That in itself could tell the whole story about sports in the city of Milwaukee, but we won’t end it there.
Following the great run of Harvey’s Wallbangers came the years of mediocrity to misery to torture. Slowly the franchise’s former mantelpieces of Molitor, Cooper, Thomas, Fingers, Simmons, Vuckovich, Haas, Caldwell, and others split. In a 23-season stretch the team only finished higher than third in the division once. Rob Deer struck out a lot. Steve Sparks was the ace for a period of time. They switched to the National League and still lost. A new stadium couldn’t even change the team’s success as they lost 106 games in 2002, the second year of Miller Park.
As a young boy enduring the historically terrible years of 1999-2004, the years when baseball met my eyes and never left, it was hard to claim the Brewers as mine. But I did. Eight games or more a year, every year. Jose Hernandez missed grounders and struck out. Ronnie Belliard hit .200. Glendon Rusch got rocked. Luis Vizcaino blew leads. Hell, our beloved Racing Sausages got whacked. How much of this did I witness in person? All of it, even Randall Simon’s malevolence to the Italian Sausage.
Nor did Milwaukee gain the perception of a “baseball town” through those years. Only once did County Stadium, which lasted the first 31 years of Brewers baseball, draw more than 2 million fans in a season. The franchise had only seen eight winning seasons in its first 36 years.
The fans didn’t have a winner to root for; they had the Brewers, simply put.
However, now things are a bit different in the town formerly known primarily for its brewing industry.
CC Sabathia’s borderline-inhuman pitching over the second half of 2008 to lead the Brewers to the playoffs is migrating to the back of the minds of Brewers fans. No longer does the winner-starving city look back upon 1982 and 2008 in the same light– what were formerly dwelling moments are now just good memories. A new cast of players has brought the national spotlight to Milwaukee and the troupe hasn’t backed away.
Nyjer Morgan, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are on the cover of the August 29 edition of Sports Illustrated. Morgan’s alter ego Tony Plush has not only swept through Brewer Nation, but through the entire nation. Ask a baseball fan last season who Tony Plush is and they would respond like a high school dropout on Jeopardy. Ask the same person this season, and they’ll tell you he’s the quirky gentleman alter-ego to Brewers center fielder Nyjer Morgan.
Forget about the 90′s and early 2000′s rotations featuring forgettable pitchers such as Ricky Bones, Scott Karl, Brian Givens, Jason Snyder, and Paul Rigdon. The new-look, eccentric 2011 team sends out a cast of Yovani Gallardo, Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson, all proven veterans at the Major League level. The bullpen features LaTroy Hawkins, K-Rod, Takashi Saito, and the dynamite, fu-manchu sporting closer John Axford.
Sitting a franchise-record 10 games ahead in first place in the National League Central, the Brewers appear destined for October baseball for only the fourth time in franchise history. Miller Park will be rocking, as it has been all season. The Brew Crew are an MLB best 47-16 at home and much of their success can be attributed to the fans.
Tony LaRussa has had an issue with the Brewers’ home success, so much so that he has charged the Brewers with stealing signs and adjusting the lighting at Miller Park depending on which team was batting. Some baseball purists like LaRussa, referred to as “Plain-Jane Wonderbreads” by Morgan, have an issue with this loose Brewers club. The fans don’t.
Miller Park is packed every homestand, regardless of the opponent, with fans that have enamored themselves with their team, not the consistently inferior 90-plus loss teams that have plagued the Brewers history. A new team, bringing a new era to Milwaukee baseball with their winning record.
Milwaukee’s skyline isn’t exactly one whose image stays with those who view it, but the 2011 Brewers seem to have brightened it up more than ever before. The winner the city deserves is now a godsend.
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