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Wisconsin is brat country, something I learned too late
after my first trip to Miller Park.
While I liked Miller, I was a little bit miffed at the low
quality of the hot dog. I believe at the time I declared it to be the worst dog
I’d ever had at a ballgame, and I liked Wendy Selig less afterward for it.
(This was in 2001 when she still owned the Brewers.) As far as I was concerned,
there was no excuse for a ballpark in Wisconsin to have a lousy hot dog.
It became a theory of mine after learning that Milwaukee is
the only ballpark that sells more brats than hot dogs that the lesser dog was
intentional, as a way to get folks to buy more brats. I was probably wrong on
that one, although I’m not yet totally convinced.
Sausages at Miller Park are available in four varieties for
varying tastes. There is the Wisconsin brat, the Italian, the Polish, and the
Mexican chorizo. The four flavors are very different, but according to most
accounts, the one thing that makes them all taste better is the Secret Stadium
Secret Stadium Sauce is a Milwaukee institution, carried
over from the days at Milwaukee County Stadium. It is a blend of water, tomato
paste, corn syrup, vinegar, a blend of spices and capsicum.
The story of its creation is one of necessity being the
mother of invention: close to 40 years ago, the team’s concessions were running
out of ketchup and mustard, so a stadium vendor named Rick Abramson put
together a concoction of ketchup, mustard, smoked syrup and barbecue sauce,
slapped it all together, and became president of Delaware North Companies
Sportservice. Now there’s a company that recognizes genius when they see it.
Since that time the Secret Stadium Sauce has become a Milwaukee institution, with its own Wikipedia entry and Facebook page even. Indeed, baseball authorities Tony Kubek and Bob Costas would
trade off broadcasting duties when announcing games in Milwaukee, so they could
each enjoy their brats with Secret Stadium Sauce without enduring endlessly
long seconds of delay between bites.
Like the Stadium Mustard in Cleveland, the Secret Stadium
Sauce is available in local grocery stores in Milwaukee, which means that there
is also no shortage of it in the world-class tailgating scene of Miller Park
Condiments – bringing people together.
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.
There isn’t any question that attending a ballgame is more expensive than it used to be, especially when you throw in the cost of food and parking. But some teams are really cutting some bargains for fans.
Some time ago I wrote about $1 seats for Braves games. They weren’t the best seats, obviously, but who’s complaining for a dollar?
It turns out that the Milwaukee Brewers also offer their fans an opportunity to see a game for a dollar, in the humorously named “Uecker Seats”.
I’m dating myself with this, but I remember the Miller Lite commercial featuring “Mr. Baseball” Bob Uecker, in which he gets ousted out of his seat (to which his reaction is “I must be in the front rooooow!”) and placed in the worst seats in the ballpark, where he screams at the umpire.
It was funny, and the Brewers picked up on it when they opened Miller Park in 2001, declaring the highest seats behind home plate the “Uecker Seats”. These seats are blocked by pillars that hold up a portion of the ballpark’s massive roof, so sitting here closer to the aisles means a partially obstructed view.
But the seats are just four quarters in price. You can’t beat that.
In order to get a Uecker Seat, you have to get in line and buy them at the box office, pay cash, and enter the ballpark directly after buying the ticket. If you have a group they need to be with you.
Once you’re in the ballpark, you can stand just about anywhere, and many people simply move to a better seat during the game. From what I’ve read, the enforcement is somewhat lax on poaching a better seat, especially on a night with low attendance. But if you’re not close to the aisles, the view from the Uecker Seats can be perfectly acceptable.
Some teams, even (now) good teams like the Brewers, really do a lot to make games more affordable for fans. You’d be surprised at what you can find.