The GSB Interview: Brent Suter, Milwaukee Brewers Pitcher and Climate Change Fighter

Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter is not your typical major league pitcher.

He played his college ball at Harvard. His fastball, when he really airs it out, barely reaches 90 miles per hour in an era when 97-100 mph heaters are commonplace.

But what really sets the 29-year-old lefty apart from his peers is his interest in climate change and his willingness to speak up about it.

GreenSportsBlog, always on the lookout for eco-athletes, was pleased to read Suter’s OpEd on the urgency of climate action that appeared in a recent issue of Fast Company magazine. And we were even more pleased to be able to talk with Suter about his baseball career and his relatively newfound role as a climate change fighter.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Brent, thank you so much for talking with us today. I will get to your interest in the climate change fight in a bit. First, tell our readers how you got your start in baseball.

Brent Suter: My pleasure, Lew. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Born in Chicago, moved to California when I was two, then to Atlanta when I was four and finally to Cincinnati when I was seven.

GSB: Were you a Cincinnati Reds fan growing up?

Brent: Oh yeah! When Ken Griffey, Jr. came to the Reds, that was THE BEST!

GSB: Was baseball your first love?

Brent: No doubt about it. I did play football and basketball as well — I was a role player in the latter. But baseball was always number one. I was primarily a pitcher but also played first base and centerfield.

 

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Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brent Suter looks to apply the tag to a Kansas City Royals runner (Photo credit: Benny Sieu, USA Today Sports)

 

GSB: When you were in high school did you think to yourself, “Hey, I’m really good at this; I’m going to be a big leaguer,” or was it more like “Hopefully baseball can help get me into college”?

Brent: It was definitely more the latter. I wasn’t thinking big leagues when I was a kid or in high school. I did believe in myself, worked hard and enjoyed it. But my goal was to get into college.

GSB: Were you heavily recruited coming out of high school?

Brent: Not so much. Actually I had to sort of sell myself. I do remember going to a college showcase the fall of my senior year at which high school players try out for a bunch of recruiters. I threw harder than I ever did before. I had a video made and sent the tape, along with an email to the Harvard baseball coach. He loved it and sent an assistant down to Florida to see me pitch at another showcase. It went great.

GSB: Were you always looking to go the Ivy League route?

Brent: Not really. I always wanted to go to a good school and play baseball there. Harvard was the only Ivy League school I was in serious contact with and it turned out to be a perfect fit!

GSB: What did you study at Harvard?

Brent: Environmental science and public policy…

GSB: …What a great combination!

Brent: Absolutely! I love math and science. Got to learn about renewables, the policy implications of decarbonization and much more.

GSB: What got you into the environment, renewables and climate change?

Brent: I always had affinity and an appreciation for nature and the outdoors. But the big thing for me on climate change was seeing Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” while I was in high school. Say what you will about Al Gore from the political point of view, his film was able to communicate the serious reality of climate change in a way that inspired many, including me. Before seeing that film, I really had no idea about climate change.

GSB: It inspired me too! In fact, I was trained by Vice President Gore and his Climate Reality Project in 2012 to give the slide show presentation that was at the heart of the movie to community groups in my area. Back to your time at Harvard, how hard was it to balance your academic load and baseball?

Brent: It was challenging at times. You have to be so efficient with your time. That said, Harvard has tremendous resources and I met such an interesting, high quality group of people. It was a whirlwind but an incredible one at that. I loved Harvard and the connections I made there will last a lifetime.

 

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Brent Suter on the mound for Harvard (Photo credit: The Harvard Crimson)

 

GSB: Did you have a sense from early on at Harvard that you were on track for the big leagues?

Brent: Not at all. It wasn’t until after my junior year that I started to think pro ball might be a possibility. I was lousy as a junior but I had a strong Cape Cod Summer League season after that. And I backed that up with a decent senior year. Still I wasn’t on scouts’ radars so I went to a showcase for New England regional scouts in Amherst…

GSB: …I didn’t know these showcases existed.

Brent: Oh they’re a big thing all over the country. Anyway, the day of my showcase, it was really cold out and only two scouts showed up. And I was very sick. But somehow, I threw the best I ever had!

GSB: Kind of like Michael Jordan scoring 38 points in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals when he was sick with the flu?

Brent: I wouldn’t go that far but I guess I got the attention of at least one of the two scouts because the Brewers picked me in the 31st round of the 2012 draft.

GSB: Amazing! Where did you go then?

Brent: To the Brewers’ team in the Arizona Rookie League, made up mostly of high school prospects. I thought to myself, “Sheesh, I’m one of the oldest guys here!” And then things started to fall into place for me in some unusual ways.

GSB: Please explain…

Brent: Two days after I showed up in Arizona, a pitcher on the Brewers’ club on the next level up punched a wall in frustration and injured himself. So I got sent up to the Helena (MT) Brewers in the High Level Rookie League. I struggled at first but then turned it around. The next month, the Brewers’ team in Single A ball — the next level up — needed a pitcher for their stretch run. I got the call and was able to close out the championship game. That led to an invitation to the Fall Instructional League — that was a big deal. It seemed like I was always the right guy in the right situation. And that continued until I made it up to the big club.

GSB: Aside from being in the right place at the right time, how did you make it and stick in the big leagues with a pedestrian fastball?

Brent: Great question. One of my first days in rookie ball I realized I had a natural cut on the professional baseball which has lower seams than college baseballs.

GSB: I had no idea that was the case…

Brent: …Now I use that cut to elevate the ball over swings and thus miss the barrel of hitters’ bats as much as possible.

GSB: …Even if the speed isn’t blowing them away.

Brent: That’s right.

GSB: And that cutter put you in the Brewers’ starting rotation…

Brent: Eventually I became the club’s fourth or fifth starter. My approach is to attack the strike zone and give the team a chance to win the game every time I take the ball. I felt like I was starting to find my stride this year when injury struck. I suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in my pitching arm in July.

 

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Brent Suter (2nd from right) with Milwaukee Brewers teammates (from left) Junior Guerra, Manny Piña, and Freddy Peralta (Photo credit: Milwaukee Brewers)

 

GSB: Which led to Tommy John surgery — in which a healthy tendon extracted from an arm is used to replace an arm’s torn ligament — which means a year-long rehab. How’s that going?

Brent: Rehab is going great and my arm feels strong. I’m working out five to six days a week and rehab three times a week. My goal is to make it back by August or September of next year…

GSB: …Which would put you smack dab in the middle of the stretch run to the playoffs. And, from afar, it seems like the Brewers are a great team to want to come back to.

Brent: Oh yeah! We really are a team that plays for each other; it’s a great group of guys. And this season we were were so close to getting to the World Series, losing to the Dodgers in seven games in the National League Championship Series (NLCS). So we have some unfinished business for sure!

GSB: Good luck with that! Now we know you’re interested in the environment and climate change. How did that turn into you writing an OpEd in Fast Company?

Brent: Since I’ve been in pro ball, I’ve wanted to play with a higher purpose in mind. Given my interest in climate and the environment since seeing “An Inconvenient Truth” in high school, and given the recent onslaught of extreme weather, it seemed natural for me to move in that direction. About a year ago I got involved with the Urban Ecology Center, a great nonprofit in Milwaukee. They work to return abandoned waste lands back to their natural, pristine states. Then they bring kids who don’t have access to nature out to the newly restored lands. Urban Ecology Center does an awesome and important job. I also connected with ECO, the environmental collaboration office of the City of Milwaukee.

GSB: What do they do and what is your role with them?

Brent: They are a small city government agency that is working to make Milwaukee a green hub, environmentally and economically. Their initiatives include Milwaukee Shines, which provides financing solutions for residential and business customers to reduce the up front cost of solar, and Milwaukee Energy Efficient (Me²). We’re just starting our relationship. I’ve filmed a short video with them and we have had some brainstorming sessions about everything we can do next season. I also wrote the article that ran in Fast Company for ECO. ECO had a relationship with the magazine and the next thing I knew, the article went live.

 

Brent Suter teamed up with the City of Milwaukee’s ECO initiative for this 50 second video

 

GSB: Did your Brewers’ teammates know about your interest in climate before the Fast Company piece? And if so what do they think?

Brent: Oh they all know about it! I mean, some people give me the “side eye” look and some good-natured ribbing when I would bring in reusable water bottles and tupperware. The truth is they really respect my passion for the environment and climate change. A couple of guys have really bought into it. Ryan Braun is one…

GSB: …The former National League MVP.

Brent: Exactly. And our manager Craig Counsell has been involved with Urban Ecology Center!

GSB: Craig Counsell seems like a guy who really gets it in a number of ways. Now are there any guys in the Brewers’ locker room who are deniers or skeptics on climate change? And how do those conversations go, if you even have them?

Brent: Oh there are a few. I’ve gotten into debates on climate with some of the guys. I find them both entertaining and frustrating. On the latter, I just find it is hard to change any minds. It doesn’t get ugly but we just don’t move the needle with deniers. But I think, in the big picture, the pendulum is starting to swing in the direction of sanity and science. And I want to play a part in continuing to move the conversation in the right direction on climate.

GSB: That’s great as the Green-Sports world is desperate for eco-athletes. Of course I hope your career lasts for a long, long time. But as far as your post-baseball career is concerned, does the environment and/or climate change figure into your thinking?

Brent: No doubt about it — 100 percent! I’m interested in environmental consulting, the renewable energy business. It’s early days in terms of my networking; I’ve talked with an environmentally-focused hospital cleaning company. There will be more to come.

GSB: Fantastic! I wish you the best with that, along with your rehab, and getting to the World Series — where hopefully the Brewers will play the Yankees! And, please, keep spreading the Green-Sports word.

Brent: You don’t have to worry about that!

 


 

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GSB News and Notes, Milwaukee Edition: Brewers Pitcher Steps Up to Plate on Climate Change; Bucks Open First Bird-Friendly Arena

Milwaukee is best known for being America’s beer capital. But, as today’s GSB News & Notes demonstrates, Wisconsin’s largest city is also an up-and-coming Green-Sports hub.

Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter recently showed himself to be an eco-athlete to be reckoned with. He wrote an OpEd in Fast Company, urging Americans to unify around finding solutions to climate change. And Fiserv Arena, the brand new home of the NBA’s Bucks, opened its doors as the world’s first bird-friendly arena.

 

BREWERS PITCHER BRENT SUTER: SPORTS UNITES US, CLIMATE CHANGE SHOULD DO THE SAME

Brent Suter is a busy man this offseason.

The 29 year-old lefty pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery^ in August that repaired a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his elbow. Since recovery from this procedure takes a full year, the hope is that Suter will be able to rejoin his teammates for their stretch run to the playoffs next summer.

And, during breaks from his rehab regimen, Suter penned a thoughtful OpEd that ran in Fast Company’s October 31st issue.

In “Fighting climate change should make Americans come together to find solutions,” Suter noted that, while his Brewers failed in their bid to reach the World Series*, “There’s a bigger test ahead for us. It requires that we come together, just like we do with sports, to address the very real threats from climate change.”

He first went local, pointing out how climate change is very relevant to Milwaukee, citing a recent study that showed drought, heatwaves, and extreme weather associated with climate change will drastically reduce crop yields of barley, a key ingredient in beer.

Suter then widened his lens beyond Milwaukee and beer: “Flooding is on the rise throughout our entire state due to torrential rains, threatening our neighborhoods and infrastructure…These threats are becoming more frequent and formidable for all of America… [Last] month, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we’ve got only 12 years to avert total climate catastrophe. And each week, it seems, new scientific and economic reports highlight the growing threats to industries and regions from climate change. Amidst these dire reports, communities around the country continue to bear the brunt of climate change in the form of hurricanes, storm surges, wild fires, and flooding.”

 

Brent Suter (Photo credit: John Fischer/CSM/Shutterstock)

 

In no uncertain terms, Suter said the world needs to aggressively take on climate change…yesterday: “We can’t keep kicking the climate action can down the road. We need to come together to acknowledge climate change and work together to take real action…We know that the excessive use of fossil fuels is making the climate change at a faster and faster rate that harms our way of life and negatively impacts our health, our economy, and our security. Reducing our overall energy use, making everything more energy efficient, and transitioning to renewable energy, then, are necessary steps for us to take.”

The Brewers southpaw offered three top-line climate change solutions that go beyond renewable energy and electric vehicles:

  1. Improved urban resiliency: Invest in cities and towns so they’re “better prepared to respond to the health, economic, and security risks from floods, storms, and heat waves. They’re getting hit hard now and need our help.”
  2. Transition to sustainable agriculture: Equip farmers and ranchers “With the most sustainable practices, so they can continue to feed the world in ways that are less water, pesticide, and carbon intensive.”
  3. Wise stewardship of natural capital: “Our forests are the lungs that allow us to breathe by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, and indiscriminate deforestation is just making the planet hotter, drier, and less inhabitable. Protecting and restoring this asset, then, should be our number-one priority.”

 

GSB’s Take: I’ve often heard that the complexity of the climate change issue is main reason there are few athletes who speak out about it. With this OpEd, Brent Suter clearly knocked the complexity canard out of the ballpark. I have no idea what Suter’s post-career plans are, but perhaps he should consider transitioning from eco-athlete to eco-politician.

 

FISERV FORUM, NEW HOME OF THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS, IS WORLD’S FIRST BIRD-SAFE ARENA

Here’s something that hasn’t been said in, oh, 40 years or so: It is an exciting time to be a Milwaukee Bucks fan!

Most of that energy stems from the nightly, “Holy Cow, did you see THAT?!” highlight reel moments delivered by Giannis Antetokounmpo, aka the Greek Freak. If you don’t believe me, check this out:

 

 

And now that management has provided the Greek Freak with a young, athletic, hungry supporting cast that includes sharpshooter Khris Middleton and point guard and eco-athlete Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks fans are downright giddy about one of the NBA’s most exciting and surprising teams this season. I know, I know — it’s early, but still…

The most recent example of the Bucks’ emergence? Last night’s 134-111 rout of the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors in Oakland. Milwaukee is 9-2 and in second place in the Eastern Conference.

 

Greek Freak

Giannis Antetokounmpo, aka the Greek Freak, takes a free throw (with Steph Curry in the background) on the way to scoring 24 points in last night’s Bucks 134-111 road win over the Warriors (Photo credit: KABC TV San Francisco)

 

To top that off, Bucks fans get to watch their squad in the brand new Fiserv Forum, which is on track to receive LEED Silver certification. And thanks to a forward-thinking collaboration between the Bucks and Bird City Wisconsin, it is also a good time to be a bird in downtown Milwaukee.

That is because Fiserv Forum will be the world’s first bird-friendly sports and entertainment venue.

The 17,500-seat arena was designed to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council’s new LEED Bird Collision Deterrence credit, which was created in partnership with American Bird Conservancy (ABC). To earn the credit, a building must address the primary reasons that birds collide with buildings: reflective and see-through glass and lighting that disorients birds during their nocturnal spring and fall migrations.

 

Fiserv Forum

Fiserv Forum, the new, bird-friendly home of the Milwaukee Bucks (Photo credit: Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

 

Bird-friendliness was built in to Fiserv’s Forum’s design in mid-2015, when Bird City Wisconsin — a program of the Milwaukee Audubon Society — first approached the Bucks.

“Bird City Wisconsin came to us three years ago to educate us on migration and best practices,” said Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin. “We were able to integrate many of their suggestions in the design phase of the project.”

Populous, the award-winning architectural firm that designed Fiserv Forum, was also on board, according to Senior Associate Heather Stewart: “When glass or other glass-like materials are employed in venue design, it’s vital to balance insulation and reflectivity to create an ideal environment both inside and out, for people and for local wildlife. We are proud to hear that other sports venues are looking toward Fiserv Forum as the new standard for bird-friendly design around the globe.”

Why does this matter? Because up to one billion birds die annually after colliding with glass in the United States. Scientists estimate that this likely accounts for five to ten percent of all birds in the U.S. and is a contributor to significant declines in bird populations across North America.

“The Milwaukee Bucks’ bold decision to build the world’s first bird-friendly arena speaks volumes about the ownerships’ character, concern for the environment, and desire to be a part of a green community,” said Bird City Wisconsin’s former director Bryan Lenz, who recently joined ABC as its Collisions Campaign Manager. “The Bucks stepped up for birds in a way that no sports franchise ever has.”

 

GSB’s Take: That the Bucks and Fiserv Arena stepped up on bird conservation casts in sharp relief the failure of the Minnesota Vikings to do the same. Bird conservation advocates and architects let team owner Zygi Wilf know, during the planning phase of what would become US Bank Stadium, that the building as designed would be hazardous for birds. Sadly, the team decided not to make the investment in bird collision deterrence. Not surprisingly, the stadium, which opened in 2016 and is located in a highly-trafficked portion of the Mississippi Flyway, has a significant collision problem. Click here for a link to a December, 2017 GreenSportsBlog story on the US Bank Stadium-bird collision issue.

 

 

 

^ Tommy John surgery is a procedure in which a healthy tendon extracted from an arm (or sometimes a leg) is used to replace an arm’s torn ligament. The healthy tendon is threaded through holes drilled into the bone above and below the elbow.
*  The Brewers reached the National League Championship Series where they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

 


 

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San Diego Padres and Sullivan Solar Partner on Biggest Solar Installation in MLB at Petco Park

On-site solar at sports stadia and arenas has become a “thing” over the past decade across all sports. Starting with the Colorado Rockies and Coors Field in 2007, Major League Baseball has seen its share solar-topped roofs and solar canopied parking lots pop up. Most of the MLB installations have been on the smallish side. That changes with the late March opening of the largest solar installation in the big leagues at Petco Park, a partnership between the San Diego Padres and Sullivan Solar Power.

 

The San Diego Padres are poised to flip the switch this month on the largest solar installation in Major League Baseball at Petco Park. In fact, the 336,500 kW system will generate more electricity than all of the solar systems in MLB combined. It is thus fitting that the groundbreaking Petco Park solar system is being built and installed by Sullivan Solar Power, one of the most innovative and inspiring solar companies in Southern California if not the entire country.

The inspiring part of the Sullivan Solar Power story comes from the company’s namesake and founder, Daniel Sullivan.

A lifelong San Diegan, Sullivan was a 27 year-old electrician in 2004. Concerned about what he saw as a war-for-oil in Iraq, especially with the perspective that comes with being a new dad, and sensing an opportunity with a clean, domestic form of energy, Sullivan went to his boss and suggested the company get involved with solar. The boss said no at first and then, perhaps tired of his persistent employee’s repeated requests, finally relented — to a point — by saying, “if you want to build it yourself, go ahead. But we aren’t changing our focus to doing solar.”

Sullivan said something to the effect of “to heck with that” and founded his own company, Sullivan Solar Power.

 

 

 

Daniel Sullivan

Daniel Sullivan, founder of Sullivan Solar Power (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

Problem was, he had only $2,500 in the bank, a pickup truck and some tools.

So Sullivan started by living and working out of the garage of one of his first customers. Fast-forward a couple of years and things had improved somewhat: Sullivan Solar Power had four employees had leased office space. And Sullivan was no longer living at the garage. Instead, he was living at the office — hiding that fact from his colleagues — and showering at the gym.

But, the company’s mission — to fundamentally change the way we make electricity — along with its commitment to quality work, its educate-the-customer-about-solar ethos, its robust lineup of community service engagements, and its use of American-made panels began to resonate in Greater San Diego. So, too did Sullivan’s money back guarantee to customers. According to Tara Kelly, Sullivan Solar Power’s director of community development, “When Daniel started this company 14 years ago, there were less than 100 solar power systems on our local grid and it was much more expensive to go solar. Daniel, an electrician by trade, was so confident that his systems would pay off for customers; he offered to pay them if the panels didn’t produce as promised. The result? About 50 percent of our customers come from referrals.”

 

Tara Kelly Sullivan Solar Power

Tara Kelly, Sullivan Solar Power’s Director of Community Development (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

Those referrals have helped Sullivan Solar Power grow to over 100 employees in offices that serve San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange Counties. It is on several fastest-growing companies lists, from the global (Inc. Magazine 5000) to the local (San Diego Business Journal 100). They were the fourth company in the U.S. to earn accreditation from the prestigious North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

Sullivan Solar Power’s business, in terms of installed capacity, is about a 25-75 split between residential and commercial customers, depending on the year. Local universities, from San Diego State — Tara Kelly’s alma mater — to the University of San Diego to UC San Diego to UC Irvine are among the company’s largest customers. Petco Park is the company’s first stadium project.

“The Padres put out a RFP for the project and we responded,” Kelly recalled. “It was a lengthy process but ended up winning the bid last summer. Work began on the installation, which sits atop Petco Park’s overhanging awning, in December.”

 

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A crane lowers equipment for Sullivan Solar Power’s installation of its solar system atop Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

The solar power system, which will have nearly three times as much capacity as AT&T Park in San Francisco’s 120 kW — good enough for second biggest in MLB —  is just about complete. It will utilize high-efficiency, 470-watt Sunpower solar modules. The Padres are slated to avoid over $4 million in San Diego Gas & Electric costs over the next 25 years from this solar project. The plan is to turn it on in time for solar-generated electrons to flow at the Padres’ home opener March 29th vs. the Milwaukee Brewers.

 

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The Sullivan Solar Power team installs part of what will become the largest solar array in Major League Baseball at Petco Park (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

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The Sullivan Solar Power installation team takes a break during the installation of its solar system at Petco Park earlier this year (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)…

 

Rock Center

…evoking the iconic photo of the Rockefeller Center construction crew taking a lunch break above the New York City skyline in 1932 (Photo credit: Bettman Collection/Corbis)

 

Sullivan Solar Power is partnering with the team to publicize the solar system and the value of renewable energy to Padres fans. “We have signage at Petco Park and will be showing photos or videos of the solar project to let fans know they’re in a solar-powered stadium,” said Kelly. “And, this year we will collaborate with the Padres for the second annual Solar Day at Petco Park, offering educational seminars on how solar can make a positive difference for fans at their residences as well.”

Educating baseball fans on the benefits of solar is just another evocation of Daniel Sullivan’s mission to fundamentally change the way make electricity. It goes back to his original inspirations — a safe, clean environment for his son, one that is free from wars-for-oil as well as from subsidies that favor fossil fuel development.

On this last point, Petco Park is not the only high profile venue at which Sullivan will educate the public. In 2016 and 2017, he bought full page ads in the San Diego Union-TribuneSullivan used that space to write long-form articles about the costs, locally and more broadly, of fossil fuel subsidies and oil wars. Click here and here to read two of them.

Sullivan’s is an important voice in support of the environmental, climate change-fighting and economic (i.e. green jobs) benefits of solar power. Here’s hoping the Petco Park installation is the first of many sports venues at which Sullivan Solar Power can share its vitally important mission with fans.

 


 

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