JD’s 2015 Ballpark Tour; Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Part XII: Miller Park

(AKA: An Experience Unlike Any Other)

After saying goodbye to Joe and the city of Anaheim, I had to get packing and get going to my next destination. The night of the Angels 2nd make-up game against the Sawx, I was already on my way to Milwaukee to catch one of the best theme nights in the team’s and MLB history. This particular giveaway was on my radar since the preseason because it involves one of my favorite baseball films. It was “Major League” Night at Miller Park, and the giveaway was a TALKING Harry Doyle bobble head! Of course, I had to be there for this one… but what I came away with was more than a bobble head. I came away with a great impression and a whole lot more.

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Ballpark 26: Miller Park, elevation 602 feet

The game: Indians @ Brewers on July 21, 2015

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Ticket prices: I bought this ticket well in advance, and it only cost $25 to sit in the top section. The only reason I didn’t buy cheaper tickets was because in order to get the special bobble head, I was required to buy a special ticket package that included the bobble head automatically. Only 4,000 of these special tickets were sold. That meant there were only about 4,000 talking Harry Doyles out there for the receiving. That still wasn’t a bad price for a pretty decent seat not too far up on the view level and not far from home plate. I ended up getting a seat just beyond the first base side with a lower row. My advice here is to buy a ticket early in person since prices are on the lower end compared to most parks. The pricing at Miller Park is more fan-friendly than most parks.

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The fans: When I arrived early at the ballpark to pick up my tickets from will call, I took a few pictures, and there were already some friendly fans taking my picture and telling me where to go and what to see. When I returned a few hours later for the actual game, I was greeted about as warmly as any park I had been to. I decided to get the preferred parking for about $20, and I was not disappointed at all. This placed me right in the middle of tailgate central. As soon as I exited the rental car, I was taken aback by the plethora of cornhole games taking place. I was also amazed at the huge amounts of people cooking and grilling food right outside Miller Park. I was met by plenty of friendly Brewers fans grilling bratwursts. In fact, I was given two of them before entering the ballpark. People tailgating in Milwaukee are one of the friendliest in the country, if not the friendliest. They may feed you until you can’t eat anymore! I don’t know if this is common, but with my friendly demeanor and talking about my ballpark journey, people were very receptive! I’m beyond glad I had this experience.

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When I entered Miller Park, I was directed to where I would pick up my bobble head, but more on that later. The first thing I did was check out the team store, which was just to the right of where I entered by the home plate gate. On this day, the team store featured Bob Uecker memorabilia and t-shirts. In addition to that, giant “Major League” cards were sold just for the special day. However, the best part of the team store was their sections for Hank (the ballpark pup) and the racing sausages! In fact, there are t-shirts for each sausage, including chorizo! While the prices may be a bit high, the selection of gifts there is plentiful… even though it’s only a one-story shop. I ended up getting a Bob Uecker plaid t-shirt for a fairly high $32… but this shirt is pretty awesome. The front shows a picture of the Brewers announcer, and the back shows his #9 in plaid. It’s fitting given the plaid jackets Uekcer wore in “Major League.” In addition to that, I bought the authentic retro cap for $42. I much prefer the old-school ball-and-mitt logo compared to the current primary logo.

Going around the concourse, I made my way to the Brewers authentic shop, which included a desk and fancy-looking stand. There were plenty of throwback jerseys available for sale, including “Cerveceros” jerseys reasonably priced at around $100. Their tables had some amazing deals with game-used helmets, name plates starting at $20, and some throwback caps also starting at $20! As far as prices go, these are some of the best-priced memorabilia pieces in the major leagues. In fact, some of the gear the players wear are cheaper than most items in the actual team store. Shopping is plentiful at their game-used tables, and is highly recommended.

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The only reason I didn’t buy anything from there was because I was planning on spending more money on food, and in Chicago for the two games later that week. At this point, I thought I would take in a few minutes of batting practice in right field… and those fans are for real! Because this was a special night at the ballpark, there were a good amount of fans present in the Miller Park bleachers. It was also at this time that I remembered that the Bud Selig Experience had just opened in that stadium earlier in the summer. When I tried to make my way there, the lines were beyond long and I knew there would be no way I’d be able to check out the experience and watch the game. Sadly, I would be missing out on that… for now.

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The food: This is where the real adventures began. On top of the food I had already eaten in the parking lot, I was ready to try something very unique inside Miller Park. This ballpark features something called “Nachos on a Stick.” My first thought was, “How in the world do you get nachos on a stick? Why would anyone order this for nine bucks?!?” Despite the insanely steep price tag, I decided to give these a try. First off, the size is comparable to a small corn dog. Also, these deep-fried food items are covered in nacho cheese and sour cream, with a small container of salsa on the side. Upon first bite, I felt like I was back in Mexico. Inside, there is ground beef, some pieces of tortilla, and some beans with a bit of a kick to them! They did taste good, but not the best Mexican food I’ve had. Dipping these in salsa gave it a fantastic touch. However, the smallish size and the nine-dollar price tag left me slightly underwhelmed. The nachos on a stick are great to have as a novelty food item one time, but I wouldn’t make a habit of ordering this every time, given the option.

The best food, without question, is the authentic Milwaukee brats served at most concession stands. This is one case where you can never go wrong with the local flavor, and what is more Milwaukee than having a couple bratwursts with plentiful toppings and grilled onions? At $5.25 each, I thought it was a fair price. However, you might be better off finding a supermarket with some brats, find a friendly fan who has an open grill, and share the food among new friends! This is advice I would heed later…

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Since it was “Major League” night at Miller Park, there were a few things on my “must-do” list. One of them was getting a picture with the Bob Uekcer statue in the Uecker seats. I should explain that over two decades ago, there was a famous advertisement featuring Bob Uecker being moved to the nosebleed section after claiming that he “must be in the front row!” Uecker, the eponymous starter of the aptly named “Uecker seats,” has his statue situated in the top row of a section behind the only two columns in Miller Park. These two steel beams help support the retractable roof, and are sold as “obstructed” seats at a huge discount. However, one of the beams cover the view of home plate and center field. Yes, getting a picture by the statue was pretty awesome and brought a huge smile to my face!

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On my way back to my regular seat, I was noticing the large amount of fans wearing Indians jerseys. However, these weren’t jerseys of current players. They were mostly jerseys of characters from the film, “Major League,” and I loved it! The majority of those jerseys featured #99, worn by Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn. Some people got into character so much that they tried to look like the movie characters as much as possible. One guy looked very close to Pedro Cerrano complete with the shaved head, and a Jobu doll. My favorite was the guy who not only wore “Wild Thing” glasses from the final scene in “Major League II,” but also cut his hair in the exact same fashion as the film!

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To top it all off, we had a very special guest throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. It was the man who really gave the film its charm, Bob Uecker! Of course he would throw out the first pitch on his own bobble head night. What gave almost everyone a great chuckle was when his pitch just missed the strike zone… by quite a bit. He pitched it to his son, and right on cue, the audio guy played “Juuuust a bit outside!” I laughed. Everybody around me laughed. Right after that moment, the starting lineups were announced, and “Pennant Fever” from the film played in the background! Yes, the Brewers and everybody involved was really getting into the theme night.

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The game: Oh yeah, there’s an actual game to be played! I have to be honest, I was having so much fun I nearly forgot about the game. I got to my seat quickly, got my scorebook ready, and was about to see two cellar-dwelling teams duke it out. The last time I saw the Cleveland Indians play, they were ready to make a strong push towards the postseason. By this game, the Tribe had gotten on a bad losing streak and played themselves right out of the playoff picture. The Brewers weren’t much better having just lost a few games themselves. Despite both teams having poor records, there was still a good crowd on hand. Besides, the Brewers want to play well in front of this kind of crowd.

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From my vantage point, the fans really got into the action and kept their energy up from my section. It looked like most of the upper seats were sold. This may have been a direct result of the talking bobble head promotion. So many people were dressed to the nines in their movie gear. In addition, there were a good amount of Indians hats worn. Specifically, all of those hats featured Chief Wahoo on the front. Of course, most of these fans cheered when the Brew Crew scored. Milwaukee got on the board early with Jonathan LuCroy getting an RBI in the 1st inning. Then, the crowd erupted when Jean Segura blasted a home run to left-center field. Not only did I get to see Miller Park go nuts, but I got to see Bernie Brewer make a trip down the giant yellow slide in left field. Also, whenever a home run is hit, the words above Bernie’s Dugout will light up. Those are the words uttered by Bob Uecker on the radio feed every time a Brewer hits a home run. “Get up! Get up! Get outta here and gone!”

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On the Brewers side, Matt Garza cruised through six innings scattering six hits. This was looking like an easy win for the Brewers, and another abysmal hitting night for the Tribe. Cleveland’s biggest problem this season has been hitting, and it showed yet again on this game. What kept the crowd going was the constant clips from “Major League” being shown throughout the game. Better yet, these clips were being shown at certain points in the game. Even better, some of the old-school graphics from the film were used such as “Easy Out” and “Nice Catch.” To tell the truth, the Brewers video operations did a fantastic job incorporating classic clips with the ball game situations.

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Then came the classic event at every Milwaukee Brewers home game… the famous sausage race! The sausages could be seen warming up before coming out until they are finally let loose late in the game. For many fans, this is the part of the game to look forward to because this has become synonymous with the Milwaukee Brewers. In this particular race, the Polish sausage just beat out everybody else to take the crown. Additionally, people in section 227 wound up winning some free sausages! That might be a reason why so many people look forward to this race… free food!

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Then the 7th inning happened, and that’s where the runs began coming in like crazy. After the Indians finally got on the board with only one run, it was time for the 7th inning stretch. After singing the classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” a classic tune is played immediately afterwards. I was overjoyed that I actually knew this song (thank you Andrews Sisters & Frankie Yankovic) because it was time for the “Beer Barrel Polka” at Miller Park! After singing along to the catchy tune, the Brewers put up four runs. However, only one of those was earned as Francisco Lindor made a costly error that would have ended the inning. As a result, the Brewers tallied four runs instead of just one run. That put the game out of reach and made the score 7-1 in favor of the home team. Unlike most ballparks, the fans actually stuck around for this one!

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The end of the game simply had the Brewers out-classing the lowly Indians and the game ended very quickly. More clips from “Major League” were shown towards the end of the game, and the finishing touch was the clip where fans were stomping their feet in rhythm during the last couple outs of the game. The Brewers would go on to win, 8-1. When I saw the time for the next game, it piqued my curiosity. The next game had a 1:10 start, and I was already going to the White Sox game that Wednesday evening in Chicago. How crazy was I feeling?

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While I thought about that, I checked out the excellent Milwaukee Braves Honor Roll on the lower concourse. A friendly usher guided me there and talked about some of the history there. This older gentleman had a few recollections about Braves games, and even spoke very highly of Hank Aaron, who loved the fans there. There was also a plaque there commemorating the 1957 World Series championship that the Milwaukee Braves won over the New York Yankees. While I thoroughly enjoyed the mini Hall of Fame, I was still thinking about baseball the following day. Gutted that I didn’t get to do everything in the park that day, I was seriously thinking about getting a cheap ticket for the Wednesday afternoon game… would I bite the bullet…?

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The game: Indians @ Brewers on July 22, 2015

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I knew this would be a crazy quest to see two different ballparks in two different states… in the same day! However, I knew there was so much more to explore in and around Miller Park. This was the first time I went to a game knowing that I wouldn’t be keeping score in the ol’ score book. I really wanted to give this ballpark a proper chance and see what there was to offer. This game, I also wanted to bring my iPod in the stadium with me because the in-stadium radio feed was available on FM radio! For those of you wanting to hear the dulcet tones of Bob Uecker in real time, bring your FM radio and tune it to 88.5FM on the dial! Luckily, I have an iPod Nano that has the radio option. With that, I was able to hear the sardonic Bob Uecker call a fantastic start to a game. Yes, I was fully aware that I wasn’t going to watch the entire game because I wanted to get to Chicago in plenty of time.

Before entering the stadium, I checked out the small Little League park just across the main lot, and there were some posters about the Brewers past, and several posters about the former Milwaukee County Stadium. Not only were there several posters present, but the location of the home plate of Milwaukee County Stadium was present! This place is called Helfaer Field, and there was actually a game going on. This is a fantastic use of space, and really gives the Miller Park complex a great community feel to it. Major bonus points for giving kids the opportunity to play baseball so close to their home ballpark. The view from behind home plate is glorious.

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For the second day in a row, I visited the tailgating crowd. This time, I brought some brats I bought at a nearby market to one lucky set of fans. This group of incredibly friendly people not only accepted the brats, but cooked me a couple, and let me play their game of corn hole! Now I really felt like I had the entire tailgating experience in Milwaukee. Once the gates to the park opened, I got pictures with a couple of the mascots, and finally made my way to the Bud Selig Experience. This brand-new multimedia presentation showcases highlights of the former MLB Commissioner’s time in Milwaukee, and his contributions to Major League Baseball.

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There was a decent wait (about 20 minutes) to see the exhibit which featured a short film and a walk through a replica of his Brewers front office. The outside looks quite fancy, but the interior is where the major points come in. I don’t want to spoil everything, but this short film documents the history of Milwaukee baseball and intertwines it with Selig’s childhood and his rise as a businessman. The film is narrated by both Bob Uecker and Bud Selig and does a fantastic job of portraying the feelings of local fans when they gained and lost the Braves, and the immense joy felt when the Brewers came to town just days before the start of the 1970 regular season. Whether you love or hate him, Bud Selig not only played an important role in baseball, but played a monumental role in the city of Milwaukee. Without him, there would be no Milwaukee Brewers right now, and especially no Miller Park.

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After the short film, fans are led out to an exact replica of his office at old County Stadium. There are a couple small special effects going on that make fans do a quick double-take. I especially loved the posters on his wall, and some of the financial documents strewn around there. Finally, fans are led to a blue-lit room surrounded by artifacts from Selig’s greatest achievements. The entire experience was very well done and is worth visiting for any true baseball fan that appreciates the game.

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Yes, I realize some fans didn’t care for Bud Selig at all, but in the grand scheme of things, he did a great job with revenue sharing and expanding postseason play by introducing the second wild card. Contrary to popular belief, he was not the Commissioner responsible for the lockout of 1994. In fact, there was no formal Commissioner at the time as Fay Vincent had been unceremoniously ousted the previous year. In fact, Vincent was mostly responsible for the strikes of both 1990 and 1994. But, that’s a history lesson for another day. During Selig’s tenure, there was mostly labor peace between the players and the union. So far this century, MLB is the only major league (of the four major sports) to not have a lengthy lockout occur and take away games. Am I saying Bud Selig was the greatest Commissioner in the history of the game? I’m not saying that… but nobody can take away from his great accomplishments, and this experience is a must-see. Major kudos to BRC Imagination Arts for putting together an extraordinary presentation to Miller Park. Folks, this is worth checking out and I highly recommend it.

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After seeing the Bud Selig Experience, I made my way to the outfield area in search of The Beast, which was a monstrous bratwurst hot dog. However, I found out that item was no longer sold, so I settled on a delicious pulled pork sandwich and was on my way. First, I made sure to get a picture of Bernie Brewer from his perch. Luckily, he saw me with my camera and decided to pose just for me!

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In addition, one of the friendly ushers got a picture with me and the field! I’m wearing earbuds because I’m listening to Bob Uecker live…  but that picture is at the end! About five minutes after I left that area, I got to hear “Ueck” make his famous call on a Brewers home run, “Get up! Get up! Get outta here… gone! A home run!”

Going around the stadium, I finally got my picture with the racing sausages! I forgot how much fun I could have at a ballpark not watching the game and just taking in the whole atmosphere at this point. Yes, I even got a picture with the chorizo.

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Yikes, I just realized how long this post is getting! I will cut to the end and say that I’m beyond glad I went back for a second visit because I didn’t realize how wonderful Miller Park really is. Plus, I had heard so many good things about the Bud Selig Experience that I needed to see it for myself. The return trip was well worth it. To anybody reading this, Miller Park is worth a visit and should be a featured stop on any ballpark tour. However, this is a place where you want to arrive four hours early. Two hours for the tailgating parties in the preferred parking lots, and two hours to check out as many things as you can inside the stadium, and that includes the Bud Selig Experience. Oh, if you plan on tailgating… bring your own brats. If you are friendly and bring your own food, you have a better chance of having a friendly patron cooking them for you! Thank you everyone for reading, and I hope to see you at the ballpark!

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-JD

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