Day 9: Miller Park

I have to admit that on my way back from Milwaukee, I was caught speeding by an Illinois State Trooper. I was going 82 in a 65 zone. I explained to the officer that I was coming back from a Miller Park tour, though I also neglected to mention I was also coming back from a Miller Brewery tour (no, I was not drunk in the slightest). Stopped on the I-94 shoulder, the officer asked why a guy from California with Michigan plates was in such a hurry. I replied that I was going to a game at Wrigley tonight, and while I didn’t expect any sympathy, I hoped that a brief local sports chat would loosen things up a bit. Thankfully, it did the trick, but not before the following exchange:

Officer: So how was Miller Park?
Me: Eh, it’s okay.
Officer: Just okay?
Me: I felt that it lacks the kind of intimacy you’d like in an outdoor park. The dome really dominates everything.

The officer turned around and walked back to his car, where he finished writing up my warning. I was curious about his reaction to my opinion, but I never got the chance to ask.

No doubt, Miller Park has far more to it than its predecessor, utilitarian County Stadium. It’s much bigger and luxurious, stays warm in the early months of the baseball season, and represents a signature architectural piece in area that lacks them. Still, one can’t get over the sense of sheer excess that went into creating the place. Driving towards the stadium, one can’t help but get the feeling that it overwhelms its landscape. Once (if) one gets past the sheer size of it, what remains is a very competent ballpark, one that is more than equipped to keep up with the big market teams.

Getting there

I figured the trooper as a Cubs fan, which made him likely to be one of thousands of Northsiders to enjoy heading 90 miles north every season to take in a game or a series at Miller Park. The Brewers get a good number of fans through the turnstiles this way, just as the A’s benefit from Giants, Red Sox, or Yankees fans invading their turf. Traveling to the park was simple enough, although a trip to make a midday tour is not the same as rush hour traffic to make a game. The stadium has its own freeway exit off I-94, making ingress and egress a breeze. Large parking lots around the facility celebrate the long history of tailgating in Milwaukee, accompanied by plenty of local brew and sausages. A few buses run by the ballpark, but it’s abundantly clear that this is a place for cars, not transit.

Ticketing

I had previously seen a game at Miller Park a couple of years after it opened. Impressions are much the same. Sure, the stated capacity is a bit shy of 42,000, but that didn’t stop the Brewers from spreading everyone out in nearly every dimension imaginable. The ballpark has four complete decks in foul territory 2 separate club levels, 2 suite levels, and multiple levels in the outfield. The fan-shaped roof has dual large columns at its pivot point, creating an unfortunate obstructed view situation in the upper deck ($1 seats helps make up for that). No wonder the Cubs fans come. If Wrigley Field feels like cramming people into a clown car, Miller Park feels like stretching out in a Town Car. Comparable tickets also cheaper, especially since there’s no insane premium attached to bleacher seats.

Then again, even with the roof and windows open, it still feels like it’s indoors, only someone left a door open to let in a draft. The often cool climate creates a situation where the team is more worried about heating the ballpark, not cooling it.

At nearly 10 years old, Miller Park has proven to be somewhat overbuilt, though not to the negative effect of Coors Field (too many seats). Suite demand fell off over the years, so the team responded by taking 4 suites on the third base side of the upper suite level and converted them into a separate club area.

Concessions
Renovations being done during an August off week indicate that the Brewers are quick to respond to market changes and new customers. The week that we took the tour, we informed that PNC Bank (yes, that PNC) will sponsor the mezzanine club level. New logos and rugs were already in place to celebrate the new sponsor.

Since I did not get to attend a game, I missed out on one of the legendary bratwursts with the secret sauce. I’ve had it before, and I have to say that while the sauce may be overrated, the freshness of the brat made it outstanding. When you turn over that many brats every home game, things are bound to be fresh. Beer selection has improved, with stuff other than Miller on tap. The Friday’s Front Row grill, which is open to the public year round, has two sets of 6-7 taps, one side for big domestics and the other for smaller and craft brews. I partook in Horny Goat’s Hopped Up and Horny, a not overly hoppy IPA. In any case, selection is better than at Busch, that’s for sure.

Circulation
Navigating four levels can be a pain, which makes that numerous ramps and escalators very useful. Concourses may be the widest of any domed ballpark, so getting around and queueing for concessions is easy.

Other observations

  • The real Bob Uecker seat in the broadcast booth is quite nice.
  • Did you know that ESPN broadcasts a national game, they require the use of 3 auxiliary press booths, often squeezing out alternate language broadcasters?
  • Behind the home plate gate there a touching monument to the three fallen crane operators, from whose accident construction was delayed.
  • Further out in the parking lot is Helfaer Field, a small diamond sited where County Stadium used to be. It came about as a result of a $3 million donation by the Helfaer Foundation, thus the name.

Wrap-up

The picture at the top of this article shows a blank pedestal, similar to ones built to hold bronze sculptures of Hank Aaron and Robin Yount. It is expected that this third one will contain a similar statue of one H.R. “Bud” Selig. While the team was handed to Selig’s daughter Wendy Selig-Prieb’s hands, it would be foolish to think that the commissioner’s power didn’t extend into how Miller Park was built, especially given that he moved the commish’s office to Milwaukee. While Selig has crowed often about a new or renovated ballpark in 28 of 30 MLB cities, this is surely the one that makes him proudest. In a sense it’s wholly appropriate. Miller Park is massive like the sluggers of the steroid era, when the venue was built. Whatever machinations went into getting it built, the end justifies the means. While Brewers and Cubs fans can luxuriate in the stadium’s opulence, it’s hard not to feel a bit awkward about the whole thing. For that, thanks Bud. It is truly in your image.

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