|A great place ... for a tailgate|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
Editor's Note: This is the 22nd report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.
MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee's new stadium cost $400 million, a political career and sadly, the lives of three construction workers. Its roof rises 300 feet above the ground, weighs 12,000 tons, covers 10½ acres, can withstand 12 feet of snow and closes in 10 minutes. Regardless of the expense though, the best part of the stadium is what lies outside its walls: the spacious parking lots that host tailgate parties whose delicious aromas carry all the way to Montana.
Wisconsin is the tailgate capital of the world and when the Brewers tore down wonderful old County Stadium, they at least preserved that tailgate tradition with parking lots that cover multiple time zones. These are parking lots so large that they literally have their own concession stands and restrooms. Every game, thousands of fans make the easy drive west of downtown, park their cars, fire up the barbecue grills and pop open the beer for a public party so large that I'm surprised David Wells doesn't insist on a trade to Milwaukee.
Baseball never smells so good as it does in the Milwaukee parking lot.
Tailgating is a Milwaukee tradition that's as important as the game itself. Or maybe more important. I've gone to Brewers games where we didn't even go inside the stadium until the fifth inning.
And that was when the Brewers were mildly competitive. Given their current state, you might be tempted to spend the entire game outside Miller Park.
1. Access: In time, you'll be able to walk or cycle from downtown along the Hank Aaron State Trail, which will be about seven miles long or almost as long as one of the Hammer's tape-measure shots. For now though, the best way to reach the stadium is get into the car and follow the aroma of the grilled brats.
Warning to the lazy: The parking is more expensive than it should be. You can park somewhat close for $12 but the $6 general parking lot is almost in Racine. You have to walk across a bridge over a river and then walk some more before you reach the stadium. But the distance is all right. After the tailgate party, you need the exercise to sweat out the beer, work off the calories and regain your appetite for more inside. Points: 3.5
2. Exterior architecture: With the western windows stretching 300-some feet stories to the roof, the stadium looks more like the terminal at LaGuardia airport than a baseball stadium. You walk in and expect to hear, "American Airlines regrets to announce that Flight 714 for Detroit will be delayed two hours due to a mechanical problem."
On the other hand, the youth league field situated just outside the stadium is a nice touch, as are the statues of Hank Aaron and Robin Yount. (The statue memorializing the workers who died during the construction is a little creepy, though. The nearby plaque would have been sufficient). 3
3. Interior architecture: I'm still not sure about that roof. I'm sure it's nice in April, when night game conditions are roughly the same as Shackleton experienced in Antarctica. But like Arizona's stadium, it just feels like you're still indoors even when the roof is open.
I don't like the corporate feel to Bernie Brewer's new chalet, either. The old one was so kitschy even opposing fans rooted for a Milwaukee homer just so they could see Bernie slide down into a giant stein of beer. The new Bernie's Dugout is overdone and sterile -- all he does is slide onto a platform -- which is a feeling that carries over into some other areas of the stadium (did Brewers fans really want a couple restaurants so they could sit inside and drink beer while watching the game?). And let's say it right now: The new prerequisite for any recently built ballpark is being able to walk around the entire stadium and see the game from any and every spot. You can't here.
On the other hand, the standing-room section behind home plate is great and the WPA-style murals of Wisconsin industry behind home plate are very, very nice. 3
4. Ticket availability and price: The seats behind home plate are superb -- and you can also stand behind them for a good view -- but it's quite a hike to the upper deck where the $10 tickets are, especially while carrying about five extra pounds of solid sausage in your intestinal tract after an afternoon of tailgating. There are too few bleacher seats (i.e. cheap), though the couple hundred Uecker seats are a good deal. They're view obstructed but I don't care -- for $1, it would be a bargain even if you were sitting directly behind the Italian Sausage's eight-foot-head head. 3.5
5. Quality/selection of concession-stand fare: Just as at County Stadium, there is one stand named for Gorman Thomas, the former Brewer outfielder/DH/famous eater. A reporter told me he once called Gorman about nine in the morning to ask a question on a breaking story and began the interview by apologizing for the early call. "I hope I'm not calling too early," the reporter said. "Oh, that's OK," Gorman replied. "I'm just sitting here in front of the TV eating pizza and drinking beer."
I never had to wait in line at any concession stand but compared to the other new parks, there isn't an overwhelming variety beyond the brats. But if you're going to a Brewers game, why would you want anything besides a brat? That's like complaining about the lack of topless bars at the Vatican. 3.5
6. Signature concession item: I ate for the cycle, devouring the four sausages available at Miller Park -- the bratwurst, the Italian sausage, the Polish sausage and the hot dog -- which is the only way to do it. You not only get a cheap (the brat is only $3.50) tasty meal, when buying all four the Brewers throw in a free angioplasty. 5++
7. Quality of hot dogs: Unlike the brats, the $2.50 hot dogs are nothing special. But they are reasonably priced and you have your choice of Milwaukee's special stadium mustard or its special stadium sauce. That's worth a point in itself. There are two types of people in this world. Those who prefer the stadium mustard and those who prefer the sauce. The former are the only people who will ever contribute anything positive to humanity. 4
8. Beer: What is the best thing you can say about the beer in a stadium named after a macro-brewer that has been polluting the country with bottles of thin, tasteless beer for decades? That it's not all that expensive ($4.75). The micro-brews are a little hard to find, but they're there if you know where to look. Stick to the $6 Sprecker microbrew and you'll be fine. 4
9. Bathrooms: 9. Bathrooms: All that beer. All those brats. And so few lines at the bathroom. Must be the cheese. 4
10. Seat comfort: It can't be easy installing seats wide enough to comfortably handle the average Brewers fan who annually consumes roughly 400 pounds of bratwurst, 700 pounds of cheese and 100 six-packs of MGD but they pulled it off. I bet even Joey Meyer would fit.
I also bet they sell a lot of Brewers T-shirts in XXXXXL sizes. 4
11. Price/selection of souvenirs: There is a very wide variety of items positively not available anywhere else, including a brick from County Stadium ($10), 2002 All-Star Game T-shirts ($10), jars of Stadium sauce (sorry, no mustard) and an array of Sausage Race memorabilia. You can get Sausage Race beanie babies, Sausage Race baseballs, Sausage Race T-shirts (unfortunately, none are in adult sizes for some strange reason) and Sausage Race fingers puppets. In fact, there are more souvenirs available for the Italian Sausage than there are for Brewers All-Star outfielder Geoff Jenkins. That is not the ratio of a winning team. 4
12. Scoreboard: I'm not sure where the Brewers got the old video board at County Stadium but it only had two colors -- brown and off-brown. It was interesting in a way -- it was what SportsCenter must have been like in the Civil War when Mathew Brady daguerreotypes were all the rage -- but the new one is a drastic improvement. It even has color. 4
13. Fun stuff to do besides the game: In addition to the usual distractions at the newer stadiums, Milwaukee has the best tradition in baseball -- the Sausage Race held at the bottom of the sixth inning. I don't know about you, but I can't get enough of watching guys in eight-foot-high sausage costumes sprinting around a baseball field.
I had the honor of competing in the race the night I was there, wearing the Italian Sausage costume. By the end of the race, I was feeling very guilty about the four sausages I ate earlier in the game. 5
14. Ushers: Professional, helpful and I got the feeling they would sit down, share a beer and complain about all the losing seasons ($10 million for Franklin Stubbs?) if I wanted to listen. 4
15. Trading-up factor: My wife and I were able to move down to some excellent seats behind the dugout without a problem. Just don't tell Bud. He'll probably send me a bill. 4.5
16. Knowledge of local fans: Selig has fed these poor folks a steady string of bull about "small-market resources" but my email over the past couple years is a good indication that they don't buy into it. They know that a small population doesn't account for two decades without a playoff appearance, especially when they see Minnesota winning titles. They also have an excellent memory of when the baseball here was as good as the brats. 4
17. Seventh-inning stretch: You know you're a true Brewers fan when you know the lyrics to the full chorus of the Beer Barrel Polka:
18. Quality of public-address system: That 57-year-old recording of the "Beer Barrel Polka'' never sounded so crisp. 3.5
19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: There aren't any bars around but you don't need them. Just hang out in the parking lot and you're certain to be offered more beer than a Tri-Delt at a fraternity mixer. 3
20. Wild Card: I'll give the stadium a point because local fans know that there won't be any more rainouts (or snowouts), another point for the wide, roomy concourses and five points for the awesome tailgate parties. But I'm also taking away two points for building a stadium where the best feature is the parking lots.
I'm sorry, but watching a game here was no more more enjoyable for me than watching a game at County Stadium. 5
TOTAL SCORE FOR MILLER PARK: 78.5