Cabrera's 'Melkmen' are alive in San Fran
June, 29, 2012
By Doug Williams | Special to ESPN.com
What has six heads, 12 feet, is white all over and shakes?
In Las Vegas, the answer might be a room full of Elvis impersonators.
But for anyone who has been watching Melky Cabrera stroke line drives all over AT&T Park this season, it could be only one thing...
The group of six ardent San Francisco Giants fans has adopted the outfielder as its baseball hero in his first season with the team, adding to the festival atmosphere at the ballpark by the bay. At a venue where fans already wear pandas or giraffes on their heads and fake black beards on their faces, five college students -- and one of their dads -- are showing up this season in old-fashioned milkman attire (white pants and shirts, white capped hats with “Melkman” in white on the black bands, orange bow ties and Cabrera’s No. 53 on their breast pockets) to cheer on the major league leader in hits.
“When you’re a San Francisco Giants fan, it’s what you do when you go to baseball games,” says Melkman Tyler Huffman, 22. “You get dressed up and have fun. The culture here is different.”
After all, he says, when the Giants won the World Series two years ago, “Aubrey Huff was wearing the rally thong the entire playoffs.”
So for Huffman, going to a ballgame with his best childhood buddies (and his father) dressed as matching milkmen is just part of the San Francisco vibe. It’s in the air, like the aroma of salt air and garlic fries.
“We’re a group of misfits, and that’s how it’s always going to be in San Francisco,” Huffman says of the fans at AT&T.
The Melkmen were born in a sort of spontaneous combustion one morning in late April, when Huffman and his buddies were watching on TV as their Giants played a day game against the Mets in New York.
They saw a “Got Melk?” sign in the stands (a remnant from Cabrera’s days as a Yankee when he was dubbed “The Melkman”) and it sparked an idea. They started talking, and soon they’d decided to dress up like “Melkmen” and go to a Giants game.
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireIt was a 'Got Melk' sign that inspired the Melkmen.
“It snowballed all the way into an outfit,” says Huffman. “It was really organic between all of us.”
The troupe consists of Huffman and his dad, Rawn, 48; James Knecht, 22; Thomas Davis, 21; Ivan Gutierrez, 22; and Justin Cheung, 21. All except Rawn are in college or just graduated, and all have been friends since middle school in Millbrae, Calif., where the Huffmans live.
They came up with an outfit idea, ordering the bow ties online and making their hats. Their shirts and pants (except for being white) don’t actually match.
“Really, it was like an arts-and-crafts project,” says Huffman, a journalism major at San Jose State.
Their first appearance was May 18 in a Friday-night game against the A’s. They thought it would be a one-and-done experience, but after that night they knew they had to do it again. They bought some cheap tickets and piled into a big white Denali truck (they dubbed it “The Melk Wagon”).
“A couple of us were a little apprehensive of the entire idea,” Huffman says. “You don’t know how the reception’s going to be. But we got out and immediately, once people started to understand what it was, once they saw the ‘Got Melk?’ sign, you could just see it. It would click in their head, and immediately there was just a smile, and it was like, ‘You guys are great.’ We’ve had a really awesome reception.”
One who was apprehensive was the “senior Melkman,” Rawn Huffman, an electrician. As he was getting ready that night, he had second thoughts.
“I was saying: ‘I don’t know, Ty. This is a young man’s game.’ And he said: ‘Dad, you’re coming. That’s it,’” Rawn recalls.
From the moment fans started calling out to them, Rawn Huffman says his apprehension evaporated.
“I’ve been having a blast,” he says.
That first game they never sat in their seats. They walked around the stadium cheering for the Melkman when he came up to hit and posed for photos with fans. They went to their second game about 10 days later and, counting Tuesday night’s game against the Dodgers, have now been to five home contests.
They spend some of their time in the left-field area where Cabrera plays, but mostly wander the ballpark.
“Whenever Melky’s up, we’ll pick a section and run down that section and sit with some new people and get everyone in that section pumped up and cheering and celebrate -- usually he gets a hit -- so we’ll celebrate that with them,” Tyler Huffman says. “Then we get up and continue through the stadium and wait for his next at-bat.”
When Cabrera gets a hit, the crew does “the Melkshake” -- a dance patterned after “The Bernie.”
“It has a shaking movement, so naturally the Melkshake just became the name of it,” Tyler says.
Since their debut, the Melkmen have caught on with the team -- which incorporated them into its All-Star voting campaign -- local media, fans and Cabrera himself.
Their emergence also has sparked some imitators on the road. Other fans in slightly different Melkmen unis showed up for games in Seattle and Anaheim.
Cabrera met with the Melkmen before one game and thanked them for their support. He also mentioned them in a postgame interview after their second appearance, referring to them as the “Hombres de Leche.”
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesMelkmen have spread as far south as Anaheim.
Tyler Huffman said he believes Cabrera noticed them in their first game. When they watched a replay of it, they could see him look out to the bleachers in their direction after he got a hit.
“You can see he had a grin on his face,” Tyler says.
The Giants noticed, too.
Joe Legaz, the team’s marketing and entertainment manager, said that when the team acquired Cabrera in a trade with the Kansas City Royals in the offseason, the feeling was that Cabrera’s Melkman nickname might spark something, especially if he played well.
“We were just waiting for something to spark,” says Legaz. “And these guys showed up and then it all just snapped into place.”
The team has since provided credentials for the Melkmen and asked them to help promote All-Star voting pushes for Cabrera, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan. The Giants have also talked to the Melkmen about future ideas, perhaps including a “Melkman Deliveries in 2012” sign at the park that would keep track of his hits this season (he’s on pace for nearly 230).
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThe Giants are getting serious about their Melky Cabrera All-Star campaign.
Legaz says the Melkmen just add to the atmosphere at the park, where fans have long celebrated the team’s personalities. Aside from the Melkman, Panda (Sandoval), Baby Giraffe (Brandon Belt) and the Beard (Brian Wilson), the team also has outfielder Gregor Blanco, who’s now being called the White Shark.
“So it’s only a matter of time before you see shark fins coming out,” says Legaz, who sees the nicknames and costumes fitting perfectly with the city and its “goofy and fun” relationship with its Giants.
“When you come to the ballpark you see everything,” he says. “We had a little kid dressed up in a full tuxedo, that kind Brian Wilson wore to the ESPYS. We had little kids in full panda costumes. There’s orange or black full-cut stretch suits, full-body stretch suits. It’s definitely full of energy and one of the best atmospheres in sports.”
The Giants' DNA runs deep in the Melkmen. Rawn Huffman, for instance, has been watching the team since the days of Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, and his first date with his wife, Lisa, was a Mets-Giants game at Candlestick Park in the early 1980s.
Kevin Mazur/WireImageWhen your closer looks like this, no wonder your team embraces an off-beat approach to fans.
He says Lisa and his daughter, Lindsey, 16, also are a big part of the Melkmen, helping create and care for the uniforms and signs. “Without the girls we wouldn’t be able to do it,” he says.
For now, the Melkmen are enjoying their ride on the Melky Way. They’ve been approached by apparel and chocolate companies about deals, and they love the interaction with fans. On Tuesday night, they were part of the team’s Super Tuesday All-Star voting push, where fans who cast the maximum 25 ballots were given little “Vote Melky” milk cartons.
“It’s crazy,” Tyler says. “It’s beyond our wildest expectations. ... We were saying we’ve definitely had our minds blown over and over again.”
Plus, other fans have found it handy having them around.
“One person handed us a beer and asked us to deliver it to a friend,” Tyler says, “so we walked down the stairs in a section and asked for so and so and, ‘Here’s a beer from him.’”