Benjamin Hochman: Quirky Brebbia shares insight to how Cardinals — and his face — might look after quarantine

Tribune Content Agency

We’re all stuck in our homes, no one in the outside world to impress. Many men have grown beards, some quite becoming, others becoming quite something. If there was ever someone who should grow a “John Brebbia” beard these days, it would be John Brebbia.

But during the quarantine, the Cardinals reliever routinely shaves or trims his face.

“I’ve always said that the beard starts when the season starts,” said Brebbia, who shaves at the end of each season, shaves during the offseason and then ceases shaving on opening day. “The rules are the rules.”

He’s a stickler with tradition and superstition, routine and reliability. So, he sure as heck doesn’t mess with any possible jinxes, even in this weird offseason. So he shaves and works out all the time. Somewhere, after all, Kris Bryant is lifting weights.

“It’s the St. Louis Cardinals,” Brebbia said by phone Sunday. “We are staying as prepared as possible, no matter what. Baseball will happen again. And when it does, we want a ring on our finger.”

Seventy-five days after pitchers and catchers reported, this reporter caught up with the pitcher. On that ceremonious day back in February, Brebbia emphatically detailed the moment he stepped out of the Cardinals clubhouse: “You spend the whole offseason building up, building up, building up, waiting to go to spring training, and you get here and go outside and it’s like: OOOOAAAAAHHHHH! I’m here.”

But now, he’s back to building up, building up, building up. It can be frustrating. It’s frustrating for all of us to not have baseball. As Brebbia said from his home in Florida, “For me as a fan, baseball has always been there. Anytime there was something crummy going on, there was always baseball on to watch, to get joy from that. You can lose yourself in what’s going on in the game and the statistics. There are so many facets to focus on. For me as a fan and for me as a player, when we do eventually start playing again, it’ll be a nice happiness-booster.”

A happiness-booster. Not necessarily the vaccine we all yearn for in these pandemic days, but it’ll be a welcomed shot in the arm when there is baseball.

One has to wonder if everyone will be so excited to have baseball back, even the lowly Marlins and Orioles will have more fans and followers than they would’ve had otherwise. People just want to see action, see the game, escape in the game. Of course, most Major League Baseball games will likely look like Marlins home games. While no plan is in place, players will likely play in front of empty stands.

“It’ll definitely kind of change the atmosphere of the game,” Brebbia said. “But, you know, I’ve played in some games without a ton of fans, when you think about the Florida State League. But it’s going to be funny to be in a stadium that seats 40,000 people and not have anyone. … Maybe they’ll pump in fan noise?

“We’ll see what it looks like when we get back. Someone hits a game-winning home run, do we do a six-foot-apart huddle around home plate? … But I’m pretty confident that when the season does start, it’ll be because it’s deemed safe enough to play.”

With unexpected time to look back and assess spring training, Brebbia’s perspective is what Cards fans would want to hear. Or, maybe not, because it’ll make them angrier the Cards can’t be playing right now.

“The parts were well-greased and running. It was going to kick off to a special start,” he said. “I thought we looked a lot like a unified team early on, which I thought was kind of unique. I think that’s a good way to assess a spring training. Wins and losses are a tough thing to look it. They’re all over the place, not correlated at all. But I feel like the way we were working as a team was really good.”

At home, the eccentric Brebbia has tried to “up my cooking game” by reading a cookbook called “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.” (“It’s fantastic,” he said.) He’s dabbled with reading “The Intelligent Investor.” He’s lost himself in “Westworld.”

“And I just finished ‘John Wick 3’ while I was working out,” he said. “Great movie to work out to, gets me all amped up on my kettlebell goblet squats.”

He detailed his workouts, maybe in too much detail.

“I wear my underwear,” he said with some quarantine quirkiness. “Today was my reindeer Christmas underwear. I just stay in the living room and pump some iron. Or I guess pump some rubber — it’s mostly bands.”

Perhaps the only good thing for the ballplayer not playing ball is that he can spend time with his wife and 9-month-old baby boy, Henry.

“He’s under a year, and so much happens,” Brebbia said. “Every two weeks, it’s like he’s 15% different than he was two weeks before. There are monster changes. So the nice part is that I get to see all of that. I’m here and I’m around and I get to hang out with him and watch him grow.”

And while Brebbia isn’t growing his beard, the pitcher did find one curveball in the unwritten rules of shaving superstition.

“I’m doing a quarantine mustache,” he said.


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