Miller Park (The Return)

Upper deck behind home plate with the roof open

Upper deck behind home plate with the roof open

Last time I visited Miller Park in 2010, I had scheduled a stadium tour followed by a night game at Wrigley. On the way back on I-94, I was pulled over for speeding. The patrolman asked why I going 78 in a 65 mph zone. I replied that I was in a hurry to make a game at Wrigley. We then spent a minute talking about the differences between Miller Park and Wrigley Field. Other friends from Chicago have commented at times about enjoying games at Miller Park, whether or not those games involved the Cubs. Curiosity piqued, I vowed to return to understand why people from all over the Midwest liked Miller Park so much. After spending a day there, it’s easy to see why. It fills a niche that no other park fills for a thousand miles.

A cheery atmosphere on the approach to Miller Park

A cheery atmosphere on the approach to Miller Park

Lest we forget, the two Chicago ballparks are outdoors. Even if you aren’t stuck under an overhang at Wrigley with the wind whipping around, April and May games can be brutally cold at times. Milwaukee has it slightly worse being 90 miles north of Chicago. And now that the Twins have moved outdoors, Miller Park is the only stadium in the Midwest that provides a comfortable domed environment for those occasional inclement weather games.

Not that the dome was needed during my visit. The temperature on Sunday was 70 with clear skies. The game would’ve been perfect at old County Stadium. Over 30,000 came to watch a tanking Brewers club take on an aging Phillies squad. It was a perfect matchup in 2010. Now it’s a matchup of also-rans. Fans came out to get a Carlos Gomez bobblehead, and unlike many other ballparks I’ve been to, there was a huge supply available at any gate even at first pitch.

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Just outside the left field entrance. Bernie Brewer’s home run slide visible on the right.

Before I entered the stadium, I drove to the general parking lot on the east bank of the Menomenee River. A pair pedestrian bridges connect the stadium to the general lots, with preferred lots located closer. It’s easy to be distracted by the various types of tailgating arrangements on display in the general lots. Orderly clusters lined each row with precision, while larger staging areas were set up next to the river. A live cover band played 90’s hits. Klement’s, the sausage company that makes the meat tubes for the Brewers and sponsors the famed sausage race, has its own outpost on the east bank. The pedestrian bridges, while short, created that processional feel that we A’s fans know from walking on the BART bridge. The Miller Park scenery is far less foreboding than industrial East Oakland, and Wisconsin even landscaped Hank Aaron State Trail along the river. The sausage racers were assembled on the bridges, posing for pictures with fans. The whole thing was friendly, friendly, friendly.

Right field lower concourse plaza

Right field lower concourse plaza

Enter the park at either the left or right field corners and you’re greeted by a wide concourse that feels equal parts arcade, state fair, and ballpark. The concourses are so wide that each corner has its own mini food court. Attractions for kids are everywhere along the outfield. The scene becomes less interesting around the infield, where suites and restrooms line the lower concourse, pushing fans out to the glass skin enveloping the ballpark. Behind home plate the fair resumes and views of the field are available.

Numerous escalators fill the space, and they’re necessary since there are four full levels of seats. The field (lower) deck has at most 26 rows. The loge (second) deck has less than 20. Each has its own full concourse. The loge deck has minimal cantilever over the field deck, extending well back over the lower concourse. A short club/suite level is sandwiched between the loge deck and the 20-row terrace (upper) deck. As if often the case in domes, the limited footprint required to conserve space forces more vertical construction. The upper deck is chock full of Uecker seats. I went up to Section 404 in the RF corner and took pictures from the top. It didn’t seem quite as high or cavernous as Chase Field, but it was close. At least from the bird’s eye view I got a real appreciation for how the roof was put together. A unique, five-panel fan shape, the roof has a pivot point behind the plate and travels on guides atop the outfield wall. Mitsubishi was forced to replace the bogies that move the roof panels in 2006 for over $13 million. The roof was open during the game, which allowed light to flood in from the top and through the large clerestory arches down both baselines. The windows in the outfield were also open. Although the roof’s mammoth presence tends to dominate the landscape from outside Miller Park, it manages to be somewhat minimized inside. It also helps that outfield signage is mostly limited to the center field scoreboard. After the game the roof was promptly closed.

Behind the batter's eye

Behind the batter’s eye

Just beyond the outfield fence are a series of party spaces. In left are the T.G.I.Friday’s bar and the Harley-Davidson Deck, plus Bernie Brewer’s slide, which the mascot uses whenever the home team hits a home run. In right is the Mountain Dew “Dew Deck” and field level seats behind the bullpen. There’s also a patio immediately behind the outfield fence with a full bar.

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Right field fence party patio

No Brewers game would be complete without a Klement’s bratwurst, which I scarfed down after throwing some secret stadium sauce on it. At $4.25 it’s a good deal, if a bit small. I also got a swirl frozen custard for $4.75. Given the poor craft beer choices and the fact that I had to immediately drive back to Chicago, I decided against getting a beer. One thing I noticed is that Miller Park’s concessions, run by Delaware North, are part of that growing trend of using volunteers with nonprofits as labor. I’m sure it’s a good way to raise money, and the staff were plenty competent, but I always come away from the experience feeling that teams only follow this practice to make some extra bucks.

Roof closed after the game

Roof closed after the game

If there’s a big negative, it’s that sneaking down is pretty difficult. The public service announcement for fans entering the ballpark urges them to stay in their assigned seat only. Ushers at every aisle checked tickets rigorously and repeatedly, even through the 7th inning. Maybe it’s easier with a smaller crowd, but while I was there enforcement was strong enough to be a serious deterrent.

View of Miller Park from Helfaer Field

View of Miller Park from Helfaer Field. Area outside 1B line is a designated legal ticket resale (scalping) area

When I visited Miller Park three years ago, I came away feeling it was too big, too gimmicky, and not intimate enough. While those points stand, they’ve been softened a little upon further review. Miller Park may be the friendliest ballpark in the majors, whether we’re talking about fans or staff. Sometimes people make all the difference. That’s definitely the case in Milwaukee.

14 thoughts on “Miller Park (The Return)

  1. Nice photo’s RM..

  2. if you’d had to rank all the new retractable roof new stadiums how would you rank them? i think you’ve done all of them in mia, sea, ari, hou, and mil.

    just by pure looks and if i had the choice i’d rank them sea, mia, ari, mil, and hou.

  3. @letsgoas – SEA, MIL, MIA, HOU, ARI, TOR

  4. Target Field as well

  5. @ML: Are the shadows with the roof open as bad as they look on TV?

    I’ve always felt Miller Park casts the worst open roof shadows of all the retractos.

    • @Briggs – They’ve shifted game times to help. After a while they decided that it’s best to start games when both pitcher and batter are in shadow, with no transition period. It’s a compromise.

  6. Anybody have any thoughts on today’s Knauss interview on 95.7?

    Looks like he wants to build at Howard Terminal now, and says it wouldn’t actually have all the cleanup costs that people say it would have.

  7. Knauss has no plan, no money, no naming rights deal, no investors, etc. Just some pie-in-the-sky suggestions, it sounds like. Which banks are going to finance a $500-$600 million (maybe more?) ballpark built on a contaminated site, to be funded with PSLs, which already failed when tried in Oakland?

  8. @George

    His plan is to pour some bleach over the contaminated area.

  9. At PJK
    The guy did not balk when asked about naming rights he said clorox would be interested “indeed”. He has met with mayor and Oakland Officials he has met with Alameda County official’s, he has met with Lew Wolff, he has met with MLB and has been told that Oakland must provide the burden of proof that there is a viable site, he has met with experts that have confirmed that the cleanup costs are not as astronomical as people say, howard terminal lease is up next month and did not stutter when asked about the possible 1 billion cost. Its easy to just call somebody a liar but this is a mover and shaker who is working behind the scenes and is willing and able to make something happen. Rich and succesful people consider thier time as thier most precious commodity and he would not be out there meeting with the power players and making the runs if he were not serious about working on this project. The guy had a hand in the minute maid naming deal and stadium design. So forgive me and every other Oakland supporter for taking his words at face value. If San Jose were such a homerun it would have been done a long time ago. Another point worth noting he said that Howard terminal can be secured in weeks not months so I think Oakland is getting ready to make a last minute pitch as well. Until the announcement is official they are still the OAKLAND A’s.

  10. Very telling quote by Don Knauss….
    “The 2 things that weve been tasked with by baseball is get the lease renewed and get site control and we are very close to those 2 things”

    Who is to say that MLB has not been delaying a decision in order to give Oakland more time to get those things done.

  11. re: The guy had a hand in the minute maid naming deal and stadium design.

    …Minute Maid Park had 68 percent public financing, vs. the 0 percent Knauss gets to work with in Oakland. The host of the radio show was wondering who these mysterious parties are who are supposedly interested in buying the A’s and why they are not coming forward RIGHT NOW. Sounds like Knauss hasn’t accomplished a thing in a year. Why didn’t he produce a $130 million Clorox naming rights contract for the Oakland ballpark? Because he can’t or won’t, probably. And he’s talking PSLs, which have already failed in Oakland, and the contaminated, railroad-obstructed Howard Terminal site. Pardon me if I’m not impressed.

  12. HP Pavilion uses fundraising groups as concession stand labor-you can see the name tags saying “volunteer group.” I never fail to complain about it on surveys, as most are poorly trained and clueless.

  13. The Raiders frequently use volunteers as well (some are a little overwhelmed with the beer crowd).

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