It was time for a change of venue for the ‘Enjoy It While You Can’ baseball tour, so Steve and I checked out of the Days Inn in downtown Chicago on the morning of July 28th and headed north on the I-94 for Wisconsin, where we’d spend two days in Milwaukee catching a pair of Brewers games against the Red Sox at old Milwaukee County Stadium, the second of three ballparks we’d be visiting on this trip. While making preparations for this tour months earlier, we’d discovered that the Brewers would be vacating County Stadium after this season, and moving into a stadium that would soon be built right next to the current one; we had no way of knowing at the time, but the team would actually spend another seven seasons at County Stadium before finally transferring to brand-new Miller Park in 2001.
Before our arrival at our hotel in Wauwatosa, however, we had a pair of side trips to make to begin our day. The first was to Union Grove, a small town located about thirty miles south of Milwaukee, where a friend of Steve’s named Marnie once lived, and where he took some photos of her childhood home—once again sparking the ire of another edgy Midwesterner, the ‘mean guy who lives in Marnie’s house now’ as Steve called him—and the school she’d attended way back when, J.I. Case High School, which was about as desolate a learning facility as Northwestern had been. From there we drove east towards Lake Michigan and our second stop, the waterfront city of Racine, home to Kewpee Hamburgers, a tiny diner from the 1920s wedged underneath a modern parking garage, which Marnie had enthusiastically recommended to us, and where Steve and I both had a double cheeseburger and fries for lunch…and afterwards wondered what the big deal was all about. Either way, the mere existence of the place supplied us with enough comedic interplay to last the remainder of the trip.
After lunch, we took a driving tour of Racine, an older burg that seemed to have road construction present at every turn, where along the way we detoured to a Piggly Wiggly supermarket (I’d wanted to visit one of these ever since I saw their logo in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind years ago) so I could stock up on camera film, but I was surprised to discover they didn’t sell film! We also stopped next door at a Danish pastry shop called Bendtsen’s, where Steve picked up a strange, oval-shaped treat called kringle to take back to Marnie as a gift, and then outside of town, heading north to Wauwatosa, we happened upon a giant field of grass, surrounded by trees and nestled comfortably in the middle of a clean, quiet neighborhood, that was part of Herbert Fisk Johnson Park, and where Steve and I couldn’t help but park, drag out our baseball mitts, and spend a half-hour playing catch under the deepest-blue sky I’d ever seen, or would ever see again. We soon hit the road, and after arriving in Wauwatosa we found our home for the next two days, the Sheraton Mayfair Inn on Mayfair Road, and after checking in, unloading the car, and getting settled, we immediately took off for County Stadium and that evening’s game between the Brewers and Red Sox.
The stadium was located off the I-94, a short 15-minute drive from the hotel; we parked on the north side of the freeway and walked underneath the overpass with the rest of the fans to the ballpark, Steve wearing his Brewers cap with the ‘ball and mitt’ logo, and me sporting an early-’70s model displaying a simple gold ‘M’. We explored the outer concourse for a bit, then headed inside about an hour before game time. After more exploration inside, we found our seats, on the lower level way down the first-base line, a section or two away from the right field foul pole. This was the first visit to this stadium for both Steve and I, and it was a neat feeling to be in an old-time park that, at one time, hosted not only Milwaukee Braves games back in the 1950s, but a few Chicago White Sox games in the late-1960s as well. We were only five rows back from the field, and though home plate was some distance away, we had good views of the scoreboard, the right fielders, and the big ‘Go Brewers’ beer keg and chalet above the center field wall, where team mascot Bernie Brewer would slide down into a giant beer mug after every Brewer home run. Or at least, we hoped he would.
Starting for the Sox, in his final season with Boston, was John Dopson, while the Brewers went with rookie Angel Miranda, making just his tenth appearance in the majors, and sixth start of the year. Of the recognizable names taking the field today, Steve and I were glad to see Robin Yount in the lineup, stationed in center field, plus veterans Andre Dawson and Tony Pena starting for the Red Sox; Dickie Thon, who made his debut in 1979, would take over at second base for Milwaukee later in the game. Both teams traded runs over the first five innings, and with the Brewers holding a 3-2 lead entering the sixth, the Bosox loaded the bases off Miranda; now, with someone named Graeme Lloyd pitching, Scott Cooper singled and John Flaherty doubled, each driving in two, to give the Sox a 6-3 lead and eventual 8-4 win. Highlights for Steve and I during the game included trying all three types of specialty sausage dogs available—Polish, Italian, and bratwurst—and the at-bat of Brewers third baseman B.J. Surhoff to lead off the sixth, a home run I missed because I’d gone to get some brats for the two of us. Oh yeah, and the scoreboard sausage race, won by the Polish dog.
The game didn’t wrap up until 10:40 pm, so it was quite late by the time we got back to the hotel. We were hungry, though, and with an open Bennigan’s right next door, we put sleep on hold and walked over for some midnight appetizers, courtesy of our very fun and blonde-like server Chris, whose looks reminded me of actress Kelly Preston, and whose attitude was far more happy and carefree than that of the dark cloud who waited on us at Yesterday’s. We stayed ’til past midnight, just relaxing, eating mozzarella sticks and nachos, and joking with Chris, and once back at the Sheraton Mayfair, we finally called it a night.
Our second day in Milwaukee began with a stop at a nearby Kohl’s for the film I was denied at Piggly Wiggly the day before; Steve also purchased some film, and a can of Master Choice cola (‘The Choice of Wisconsin Champions’, according to Steve). From there it was back on the I-94 and a drive east under overcast skies and past a dormant County Stadium to the campus of Marquette University, where we strolled the surprisingly-populated grounds and basically killed time before our baseball game that afternoon; this included a stop at the Warrior gift shop, where I bought my girlfriend Julie a nightshirt in team colors, and for myself a Warriors drinking cup that I still use to this day. After a short visit to Lake Park on the Lake Michigan coastline, we made our way back to County Stadium and an afternoon match-up between the Brewers and Red Sox, the fourth game of the series and our third game of the trip.
Today’s contest had Boston’s Aaron Sele on the mound against Milwaukee’s Ricky Bones, with both teams basically fielding the same squads they’d used the night before, only with Robin Yount now at designated hitter and John Jaha—a name destined for wisecracking—at first base for the Brewers. Our seats this time were located in the upper level, in the first row directly behind home; not a bad spot to watch a ballgame, but the sun was beating down on us like a freaking torch, and the stupid red railing that apparently prevented overzealous fans from diving into the crowd below was also blocking our view, and in the immortal words of Steve, gave us “something to grab onto when the Brewers hit a homer, so you can watch Mr. Sudsy take a bath.” Luckily, there was plenty of wide-open seating in the upper sections, so during batting practice we found ourselves a shaded, comfortable spot high above the right side of the home plate area, and settled in for our last-ever game at County Stadium.
And unfortunately, Steve and I would never see the Brewers win at County Stadium, as the Red Sox made it two in row over the home squad with a 7-3 victory, again thanks to a four-run outburst, this time in the fourth inning, with three of the runs coming on homers from Billy Hatcher and Ernie Riles. In the bottom of the fifth, Robin Yount looped his 3,100th career hit to left field, a milestone moment that had the home crowd in a frenzy, but had me cynically puzzled by the outburst (“I thought it was for something important!”), and in the sixth the Brewers would send two runners home—one on a single by Tom Brunansky, the other on a double by Mr. Jaha—to round out the game’s scoring. The final three innings then lazily wound down, and Steve and I just kicked back and enjoyed the easy-going atmosphere, the cloud-filled sunny afternoon, and in the ninth, the last time we’d ever see Robin Yount in action, as he walked on a 3-1 count, but was left stranded when B.J. Surhoff struck out to end the game.
Afterwards, we drove to downtown Milwaukee to hang out and explore; we parked and walked along the early-evening downtown streets and cool waterfront biking paths, hoping to find something to do or experience, but the city was strangely quiet (and, typically for us it seemed, deserted) for a Thursday at rush hour, and there really wasn’t a whole lot going on for us to take part in. The Milwaukee River ran through the center of town, and there we found a neat little riverside restaurant, with outdoor seating, called the John Hawks Pub, that we decided would be a great place to take a time-out for dinner. And sadly, that would be it for downtown Milwaukee shenanigans; there was just nothing going on to keep us occupied. So, with the sun setting and no idea where else to go, we headed back to our hotel in Wauwatosa, with plans for a game of Statis Pro to put a capper on the Wisconsin portion of our tour.
We swung by that Kohl’s again for more sodas—three more cans of Master Choice, and one can of Jolly Good root beer I wanted to taste test, all for the quality-questionable price of twenty cents per can—and once back in the room we set up the game board and prepared to play. It was the Indians and Rick Wise versus the Brewers and Jerry Augustine at, appropriately enough, County Stadium in Milwaukee, and Steve chose to manage the Brewers, minus Robin Yount, who was still out with an injury. It was late, and we were both delirious from the long day, so the game was chock-full of jokes and antics while we played, including our tradition of standing up in reverence whenever Milwaukee outfielder Sixto Lezcano came to bat, something we’d been doing since we’d inadvertently stood for Sixto during an SP78 game in 1991. We’d brought a portable compact disc player with us on the trip, so Steve popped in the Pink Floyd album A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and the game was underway.
And basically, it was all Milwaukee, as the Brewers jumped out to a 7-0 lead after four innings, with lead-off batter Paul Molitor scoring on an RBI single by Lezcano in the first, and Sal Bando putting the game away in the fourth with a three-run homer, his 4th HR of the year. By the time the ninth inning rolled around, Pink Floyd had made way for Baxter Robertson, we’d stood up at least a half-dozen times for Sixto, and I’d finally decided to give my Jolly Good root beer a try; I likened its lack of taste to drinking liquid air, and promptly headed to the bathroom to “throw this up and dump the rest of it out.” The game wrapped up soon after that, with Steve and the Brewers victorious 8-1.
Our evening ended there, and for all intents and purposes, our two-day visit to Milwaukee as well. We’d return to Chicago in the morning, and begin the final leg of our baseball tour with the first of two Cubs games at Wrigley Field, the first of two Statis Pro games at the Days Inn, and dinner at a very busy restaurant in the middle of the Loop.