Wrigley Field in Chicago is surrounded by eating and drinking establishments. 90 miles north in Milwaukee, Miller Park is surrounded by a parking lot…which on game nights becomes a huge eating and drinking establishment.
While researching Miller Park for an upcoming guide (which hopefully will be available this summer), I had yet another kick myself in the head moment. I visited Miller Park in 2001, the year it opened, and I had no idea about the requirement of tailgating. Is that even possible to do? I was one of the first to arrive and parked close to the park, waiting for the gates to open. But all I had to do was turn my head. Talk about tunnel vision.
The tailgating scene at Miller Park, by all accounts, is like no other in baseball. Maybe it’s the high price of beer and brats inside the park. Maybe it’s the location of the ballpark away from downtown and the amount of fans that simply drive to games. Maybe it’s the state of Wisconsin and its bratwurst culture. It’s most likely all three.
Brewers fans take their tailgating seriously. On game days the grills get fired up almost as soon as the parking gates open three hours before game time, and sometimes even earlier than that. Tents are set up, frisbees are tossed around, music is blasted, and of course, brats are grilled and beer is iced. On Opening Day or on other big days, some people even put together an elaborate bathroom setup. People in discussion forums asking about Miller Park are told to get themselves a disposable grill, some charcoal and some Usinger’s or Klement’s brats. Which kind? It doesn’t apparently matter.
The Brewers are kind enough to encourage tailgating at Miller Park, which may be part of the reason they are ranked as one of the best teams in baseball for fan value. There is a Klement’s Sausage Haus stand outside that provides not just brats and beer for the unprepared but a clean bathroom for the over-prepared. They have pavilions set up across from the Sausage Haus that can be rented by groups. (OK, so they sell parking lot space at a premium price. What team doesn’t?) The lots have coal bins to dump hot coals before leaving. Last I read, they will even let you leave your car in the lot to take a cab if you’ve had too many, so long as you go and get it by a required time the next day.
The Klement’s folks even send out a “Brat Patrol” to single out a group of tailgaters for special treatment each game; they give them prizes and feature their group on the scoreboard for that night’s game.
The whole spectacle is so popular that some folks don’t even plan to attend the ballgame; they simply have a few cold ones and a brat or two, and then head to a Bluemound Road bar nearby to watch it. Given the generosity of Milwaukeeans, who are even known to share their brats and beer with strangers in the lot, these people may be making out like bandits.
There’s only one unwritten rule: don’t bring Budweiser.
Yet another reason to arrive early to a ballgame.