The Marlins might not shine but don't tell Lewis Brinson that

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

JUPITER, Fla. – When it’s time, it’s time, when there’s hardly any avoiding the obvious, when a young man has developed the body and skills and sufficient wisdom, when there is a place for him, when an organization is counting on him.

Still, when it’s that right, when the chase has been all there is, and what’s next is the very outcome the chase was about, when it’s for him and his momma and every good decision he ever made and some she made for him, well, that’s a lot to trust himself with. Lewis Brinson, 23, is going to be the center fielder for the Miami Marlins, just how it looked to him some 15 years ago, when a kid from Coral Springs squinted at the television and today’s Juan Pierre became tomorrow’s Lewis Brinson.

And now, two weeks from opening day, as the inevitable has come, it’s still enough to hope for, and maybe too much to trust. He wouldn’t want to startle it. To scare it off. To believe it before it is.

“We’ll see where that path is,” Brinson said Wednesday morning, “if that’s the path for me.”

He tried not to smile. He smiled anyway.

“I think,” he said, “I’ll feel it once I get my name announced on opening day.

“I’m just very hesitant on a lot of things. Previous organization, previous years, I thought something was going to happen for me and it kinda went left. So I’m very humble with that. I like to put my work in and do everything I’ve got to do to ultimately get to where I want to be, and that’s the opening day roster. You want to believe you’re ready and you’re ready to step up and be that guy, but it’s not your decision to make. So, I’ll just wait for my name to be called and I’ll be very excited when it is.”

Lewis Brinson was the centerpiece in the trade that sent Christian Yelich to Milwaukee. (Getty Images)

The whole point of the Miami Marlins anymore, of course, is Lewis Brinson. Him and others like him, they being young and elastic and talented and cost effective. For that reason, Marlins camp carries itself with an airy disposition. The coaches coach. The players learn, and fail, and succeed, and try again. The winter selloff, like all tear-downs, came with a requirement for perspective and patience. That means a lot of these young fellas will be sorting it as it goes, and then trying not to take yesterday too hard.

No one will convince a Marlin of 2017 that Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish or even Lance Lynn would have made the Marlins of 2018 at least relevant. At least capable. At least worthy of your A-game.

But, in the absence of that, perhaps, along with the absence of their entire outfield and half their infield (and any pretense of contending for a while), there does come a good amount of stubbornness. Coaches, players, the front office, they insist this is best for the franchise, that it’s been a lot of fun and healthy too, that young men such as Brinson are what sweeps the path.

Only the slog is ahead. It won’t end well, probably, in 2018. But it will end, even though it won’t feel like it some days. And then they’ll start over, a little closer next time, and the trick is to have everyone tend to today and believe with every last cell in whatever’s coming, both for themselves and the ballclub, because that’s the job and, also, by the way, there’s no alternative.

What will come of the Miami Marlins? The Kansas City Royals lost 90 games in 2012 (and 100 in 2006), and a World Series in 2015. The Chicago Cubs lost 96 in 2013 and a World Series in 2016. The Houston Astros lost 111 in 2013 and a World Series in 2017.

Many organizations have tried this route and failed. The Marlins, for one. Many times. You know where that won’t matter? The history? In their dugout. In their batting cages. On their buses to the ballparks. In some ballpark out there when the sun seems about two feet too close and the score doesn’t look good and last night’s dinner is sitting a bit too high. And that may be the best of it.

That’s about when the Marlins will know what they’ve got and who they’ve got. Who’ll compete for the inches that might not count anywhere but in their consciences.

Lewis Brinson was the centerpiece in the trade that sent Christian Yelich to Milwaukee. He is 6-foot-3 and appears bigger, listed at 195 pounds and seems broader. They call him special because he is. Also, because he has to be. He’d better be. Please, be.

He’s been a top-20 prospect for the better part of three years, including 2017, his last with the Brewers. He batted .331 in the Pacific Coast League, hit 13 home runs and stole 11 bases. He hit .106 in 21 games for the Brewers.

“I tried to impress everybody,” he said. “You know, big lights, big camera, you’re up in the big leagues, you want to do big things immediately when you get up there. That wasn’t the case.”

So, the Brewers covered those first few major league steps. The next come here, with a regular job alongside grown men against grown men, on many nights when the Marlins themselves will be outmanned. If it’s time, then Lewis Brinson will believe it when it is. And it is time.

“I think I’m ready to be up there full-time, but that’s not up to me,” he said. “I’m going to keep playing, keep playing hard, keep working on what I need to work on, and just go out there every day and play my game. Not worrying about what I can’t control. Just worrying about what I can control. And what I need to do every day to get better.”

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