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.
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.
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.
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!