For sheer drama, you could not beat the last week of the Brewer’s amazing run to the playoffs. Left for dead – by me and others – after their epic fail in Philadelphia two weeks ago, this remarkable group of cheerful and talented youngsters somehow found a way, with the much-appreciated help of the Mets.
Although baseball accomplishments can usually be determined by raw numbers – the unfortunate but entertaining steroid era notwithstanding – I don’t think there is a category for the kind of impact that CC Sabathia has had in terms of dominant pitching and team spirit since the trade that brought him here in July. Whatever you call it, his performance in the last three months of the season is nothing short of historic. He might end up 5th in the Cy Young voting, but he should be the league MVP.
And then there are Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. After the entire team sleep-walked their way out of the wild card lead in the first half of the month, Prince suddenly came alive in Chicago with two home runs on September 16th and stayed hot the rest of the year. He sparked this week’s magical run with his walk-off home run on Tuesday, followed by Braun’s grand slam walk-off on Thursday. Braun produced a similar blast today, breaking a tie while the Mets were losing and Sabathia was being nothing less than super-human on his third short start.
It remains to be seen how long the Brewers hang around in the playoffs. They stunk in almost every clutch series they had this year – from that fiasco at Fenway in May to getting swept twice by the Cubs at home and in New York and Philly this month. There is a difference between squeaking into the playoffs and being ready for prime time. But, in prime time they will be this week, and that alone is reason to party.
I know, I know...you can read amateur baseball analysis in hundreds of places and people come to my little blog here to ponder more weighty affairs. Please, gentle readers, allow me this slight indulgence.
The Brewers and I have been through a lot since they came to town in 1970. I’ve been to hundreds of games through the years, mostly in small crowds watching mediocre-to-bad teams in County Stadium. I’ve been to Brewers games with the three most important men in my life – my dad, my brother and my son – and with lots of lovers and friends.
Dad, who brought me to Braves games in the ‘60s, took me to a game on my birthday in 1971. They had some poor old guy in a trailer perched up on the scoreboard, and the deal was he couldn’t come down until 40,000 people came to a game – sort of a variation on the famous National Lampoon cover: Buy This Magazine or We’ll Shoot This Dog. I don’t know what was so special about August 16th, but the weather was nice and enough people showed up that whoever had devised this tortuous promotion set the guy free. They gave him a rope after the game and had him slide down with no gloves, burning his hands. It was the last baseball game I ever saw with my dad.
The Brewers were a very forgettable team for the rest of the ‘70s – except for Hank Aaron’s last laps in ‘75 and ‘76 – until 1978 when Paul Molitor came up and George Bamburger somehow got them to play some decent baseball for the next couple of years. My brother and I were in the left field bleachers at Game 5 against the Angels in '82, when the Brewers came from behind to win and go to the World Series. While the ball was still rolling to short on the last play of the game, Jimmy was already over the fence, running for the infield celebration, where, he claims, he patted Robin Yount’s head. I was way behind him but eventually caught up and we danced on the grass and deliberately joined a traffic jam on Wisconsin Ave., taking turns driving and walking, high-fiving complete strangers on the usually deserted street.
Through the years, I continued to go to games whenever someone wanted to go, with friends, girlfriends, wives, nieces, nephews, sisters and in-laws. Baseball is a mellow game in the first place and, with the Brewers most of those years, no expectations. You can sit and talk, look up at the crack of the bat, and go back to your conversation. I have never had a bad time at a baseball game.
I was there for the last hit in Molitor’s hitting streak and Robin’s 3,000th. I missed Easter Sunday in ‘87 and promised never to forgive Bud Selig for losing the ‘94 World Series to labor strife. [To the anticipated right-wing snipers: save it. I know the union called the strike. I also know that baseball’s historically inept management’s failed miserably with their tough-guy strategy and still got rolled when everyone got back to work.]
I worked for the Wisconsin Federation of Teachers in the ‘90s and my partner there was a huge baseball fan. Even though he lived in Madison, he got season tickets and I took a quarter of the games. As the Brewers moved to Miller Park (and he moved to Story Hill), his seats got better and much more expensive – I went from a quarter-season to 20 to 15 to 10 games a year until, a couple of years ago, just taking his increasingly rare cast-offs. Mark Simons has become one of the most familiar faces in the Park – earning the title Doorman by showing Sammy Sosa the door to his dugout after strikeouts – and I was (and am) lucky to be part of he and Stephanie’s loyal baseball family. The seats are right on the 3rd base dugout and it was a great place to take my son as he grew up, being close to the players and getting loads of game balls from players and umpires.
I watched most of the game on TV today – actually, I was in the car listening to Uecker’s classic call of Braun’s homer when that happened. I called my boy and we smiled over the phone; called my brother and asked "where were you in ‘82" as we celebrated another milestone. We’ll all be in the Park when the Brewers have their first non-World Series home playoff game since that day when Jimmy and I jumped the fence and danced on that day’s Field of Dreams. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we can have that moment again, and – in our imagination, anyway – my boy and I can go out on the Field, and maybe even have a catch.