Baseball’s Best Kept Secret and Other Crank Notes
I have the DirecTV Baseball Package, which is both a blessing and a curse (Blessing: ten games on at the same time; Curse: you can’t watch ten games at the same time), and one of its best features is the ability to tune into MLB venues you normally don’t and hear some of the best broadcasters around that many people have never heard.
This digital gold mining also applies to fans, and on Friday night I uncovered a world I’d been seeing in dribs and drabs for about three years, a world where the baseball sun always shinesâ€”even though it doesn’tâ€”and wonderful outcomes always seem imminentâ€”even when they’re not. Maybe it’s the quality of the broadcasts’ direction, or the sound levels used in the control booth, but the Milwaukee Brewers seem to me to have the best fans in the game.
No one would ever know this, because Miller Park games are shown nationally about as often as Charlie Manson’s parole hearings, but I watched their Friday and Saturday night games against contending Cincinnati in front of packed, joyous houses and I could swear I was watching a pivotal game in the last week of September. The fans were happy, excited, loud, and completely focused on the action from start to finish. They wore goofy hats, goofier grins, and ugly blue retro Brewer shirts from the early ’80s were everywhere. In olden times they would be called “cranks,” but this crowd seems to go beyond mere crankdom.
We hear about Red Sox and Cub nations to death, and everyone knows how Yankee games draw when they’re not demanding your first-born child for a premier seat. Yet other than the fantastic St. Louis Cardinal fans, we never hear about other Midwestern followings unless we’re discussing the paltry attendance at Pittsburgh or Cincinnati or Kansas City games, though the Royals have been making progress with their base of late.
How about SoCal? Well, out here the Dodgers usually draw a lot, though promotions, fireworks and great weather contribute mightily. Dodger Stadium is still a classic facility but is also still plagued with a late-arriving, early-departing crowd that seems more obsessed with beach balls, the Wave and their iPhones than the game. And please don’t talk to me about “beating the traffic,” because that’s nonsense. Horrible game traffic is everywhere. The Dodger fan arrives in the 3rd and/or leaves in the 7th because the game is not seen as a dramatic event but like a party, a social event that you arrive fashionably late to and leave before the beer or cool guests run out.
Down in Anaheim, I attended a Red Sox game a few weeks ago and while not as prone to the social issue as the palace to the north, Angel Stadium has been transformed into a deafening cross between a Metallica concert and totalitarian rally. In the ten minutes before Angel players take the field, a time formerly occupied in most parks by soothing organ music or fan-led cheers, a headache-inducing sound system pounds awful rock music to go with their endless Angel action videos until you’re ready to duck into a rest room for solitude. Many of the hardcore Angel season ticket holders seem to be middle aged and elderly people who have followed the team since the early Autry days and still come with their little hat pins and scorebooks. Who exactly are they marketing this team to? Then the game begins, and fans basically sit there until the scoreboard prompts them to make noise, creating a disconnect with the actual action that is nothing less than disturbing.
Which brings me thankfully back to Milwaukee, a place I’ve never been but strikes me as one of the nicest places to live if you’re going to choose one with long winters. When I first saw games from there a few years ago, they would come with these charming little ads for the Wisconsin Cheese Board or something and I was at my computer in seconds, Googling Madison and Racine and looking at real estate prices. Then I remembered that Milwaukee became famous for its marvelous attendance back in 1953 when the Braves moved there from Boston, and pale fans with short hair and horn-rimmed glasses would be photographed showing up in Indian headdresses.
The Brewers play in a half-gloomy indoor park but nobody seems to care. They’ve been in the postseason exactly once since 1982 (last season) and lost in four games but nobody seems to care. They lost C.C. and Ben Sheets is constantly hurt but nobody seems to care. They are there in droves to root for Ryan and Prince and Corey, to root for the baseball without being told when to do it, and one of these days more people will find out.
You can find more of Jeff Polman’s work at http://1924andyouarethere.blogspot.com/ where he’s conducting a fascinating replay of the 1924 season.