Conrad fully deserving of fans' warm reception
Despite tough Game 3, gritty Braves infielder well respected
ATLANTA -- For the early-arriving fans at Turner Field on Monday, Brooks Conrad was no goat. He was one of their own, somebody in need of a pick-me-up. So they gave it to him.
When Conrad trotted out to shag balls in left field during batting practice prior to Game 4 of the Braves' National League Division Series, the fans gave him a rousing cheer. When he came in to get his bat, the fans behind the dugout showed him some love. Atlanta fans stepped back, however briefly, from the boos they showered upon Conrad on Sunday night and remembered what he did for their team all year long.
"It's awesome," said Conrad, who tied a postseason record with three errors in the Braves' 3-2 loss on Sunday. "It just shows great support of your team and it really feels great. Hopefully I can push this behind and play better baseball."
A lot of people came to Conrad's defense Monday, and not just because he's in a tough spot. It's because he's one of the best-regarded people in the game, a classy guy who waited a very long time for his shot. It's a cruel game that makes someone like Conrad spend nine years trying to carve out his spot, and then sticks him with a night like Sunday once he gets there.
"He's one of the best teammates I've ever had, for sure," said Astros pitcher Chris Sampson, a teammate of Conrad's in the Astros organization from low Class A ball all the way up to Triple-A. "He would do anything for you. I loved having him behind me when I pitched, that's for sure. He was always diving around, giving 110 percent all the time. If there's a tough play he didn't make, he felt bad for the pitcher and then would go out and get it done. He's that type of guy."
There's no getting around the game Conrad had on Sunday, of course. His second-inning error led to the Giants' first run. His miscue in the ninth -- after the Giants had already tied the game off lefty Mike Dunn -- brought home the game-winner. But it's hard to see any justice in a night like that happening to someone like Conrad.
"Everybody feels bad for Brooksie," said Braves third baseman Troy Glaus. "There's no doubt about it. I wouldn't wish a day like that on anybody. But he handled it with the professionalism that he's carried all year long. We're behind him. We've got his back. It's unfortunate that it had to happen, but he's been great for us all year."
Glaus, it should be noted, is the one Braves player who sees more action as a result of Conrad's struggles. For Monday night, manager Bobby Cox moved Omar Infante into Conrad's spot at second base and started Glaus at third. But he's just another person lamenting the bad things that happened to a good guy.
Conrad, 30, was drafted out of Arizona State in 2001. He took the long, slow road up the Astros' farm system, playing at short-season ball, low Class A, high Class A and Double-A over his first four seasons. He made it to Triple-A in 2005 -- and didn't see the Majors till he got 19 at-bats with the A's in '08.
It's only this season that he got any real chance, emerging as a late-inning hero for the comeback Braves by slugging .487 in 103 games. To put it in some perspective, Conrad got more than 54 Major League at-bats in a season for the first time in his career this year -- and he was born on the same day as 10-year veteran Albert Pujols.
The Astros always loved his approach, his attitude and his bat, but they couldn't find a spot for him, so he headed for Oakland in '08. Last year, he batted .269 in 398 at-bats with Triple-A Gwinnett and appeared in 30 games with the Braves. This year, he found a home with the big league club in Atlanta. It's hard not to hope that he'll still have that home next year.
"He worked his tail off to get to the big leagues," said Tim Purpura, who was the Astros' head of player development when Houston drafted Conrad. "It's sheer determination and sheer willpower that he's there, because I think a lot of guys would have given up a lot sooner. He's one of those guys that believes in himself, believes in his ability. He would do anything for you on the field -- play second, third, shortstop. The fact he played third so much this year when he really didn't have a whole of time at third [earlier in his career] just shows what kind of a player and what type of a person he is."
And that, more than anything, is the reason to believe that Conrad will be just fine. He's come so far, endured so much, and kept coming back for more. It would be foolish to count him out after Sunday night.
"He'll bounce back," Purpura said. "He always has."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. Brian McTaggart and Mark Bowman contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.