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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Miller Park -- Vacation, Day 5

Despite the fact that the baseball I knew as a kid has been corrupted so badly by the league and its droolingly stupid/Montgomery Burnsianly greedy players and owners, I went to see a baseball game over my vacation. I went with my brother-in-law Mark to Miller Park, the 3-years-or-so old stadium that my boyhood team, the Milwaukee Brewers, play in. I never got the chance to see a game there, since we moved to Dallas the summer it opened. But I was always curious -- was it the dump I'd always expected them to build?

Driving past it on Hwy 94, as I have several times the past 3 years, it looks mighty Gothamesque, as if it were lifted from Tim Burton's original Batman movie. It doesn't help that there's nothing around it but parking lots. But it is a giant steel monstrosity, towering over the dirt clods and roads around it like the death star towers over space. Not that it's possible to tower over space, but you get the idea. It's impressive, and not altogether unattractive, in an industrial sort of way.

A big part of the stadium's bleak industrial aura comes from its height. Because of the silly three-tierd "retractable" roof, and the fact that the seats come in 4 decks that basically go straight up from the field, Miller Park towers. It looks way higher than the other 2 "modern" stadiums I've been to, The Ballpark in Arlington and New Comisky Park. Those guys don't have the unnecessary roof, so they were free to design less vertically and ominously. And at Miller park, between the roof and the seats is a large window, so that you could turn around and theoretically see the industrial blight that is north and west of the stadium if you were sitting in the last row of the upper upper upper deck (4th deck). Why you'd want to do that, I don't know. If they would have built it in downtown Milwaukee, you could have faced the windows out to Lake Michigan and towards the Milwaukee skyline. But, they didn't, and it's not like you can just tear it down and move it, so there's no use crying over really stupid decisions that happened in the past and can never be reversed. I mean, think about Tony Mandarich. Or on second thought, don't. That's my point -- it'll just drive you crazy, and the bad thing will still have happened.

We drove into the vast parking lot -- perfect size for tailgating, I might add -- and parked where the people in the orange vests told us to. There are no convenient pole markers (i.e. A-1 or something) to find the car later, so you just have to remember where you are. Approaching the stadium on foot, I recognize a lot of amenities from the other modern stadiums: restaurants, gift shops, extra-curricular stuff to do, etc. I am struck again by how tall the thing is. We get in a short line for tickets on this Friday night and get $10 bleacher seats. It's a pretty steep price for a bleacher seat, especially since the Brewers are crappy. But now I'm just whining. We enter the ballpark.

The main cool thing about Miller Park -- besides Bernie Brewer and the Sausage Race, of course -- is the open-air feel you get when walking on the concourse. You can walk down either base line and stop and watch the game behind a railing or at some tables they set up behind the regular seating. There aren't tunnels to walk through to get to the action. This is extremely cool, although I don't know exactly why I think that. I guess if you're sitting in a section you don't like, you can get up and walk around for a while and look at stuff and still see all the "action" (putting that word in quotes because it's the Brewers) on the field. And you can walk all the way around the stadium, which in the history of Milwaukee baseball stadiums is an astronomical advancement (back at the old stadium the bleachers were a section unto themselves, sealed off from the "civilized" seating, probably because they didn't want somebody paying $5 for a bleacher seat and then moving to a $30 box seat later).

I'm serious, it's soooooo cool. Pretty much the whole concourse has a view of the field. Why aren't other stadiums like this? Maybe the super-new ones are.

So, we sat down in our bleacher seats after strolling around the park, and I discovered the 2nd vast improvement over County Stadium -- the bleachers have backs. And there I was, ready to have a sore back for a few days. Ahh, modern technology. Anyway, the bleachers were pretty packed with people, because people in Milwaukee have no money. The announced attandance was like 23,000 or so, which is about half full. So the 4 non-bleacher decks had people in them, but were not packed. The crowd was civil, and the cheering restrained. You could barely hear any enthusiasm as the home team was introduced. Now, this is something that may offend the sports fan, or "nut", but it's something that I totally understand. Let me explain:

When you cheer, you make an emotional investment in a team. And nobody wants to make an emotional investment in a team working on its 12th straight losing season with no hope of winning the World Series or even getting to the playoffs in the near future, much less right now. There is no hope. The Brewers fans are resigned. And without hope, there is no cheer. Or, to put it another way,
With Donald Fehr, there is no cheer, there is only beer.
With a Collective Bargaining Agreement designed to screw the fans, instead of cheering the they all work on their tans.
Ok, so that needs work. Or a complete overhaul. Kind of like baseball.

But Milwaukee fans especially have been burned so much by bad teams with high expectations -- see the 2001-2002 Bucks, for example -- that they only cheer when they know their team has a chance to succeed. Plus, most are reserved by nature. There's not a lot of heckling and yelling, unless the Cubs are in town. And in that case it's just a pride thing for them to be louder than the stinky Cubs fans that fill the stadium out. It takes so much effort to cheer. Tell the Brewers to do something first, and then we'll cheer, says the Milwaukee fan.

Behind us were a group of 3 of the class of human known as the "business jerk". Now, I realize that this is what many men aspire to be, but I must admit these people drive me insane. They went on and on about the quality of the women sitting around them, many of whom were clearly in high school. And I don't really mean "quality", I mean something much more hormonal. The word "piece" was used to describe what appeared to be a 15-year-old. The word "blackie" was used, though only to describe a teen who had died her hair black, as in, "whoa...look at that blackie down there." Charming.

And then he went on to talk about his wife wanting another kid, and at that point I think I ate my own arm, I don't remember. The three were fascinated by a woman with a mullet in the front row. They started to yell "mullet" at her because they were at heart soulless bullies, and I don't want to spend any more time on them, because in judging them, I become that which I hate. Namely, them. But one of them did have a funny bit where he would boo Brewer spare 3rd baseman Wes Helms, who sucks (but in fairness to him, it's the Brewers who should be booed for having a spare like him on the team) eggs. I mean, he's your starting 3rd baseman and he's hitting like .250 with 2 homers. That's the kind of thing that will keep you in last place for 12 years. And I understand the booing, the turning of Wes Helms into a symbol for all that is wrong with the Brewers. It's the no hope thing again. I started to feel sorry for this fan, this boisterous business jerk, until the next time he pointed out a girl who, if what he was contemplating in his mind were to have occurred, would have opened him up to some serious legal trouble, some of which may rhyme with matutory mape. But I'm sure he loves his wife.

The game itself could have come in a brown package labeled "Brewers Game" in black stencil lettering, it was that generic. 4-2 Brewers loss, no offense to speak of, the pitching was good except for a couple of bad pitches with resulted in home runs. One good thing about this sort of game is the brevity of it. It took 2:40 to get through, which I found amazing. That's about the perfect length of time for a baseball game. I'm used to Texas Ranger games, where at 2:40 you're wondering what song they're going to play for the 7th inning stretch. So, bravo Brewers. Your lack of offensive punch makes for a good baseball product.

The traffic after the game was nearly non-existent, because the parking lot is really well-designed. In fact, the city of Milwaukee's streets are well-designed in general, and that is helped by the fact that everybody who can is moving out of Milwaukee and into the suburbs. Having grown up in the suburbs, I can see why. My wife doesn't understand this, but I really love Milwaukee, even with its crappy economy and sports teams. This really deserves its own column, but there are things I took for granted growing up in Wauwatosa, and in Wisconsin, thatI miss here in the big dumb hot dry Southern city of Dallas. Miller Park is a pleasant addition to the city, and I hope to see more games there, even if they do involve business jerks and Wes Helms.

Final observations:

  1. The experience felt more like an NBA game than a baseball game, complete with wacky felt-covered mascot (Bernie Brewer) who did antics in the crowd; an enthusiastic blonde babe(who's belittling women now, me?) with an unmistakable Wisconsin accent who did reports from the crowd on the scoreboard (like birthday boys, contests, and other annoying things); a slinky dance team (!); and different intro music for each player.
  2. The fireworks and "Get Up, Get Up, Get Outta Here, Gone" sign (ripped from Brewer announcer Bob Uecker's famous home run call) are nice, but why doesn't Bernie slide into a giant beer mug? Are cost controls so tight that they can't afford this anymore? I tell you what, if I get rich, I'm making this happen.
  3. It would help (the business jerk situation) if teen girls dressed a little less like prostitutes. Oh, who am I kidding? "Blackie" was practically in a nun's outfit. Sorry. Just thinking out loud. So to speak.
  4. They have this contest where you can watch the game from a recliner right behind the first level of the bleachers. This is a sliced-bread-level invention -- it's that cool. They used to have a hot tub in that spot, according to bro-in-law Mark, which is an even better invention.
  5. What did people do before sliced bread, just tear some off? Unless they mean pre-sliced bread, like at the store. That must be it. See apology for no. 3.
  6. There is no number 6.
  7. <>
    The Sausage race is awesome. Really, TV doesn't do it justice. It's genius. People in giant foam sausage costumes running around the stadium. The thing is, one of them was so far ahead of the others -- it's not like those "dot races" or whatever that they have on scoreboards, where they keep changing whatever dot was in the lead. Here, the hot dog was a hot dog not only in costume but also in style -- he (she? it?) slaughtered the other 3 meats-in-sheepskin. It was over 10 steps into it. But it was still awesome.

    One cannot have a discussion of Miller Park without remembering how it got built in the first place. The story goes: Bud Selig, Brewers owner, wanted to build a new stadium using the Brewers own money in like the late 80's. This was before the stadium rush of the 90's, and for some reason the ball never got rolling. By the time it did, baseball's economic situation had started to become insane, and the Brewers figured out that in order for them to compete monetarily at all they would have to build a new stadium with luxury boxes, paid for mostly by the public. What a difference 5 years made. People were freaking out, saying no way, until slowly but surely Bud got community leaders and decision makers to support his plan. The most important of these was Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, who was just popular enough to make it work at the state level rather than the county level.

    The amount of money the Brewers wanted -- over 200 mill. -- was huge by Wisconsin standards, and there was a huge fight in the state legislature about it. There was a campaign for the deal by Bud and Tommy and seemingly the entire Milwaukee media. John Norquist, the mayor of Milwaukee, had the one and only good idea of his entire tenure when he proposed they put the stadium downtown, and he was quickly silenced by the Brewers. The Brewers for some reason wanted the new stadium in the same place as the old one -- in the desolate flats of the menomonee valley. It made no sense, but this was a state deal, and Norquist had no power. There was much support for the deal in Milwaukee County, and a few of the surrounding counties, but the people in the outlying areas didn't want it, even though only 5 counties in Wisconsin would be paying for it. The people in Northern Wisconsin hate Milwaukee so much that Tommy Thompson had to go out there and give his famous "stick it to Milwaukee" speech to convince them to support a stadium that they wouldn't even be paying for. But the real trouble was in one of the 5 paying counties, namely Racine.

    A state senator named George Petak said repeatedly that there was no way that he was going to vote for it, because the people of Racine County didn't want a .01 increase in the sales tax -- no way, they said. So it finally came to a vote, and Bud got his stadium by a one-vote margin in the senate. They had stayed up until like 3am arguing about the plan, with people attaching riders to it and so on, and Tommy using his line item veto with great skill. Finally, one vote short and with no end in sight, George Petak himself switched sides (when nobody else would) and was the deciding vote for it to get through.

    Well, Racine, as you might guess, was ticked off like it never had been before, and they recalled his butt and in his place elected the most toad-like evil politician ever to grace Madison -- Kim Plache. It was at this point that my friends and I started referring to Racine as "Plachetown" (pronounced PLOCK-ee-town). But this is the way Bud Selig works, you see -- he gets amazing things done, but somebody always pays the price for it. Think of George Petak whenever you see the current Baseball Commisioner Bud Selig talk. I wonder if Bud ever thinks of George?


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