Indians feel right at home in Milwaukee

It may sound a bit odd, but Milwaukee fans came out in droves to Miller Park on Tuesday night to root for the Indians.

Originally Published: April 10, 2007
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

MILWAUKEE -- As the bets went around the clubhouse and the Cleveland Indians guessed how many people would show up for their 2007 home opener, 450 miles away from Jacobs Field, pitcher Joe Borowski admitted he was the cruelest.

"I thought it would be like five, maybe 500," Borowski said. "I thought it would be like an American Legion game. I mean, come on, less than 24 hours' notice? I didn't think anyone would be here."

His teammates agreed, for the most part. So imagine the look on their faces when they took the field here Tuesday night and saw Miller Park's first and second decks loaded with baseball fans. Imagine what they were thinking in the third inning, when Brewers officials had to open the outfield bleachers to accommodate even more fans. And imagine the befuddlement when, in the eighth inning, the attendance was officially announced at 19,031.

"You can't say enough about Milwaukee," Borowski said. "I was amazed. Absolutely amazed. Nobody imagined this. It actually felt like a home game."

Kelly Shoppach
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesIndians catcher Kelly Shoppach sits in the dugout at Milwaukee's Miller Park before Tuesday's home game against the Angels.
The Indians did everything they could to ensure that would be the case, from bringing their own scoreboard videos showing Grady Sizemore making diving catches and Travis Hafner hitting home runs to playing each player's requested song when he stepped up to the plate. Even Slider, the team's mascot, got into the act, making the trip to Milwaukee so he could twist his way down Bernie Brewer's slide after Kelly Shoppach and Casey Blake hit Indians home runs.

In the top of the ninth, when Borowski came in to close out the game, the Miller Park sound system blasted "Wild Thing," a tribute to the baseball classic "Major League," which was filmed in Milwaukee.

No, this wasn't Jacobs Field. But considering the foot of snow that blanketed the Indians' stadium over the weekend, a dumping the team is using flatbed trucks to remove, this wasn't all that bad.

"I thought maybe there would be like 2,000 fans," reliever Roberto Hernandez said. "But the people from Milwaukee showed a lot. It felt like a regular game out there tonight."

When it all was finished, the team that hadn't played since the previous Wednesday pounded out 10 hits en route to a 7-6 win over the Los Angeles Angels. Yet afterward, the buzz in the Indians clubhouse wasn't Sizemore's three stolen bases or Shoppach's game-ending laser of a throw that nailed Erick Aybar attempting to steal second base.

No, the Indians wanted to talk about this crowd. And more specifically, a slow-motion wave the fans did during the seventh inning that nearly put the team in a trance. The slow-motion wave is a tradition that was started during football games at the University of Wisconsin.

"It was one of the coolest things I had ever seen," Borowski said. "I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me."

"I had never seen the slo-mo wave before," manager Eric Wedge said. "That locked me up."

Tuesday's crowd was decidedly pro-Indian, understandable considering Milwaukee's relative proximity to Cleveland as opposed to Anaheim. Several fans wore headdresses and war paint. One held up a sign that read, "Jobu needs a refill," another tribute to "Major League."

During batting practice, all the Indians had to do was look seven rows behind their dugout and they would have had an idea what was in store for them. There, an hour-and-a-half before doors opened to the public, two Indians die-hards watched the team hit with the exuberance of two toddlers on Christmas morning.

But these weren't your ordinary Indians backers. One of them, John Lowther, works for the Brewers as the Italian sausage in Miller Park's famous sausage race.

"It's true," Lowther said. "We snuck in the employee entrance so I could watch batting practice. I love the Indians. They're my hometown team. Just make sure everyone knows I cheer for the Brewers, too."

Officials from both teams, as well as Major League Baseball, didn't decide until late Monday morning to play the series in Milwaukee, and only then after it was discovered that other potential locations -- mainly Houston and St. Petersburg, Fla., -- couldn't accommodate the necessary hotel rooms for both teams.

The decision left Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers' executive vice president of business operations, with a daunting task: put on a major league baseball game, complete with ushers, ticket takers, parking attendants, police officers, concessions, clubhouse attendants and a laundry list of other folks in a little more than 24 hours.

His staff had to do everything from order food -- because many of the concessions are perishables and the Brewers aren't due home until April 19 -- to clean out the Brewers locker room so the Angels could use it.

"And I was supposed to be home early last night," Schlesinger joked. "But you know what? Our staff came together and really made a commitment to get this done. And it worked."

When Indians and Brewers officials agreed to sell tickets for $10, the goal was to fill Miller Park's first level with an estimated 9,000 fans. Three seasons ago, when the Florida Marlins faced the Montreal Expos at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field because of Hurricane Ivan, just over 4,000 fans showed up. But by game time Tuesday night, the first and second levels of Miller Park were nearly filled. By the top of the third inning, cars were still backed up waiting to enter the parking lot. Concession lines ran 20 to 25 people deep. And stadium officials opened the outfield bleacher seats to accommodate even more fans.

"I don't know what we would have done if even more people would have showed up," one Brewers official said. "We might have been in trouble."

Depending on the weather, big crowds are expected for the rest of the series as well. Ten thousand tickets already have been sold for Wednesday night's game and 6,000 for Thursday afternoon. Tuesday, 8,000 fans bought a ticket in the three hours leading up to the game.

"You can't say enough about Milwaukee. I was amazed. Absolutely amazed. Nobody imagined this. It actually felt like a home game."
-- Indians closer Joe Borowski

"This just shows people in Milwaukee are big baseball fans," Schlesinger said. "They take pride in their ballpark; they take pride in their piece in all of this. It shows you how proud they are and how much they love baseball. This is truly a great baseball city."

The Brewers will not make any money on the series. Nor will the Indians and Angels lose money they would have earned on ticket sales or concessions. Major League Baseball told Schlesinger to keep track of his expenses as well as revenue from the series and that MLB would decide later how the teams would be reimbursed.

MLB representatives did not return a phone message Tuesday, but spokesman Rich Levin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday that any shortfall of income for the series will come out of an MLB contingency fund.

"They informed us to do what we needed to do to pull this off," Schlesinger said. "So that's what we worried about."

The scene Tuesday night was both surreal and perfect. After all, there were the Indians, in their home whites, taking the field in someone else's stadium. And there was the voice of Bob Uecker, 1,500 miles away in Miami, calling the Brewers and Marlins on the stadium's audio feed.

Yet at the same time, it was a night for the fan. Luxury suites were closed. The front rows weren't filled with suits and ties but rather with college kids and families who otherwise wouldn't get a chance to get an up-close view of America's pastime. Tuesday night, toddlers ran up and down Miller Park's aisles. Families took their kids to their first game. And everyone seemed to smile. In the seventh inning, when the fans executed the slo-mo wave to perfection, the stadium erupted. It did the same in the ninth, when Borowski entered to "Wild Thing."

"It was quite a scene out there," Sizemore said. "Something I don't think anyone expected."

Yet for all the fans who were here for the baseball or the cheap tickets or an inexpensive night on the town, for all the feel-good moments Tuesday night's game brought on and off the field, there were those who were drawn to Miller Park for other reasons. Take the group of college kids wandering around the second level with empty cartons of Miller Lite on their heads, one of them holding a sign that revealed their ultimate focus:

WE'RE HERE FOR THE BEER.

Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.

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