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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.