Milwaukee Brewers – September 14, 2018

Less than two weeks after getting home from an outstanding visit to Atlanta, I was once again hitting the road — well, the sky, technically — for a trip that would take me to Milwaukee’s Miller Park, which is my 15th different MLB ballpark since 2010. If you’re keeping score, that means that I’ve finally hit the halfway point to getting to all 30 MLB facilities.

As usual, the day began early with a 3 a.m. alarm and a trip to Ottawa/Macdonald-Cartier International Airport. This time, I took a quick, 63-minute flight to Toronto Pearson International Airport, where I had just over an hour to catch my flight to Milwaukee. If you’ve ever flown through Pearson, you know it’s big airport. It’s the busiest airport in Canada, and the 11th busiest in North America — and that means long lineups. It also means that a layover of only an hour can be a challenge. Thankfully, my decision to get a NEXUS card two years ago paid off big time on this trip. As I got to the security checkpoint at Pearson, there were several hundred people in the “regular” line, and perhaps a dozen in the NEXUS line. I was more than happy to maneuver my way to the NEXUS line, knowing that there was absolutely no way that I’d have made my flight to Milwaukee if it weren’t for having this pass.

I cleared security and customs in less than 10 minutes, and was soon on my way to my gate to wait for my United flight to Milwaukee. I snapped this shot out the window of the terminal as I approached my gate — that’s my airplane straight ahead, between all the Air Canada planes:

My flight from Toronto to Milwaukee was only 95 minutes, which made for one of the shortest and easiest travel days that I’ve had in a long time. And, because Milwaukee is one hour behind Toronto, I touched down just before 9 a.m. local time. I’m not always a fan of attending a game on the same day that I travel, because it can make for a long and rushed day. But the early arrival meant that I’d have more than enough time to get my rental car sorted out, explore the city a little, buy some groceries and check into my hotel before heading over to Miller Park.

Speaking of food, you probably know that Wisconsin — the 24th different state or province to which I’ve traveled for baseball, by the way — is known for its cheese. You might also know, especially if you’ve read this blog for a long time, that I am a bit of a cheese lover. All that to say, when I stepped into the terminal of General Mitchell International Airport and immediately saw this display outside of my gate …

… I knew I was going to enjoy Milwaukee.

My early arrival time meant that it was nice not to have to rush through the airport. I took a little while to browse a Green Bay Packers merchandise shop, checked out a Harley-Davidson store and also toured through the Mitchell Gallery of Flight, an aviation museum inside of the airport. After wandering around the airport for a bit, I headed for the car rental area and picked up the ride that I’d be using for the next four days. For this trip, I picked up a Kia Soul — sort of an odd selection for someone who is 6’3″, but I have to admit that it was roomier than I’d expected, and pretty fun to drive.

The airport was less than 10 miles away from my hotel, but because I’d arrived so early, I knew that it was way too early to check in. I sought out a Guitar Center, which is something that I like to do when I travel, and spent a bit of time there, before visiting a Dick’s Sporting Goods and browsing for a while. Both stops ate up a fair bit of time, and by the time I’d eaten a quick lunch and stopped at a nearby Target to buy some water and snacks for my visit, I figured I’d test my luck at an early check-in.

The hotel that I visited for this trip was the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. It’s about 1.5 miles from Miller Park, making it the closet hotel to the ballpark. After parking, I made my way through the enormous hotel, inquired at the front desk to see if my room was ready — and was relieved to hear that it was. I’d left everything in the car in case there wasn’t a room available, so I then made my way back to the parking structure, gathered up my backpack, suitcase and groceries, once again made the walk through the hotel and was seriously sweating by the time I stepped into the elevator — but thrilled to be checking in so early. Whenever I check into a hotel, my favorite thing is rushing to the window and seeing what the view is like. This is especially true of hotels that are close to ballparks, as I’m strangely obsessed with being able to see the park from my window. In this hotel, there was no need to rush to the window. One entire side of the room was made of glass, so the second I stepped through the door, I could see Miller Park — and that was an exciting feeling.

Here’s how the scene looked from my room:

Granted, it’s a little hazy in the distance, but Miller Park was unmistakable, and just seeing it made me pumped to go check it out. (By the way, the grass fields you see on the right are the soccer/lacrosse/field hockey fields for Marquette University, which were occupied for much of my visit to Milwaukee and fun to watch from my room.)

After checking in, I still had a couple of hours until I wanted to head over to Miller Park. Fortunately, I was staying in a place in which killing time wouldn’t be a challenge. I love staying in casino hotels, even though there’s no part of me that has an interest in gambling. In fact, over the course of my four-day stay, I didn’t wager a single dollar on anything. My interest in this type of hotel is that there are always things to see and do at any hour, and I soon set off to take a big walk through the building. I walked around the gaming floor for several minutes, checked out a bunch of the restaurants that I’d sample over the course of my stay and even toured the fitness center — a place that I didn’t spend much time in, although given all that I ate at Miller Park, that wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

Then, I went back up to my room and grabbed a chair by the window and just enjoyed the view. A handful of Marquette lacrosse players were practicing on the field below me, so they kept me entertained while I took regular glances at the ballpark in the distance.

Eventually, I couldn’t handle looking at Miller Park from afar any longer, and had to get over there. I’d been debating on whether I’d walk or drive to the ballpark, and while 1.5 miles isn’t a tough distance, I decided that driving would be the best bet. The drive, of course, took just a couple of minutes, and it was cool to see the ballpark in the distance for the entirety of the short trip. I parked my rental car in the cheapest lot and walked for a few minutes until I saw Miller Park just a short distance from where I stood:

I quickly moved closer to the park and then went around to the side with the sign so that I could snap this panorama of the glorious sight in front of me:

Ballpark #71!

My plan, as always, was to walk around the ballpark a couple of times before going in. First, though, I snapped this sunny picture …

… and then set out to enjoy the sights.

One thing that I quickly noted is how much of a tailgating atmosphere was present at Miller Park. A few friends/fellow baseball road trippers had pointed out this feature to me in advance of my visit, and they definitely weren’t exaggerating. Although you don’t see a whole lot of people in the two above images, the parking lots were a happening place and getting busier by the minute. The tailgating culture at Miller Park is heavily influenced by the tailgating at Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, which is less than two hours away. I should note that this game took place on a Friday, and the tailgating definitely intensified during the weekend games.

Another interesting thing that I noticed was the lineup of fans outside of the TGI Friday’s restaurant:

It opens before the ballpark’s gates open, so it’s a popular way to get in early. I wasn’t planning to experience this restaurant during my first visit, but had plans to do so three days later.

Next, I checked out some of the plaques on the Brewers Wall of Honor, which you may have noticed on left side of the image above, and then browsed the plaques commemorating the team’s all-time stars that were situated in the ground of the plaza outside of the park. Having been in Atlanta just a couple of weeks earlier and seen a bunch of Hank Aaron displays, it was fun to see Hammerin’ Hank again being recognized:

Although, I thought that it was unfortunate to see this plaque in such a state of disrepair. Wouldn’t you agree?

Speaking of Aaron, I also checked out his statue outside of one of the gates and snapped this photo:

(Want a shirt like the one I’m wearing? You can buy one here to wear on your next baseball road trip!)

Perhaps because I’d been to Atlanta so recently, SunTrust Park was in my mind as I walked around Miller Park, and I was definitely aware of the major differences in the areas that surround both ballparks. SunTrust has 1,001 things to see and do within a few minutes walk (or so it seemed) and that’s not the case at Miller Park. Short of tailgating, looking at the stadium and visiting the team shop, which I did before the gates opened, there’s not a lot of stuff to do. That said, I was really enjoying the contrast between the two locations. Miller Park’s “neighborhood,” for lack of a better term, felt very laid back — and on a mild September afternoon, that was just perfect for me.

I spent the next hour or so walking around the ballpark a couple of times, occasionally sitting on a bench to just admire the structure before me. As the park got closer to opening, I got in line about 10 people back from the front. It wasn’t long before the gates opened, and when they did, I entered the park into an area that had a number of large concession stands. I took a couple of minutes to browse their menus, but this was not a time to eat. As always, I wanted to get to the seating bowl to see the field for the first time. Because I could hear batting practice taking place, I navigated my way to the seats in right field, and hurried down to the front row. This was the view from where I stood:

There wasn’t a single other fan in this entire section just yet, which meant that if any Pirates hitter could smack a home run to left field, the ball would be mine for the snagging. That task proved to be a little much to ask, however, and after 10 minutes of seeing nothing closer than a ball that landed on the warning track, I decided to continue my sightseeing.

The next spot I visited was the Brewers Authentics kiosk, which offered as good a selection of game-used items as I’ve ever seen at a ballpark. (Which, of course, is both a good and a bad thing … and this kiosk would definitely have some of my money before I left Milwaukee.) Take a look at this photo of part of the display:

You can see game-used jerseys, pants, bats, baseballs and even some of the old suite signs from Miller Park. They also had clubhouse stalls set up with nameplates, uniforms, helmets and bases for sale:

Although I knew I’d need to buy something from this kiosk, I resisted the urge for a while and continued taking a walk around the concourse. When I got to the area behind home plate, I walked down to the cross-aisle behind the field level seats and took this panorama:

The sun was so brightly glaring off the windows beyond the outfield that part of this photo is washed out, but it still shows a number of cool things. I love how the Brewers display their retired numbers, which you’ll see high above either side of the video board. I think it’s one of the more visible positions in the big leagues, and I imagine that it’s inspiring for players to be able to sit in their dugouts and glance up at those numbers. You’ll also notice the retractable roof, which I was very glad to see open. In fact, it was one of the first things I checked when I saw the ballpark from my hotel window. I understand the value of closed roofs for games, but I love being able to see the sky while I watch baseball. Another thing to notice in the panorama above is the Friday’s restaurant, which is above the fence in left field. Here’s a closer look:

The restaurant has both “inside” and “outside” tables — the latter are behind the railing immediately above the “Fridays” and “State Farm” signage, while the inside tables are farther back, inside of the restaurant. As you might expect, the outside tables are a lot more popular and fill up quickly, and I’m pleased to say that I was able to get one on my last visit to Miller Park — which I’ll be detailing in a few blog posts from now, of course.

As I stood behind home plate and watched the Pirates hit, I have to admit that the idea of sitting in this restaurant during BP got me excited, so I walked around the concourse and found a spot where I could check out the view from behind an empty table:

This is one of the more unique ways to watch batting practice in the big leagues, isn’t it?

Soon after taking that photo, I was back on the move and walking through the outfield part of the concourse. One of the neatest things about the Miller Park design is just how open it is. Take a look at the following picture:

The field is out of sight to the left, and that’s the plaza outside of the stadium behind the windows on the right. I don’t know if I can think of another MLB park that uses as many windows, and it makes for a friendly, open feel as you walk along the concourse.

The next spot that I checked out was the Autograph Alley wall, which featured a huge selection of autographed balls:

It was quite an eclectic mix — in addition to signed balls from many baseball legends, there were also a ton of signed balls from Brewers fans located around the world, which I thought was a neat way to connect the team with its supporters.

I browsed the display of baseballs for a while, and then decided that I was time to grab some dinner. I’d frequently been thinking of my earlier perusal of the concession stands, and knew that I wanted to stick with some local fare for my first Miller Park meal. That meal came in the form of a Johnsonville bratwurst sausage on a bun:

Johnsonville is headquartered in nearby Sheboygan Falls, WI, which is less than an hour from Miller Park. A brat on a bun cost $5.75, but for an extra $1, you could get one with warm sauerkraut and “Secret Stadium Sauce,” so that’s what I chose. And I’ve got to say, of all the Johnsonville brats that I’ve eaten in my life, this one was easily the best. I can’t really put my finger on what made it better — and perhaps I was influenced by my surroundings — but this was a simple meal that I won’t soon forget.

After eating, I continued to explore Miller Park. The crowds were still pretty sparse at this point, so weaving my way through the concourse and checking out different seating sections and angles of the ballpark was easy. I spent a moment in these seats behind the left field foul pole …

… and then climbed a set of stairs up to the next level of seating, pausing to snap a shot from this little landing:

I mentioned the prevalence of the windows in the design of Miller Park earlier, and should add one thing. While there are lots of windows, there are also lots of open areas — spaces in which the glass panels slide out of the way, thus eliminating the barrier between the interior and exterior of the park. This was another feature that I enjoyed. As I walked around, the warm autumn breeze was evident at many points, and I spent several minutes in front of one of the openings on the second level of the park, enjoying watching the pregame action unfold behind me as I felt the fresh air on my back. From this spot, with my back turned to home plate, I also had a good view of fans approaching the park as first pitch got closer:

As is often the case when tailgating is involved, there are a lot of fans who don’t actually enter the stadium until after the game begins, and that was definitely the deal here, too.

Since I was already on the second level, I decided to go all the way up to the upper deck to watch the start of the game from that vantage point. Here’s how the scene was just moments before the teams took the field:

Tailgating-related absences aside, there were a number of empty seats throughout the stadium — which surprised me a bit, because this Brewers team was an exciting one that was on its way toward winning its division. I understand when September attendance dips in markets in which the team is out of the hunt, but I fully expected Miller Park to be a lot more crowded with the Brewers heading toward the playoffs. Anyway, the open seats meant that I had no trouble finding a spot to sit in the upper deck for the first inning. Afterward, I decided to go back down to the main concourse, and went straight for the Brewers Authentics kiosk again. Earlier, I’d done some preliminary browsing, but now I wanted to devote a little more time to finding an item that I wanted to buy. One item that caught my eye was an Orlando Arcia batting helmet, complete with a C-Flap, from Players’ Weekend:

This piece of game-used gear was listed for a cool $500, though, so I decided that I’d have to continue my search. I browsed a few more of the items and talked to one of the sales reps about some of the products on display, but decided not to buy anything just yet. I still had lots of time for that, I figured.

My next stop was one of the Culver’s concession stands, where I bought a cup of frozen vanilla custard. Culver’s is a fast food chain that is based in Wisconsin, so after my Johnsonville brat, I thought that it was only fitting to eat locally with my choice of dessert:

I must admit that I didn’t have high expectations when I ordered the frozen custard. For whatever reason, I figured it would simply taste like vanilla ice cream, but I was blown away at how unique this treat tasted. It definitely had a custardy taste, and while I won’t pretend to be enough of a food reviewer to describe what a “custardy” taste is like, I’ll definitely tell you that this sweet treat is the perfect dessert at Miller Park.

After eating, I decided to check out The Selig Experience, which many readers and people on Twitter/Instagram had wholeheartedly recommended to me prior to my visit. It’s an exhibit that tells the story of former MLB commissioner and longtime Brewers owner Allan (Bud) Selig, who was instrumental in bringing big league baseball to Milwaukee and keeping it there. Although I knew some of this story, there was a wealth of information that was new to me, and I found this exhibit to be hugely informative.

It took place in a small theater and was popular enough that there were frequent lineups when I’d passed by several times earlier. This time, there was no one in line, so I grabbed a spot and waited a few minutes for the previous show to end and the new one to begin. Surprisingly, I was the only person in the theater, which looked to be able to accommodate maybe 20 or 30 people. It was sort of funny to sit there in the dark and essentially have a private showing of the movie that told Selig’s story!

Photos weren’t permitted in the theater itself, but I did snap this recreation of Selig’s office on the way out:

The Selig Experience is free to enter, although depending on when you arrive, you may have to wait for a few minutes in line. I highly recommend it, and while I don’t have to give its secrets away, I’ll tell you that it’s more than just a movie.

After leaving the theater, I went down to an area behind the Pirates bullpen, where I had this noteworthy view:

OK, so the view itself might not seem overly noteworthy, but the players are noteworthy to me. The outfielder is Jordan Luplow, who I’ve seen at three different levels of the minors in my travels dating back to 2014. I saw him with the:

As for Nick Kingham, the player in the bullpen, I also saw him in the minors last season as a member of the Indianapolis Indians. If you remember the snowy game that I attended in Syracuse in April, Kingham was the starting pitcher in that one.

I absolutely love following the careers of players I see in the minors, and this is especially true when I’ve had the fortune of seeing certain guys at multiple levels.

Midway through the game, I once again went back to the upper deck and found a seat that gave me this view:

That’s where I remained for the rest of the contest, and was soon back in my hotel room, enjoying the nighttime view of Miller Park in the distance.

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