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Conversations with Clayton: Don August

The former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher talks 1984 Summer Olympics, Minor League travel stories. and playing in the Mexican League.

Milwaukee County Stadium Photo by: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In this week’s edition of “Conversations with Clayton,” I interview former Milwaukee Brewers standout Don August. August pitched for the Brewers from 1988 through 1991. In his rookie season, he posted 13 wins and a 3.09 ERA, which earned him a fourth place finish in 1988 AL Rookie of the Year voting. August earned a silver medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics as a member of the USA Baseball Team. He also starred for several seasons in the Mexican League during the mid 1990s.

In our interview, Don discusses his MLB career, his experiences at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics, harrowing travel stories from the minor leagues and his time in the Mexican League.

Clayton Trutor (CT): What aspect of your career are you the most proud of?

Don August (DA): I am most proud of that I made it to the Major Leagues. It is extremely difficult to make it there. Not only do you have to be one of the best players in the world, but the timing has to be just right; the right organization, playing great when the right people are there to see you, to have a bad game when the right people weren’t there, injuries, other players ahead of you, etc. etc. I made it there, though I hoped I would have had a 20 year Hall of Fame career, that didn’t happen, but I ended up with a winning Major League record, 34-30. I got to play with future Hall of Famers, and pitch against future Hall of Famers.

CT: Describe the experience of playing in the 1984 Olympics.

DA: For many years before baseball got introduced in the 1984 olympics people were trying to get it in. Then it was introduced in the ’84 Los Angeles games. It had to be a great event if it was going to stay.

This was when only amateurs were allowed to participate. I was invited to go to Louisville, Kentucky in early June of 1984 to tryout for the team.Thirty-one top college players were invited. I was the only Division II player invited, from Chapman College. We went on a grueling 30 something city, 30 something game, in 30 something days tour. We would play five minor league teams, local college all star teams, college summer league teams, etc. We played in about 12 Major League stadiums, very exciting for a small college guy like myself.

During this time there would be two cuts. Eventually down to the final 20 man roster. Out of the original 31 players, 16 were pitchers, the final 20 man squad would only have eight pitchers for the Olympic Games. I pitched great the entire tour, I was thrilled to make the team.

The Olympic Games were in Los Angeles, my home town. My family was able to watch me pitch in those games at Dodger Stadium. When the tour ended and we arrived in Los Angeles it was unbelievable. The Olympic village with all of the athletes hanging out, such as Michael Jordan before his NBA greatness, Mary Lou Retton, etc. etc.

In the Olympic baseball games I got to pitch in relief in three of the five games played. It was disappointing to lose the gold medal game to Japan. We had such an outstanding team put together. It was said we had the greatest amateur team ever assembled. We just happened to lose that day. In our Olympic tour we played Japan a seven-game series, and we beat them six games to one. Only a few of those players would be on their Olympic team. The Japanese played great in the gold medal game, we played down, and they won on that day. I think we would have beaten them in any series, whether it would be a three-game series, five-game series, or seven-game series, but that is how baseball goes. I can’t be disappointed with owning an Olympic silver medal. It was a great experience, especially just before most of us ... were ready to begin our professional careers.

CT: As a rookie, what surprised you most about playing in the Major Leagues?

DA: Even though before I made the Majors there were a lot of things I knew about Major League Baseball, by watching, reading about, etc. I played in four Major League spring trainings before I made it, so I saw a lot of stuff. When I did make it I remember someone telling me how I will notice how great the Major League defense is. That was something that surprised me. When you actually are at a Major League baseball game for 162 games you end up seeing it up and personal day in and day out, then you truly see it as how good it is.

CT: What was Tom Trebelhorn like as a manager?

DA: When I came to the Brewers in 1986 in a trade from the Astros I went to my first spring training with the Brewers in 1987. I really liked him. I saw how enthusiastic he was. He would grab his glove and jump right into our drills to show us how he wanted things to get done.

Then in 1988 I made it up to the Majors. I really enjoyed playing for him. Now I can’t say I liked all of his decisions with me, but I always liked him and respected him. One time in my last season with the Brewers he took me out of a game early and I did not like it, we argued on the mound, and then after the game I spoke to him in his office. I still liked him, but I think he felt like I didn’t like him anymore, that is the farthest from the truth. I have many great Major League memories and he is in them.

CT: As a pitcher, what was your favorite park and least favorite park to pitch in?

DA: To tell you the truth, just being able to pitch in ANY major league park is just fine. I enjoyed pitching in my home park at County Stadium in Milwaukee. I enjoyed pitching in Anaheim Stadium. I watched many Major leagues there as a kid growing, and my family and friends would come watch me pitch there as a Major Leaguer. It was fun to pitch in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park because of the historical aspect. I really can’t say that I had a least favorite park to pitch at.

CT: Tell me your most harrowing minor league travel story.

DA: There are two that stick out. The first was in my first minor league season in 1985 in the Southern League. We were playing a night game in Charlotte, North Carolina and we had a day game in Memphis, Tennessee the next day. This is minor league baseball, so that meant we were taking buses. It was late when we left after the game, we showered, we had to go out and eat somewhere, then pack everything onto the bus. We drove all night on our team bus that we affectionately called the “Iron Lung.” We slept in our seats, it was about a 12 hour ride, we drove right to the ball park in Memphis the next day, unpacked our baseball bags, we left our suitcases on the bus, we would take them off when we would get to our hotel after the game. We were tired, maybe somewhat delirious. We felt like we were going to get our asses kicked. We were also going up against their No. 1 pitcher, I felt bad for our starting pitcher. We ended up beating the crap out of them, the score may have [been] something like 15 -1.

The second story was when I was in AAA the next year in 1986 in the Pacific Coast League. I was playing in Tucson, Arizona. In AAA the teams fly, but you fly the day you play in that next city. We were flying from Tucson to Edmonton, Canada. It was a long day because we would have a layover in Salt Lake City for four hours, then finally get on a plane to Edmonton. By the time we got there, we had a bus meet us at the airport, we would wait for our luggage and gear and we once again drove straight to the ball park. Again, we unloaded our baseball bags, put on our uniforms, and went right out onto the field to play the game, and again, we won the game.

CT: What were the Milwaukee fans like?

DA: I really liked our fans in Milwaukee. Milwaukee is a small big city in the Midwest. The people are more simple and have that Midwest personality. They treat you very well, if you play good they let you know it. They were not real hard on their players. When you play in Boston and New York you see the hardcore fans, so when you play in Milwaukee you see how pleasant the fans were to us. Then there is a big difference with the media, which is a big influence on how the fans perceive their players and team.

CT: Describe your experiences playing in the Mexican League.

DA: Playing in the Mexican League was not easy, even though I had Major League experience. You are in a different country and it’s a different culture. You have to accept you are some place else, you can’t expect things to be like home in the U.S. I knew how to speak basic Spanish which helped me a lot. The food is different. You have to learn to find the things you like to eat. The one thing you don’t want to be known as the arrogant American. You are in their country, you can’t expect the people to speak English to you, you can’t insult people about their food and their way of life. Things are not going to be done the same way there. You have to have patience.

When I first arrived, there were two other Americans on the team. We obviously hung out together, we shared a hotel room, ate together all the time. We had a saying that you just have to laugh at everything, or else things will bother you and frustrate you. I saw a lot of good ball players there, but some could not cope and they would self-destruct and fall apart. Unfortunately for me the team I played for was a last place team, that was hard. I didn’t like losing, I didn’t have the best support, so I felt like I had to do great or a team in the U.S. would get. There is a lot of pressure to do good so that you can get out, but the team owners and managers expect you as the American, who they are paying more money to, to do great every time. As a pitcher they expected me to pitch great and to win every game I pitched. The travel was very hard, very long bus rides, 10, 12, 14, 16 hour bus rides were nothing. Then there were the rides from the Southern Division to the Northern Division that were nearly 30 hours long. I did have a lot of fun too, but I realized I was the type of person who was going to do that.

I do have a lot of good memories too playing in Mexico. I pitched very well and put up some good numbers, but I didn’t get much of an opportunity from it. I could go on and on about playing in Mexico, I could write 50 pages. It’s hard to just pinpoint a few things. I saw a lot there, on and off of the field.

CT: How has Major League Baseball changed in the years since your retirement?

DA: I think the main thing that has changed with Major League Baseball since I last played is definitely the pitching. The starting pitchers are not expected to go deep into games anymore. There is the big 100 pitch count, pitchers getting taken out in the fifth a lot, pitchers taken out when they are pitching a no hitter, etc. So with the big change with starting pitching it has changed the relief pitching. Pitchers are changed in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. You don’t leave in the hot pitcher, every pitcher has their role. It doesn’t matter if a starting pitcher is doing good, all the other team has to do is wait for the pitch count, and then take their chances with a cold relief pitcher coming in.

When I played we had five starting pitchers and five relief pitchers. If I were able to come back and pitch in the Major Leagues today I wouldn’t want to be a starter. To wait five days to pitch again after a four or five inning start, sitting on a loss always stunk, but to sit on a no decision because I couldn’t pitch the mandatory five innings to get a decision. The starter used to be your best pitcher, that isn’t really the case anymore.

CT: When you hear the word “Cincinnati,” you think of_________.

DA: When I hear the word Cincinnati I instantly think of the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds teams I grew up watching in the 1970’s. I think of Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, George Foster, Davey Concepcion, Cesar Geronimo, Tony Perez, Sparky Anderson. They were a great dynasty in baseball. I grew up in the Los Angeles area and I rooted for the Dodgers, they were in the same division as the Reds, the Cincinnati Reds were tough on my Dodgers.

Follow Don August on Twitter: @DonAugust38

For more of the same, follow me too: @ClaytonTrutor