CINCINNATI – Lorenzo Cain was designated for assignment Saturday, but conventional wisdom would tell you it wasn’t meant to come to this.

In a sport in which kids are often pushed into travel teams selected at a very young age, the Milwaukee Brewers center didn’t start playing baseball until he was a sophomore in high school. Only one college, Tallahassee Community College, showed significant interest in him. He was a 17th-round selection in the Brewers’ 2004 draft.

“It’s the only story like that that I know of,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “It’s hard for me to imagine that happening again.”

When Cain walked into the visitors’ club at Great American Ball Park on Saturday afternoon, he did so on the date that marks 10 years of Major League Baseball service. It’s a rare feat for anyone even able to qualify for the big leagues. For a late starter like Cain who struggled with injuries throughout his career, especially early on?

It wasn’t supposed to happen.

“I tell people all the time, if you told me I was going to play 10 years on the show, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Cain said. “It just took a lot of hard work from my early days in high school, 10th grade, really picking up a bat for the first time and playing organized sports for the first time. That’s really where it started.

“I worked hard and I would say it all paid off in the end, being able to spend 10 years on the show and having a long career and winning a World Series and all that good stuff. It was a blast.

One of the beauties of baseball is represented by Cain’s career; there is no single path to becoming a big league. Cain, 36 and possibly on his final league tour, took the road less travelled.

Cain showed up to his first high school practice wearing a collared shirt, denim shorts, and basketball shoes. He had no baseball equipment of his own. The news of the DFA was something no player wants to hear, no doubt, but considering those early days, 10 years in the majors is even more remarkable and commendable.

“I had no cleats, gloves, whatever, I borrowed everything from the very beginning,” Cain said. “I’ve had great people in my life pushing me who have helped me a lot throughout my high school years, until now. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve been blessed to play as long as I have. If this is the end, I can’t really be upset about anything.”

Even after being drafted and showing flashes of his future Gold Glove abilities at center while surprising many with his underage hitting ability, Cain was only listed as the Brewers’ No. 8 prospect by Baseball. America the year of its debut.

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Lorenzo Cain of the Brewers gets hugged by George Kottaras and Corey Hart (1) during the 2010 season after hitting his first major league home run.

Traded to Kansas City before 2011 in a deal that brought Zack Greinke to Milwaukee, Cain has established himself as one of the centerpieces of Royals teams that have won back-to-back American League pennants and a World Series. in 2015. He was named ALCS MVP in 2014 and hit .271 in 12 Fall Classic games.

When he became a free agent after 2017, the Brewers lined up on his doorstep, offering a five-year, $80 million deal. Cain immediately fulfilled his contract, earning an all-star nod in 2018 as the Brewers came within a game of the World Series. Cain finished seventh in MVP voting, the second time in his career he was in the top 10; he finished third in the AL MVP race in 2015.

Cain never imagined himself in MVP races or chasing a Gold Glove award like he did in 2019, mostly because that’s just not how he’s wired.

“For me, I’ve never been a goalscoring guy,” Cain said. “I feel like if you set goals, you put that limit on yourself. Or, if you don’t reach that goal, you get a little depressed. The one thing I always focused on was stay healthy and let everything else take care of itself.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who has reached the 10-year service mark as a player, said Cain’s ability to adapt to what the league was trying to do to him throughout his career is what stands out most about its longevity.

“I think it’s always you making adjustments,” Counsell said. “It’s a big thing. You always have to make adjustments as a big league and if you make it 10 years you had to make a whole bunch of adjustments because the league is always trying to find a way out of you or health is trying to find a way to knock you out.

“So you’re here as a player trying to find a way to combat all of that. And if you have spent 10 years, you have done a very good job.

Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain has struggled at the plate this season, but has taken on his role on the bench in stride.

Cain’s biggest adjustment came against sliders and two-seam fastballs, a weakness that early in his career pitchers attacked relentlessly.

“I had to find a way to get rid of it or find a way to hit,” Cain said.

Who did he go with?

“I kind of tried to split the difference,” Cain said with a laugh. “I’m still chasing him a bit, but for the most part I was able to lay him off just enough to be 10 years on the show.”

Cain’s 2022 season hasn’t gone the way he or the Brewers would have hoped. He entered Saturday batting .179 with a .465 OPS and was relegated to an off-the-bench role most days, something Cain, a consummate teammate and vital clubhouse presence, accepted without disdain.

Cain again acknowledged ahead of Friday’s game in Cincinnati that 2022 could be his last season as a player. He’s still undecided, he says, but with three boys at home, there’s a strong pull in that direction.

“It’s always a wait-and-see approach, but there’s probably a good chance this will be my last year,” Cain said. “I have my days some days where I’m like, ‘Aw, this is going to be senior year. Then I have days where I say, ‘OK, I’ll be back for another one.’

Whether Cain hangs them up this offseason, he has achieved one of baseball’s most respected longevity milestones among players and coaches.

The tangible benefits of reaching 10 years in the majors are significant, even for someone like Cain who signed a lucrative free agent contract. When a player reaches 10 years of service, they become fully invested in the MLB Players Association pension. It guaranteed a minimum of $68,000 a year to retired players and up to $220,000 if they waited until they were 62.

It’s a celebrated milestone in the league, and for good reason, though Cain would prefer nothing fancy and no attention given to him.

“I’m not trying to do anything special, so I don’t want anyone to make a fuss about it,” he said. “You know me, I’m a quiet guy and I don’t want a lot of attention. I just want to get to 10, enjoy it, say I did it and that’s about it.

There was no cake or balloons or other trappings in the Brewers clubhouse, but instead bad news for Cain. What was more, however, was an endless amount of respect and appreciation for Cain’s career.

“It’s a career that a lot of people dream of,” Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich said. “Ten years in the major leagues is a long time. What, 20,000 people have played this game, and I don’t know how many people are 10 years old but that’s not a lot. It’s something you can be proud of. You can rest your hat on it: World Series champion and 10 years in the Show.

“It’s a really big deal.”

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