Welcome to Flashback Friday: Take Me Out to 34 Ballparks, a celebration, critique and countdown of every major league ballpark one baseball fan has been fortunate enough to visit in a lifetime of going to ballgames.
BALLPARK: County Stadium
HOME TEAM: Milwaukee Brewers
VISITED: August 1, 1994
CHRONOLOGY: 12th of 34
RANKING: 13th of 34
My mother, had she ever made it to County Stadium, would have known what to call it. She would have broken out the Yiddish as she tended to do (American birth and upbringing notwithstanding) and declared it haimish.
She usually invoked that word when she wanted to express how down-to-earth something was. Not prust, as in “common,” which was something we were told not to act (spitting, for example, was admonished as prust) but haimish…homey — unpretentious.
County Stadium, Milwaukee. It was so comfortable, even the Yiddish language feels retroactively at home there.
Gotta use past tense here. County Stadium is no more. I understand why, I guess. The program I bought the night of my single visit in 1994 contained an article pressing for a new facility with a “convertible” roof; it was a “necessity” if the Brewers were to remain “economically viable”. When Miller Park opened in 2001, I remember a quote from a thrilled then-Brewer Jeromy Burnitz, complaining that every day at County Stadium he had to slosh through puddles to get from the clubhouse to the field. Miller Park was built to prevent puddles and other unpleasantness. If you ply your trade in a ballpark, I can’t blame you for wanting the most hassle-free experience possible.
But I was just passing through Milwaukee one Monday night in August, and I loved County Stadium. It felt so right. What it did when I wasn’t there wasn’t any of my concern. I’m sorry it deteriorated or was perceived to have. I miss it, if only in the abstract. Baseball has enough state-of-the-art facilities. It could use a little more haimish.
Milwaukee was the second stop on Stephanie’s and my most ambitious ballpark sojourn to date, the one that encompassed three parks in four days in two states. Other people have fired up their campers and done a lot more, but for us, it was pretty bold. It’s something I likely won’t ever repeat, at least not in the same format.
Sunday was new Comiskey. That was easy enough — we flew to Chicago the night before, we checked in downtown, we rode the subway to the South Side at the appropriate hour. Monday’s when it got ambitious. In the heart of downtown Chicago, we rented a car. That felt weird, since if I were in midtown Manhattan, it would never occur to me you could do that. For all I know, you can’t. But I had checked in advance, and discovered in Chicago, it wasn’t impossible. So we did it.
Checked out of the Inter-Continental, packed up the rental from Hertz and took off up I-94. I was 31 that summer. Not long after I turned 32, I developed suffocating driving anxieties. I’ve not actively sought out a highway since I was 38. So this now stands as truly a trip from another time. I drove from Chicago to Milwaukee. It seemed so simple then. It seems unimaginable now.
Straight shot between the two cities wasn’t more than a couple of hours, if that. We stopped along the way at the Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was mandatory. How do you avoid something called Mars Cheese Castle? It’s a local landmark, one that I understand is presently in the process of being moved to make way for expansion of the Interstate. Just as I’d feel better if I knew County Stadium was still the home of the Brewers, I feel relieved learning Mars Cheese Castle will survive progress.
Funny, I don’t remember our buying any cheese. It was just enough to stop there.
But you can’t go all the way to Milwaukee and not immerse yourself in beer. Though I spent that entire trip grimacing into the camera every time we did something touristy because I didn’t want to look like such a tourist, we did the most touristy thing I could think of once we hit Milwaukee: we took a tour of the Miller Brewing Company. Mind you this was in the heyday of my beverage magazine career. I was paid to think about and know about and write about a company like Miller. It was work. Yet what do I seek out on vacation? Miller.
Great tour. Great beer. If you take a brewery tour and the beer isn’t great, something’s very wrong. Miller was all right.
And so was the single best restaurant we ever discovered in our ballpark travels, Edwardo’s in Wauwatosa. Wauwatosa was where we were staying for one night in Milwaukee, at the Exel Inn. Like Edwardo’s and the Mars Cheese Castle, that sticks in my mind (it, too, was haimish). The Exel was nothing special on the surface, but in the room it had a working refrigerator and microwave. That would come in handy after dinner because at the adjacent Edwardo’s, we ordered this incredible deep dish pizza we couldn’t come close to finishing. Ohmigod, it was so good!
It’s not our habit to eat dinner before going to a ballpark because part of the fun is trying the food at the game, but it had been a while since we had eaten — before skipping the Mars fare, our last meal had been uninspiring cheeseburgers (cheeseburgers!) at the legendary if morose Billy Goat Tavern, where they really had no fries — chips, just like the Olympia Cafe it inspired on SNL (and to think I didn’t want to seem like a tourist). So we were enticed by Edwardo’s and we weren’t wrong. They’re not kidding when they say they stuff a pizza. The meats, the cheeses, the mushrooms, the onions…what wasn’t in that thing?
Wow, that was good. It’s sixteen years ago and it’s still good. And still too much to finish. Thank goodness for that fridge and microwave at the Exel.
After indulging that much, our inclination was likely sit up and watch TV, but we had tickets for the Brewers and, only because they were on the schedule, the Yankees. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen The Other New York Team outside of New York. Just our luck, we were seated among about a dozen of their minions. If I didn’t know better, I’d think the lady who took my ticket order over the phone probably saw our mailing address and thought she was doing us a favor.
I’ll bet that’s what happened. That’s how friendly it felt at County Stadium, a dozen Yankees fans — and one tailgating parking lot douche who laughed at my Mets cap — notwithstanding. Good exterior to walk around. Good place to sit down and take in. Just a good night to be a baseball fan and at a baseball stadium, y’know?
The Brewers had been flat for a long time at that point. My only strong impression of County Stadium had come from TV, and that was from 1982 when they were winning the A.L. pennant and competing hard in the World Series. Back then you heard how rabid Brewers fans were. They weren’t so rabid in 1994 when they had been nowhere for a decade and would continue apace there for another decade. But they seemed nice. The place was nice. It had its touches. It hung up its 1982 flag in the concourse. It managed to squeeze a team store in on the aging premises, something Big Shea then lacked. Most famously (before the sausage races were instituted) it had a chalet for Bernie Brewer, the mascot who dunked himself in a mug of Milwaukee’s favorite beverage when a Brewer put one over the fence.
Bernie wasn’t busy on our night in town. The Yankees won pretty easily (what fun to be sitting among their Newmanesque traveling party). The only moment from the game that stands out in my memory was Melido Perez plunking Kevin Seitzer on the helmet. It looked pretty bad, and Seitzer came out of the game. I was glad when he made it to the All-Star Game a year later.
We, like our pizza, remained stuffed, but this was Milwaukee County Stadium. You don’t drive all the way up there from Chicago and not eat a little more. In the pre-gourmet days of ballparks, one of the only things I knew about stadium fare, from reading it years earlier in Inside Sports, was Milwaukee had bratwursts…”brats”, as I was determined to order ours to prove how non-touristy I was (in my Mets cap). And you had to try it with the “red sauce”. I seem to recall being told — nicely — at the sausage stand they were out of brats, which seems unfathomable for Milwaukee, so I went for another kind of tubed meat for us to split for sampling’s sake.
Whatever it was, it was very good. The sauce was all right, if not as legendary as it had been built up. The real winner was gluttony. Surely it’s the state bird of Wisconsin.
We liked County Stadium a lot. We didn’t care for being seated among Yankees fans (nor the score they were high-fiving) and we were tired and full and had the trip back to Chicago the next morning, so we took our leave not long after the seventh-inning stretch and a hearty round of “Beer Barrel Polka”. Like that Brewer barrel, we rolled out to our rental car, and then back to the Exel.
The pizza was still in the fridge. The microwave was functional. Thus, the pizza didn’t stay in the fridge long. We finished our leftovers while listening to the Brewers’ postgame show on the motel radio. The Mets, it was reported, fell to Milwaukee’s old team, the Braves, at Shea Stadium. The losing pitcher was recently recalled rookie Jason Jacome. They pronounced it “Juh-comb” as opposed to the correct “Hock-a-me”.
Which is the kind of noise you make when you polish off the last of your Edwardo’s.