On Jan. 16, 2001, shortstop Royce Clayton was standing by himself at a reception following the World Sports Awards in London. He was honored to have presented an award, but now Clayton was bored stiff, sipping from a glass of soda. A woman approached him and started asking personal questions before she suddenly backed off. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" she said, pointing behind him. "Is this your wife?"
Clayton turned and saw British track star Samantha Davies, whom he had never met. "No," said Clayton, smiling. "She's not my wife. Not yet."
Though that moment won't be as memorable to Brewers fans as Robin Yount's 3,000th hit or Juan Nieves's no-hitter, it could be key to the start of a turnaround in Milwaukee, which is coming off its worst record in franchise history (56-106). Clayton and Davies wed 11 months later, resulting in one joyous—"I'm the happiest man in the world," he says—and phenomenally fit major leaguer.
By marrying Davies, who ran the 200 meters and the 4x100 relay for England at the 2000 Olympic Games, Clayton not only got a wife but also a personal trainer. He spent last winter working out with her three days a week, running a grueling regimen of sprints. Like most of his peers, Clayton had usually spent his off-season lifting weights. No more. "Track is a whole body workout," he says. "When Samantha and I train together, I train as if I were a track and field competitor. It's the most intense thing I've ever done." So, does his wife run rings around him? "Of course she does," says Clayton. "She's a freakin' Olympian."
New manager Ned Yost is counting on Clayton, who was signed as a free agent after two seasons with the Chicago White Sox, to provide stability to the infield and help tutor the team's new third baseman, former Atlanta Braves utilityman Wes Helms. Last year's shortstop, Jose Hernandez, earned an All-Star Game invitation largely because of his 13 first-half home runs, but his dour demeanor brought little to a club that spent all but eight days in the division cellar. When former manager Jerry Royster benched Hernandez for the last few games of the season to keep him from breaking the single-season strikeout record (he was one short of the mark of 189, set by Bobby Bonds in 1970), Hernandez did not protest. Many Brewers were appalled by Hernandez's attitude, and when he signed with the Colorado Rockies as a free agent in the off-season, nobody in the Milwaukee clubhouse needed consoling.
Though the Brewers don't have enough pitching or firepower to compete in the loaded Central Division, Clayton, a 12-year veteran with a .258 career batting average, is determined to become a leader and keep the team's attitude positive. Throughout spring training Clayton offered Helms pointers on such things as positioning and pitchers' tendencies. "Royce is someone you have to respect," the 26-year-old Helms says of Clayton, who has played in the postseason three times, with the Cardinals and the Rangers. "He has a track record as a winner."
Helms, who had been stuck behind Chipper Jones and Vinny Castilla on the Braves' depth chart, also has a track record of success. While he has only 444 major league at bats, Helms was a member of four NL East champions. During the spring, Helms spent many afternoons with his new manager, taking extra cuts in the batting cage and evaluating a swing that produces lots of line drives but not much power. Nobody in Milwaukee believes that Helms will become the next Scott Rolen or Troy Glaus, but if things go well, Brewers management believes Helms can hit 30 to 40 doubles playing in Miller Park.
"He's one of the hardest workers I've ever been around," says Yost, who was an Atlanta coach from 1991 through 2002. "Wes has a burning desire to get better." When he is not on the field, Helms can often be found in a corner of the clubhouse, leafing through pages upon pages of motivational text. His favorite book is Dan Millman's The Inner Athlete, and the quote he often cites comes from former Pirates star Willie Stargell: "Pain is temporary, pride is forever."
Though the Brewers' pain seems forever—the team has not made the playoffs in 21 years—Helms and Clayton hope to at least instill some pride.