Thursday, September 13, 2012
How to Be a Met Fan in Milwaukee
Disclaimer: Although I have been to Milwaukee, and saw a game at the old County Stadium, I have not been back since Miller Park opened. However, much of this information is taken from the Brewers' website, and should be accurate.
Before You Go. Milwaukee is on Lake Michigan, which makes it chilly in the winter. But this is mid-September, so heat might be more of an issue.
Perhaps not this time, though: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website, JSonline.com, is predicting low 70s for the afternoons and high 50s for the evenings. All the same, I wouldn't bring a jacket.
Getting There. Downtown Milwaukee 879 land miles from Times Square. And Miller Park is 893 miles from Citi Field. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.
Unlike some other Midwestern cities, this is a good idea if you can afford it. If you buy tickets online today, you can get Economy Super-Savers on American Airlines for $146 each way, although most flights will be over $400 each way. There are no non-stops between any of the New York area airports and General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee: You will change planes in Chicago, and you'll spend nearly as much time on the ground at O'Hare as you do in the air. The GRE bus will get you downtown in a little over half an hour.
The Milwaukee Intermodal Station, which serves both Greyhound and Amtrak, is at 433 W. St. Paul Avenue, at 5th Street. There are 3 daily Greyhound runs that will get you from New York to Milwaukee. Two require 2 changeovers. The one that only requires 1 leaves Port Authority at 10:15 PM, and includes rest stops at Milesburg, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, and Elkhart, Indiana, before arriving in Chicago at 2:30 the next afternoon (Central Time). There's an hour's wait before leaving Chicago at 3:30 and arriving in Milwaukee at 5:35. That's 20 hours and 20 minutes, counting the time change. So if you leave Port Authority at 10:15 on Thursday night, you'll arrive in Milwaukee in time for the Friday night game. You can return home at 8:05 Sunday night, although you'll have to make transfers at Chicago (10:45 PM), Cleveland (8:35 AM) and Buffalo (1:00 PM) to get back to Port Authority by 9:50 PM. Round-trip fare is $279.
Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited (formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station) leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:45 every afternoon, and arrives at Union Station at 225 South Canal Street in Chicago at 9:45 (Central Time) every morning. From there, you have to wait until 1:05 PM to get on "Hiawatha Service," which will bring you to Milwaukee at 2:34. That's 23 hours, 49 minutes. If you start this trip on Thursday afternoon in order to see the entire 3-game series, you can leave Milwaukee by Amtrak on 5:45 on Sunday afternoon, be in Chicago at 7:14, and leave Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited at 9:30 and arrive back at Penn Station at 6:35 PM on Monday. Round-trip fare is $242 -- cheaper than Greyhound.
If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is the key, until it merges with Interstate 94, which will merge with Interstate 43, but you have to worry only about I-94.
I-94 will split off from I-43 at downtown Milwaukee, and then "turn left," becoming the East-West Freeway. Take Exit 308A for Mitchell Blvd., then turn right on Frederick Miller Way (named for the found of Miller Beer; a left turn will get you onto Selig Drive, named for the Commissioner and former Brewer owner). The ballpark will be on your left.
If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, an hour and a half in Illinois, and just under an hour in Wisconsin. That's about 15 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Chicago, it should be no more than 20 hours, which would save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not on flying.
Tickets. In spite of last season's Playoff berth, the Brewers are only drawing an average of 34,800 this season, due to their tailoff. Still, that's better than they usually do. As the Brewers have no particular rivalry with the Mets, you should be able to buy any ticket you can afford.
On the Field Level (lower), Infield Boxes are $60 and Outfield Boxes are $46. On the Loge (middle), Infield Boxes are $45 and Outfield Boxes are $36. On the Terrace (upper), Boxes are $24 and Reserved are $18. Bleachers are $27.
Going In. Getting from downtown to Miller Park by public transportation is a little tricky. The Number 10 bus goes down Wisconsin Avenue, but it's closest point is a little over a mile from the stadium. You'd need to get off at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and 44th Street, under I-94, to Selig Drive. You'd make a right on Selig, and on your left will be Miller Park, and on your right is a baseball field on the site of its predecessor, Milwaukee County Stadium. Make a left on Brewers Way and proceed to the home plate gate.
Milwaukee has its bad neighborhoods, but like County Stadium, Miller Park is an island in a sea of parking, so regardless of whether you took a bus or drove, you should be safe. It points southeast, but that doesn't matter a whole lot, since you're 4 miles west of downtown and Milwaukee doesn't exactly provide a great view of skyscrapers.
Outside the ballpark, there is a sculpture titled "Teamwork," in memory of the 3 construction workers killed in the collapse of a crane in 1999. The collapse not only killed those men, but damaged the unfinished stadium so badly that its opening date had to be pushed back from April 2000 to April 2001.
Miller Park has a retractable roof. At this time of year, the roof is likely to be open, unless it gets hot -- and, as I said when citing the forecast, it probably won't. It's better for hitters with the roof closed, better for pitchers with the roof open.
Food. In Big Ten Country where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament, you would expect the Milwaukee ballpark to have lots of good options. With Wisconsin's German heritage in mind, there are Beer Carts and Brat Boys stands all over the place, and a Friday's Beer Garden at the Left Field Gate. They also serve various other sausages, as reflected in the Sausage Race.
Like Greg Luzinski in Philadelphia, Boog Powell in Baltimore, and a few others, Milwaukee has a barbecue stand operated by a club legend, in this case "Stormin' Gorman" Thomas. Gorman's Corner is behind Section 103 in right field.
There's a Fry Bar at Section 106, baked potato stands at 125 and 214, and "Hot Cheese" at 208. (Hot cheese? Grilled cheese sandwiches and cheese fries.) Big B's Diner has locations at 110 and 126, and Bernie's Clubhouse, named for Bernie Brewer, at 422
Fortunately, the ballpark has several ice cream stands. Unfortunately, the ice cream is Blue Bunny, which I suggest staying away from. Blue Bunny is so bad, it makes Turkey Hill taste like Breyer's. But there are also Dippin' Dots stands.
Team History Displays. Outside the front entrance are 5 sculptures, 4 honoring significant figures from Milwaukee's baseball history: Hank Aaron of the Braves (who also played his last 2 years with the Brewers), and Brewers owner Bud Selig (now the Commissioner), shortstop Robin Yount, and, newly dedicated, Milwaukee native and longtime broadcaster Bob Uecker.
The Brewers' retired numbers are high above center field: 4, Paul Molitor, 3rd baseman and designated hitter 1978-92; 19, Yount, shortstop-center field 1973-93; 34, Rollie Fingers, pitcher 1981-85; 44, Aaron, DH 1975-76; and the universally-retired 42 of Jackie Robinson. If you saw Mr. 3000, sorry, but Stan Ross is fictional, and while his Number 21 is not currently being worn, it has not been retired.
It appears that a Brewer must be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame to have his number retired. The only other player to have played for the Brewers and be elected to the Hall is Don Sutton, pitcher 1982-84. Although his Number 20 has been retired by the Los Angeles Dodgers, it has not been retired by the Brewers -- and anyway, Brewer fans remember it better as the number of 1973-83 center fielder Gorman Thomas. While Uecker has been elected to the broadcasters' wing of the Hall, he doesn't have a retired number, but a Number 50 hangs up there honoring his 50+ years of service to the game.
The Brewers do not have a team Hall of Fame. However, Miller Park has statues of Selig, Aaron, Yount and Uecker. Aaron, Yount, Molitor, Thomas, Selig and Uecker are also members of the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame. So are Cecil Cooper, Jim Gantner, Harvey Kuenn, Braves legends Warren Spahn and Eddie Matthews, minor-league Brewers stars Charlie Grimm and Joe Hauser, and Wisconsin-born Hall-of-Famers Kid Nichols and Addie Joss.
I do not know where the Brewers hang their notations for their 1982 American League Pennant, or their 2011 National League Central Division title. Nor is there any mention of the Braves' 1957 World Championship or 1958 NL Pennant, or the American Association Pennants won by the Triple-A version of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1913, 1914, 1936, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1951 and 1952.
Stuff. The Brewers Team Stores are located at the Home Plate and Left Field Gates. The usual items that can be found at a souvenir store can be found there.
The Brewers have been around for over 40 years now, but because Milwaukee, as a city, gets lost in the shadows not only of Chicago, 90 miles to the south, but the smaller yet higher-profile city of Green Bay, 115 miles to the north, the Brewers tend to get forgotten. They trail not only the Packers, but also the football team at the University of Wisconsin (and maybe even that school's very successful hockey program, even though Milwaukee doesn't have a hockey team) in popularity among Badger State teams. Their recent success has moved them ahead of the NBA's Bucks, though.
As a result of this, there aren't many good books about the Brew Crew. Todd Mishler wrote Baseball in Brewtown: America's Pastime in Milwaukee. It covers not just the Brewers, but their preceding Triple-A namesake, the Braves, and the teams that called the city home in the 19th Century. But it was published in 2005, and doesn't cover the recent renaissance that saw the Brewers win the NL's Wild Card in 2008 and the NL Central in 2011. Milwaukee's greatest baseball moment -- their only World Championship in the sport to date -- came when the Yankees, finding the much smaller city's over-the-top reaction to the Brewers to be comical, called Milwaukee "Bushville" (as in "bush league"), and came to regret it. This story is told in John Klima's book Bushville Wins! The Wild Saga of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and the Screwballs, Sluggers, and Beer Swiggers Who Canned the New York Yankees and Changed Baseball.
The 1957 World Series' official highlight film seems not to be in an official package sold at either Brewers or Braves games. The Brewers do have a DVD honoring their lone Pennant: Harvey's Wallbangers: The 1982 Milwaukee Brewers. Bob Uecker narrates this story about his fellow Milwaukee-area native Harvey Kuenn and his leadership of a club that had been terrible until 1977, then became a "close but no cigar" team under George Bamberger, before Bambi was fired and Kuenn was brought in, turning "Bambi's Bombers" into "Harvey's Wallbangers."
There is also The Essential Games of the Milwaukee Brewers. While there are a few bonus features on this DVD, there are only 4 games, as opposed to the standard 6: 1982 AL Championship Series Game 5, in which the Brew Crew won what is still their only Pennant; 1982 World Series Game 4, a come-from-behind victory in a Series they went on to lose in 7; September 28, 2008, a date which lives in Met infamy but in Brewer legend as they clinched the Wild Card berth by beating their arch-rivals, the Cubs; and 2011 NL Division Series Game 5, in which they beat the Arizona Diamondbacks to win a postseason series for the first time in 29 years (and only the 2nd time in their 43 years of play).
During the Game. Brewer fans, as you might expect in America's foremost brewing city, like to drink. If this were a Packer game and you were wearing Chicago Bears or Minnesota Vikings gear, you might be in trouble. If this were a UW game and you were wearing University of Minnesota gear, you might be in trouble. If this were a Bucks game and you were wearing Chicago Bulls gear, you'd probably be safe. If this were a Brewers-Cubs game, and you were wearing Cubs gear, you might be in trouble. But if it's a Brewers-Mets game, don't start anything, and they won't continue anything. Wisconsinians are good people.
Since 1973, the Brewers have had a mascot, Bernie Brewer. At County Stadium, there was a giant keg and beer stein behind center field, with a chalet next to it. Upon each Brewer home run, Bernie, a man in a costume whose big foam head had a big blond mustache, would slide down a chute from the chalet into the mug, releasing balloons. The setup was removed in 1984, but restored in 1993. A new version was installed when Miller Park opened in 2001.
The Sausage Race began in in the 1980s, as a cartoon show on the scoreboard. Live races by men (sometimes women) in 7-foot-3 sausage suits began in 1994: They would come out of the left field gate and run toward home plate. The original sausages are #1, Brett Wurst (a bratwurst in lederhosen, representing the city's German heritage); #2, Stosh (a guy in a rugby shirt, cap and sunglasses, representing Polish sausage), and #3, Guido (wearing a chef's outfit, representing Italian sausage). #4, Frankie Furter (a guy in a baseball uniform, representing standard hot dogs) was added in 1995; and #5, Cinco (a sombrero-wearing Chorizo) in 2006.
The original cartoon version was inspired by the "Dot Race" that used to appear on the scoreboard at Texas Rangers games, which also inspired the Airplane Race on the DiamondVision board at Mets games and The Great City Subway Race at Yankee games. Since then, the Rangers have returned the favor, having made the Dot Race live-action, but they are designed to resemble Texas pioneers Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and Sam Houston.
In addition, the Pittsburgh Pirates have the Great Pierogi Race, the Washington Nationals have the Racing Presidents, the Tampa Bay Rays have a race involving various Pepsi products, the Kansas City Royals race Heinz condiments, the Cleveland Indians race hot-dog toppings, the Houston Astros race Taco Bell Hot Sauce packets, the Atlanta Braves race tools sponsored by Home Depot, the Minnesota Twins race animals with a Minnesota connection; and the Arizona Diamondbacks select kids to race in hot dog suits with varying condiments.
In the 7th inning stretch, after playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," the Brewers play "The Beer Barrel Polka": "Roll out the barrel, we'll have a barrel of fun... "
After the Game. As Miller Park is separated from the city by parking, safety should not be an issue. Although Milwaukeeans like to drink, this is not a Packers or Badgers game, so you should be fine.
Unfortunately, I can find no reference to any Milwaukee bar or restaurant that caters to New York expatriates.
Sidelights. Milwaukee's sports history is long, but not especially successful, especially when you consider the distance between the city and the State's most successful sports team, the Green Bay Packers. Milwaukee County Stadium was located behind the home plate entrance to Miller Park (which was built across center field from its predecessor.
The Braves played there from 1953 to 1965, the Brewers from 1970 to 2000, and the Packers played several home games there from 1953 to 1994, first 2 out of their 6 (when the NFL had a 12-game schedule), then 2 of their 7 (14), and finally 3 of their 8 (16), plus a preseason game (an another preseason game at the University of Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium). The Packers played a Playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams at County Stadium in 1967, before winning the NFL Championship against the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field on New Year's Eve, the famed Ice Bowl.
Borchert Field. The minor-league Milwaukee Brewers played here from 1888 to 1952, at a wooden park originally named Athletic Park and renamed for former owner Otto Borchert. These Brewers were the first pro baseball team owned by Bill Veeck, from 1941 to 1945, before he moved on to the major leagues. It was at "Borchert's Orchard" that he first tried his promotional stunts, and it made Milwaukee one of the most successful minor-league markets, not just on the field but at the box office. The Brewers won 8 Pennants there, including 3 straight under Veeck (1943-45) and in their last 2 seasons of existence (1951-52) before the Braves came in.
The Milwaukee Bears of the Negro Leagues also played here, as did the Milwaukee Badgers of the NFL from 1922 to 1926, and the Packers played the occasional Milwaukee game here from 1933 to 1952. Actually, the place was better for football than for baseball. Like the Polo Grounds, it had a distant center field but foul poles that were much too close, 267 feet. An overhanging roof that covered the infield stands didn't help matters. As Veeck himself put it, "Borchert Field, an architectural monstrosity, was so constructed that the fans on the first-base side of the grandstand couldn't see the right fielder, which seemed perfectly fair in that the fans on the third-base side couldn't see the left fielder. 'Listen,' I told them. 'This way you'll have to come back twice to see the whole team.'"
Borchert stood between North 7th & 8th Streets, and Burleigh & Chambers Streets. The entire land area is now occupied by Interstate 43, the North-South Freeway, and entrance-and-exit ramps. It's in a bit of a rough neighborhood, so unless you're just that into baseball history, if you have to cross one item off your list, this is the one. Number 50 bus to Holton & Burleigh, then Number 60 bus, or walk 12 blocks west.
Milwaukee Mile. This racetrack, on the grounds of the Wisconsin State Fair in suburban West Allis, is the oldest continuously-operating auto racetrack in the world. "But Mike," you say, "auto racing is not a sport. Why are you talking about it?" Because the track's infield was used as the Packers' main Milwaukee-area home from 1934 to 1951. Seating 45,000, stadium was nicknamed the Dairy Bowl for Packer games, including the 1939 NFL Championship Game, in which the Packers beat the Giants, 27-0. The Milwaukee Chiefs of the 1940-41 version of the American Football League also played here. I don't know if this is the earliest remaining stadium to have hosted an NFL game (1933), but it's almost certainly the oldest site (racing began there in to 1903). 7722 W. Greenfield Avenue at 77th Street. Number 60 bus to 60th & Vliet Streets, then transfer to Number 76 bus.
MECCA and Bradley Center. The old and new Milwaukee arenas, across State Street from each other at 4th Street, are loaded with history. The old one, built in 1951, now known as the U.S. Cellular Arena, was originally known as the Milwaukee Arena, then from 1974 to 1995 as the Milwaukee Exposition Convention Center and Arena (or MECCA). Two NBA teams called it home: The Milwaukee Hawks from 1951 to 1955, before moving to St. Louis (and later to Atlanta); and the Milwaukee Bucks from their debut in 1968 until 1988. The Bucks played their 1971 NBA Championship season, their only title, there, although they clinched on the road in Baltimore. The Milwaukee Admirals, a minor-league hockey team, played here from 1973 to 1988, and won the 1976 United States Hockey League title. Elvis Presley sang here on June 14 & 15, 1972; June 28, 1974; and April 27, 1977. The Beatles played here on September 4, 1964. The inductees to the previously mentioned Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame are honored here in a Wisconsin Athletic Walk of Fame, which also includes Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Bucks, Wisconsin Badgers, and State natives who made it big elsewhere.
The new arena, now the BMO Harris Bradley Center, has been the Bucks' home since 1988. While they've usually been good, they haven't reached the NBA Finals since 1974 (at the MECCA) or even the Conference Finals since 2001 (at the Bradley Center). The Admirals also call the Bradley Center home, and won the 2004 Calder Cup here.
Wisconsin, let alone Milwaukee, has never produced a President -- although, at this writing, Congressman Paul Ryan is the Republican nominee for Vice President. But the Milwaukee Auditorium, built in 1909 at 500 W. Kilbourn Avenue downtown (across from the MECCA), has been one of the city's most historic sites. It's where Theodore Roosevelt, running to return to the Presidency in 1912, gave a speech on October 14. For an hour and a half. After having been shot. The shooting happened a block away, at the Hotel Gilpatrick, now the Hyatt, at 333 W. Kilbourn. Other Presidents, and men who would be, spoke at the 4,000-seat building now named the Milwaukee Theatre: William Howard Taft in 1911, Woodrow Wilson in 1916, Wendell Willkie in 1944, John F. Kennedy in 1960, Michael Dukakis in 1988, and the George Bushes, the father in 1991 and the son in 2000. Martin Luther King gave a speech there in 1964. Elvis Presley sang there on June 14, and 15, 1972.
Happy Days. Airing from 1974 to 1984 but taking place in Milwaukee from 1955 to 1965, this ABC sitcom did as much to make Milwaukee famous as beer and the Braves. A statue of Henry Winkler as Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli -- a.k.a. The Bronze Fonz -- is at 117 E. Wells Street, on the Riverwalk, across from City Hall, which will be recognized by fans of Happy Days' spinoff series, Laverne & Shirley, although the sign saying, "WELCOME MILWAUKEE VISITORS" is long-gone. The Cunningham house was said to be at 565 N. Clinton Drive, but the exterior was actually shot in Los Angeles near the Paramount Pictures studios. Both the original building used as the exterior for Arnold's, in the Milwaukee suburbs, and its replacement, in Los Angeles, have been demolished. Richie and Joanie's alma mater, Jefferson High School, was filmed at Milwaukee's Washington High at 2525 N. Sherman Blvd.
Milwaukee doesn't have museums on the level of New York, Philadelphia or Chicago, but of note is the Milwaukee Public Museum, at 800 W. Wells Street, at 8th Street downtown.
If you want to go on a brewery tour, be my guest -- or, rather, put your money down and be their guest. But I have no interest in it, so you'll have to look up your own info.
Milwaukee may not be one of America's biggest cities, but it's one of the most fun. And sports, including baseball, is a big part of it. A Brewers game is a good time, whether the team is good or not.