Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Iowa: Baseball Heaven, Rock & Roll Hell

Day Seven, Thursday, July 24: Dyersville and Clear Lake, Iowa

"Ghost Players"
I opened my eyes to the sound of birds outside our motel room window, checked my phone and saw that it was about 7:00 AM. I shook the cobwebs from my head, trying to remember where I was. Yesterday had been a full day of travel. We had driven almost 250 miles, from Northbrook, Illinois, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and on to Dubuque, Iowa. In truth that's not a very far drive, but we had also squeezed in an exploration of Miller Park, a Brewers game and a fantastic dinner in the city of Milwaukee as well.  On another day I might have grumbled, pulled the pillow over my head and tried to catch another 30 minutes or so of sleep, but not today.  Today, though I was tired, I was too excited to sleep. Today was an "off day," but we were going to visit three places I had dreamed of seeing my whole life: the Field of Dreams, the Surf Ballroom (where Buddy Holly played his last gig) and the site of Holly's plane crash.

First up would be the Field of Dreams movie site, located about 25 miles from Dubuque, in Dyersville, Iowa, and I wanted to be there just as it opened, so it was time to get the sleepy-heads moving.

I rolled over and saw Rob, Tony, Nick and Shawn still sacked out, but Ryan was nowhere to be found. Then I heard the sound of running water in the bathroom and came to the realization that he was already up and in the shower. "That's one less to worry about," I thought, rubbing the sleep from my eyes and throwing off the covers. Then again, Ryan was never the one who had issues getting up when there was somewhere we had to be.

As I started thinking about what I hoped the day would bring, Ryan bounded out of the bathroom, dressed, teeth brushed and ready to hit the road.

"You're up early," I laughed.
"This is the most important non-baseball game we're going to see," he told me. "I've been up for 45 minutes.
"Shhh, let's not wake the others just yet," I said softly.
"Bah...they can sleep later. I won't be loud, but I'm not whispering either. I want to get on the road."

I wasn't about to argue with his logic, so I grabbed a towel and headed into the bathroom for my turn under the hot water, or whatever was left of it.

By the time I had gotten out, Rob, Nick and Shawn were up and waiting for their turn, while Nick was still sacked out.

"Nothing changes much, no matter how long we're on the road," I laughed.
"We'll let him sleep and then while he's in the shower we'll pack the car," Tony informed me.
"That's fine with me," I told him, as I got Ryan's and my gear packed and ready to be stowed.

By 8:30 we were all awake, clean, had the car packed, had grabbed a bite, and some coffee, and were ready to make one of the ultimate baseball pilgrimages...to a cornfield in Iowa.

Now anyone who knows me is aware that Field of Dreams is my favorite movie of all time. It has everything I hold dear, love of family, baseball and magic, so how could it not be?

Field of Dreams Movie Poster
Growing up in a baseball family, with a dad who introduced me to the game, this movie is special. I watch it every single time I find it on television, the kids stop what they're doing to watch it as well, and if we catch her in just the right frame of mind, Nicole will sit and watch with us. I remember seeing it in the theaters and always swore I would take my son to do the same, if possible, one day. Miraculously, just before our trip was to start I found that it would be playing on a big screen in a town near us, so Rob, Tony, Nick, Shawn, Ryan and I had a Field of Dreams night out and when the iconic line, at the end, was spoken, Ryan put his head on my shoulder and patted my leg. "He gets it," I thought, as I wiped away a tear from "something being in my eye."

Based on the book Shoeless Joe, by W.P. Kinsella, the movie tells the story of an Iowa farmer, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), who is "haunted" by a voice, while out tending to his cornfield, that tells him "If you build it, he will come,"  and showing him a vision of a baseball field in the corn.

Kinsella is an avid baseball fan who became estranged from his father during his teenage years and the only thing that held them together was baseball. Eventually, though, Kinsella and his father had an argumentative parting, and Ray said something to his father that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Ray and John Kinsella
This voice would take Ray on a magical, spiritual journey from Iowa, where he plows under his corn crop to build his dream field and encounters "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta); to Boston, where he "kidnaps" world-renowned author Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones); to Minnesota where they encounter Achibald "Moonlight" Graham (Burt Lancaster); and, finally, back home again, where he will find peace, love, understanding and reconnection with the ghost players and his long-passed father, all through the conduit of baseball.

The movie opened slowly, in few theaters, right before Memorial Day 1989, and quickly became a box office blockbuster. It stayed in circulation until Christmas that year, and has become a modern day classic that is always listed as a favorite of baseball fans and non-baseball fans alike, and has provided many memorable scenes and quotes that have found their way into the modern lexicon.

It embodies the beauty of baseball as something timeless that brings fathers and sons together, and since that's the binding theme of our journey, stopping there was an obvious must. This summer of 2014 would be the 25th Anniversary of the movie's release, so we couldn't have timed it better.

"Hey Dad, Wanna Have a Catch?"
"If You Build It, They Will Come"
It took us about 35 minutes to drive from the motel to Dyersville, but that seemed like an eternity to me. I was antsy to get there, but I didn't want the time to go by too quickly once we were there. It did entertain us for a little while when we found out that Nick had left his pillow back at the hotel; no one could figure out why, exactly, he'd brought it inside in the first place. After all, it was a motel; they do have pillows and if there were not enough we could have always gotten more from the front desk. Either way, they just inherited a new one and Nick was not really happy about getting an earful from everyone.

The twenty-five-mile drive went by quickly, but the landscape never changed. It was miles and miles of farmland, the majority of it being corn, as far as the eye could see. We rode the highway until we reached our exit, which put us on a small, little, two-lane road, which shrunk down to a one-lane, small-town thoroughfare. It reminded me of a song I had heard about traveling highways and byways and even though I have to admit I don't know exactly what a byway is, this is exactly what I would picture it being.

Entrance To The Field of Dreams
After glancing at the directions I had printed out, we determined that the next left turn would lead us directly to the field. As we made the turn a big sign, in the shape of a baseball diamond, proclaimed us to be at "The Original Field of Dreams Movie Site." We quickly stopped the car to get some pictures of the sign (after dreaming of being here for 25 years I was going to capture every moment), before proceeding down the dirt road that led us to the actual field itself.

As we pulled into the parking lot I refused to look at the field; I know it sounds stupid but I didn't want my first view of "Baseball Movie Nirvana" to be through the windshield of a rental van. I closed my eyes, opened the door, got out and looked around. It was just as if I'd stepped onto the movie set, twenty-five years ago.
The Farmhouse

Off to the right, up on a rise, was the white, clapboard, farmhouse that Costner and Amy Madigan called home. There was a white picket-fence keeping visitors from getting too close, which is understandable as the house is someone's actual residence. I just shook my head, as if trying to make sure I was actually seeing what was in front of me, but the best was yet to come.

The Field of Dreams
I turned and walked towards the field, which actually did rise out of the corn. I was momentarily overcome and felt myself taking a deep breath, trying not to let my emotions overwhelm me. Some folks may have their moment staring at a beautiful sunrise, others when they set their eyes on the Eiffel Tower, the ruins of ancient Greece, a snow-capped mountain or the waves crashing onto the beach at sunset, but this was everything I ever dreamed it would be...and more. I had waited to see this since I had sat down that first time in the theater and every viewing since then. I always swore I would visit this place and here I was, with my own son. It was almost too much to digest.

Ryan and I on The Field of Dreams
As I stood behind the backstop staring out at one of the most beautiful fields I had ever seen, I felt Ryan saunter up next to me. We gazed across the sun-splashed infield, so perfectly manicured and green, towards the outfield where Ray Liotta had portrayed Joe Jackson in the film and finally our eyes stopped at what should have been an outfield wall, but, instead, was just what we were hoping to find: a tall, lush field of corn, just like in the movie. I had heard stories of folks who had come early in the season and the corn had not yet grown, leaving them feeling slightly gypped, but we were here at just the right time, and everything was perfect.

"Is this Heaven?" Ryan asked, laughingly stealing a line from the movie.
"I do believe it is," I altered the script.
"It's everything I hoped it would be," he said.
"Me too," I told him, in a soft, hushed, tone. "Me too."
"Race you to the center-field-corn-fence," he laughed and took off.

I gave him a head start, just to watch him run, with pure joy, on the field that we both had been so excited to see. He took off running, with the breeze blowing back his hair, and just for a moment he appeared to be about seven again, happy, joyful and carefree, at one of our favorite places in the world, a baseball field. I smiled to myself thinking "this place is magical," as I took off after him.
Rob In The Corn

Tony, Nick and Shawn In The Corn
We reached the outfield and decided the first thing to do was get some
pictures coming and going from the corn, as the "ghosts" do in the movie. We laughed over our escapades, took more than a few pictures of Ryan in the corn, me in the corn, the two of us in the corn and were then joined by everyone else. After getting pictures of everyone else coming and going in the cornfield a lady offered to take a group photo of all of us, which came out perfect (I have it hanging in my office today. It's the one you see at the top of this section, right now.

After playing around in the corn Ryan walked over and, again, decided to quote the movie.

"Hey Dad, wanna have a catch?"

I always get a catch in my throat when I see that scene and now, having my own son say it to me, here, made it even more poignant. I don't know if it was just me, the moment, or a combination of everything, but I could swear he had trouble getting the words out too.

"I've been waiting for this my whole life," I told him, grabbing my glove.
"Shoeless" Jim

Playing Catch
I pulled out two "Field of Dreams" commemorative baseballs I had bought just for this occasion, as well as four more brand new balls I had brought for the others. I kicked off my sneakers; after all if "Shoeless" Joe Jackson played here, going barefoot seemed only right. I started off tossing the ball back and forth with Ryan, while Tony played with Nick and Rob with Shawn. After five minutes, or so, Rob peeled off to take pictures and video, while Shawn went over to play with Nick and Tony. A little while later we switched up and I played catch with Rob, then Ryan took a turn as well. Ryan then had an idea and asked Uncle Rob to film him and I playing catch and when we would end our little game we would walk off and "melt" into the cornfield, as the "ghost players" do in the movie.


After our game of catch we started heading back to the infield, to get some pictures there, when I noticed Ryan running back to the corn.

"What are you doing?' I asked him.
"I was grabbing some of the corn for our scrapbooks," he told me.
"But you grabbed three fronds," I said looking puzzled.
"One's for Grandpa," he replied. "He should be here, but since he couldn't come I thought we should bring some of the field back to him."

Once again my son had showed me what kind of a person he was becoming. Knowing how important it was for me to be there with my son, he extrapolated out and thought it would be even better were I with my dad as well. I was so proud of him; I grabbed him, gave him a big hug and told him so.

Ryan and I on The Mound
Ron and I on The Mound
We wandered around the infield for a while, taking pictures on the pitcher's mound, playing catch at the bases, running the bases, and just generally being goofy. Everyone was having a blast and it had been a very special morning. If we had been able to get our hands on a bat we would have taken some batting practice. I most certainly would have loved to hit a corn field home run, but no one walked off the field disappointed.

(Top)  Rob, Tony, Me
(Bottom) Shawn, Nick, Ryan
We headed over to the souvenir stand to grab some t-shirts, postcards and a 25th Anniversary movie book, to commemorate our time here, when Tony suggested we get a group shot on the bleachers, right in front of the farm house. I thought it was a great idea, but the boys just wanted to get back in the van and kick the A/C on. Unfortunately for them I had the keys and the door was locked, so we ended up taking the picture, much to their chagrin. I thought it came out great, but they just wanted to get on the road. I really couldn't blame them, as it was getting hot and we had done all we could at the "Field of Dreams," so we climbed in the van and headed north to our next stop, Clear Lake, Iowa.

The Place The Music Died

Clear Lake is a small town in north central Iowa, about two hours from Minnesota's twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is home to about 8,000 residents and is an oasis-like stop on I-35 for tired and hungry tuckers, as well as vacationers who come from all over to enjoy the pristine body of water for which the town is named. This, however, is not what the town has come to be known for around the world. It was here, on February 3, 1959, that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) played their last gig and later that night died amidst the frozen corn fields.

It took us about two hours to cover the 165 miles from Dyersville to Clear Lake; we had stopped once for a quick drink, but otherwise the ride was uneventful. The miles of farm land passed by quickly as we talked and discussed exactly why we were going to this remote town and what we were expecting to see there. Along the way Tony put on a 1950s satellite radio station to set the mood and the boys had fun singling along, once they found out they knew more songs than they thought they did.

Now, my earliest memories of music growing up were the early Rock & Roll artists. I can fondly recall hearing all of the big names; Elvis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Every Brothers, Little Richard, and many more, blaring from my parent's stereo, but none of them captivated me more than Buddy Holly.

BUddy Holly
Holly was the musical equivalent of a shooting star; blasting off from the west Texas city of Lubbock he took the musical world by storm, with rock hits like "That'll Be The Day," "Peggy Sue," Rave On," "Oh Boy" and "Maybe Baby," but he also showed a softer, more creative side with his introspective songs such as, "Raining In My Heart," "Words of Love" and "True Love Ways." Unlike many performers of his day, Holly wrote, played, sang and engineered his own recordings, putting him at the forefront of the music industry by the time he was 21 years old. Then on a tour known as "The Winter Dance Party," which cris-crossed the Midwest during the winter of 1959, Holly grew tired of riding in the cold, always-breaking-down bus and decided to hire a private plane to fly he and his band to Fargo, North Dakota, after their show in Clear Lake, Iowa, so they could do some laundry, sleep in a warm bed and get out of the elements.

The Big Bopper
Ritchie Valens
The other headliners on the tour, 17-year-old Ritchie Valens, from Pacoima, California ("Donna," "Come On Let's Go" and "La Bamba") and 28-year-old J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, from Texas, like Holly ("Chantilly Lace") begged for a seat on the plane. Holly left it up to his band-mates, Tommy Alsup and Waylon Jennings, to decide what to do. Jennings reluctantly gave up his seat to Richardson while Alsup lost his to Valens on a coin toss, setting the stage for the ill-fated flight.

The plane took off from Mason City Airport, shortly after midnight on February 3, 1959, with pilot Roger Peterson behind the controls. Snow was falling as the plane climbed into the night sky and out of sight of the watching control tower, which lost contact with the aircraft about five minutes into the flight. When there was still no contact the next morning a search plane was sent up and after five minutes in the air the wreckage was discovered, in a cornfield, less than six miles from the airport.

The bodies of Holly and Valens had been thrown from the plane but lay in close proximity to the wreckage, while Richardson was found over a fence, about 25 yards away and Peterson was still entangled in the aircraft. The county coroner determined that all four persons had died instantly, from gross brain trauma.  An FAA investigation concluded that the plane had struck the Earth, in a nose-first dive at the right wing, which sent it cartwheeling across the field almost 600 feet before coming to a rest against a wire fence. Pilot error was deemed the cause.

To say the loss to the music world was extreme would be an understatement. No one cane say with certainly what these three men would have accomplished, but one can only imagine a different path that could have been taken.

As I said earlier, I grew up loving Buddy Holly's music and it was always a desire to visit the last place he played (The Surf Ballroom) and visit the crash site to pay my respects. When Rob and I looked at the map to determine the distance between the Field of Dreams and Minnesota we determined Clear Lake was an obvious stop along the way, so we had gladly added it to the itinerary.

Buddy Holly Place

As we pulled into Clear Lake, Ryan immediately noticed that the street signs were named after the fallen musicians. We made a left onto Buddy Holly Place, drove another couple of blocks before making a right on Ritchie Valens Drive, and there it was in front of us, The Surf Ballroom.

The Surf Ballroom
The Surf is still a working concert venue and in 2009 was declared an historic Rick & Roll landmark, by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in Cleveland. In 2011 it was added to the list of National Register of Historic Places in the United States, based on it's place in musical history. The venue holds concerts; in fact ZZ Top was going to be there a few days after we left, and every year on February 3 there is a memorial concert honoring the fallen stars which is attended by people from all over the world, as well as family members and friends of the musicians themselves.

From the outside The Surf looks like any other concert auditorium seen around the country, but as you get closer you realize the significance of this particular one. Right outside the front entrance stands a granite memorial, paying tribute to the three musicians who played there for the last time. It stands about three-and-a-half feet tall and has all three names engraved, along with a brief synopsis of what happened. At the very bottom of the memorial are inscribed the words "THEIR MUSIC LIVES ON," and no truer words have been spoken.

As we walked through the front door I noticed the billboards on each side of the entrance contained Holly posters. I knew right away, before even stepping foot inside, that aside from being a working concert hall this place was going to be a shrine and they took their job of preserving the legacy very seriously.

Autographs and Photos
Last Known Photos
The main lobby of The Surf confirmed my initial thoughts. The first thing I saw was a large framed photo of all three musicians with autographed index cards under each photo. I had no idea what it was worth, and I had never imagined anything like it before, but to me it was priceless. A little farther into the lobby was a plaque commemorating what happened that fateful night, as well as the last photos taken of Holly, Valens and Richardson, on stage.

"This place is amazing," Ryan whispered, in a reverential tone.
"If you think this stuff is good, head on in the back there," a gentleman who had been watching us said. "There's an entire museum devoted to that night just down that hall."

Explaining The Winter Dance Party Tour
The hallway, itself, was a "teaser" for what we were going to see. All along the wall were mementos of The Winter Dance Party and that fateful last night. We saw a letter, written by Holly's band mate Tommy Alsup, who lost the coin toss to Valens, a poster with a map, explaining what The Winter Dance Party was and where it went, as well as a 50th Anniversary poster from the 2009 concert. We all stopped and read every word of every exhibit that was available. It all led us into a back room, which really was a museum, dedicated to The Surf's musical history.

Front Page, Feb. 3, 1959

As we walked into the museum section of The Surf the first thing I noticed was the framed front page of theRock 'n' Roll Idols Among Lake Crash Dead," and the story, with a picture of Holly, was the main read. For a sleepy little Iowa village this news must have hit them like a ton of bricks that morning.
Mason City Globe Gazette, from February 3, 1959. The headline, splashed across the top of the paper read: "

Walking further into the museum it amazed me to see all of the exhibits. There were entire cases filled with memorabilia from all three of the artists, which included guitars, photos, letters, pictures and albums. Each artist had his own section and some unique artifacts from their short lives in the music industry. I, of course, was drawn to the Buddy Holly stuff, but made sure to spend time reading each and every item that was available to me.

Big Bopper Exhibit

"What's with the phone in the Big Bopper's case?" Ryan asked me.
"It was a stage prop," I told him. "His song, 'Chantilly Lace,' was sung as if he were talking to his girl on a phone."
"That's a little corny," he laughed.
"Well, it was the 1950's and things were a little different back then."

Ritchie Valens Exhibit
Buddy Holly Exhibit
The Ritchie Valens exhibit contained the hand-written lyrics to his hit "La Bamba," which were penned in Spanish. There were also pictures, one of his electric guitars and a gold record for his hit "Donna," which was his biggest hit at the time of his death and had made him a national star.

The Holly exhibit, which I mentioned earlier was my favorite, contained the gold record for "Peggy Sue," the hand written lyrics to "Not Fade Away" and an acoustic guitar he had played while at The Surf that night. It also had pictures and a biography as well.

"Okay," I told the guys. "We've taken the mini-tour, now it's time to see the living history to this place."

We all walked to the other side of the building and stood in the doorway, peering in at the actual ballroom before us. I, for one, found it an amazing sight, as it was like stepping back into 1959. Everything in the place looked original, though it had been refurbished over the years. The back of the room was full of booths, where the kids would sit to see the show, which gave way to the dance floor, covered with tables for the patrons who would be having dinner while watching the show, and then the stage itself.

Quietly we walked among the booths, snapping pictures, looking and sitting to see the view. Quickly we did the same thing with the tables on the dance floor, until we came to the edge of the stage, standing there not wanting to break the moment, but wanting desperately to go on and stand where Holly once did.

"We can go up there, right?" Ryan wanted to know.
"Absolutely," I told him, though neither of us moved towards attaining that goal. We just sat, mesmerized by where we were.
"Oh this is ridiculous," I said, climbing up on the stage. "Get up here."

Ryan and I On The Stage
Holly's View
Ryan hopped up and we had Uncle Rob take a picture of the two of us sitting there, grinning like a couple of escapees from the loony bin. After taking the picture we walked around the stage, surveying the scene. Ryan pretended to play guitar at the foot of the stage and I was sure that in his head he heard the cheers and clapping of the fans. I stepped to the edge, myself, and got a good look at what Buddy Holly must have seen, looking out at the crowd, on that winter night, so many years ago. It gave me chills knowing that we were standing in the footprint of Rock & Roll history and also made me wonder, for the millionth time in my life, what could have been had things been different. Sadly, I climbed down and headed back to the lobby of the venue.

Before heading out we stopped in the gift shop, where I grabbed a poster commemorating that last show. I thought it would be a great piece of memorabilia from an iconic spot, which I could have matted and framed for the house.

"I'm hungry," Ryan announced to everyone. Both Nick and Shawn agreed.
"Okay, let's head into town, grab a bite someplace local, and then hit the crash site." I told them, without realizing exactly what I said.
"Not very punny," Ryan laughed.
"Hit the crash site?" He said in a mocking tone.
"Oops," I laughed, as we piled into the van for the five minute drive to the downtown area.

Downtown Clear Lake is a very Rockwellian-looking kind of town. The main street sits on a hill that leads down to the lake and has all the kinds of establishments one would be looking for in a small Mid-western town. There was, of course, a post office, a bank, a pharmacy and a few towny-type restaurants. There was a small town park, with a band-shell that overlooked the lake and sitting across the street was a deli. We decided to eat there.

The food was good, it was filling and there was a lot of it, which we all hoped would be the case. The boys had bacon cheese burgers while I had an Italian combo, Rob had pastrami and Tony had a corned beef reuben. The service was great, the food was plentiful and we enjoyed the quiet, serene, lake-front scene that sat in front of us for the better part of the next hour.

Once fed, we hopped back into the car and headed the approximate five miles to where Holly's plane had crashed, in the snow-covered cornfield. The ride itself was short, after all it couldn't take long to drive five miles, but it wasn't quick due to the fact that it wasn't a straight line. Paved roadways turned into gravel-covered, unmarked, lanes, where gravel flew out in all directions as the tires kicked it up from the road.

Roadside Marker For The Crash Site
"We're looking for 315th and Gull Avenue," I told everyone. "But you'll know where we are long before you see a street sign."
"How are we going to know, without a street sign?" Nick asked.
"Oh, you'll just know," I laughed.
"Found it," I heard Shawn call from the back.
"Where?" Nick wanted to know.
"Right there," Shawn said, pointing.

Standing at the corner of 315th And Gull were the biggest pair of "Buddy Holly glasses" that I think has ever been made.

"That's fitting," Tony said, as I pulled the van over and parked.
"Wow, he was blind if he needed those glasses, and how come no one has stolen them, you'd think they'd be worth something," Rob joked.

Five heads all turned towards him and rolled their eyes at the same time.

We looked down an empty "alley" of corn and it was apparent where we were supposed to go. The problem was that you couldn't see anything but the path, as far as the eye could see.

The Path To The Site

"How far do we have to walk?" Shawn wanted to know.
"All the way to the crash site, son," I laughed.
"Well yeah, but how far is that?" he asked, clearly not getting the joke.
"About three-quarters of a mile," Rob told him.

As we headed into the corn, which was at least two feet over our heads, everyone became quiet. No one spoke a word; all you could hear was the wind rustling the cornstalks and the sound of footsteps in the quiet afternoon air. It felt somehow reverential, like when walking into a graveyard, and no one wanted to disrupt the quiet solitude.

Every step we took brought us deeper into the corn, yet no where near our destination it seemed. There was nothing to see except corn, corn and more corn. Eventually we saw a small clearing about 50 yards ahead and knew that was where our journey would lead us.

A minute or two later we entered the clearing to find a makeshift memorial to the four men who had perished here, on that cold, snowy evening.

Three Stars
The main memorial, a stainless steel guitar with the names of the three artists engraved in it, as well as the crash date, and three records (the biggest hit for each artist, Holly, "Peggy Sue," Valens, "Donna," and Richardson's "Chantilly Lace") above the guitar's neck memorialized where these three men perished. This sculpture was created by Ken Paquette, Wisconsin, and placed at this spot in 1988. 21 years later Paquette came back with a second memorial, a set of pilots' wings in honor of Roger Peterson, which was placed just to the right of the main memorial.

Fans from all over the world have flocked to this site, to pay respects to these men, and have left small tokens of themselves there upon leaving. We saw a pair of Buddy Holly-style glasses, photos of the legendary performers, as well as cards, flowers and hand written notes.

We stood for a few moments, quietly lost in our own thoughts, no one wanting to break the silence. All you could hear was the wind, still rustling the corn, as it blew across the field, swaying the stalks around us. Eventually we all just looked at one another, nodded in the direction of the road and, still not wanting to break the silence, headed out.

Ryan was the first to speak once we got back to the van.

"That was a pretty desolate place to die," he said, quietly.

We all looked around; there was nothing as far as the eye could see, except corn stalks swaying in the breeze.

"It must have been even worse then," I said, in reply. "Think about it. It was winter, there was no corn growing, there was snow on the ground, no houses as far as the eye could see and it was freezing cold."

Everyone just shuddered at the thought. Silently we climbed back into the van and turned back towards the interstate, as it was time to head to Minnesota and a St. Paul Saints game in a few hours.

A Minor League Game For Saints and Sinners

Time For Some Baseball

The drive from Clear Lake to St. Paul, Minnesota, is about 140 miles and I figured we could cover that ground in about two hours, but first the mood in the car had to change. Everyone seemed a little drained, and down, after having trudged through an empty corn field to see where some of the brightest musicians of their day had died. I decided we needed some music.

"OK guys," I started off. "Can any of you tell me what famous musician came from Minnesota?"
"Bob Dylan, dumbass," Rob said, looking at me as if I was nuts for even having asked that question.
"I know YOU know, I was asking THEM," I told him.
"Bob Dylan," the three in the back called out, laughing.
"Well it's time to play some Dylan," I told them, adjusting Tony's iPad.

With the opening guitar chords of "Like A Rolling Stone" echoing throughout the van we headed north, towards the Twin Cities and some baseball.

We pulled in to St. Paul about two hours before game time and headed right over to Midway Stadium, the home of the St. Paul Saints. The Saints are an Independent League team, meaning they are not affiliated with an MLB club, but unlike the Frontier League, which we had seen more than enough of, this was pretty good baseball.

There were two different incarnations of Saints teams in Minnesota over the course of the last 150 years, the first lasting from 1894-1899 before joining the new found American League and moving to Chicago to become the White Sox, and the second from 1901-1960, when they were a minor league club for the  White Sox, Brooklyn Dodgers and, finally, the L.A. Dodgers. This team pulled up stakes when the Twins came to town in 1961 and became the Omaha Dodgers.

Home of The Saints
This, third, incarnation of the Saints was "born" in 1993, the brainchild of Mike Veeck, the son of former MLB owner Bill Veeck. The team, through its outlandish promotions, giveaways and over-the-top public relations, has become one of, if not the, most successful teams in all of the independent leagues around the country. They have had many notable players pull on their uniform, such as Darryl Strawberry, J.D. Drew, Leon Durham, Kevin Millar, Jack Morris and Minnie Minoso (who joined the ball-club when he was 67 years old. He also came back in 2003 and drew a walk, which made him the only player to appear, as a player, in seven different decades). Needless to say the team is embraced by its fans and they come out in droves for a fun night at the ballpark, which is exactly what we were looking for.

We pulled into the lot and were immediately accosted by a beer salesman who was serving two 24 ounce cans for $5, so naturally we bought four cans. As we walked around the outside of the stadium we got to see the meet the fans who were dressed in Saints gear and as friendly as the folks in Milwaukee. Ryan, of course, found the area where they were giving out free food and parked his butt there, which was fine because no one was interested in moving after the long day in the car.

Stadium Mural

Painted on the outside of the stadium was a mural that made it seem you were standing inside the stadium at that very moment. It was done well and we all couldn't help but get a chuckle out of the Mid-western charm you would never see back east, even at a minor league park. The atmosphere was very down-home and we were having a blast.

Scouts Hall of Fame
Once the gates opened we got in line and saw, above us, what was listed as the "Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame". I was expecting some kind of room inside the stadium, or even something small outside, but it was nothing more than those words, and some plaques, on the wall above the entrance to the park. I did recognize two names I was familiar with and wanted to see who else might be.

Tom Greenwade
"Okay, guys," I said looking at the five of them. "Who were Tom Greenwade and Hep Cronin?"
"They were baseball scouts," Rob shot back, being a wiseass.
"True, but now the million dollar question. Who did they discover?"
"Tom Greenwade was a Yankees' scout," Ryan chimed in. "He found Mickey Mantle."
"Not just Mantle," I told him. "Mantle, Bobby Mercer, Elston Howard, Hank Bauer, Clete Boyer, Ralph Terry and a few others. In fact, before he was a Yankees scout he worked for the Brooklyn Dodgers and convinced Branch Rickey that Jackie Robinson was up to the challenge of breaking the color barrier." I told them. "Okay, who was Hep Cronin?"
"I've never even heard of that name," Rob said, puzzled.
"Me either," I admitted. "I just wanted to see if any of you did, before I looked it up."

Apparently no one was amused, Ryan cuffed me in the back of the head, Nick told me I was "lame," Shawn shook his head and Tony told me the first beer was on me.

The ballpark was a fun place, typical of a minor league ballpark, but we noticed something a little different right away; the play-by-play announcers were setting up shop on top of the Saints dugout and would be interacting with the fans, while doing their work, all night long.

We walked around a little, grabbed another beer and some sausages and sodas and took our seats. Right away, Rob started laughing.

Mudonna, The Pig
"What's so funny," Tony wanted to know.
"Two things. First, they have a pig bringing out the game balls," he said pointing, "and it's wearing a tutu. Secondly, look over the away team's dugout."

Away Dugout

Sure enough, when we looked over at the Sioux Falls Canaries (yes, that's their real name) there was a banner hanging across the rail that said "SINNERS." We all just started laughing at the obviously bad joke, at the visiting team's expense. It made perfect sense though; if the home team was the Saints, what could the away team be if not the Sinners?

As we made our way to our seats we noticed some very interestingly-dressed fans. There was a guy who looked like a gym teacher, another dressed as a train conductor, a rather old lady in a leopard skirt trying to kiss all the guys around the stadium, and an Oriental gentleman dressed in a white shorts suit with a long coat, which looked like a robe.

"They have some strange fans in Minnesota," Nick mused.
"It's Okay, provided she doesn't try to kiss me," Tony laughed, pointing at the woman in the leopard outfit.

Ryan and Gert Duel It Out
As if on cue the woman walked over to us and made every attempt to give each of us a kiss. We all, thankfully, managed to fend off her advances and she settled for having a thunderstick-sword fight with Ryan, who was quite happy to play, as long as she didn't try to kiss him again. After a few minutes of play time the lady moved on to the next unsuspecting fan.

"Who the hell is that?" I asked the group of young men sitting next to me.
"That's Gert the Flirt," I was told.
"Who?" I wanted to know.
"Gert The Flirt," he laughed.
"I'm sorry, this is my first game," I explained. "Please explain."
"Gert is one of the Saints' Entertainment Team," he told me. They are paid employees who wander the crowd, interact with the fans and keep the crowd into the game. Watch as the game goes on, they'll be all over and it'll be fun. Trust me"

I didn't have much of a choice, but as long as Gert stopped flirting with us everything would be fine. We grabbed some beers and sausage sandwiches, along with some Killebrew root beer for the kids and settled in for the game. I had never heard of Killebrew and learnedthat it is a Minnesota brewing company that has been providing beverages across the Mid-west since 1996. They are named after former Twins player Harmon Killebrew and having one is listed, by Living Social as one of the to-do things in the Twin Cities. We were always looking to try something local and this was fantastic root beer. We made a mental not to make sure we had more over the next three days.

The Canaries led off the game with a single and a walk, in the first three batters, but could go no farther and the Saints worked out of the first inning jam.

The Canaries, however, were not quite as lucky. Their pitcher allowed a walk, a single and another walk to the first three batters, loading the bases with no one out. The fourth batter struck out, but the fifth place hitter, Angelo Songco, also walked, forcing in a run to make it 1-0, St. Paul. With the bases still loaded, right-fielder Evan Bigley singled in two more and the rout seemed to be on. Jake Taylor, however, bounced into a 6-6-3 double play and the Canaries escaped with no further damage.

The Canaries fought back to make the score 3-2 in the fourth inning. After the Saints got the first two outs of the inning, catcher Kevin Dultz reached first on a fielding error by Saints' third baseman Devin Thaut. Steve Tinoco's double made it 3-1 and when Saints pitcher Ben Hughes uncorked a wild pitch another run came home, making it 3-2.

The Saints got one run back in the bottom of the inning, when Sam Maus walked and came around to score on Willie Cabrera's double. The Saints' lead was up to two runs, the carnival atmosphere that we had heard about was in full force and it was rounding out to be a fun night.

As the gentleman next to us promised, the Saints' Entertainment Team was out in full force. "The Coach" was leading the crowd on our side in a cheering contest against the first base side, which was led by "Al Aboard" (the train conductor), which everyone was enjoying. Gert the Flirt was trying to kiss all the boys and men and then in the bottom of the seventh inning Seigo Masubuchi, the Oriental man in the white suit, picked someone out of the crowd for a promotion called "Sing Karoke With an Actual Asian."

We had a nice, relaxing, evening and the 4-2 lead would be all the runs that the Saints would need. The Canaries wouldn't really threaten again and the Saints bullpen shut the door for the next five innings. At the end of the evening we had seen our first minor league home win of our trip, in our final minor league game.

Saints Win

Post Game Wrap-Up

On Top of The Dugout, With The Announcers
We lingered around the ballpark for a bit as the other fans cleared out, just enjoying the night. It had been a long, fun day and no one was in a hurry for it to end. We decided to talk to the announcers, who were cleaning their gear up, on the top of the Saints dugout. We milled about, discussing our trip, where we were from, what we had seen and what we had planned in Minnesota. They offered to let the boys up on the dugout to "make a call" and take some pictures, which thrilled the kids and provided a few laughs.

Eventually it was time to leave, so we headed out to the van, checked out the map and started heading towards Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, which would be our "home" for the next few days. Tony's cousin, Joe, lived in here in Minnesota and had graciously offered his home to us so we wouldn't have to spend the next couple of days in a hotel. We were very appreciative and couldn't wait to get there, and relax.

It took us about 30 minutes to make the drive from St. Paul to Joe's house; the directions were perfect and the traffic was light at this time of night. Tony told us that Joe and his family had moved to Minnesota, from Brooklyn, New York, years ago and though they were New York through and through they had carved out a very nice life for themselves out in the "Land of 10,000 Lakes." 

We arrived at the house around 11:30, rang the bell and out bounced Joe, with a big smile on his face and hugs and handshakes for all. Tony introduced us all, but it felt like we had known him forever the way he made us feel welcome. I knew right away that were in the company of good people. My opinion was further solidified when we walked through the door and were greeted by his wife Maria and daughter Jessica. 

Maria, a pretty, sweet woman came to the door with a big smile on her face, instantaneously making us feel at home, and gave each boy a bear-hug, as if they were her own, before doing the same to the rest of us. She immediately offered food, drink, whatever we could want, and treated us as if we were family returning from war. It felt good to be welcomed in this manner, especially since it was almost midnight and we didn't even know these folks.

About two minutes later Joe and Maria's daughter, Jessica, came bopping into the room. She was petite and pretty, with a smile and a laugh that lit up the room. She immediately started laughing and joking with us, as if she had known all of us her entire life. These three wonderful people just exuded Mid-western hospitality and instantly made me feel at home. I knew we were going to enjoy our time with them and was thankful they had opened their home to us. I was so relaxed and happy to be in this environment, nothing was going to spoil my mood.

"Daddy?" Ryan came over and sheepishly whispered in my ear. "I think we have an issue."
"Whatsa matter, kiddo?" I wanted to know. 
"Well, I had to go to the bathroom," he started.

My face fell; I didn't have to hear another word.

"You have got to be kidding me," I said, praying he wasn't go to say what I knew he was going to say.
"Code C," he said, so only I could hear.
"Come on," I sighed. "We'll get this fixed."

I went quickly to the bathroom and tried to flush the toilet, two or three times...nothing. We had been here less than thirty minutes and we had already stuffed up Joe's plumbing. This was more than a little embarrassing, but there was nothing I was going to be able to do without a plunger. Quickly, I pulled Joe aside and explained the situation to him. Ryan was standing next to me, looking upset and worried, but Joe quickly burst out laughing, got me a plunger and threw his arm around Ryan, telling him: "I love that you have made yourself at home so quickly." That made both of us feel better and five minutes later all was good with the bathroom.

Joe, Maria and Jessica quickly showed us the sleeping arrangements; the boys would have a room in the basement, while I would sleep on a nice-sized couch there as well. Tony would sleep in the living room and Rob got a bedroom to himself, upstairs. We quickly went about getting ready for bed; after all we didn't want to keep this wonderful family up any later than they already were and tomorrow was going to be another busy day. We didn't have a ball game planned, but we were going to tour Target Field, see one of Minnesota's outdoor attractions (Minnehaha Falls), visit the University of Minnesota and have dinner at an old-fashioned, traditional, German restaurant that was highly rated and recommended. We were excited, but it would have to wait, as we were all exhausted and fell fast asleep the minute the lights went out. 

Next Stop
Saturday, July 26
Minneapolis, MN
Target Field
Chicago White Sox vs Minnesota Twins


Monday, June 1, 2015

Miller Time

Miller Park
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
July 23, 2014
Cincinnati Reds Vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Hello Milwaukee!

Day Six, Wednesday July 23: Miller Park, Home of The "Brew Crew", Brats and Beer:

It was a day we all knew was coming, but hadn't really thought about because we had been so busy having fun. After five days we would be pulling down the "Big Top", leaving Jon and Sue's, and hitting the road for the rest of our trip. While we were all a little anxious to get going it was a little bittersweet; Jon and Sue had really made us feel like family and we were so thankful they had opened up their home to us, given us a place to stay and really made us feel comfortable. For that we could never thank them enough, except to offer the same any time they found themselves in our neck of the woods.

As usual, I was the first one up. I had our suitcases packed with the clean laundry from the night before and was showered, dressed, and had the first cup of coffee for the day, before waking the others and getting them moving. Surprisingly it didn't take much effort, as the boys were raring to eat and get on the road, though Ryan was a little down about leaving his new-found friend, C-Dog. He spent a little extra time outside with him, throwing the ball, taking a walk and chasing him around the back yard.

After a quick breakfast, and some more coffee, we made a last minute run through the basement to make sure we hadn't forgotten anything. It wouldn't have really mattered if we had; Sue promised to do the same before she left and since she, Mike, and Lisa, would be meeting us in Milwaukee later that day, so we weren't too worried. We thanked and said goodbye to Jon, piled in the car and headed north on I-294, toward the land of beer, brats and Brewers' baseball.

The ride would be about 45 minutes to an hour, which was just enough time to get acclimated to being on the road again and allow us to talk about the day ahead, would start in Illinois and end in Iowa, as well as discuss the history of Milwaukee's favorite sons, the Brewers.

Brewers History:

Baseball in Milwaukee has a long and rich history, which dates back to the turn of the century. Between 1876 and 1902 the city hosted numerous teams, mostly on the minor league level, such as the West End Club, the League Alliance, the "Grays, the Creams, or the Cream Citys (named after the distinctive-colored brick manufactured in the city) and the "Brewers" (named after the chief occupation of the city).

After the 1901 season the Brewers, who were then in the American League, moved to St. Louis and were renamed the Browns. The American Association quickly put a team in its league, named the Brewers as well, and they played in the city until folding in 1952 and moving to Toledo, becoming the Mud Hens. During this time the team won championships in 1913, 1914, 1936, 1944, 1951 and 1952 and saw future MLB owners and managers (Bill Veeck and Casey Stengel) call Milwaukee home.

Milwaukee, during this time period, had continued to search for a Major League team for the city and in the late 1940's tried to relocate the St. Louis Browns back, but the move was rejected by the other owners. In 1952, however, the city was successful in luring Lou Perini's Boston Braves to town, to play in the newly-constructed County Stadium.

Hammerin' Henry Aaron
The Braves became the darlings of baseball during the 1950's and early 1960's, led by Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Warren Spahn, Frank Torre, Red Schoendienst and Joe Torre. They would win two National League pennants (1957 and 1958) and one World Series, over the Yankees in a hard-fought seven-game battle in 1957.

By 1965 the team, though still with a large fan base, found its attendance dwindling and decided to make the move out of Wisconsin, down to the cradle of the Civil War, Atlanta. Once the team fled Milwaukee, minority owner, and Milwaukee resident, Alan "Bud" Selig made it his mission to bring major league baseball back to his city.

For the next five years Selig pursued every angle to bring an MLB team back to Milwaukee. He formed the group Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club Inc., which worked tirelessly to prove to Major League Baseball that Milwaukee was a viable city for another franchise. To help prove his point Selig set up an exhibition game, in 1966, between the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. The game attracted over 51,000 spectators and was so successful that Selig convinced the White Sox to play nine more in 1967. This, too, was a tremendous success, as the fans came out in droves (264,297 to be exact), which was almost half of the 539,478 they drew the rest of the season in Chicago.

By 1968, 11 more games were slated to be played in County Stadium (one for each franchise in the A.L. at the time), and while those drew a little less than the previous year (198,211), it was still 1/3 of all fans who came to see the White Sox in a "home" game all year long. Selig was ecstatic and thought this was just the show of support needed to get Milwaukee back on the baseball map, but his hopes were crushed when the four new franchises for 1970 went to San Diego and Montreal (in the National League) and Seattle and Kansas City (in the American League).

Bringing Baseball Back To Milwaukee
Selig was bowed, but not broken, and turned his attention towards purchasing, and relocating an existing franchise. His first thought was the team that had just performed so well at the box office the last few years, the Chicago White Sox. According to Selig he had a handshake agreement to do so, but the American League was not about to cede Chicago to the Cubs, and nixed the deal. Selig then turned his eye to what he felt was going to be a doomed franchise, the Seattle Pilots, and targeted them.

Seattle had always been a good minor league baseball city and many felt  this would translate well, but the Pilots were a doomed franchise from the start. Originally the team wasn't supposed to be "born" until 1971, but they were also supposed to come in with another MLB franchise, the Royals, and Missouri didn't want to wait that long, so the target date was pushed up to 1969. The team was terrible, winning only five times in the first six weeks, and ending the season 64-98, 33 games out of first place. The bigger problem though was the ballpark they were to call home.

Sick's Stadium was planned to be a temporary home, until the Kingdome could be built, but it proved woefully inadequate for both the fan and player experience. Crowds never came back after the first month, thanks in part to both the team and the ballpark, and by the end of the year the franchise was just about broke. Selig and the Pilots' owner, Dewey Soriano, met secretly and hammered out a deal for the team to be sold and relocated to Milwaukee. However the other owners nixed the sale, under pressure from politicians from the state of Washington who asked that a local buyer be sought. Two deals came to light, but quickly fizzled, leaving Selig as the only option for the club.

The Pilots, meanwhile, reported to spring training not knowing where they were going to be playing. Dewey then filed for bankruptcy, alleging he would be unable to meet player/coaches payroll, which if proved true would make everyone a free agent and leave Seattle with no team for 1970. With that in mind, six days before Opening Day the team was declared bankrupt, allowing them to move to Milwaukee and become the Brewers.

The Early Years Of Brewers' Baseball:

 The short notice of venue change also forced the Brewers to play the first season in the American League West, which led to some very long road trips out to the Pacific coast. Regardless, Selig and Milwaukee got their team, and baseball was back in "Brew City".

Original Brewers Logo
With Opening Day being six days away the club didn't have time to have new uniforms made, so they just took the Pilots logo off the existing ones and replaced them with a Brewers' patch, which showed a batter, with a beer barrel for a chest, in a classic baseball swing. This would be their logo for the franchise until it was replaced in 1978. They also were planning to have Navy Blue and red be the team's primary colors, in honor of the defunct minor league team of the same name, but it was eventually decided to keep the blue and gold the team inherited from the Pilots instead.

Since the team was basically the Pilots, just moved east, and they weren't very good, the season was pretty much over before it started. The team would go on to finish 65-97, good for last place in the A.L. West, and never produce a season above .500 until 1978. During this time they would sport a cumulative record of 550-738 and finish higher than sixth place three times (1973, 1974 and 1975), when they would finish fifth.

Henry's Back In Milwaukee
Bernie Brewer
There were some "highlight" moments for the Brewers in those early years, though. In 1972 Selig brought back Braves fan favorite Del Crandall to manage (though he wouldn't be able to turn the franchise into a winner), and the team was moved back to the A.L. East when the latest version of Washington's Senators moved to Texas to become the Rangers. Also during this period new mascots Bernie and Bonnie Brewer were introduced to the fans, and in 1978 the team brought back Hank Aaron to be the DH and allow the fans one more chance to see their "hometown" star. This did little to produce wins, but County Stadium became a fun place to watch a ballgame and the team was about to make a complete turn-around.

Ball and Glove Logo
For the 1978 season the Brewers made two very important hires: Harry Dalton, as General Manager, and George Bamberger, as the new manager. They would also go through a uniform and logo change as well. The home uniform would feature blue pinstripes, with a blue collar and waistband, while the away ones were powder blue, with the name of the city across the chest. In either instance they looked like glorified pajamas, which seemed to be the style of the day. The new logo was a far sight better than the beer-barrel-chested ballplayer; it was a blue "M" and "B" (the team's initials) that were fit together to form a baseball glove. This would become the logo that would be a fan favorite until the present day. The overall improvement of the club was as quick as it was dramatic, with the team challenging for the pennant, finishing third behind the Yankees, with a record of 93-69, a twenty-six game improvement.  The next year, 1979, the club climbed to second place, with 95 wins, just behind the Baltimore Orioles.

As the 1980s dawned the Brewers were also building a sound farm system of young talent that was on the verge of taking the team to the next level. Paul Molitor, Gorman Thomas and Robin Yount, mixed with the savvy veteran leadership of Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie and Mike Caldwell, would become the backbone for what would be a dominant team for the more than a few years.

In 1980 the team felt it was ready to contend, but things fell apart when Bamberger suffered a heart attack, and had to be replaced with Buck Rodgers, and the bullpen failed. These two issues dropped the team back to third place, though they still finished ten games over .500 (86-76), and when they traded for Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich they were ready to take on the world...or so they thought.
Rollie Fingers

1981 was a strike-shortened season and MLB decided to break it into two parts, with the winners of the first half regular season meeting the winners of the second half in a mini-playoff. The Brewers, led by Rollie Fingers who would save 28 games, post an ERA of 1.04, and win the MVP and CY Young Awards, would win the second half and match up against the Yankees, winners of the first half, in the franchises' first-ever playoff appearance.

The 1981 American League Division Series became the Brewers' "Coming Out Party". They would face the heavily favored, defending American League Champion New York Yankees and more than hold their own in the best-of-five series. The Yankees would take the first two games in Milwaukee (3-0 and 5-3), seemingly putting the Brewers down for the count,  but Milwaukee would return the favor, back in the Bronx (5-3 and 2-1), setting up the decisive fifth game at Yankee Stadium.

The Brewers would jump out to a quick 2-0 lead by the third inning, but the Yankees came storming back, scoring four in the fourth, one in the seventh and two in the eighth, en route to a 7-3 final. The Brewers may have lost the series, but they had made the baseball world sit up and take notice. They were ready to bust out.

Harvey's Wallbangers:

Kuenn, Molitor and Yount
Going into 1982 the team was a heavy favorite to win the Eastern Division, but sloppy, uninspired play led them to a 23-24 record and the firing of Buck Rodgers. Replacing Rodgers was hitting coach Harvey Kuenn and the team immediately responded. Led by Kuenn's laid-back, low-key nature, the Brewers went 72-43 for the rest of the season and went wild offensively, slugging 216 home runs, and earning them the nickname "Harvey's Wallbangers".

Late in the season, with the team going back and forth with Baltimore for the A.L. East lead, Milwaukee traded for pitcher Don Sutton. This was the final piece of the puzzle and proved huge when Sutton outpitched O's ace Jim Palmer, Robin Yount hit two monster home runs, and the Brewers took the A.L. East by one game over Baltimore.

The team set out for California, where they would play the Angels in the American League Championship Series. They would lose the first two games, 8-3 and 4-2, but would come back home to tie the series up, winning 5-3 and 9-5 and setting up another deciding fifth game.

The Angels roster was chock full of big-name players, such as Fred Lynn, Tommy John, Luis Tiant, Stan Bahnsen, Bob Boone, Rick Burleson, Rod Carew, Doug DeCinces, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor and Reggie Jackson, but this mattered little to the Brewers. With Game 5 at home they were sure they were going to prevail and move on to the World Series.

The Angels struck first, in the first, when Grich doubled and Lynn drove him home, but the Brewers countered with a Paul Molitor double and an eventual sacrifice fly by Ted Simmons. The Angels scored another, an RBI single from Lynn, in the third and another in the fourth. The Brewers cut the lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the fourth, on a Ben Ogilvie homer, and that's how it stayed until the seventh when the game went to Hell for the Angels. The Brewers loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, and Cecil Cooper then drove in two, putting the Brew Crew up 4-3. The bullpen did its job, shutting down California the rest of the way and the Brewers were on their way to the World Series.

The Suds Series
The 1982 World Series saw the St. Louis Cardinals match up with "Harvey's Wallbangers" in an epic seven-game series. The Cardinals, managed by Whitey Herzog, were loaded with talent and led by future Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Bruce Sutter. They had finished with a record of 92-70, led by pitching, stingy defense and aggressive base running )known as "Whiteyball"), and were picked as the favorites.

The Brewers relished the role of underdog and came into St. Louis with a swagger they backed up with a 10-0 victory in Game 1. They scored two in the first, one in the fourth and the fifth, another two in the sixth and blew the game away with four in the ninth. It was the worst beating the Cards had endured all year, but undaunted they came back and evened the series with a 5-4 victory in Game 2.

Games 3, 4 and 5 would see Milwaukee host its first World Series since 1958 and the fans came out in droves to cheer on their Brewers. The cards took Game 3, with a 6-2 victory, but the Brewers gave the hometown fans something to scream about with victories in Games 4 (7-5) and 5 (6-4), which put them one win away from an improbable World Series victory.

The Redbirds, going home, were not about to concede the series and came out swinging in Game 6. They would score in the second, fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth innings, and when the dust had cleared they walked away with a 13-1 shellacking, which set up a decisive Game 7 the next night.

Game 7 was a nail-biter for the first six innings. The Cards scored first, in the bottom of the fourth, but the Brewers answered right back in the fifth, tying the game. Milwaukee would score two, taking the lead 3-1, in the top of the sixth, but the Cards would return the favor, scoring three and taking the lead back in the bottom of the inning. The Cards would score two in the eighth, putting the game, and the Series, out of reach, and Bruce Sutter would nail down the save, as the Brewers went out quietly in the ninth.

In the end the Cardinals would win the "Suds Series" (given this name since Milwaukee is home to the Miller Brewing Company and St. Louis is the home of Anheuser Busch), but the Brewers gave them quite a run. Paul Molitor and Robin Yount would pace the Brewers, while on the St. Louis side Darrell Porter would win the MVP, Joaquin Andujar would go 2-0 and Bruce Suter would have two saves. The fans, the players, and the Brewers front office had faith that their team was on the cusp of greatness and swore they'd be back, but it was not to be.

The Brewers looked to duplicate their 1982 success in 1983, but a poor September showing relegated them to fourth place, with a record of 87-75. Injuries and trades hurt the team, as Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich were lost to arm injuries for the whole season, and Gorman Thomas struggled and was traded away to Cleveland.

The rest of the decade was a roller coaster of sorts for the franchise. For the 1984, 1985 and 1986 seasons the team would finish under .500 (67-94, 71-90 and 77-84) and never rise above 6th place in the standings. By 1987 Kuenn was let go, replaced by Tom Trebelhorn, and the club did make a respectable showing, finishing in third place (91-71). Some highlights, besides getting above sixth place, were Paul Molitor's 39-game hitting streak and Juan Nieves pitching the franchise's first (and still only) no-hitter.

In 1988 the team again finished strong, ten games over .500, but slipped to fifth in the standings. For the next few years (1989-1991) they would never be more than a middle-of-the-pack team and Trebelhorn's time as manager would come to an end after the 1991 season. He would be replaced by Phil Garner.

Bernie Brewer or Robin Yount? You Decide
Garner, like Trebelhorn before him, would rally the team in his rookie season, surprising everyone and finishing in second place, behind the Toronto Blue Jays. The team that year became more of a running team (stealing 256 bases) than a power-hitting team, which they had always been known as. In fact the team, as a whole, hit only 82 home runs for the year and only two players, Greg Vaughan and Paul Molitor, hit more than 12. The Brew Crew had some memorable moments in 1992, as Pat Listach hit .290 and stole 54 bases en route to winning Rookie of The Year honors, while Robin Yount collected his 3,000 hit. Sadly 1992 also represented an end of an era, as three cogs in the lineup, since 1978, went their separate ways. Pual Molitor moved on, via free agency, Jim Gatner retired and Robin Yount would only play one more year before hanging up the spikes after the 1993 season.

By 1993 the bottom had fallen out and the team finished 69-93, 26 games out of first place. It was the beginning of a dark period for baseball in Milwaukee as the team would not finish above .500 until 1997 and only finished .500 once again, in 2005. Things would get so bad that some fans even joked it was worse than having no team at all.

Another Logo
Today's Logo
During this time the uniforms changed twice, once in 1994 and again in
2000. The first change came as the team was set to celebrate their 25th anniversary in Milwaukee and the make-over was a wholesale change. Gone was the "M ball-in-glove" design; it was replaced by an interlocking M and B, placed on top of a set of crossed bats, with a baseball diamond as the backdrop. The teams' colors also changed as the royal blue was changed to navy and the yellow was switched with gold. A third color, forest green, was also added. The 2000 change was to coincide with the opening of their new ballpark, Miller Park. The green was removed, the name Brewers appeared in script on the front of the jersey and the cap logo was now a script "M", similar to the letter that the Miller Brewing Company used.

Other changes for the franchise, around this time, were, first, the move to the American League Central Division, and then the move into the National League. In 1994 MLB adopted a new playoff structure, adding Wild Cards and restructuring the leagues from two divisions to three. At this time Milwaukee went from the A.L. East to the A.L. Central, which was more geographically representative of the team's actual location. Then in 1995 the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays were "born" and MLB official decided that they wanted to have an equal number of teams in each league, so someone would have to switch leagues, from American to National. Kansas City was asked first but they declined, so the choice then fell to the Brewers, who decided to return to the league of their ancestors, the Braves, for the 1998 season.

The team would continue to scuffle along through the rest of the 1990's, never finishing higher than third and as low as fifth. Players and managers came and went as the franchise continued to sink to new lows and continually became a doormat for the league.

Miller Park:

Miller Park

While the team continued to flounder on the field ownership was looking, as early as 1993, to replace County Stadium. By 1996 they were ready to break ground on a new ballpark, which would sit directly behind County Stadium. Originally it was thought that the new park should not have a roof, but the unpredictable Wisconsin weather in the early spring and late fall made them rethink their idea and a retractable roof was settled on. This would allow the games to go on and the fans to be in a climate-controlled atmosphere if necessary.

The groundbreaking took place on November 9, 1996 and was on pace to finish by Opening Day of 2000, but that was tabled when a crane collapsed in the summer of 1999, killing three workers and putting the project behind schedule. There were some hopes that the team could still move in half-way through the 2000 season, but corners would have to be cut and no one wanted to do that, so the ballpark was put on schedule for a 2001 opening.

Miller Park would be the largest construction project in Wisconsin's history. The final cost came out to about $400 million, $290 million of which came from public funds drawn from a .1% sales tax that took effect in 1996 and will run until 2017. The plan was so controversial that it cost the state senator, George Petak, his job in a recall election over his vote to fund it.

The stadium was designed by Dallas-based architects HKS Inc., the Los Angeles-based engineering firm Arup, and many local firms from the Milwaukee area. The team was looking for the "retro-feel", which was the current trend and had been successful since Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992.

The most notable feature of the new park was it's retractable roof. This was deemed a necessity when designing the park, due to the unpredictable Wisconsin weather, and it's unique fan-type shape allows for it to open and close simultaneously from the first and third base sides. When the roof closed the climate control could make the ballpark up to 30 degrees warmer than the outside temperature, and allow for a game to be played that would normally be cancelled. In fact, when snow cancelled games in Cleveland in the beginning of the 2007 season, the Indians moved an entire series to Milwaukee so it could be played in Miller Park's perfect conditions.
Left Field View
Right Field View

When finally completed, before the 2001 season, Miller Park was a beautiful facility to
behold. Its playing surface would be composed of Kentucky Bluegrass, while the infield dirt, and home plate, would be brought across the parking lot from old County Stadium. The dimensions are 344 feet to Left Field, 371 to Left-Center, 400 to Center Field, 374 to Right-Center, 340 feet to Right Field and 56 from Home Plate to the backstop. The park would seat 41,900 and there was not a bad seat in the house.
Home Plate View

Miller Park's grand opening came on April 6, 2001, when the Brewers hosted the Cincinnati Reds. The ceremonial first pitches were thrown out by President Bush and Commissioner Selig, to Brewers manager Davy Lopes. The first hit at the new park came off the bat of the Reds Sean Casey, while the first Brewers hit was a double by Jose Hernandez. The game was tied going into the eighth, but the Brewers' Richie Sexson would homer in the bottom of the inning and David Weathers would collect the save. The Brewers opened their new home in style.

Over the years the park has hosted other events besides baseball. There have been concerts by Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, Paul McCartney, Kenny Chesney, Bon Jovi, One Direction and George Strait, to name a few. The 25th Anniversary Farm Aid concert was also played there in 2010 and there have been numerous country music fairs as well. In 2007 the U.S. Bowling Tournament was held there, with lanes being constructed over the outfield grass; in 2014 an international soccer exhibition game was played there; and in 2012 an event called "Field of Honor", which celebrated the "Greatest Generation" and previewed a movie, "Honor Flight", drew 30,000 fans and set a record for most people at a movie premiere.

Unfortunately for the team, they were not as exciting as the new ballpark was. Though they would win their opener in 2001, there would only be 66 more victories and the team would finish in fourth place, 25 games out of first base. In 2003 a new General Manager, Doug Melvin, and a new manager, Ned Yost, brought renewed hopes, but the team didn't fare much better.

In 2004 it was announced that the Selig family would be selling the franchise. Bud had been named "acting commissioner" of Major League Baseball in 1992, with the ousting of Fay Vincent, and had agreed to turn control of the team over to his daughter, Wendy. By 2004 the family decided it was time for some "new blood" and sold the franchise to investment banker Mark Attanasio. Attanasio started working to get the support of the fan base. He brought back the "M-B glove logo", for "Retro Friday" games, when the team would wear their "Harvey Wallbanger" uniforms, and in 2005 gave away every seat in Miller Park for the final home game of the year.

Over the next few years the new ownership would open up the wallet and bring in some free agents, such as Damian Miller, as well as trade for star players like Carlos Lee. By 2005 the team would finish at .500, with it's first non-losing season since 1992, and farmhands Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy and Corey Hart formed a young nucleolus that had fans hoping things were about to turn around. They were disappointed in 2006, when the team dropped to fourth place, but faith was rewarded in 2007 when the team made an exciting run at the postseason.
Prince Fielder

2007 was the 25th Anniversary of the Brewers going to the World Series and the 50th Anniversary of the Braves winning it. This group of players was said to be a "sleeper-pick" to do some damage and that was exactly what they did. Led by Prince Fielder, who became the youngest player to ever hit 50 home runs in a season, Chris Capuano, Ben Sheets and Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun, the Brewers bounced up and down in the standings all season long. On September 1 the team was tied atop the NL Central, with the Cubs, but, alas, it was not to be. In the end the Brew Crew, finishing with a record of 83-79, would find themselves two back of Chicago's north siders. Good things would have to wait for another year.

For 2008 the team added free agents Mike Cameron (OF), Jason Kendell (C), and relief pitchers Eric Gagne and Salomon Torres. After an ugly beginning to the season the team rebounded and made a trade for the "here and now" in June, sending four highly regarded prospects to the Indians for ace C.C. Sabathia. From the All Star Beak on, Sabathia was a work horse for the team, taking the ball every 3-4 days and carrying the team on his large frame. He became the first pitcher in history to win his first nine games after being traded and the team never let up.

The Brewers did hit a bump in the road in September and, surprisingly, manager Ned Yost was shown the door, being replaced with third base coach Dale Sveum. The new manager had his work cut out for him, as the team was behind in the Wild Card race with 6 games to go, but they first swept Pittsburgh, which tied them with the New York Mets, then set their sights on the Cubs, who they would be playing next.

Sabathia Was a Workhorse
The Brewers would win the first game, while the Cubs would win the second. With the Mets splitting their series with the Marlins the Wild Card was still tied going into the final game. The Brewers handed the ball to Sabathia, who pitched his third game in seven days, and he didn't disappoint, going the distance in the win. When the Mets lost their game it was official; the Brewers were the Wild Card winners and headed back to the post season for the first time since 1982. They would face the Phillies in the NLDS.

The Phils, led by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge, Pat Burrell and Jamie Moyer were the prohibitive favorites. They had won the N.L. East, with a record of 92-70, finishing three games ahead of the recently deposed Mets. They had the second-best (to the Cubs) record in the National League, and were considered the heavy favorites in this series.

Game 1 went to Philadelphia, 3-1, when Hamels pitched eight innings of two-hit baseball, while whiffing nine, and Brad Lidge came in for the save. Game 2 saw Sabathia gave up 5 runs in the third inning and the Phils made that hold up, en route to a 5-2 lead.

Heading home the Brewers were one loss away from elimination, but they fed off the emotion of the crowd, winning Game 3, 4-1, and cutting the Phillies lead in half. Unfortunately the team had nothing left in the tank after their wild run to the playoffs and dropped Game 4, 6-2. Philly scored five runs in the first three innings, silencing the crowd and moving on to the NLCS, where they would face the Dodgers. The Brewers and their fans were tired, beaten and bruised, but vowed to be back. What they didn't know was that it wouldn't happen until 2011.

Going into 2009 the franchise put on a stoic face, but they knew they would be in trouble when Sabathia bolted Milwaukee for New York and the Yankees. Their fears were realized when the team finished under .500, 80-82, and dropped down to third place in the Central Division. Things stayed the same in 2010, when the team again finished third, out of the playoffs, at 77-85.

During the 2010 offseason the Brewers signed free agent pitchers Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum, which created quite a stir in Cheeseland. The team finally had two top-of-the-rotation starters, to go with an offense led by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.

The team went up and down for the first half of the season, but entered the All Star Break tied with St. Louis for the division lead. They were dreadful on the road, 16-29, but had the best home record, 33-14, which was what kept them afloat.

NL Central Champs Picture Inside Miller Park
After the All Star Break they bolstered the bullpen, adding Francisco Rodriguez from the Mets, and went on a tear in August, finishing the month 21-7. The Jekyll-and-Hyde persona continued in September as the team built a comfy ten-game lead, but saw it whittled down to four at one point. The team finished the year 96-66, setting a franchise mark for wins in a season, and won the N.L. Central crown. They would head to the playoffs, to face the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS, as the favorite to win the series.

As was their habit during the year, the Brewers played very well at home, winning the first two games of the series 4-1 and 9-4, but dropped the next two, on the road, in Arizona, 8-1 ad 10-6. This set up a deciding Game 5, thankfully, at home in Milwaukee.

Game 5 was a classic. Arizona scored first, in the top of the third, but the Brewers answered with one of their own in the bottom of the fourth. The Brewers took the lead, 2-1, in the sixth and that held until they turned the ball over to closer John Axford, for the save, in the ninth. Axford, however, blew the save by allowing a run on a Willie Bloomquist bunt single and the game went into extra innings.

Axford held the fort in the top of the tenth and when Nyjer Morgan drove in Carlos Gomez, in the bottom of the inning, the Brewers had won their first playoff series since 1982. The team and the fans celebrated long into the night before heading to St. Louis, to take on the Cardinals, and the chance to head to the World Series.

The Brewers liked their liked their chances against St Louis, especially having home field advantage in the series. The Brewers took Game 1, 9-6, but got blown out, 12-3, the next night and headed to St. Louis with a split.

The teams, once again, split the next two games, with St. Louis eking out a Game 3 victory, 4-3, and the Brew Crew taking Game 4, 4-2. The Cards, however, took the pivotal Game 5, still in St. Louis, 7-1, and then scored 11 runs in the first five innings of Game 6 to blow the Brewers out, 12-6. The season may have ended on a low note, but the fans and the team had nothing to feel bad about. They had gone farther and done better than any Brewers squad besides the 1982 team.
Ryan Braun

After the 2011 season the Brewers lost a big cog in the middle of their lineup when Prince Fielder left, via free agency, for the Detroit Tigers. Also during this offseason it was announced that Ryan Braun had tested positive for PED usage and would be suspended for 50 games. Braun challenged the finding and got the suspension overturned on a technicality that would come back to haunt him in 2013. The team played up and down most of the year and finished a disappointing 83-79, in third place, 14 games back.

Looking to rebound in 2013 the team signed pitcher Kyle Lohse, but it wasn't enough to overcome a dreadful month of May, where the team went 6-22, and Braun once again landed in hot water for PED usage. This time he was caught red handed and forced to come clean. He was suspended for the final 60 games of the season, had his damaged reputation further tarnished and the team sank to a record of 74-88.

As we headed into town the 2014 edition of the Brew Crew was in first place, led by newly signed-pitcher Matt Garza, a rededicated Ryan Braun, Kyle Lohse and second-year pitcher Wily Peralta. It seemed to be the right time to be pulling into Milwaukee, for this early afternoon contest.

Tailgating, Cheesehead Style:

The REAL "Brew Crew"

"Hey, Columbus, I think you missed the exit," Ryan said, interrupting our discussion.
"I don't think so," I told him.
"Well the sign said Miller Park, that way" he pointed, off to the left. 

Sure enough, he was right; we had been so busy yapping that we missed the exit. We quickly took the next exit, turned around and followed the signs to Miller Park.

The View From Our Parking Spot
Once there we were quickly led to a parking space in the front row. I couldn't believe our luck as we pulled in, parked the car and took a good look around us. The parking lot was immense and even though it was early there were a lot of people already here and tailgating. There was definitely a party-like atmosphere surrounding these fans. We were going to have a good time, but first there was some business to attend to. Originally we were hoping  Mr. and Mrs. Zoch would be joining us for the game, but it turned out they could not, so we were going to try and get the ticket money back at the box office.

As he jumped out of the car the first thing I noticed was that everyone, and I mean everyone, was carrying an open container of beer. This was a novel concept to me; if we wanted a beer in the lot at Yankee Stadium we had to carry around a plastic cup so no one could tell what was inside, but that was not the case here. There were cans and bottles of all denominations, some we had heard of and some we never had, but one thing was consistent: it was all beer.

"Excuse me," I said to the lady next to me. "Is walking around with an open beer allowed?"
"You're not from around here, are you, sweetie?" she laughed.
"No ma'am, we're from New Jersey and that would get you a $100 ticket at Yankee Stadium."
"Well, welcome to beautiful Miller Park, in Wisconsin," she said, reaching into her cooler and handing me a cold beer.
"Thank you, much," I told her.
"You'll love it here, come by later and we'll fix you up with some tailgate food, we're just setting the grill up now."

I walked away knowing I'd be back. Tailgating at Miller Park is almost as important as the game itself and there are whole lots dedicated to just that. I had even heard that folks came to the lot to cook, eat, drink, party and listen to the game on a radio, or watch on a portable TV, never even going inside. These were definitely my kind of people.

I got back to the van and told the guys it was okay to crack a beer; we wouldn't get arrested or ticketed. I had barely gotten the words out of my mouth when Rob handed Tony and I a beer and dubbed us "The Brew Crew". Ryan took a picture of the three of us and we toasted the good people, and laws, of Milwaukee.

After taking the picture we walked over to the box office in hopes that we could get them to buy back the tickets, but it was not to be. Fortunately for us we found two gentlemen who would rather deal with our prices (face value) than what the box office had left, which was a lot more. We were able to recoup the money and the guys were able to get a good set of seats at a price they were OK with. It was win/win for everyone.

While on the outer concourse, in front of the main entrance area, we noticed some statues, so naturally we had to take a look. There were four, two being players and two being non-players. All four were cast in bronze, sat atop a four to five-foot brick and stone base, and had a plaque denoting the person's history with the Brewers.

Henry Aaron
Ryan and I with "The Hammer"
The first one we came to was Henry Aaron. Aaron played 99% of his career with the
Braves, being drafted when they were in Boston, spending his early years in Milwaukee and winning a World Series there in 1957, moving with the team to Atlanta and, finally, coming back "home" for the last two years of his career, as a Brewer. Aaron hit 420 of his 744 home runs in a Milwaukee uniform, was a fan favorite, and loved the city as much as it loved him.

Robin Yount
The next statue was one for Robin Yount, who was as big a fan favorite as Aaron was, for the next generation. Yount was the third overall pick in the 1973 draft and spent his entire career with the Brewers. He made his MLB debut on April 5, 1974 and retired in October of 1993. Over the course of his career he would hit .285, amassing 3,142 hits, 251 home runs and 1,406 RBIs. He would be a three-time All Star (1980, 1982 and 1983), win two MVPs (1982 and 1989) and three Silver Slugger Awards (1980, 1982 and 1989). He would come up as a shortstop, but moved to center field after a shoulder injury forced him out of the infield in 1985. After retiring he would be voted into the Hall of Fame and have his number retired by the Brewers. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, Yount was always my favorite non-Yankee player, so this was a wonderful moment for me to share with my son.

Bud Selig

The next statue we came to was one for Alan "Bud" Selig, the man who brought baseball back to Milwaukee. Selig is held in high regard here in his home town and although some may not appreciate his reign as MLB Commissioner, I, for one, think he did a lot of good for the game. He was responsible for the current playoff system, where Wild Cards keep the game exciting down to the final weekend; he has overseen tremendous growth in both popularity and fan appreciation and now has the toughest drug policy of any of the major sports. There are those who might argue that MLB turned a blind eye to the PED issue in the 1990s, but I don't look at it that way myself.

"Mr. Baseball", Bob Uecker
Rob, Ryan and Ueck
The final statue we came upon was one for Bob Uecker. Uecker, a former catcher for the Milwaukee Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves, has been the radio voice of the Brewers since 1971. A very below-average player, Uecker has become famous for poking fun at himself with a dry sense of humor that has kept people laughing for years. He has filled in for Johnny Carson as a talk show host onThe Tonight Show" had his own show Mr. Belevdere and is famously known for being the pitchman for Miller Lite beer, as well as the character Harry Doyle in the Major League movie franchise. Many are surprised to know that Uecker is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, though as an announcer, not a player.

After checking out the statues we walked through the team store to get all of our paraphernalia, which would be left in the car so as not to ruin it, and headed back outside to walk the tailgating scene, in the parking lot.

As we walked back to the car we stopped to check out the stone barricades to the parking lot, which were about three feet tall and sculpted into giant baseballs. As we were walking the lady I had spoken to before walked over, handed each of us another beer and reminded us to come visit her family at the tailgate. I was falling in love with this place, and these people; this was the way baseball should always be done.

We decided to take the long way around the lot, to get the full flavor of the fans and their pre-game rituals. We saw kids throwing baseballs with their dads, families standing and sitting around grills of all kids, cooking up all different kinds of food, drinking their beers, while laughing, joking and smiling.

The smell of grilled meats filled the air, along with snippets of conversation we could hear, but were yet to be a part of. I didn't really want to just walk into someone's private party and luckily for me I didn't have to, as we had a previous invite.

"Well, well, well, look who found us," our lady friend called out. "So tell us about you, what brings you out our way, while we feed you."
"Can't say no to that kind of invite," Ryan laughed as he moved in closer to the grill.

I could see his eyes were getting wide just looking at the copious amounts of meats that were on this charcoal grill, so I pulled up a cooler for us, introduced ourselves and told Ryan that he was in charge of spreading the word.

We found out the lady who had been so hospitable was named Julie, she was a Milwaukee native who lived and died with her Brewers and thought that the tailgating was as important as the actual game. She was there with her husband, Brian, their son Ray and her brother, Danny. This was apparently their ritual and they took it very seriously. She also told us that she felt it was her job to properly show newcomers what all the fuss was about, when attending a game at Miller Park.

Finally she asked us to tell the group our story. So for the next twenty-five minutes I listened as my eldest son explained what we were doing, how we came to be doing it, where we had been, so far, and what we had seen. I must have looked like quite the proud father, which I was, because one of the gentlemen commented that Ryan was quite the speaker. It really made me smile to see how he interacted with new people and how well he held up his portion of an adult conversation. Many adults probably couldn't do as well and I made a mental note to make sure and tell him that.

While we were taking, Julie handed us each a burger, made from bratwurst and covered with cheese, and a cheddar-brat, apparently as a side dish. The burgers were unlike any I had eaten before. I was not a beef burger, but a brat burger, which had a smoky quality (accentuated by the char grilling, I'm sure), and a bit of a bite from the ground sausage. Ryan quickly announced we had to find these back home, to which I agreed, and started in on his actual bratwurst. I looked at the time, thanked our hostess and hosts and said we had to go inside. As we walked away the people next to us called over and said they had overheard our story and wanted to offer a plate of spicy sausage nachos, which they had prepared in the lot, as a way of being friendly.

I couldn't believe all we had to do was tell our story and we'd be fed by complete strangers, but I wasn't going to decline the offer. We thanked these folks, took the plate and headed back to the van, where the boys were playing catch and Tony and Rob were relaxing with a beer. I had saved my brat for Rob and Tony, but Ryan felt no such obligation. His plate of nachos was long gone, the only sign anything was amiss being the small dab of melted cheese on his cheek.

Starting Line-Up:

Back Row: Mike, Rob, Me, Tony
Front Row: Lisa, Sue, Nick, Ryan and Shawn

Jim Kulhawy
Ryan Kulhawy
Robert Zoch
Anthony D'Angelo
Nick D'Angelo
Shawn Ballingall
Sue Hanover
Michael Hernbrott
Lisa Hernbrott

Rob and Tony split the brat and we all walked into the stadium, with plenty of time to walk around and enjoy ourselves. We liked getting in as the doors opened and this was no exception, but the stadium was emptier than I had expected, considering all the people in the lot. I quickly realized that it was because they were all out there tailgating. I silently laughed to myself; these people knew how to throw a proper pre-game tailgate and they take it seriously.

Once inside we agreed to walk around the lower concourse and make our way upstairs, eventually getting to our seats. The first thing we saw, as we walked in and turned right, was a giant picture of the 2011 N.L. Central Division Champions. As we went along farther we noticed more pictures from years, and teams, gone by.

As we went further along the boys stopped to play some games of chance, they won a Brewers rally towel. Personally I don't think it's really a game of chance when everyone wins, but the boys were happy and that's all that mattered.

Sausage Boys
Down the right field line we stopped and took some pictures of the boys with the statues of the sausage racers, as well as another with a statue of Bernie Brewer. All three kids were hoping to see the actual mascot, but he was nowhere to be found so this would have to do. We all hoped to see a Brewers home run, because we wanted to see Bernie's slide being used, so we kept our fingers crossed and kept moving along.

Something For Everyone
By the time we made a full circle we found ourselves in front of something Ryan would love. It was an old-fashioned horse-drawn Miller beer cart, that had been filled with popcorn. Popcorn has always been Ryan's favorite snack, but since he had braces put on he was not allowed to partake. There was  white cheese popcorn, yellow cheese popcorn and regular buttered popcorn filling the cart. I decided to get a picture of him and Uncle Z, as the cart had something for both of them, beer and popcorn, even if Ryan couldn't really have either and Rob didn't prefer Miller.

Almost Game Time
We then walked into the field level to make sure we got some pictures there, before the game started. Ryan, as is his wont, walked up to a security  guard and asked if we could go down to the field level and take some photos. The gentleman gave us the green light, walked us down there and offered to take one of all of us, while the Reds were taking batting practice.

Bernie's Slide

"Look, there's Bernie's slide," Nick called out.

Sure enough, over the left field stands stood a gold, two-story, slide. At the top was what looked like a clubhouse and on the level below was the landing site. Looking a little closer we could see Bernie, himself, out on the patio of the dugout, greeting the crowd. We all got a laugh at him mugging it up and started to look at the rest of the park.

The sun was out and the weather was perfect, so the Brewers had the roof open and the sunlight bathed the entire stadium in its warm light.

"Could this day be any more perfect?" Tony wanted to know.
"Yeah, the Brewers need to win," Nick told him.

Fingers, Robinson, Aaron
Molitor, Uecker, Yount
As I looked around the stadium I noticed the "banners" hung around the left field wall for the 1981 A.L. Division Series, the 1982 A.L. Champions, the 2008 Wild Card Champions and the 2011 N.L. Central Division Champions. I also saw, high atop the Left Field portion of the stadium, the "Ring of Honor" retired numbers; 32 (Rollie Fingers), 42 (Jackie Robinson) and 44 (Henry Aaron). Across the way, on the Right Field Side, were 4 (Paul Molitor), 50 (for Bob Uecker's 50 years in baseball) and 19 (Robin Yount).
Team Banners

It really was a beautiful park, one the team and the fans obviously took pride in, and we could see why. We must have had some kind of look on our face because the guard asked us if it was our first time here. That gave Ryan the perfect excuse to, once again, tell our story. Nick and Shawn thought it was a good time to sit down until he was done, while I just laughed and settled in to hear the story that never got old.

Roof Open View From Center Field
After Ryan finished regaling the gentleman we decided it was time to walk around the perimeter of the playing field, so we once again headed down the right field line. When we reached the outfield we got a whole new perspective on the ballpark. With the roof open, and the expanse of green grass before us, it seemed the outfield went on forever. I thought it actually made the park look, and feel, bigger than it actually was.

"I'm getting hungry," Ryan announced to the group.
"I could eat," Rob told him.
"No surprise there, from either of you," was Tony's response.

Nick and Shawn weren't ready to head upstairs; they wanted to watch more of the warm-ups, so we broke off and headed towards our seats, which, coincidentally, had some good food stands in the general vicinity.


We knew exactly what we wanted to eat, and now it was just a case of finding it. Miller Park offers up, as all ballparks do, the traditional ballpark foods; hot dogs, pretzels, peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy, ice cream, soda and beer. They also have stands for burgers, fries, salads, sandwiches and other nondescript eats, but this was Milwaukee, home of the sausages and bratwursts, and we would accept no substitute. We were, therefore, on a mission to find the best of the best that Milwaukee had to offer, and we were not disappointed.

Miller Park offers a variety of places to grab a bite; there is everything from small stands, to restaurants (Friday's, Lloyd Street Grill, the Johnson Stadium Club Bar, Chef's Kitchen and Chef's Table), to specialty stands (Gorman's Corner, Klements Grand Slam Grill, Milwaukee Burgers, Mr. B's Diner and the Smoke Shack). Desserts are easy to find as well, as hungry fans can choose from Dippin' Dots Ice Cream, The Sweet Spot Ice Cream Shop, The Pretzel Pit and Happy Jack's Kettle Corn. Now if beers are your thing, there is an amazing variety of mass produced and local craft brews throughout the park. If there is one thing Milwaukee fans take seriously, it's their beer and Miller Park has plenty of it. There is an amazing assortment of food and drink all over the park, which will make your head spin, so it was a good thing we knew exactly what we were after from the start; good sausage and craft beers, and that someone had pointed us in the right direction.

Oversized Brewers Piggy Bank
We hit the fourth floor at a good clip, ready to tackle the sausage and beer Milwaukee was famous for, and only stopped for one thing. Ryan wanted his picture taken with an over-sized Brewers piggy bank he thought was cool. I loved the fact that my 13 year old son wanted so much to be one of the grown-ups, but not at the expense of the kid that he still was. It always put a smile on my face to see him still like things that other teenagers might not think was "cool", but he liked what he liked and was not ashamed of that, which is a great quality to have. I hoped he would always be like that, I thought as I snapped his picture.

We walked up to the Home Fire Grill and stood there with our chins on the floor. There were so many different kinds of sausage to choose from and no one could make a decision on what they wanted. That's when Rob stepped up and became the light of reason.

"Why don't we pick three different kinds and share them?" he asked the two of us.

Ryan and I just looked at each other, dumbfounded that it took this long to figure that out. That made life easy; we ordered one beer braised brat with onions and stone ground mustard, one bacon and cheddar infused brat with onions and deli mustard, and a polish sausage with horseradish mustard, onions and sauerkraut. Our cocktails of choice were a Leinenkugel India Pale Lager and a Leinenkugel Red Lager.

We grabbed a high top table, sat down and looked over our feast. Each of the sausages was oversized, and the toppings made them even more daunting, but I had no doubt the three of us could tackle this portion of Wisconsin favorites.

"Should we cut them up?" Ryan asked, looking for a knife.
"Only if you're not going to give us a chance to have some," Rob told him.
"I'll be good, I promise," he shot back. "For a sip of the beers."
"No doubt," Rob assured him. "Have we ever left you hanging?"

We agreed that we would start with one, take a bite and pass it around. Once the first was finished someone else would start another and we would do the same and by the time we got to the last one the third person would get the first bite. It was a fair way to do things and we wanted to be able to compare each sausage as we ate it.

First up was the beer braised brat. It had a nice sharp "bite" and let off a snap as it was bitten into. I don't know what kind of beer was used in the making of this particular brat, but you could actually taste it, mixed with the char-grilled flavor. The onions and the stone ground mustard added another level of spice and perfectly blended in with the meats and rounded out a sausage that was going to be tough to beat.

The second sausage up for discussion was the polish one, also known as kielbasa. This sausage also had a nice "snap", along with a sharp smoky flavor. I was a little disappointed (not much, just a little) after having such a flavorful sausage just before. The thing that saved it from being a loss was the condiments. With the addition of the horseradish mustard (which added "heat"), the onions (which gave it a "bite") and the sauerkraut (which added a sweet/sour flavor), it was more than edible, though less than great.

Bacon and Cheddar Infused Brat
Last, for no reason other than what it was, we chose the bacon/cheddar infused bratwurst. This was the one Ryan and I had been waiting for since we sat down and for good reason...it has bacon. Everyone loves bacon, and if you don't you really should see a doctor about this malady. One bite and I knew this was the winner. The brat was fat and juicy; when you bit into it bacon and cheese oozed out from the inside and filled your mouth with a richness that can't be described. Topping it off were the onions and yellow mustard, which were the perfect choices. The onions added the "bite" and the yellow mustard added flavor, but not so much that it overpowered the brat. We had a winner and all were in agreement.

The beers were very good and since I had never had Leinenkugel's (except for the Summer Shandy, which I hated), I was willing to try these.  The India Pale Lager didn't have quite the flavor of an IPA; it was more mellow. The five different kinds of hops and the malted caramel worked nicely, but I would have preferred something with a little more kick. The Red Lager was good; it had a rich, robust color and a smooth finish. It was a clean, crisp and "malty" flavor, which I enjoyed. All in all, though, I liked the India Pale Lager more.

After cleaning up the table we went to scout out our seats and find the newest Bob Uecker statue, which is inside the park. Ueck had once done a Miller Lite commercial where he sat down in a seat at Dodger Stadium only to be told he wasn't in the right one. He joked that being the "star" he was, he must be getting an upgrade to the best seat in the house. When he finally got to his new seat it turned out to be waaaaaaaay up in the nosebleeds and anything but the best. The Brewers decided to have a little fun with their announcer, so they made a statue of Bob, put it in the last row, upstairs, in the home plate section, behind a beam and called it the "best seat in the house". Fans have been coming ever since and sitting in the adjacent seat and having their picture taken.

I knew we were in the general vicinity, but had forgotten to look up the location of the statue, so Rob started to do it on his phone.

"Um, guys," Ryan said, tapping me on the shoulder. "Is that it?"
"Hold on a sec," I told him. "Uncle Rob's looking it up."
"I'm telling you it's right there," he said again.
"Would you please give me two minutes?" I said, frustrated.
"Okay, I'm going behind us to get my picture taken with the statue, may I please have the camera?"

"Best" Seat In The House
I looked behind me, and sure enough, the kid was right. Sitting a few rows over, and about 30 rows back, behind the beam, was the statue. We all got a good laugh at my expense and high-tailed it up to take our pictures. If we couldn't meet the real Bob Ueker this would be the next best thing. It seemed everyone had the same idea, so we waited our turn, took a few photos and just as we turned to leave Tony, Nick and Shawn joined us. We got some pics for them and then headed back down to our seats, as it was game time.

The Game:
Harleys Bring Out Game Balls
Toeing the runner for the Brewers that afternoon was Kyle Lohse, who would be opposed by Mike Leake. We had some great seats, right where we liked them, behind home plate and upstairs. This gave us a view of the whole park and as we got ready for the game we noticed some motorcycles driving down the warning track, to the Brewers dugout. It seems that the game balls were being delivered by Harley Davidson Motorcycles, a Wisconsin-based company, this afternoon. No one had ever seen something like this and it provided a laugh.

Just as first pitch was about to be thrown we were joined by Sue, Mike and Lisa.

"Nice of you to join us," I laughed
"We all didn't need to be here as early as you guys," Sue joked back.

We all sat back to watch the game.

First Pitch
Lohse set the Reds down 1-2-3 in the top of the first, which brought about a loud roar from us, but the Brewers couldn't do much with Leake in the bottom of the inning. They came close, putting men on first and second, thanks to an error by Reds' third baseman Todd Frazier and a single by Jonathan Lucroy, but Ryan Braun struck out and Aramis Ramirez grounded into a double play to end the inning.

"That was anti-climactic," Rob said, turning to Ryan.
"Braun must not have had the good steroids before the game," was the kid's response.

In the top of the second it was the Brewers' Armis Ramirez's turn to make an error, which put Ryan Ludwick on first, but Lohse bore down and got the next three batters on a strike out and two outfield flies, one to center and one to right.

Neither team did much in the third or fourth innings; runners got on but were stranded, forced out or double plays killed any potential scoring opportunity. Ryan Braun, who struck out in the first, bounced into an inning-ender in the third, which drew cat-calls from the frustrated Brewers' fans and allowed us to join in. We normally didn't heckle the home team, but for Braun we'd make an exception because of his PED usage and the fact the hometown fans were doing the same.

Tony Has a Miller Lite At Miller Park
By the top of the fifth inning the game was still tied at 0-0 and the fans, us included, were getting a little bit
antsy. It's not even like it was a great pitcher's duel; rather it was just enough pitching to get out of a jam and no offense, which had the kids squirming and looking more forward to the Great Sausage Race, before the bottom of the sixth, than the rest of the game. To tell you the truth even the adults were finding this difficult to sit through.

The Reds broke through first, in the top of the fifth, when Skip Shumaker singled to right and Ramon Santiago walked, putting runners on first and second with  no one out.

"The pitcher's coming up, there goes the rally," Nick said, in an exasperated voice.
"They really have to get into the 21st Century and adopt the DH," Tony agreed.
"It is painful watching a pitcher come to the plate," I agreed.
"But the 'purists' will whine," Ryan countered.

The folks behind us laughed, but agreed, and they were National League fans. It was absolutely true though. Leake laid down, what can only be described as the most horrific bunt I have seen in many in-person games, but it did the job. The Reds had runners on second and third with no outs and the top of the order coming up. Billy Hamilton then hit a sac fly, which scored the run and gave the Reds a 1-0 lead, but Frazier popped out to second, ending the inning and killing the rally.

"See," Nick said. "If that was a real hitter they might have gotten more than one run."

No one was going to argue his point.

The Reds scoring in the top of the inning didn't exactly wake the Brewers from their slumber, as Jean Segura led off with a pop out. This brought up...the pitcher.

"Oh for God's sake, here comes Lohse," a frustrated Ryan muttered.

Imagine his surprise when Lohse actually singled and was brought home on a triple, off the bat of Carlos Gomez.

"Even the blind squirrel finds the acorn once in a while," I laughed, rumpling Ryan's hair.
"I still don't want to watch a pitcher bat," was his response.

After Lucroy grounded out to third, stranding the runner, it looked like we were destined to be tied at one, but Braun singled Gomez home and the Brewers took a 2-1 lead.

"Hey, he found the good drugs," Ryan said sarcastically.

The inning ended when Aramis Ramirez struck out, but we finally had some offense and the Brewers had the lead. All was good in Cheeseland.

The Reds put a runner on, thanks to a two-out walk, in the top of the sixth, but he got no farther as Jay Bruce ended the inning with a strike out. It was now time for what every one had been anticipating... The Great Sausage Race.

Sausages Line Up
As was discussed earlier, The Great Sausage Race is a footrace between the five different types of sausages that are served and sold in Milwaukee. It originated as a piece of scoreboard animation, but was brought to life in 1993. It became an instant fan favorite and has been a staple at Brewers home games ever since. The sausages start on the third base side of the diamond and race around home plate, up to the first place bag while fans laugh, joke and even wager on the outcome. On some evenings the race can be more exciting than the ball game.

There were five of us, so naturally we each picked a sausage; I went with Brett Wurst (bratwurst), Tony chose Stosh Jonjak (Polish), Rob and Ryan took Guido (Italian), Nick chose Cinco (chirozo) and Shawn picked Frankie Furter (hot dog). Everyone else thought we were crazy, but we decided to bet on the race. Winners bought nothing, but losers bought ice cream and beers.

Guido Wins The Race
From the start of the race we were into it; "Stosh" raced out to a big lead, so Tony cheered loudly, while the others stayed pretty much as a pack. As they came around home plate the "Guido" made his move, bolting away from the others, nipping at "Stosh's" heels and eventually passing him for the win. Ryan and Rob lept up, hugged and high-fived. I got the ice cream while Tony grabbed the beers.

Miller Park came alive for the sausage race and that seemed to ignite the Brewers, who decided to keep the crowd on its feet. Rickie Weeks led off the inning with a double and was brought home, two batters later, when Mark Reynolds homered.

"Here comes Bernie Brewer," called Shawn, pointing to the left field stands.

Sure enough Bernie was outside his dugout, playing to the crowd, and he jumped on the slide and slid onto the level below. The place erupted almost as loud for Bernie as it did for the home run.

"I wonder if kids can do that," Nick asked no one in particular.
"I wouldn't think so, because of insurance," Tony told him.
"Adults ruin everything," Ryan half-joked.
Bernie Getting Ready To Slide

The inning ended without anything else happening, but everyone was excited. They had seen the Sausage
Race, they had seen Bernie Brewer on his slide and the Brewers were ahead going into the seventh inning. Now they just needed to hold on and it would be a perfect afternoon.

Neither team scored in the seventh, and the Reds were blanked in the top of the eighth as well, but the Brewers weren't done yet. In the bottom of the eighth we got to see Bernie one more time on another Mark Reynolds home run, which made the score 5-1. When the Reds went down 1-2-3 to end the game everyone was happy and high-fives were delivered to everyone near us.

Final Score:

Brewers 5, Reds 1
Lohse (W) 11-4
Leake (L) 7-9

Post Game Wrap Up:

The fans in our section had taken to the crazy out-of-towners and shook our hands and laughed with us on the way out.

"You guys need to check out the area that commemorates the Milwaukee Braves," one gentleman told us. "You can't come here and not see that."
"Where is it?" Tony asked. "We missed that, earlier."
"It's by the Home Plate entrance," his wife told us. "You'll see it when you go out."
"Don't forget to go across the lot and see Helfaer Field," another lady offered. "That's the little league park that now stands on the footprint of County Stadium."
"That's what that place was," Nick said, tapping me on the shoulder. "Can we go?"
"The man said we have to, so I guess we have to," I told him, laughing.

Braves' Memorial
Braves' Memorial
A few minutes later we found ourselves in front of the shrine to the Milwaukee Braves, the only team from Milwaukee to have won a World Series, in 1957. The team's logo, a tomahawk with the name BRAVES above it, and the phrase "Milwaukee Braves Honor Roll" stood at the foot of the shrine, while the Wisconsin state outline, with the top half in red, and the words "WORLD SERIES" at the bottom in white, with the team's name and logo written above the year 1957, was on the back wall. All around the area were plaques that depicted the famous players from the team, Henry Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Frank Torre, and two of the team itself, one of County Stadium and the years played there and another with the 1957 Champions.

Braves' History
We stood back and let the boys start to read the history. All three were pretty amazed at how great those teams were, yet surprised at how they had been relegated to a footnote in baseball history, because they moved on to Atlanta.

"Can anyone, besides Ryan, remember where I told you the team originated?" I asked Shawn and Nick.
"How come I can't answer?" Ryan asked, indignantly.
"'Cause you already know the answer, knucklehead," Rob told him.
"Boston," both Shawn and Nick said, almost at the same time.
"At least someone listens to you," Ryan laughed.
"Do you want to be fed this evening?" I asked, half-jokingly.
"Time to go see County Stadium," he said, quickly changing the subject
Helfaer Field

Helfaer Field is a little league field that stands where County Stadium once was. The field, itself is primarily used for U-12, and under. Its bases are 60 feet apart and the distance from the mound to home plate is 46 feet. It has a natural grass surface and has an equal dimensional outfield, 200 feet to all fields, and uses the actual foul poles from County Stadium.

Original Brewers Monument
Monument On Site of  County Stadium
There are monuments and markers located outside the park, as well.
Behind the home plate entrance there are monuments for the original Milwaukee Brewers, who left to become the St. Louis Browns, as well as a concrete and granite monument to the Braves. This monument is broken into three sections, with the first and third being composed of concrete and having the home and visiting teams' rosters and dates of the first and last ever games played there, while the middle section is black granite and has the roster of the 1957 World Champions engraved. Further along, on the left field concourse, there is a plaque designating where home plate once was. The boys all decided they would have loved to have been able to play a game here, and I agreed. It would have been pretty exciting to be a kid and have your game scheduled at this field.

As we walked back to the car I felt a small rumbling in my stomach; I was getting hungry and it was time to eat.

"Who's hungry, besides me?" I asked.
"You mean who besides Ryan," Nick corrected me.
"Time for some more sausages," Tony said, rubbing his hands together.
"Nom, nom, nom," was Rob's only response.

We piled into the van and headed into town.

Dinner and a Drive:

Our dinner destination was discovered by Rob, while doing food research on Milwaukee. After finding out the game was going to be in the afternoon, we decided to grab a bite before heading west towards Iowa. We figured we'd have better choices in the city than on the road and decided on a place that specialized in Milwaukee's finest meats and drafts.

The Milwaukee Brat House is located at 1013 N. Old World 3rd Street, in the heart of the city. The restaurant opened its doors in 2008 and has become a Milwaukee landmark. This establishment is dedicated to being the ultimate Milwaukee experience and providing the food and drink that has made the city known for it's German heritage. The food and drink are very highly rated and the Brat House is so friendly that they offer a free shuttle to patrons going to local sporting events or stops around the city.

Even though the evening was on the cool side we decided to take advantage of the outdoor patio and dine al fresco. It would allow us all to spread out, enjoy the evening and do a little people watching along the way. We were the first to get there, but Sue, Mike and Lisa weren't far behind. We were glad they were joining us, as it seemed the perfect ending to our time together and a chance to thank Sue for all her hospitality.
The menu was a virtual smorgasbord of German foods and no one could decide what they wanted, so we started out by ordering a few appetizers and allowing the bartender to choose the beers for us. We were not disappointed in either.

The boys wanted to try the giant German style pretzel, which we were assured would feed everyone, and Lisa told us there was no way we could come to Milwaukee for dinner and not have the Authentic Wisconsin Cheese Curds. The boys didn't like the sound of cheese curds, but we agreed to try and Lisa promised we would not be disappointed.

The bartender informed us that in Milwaukee children could drink, with their parent's permission, but that was never going to be an option. We stuck to the "Road Trip Rule" where he could have a sip and try something, but nothing more than a sip. It was best that way.

Toasting Another Win
We decided to wait for the apps to hit the table before ordering, so we settled in to wait for the drinks to come and when they did we were very happy with the choices. I settled in with one of the best home-brewed IPAs I had ever tasted; it was sharp, with a nice bite and a fantastic finish. The bartender served it in two glasses, as he said it would stay colder than in one big one; I wasn't about to argue and even let Ryan toast me with the other.

When the appetizers hit the table I couldn't believe the size of them. The pretzel was served in a full sized pizza box, with Wisconsin cheese sauce, beer-cheese soup and stone-ground German mustard. I barely managed a photo before everyone was grabbing and tearing it to shreds.

GIANT Pretzel
The cheese curds were as good as Lisa had said they would be. They looked like tater tots, made of fresh milk, which is pasteurized, like when making cheese, and has rennet added to help the "clotting" process. Once pasteurized it is cooked and pressed, which releases the whey, creating the final product. It can be served like that, or fried, and is absolutely delicious. The Brat House serves them fried, with Ranch dressing, and they can come Buffalo-style or not. We chose an order of each and promptly devoured them, wondering where they had been all our lives.

Dinner Time For Ryan
About twenty minutes later our main courses were served and if I thought
the apps were large, these portions were otherworldly. Ryan and I decided to split the sausage platter, which contained a bratwurst, Hungarian hot sausage, Italian sausage, and Polish sausage served on a bed of sautéed onions, red peppers, sauerkraut and mushrooms, and a giant bacon and cheddar brat, loaded with melted cheese, topped with an overly generous portion of bacon and served in a pretzel bun. I had no idea how we were going to eat the whole thing after polishing off the appetizers, but we were certainly going to do it.
Rob Looks Overwhelmed

Rob went with the sampler as well, but he also ordered a bratwurst, with kraut and onions, for himself too, while everyone else grabbed a different variation of sausages, brats and authentic Wisconsin grilled cheeses.

We pulled our chairs in and got ready for some serious eating. Everything was amazing; the sausages were cooked to perfection, had the "snap" you want to hear when biting in and the flavors were otherworldly. The onions, kraut, peppers and mushrooms accentuated every bite and before I knew it Ryan and I had killed the platter and moved on to the brat. The sharp "bite" of the grilled brat, mixed with the salty bacon and creamy cheese was almost too good to bear, but we managed to fight that down as well. Rob didn't finish everything, but he came damn close and didn't leave many leftovers for a midnight snack, which didn't please Ryan.

Mike and Lisa At Dinner
We had a great time, eating, drinking, laughing and joking. We toasted old friends, new ones, thanked Sue, again, for all her hospitality and Mike and Lisa told us that they had so much fun the last two days, that that they wanted to join us again in the future, most likely when we hit St. Louis. Eventually, though, it was time to go and we all said goodbye and went our separate ways, us towards Iowa and the others back to Illinois. We were officially on the road.

I wish I could tell you it was a simple easy drive and that we had no issues, but I would be lying. Everyone was overstuffed, and ready for bed, so we agreed to take turns behind the wheel. Unfortunately for Tony that never occurred and he ended up driving the whole way as the rest of us floated in and out of consciousness over the course of the next few hours.

We were all awake, and excited, when we crossed over the Mississippi River, but we were also exhausted and ready for bed. Eventually we pulled into the hotel Rob had rented for us, happy to be stopping for the night. The kids were excited because the place had a pool, a game room, a pool table and would allow them some free time to relax before bed. Unfortunately when we went to check in they didn't have a reservation for us and after going round and round for the next ten minutes we found out it was because Rob had accidently booked it for the week before, when we hadn't even left yet.

Now we had an issue. There were no rooms at this hotel and, as we were soon to find out, nothing available for the next twenty miles either. We got back in the van, muttering under our breath, and wondering where the hell we were going to stay.

About 30 miles, 20 phone calls, and an hour later, we pulled into a Motel Six, where we were able to get a room that would fit us. At this point we were just happy to not be sleeping in the car, so when I had to grab some floor space I couldn't have cared less. We each took a shower, cleaned up and hit the hay. I'm pretty sure everyone was asleep before the room went dark; we were that exhausted. The good thing, though, was that we were 25 miles closer to tomorrow's starting point...Dyersville, Iowa.

Next Stop:  
Thursday, July 24
Dyersville, IA
"The Field of Dreams"