And the last game

Stacey, illegally driving the rental car, met us at the Garfield stop on the Red Line, and within minutes, we were bound for Milwaukee. We had about two-and-a-half hours to make a one-and-a-half-hour drive, and, as they had been all along, the driving fates were with us, as we made Miller Park in plenty of time, navigating through the alluring commingled scents of sausage, beer, and cheese that are the City that Schlitz Made Famous.

To a one, the baseball fans I know–the low-rent, lovers of the run-down and worn that they are–loved Milwaukee’s former ballpark, County Stadium. It was, compared to the new Miller Park, small and homey, and the corrugated iron sheeting that composed its facade gave it a seemingly appropriate resemblance to a factory. Miller Park, on the other hand, is a new-style ballpark through and through. Wide concourses, lots of different stands selling lots of types of sausage, giant parking lots a marathon away from the gate, countless thousands of luxury boxes, and a tower where Bud Selig can sit and stroke his white Persian while sniggering and contemplating whether he should have his contract extended another decade. Even Bernie Brewer moved to a new, upscale home in Miller Park–against his will, I like to assume–his chateau with its front-door slide into the beer stein replaced by a high-end condo and a slide onto . . . a platform. Meanwhile, thee vegetarian food selections at Miller Park, are, as anyone with a passing knowledge of non-Madison Wisconsin would expect, not particularly distinguished or diverse. I had pizza, only discovering as we left that the Gorman Thomas stand would have sold me a Soy Dog, on which I could have put the famous–and mysterious–Stadium Sauce.

At least the sausage race continues, the Brewers still have the feel of a small-town team trying–and, usually, failing–to make good, and with the roof open, I have to admit that Miller Park isn’t that bad. We had great seats on the 8th row down the right field line, from which we had a wonderful view of plays on the infield, and a not-so-wonderful view of Craig Wilson’s shimmering golden locks in the outfield.

But, as Bart Giammatti said, though not meaning it quite so literally as it, sadly, turned out for him, the game is designed to break your heart, and the Brewers–with the able help of Daryle Ward–set about breaking ours with an efficiency any beer factory would envy. Their rookie starter, Ben Hendrickson, threw a good game, but a long home run by Daryle Ward in the second, and a second, longer home run by Ward in the seventh off a reliever gave the Pirates a 5-0 lead that the Brewers’ sadly slumbering offense couldn’t even begin to overcome. In the ninth, the Brewers scored a run off Jose Mesa, the Rungiver, on a triple and a sacrifice fly. The crowd erupted in joy, causing all four of us to look again at the scoreboard to reinforce our suspicions that, yes, that run did leave the Brewers still four back. But no one has ever said Wisconsinites don’t know how to celebrate the finer things in life, and a run is a run is a run, I suppose. I’d have raised it in solidarity, but there wasn’t time, as the Pirates quickly rang down the curtain on BRPA 2004’s winning streak.

But in this life, one savors the little victories, right? So as we drove back to our beloved Chicago, nearly running out of gas on the way, I thought of the ten games we did win, and of the exchange I overheard in the row in front of us. With one out in the Brewer ninth, a man who was at the game with another man and the other man’s ten-year-old son, said to his friend, “You want to go ahead and head out?” The friend replied, “Sure. It doesn’t matter to me.” “What about him?” asked the first man, indicating the child. “I’ll ask him.” Ask he did, and the boy said, “I’d like to stay. But do you want to go?” The man, seeing that he had raised his child in the ways of righteousness, said, “No, let’s stay.”

And stay they did. As I remember once hearing someone say, “See–everything in the world’s not made of toilet.” A fine game and a fine trip, surpassing all expectations. Thanks to everyone who came along, rooted with us, read the blog, or invented baseball all those years ago. And thanks especially to Jim, whose hard work and good company made the whole flawless trip possible. I recommend anyone who is considering any trip anywhere hire him. He’s worth the hefty price I’m sure he’d command.

Original comments…

thatbob: Last year when we went up to Miller Park, the traditional 7th inning stretch version of Beer Barrel Polka was replaced with a vote-by-applause version of some Usher or Nelly song that I couldn’t fathom because I’m some kind of old man. But this year, happily, Beer Barrel Polka was back, and I think overall the blaring, rocking stadium sound system was a little better behaved. (Of course we had spent the day being aurally assaulted at Comiskey, so my perceptions may have been skewed.)

The Brittish Rounders Society: You bloody Yanks didn’t invent anything. You stole the game from us!

The Native American Battagaway Society: You one to talk, paleface with bad teeth.

Jim: By the way, if it had been solely up to me, I would have chosen to root for the Pirates (because of my brief Pittsburgh-area residency). But I was just one out of four attendees at this game, and I didn’t want to press the issue.

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