid to try something new.
"I like different life experiences," he said. "It's a different path, a different road. Some people accuse me of making emotional decisions. I reserve the right to change my mind."
And so, after his temporary return to his Minor League roots, Kapler made a U-turn last winter and announced that, armed with a new approach to the game, he intended to play again.
"The comeback was just something I wanted to do," he said. "So I put myself in the free agent pot to see what would happen."
Several teams expressed interest and, finally, Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin signed him to a one-year contract last December.
Kapler got off to a hot start, tagging the first pinch-hit home run of his career in the season's opening week and adding three more homers soon after that, flourishing in his part-time role. After 30 at-bats, he was hitting .367 with 11 RBIs and eight runs scored.
Manager Ned Yost noted his production, saying, "He's so good in that role. He's been very impressive. I knew he was a good player. I knew something was up when Doug tried to get him for three or four years."
Kapler was otherwise occupied, stationed in right field when the last out was recorded as the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 Then went off to Tokyo at the start of 2005 to play with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese Central League. He returned to Boston at mid-year but ended the season on the disabled list after he ruptured his left Achilles tendon while rounding second base on a Tony Graffanino home run.
"Japan was a great life experience," he said. "You value things like that. They're important to you. I rehabbed the Achilles injury from September of '05 until June of '06. It was a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to reconnect with my family. It was an extraordinary time."
Family has always been a vital part of Kapler's life. He and his wife Lisa started the Gabe Kapler Foundation to help end the cycle of domestic violence, a cause about which he feels strongly. His wife was victimized by a high school boyfriend for three years, and her recovery became a major cause for Kapler.
What's next for him? There's no telling. He'll come up with something. In the meantime, he gives the Brewers a handy part-time player.
Is Yost concerned that after his year of managing, Kapler might be looking over his boss' shoulder?
"Everybody's always looking over my shoulder," the manager said.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York City.