Have a baseball road trip coming up? Well, in a bid to help you with your upcoming journeys, Big League Stew has solicited the help of the locals. Over the next month or so, we'll be hitting up our usual guest blogger crew to feature 10 tips for enjoying each of the 30 ballparks like the locals do. Have a suggestion in addition to the ones listed here? Make sure to list it in the comments below.
Greetings from Milwaukee, a wonderful place to live on the shore of Lake Michigan and much more laid back than our rival city of Chicago 90 miles to the south. The winters are long in southeastern Wisconsin, and thus, when summer finally arrives, the good folks of Milwaukee are ready to go all out. Be it attending one of the many summer festivals, enjoying Lake Michigan or one of the other numerous lakes in the area, or just having a cookout with some buddies, there is plenty to occupy our time in the summer months.
However, over the past five years or so, the place to be in summer has been Miller Park. Since 2007, the Brewers have drawn over 2.75 million fans each season, eclipsing the 3 million fan mark in three of those years (in the smallest market in MLB, no less). The Brewers have rewarded fans with some solid play over that time. A wild card appearance in 2008 and a division title and NLCS appearance in 2011 have the fans wanting more. When the Brewers are playing well, the whole vibe around town improves. While the 2013 season is off to a bad start, there are plenty of pieces in the Brewers lineup that have us hoping for future success. Ryan Braun is Ryan Braun. Carlos Gomez is finally playing up to his potential (and just signed an extension), and Jean Segura has the look of a perennial All Star.
It’s hard to believe that the Brewers have been playing in Miller Park for 13 seasons. Miller Park is located about two miles west of downtown Milwaukee right off of I-94. Miller Park was constructed just beyond the outfield wall of old County Stadium and has all the amenities a modern ballpark should have. But it also has some of the coziness of County Stadium now that it has broken itself in. With that in mind, let's start our tour of Miller Park and the Brewers baseball experience.
1. The Big League Stew Miller Park Experience: If you are only going to pay attention to one bullet point, this is the one to pay attention to. Big League Stew took a road trip to a Brewers game in 2008, and well, the video speaks for itself. I am surprised the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce does not use this as an official promotional video. Really, if you like hanging out in great weather, drinking some beer, and grilling out, all prior to going to a baseball game, the Miller Park experience is for you.
2. Tailgating: This is the one element that sets Miller Park apart from the other 29 ballparks in this series. Now I know what you are thinking: “I’ve tailgated at other ballparks, what is so different about Miller Park?” Well, again, I point you to the Big League Stew video in the first bullet point. But really, it is just one big party and the closest thing you'll find to football tailgates outside a NFL or college football stadium. You have families, groups of friends, work outings. All sorts of different groups enjoying the scene. A successful Miller Park tailgate usually consists of several meat options (brats, burgers, ribs, steaks), many, many Wisconsin-based beers (New Glarus Spotted Cow, something Sprecher, a Point ale, maybe a Miller product or two), an ample selection of sides, and a variety of parking lot games to choose from (cornhole, washers, etc). If things go well you should be entering the game around the second inning. Additionally, if you are from out of town and don’t have a group to tailgate with and want to join in on the fun, I suggest showing up with some beer and searching out a group and asking if you can join up with them. People from Milwaukee are generally friendly folk, should you should have no problem finding a group to tailgate with. Even if you are a Cubs fan.
3. Go to a local bar and take a shuttle to the game: Maybe tailgating isn’t your thing or maybe the weather is awful. Your best pregame option then is to find one of the many bars in Milwaukee that provides a shuttle to Miller Park. There are several bars located along Bluemound Road, just north of the stadium that provide a shuttle service to the game, provided you buy a drink at their establishment. You can also find bars in other parts of town providing the same service. This year the Brewers improved the shuttle drop-off and pick-up area and it's much less of a free-for-all after the game.
4. The Klement’s Racing Sausages: These are the mascots that started the racing mascots trend across MLB. They started off rather humbly as they were just a cartoon version of Brat, Polish, and Italian racing around various parts of Milwaukee to the Chariots of Fire music on the awful County Stadium scoreboard in the early 90's. Since then, they've added Hot Dog and Chorizo and expanded their Sunday real-life race out of the left field gate to every game.
The Sausage Race takes place before the bottom of the sixth inning and is always a blast. Kids love them and if you are at the game with some buddies, its always fun to place a small wager on the race. The Racing Sausages are in high demand in the Milwaukee area, attending school events, corporate functions, and community events. The sausages also have their own 5K fun run around Miller Park where the sausages, in full costume, run the entire 5k in the middle of July. The Sausages can also be found wandering around the parking lots pre-game. A photo with one of the racing sausages is a must.
5. Milwaukee baseball history: The Brewers are a relatively young franchise (established in 1970 after one season of being the Seattle Pilots) but there is plenty of baseball history in Milwaukee and Miller Park does a good job showcasing that history. There are several statues in front of Miller Park honoring Milwaukee baseball legends. The most recent addition is the Bob Uecker statue honoring Mr. Baseball for his commitment to baseball in Milwaukee from his playing days with the Braves to his role as the voice of the Brewers. Summer in Wisconsin wouldn't seem right without hearing Bob Uecker's voice on the radio. There are also statues of Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Robin Yount, along with a Bud Selig statue. I know many people have negative feelings about Selig, but in Milwaukee he has been instrumental in keeping baseball in the community. There is also a statue and monument to honor those who built Miller Park, specifically, the three workers who died when a crane collapsed during construction of the stadium.
A Walk of Fame is located inside the park honoring the greatest Brewers and Milwaukee Braves. Outside the stadium, the area where County Stadium was located is now a youth baseball facility that serves as a location to hold group tailgating outings on game days. Additionally, the location of the landing spot of Hank Aaron’s 755th and final home run is commemorated with a plaque in the parking lot.
6. The Roof: The most impressive feature of Miller Park is the retractable roof. It is large and can be seen from many spots around town. The retractable element of the roof plays a large part in the Brewers impressive attendance numbers. People from the far corners of Wisconsin can feel comfortable making plans to attend a Brewers game knowing the game will be played. There's really nothing quite like watching a baseball game and then walking back to your car through a foot of snow. Plus, when teams get snowed or hurricaned out in their home parks, Milwaukee is often the place where games are played, including a Carlos Zambrano no-hitter during an Astros “home game."
7. Affordability: Miller Park is consistently rated as one of the most affordable stadiums not just in MLB, but in all of professional sports. Ticket prices are reasonable and there are a variety of price levels for any budget. Beer is not cheap, but the price is on the lower end of the MLB spectrum. Obviously Miller products are prevalent throughout the stadium (this includes Coors and Leinenkugel’s brands) but if you search, you can find some locations that sell a variety of bottled beers. The super-mega-jumbo pretzels are also some of the best pretzels in all of sports says this soft pretzel afficinado.
8. Family friendly: Miller Park is generally a family friendly place (except maybe Friday night games against the Cubs). There is a large playground outside of stadium for the little ones and an activity area inside that consists of things like speed pitch, batting cages, a base running simulation, and a mini sausage race. As a new father who has taken my now seven-month old son to a handful of games this season, I’ve found sitting in the 300 Level (club level) is the place to sit if you have a younger child with you. The seats are wider and there is more leg room. There are many family restrooms on the Club level, making diaper changes easier, and there is a nice lounge area behind home plate providing an air conditioned/heated area to relax if your kid is getting a little worked up.
9. Milwaukee attractions: If you are coming to Milwaukee to see a Brewers game, you are going to have some time to explore the city when the game is not going on. The Brewers have several promotions that provide a discount on tickets to a Brewers game and admission to a local attraction/festival. These include deals for Summerfest (a two week music festival along Lake Michigan), the Wisconsin State Fair, Harley-Davidson Museum, Wisconsin Dells attractions (water park capital of the US!), and the Milwaukee County Zoo. You can also dine at one of Ryan Braun’s restaurants, the Ryan Braun’s Graffito in the Third Ward and his restaurant with Aaron Rodgers, the 8-Twelve MVP Bar and Grill in Brookfield. If you want to get out of Milwaukee for the day, a quick trip to Madison or Lake Geneva is well worth the drive.
10. Cheese Fries in a Brewers Helmet: Kevin Kaduk says this is the best concession item in the big leagues and it's definitely one of the only items with its own Facebook fan page. Only way to find out if it's deserving of those lofty honors is to order one, pair it with a frosty beverage and enjoy a great Wisconsin summer day.
(Just don't forget to wash the helmet before you put it on.)
What are your favorite tips for visiting Miller Park?
Follow Ben Goldsworthy on Twitter @goldy17goldy
Previous parks: Citi Field, Marlins Park, Great American Ball Park, Petco Park, Comerica Park, Progressive Park, AT&T Park, Rogers Centre, Wrigley Field, O.Co Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, Fenway Park, PNC Park,U.S. Cellular Field, Safeco Field, Target Field, Rangers Ballpark, Camden Yards,Turner Field, Nationals Park, Kauffman Stadium, Tropicana Field, Dodger Stadium