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Miller Park Memories: The All-Star Game

This year marks the ten year anniversary of Miller Park, one of the greatest ball parks in the Majors. I love Miller Park, and when the season started I wanted to give it a special tribute by recalling some of my favorite times spent under the Green Dome and encouraging you readers to share the same. This is finally the first installment of that segment.

The Major League Baseball All-Star Celebration is, in my opinion, one of the best in sports. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but there is something about this week that always gets me excited. Maybe it’s the Home Run Derby, or the fact that we get to see these athletes actually having fun with one another. Maybe it’s the history of the game or seeing one star dominate over his peers. Maybe it’s the fact that now the game actually does mean something.

Of course that wasn’t always the case. But now, I feel forever connected with the newly-found importance of the Midsummer Classic, and it connects me even closer to Miller Park. That’s because nine years ago I was there when Miller Park and Milwaukee hosted the 2002 All-Star Game.

In the summer of 2002, there was not a whole lot for Brewers fans to cheer about. The team was halfway to a dismal 56-106 record, which was good enough for last place in nearly every division in baseball – a record which missed being the worst in the league by only one game (thank you, Detroit and Tampa.) But there was still excitement brewing around Milwaukee, because the Midsummer Classic was being staged at the brand new Miller Park, one of the most innovative and attractive stadiums yet built for Major League Baseball. It was a chance for Milwaukee to show off its relevance and pride for every baseball fan in the country – including one young kid from the suburbs.

I remember my mom telling me that she received some tickets for the festivities through her work. Needless to say, I was pretty jacked up about the whole affair. For some reason, I remember being disappointed that I would not be able to watch the Legends and Celebrity Softball Game in person, but would instead only get to see the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game. To this day, I cannot fathom why I would be excited to watch Kenny Mayne try to field grounders for an afternoon when I wasn’t even old enough to drink the insane amount alcohol necessary to sit through that game.

I remember my dad was more excited than any of us to see the Home Run Derby. We had high in left field, right in the neighborhood of Bernie’s Dugout (which if you remember to 2002, made a wonderful water collection spot for the hole in the roof).  The whole drive there (and back) my dad told us about the physics of hitting a baseball disgustingly long distances and told us stories of watching big hitters like Hank Aaron when he was our age.

Sosa at the 2002 HR Derby: "Guys, I swear it's not corked!"

The Derby itself was a spectacle. It was a lasting monument to pre-Mitchell Report baseball. Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Lance Berkman, Alex Rodriguez, Torii Hunter, Paul Konerko and our own hometown boy Richie Sexson. These guys looked giants – even from the 400 sections. I cheered hard for Richie, and he made it competitive into the second round but got beat out by Giambi and Sosa. Bonds and Sosa both hit balls out of the panels in left-center and on to the walkways outside. Sosa hit ball into the scoreboard – literally, it stuck in the scoreboard – that would probably still be making its descent were it not for pesky things like stadium walls. Steroids or no steroids, for someone to hit the ball the way those guys did that night is something I will never forget.

 

The Home Run Derby was one of the coolest things I will ever see in my life, but the All-Star Game itself was what I was really excited about. I can only remember a few things about it, most of the details of the game got lost in the flood of rage that followed shortly after. The game started out in awesome fashion: a collection of Milwaukee legends, Warren Spahn, Hank Aaron, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor threw out the first pitch. I’ll admit it, I swooned ever so slightly. I won’t even discuss the National Anthem debacle, but we should have seen it as an ominous sign of things to come.
Everyone in the stadium got one of those obligatory giveaway bags/seat cushions (which I still have along with the tickets and other assorted garbage purchased for me by my parents), and Ted Williams’ number nine was unveiled in left field. It was an experience I would now describe as transcendent, overwhelming or emotionally charged. All my sixteen year-old vocabulary could come up with was “pretty cool” – what a waste.

During the game, I got to see some spectacular play. Torii Hunter robbed Barry Bonds of a home run, and then Barry playfully picked him up in the outfield. Later we would probably speculate that trying to throw an outfielder in a German Suplex is a clear sign of ‘roid rage – but boys will be boys, you know. It was also a very cool experience to see the crowd go nuts for Brewers Richie Sexson and Jose “Who the hell is that guy?” Hernandez when they got their chances to play. The fact that an entire city treats two All-Star reserves like Hall-of-Famers was the real testament to the kind of fan base we have here in Milwaukee.

The historic part of this All-Star Game wasn’t the roster or celebration or the stadium it was played in, it was the ending – or lack thereof. We were sinking in our seats by the top of the eleventh inning, hoping for someone – anyone – to make a play to end this game. It was humid under the dome that night, and there was a growing rabble of bored people in our section. I’ll admit it – I was one of them. I just wanted to see someone win at that point, I’d seen everything else that day. The two teams had ran through everyone on their roster by the time the eleventh inning was getting started, and I think they would have kept going if they could have brought up some guys from AAA faster. Then the announcement came through the loudspeakers, which I remember sounding something like this:

Ladies and gentlemen, Major League Officials have decided that if no runs are scored through the bottom of the eleventh inning, the All-Star Game will end in a tie. Please stick around after the game to watch us deface other cherished moments in Major League History by setting fire to Ted Williams’ number in the outfield and peeing on game-worn jerseys brought from the Hall of Fame. Major League Baseball thanks you for attending the 2002 All-Star Game.

Needless to say, this did not go over well with the fans.

Now at this age, I was not unaccustomed to hearing large bouts of swearing. After all, I had helped my dad build dozens of home projects by this time. But the pure, unadulterated anger coming out of these people was almost unbelievable. The man across the aisle from me had a list of nearly three dozen things he’d like to see Bud Selig insert into various places on his body. My older brother and I spent most of the eleventh inning switching between shouting miscellaneous outrage towards the field and laughing uncontrollably at the furious fans in the seats around us.  Finally, Benito Santiago looked in the third strike to end the 2002 All-Star Game in a 7-7 tie. No MVP was given out, and the game ended in Miller Park like so many did that year, with thousands of Milwaukee fans exiting disappointed.

For years I hated that game’s very existence. How could Bud Selig do that to the franchise he created and grew for so many years? I hated everything involved in that game – I broke the PlayStation Demo game for MLB 2K2 (it was part of that seat cushion swag) in half about a week after I got it. Eventually, like with all traumatic experiences, you learn to move past it and see how it helped you grow. For me, I still got to witness an All-Star Game in person. I saw some of the best players in the league at the height of their careers. I saw how an entire nation of baseball fans poured into Milwaukee and how many of them admired our stadium and our city. I also saw how baseball bungled a major production, but it turned it into something distinctive and meaningful for the players and fans – at least on the surface.

It might not be filled with great memories, but my All-Star experience in Miller Park is certainly one that I will never forget. If you have any memories of the Milwaukee All-Star Game, feel free to share them with us in the comments below. I hope everyone enjoys this All-Star game, especially because I have the night off of work so that means I will also be live blogging the event. Come back in a few hours and help me cheer on the National League All-Stars!

 

 

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