Sunday, September 28, 2008

Is This Heaven? No, It's Milwaukee

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 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.


tommcmahon said...

Terrific post, Mike.

Anonymous said...

You said: "I have never had a bad time at a baseball game."

Did you have a good time when you were kicked out for physically espousing your political views during our national pastime in front of hundreds of horried and disgusted fans?

Mike Plaisted said...

That wasn't me, you stupid jerk. But, thanks for asking.

Anonymous said...

Mark Simons was one of the first people I thought of as the confetti streamed down. I could see him from my seat in the second deck, taking it all in. He's a great ambassador for the Brewers, and a heckuva nice guy to boot. The "Ricky Room" is a bit eccentric but if Steph's OK with it...

Anonymous said...

So this wasn't you, you stupid jerk?

Were you lying to us all?

Anonymous said...

Yes, he was lying to us for dramatic's par for the course for the left.

Obviously we all know Mike is closer to 65 than he is his "early 20's."

Prosqtor said...

Another great post, Mike. I've only been a Wisconsinite for 10 years but immediately become a Brewers fan, if for no other reason than it gave me -- a lifelong White Sox fan -- reason to hate the Cubs more. I watched the video of Braun's homer just now and still get chills.

Let's beat the Phils, and then get back to sniping about politics. ;)

Jim said...

God, the anony posters here are really infantile.......

William Tyroler said...

It is a good post ... but that won't stop me from being the skunk at the garden party.

This is not a good team; not, anyway, if you measure competence by ability to compete for a championship. Long and short of it is that the time-tested adage remains true: defense wins championships, and in baseball that means defense up the middle. Generally speaking, the Brewers are sub-par defensively, but they're especially deficient at 2nd base. Last night, Weeks' defensive lapse wasted a gutsy performance by the pitching staff and cost the Brewers any chance of winning the game (and, for that matter, the series). That's nothing new. Cameron, supposedly stalwart in the field, misplayed a ball that even recorded as a hit, should have been caught.

No surprise, really, that defensive lapses were decisive; that's the way it's been all year. (And not just up the middle.) Nor that they couldn't put the ball in play when they needed to. Poor as they are defensively, their offensive droughts are equally problematic. I went to a game in May and was stunned at how they consistently tried to pull everything. Didn't matter if it was junk, or low and away. And they were still doing it yesterday. And they'll do it today -- because that's the way they're all hardwired.

If Sabathia can't shut the Phillies out today, the Brewers are likely to be swept. What about next year? Well, they lose their 1 & 2 pitchers, Sabathia & Sheets. And they still can't field and they can't hit. Could be another long dry spell.

Doug said...
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Other Side said...

I suppose god is in favor of rants like yours, Doug. Me thinks god would be jst a littled pissed.

Mr. Tyroler: The biggest issue, aside from everything else you presented, is the Brewers are a very unpatient team. Opposing teams know this. Witness Corey Hart's flailing at the plate this past month.

Hart was a notorious first pitch swinger most of the season. Teams finally figured this out and began starting him out with sliders, low and away. Next thing you know the count is 0-2 and Hart is in defensive mode.

Now, pitchers are throwing first-pitch strikes because Hart has been laying off the slider. He's completely confused.

The entire team looks confused.

William Tyroler said...

OS: good points, all. I imagine, though, that your polite rebuke of Doug is probably too subtle for him, so I'll add: Doug, your comment is equal parts despicable and incoherent, but either way reflects only on you.

Mike Plaisted said...

Sorry, guys. The Doug post didn't get in my e-mail -- probably because of vugarity spam filter.

As for the Brewers, I'll be yelling my lungs out tomorrow night from the proximity of the third-base dugout and hope for the best. At least we didn't lose 2 at home, like the Cubs.

Right now, the team seems in over its head, starting with Sveum. They will actually be rebuilding next year, at least the starting pitching.

This may be our only chance for a couple years.

Doug said...
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doug said...
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