July 3, 2012
In October, 1995 the musical farce Zombies From The Beyond opened to critical praise and joyous audiences off-Broadway in New York City.
Zombies is the fantastically silly story of a Rubenesque alien named Zombina who has come from the deep reaches of space to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to steal men to be slave studs back on her home planet. It’s sort of like if John Waters had directed an episode of Laverne & Shirley written by Rod Serling.
Alien zombies probably wouldn’t be the weirdest thing most people have seen in Milwaukee, a quirky little burg that loves beer, bratwursts, corn, Germans, motorcycles, Kool cigarettes, the 1970s and its reputation as a smaller, cleaner and normally less dangerous version of Chicago.
Milwaukee is also home to a genuine futuristic, state-of-the-art creation that might actually catch the eye of space folk and certainly deserves the attention of anyone who loves baseball and/or big, beautiful things. It’s Miller Park, and it has been the home of the Brewers since 2001 and is a magnificent gem of a ball yard with a fan-shaped retractable roof, classical styling, natural grass and a state-of-the-art high-definition scoreboard the size of Rhode Island. Miller Park is the gifted love child of the Sydney Opera House and the Millennium Falcon and, by comparison, makes U.S. Cellular Field look clumsy and makes Wrigley Field look old, crappy and in need of dynamite.
Miller Park has been a delightful domicile for the Brewers who regularly draw more than three million fans per season and those fans, after more than two decades of crying into their knockwurst, have been rewarded with two playoff appearances since 2008.
Last Saturday at Miller Park there was an alien occurrence and some good baseball as well as the Brewers eye-gouged the Arizona Diamondbacks, 10-2, with Ryan Braun hitting two home runs and the sprinting sausages enjoying an extra-special bounce in their step. A dominant Brewers’ win wasn’t the aberrant event of the evening, though. At least not for a score of people from across southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois who gathered under the roof that beer built to witness one of their own throw out the first pitch.
Owen Lavin is a Chicago-area native and lifelong White Sox fan but has called the Milwaukee region home for more than 20 years and, with a thriving architecture business and a deceptive fastball, was chosen to throw out the ceremonial first pitch as shutters blinked and children giggled.
Frighteningly, those of us who flocked to Miller Park that night just for that moment nearly missed it due to Milwaukeeans’ longstanding traditions of tailgating and walking slowly, as we imbibed and dawdled in the Molitor Lot nearly up until game time. Thankfully, most of us made it through the gates and reached our seats in time to see our cousin/brother/son/friend stand on the mound and reach back to toss a strike to Brewers assistant coach Joe Crawford.
It was a million-dollar moment and also a 40-dollar throw, as that was the amount Lavin wagered that he’d get the ball over the plate without a bounce.
Why is it inspiring to see someone throw a ball 60-feet, 6-inches? Because it is, daggummitt! Because Broadway’s lights don’t shine on most of us, the winning lottery ticket usually runs away, the gorgeous brunette you met while buying cheese-waffle fries will never give you her phone number, and when the ball takes a bad hop it usually hits you in the face.
And unlike fantasy fiction, we all know in real life the zombies from outer space would probably win.
So when a face in the crowd becomes, even for just a moment, a star in the night, it’s fun. It’s a cool breeze on a muggy Milwaukee night. It’s a bratwurst grilled to perfection. It’s a summer thing. It’s an instant memory. It’s a laugh that holds its smile as it floats into the darkness.