Brewers baseball is as much a part of Milwaukee tradition as beer and brats. Even if the postseason is looking unlikely for the Brew Crew this year, tailgating at Miller Park is tops in the bigs. The pregame parking lot party rivals that of any college Saturday or NFL Sunday.
Brewers fans pride themselves on creating this electric atmosphere each and every game day.
"They get so excited about everything," said Brewers right fielder and two-time All-Star Corey Hart. "Obviously when we're winning it's unbelievable, but they come out strong even if we're not playing well."
Brew Crew tour
Click here for a gallery of images of Milwaukee baseball and Miller Park.
Pregame within the game
Regardless of the Brewers' standing in the pennant race, visitors to Miller Park are immediately struck by the spectacle outside the stadium.
Miller Park opened in 2001, but the tailgating legacy on these grounds goes back much further. The retractable-roof stadium was erected adjacent to its predecessor, Milwaukee County Stadium, so in effect the parking-lot party has continued unabated with just the epicenter undergoing a slight geographic shift.
And Wisconsinites know how to handle pregame festivities better than anyone in the majors, which is really no surprise, given that the Green Bay Packers played two or three games per season at County Stadium from its opening in 1953 through 1994.
"The number of Brewers fans tailgating is staggering; it feels like a football game," Bill Simmons wrote. "Can you blame them? Who doesn't love tailgating?"
The only convertible fan-shaped roof in a North American stadium ensures that every day is a good day to play baseball. The story outside the ballpark is largely the same. Unfazed by the elements, die-hard cheeseheads will set up shop no matter the weather. They might throw a tent or tarp over the top if it's really raw and nasty out, but the grill is always hot, the beer always cold and the sausage always delicious.
Rain, snow or shine, the air is filled with charcoal-roasted goodness, and any number of flying Frisbees, footballs and beanbags. It's easy to forget there's actually a baseball game on tap, but after you've had your fill of pregame food and fun, it's time to take the party inside the ballpark.
Even if you miss the ceremonial first pitch, you might hear the roar of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle as a biker delivers the game balls. If you skipped that last bratwurst to hustle in and get to your seat on time, don't worry. Once inside, you won't go hungry -- or broke. Miller Park boasts a great bang for the buck. Sports Illustrated rated it as providing the best fan value in the majors, factoring in the cost of tickets and concessions, in addition to the vibe in and around the ballpark.
And although decade-old Miller Park is rife with all the modern amenities, Brewers game-day rituals are steeped in a larger history. While Brewers home runs are accompanied by a fireworks display exploding from Miller's scoreboard, mascot Bernie Brewer has been celebrating long balls by taking a slide since the old days at County Stadium.
During the seventh-inning stretch, the crowd rises to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and belt out two renditions of "Beer Barrel Polka," commonly known as "Roll Out the Barrel," in recognition of Milwaukee's brewing tradition.
And of course no visit to Miller Park is complete without the infamous Sausage Race, a middle-of-the-sixth-inning showdown between Hot Dog, Bratwurst, Italian, Polish and Chorizo.
Lifelong Brewers fan and Milwaukee-area resident Brian Alexander, now 30, ran as the dog alongside a fellow Applebee's employee (bratwurst) on July 7, 2003 -- two days before Randall Simon and Sausagegate -- back when it was a four-meat track meet (Chorizo joined in '06) before the top of the seventh. (It was later moved to before the bottom of the sixth to generate more excitement with the Brewers coming to the plate.)
The Applebee's boys were up against Polish and Italian, two ringers from a crew of Brewers employees who ran the staging of the promotion as well as competing in it.
"We put these unis on with two outs, and [the Brewers] go on this ridiculous two-out rally, where they end up scoring like four runs [and the Pirates] make a pitching change, so I'm standing out in left field with this costume on for 40-45 minutes," Alexander said, "before I could even get on. You can't really see or hear anything in there, obviously you've got fans yelling at you. Finally they make the last out of the sixth and we go jogging out there.
"The only thing they told us beforehand was, 'Hey, when you see us take off, start running.' So I just lined up, and everybody's up on their feet cheering and cheering. The next thing I know they just take off, bolted. 'Here we go!' You can't see anything, and it's so hot and we're swaying back and forth, left and right. I felt like I was gonna fall on my face."
Alexander finished the race comfortably behind the Italian and Polish rabbits, managing not to fall. Or get batted down.
But make no mistake, the baseball game itself is no mere sideshow. When it comes to supporting the Brew Crew on the field, Milwaukee fans are passionate, loyal and knowledgeable -- like "over-supportive Little League parents," according to the Sports Guy, Simmons.
"They cheer for us and they want us to play hard," Hart said. "It's really exciting when things go well."
Milwaukeeans' love for the home team stretches back more than 100 years, having endured a history of relocations and various incarnations of franchises bouncing between the majors and minors, and, more recently, the American and National leagues.