This is a very late entry, seeing as how the Cubs Series wrapped up on Thursday, but there is good reason for the lateness. For the sake of professional courtesy and space I will not go into it, but accept my apologies in advance.
With that being said, I have a confession to make, Dear Readers. Until Thursday, it had been two years – give or take – since I had gone to see the Brewers in person.
It is an unfortunate condition of moving away from home that one can rarely find the time to return. Especially if the place you moved to is less desirable than the place from which you originated. This is my curse for leaving Milwaukee to the Fox Valley. But the curse notwithstanding, my opportunity to see the Brewers play live came to me during their recent home stand against the Cubs. I was accompanied by my sister Caitlin, her boyfriend/my best friend Chris (don’t ask), his sister – lovingly referred to as SB, and her husband Tom. We received the tickets a few weeks before the game itself – third base side, section 123. A catch of monumental proportions for a Brewers/Cubs series. Even though we knew we would be surrounded by the ‘enemy’ we were excited nonetheless.
Everyone agreed that we wanted the entire ballgame experience. This meant an early tailgate, which meant that Chris, Cait and myself would need to leave Oshkosh at roughly 8:30 AM. Tom and SB live in the Chicago area, so their departure would mimic ours. A long day of work on Wednesday, followed by perhaps a beer or two too many made me the unhappiest of campers on the jaunt down to Milwaukee. Still, the thought of Miller Park – aided by a few grocery store donuts, half a coffee and an energy drink was enough to keep my grumpiness to myself and nap face first against a Jeep window until we hit the Zoo interchange.
After picking up Tom and SB at a park-and-ride just outside of the State Fair grounds, we finally made the push into the Stadium Lots. We entered the parking lot on the home plate side. I don’t care how many times you do it, if you aren’t awed by the sight of Miller Park there’s something wrong with you. The massive brick, glass and iron structure screams baseball in that silly, nostalgic kind of way that makes you wish you grew up in New York in the fifties. Though the lots were only open for roughly half an hour, the tailgate was in full swing. We had to pull into the first spot of the two-car length stalls, thus ruining our plan of hiding from the sun under the trunk of the Jeep. It made it a slightly less classy affair than I would have liked, but we staked a small space of tarmac and went to work. And work we did.
Only a few memories of the tailgate yet exist in the fog of warm beer and sausages, but it was agreed by the party afterwards that it was a great success. Chris managed to beat all of us on our tiny beer pong table, we only dropped one burger on the ground (which Chris ate and, rather unsurprisingly, did not care for). After a while, we finally made our push in to the stadium which had eluded me for two consecutive seasons.
As a structure, of course, little has changed over the time I was away. That scoreboard, though. THAT SCOREBOARD. It is incredible. Despite the close seats – which were the main topic of discussion for the better part of the second and third inning – I found my self transfixed by the enormous HD display more often than the field itself. Which is kind of a shame, because there is something so special about being at a game in person. We were only 11 rows out from the Cubs dugout, and this position cemented firmly my belief that there was no way – even with an insane amount of hard work, that I would be able to play professional ball. In the fourth inning, a Brewers batter fouled a line drive into the dugout. Ryan Dempster was standing on the railing as it came in, and he and the ball disappeared in opposite directions almost simultaneously. If I was standing there, my day and the few days that followed would have been over. Later in the game, I heard some fans just below me discussing how they thought – if given an unlimited count and mostly breaking balls – they could at least foul off a major league pitcher. I took the idea and presented it to Chris who just shook his head as Wolf delivered a low 80 MPH pitch to a Cubs batter. I decided that if I had to step in, I would just pee my pants the whole time.
I feel like that kind of perspective is important to being a fan – and seeing a game at Miller Park only enhanced the wonder of the game. Watching Cody Ransom, all 36 years of him, over at third diving headfirst towards a line drive, picking it out of the dirt, righting himself and making a bee-line throw to first in time for the out just astounded me. Especially when he did it not once, but twice. Cody Ransom must be, I thought, one of the greatest baseball players ever. Even though we can all agree that he is most definitely not. The game went on like this for hours, sitting in awe of the high level of talent coupled with aimless wandering of the mind. But Miller Park has something for everyone, and we took full advantage.
We participated in all the trivia, and collectively lost a friendly bet on the oft-duplicated but never surpassed sausage race. We split down the middle between Chorizo, the season win leader, and Italian who burst into an early lead. But the Polish’s strong finish was too much for the rest of the stereotypical meat products to overcome. In the later innings, we all watched as a stout middle-aged woman was gypped out of her moment of glory during the Potowatami Casino game. You know the one, where they shuffle the hats and you need to follow which one has the ball under it? Yeah, the entire stadium saw it land under position two, only for the scoreboard to show the ball under position three. A high-defition slight of hand that smacked the entire crowd with injustice. All I’m saying is if nearly 30,000 people said it was two, there’s a chance the board was lying. I’m putting you on notice, Miller Park: you can fool some people some time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.
Also, during this entire time – a game was going on. A pretty good one at that. We saw an outstanding performance by Wolf, who was backed up by fantastic defense for most of the way. We also got free baseball, if only for one inning. Aoki made of sure of that with his second home-run of the game, a deep shot to the Dew Deck in right field which made us the happiest people in a section filled with followers of the losing team. We stayed to watch the team surround the Tokyo transplant at home field, and to see him pied in the face – interpreter too – on the big screen. Joy looks so much better in HD. We left the stadium in the long cattle drive over the pedestrian bridge and back to our car for a little sober post-game tailgating until the bike cops told us that we had we leave. It was long look left at the stadium to realize it had been far too long since I had been there, and hoping for a quick return.