The names of 40-somethings Cliff Floyd and Charles Johnson likely did not resonate with most of the young baseball players competing in the July 9 Futures Game at Marlins Park.
But those “old guys” still mean something special to Lewis Brinson, a Milwaukee Brewers centerfield prospect who grew up in Tamarac and has fond memories of those Marlins teams that featured Johnson behind the plate and Floyd in the outfield.
“Those guys were legends,” Brinson, 23, said of Johnson, who was the Team USA manager in the Futures Game, and Floyd, who served as hitting coach. “It was cool to shake their hands and talk to them.”
Brinson, who played at Coral Springs High, has already had a few cool moments in his baseball career.
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And more figure to be on the way as the Brewers — surprisingly — are near the top of the National League Central and could soon be calling on Brinson to help them in the stretch run. He made his major-league debut earlier this season, and another shot appears imminent.
Through 66 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs, Brinson has 21 doubles, three triples, 10 homers, 11 steals, a .342 batting average and an impressive .973 OPS. Mlb.com ranks him as the No. 1 prospect in the Brewers’ chain and No. 13 in all of baseball.
“He’s followed an old-school development path — learning from initial struggles and then improving,” Baseball America editor John Manuel said of Brinson, who is 6-3 and 195 pounds. “He’s a classic power/speed prospect with Mike Cameron upside.”
Manuel also praised Brinson’s defensive ability and his long-and-lean physique, which promises more strength as he matures.
But Manuel said Brinson’s character is his “separating tool,” high praise that traces back to Tamarac.
Officially, he’s Lewis Brinson III. His father, who was Brinson Jr., died of liver cancer when Lewis was just 10.
Brinson’s mother, Susie, who was the person who took him to his first T-ball team at age 4, became an even larger figure in the young man’s life.
“It was tough at the time,” Brinson said of his dad’s death. “My mom and myself were really strong. We didn’t crumble. We held our heads up.”
Fortunately for Brinson, he had some positive male role models, including Alvaro Gomez.
When they met, Brinson was 11 and Gomez was an infielder/outfielder at NCAA Division II Northwood University in West Palm Beach.
Gomez, who now runs his own baseball academy, was angling toward a career in coaching even as a college student. And when he met Brinson, he instantly spotted the talent, telling Susie that her son could be a first-round pick one day.
“I don’t think she even knew what that meant at the time,” he said.
Gomez took charge in the way he trained the young man.
“I was pretty intense,” Gomez said. “His dad had just passed away. He was going through a rough time. At first, we didn’t see eye to eye. I challenged him, and he resisted at first.”
The tough love worked.
Brinson became a star in high school and played at Wrigley Field as part of the Under Armour All-American Game.
Later that year, he became a first-round pick, drafted 29th overall on June 4, 2012, by the Texas Rangers. Brinson turned down a scholarship offer from the Florida Gators and signed a pro contract, getting a bonus in excess of $1.6 million.
A little over four years later — August 1, 2016 to be exact — Brinson was “shocked” to find out that the Rangers had traded him to the Brewers.
“I thought I was going to be a Ranger for life,” Brinson said. ““It was sad at first. It was the only pro team I had known. But the Brewers made me feel welcome. I got off to a hot start, and I told myself, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.’ ’’
Brinson was right where he wanted to be on June 11, 2017, as he made his major-league debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He went 0 for 2 but drew a pair of walks and stole a base.
In all, he played in 14 games before getting sent back down to Triple A once former University of Miami star Ryan Braun came off the disabled list.
The entire experience was surreal, Brinson said.
“When I got the call that I was going to the majors, a bunch of emotions went through my body,” Brinson said. “I had to take a couple of moments to gather myself before I could call my mom.’’
Brinson said he had one thought as he went to the plate for his first major-league at-bat: “Don’t trip.”
Brinson didn’t stumble, and even after he was demoted to the minors, he kept a good attitude. In fact, South Florida fans could see him Sept. 15-17 when the Brewers visit the Marlins.
“It wasn’t my time yet,” Brinson said of his demotion. “But I know I’ll be back.”