MILWAUKEE – Corey Hart's spring has been far from perfect, with a rib injury limiting him in camp.
Of course, he's just been thankful this season that his role is secure.
A year ago, Hart won his arbitration case for $4.8 million only to have a miserable month that had him wondering if he'd be traded or released from the only organization he's played for.
While Hart had earned $4.4 million in his career before the arbitration case, the salary wasn't guaranteed. Without a college education, he worried about how he'd provide for his four children and wife if his baseball career ended with a sudden thud.
"I was able to go home and my kids were able to lighten the mood. That helps not being too down about it. At the same time, you go home, look in the mirror and be like, 'What am I going to do?'" Hart said. "You can say we make a good living, but at the same time, I don't have any other skills. So if I'm not in the big leagues, I'm kind of looking at it like I need to figure this out for my kids."
Hart turned it around, posting strong enough numbers to reach the All-Star game and eventually be rewarded with a new $26.5 million, three-year contract.
This spring, Hart strained a muscle in his left ribcage early in training camp. He'll likely begin the season on the disabled list, but is expected to be a major contributor for a team with playoff aspirations.
A year ago, Hart was batting poorly and it turned out that his vision was a problem. He tried wearing contacts and glasses, but abandoned them without telling the team.
"That was such a distraction. The thing is, my eyes aren't that bad. And then it came out and I'm like, 'I don't really need glasses,'" Hart said. "I knew I wasn't going to wear them because I was going to fail as me. I wasn't going to let that be a crutch."
Hart began working extensively with hitting coach Dale Sveum and began laying off the type of pitches that always used to get him in trouble — sliders down and away.
Still, the numbers didn't show much improvement early in the season. After six weeks, Hart was batting .247 with three homers and 12 RBIs.
"I've always been a hard worker in the gym stuff and I worked my swing, but I don't know if it was necessarily the right way. I wasn't doing it the right way," Hart said. "We found a good rhythm, a good little schedule and it got better."
Hart homered against Philadelphia on May 15 and did it again the next day before a road trip to Cincinnati. He hit two more in the series opener against the Reds on his way to 11 homers in 68 at-bats.
Two weeks later, Hart's improvements paid off in bigger ways with a 20-game hitting streak that began against the Los Angeles Angels, where new Brewers' manager Ron Roenicke was the bench coach at the time.
"Corey Hart went off," Roenicke remembers. "They just outslugged us."
Hart hit .360 over the 20 games with two homers and 17 RBIs by staying patient. His patience paid off in negotiations, too.
The Brewers agreed to the three-year contract extension through 2013 a few weeks later, the biggest reward for the former 11th-round pick in 2000.
"It's very stressful trying to deal with what happened last year and all of a sudden, I've got this offseason, it's hard to explain, it's so stress free and relaxed and I was able to step back and look at what happened and do my own thing this year," he said.
It's all the more gratifying for him that he did it himself and didn't take an easy way out by whining or demanding a trade last spring.
"It was a learning experience more than anything. You looked at how things could've played out," he said. "Pressure's tough. Everything can get to you. To be able to fight through that, I thought it was pretty cool I could bounce back like that."