The popular centerfielder told reporters Thursday he was not only worried about COVID-19, but that he also wanted to become closer to God.
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Lorenzo Cain of the Brewers grounds out during the first inning against the Angels. (Photo: Roy Dabner, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
That, in a nutshell, is how Lorenzo Cain explained his decision to opt out of participating in the rest of the 2020 season with the Milwaukee Brewers.
« This lifestyle and everything that’s going on in 2020 has definitely opened my eyes, so I felt the need to opt out — not only for the COVID reasons, but also trying to get my life right with God, » he said Thursday in his first media session since announcing he was leaving the Brewers on Aug. 1.
« I’d put God on the back burner. And with this lifestyle and everything that’s going on, I decided to seek God and get closer to God. That’s just something I felt like I needed to do not only for myself but for my family as well. This year has been crazy. It’s been a tough year. I’m definitely at a loss for words with all the things going on right now. »
Cain played in five games before ultimately pulling the plug on his season and was off to a good start at the plate, hitting .333 with two runs batted in.
He forfeited the remained of his pro-rated salary of $5.92 million in doing so, and indicated the flashpoint for him was the series that was ultimately postponed between the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals when the Cardinals’ team-wide COVID-19 outbreak first began.
« I had actually been thinking about it for a while, » Cain said. « Coming into this year, before I even got to Milwaukee, I was kind of back and forth on it. I thought protocols would have been a lot better, a lot safer than what we were in. The Milwaukee Brewers were unbelievable in spring; they did a fantastic job.
« But as soon as we went on the road, it just didn’t feel safe. It didn’t feel like we were in a bubble or anything. I feel like if we would have been in a bubble, it would have been a different circumstance. But I just didn’t feel safe when we went on the road. Then when I came back and then the Cardinals, a few guys tested positive and we ended up missing the series, that was basically the tipping point for me where I just decided it’s time to put my family first, put myself first and try again next year. »
The Brewers have since replaced Cain in center field with Avisaíl García while rotating the likes of Ryan Braun, Ben Gamel, Mark Mathias and Jace Peterson in right field.
Both the organization and Cain’s teammates fully supported his decision and haven’t second-guessed it since. But that doesn’t mean Cain — a hugely popular and influential veteran in the clubhouse — hasn’t had his own moments of self-doubt since leaving.
“It really hurt me. It hurt me to leave, » he said. « Honestly, that’s all I’ve been thinking about. I honestly have been thinking about opting back in; I wish I could sometimes (the deadline has passed for that). But at the end of the day, I know what I need to do, not only for myself but for my family. I need to grow, continue to grow as a human being.
« Like I said, 2020, it’s changed my life, it’s opened my eyes to a lot of different things. It’s been tough. I know the team hasn’t been playing great. They picked up the last few games here. But I know the team hasn’t been playing great. Nothing pains me more to see that; when the team is struggling and I am not there.
« But it’s something I need to do not only for my kids and my family but for myself, more importantly, so I could help my family grow and kind of rub off on other people as I grow as well.”
While he hasn’t been physically present, Cain has been in regular contact with his teammates from back home in Oklahoma.
He said Braun texted him to inform him of the Brewers’ decision not to play their game against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, and that he has taken part in group Zoom calls with team principal owner Mark Attanasio, president of baseball operations David Stearns to more closely discuss how the organization can continue to try to make a difference.
« I let them know that I really appreciate everything they were doing despite me not being there, » Cain said. « I let them know that you couldn’t ask for better teammates. They’re sticking up, they’re doing what’s right and for me, this is about right and wrong.
« Systemic change needs to happen. We need to get there soon because this world is definitely on a downward spiral, if I say so myself. All the looting, the violence, I definitely don’t condone that. But the things you’re seeing day in and day out, it’s hard to put into words sometimes.
« I have kids myself, and it’s hard to keep stuff like that from them as they get older. It’s been a tough year but I’m proud of what my teammates are doing in Milwaukee. »
When Cain opted out of the delayed 2020 season after one week of play, it left young Devin Williams as the only Black player on the Brewers’ roster.
Suffice it to say what happened Wednesday, when the Brewers opted not to play as their statement against systemic racism, had special meaning to Williams.
“I think 10 or 15 years from now, history will look back and realize we were right in what we did,” Williams said. “I know it’s a day I’ll never forget. Just the support I felt and being able to be myself in this world is something I’ll never forget.”
Just as players were arriving at Miller Park for their scheduled 7:10 p.m. game against Cincinnati, news broke that the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play their NBA playoff game against Orlando as a protest against systemic racism, and in particular, the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white policeman in Kenosha.
Williams, 25, said a team meeting already was scheduled and the discussion immediately began as to whether the Brewers should play their game or also sit out in protest. He was one of the players who spoke and made it clear where he stood on the subject.
“I felt there was more important things going on than baseball or basketball or whatever sport,” he said. “There are world issues that need to be addressed. That takes precedence over playing a baseball game.
“My take on it was I thought it was a good decision not to play, to take that moment to reflect on what’s going on and the things that are important. We don’t know what the impact of that will be yet but it’s a small step we needed to take. I think we needed to shine a light on that, and the team agreed.
“It was a special day for me. The whole thing wasn’t my idea. It was something brought to me and I was asked how I feel about it. I said I’d be completely on board if that’s what the team wants to do. During the meeting I was asked my perspective and I gave it. »
Williams grew up in St. Louis, which like Milwaukee has seen it’s share of racial conflict. He was asked about his personal experiences with racism as a youngster.
“There’s no particular story that I’d like to share or that even comes to mind because it’s happened so many times they all kind of blend together,” Williams said. “I grew up in St. Louis, which is one of the most segregated cities in this country.
“It’s not always the easiest place to grow up for anyone, let alone a Black man. You have to adjust to your environment and adapt if you want to survive and thrive in this country.”
As for why the Brewers decided to play their doubleheader Thursday against the Reds, Williams said, “I think we made our statement yesterday and we’ll be back to playing baseball today. We’ve got games to win.
“I don’t really know what the next step is at this point. It was a statement that we made. We made it. It is what it is now. The only thing we can do is continue to draw attention to these subjects. I would love to go out and work in the community but obviously COVID is limiting us from doing so.
« The changes we need to happen I can’t personally make (alone), so it’s not up to me. The biggest step is just to start the conversation, get the ball rolling and open people’s eyes.”
Teams are allowed to add a 29th player for doubleheaders and the Brewers chose to activate reliever Justin Grimm from the 10-day injured list. Grimm had been sidelined with a finger laceration.
The Brewers will have to get back down to 28 players before their game Friday night against Pittsburgh.
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