Brewers irked by Cards' seating chart
Seat allocation at Busch Stadium: Change for the better or more gamesmanship?
ST. LOUIS -- For the past few days, players, coaches and team officials on the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals have been trying to squash the notion that the dislike between these two division rivals is anything extraordinary. The hype, they collectively have said, is mostly a media creation, and somewhat of an affront to how both teams take their jobs seriously, professionally.
"I think it's really a disservice to the competition," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said after Game 1 of their National League Championship Series. "I think there are even some fans, or media, that are going to be disappointed if there isn't some crap flying in this series, and that's a shame. I don't want our players and their players to be egged on, and I don't think they will. We're going to play as hard and good against each other as we can."
And through the first two games, it seems both teams have. But on the eve of Game 3, with the NLCS tied at 1-all, there is no denying that the Cardinals have irked some in Milwaukee's organization over the past few days with a decision that some feel is a potential threat to the safety of their family members.
"I've never seen or heard anything like this before," one veteran player said.
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The veteran player is referring to the Cardinals' decision to not give the Brewers a dedicated family section in the stands during the games here in St. Louis this week. On the surface, most fans and media probably don't care about something that happens behind the scenes that doesn't impact the game. But with the tensions (perceived or not) already a bit raised for this series, and after hearing about what happened to some family members of the Texas Rangers in the playoffs last year (when fans at Yankee Stadium spilled beer and spit on some of the players' wives), the players said there is a legitimate concern.
"You know I think it's bush [league]," Brewers center fielder Nyjer Morgan said. "Our families, they've got to be secured. It's kind of garbage. We put their [families] in a secure section and then they want to spread ours out. I don't know why they play the mental games, but that right there, they shouldn't play the games right there because that's our family and our family has got to be secure. But that's just them, that's how they operate right there I guess."
The Brewers allotted tickets to family members of the Cardinals in a section behind the nets behind home plate -- to shield them from foul balls -- for the first two games of the NLCS this week in Milwaukee. The Cardinals, who had the same policy in the first round for the families of the Phillies, are not extending the same courtesy.
Instead the family section of allocated tickets -- roughly 130 to 150 tickets -- will be in three party suites down the right-field line, with indoor and outdoor seating and food and beverage. One of the issues is that the other 200 or so tickets for family members and friends are spread throughout the ballpark. That is a concern for the players.
You know I think it's bush [league]. Our families, they've got to be secured. It's kind of garbage. We put their [families] in a secure section and then they want to spread ours out” -- Brewers center fielder Nyjer Morgan
But is it a form of gamesmanship by St. Louis, which some Brewers believe? Or standard operating procedure, a method to ensure the Cardinals are honoring their season-ticket holders with the best possible seats during the postseason?
"I understand it's a very competitive series," said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who was aware of the Brewers' dissatisfaction. "Obviously we play each other because we're in the same division and things can get heated up. But as far as ticket allocation and things of that nature, I don't think any of this is part of gamesmanship. I think, frankly, is what we were trying to accomplish is providing them with a great atmosphere to watch the game in a protected environment."
It is just another example of a divide. Before this series even started, MLB was on alert about tensions spilling onto the field. Joe Torre, MLB's vice president of baseball operations, had a chat with both managers before Game 1, reminding them to not let it escalate.
While the latest issues with the seats may seem inconsequential, the Brewers were upset enough that they alerted the players' union about it, seeking a way to have the family members sit in one section somewhere behind home plate. During the regular season this is standard practice -- including at Busch Stadium. The benefit? That if there are any problems, there is dedicated security able to assist any family members. While most wives, children and extended family aren't recognizable, there are some instances in which a few are. With alcohol, passion and other factors at play -- especially during the playoffs, when emotions are usually heightened -- the last thing the players want, they said, is to have to worry about a thing like seating charts.
"When [I worked for] the Rangers we were told not to wear Rangers' gear, and go in and enjoy the game," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "That's not the way it should be. But you'd like to feel safe at the ballpark. That's more of an MLB issue, more of a players' union issue."
The Brewers consulted with the union this week, and people within the ticketing department at MLB also were made aware of the Brewers' concerns. But the seat allocation is not part of the collective bargaining agreement, instead it is a postseason protocol that clubs must adhere to. The Cardinals say they have been doing this for years and this is the first time a club has complained. Chris Narveson, the Brewers' players' union rep, called it a discrepancy between the two organizations.
"We're there to play baseball and you just want to make sure your family is safe in [the] stands so you don't have to worry about them during the game," Narveson said. "It's a tough situation because you don't want to make it into too big of a deal, but at the same time when you're on the field, you don't want to have to worry about it."
While the calls to the union and MLB will likely not affect any real change, the method by the Cardinals is just another example of the little things behind the scenes that irk other players around the league, multiple Brewers said. But at least one Milwaukee player said he could understand from a financial perspective why the Cardinals would spread the families out.
"I think I'm probably in the minority," he said. "I don't mind it but it would be nice if they had seats for our families behind the net."
Melvin said it would be his recommendation that the families not wear any Brewers clothing, but that he hadn't relayed that to his players. He added it was his understanding the issue had been settled. He was asked whether this was another part of the ongoing narrative between these two teams and their mutual dislike for one another.
"I don't know. There's been a lot of talk about all of that," he said. "I think we're two very professional organizations who are very competitive on the field. I haven't noticed where it's gotten to that point in the stands."
While St. Louis fans have the reputation of being among the best in baseball, Melvin and the players conceded that it is better to err on the side of caution. And while the suites could be seen as an upgrade by some, in this instance, it has the Brewers perturbed that some of their attention was focused on dealing with the logistics about the safety of their families.
"It's a family environment, but knowing it's a rival team and fans are going to be a little bit [rowdy]," Morgan said, "hopefully they figure something out and don't let that try and be a distraction to what we're trying to do."
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.