Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On To Milwaukee (or) The First Low Outside Curve Ballpark Road Trip

I've often heard that the two things America will be remembered for, hundreds of years from now, will be the Constitution and jazz music. Both represent a cultural shift that grew to affect the world. Americans did not invent democracy or social reason, nor were they the first to apply rhythm and melody, but they pushed each form forward. I would venture to believe that baseball and the road trip are in near equal standing in the canon of American lore. Once more, Americans neither invented sports or travel, but there is something so uniquely American about each. Baseball has often been a catalyst for social change, be it worker unions or integration. The dream of the open road, exploring the unknown in a car with some friends, is at the heart of what it means to be from this nation. Last Sunday, I took a trip to Milwaukee with three of my best friends to see a baseball game. The score will someday soon be forgotten, but it is the experience that will hold through time.

As our late twenties have moved in, the realization of responsibilities have bound the waste-able hours we once knew. Day jobs, girlfriends, wives, and even children are what consume our lives now. That is not to say that any of those are bad. Just as I was told when I was much younger, the things that bring me joy have evolved and become more oriented around becoming an adult. Yet there still needs to be a release from the everyday. Sports have always been an outlet to vicariously experience something outside of my normal life. Sports are a bonding experience for me. As the crew was assembled- Alex, Ben, Kevin and myself, there was an excitement to have a day away from our Indiana lives. We were going to Milwaukee to watch the Brewers take on the Reds in a contest where none of us had any real rooting interest. It was the experience of visiting a new ballpark. None of us had been to Miller Park. Given the ten-dollar voucher program the Brewers put on in August because of the Ryan Braun scandal, the idea of visiting this month was a ten spot sweeter.

We slept Saturday night at Kevin's house. The trip was to begin early the next morning if we were to have time to tailgate. The uncomfortable night of sleep begat a slow morning for Alex, Ben, and I. Kevin noted a few times how he slept on a real bed and felt great. Coffee was a priority. Once we had loaded up Ben's trunk with the remainder of the case of beer we purchased the night before, we were on the road. Kevin took it upon himself to document the day by taking pictures early and often. The morning cool quickly turned to a manageable mid-August heat. Windows down, we headed into Illinois. Our route would take us around Chicago, long enough to, as always, point out how large the Sears Tower is, and short enough to forget it and move on to more pressing issues such as the music of Tetris. Whenever the guys get together, we talk of sports. Not just baseball, but the impending football season as well. As long as I've been watching baseball, the game has allowed for conversation. It allows the fan to forget about the game and move on, then pick it up later just as if nothing had changed. The game doesn't mind if thoughts stray or we leave it completely for other ventures. After all, it is a leisurely game.

Our arrival at Miller Park was earlier than expected. We had made fantastic time and had ample opportunity to down a few cheap trunk beers. Conversation turned rapidly from family to work stories to the unexpected attractiveness of Brewers fans. A man claiming to be a veteran approached us and gave each an American flag pin. Lightly intoxicated, we could not resist. When the man asked for donations, Ben proclaimed "I got this you guys," and reached for his wallet. He pulled out two fives, intending to give just one, but the man took both. I could tell the kindness in Ben's heart wrestled with whether or not the man was really a veteran and deserved ten bucks for four cheaply made pins, but he sided with reasonable belief and let the man wander off to another group. This was brought up several times throughout the day.

Miller Park features a retractable dome, but on a day like that particular Sunday, the roof was as wide open as possible. As we walked through the gate and began the trek to our seats, we each stopped to take pictures of the grand modern baseball cathedral before our eyes. Having spent most baseball games at Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field, the sight of a mammoth Colosseum like Miller Park was breathtaking. It was that feeling of being to a ballgame for the first time all over again. The aroma of grass and ballpark food was just shy of overwhelming, yet definitely welcomed. As we found our seats, upper deck straight behind home plate, I felt a sense of pride over my selection of tickets. Our sight lines were incredible, although I'd be hard-pressed to find a poor seat in the entire stadium. The game began, and the four divided into competitive sides. For argument's sake, Ben and I were for the Brewers, Alex and Kevin sided with the Reds. Not one of us cared much for the outcome, which was quickly determined as the Reds broke the game open with five runs in the second inning. That lead would prove insurmountable, as the gold-alternate-jersey clad home team would only plate one run all day. This gave us opportunity to explore the park without feeling like we'd be missing a close game.

We split up and conquered the premises. I made it a personal goal to wander around every corner of Miller Park in attempt to really experience it in entirety. Of course, on a budget there are many things I could not do, such as the numerous attractions, some not just for small children, that were peppered throughout the park. Innings quickly passed and I found my way back to our section with a tall beer and a regulation-sized Brewers helmet full of nachos. Not a minute after I found my seat, Brewers' outfielder Khris Davis launched a solo home run to left center. Despite their team trailing 9-1 following that score, the Brewer faithful still treated it as if he had tied the game. The mascot, Bernie Brewer, danced around an glided down a spiral slide as he does with every Milwaukee home run. It was something I hoped that I would see, and I was not disappointed. The game was still out of hand for the Brewers, and it was quickly made clear I would need assistance in finishing my nachos. Thankfully I was with friends kind enough to help.

We stayed until the final out. Something I was surprised to see was common despite the blowout home loss. We made a timely exit from the park following one last trip to the restroom, which was delightfully empty. There was no wait to leave the building. Everyone left in an orderly fashion. It was something truly foreign to me, being a veteran of Chicago ballgames. Sun-bleached and tired, the trip back to Indiana was a fight to stay awake. For Kevin and Alex, the fight was lost somewhere around the Wisconsin-Illinois border. We returned home safe, now each with one more ballpark stamped in our passports. The day was done. The game was over. The memories of a guys day out at the ballpark will linger long after the scent of crushed beer cans leaves Ben's trunk.

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