The Brewers' retractable-roofed Miller Park, lighting up the Milwaukee night.
Day 3 brought us east to Milwaukee, birthplace of Willie Wonka (Wilder, not Depp), setting of American Movie, and home to the MLB team formerly known as the Seattle Pilots. The Brewers were hosting the Indians in an interleague affair at Miller Park, which was ranked No. 1 in SI.com's 2005 Fan Value Index. This trip, however, has nothing to do with value. By Luke Winn
MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Custom dictates that you arrive early at Miller Park, but never to take in B.P. You're supposed to drive your well-packed auto into the Brewers' asphalt sea, park it hours before game time, and unload the vital provisions: Lawn chairs. Card table. Assorted sausages. Chips. Grill. Charcoal. Lighter Fluid. Cooler. Canopy, if you're big-league. It's the greatest tailgating scene in all of the majors -- a blue-collar bash on the grave of old County Stadium, which was torn down in 2001 -- and skipping it would mean missing the point of attending a game here.
Amateurs: Our parking lot setup.
We exited I-94 onto Miller Park Way two hours before the 6:05 start time, with mid-90s heat bearing down on the lot … and were still beaten there by thousands of 'gaters. Rah-rah baseball spirit has been tempered by 13 years without an over-.500 club, so you're judged less by your Brewers knowledge than by the depth of your tailgating arsenal. As nomads, ours was embarrassingly weak (lowlighted by a $15, assembly-required mini-grill), but after last night in the Duck Blind, we decided to focus more on observation than participation. As field scientists, here were our primary conclusions:
1. The current rage in Wisconsin sport: underhanded tossing. We received a strong sign of the popularity of this athletic genre in the Brewers lots, when both of our tailgating neighbors, independent of each other, had brought homemade, wooden "tossing" equipment. The guys on the left of us had little boxes for "Washers" (in which you throw actual washers), while the guys on the right had larger boards for Cornhole (played with beanbags). The basic concept -- competition that encourages drinking, with minimal physical effort -- perfectly suits this crowd. It took me less than 500 total paces to compile this montage of libatious lobbers:
2. Ask a beer-bellied, over-40 fan about Brewers history, and he will inevitably tell you a tale from 1982. We met a foursome of friends from Sheboygan, Wis., who were such tailgating veterans they had their own mascot -- a faded, stuffed bear -- and plenty of stories told in thick 'sconsin dialect. "Tony," we'll call him, to protect his identity, was a high-schooler when the Crew claimed the '82 ALCS over the Angels. It was, he said, surreal -- the only time he'd ever seen fans rush the County Stadium field. "Were you out there?" we asked. "Oh yeah, I was out there," said Tony, with a massive grin. "I smoked a joint at shortstop."
This, I said, was the ultimate teenage tribute to Robin Yount. All I ever did as a young Brewers fan was hang his "The Man Who Made Milwaukee Famous" poster over my bed.
Captain Ron. Or just Ron. Whatever.
Tony's pal Ron chimed in with a non-illicit memory of Rockin' Robin, who's now a bench coach with the Brew. Ron was in the stands for Milwaukee's packed welcome-home party after it fell to St. Louis in the World Series -- the Brew's one and only trip to the Fall Classic. "Yount came out on his wheels [his trademark motorcyle], did a wheelie down third-base line, parked it and said, 'I don't know what's up with you people, but I thought we lost!'" Ron said. "The crowd went freakin' crazy!" Dan bummed a smoke from these guys -- all four were packing -- in exchange for letting them examine his bottle, a Madison microbrew. All holding Bud cans, they passed it around with curiosity, sipped it, and offered a consensus opinion: "tastes like beer."
We'll hold their group photo ('cause of the joint), and run one instead of my favorite tailgating setup of the evening. Nothing elaborate, nothing classy -- not in the least -- but beautiful in its own way. Their pickup truck was blasting Zeppelin, one guy was wearing a Zeppelin T-shirt, and their area was accessorized with an American flag and a cutout of a Corona girl. "That's my girlfriend," said the guy in the red, pointing at Miss Cardboard. "But she's kind of a b----." Enjoy:
Day 3: Milwaukee From Walken To A Walkoff
Milwaukee's retro video-game graphics.
Lest you worry that we weren't actually watching the games -- although that was partially the case in Madison -- we assure you we were paying attention. We kept score like purists, even noting down the winner of the sausage race (hot dog) in the margin. Our final inning in Milwaukee was strangely thrilling:
• Miller Park's version of the "Rally Monkey," I guess, was its airing of the "More Cowbell" SNL sketch before the Brewers' half of the ninth, and then segueing out of it with Ozzy for an extra punch. I dearly miss the organ playing "Charge," but Walken/Ozzman was the perfect cocktail to rile up these fans.
• With one out in the bottom of the ninth, the Brewers trailing 2-1, and Geoff Jenkins at the plate with the bases loaded and the crowd on its feet, a fan near us was repeatedly shouting, "You can do it, Geoff!" Such raw, wholesome encouragement is never heard at a Yanks or Mets game -- and Jenkins actually did it, ripping a walkoff single. I looked over at Dan and laughed -- he had the foresight to don his silly Favre jersey for a second straight day, and we exit the park with him accepting compliments for the QB's doppelganger, Jenkins.
Road Trip All-Star No. 3: Allen H. Ninfo, Guard At Bernie's Gate
From the top: Allen blocking the way; a long-distance view of his post.
These thoughts, I think, cross the mind of most devious drunks in the vicinity of the left-field bleachers at Miller Park: Could I sneak up to Bernie Brewer's slide? And what happens if I make it?
Those who take action usually run into Allen H. Ninfo, the no-nonsense dude who's been guarding the stairs up to Bernie's bachelor pad (officially, his "Dugout," but who knows what goes on up there) for the past six years.
"People offer me all kinds of stuff [to gain passage]," said Allen. "A guy said he had a million-dollar business, and he'd give it to me if he could just get on the slide. And girls have tried to shake their stuff." Do you let them through, at least, we asked? "No. But people have made it. The last guy who snuck up was fined $474 for trespassing."
We offered him his own picture on SI.com. He still said no deal. We're nice guys, so we put it up anyway. Next time, Allen. Next time. -- Luke Winn