Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back in the High Life Again

It's exactly one month short of ten years since the last time I was in Milwaukee, which, of course, was for a baseball game. Back then, my oldest friend, Rob, and I attended a September 1998 matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers at the old County Stadium. Miller Park was under construction at the time, so we got a sneak preview of the new stadium.

The excitement surrounding that game was Mark McGwire's expansion of his own recently established single-season home run record, which was far from safe with Sammy Sosa right behind him. This year, however, the Brewers are in the thick of a playoff race, with the second best record in the National League. Going into last night's action, they were leading the wild-card race by two games over St. Louis, and trailing the division leading Chicago Cubs by 5 1/2 games.

Miller Park
Last night's game was CC Sabathia's 9th start since coming over from Cleveland in the early July trade that is looking to be the most significant mid-season trade in recent memory. Sabathia is already the most popular player in town. He received a noticeably louder pre-game ovation than both Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Very interesting, considering his tenure with the Brewers is all but guaranteed to last no more than four months before he moves on as a free agent.

My seat was in the 9th row, directly behind home plate, possibly the best seat I've ever had for a major league baseball game. Miller Park, of course, is as nicely built as any of the newer stadiums. The only factor preventing it from being among my favorites is its non-downtown location. The beauty of parks such as PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Camden Yards in Baltimore is enhanced by their downtown location and skyline views from within the stadium. Another drawback of being located outside the heart of the city is an inability to soak in a certain pre-game neighborhood atmosphere. On the other hand, not having to drive into the city is certainly an advantage, although considering this is Milwaukee, I doubt if that would be a major inconvenience.

I actually had pretty good luck finding decent beer at the stadium. Leinenkugel, the Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin-based craft brewer had a very significant presence. Of course, not surprisingly, I learned that Miller owns Leinenkugel, but the beers are still pretty good. I enjoyed two pints of Sunset Wheat and one of their Red Lager, for $6.75 each. The Sunset Wheat was a quite refreshing summer brew, although I have to admit that, by the second, I was starting to feel that it was a little too tangy for my taste. The Red Lager was solid, certainly better than Killian's Red, but far from something to write home about.

Food options, of course, included quite a few of the German variety. I opted for the local flavor, however, as I couldn't resist the urge to try a pulled pork sandwich called the Stormin' Gorman, for $6.50. It did not disappoint. Later, for $4.50, I opted for a Chicago Style Hot Dog, with "the works": pickles, relish, onions, hot peppers, tomatoes, mustard. Quite good, but a little spicy. Good thing I was on my second Sunset Wheat at that point.

I decided I wanted to buy a Corey Hart t-shirt, because of a certain fascination I had in college with a singer of the same name, when I wore a spiked haircut and rarely removed my black Ray-Ban Wayfarers. I was disappointed that I couldn't find one in my size. I was able to find mostly child sizes of his shirts, somewhat ironic considering he's 6'6". Even more ironic was the fact that a female friend of mine from Boston, who weighs about 100 pounds soaking wet, texted me to say she wanted a Prince Fielder shirt.

Miller crowd
There was definitely a buzz in the air at Miller Park on this particular night, and considering tonight's crowd of 41,991 was their 16th consecutive sellout, and franchise record 32nd of the season, it seems that it wasn't just because CC Sabathia was pitching. The Brewers won 9-3, powered by CC's 5th complete game in his 9 starts with the Brewers. Based on this, and considering that he's now 8-0, it's understandable that he's become such a fan favorite in this town. I still find it questionable that he took the mound for the 9th, already sitting on 111 pitches and with the team leading 9-2. But, the fact that he's become quite the Milwaukee folk hero, and that there is actually talk of his MVP candidacy, is easily the story of this baseball season, in my opinion.

Baseball Lesson of the Day: With runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the 6th, J.J. Hardy struck out swinging, but the ball got away from Houston catcher Humberto Quintero. Both runners advanced, and Hardy ran to first, but the home plate umpire quickly indicated, correctly, that he was out. A father and son sitting next to me pondered this play. The father suggested to his son, "I think he can't go to first because of the runners, but I'm not sure". At that point, I turned to them and explained, "With two outs or less, and first base occupied, the batter is out". The father's reply, to his son, "See, you should listen to your dad more often".

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