Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ballpark of the Future


(image is rendering of new Braves Stadium, courtesy of Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Andrew Seligman of the Associated Press wrote a provocative article about a month ago on the future of the modern ballpark.  In it, he argues that with the rapid changes in technology and the need to cater more to the millennial crowd - something seen in just about every business - baseball will be coming a more and more digital, personal, and interactive experience.  I won't regurgitate the entire article - you can read it yourself here - but I just thought it was something interesting that readers of this blog might find interesting as well. 

The fact is, almost every single ballpark in the major leagues now has been built in the last 20 years, and for the most part have followed the same basic template - retro style, urban/walkable neighborhood, intimate, focus on fan experiential qualities.  In about 10 years we're going to start talking about replacing or majorly upgrading all of these facilities in the same cycle.  Maybe this starts with the new Braves Stadium opening in 2017, I don't know...but there will need to be a serious dialogue about what the "ballpark of the future" will look like, and this article I think is a good indicator of the challenges that will be faced.  I think you will start to see parks that are readily adaptable and perhaps even a new exploration of the multi-purpose facility, something that could anchor and serve a city for years to come.  With the amount of public money that is bonded and taxed for new ballparks, and with how fast they become obsolete, I believe it will only be a matter of time before an inventive new solution for a shared stadium comes back to the front burner.  Seligman argues for a stadium that is adaptable for 300+ day a year use with interchangeable displays, facades, and graphics with a complex digital interface.  That to me is a fancy way of saying multi-use stadium, whether that means multiple sports or just multiple civic uses, or both.  With how social and interactive baseball is, it seems like the first of the major sports that can take on this concept of the modern stadium, and as both a fan and as an architect, I am excited to see what the future holds.  I am absolutely positive that Miller Park will need to be replaced at some point in my lifetime, and I hope by then we have a better understanding of what a 21st century sports venue should be, and how it should serve the fans and citizens of a city.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 05.26:
Brewers 16-30, -13.5 (3 v. Giants, 3 v. Diamondbacks)
Reds 18-26, -10.5 (3 v. Rockies, 3 v. Nationals
)
Twins 26-18, -2.0 (3 v. Red Sox, 3 v. Blue Jays)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 11 (+6 worked)

Peter - 13

Monday, May 18, 2015

Living Like Champions in Minneapolis


All photos of Champions Club @ Target Field available on Flickr.

As any avid reader may remember, there were some dark years of my life when I was holed up in Waterloo, Iowa for a job.  I made the best out of that unfortunate situation and ended up making a really good group of friends, and I am very blessed that we still get together a couple times a year.  This past weekend we met up in Minneapolis where my friend Kyle lives now, and the weekend culminated with seats in probably the coolest place I've ever been in a ballpark, in what was already one of my favorite ballparks - the Champions Club at Target Field.  My friend Justin scored these seats through his company, and we took full advantage in every way of living like "the one-percenters" for an afternoon for free.

The Champions Club is not unlike the Gehl Club at Miller Park, the 755 Club at Turner Field, or any other private all-inclusive area, but what sets the club level apart here is that it is right behind home plate on the ground level.  It combines the experience of a ballgame and a Las Vegas casino buffet.  For those who are more interested in the game, there are comfortable high-back chairs and a waitstaff with 12 rows of seats directly behind home plate, and for those who just want to indulge and be pampered, the club room is only a short walk down a flight of stairs.  I tried to take in a little of both - it was hard to pass up watching as much of the game as I could from seats that good, but at the same time, there was a table with giant bowls of steak and bacon about 200 feet away.  Had I not had to drive 5 hours home after the game, I probably would have been pounding beers two at a time as well.  Everything was included and unlimited, and I also got the impression that if by the off-chance they didn't have something on the regular menu that you wanted, they would have made it for you for a price.

In the post from my original visit to Target Field, I talked about how the stadium architects had the challenge of trying to fit like 10 acres of stuff on 7 acres of site, and a consequence of this is that a lot of the sidewalks and plazas around the stadium cantilever over streets and parking lots.  The Champions Club has a special parking lot with valet service that I would never have known about had I not had tickets here, because it is basically underneath the main level of the stadium.  You feel like you're entering under a freeway overpass and it really contributes to the exclusive concept of this area.  Once inside, there is a little room that I can only describe as having the aesthetics of an old supper club or country club - lots of wood, display cases, groupings of lounge furniture around televisions, and a team store.  To add even further to the prestige of the Champions Club, the 1987 and 1991 World Series trophies can be found here.  This area then opens into the main buffet hall and large bar area.  We each had about 2 full plates of food here, fistfuls of candy, some ice cold Grain Belts, and even got our picture with T.C. Bear.  He was being urged by his handlers to hurry up because he had a pregame parade to lead, but T.C. always has time for his fans, which is part of what makes him the best mascot in the major leagues.

What we did watch of the game got out of hand pretty quickly for the Twins, who have actually been playing surprisingly well under first-year manager Paul Molitor.  They were going for the sweep against the Rays and ended up losing 11-3.  Staff ace Chris Archer got the ball for Tampa Bay and gave up only 4 hits and 1 run over 6 innings.  It started to rain in the 8th so we left, but by that time the outcome was pretty much already decided.  Joe Mauer had his customary RBI single and it was really great to see ol' T-Nutts back in uniform for Minnesota where he belongs.  He doesn't run well anymore but that guy looks like he could still play at least another 3 years.  I will be making a return trip to Target Field in about 3 weeks as part of a Twin Cities doubleheader, and plan on being first in line for the Torii Hunter giveaway jersey.  

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 05.18:
Brewers 14-25, -11.5 (3 @ Tigers, 4 @ Braves)
Reds 18-20, -7.0 (2 @ Royals, 3 @ Indians
)
Twins 21-17, -3.0 (2 @ Pirates, 3 @ White Sox)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 3 (+5 worked)

Peter - 12

Monday, May 11, 2015

Craig Counsell Named New Manager of Brewers


Following a utterly disastrous 6-18 start to the season, and in actuality, embarrassing play since mid-August of last year, the Brewers finally decided to relieve Ron Roenicke of his managerial duties last week Sunday.  Less than 12 hours later, the Brewers already had named his successor in a morning press conference - former Brewer player and 16-year MLB veteran Craig Counsell, who had been working as a special assistant under the tutelage of Doug Melvin since his retirement following the 2011 season.  This appears to be far from a PR move or a temporary position, as he was signed to a 3-year deal.  In hiring Counsell, the Brewers are following the current trend in MLB of hiring a young manager with no prior experience at any level.

I won't elaborate on the Brewers being terrible - we know they are terrible and I already expounded on this a couple of weeks ago.  My opinion related to this specific move is that there really could not be a much better choice for this team and this situation than Craigers.  Paraphrasing what Ryan Braun said after the news broke, there is really nobody that more exemplifies the Milwaukee Brewers, outside of Bob Uecker, than Craig Counsell.  He knows this organization better than anybody with all the time he spent here as a player and in the front office.  I don't think it is a coincidence that so many managers such as Mike Matheny, Brad Ausmus, and Matt Williams are enjoying success in their first gig as a manager - they are not that far removed from playing and can relate to the players of today with a fresh perspective.  I think Counsell has a great chance to enjoy the same success for the same reasons.  To me, the hiring of Craigers and signing him to a 3 year deal is the first domino to fall, and an all but sure sign that the Brewers are in for the upside-down rebuild I have been clamoring for.  The upper management could just as easily have signed a high-profile name like Ron Gardenhire or Bobby Valentine only to sell tickets and signal to fans that they are still looking to win this year, no matter how unrealistic that would be.  No proven manager would ever walk into a mid-season gig to not be competitive.  Hiring a younger unproven guy who knows the farm system really well, coupled with a general manager whose contract expires at the end of the year, says that Mark Attanasio is in this for the long haul and ready to make the hard decisions that will be good for the future of the franchise - namely, trading away all assets and perhaps finding a new progressive General Manager.

At worst, Counsell will be a fresh voice who makes the rest of the season exciting for the fans and players, and perhaps is only a stopgap until more changes in the offseason.  At best, Counsell will be around through a robust rebuild, and by the end of his contract, some of our high-ceiling talent in A/AA, as well as potential prospects from trades, will be up and the Brewers will be an exciting team again.  Either way it's a resume builder for Craig and it's a win-win for the organization.  For the first time in a couple years, I am excited for the future of the franchise.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 05.11:
Brewers 11-21, -11.5 (3 v. White Sox, 3 @ Mets)
Reds 15-16, -7.0 (3 v. Braves, 4 v. Giants)
Twins 18-14, -2.5 (3 @ Tigers, 3 v. Rays)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 2 (+5 worked)

Peter - 10

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Victory Field


All photos of Indianapolis and Victory Field available on Flickr.

This year's semi-annual, semi-spontaneous "it's been Spring for awhile but it's still 40 degrees and I need to get the hell out of here and watch outdoor ball" trip took us to Indianapolis, Indiana.  Slowly but surely, the radius of ballparks I've visited surrounding Milwaukee has been widening, and I'm starting to reach into destinations that require me to stay overnight.  Megan and I left Saturday morning and 4 1/2 hours later arrived at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.  We bought tickets and checked into our hotel a couple blocks away, and I couldn't help but stop and think for a minute, as I stared out the window from our 10th floor room, just how far I've come since the sleazy motels of the original Tour.  Just across the street, we stopped at a patio bar to hustle down a pregame drink, and in the process shared some laughs watching hoards of gaudy teenagers walk by on the way to their prom.  We arrived at the ballpark around 6:30 for a 7:05 first pitch.

Upon arrival, we soon realized why there was a huge line waiting to get in when we got into town - Wade Boggs was signing autographs.  I'm definitely not one of those fans who likes to hassle players off the field, but Boggs in particular I've always wanted to ask if the legend of him drinking 64 beers on a transcontinental flight was true.  However, in true Wade Boggs fashion, I chose to spend my time waiting in line for a cold one instead.  Megan and I both enjoyed a local Sun King Brewery beer called Indians Lager, and as far as beers go that are brewed specially for a ballpark, this one tops my list.  We paired our adult beverages with rather unimpressive fries and sandwiches, and did a quick lap around the ballpark before gametime.

Victory Field opened for business about 20 years ago as the cornerstone of a large downtown Indy revitalization project.  On the surface it is very clean and beautiful, but because of its age lacks some of the amenities that people have come to expect from modern ballparks.  For example, there is only one small standing room bar / specialty food area in the entire stadium, in left field; everything else is served at concessions stands or carts.  A standard minor league park nowadays is laden with various fan interaction zones, party decks, grills with crazy food items, and picnic areas, like the park in Charlotte we visited last year.  The downside of this at Victory Field is a lack interesting nodes in the ballpark, but the upside is a generous and peaceful centerfield promenade with a full wraparound berm and nearly uninterrupted views.  This walkway culminates at a grand centerfield plaza, which is flanked by the main gate to the northeast, a grove of trees in the batters eye to the southwest, and concession stands and carnival games to the sides (which are meant for children but we played anyways).  If this ballpark was built today, that avenue would have been lined with high-top seating, a shack serving six different types of bacon cheeseburgers, and the plaza would have had a huge bar with TVs, and the ambiance would have been completely different.  Not necessarily better or worse, but certainly not unique.  Speaking of unique, this stadium was also built at a time when AAA stadiums had a much larger seating capacity, so there is a full 2nd deck here that is atypical of minor league parks today.  We sat up here and really enjoyed it - you get a great view of the city yet still feel close to the action despite being higher up.  Nothing about this park really stands out or is particularly glamorous, but it is a very comfortable and spacious place to watch a ballgame, particularly on the first 70-degree night I have felt in 8 months.  A ballpark in a dense urban area doesn't need much to achieve a great sense of place, and I think they pulled this off quite well in Indianapolis.

The night's matchup was a battle of Pennsylvania farm clubs, as the Indians hosted the dismal Lehigh Valley IronPigs.  I recognized quite a few players in the lineups from their time in the majors, including Brian Bogusevic, Jordan Danks, Dominic Brown, Jose Tabata, Steve Lombardozzi, and the Indians' starter Chris Volstad.  At the time, I was wondering how some of these players were not good enough to make the Phillies roster given how awful they are, but now that I see their record going into Saturday's game was 6-18, I guess that answers my question.  Volstad stumbled through 6 innings for Indy, giving up 5 runs, including a booming homerun to the aforementioned Bogusevic.  The I-Pigs actually managed to carry a 5-3 lead going into the 9th, but the Indians had some fight left in them and rallied for the 6-5 walkoff victory.  Perhaps the most unlikely of candidates to win the game was the .136-hitting Brent Morel, but he did just that with a 2-run, 2-out single for the home team.  And that's why you never leave a game early!

Following that thrilling ending, Megan and I explored downtown Indy a little bit.  We were directed to Georgia Street by one of the beer vendors and it was definitely the place to be downtown.  We sat and enjoyed some drinks outside at an Irish bar and walked around to a few other places, trying our best to find bars not charging $10 for the stupid boxing match.  I was extremely impressed with downtown Indianapolis and had no idea it would be as big, as clean, or as lively (now I know how visitors must feel when they leave Milwaukee).  My only complaint would be there are far too many chain restaurants and bars from what little of the city we did see.  I mean, seriously, there's a Hard Rock Café?  I didn't even know those still existed.  On Sunday, we had brunch at a fantastic little scratch brunch place called Milktooth and swung by the Indians' former home, Bush Stadium, before hitting the road back to Wisconsin.  We both arrived home exhausted, yet glad we went and wishing we would have spent an extra night.

park rankings and statistics: 
aesthetics - 5 (entrance is in the back of the stadium)
views from park – 8 (Indy skyline)
view to field - 10
surrounding area – 9 (downtown Indy)
food variety - 2
nachos - 5
beer - 5 (one local brewery, $7.25 for 16 oz)

vendor price - 8
ticket price - 2 ($16 and for some reason upper deck is same price as lower deck)
atmosphere - 9
walk to park – 8
parking price/proximity - 3 (lots close but expensive)
concourses - 9
team shop - 8 (two mid-size ones, lots of retro gear)


best food – anything from "The Cove"
most unique stadium feature – main entry is in centerfield
best jumbotron feature – graphics for "Star Wars Night"
best between-inning feature – Chick-fil-A Cows Race

field dimensions – 320/402/320
starters – Adam Morgan (LHV) v. Chris Volstad (IND)
opponent – Lehigh Valley IronPigs
time of game – 2:33
attendance – 9620
score – 6-5 W

Brewers score that day – 6-1 W

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 05.05:
Brewers 8-18, -11.5 (4 v. Dodgers, 3 v. Cubs)
Reds 13-13, -6.5 (3 @ Pirates, 3 @ White Sox)
Twins 14-12, -3.0 (4 v. Athletics, 3 @ Indians)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 2 (+4 worked)

Peter - 8

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Brewers Off to Worst Start in Franchise History


On August 25th, 2014, the Brewers were 1-1/2 games up on the St. Louis Cardinals and approaching their 5th straight month in first place in the NL Central.  Since that day, the Brewers are a league worst 13-37, including a 4-15 start in 2015, which is the worst start in the 45+ year history of the franchise.  The more you dive into their awful start, the more depressing it is.  In nearly every category, in all aspects of the game, the Brewers are near the bottom.  They are 25th out of 30 teams in hitting, 27th in slugging, 27th in team ERA, have allowed the 2nd most homeruns, and are 28th in fielding percentage.  The Brewers have one regular hitting over .300 and one starting pitcher with an ERA under 5.00.  And just to throw gas on the fire, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, and Scooter Gennett are all on the disabled list.  No matter how you slice it and which way you try to twist the statistics, the Brewers are just an embarrassing team.

When analyzing the team, most Brewer fans and local media personalities are quick to point to how the Brewers did not make any large-scale changes to the team following last year's collapse.  The management's line of thinking seemed to be that hey, we were in first place for 150 days with this team, it doesn't make sense to try to improve it or mess with it in any way.  I can honestly understand both of those viewpoints.  However, I would argue that the Brewers should not have tried to add any pieces, nor remain status quo, but rather take this opportunity for a good old-fashioned rebuild.  I know the term "rebuild" makes most casual baseball fans cringe, especially around Milwaukee where the team was so bad for 10-15 years.  But I think the intelligent well-informed fan knows that most teams, particularly of a market the size of Milwaukee, need to hit the reset button every so often.  Had the Brewers not been so horrible in the late 90s/early 2000s, they never would have been able to draft players like Geoff Jenkins, Bill Hall, JJ Hardy, Yovani Gallardo, Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, and Ryan Braun in early rounds and go on a couple of playoff runs.  The window of those draft picks has closed and all of them except Braun have moved on, and even he is starting to descend from the peak of his abilities.  Eight-plus seasons of being competitive with a "win-now" attitude in the front office, while certainly exciting for the franchise and the fans, has completely depleted the farm system and made the team's outlook beyond 2015 extremely murky.  Another way to put this - the only "big prospects" to make an impact at the major league level that were developed in the Brewers farm system since Ryan Braun's debut 8 years ago have been Jonathan Lucroy, and potentially Jimmy Nelson.  There are certainly times where trading major prospects for an impact player makes sense, and there are certainly times when signing a big free agent makes sense.  If you have a young core of guys and need to fill in a few holes, or need an extra arm or bat for a playoff push, for instance.  The Brewers did both of these things in 2008 and 2011 with much success.  But they are at the point now where they are being forced to sign a bunch of old free agents to inflated contracts and call up low to mid-ceiling prospects to be regular players, not only to be competitive but realistically just to fill the 25-man roster.  In a lot of cases like third base and starting pitcher, they literally have no other options.  While Aramis Ramirez and Kyle Lohse have been mostly serviceable, the Brewers should never have been in the position where they even needed to sign those players, particularly for three years.

I don't want to make it sound like I am making a snap judgment on this team based on their start - that should only serve to further validate my opinion.  On the contrary, I have been wanting the Brewers to rebuild since after the 2012 season.  After Greinke, Marcum, and Fielder left that offseason, it made no sense to keep the facade going.  Instead of doing what they would have done in 2004 and trade away their high-value players like Yovani Gallardo and Rickie Weeks for top prospects, they went out and signed Ramirez and Norichika Aoki, re-signed Gomez and K-Rod, and decided to make another run at it.  That decision has now left this team at a crossroads, and how the team proceeds from here might determine its future for the next decade.  There is a lot of money coming off the books next year, Carlos Gomez is coming off two all-star seasons and still improving, and Ryan Braun is still only 31.  Jonathan Lucroy is becoming one of the league's elite catchers and still makes practically no money by today's standards.  Jean Segura looks to be back to his all-star form.  The Brewers front office could look at these positives, and use all that money to go buy more players, and that certainly might work in the short term.  But there are only so many short-term bandages this team can affix.  The more logical way to sustain success would be to trade Gomez, Segura, Braun, pretty much anybody with any value whatsoever.  Even some of their expiring contracts should be on the table at the trade deadline if they can get anything more than a can of pine tar for them.  Using the undoubtedly blue-chip prospects they get in exchange, coupled with some of the promising talent in the low levels right now like Kodi Medieros, Tyrone Taylor, Orlando Arcia, and Clint Coulter, could put the Brewers in position to be competitive in 2-3 years for another long window, just as they were from 2007 all the way through last year.  If the front office is not willing to have the foresight to sustain a couple years of short term pain for long term gain, I seriously will have lost faith in them.  I will always be a diehard Brewers fan, but it shouldn't take an armchair manager with a blog to see something more clearly than somebody who gets paid to do this for a living.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 04.26:
Brewers 4-15 (3 @ Reds, 3 @ Cubs)
Reds 8-10 (3 v. Brewers, 4 @ Braves)
Twins 8-10 (3 v. Tigers, 4 v. White Sox)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 2 (+1 worked)

Peter - 6

Friday, April 17, 2015

Return to Appleton


All photos of 2015 Timber Rattlers Home Opener available on Flickr.

Let it be forever recorded here that on April 12th, 2015, I attended a Midwest League opener that was above 40 degrees, for the first and probably the last time.  Megan and I stopped in Appleton on the way back from an event in Eau Claire, and it was near 70º at gametime.  We arrived about an hour prior to the 4:05 first pitch and the parking lot was already packed.  The combination of the gorgeous weather and a Jonathan Lucroy bobblehead giveaway created the perfect storm for a Timber Rattlers record opening day attendance of 5,954.

After a stop in the team store, we went in search of some eats.  Much like their parent Brewers, the T-Rats have been making efforts to improve the fan experience at their ballpark year after year, and concessions is a big part of this.  Even with the large renovation a couple of years ago, the food offerings remained the status quo, but this year features a wide variety of new options.  The T-Rats now offer full-helmet sized nachos, which Erik and I always used to joke about but it seems like a lot of teams are actually implementing now.  There is also now a cocktail bar up the 3rd base line featuring liquors from the nearby Green Bay Distillery, in souvenir cups like the Brewers do.  Last but not least, there is a new made-to-order grill stand in the left field corner, kind of like the setup in Cedar Rapids.  Here you can find a lot of specialty burgers and various other forms of meat on a bun.  Or in some cases, not even a bun - they serve a one-pound burger on two funnel cakes called the Great Mother Funnel.  It also has cheese and 8 SLICES OF BACON.  If you think that's ridiculous, they even had the audacity to put a piece of lettuce on this thing.  What value is that adding?  If I'm spending $20 on a burger that uses a fried dessert as a bun, I am not concerned with the health benefits of a leafy green.  Naturally, Megan and I destroyed this burger.  And if you looked at our plate afterwards, "destroyed" is a pretty accurate term.  The funnel cakes were way overcooked and crispy, so it was incredibly difficult to eat, and we left many rock-hard shards of cake on the plate.  In an era when ballparks are all trying to outdo each other with ridiculous foods, I definitely give points for the effort, but it wasn't worth more than the novelty of just saying you tried one.  I do concede that it was Opening Day, so I'm guessing the guy running the grill probably had no idea how to assemble this beast.  Hopefully by the summer they will have perfected the recipe.  Despite my thin patience, I try not to judge anything going on at a ballpark based on an Opening Day experience - it's an entire staff of new employees learning new procedures during the biggest crowd of the year.

Now that I've talked about a hamburger for a paragraph, I will get into the game.  We had 9th row seats behind homeplate to witness Brewers 2014 1st round pick Kodi Medeiros master the Peoria Chiefs lineup.  He tossed 6 hitless innings with 7 strikeouts and had about the nastiest slider I have ever seen at this level.  Nobody was coming within 6 inches of even making contact with it.  Unfortunately the bullpen went on to surrender 11 runs in the final two frames and the offense mustered only 1 run on 6 hits, so the brilliant pitching performance was practically forgotten before the game was over.  In addition to Medieros, Jake Gatewood and Monte Harrison are on the team, both also drafted high in last year's class.  The Brewers are pretty notorious for coddling their prospects, so it was nice to see these three already in A-ball less than a year after getting drafted.  That tells me the Brewers really see something in these kids and think they will respond well to being thrown into the fire.  Medieros and Harrison in particular have "stud" written all over them and I think will handle this level of competition just fine.  Given how terrible the Brewers are now, it is nice to be able to drive under 2 hours to see their future stars - until Doug Melvin trades them for a middle reliever.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 04.17:
Brewers 2-7 (4 v. Reds, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 5-4 (4 @ Brewers, 3 v. Cubs)
Twins 3-6 (3 @ Royals, 3 @ Mariners)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik -1 (+1 worked)

Peter - 4

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Brewers Opening Week 2015


All photos of 2015 Brewers Home Opener available on Flickr.

The Milwaukee Brewers kicked off their 46th season on Monday, and once again my family, fiancee, and I were in attendance (oh yeah, by the way, I got engaged in the offseason). It seems like every year it is either around the freezing mark or 30 degrees above normal, but this year was actually about an average April day. Sunny and 40s made for a great day of tailgating with 46,000 friends. I always look forward to Opening Day, among other reasons, as the real start to spring in Milwaukee. Who wouldn't be anxious to get outside and party after 4+ months of cold weather? Much like spring, Opening Day signifies new beginnings and a fresh slate, and it's easy to be teeming with anticipation on the first day of the season. It is the one day a year I play hookie from work and set an alarm to start drinking, and despite the Brewers seemingly dismal chances this year, that is reason enough to be excited.

We wrapped up our Opening Day tailgate a little early this year because of one of the big changes at Miller Park this year – new security measures. Now implemented league-wide (with the exception of Wrigley Field because it's a shithole), all ballparks are now required to have metal detector screening at the entrances. I've been to three games already this year and for the most part it seems to be just a big production to give fans a false sense of security. You're only required to remove your keys, carry-in items, and phones, no other metal. Megan went through the metal detector and set it off, and the lady asked “do you have anything metal on you?” and she replied no, and that was good enough for her to go through. Yesterday I snuck in beer in my back pockets just like I have for the last 10 years (if any Brewers staff is reading this, that's a joke). In my opinion it's more a scare tactic than a real safety concern, and unfortunately just an annoying way to add 5 minutes to my wait to get into the ballpark. Once inside, we split up – my parents, brother, and sister-in-law took our regular 20-pack seats, and Megan, myself, and her friend went to the standing room area in right-center like we did last year. I really love nice standing room areas at ballparks and I'm glad the Brewers removed the private area that used to be there. A note on our 20-pack seats – this year we moved up to the 300-level club seats, which was surprisingly cheaper than the loge level. We sat there for Friday's game and this was the first time I had ever been up there, it's really cool. You're not that much further from the game action, and you get aisle service from wait staff. The aisles are much wider and the seats are more comfortable, and the sections are only about 8 rows deep so it feels much more private. There is also a huge bar up there open the entire game called the Skyy Lounge, which let's be honest was the main reason we decided to move up to the club level.

The other noticeable changes at Miller Park this year are even more food options, and the retiring of Bud Selig's “number.” As the original owner and person responsible for bringing the Brewers to Milwaukee from Seattle, the Brewers have decided to honor the number 1 and retire it. Personally I think they should be retiring “70” since that is the year the team started, but whatever. The formal ceremony for this is not until the end of May, but the number already hangs from the rafters next to the likes of Hank Aaron, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, Rollie Fingers, and of course Jackie Robinson. As for the food options, a couple of popular Milwaukee institutions – Smoke Shack and Holey Moley Doughnuts – now have stands on the main level. I ate a sandwich on Wednesday that combined the two called the “Ham Dinger.” It is smoked ham on a freshly baked glazed yeast doughnut, and I ate it quickly so that I did not have the time to process how many delicious calories I was ingesting. Speaking of calories, the Brewers have also added Nachos on a Stick, an 18” long bratwurst with the works, and nachos topped with bratwurst (Bratchos) to their repertoire. The Brewers' marketing department continues to evolve and outdo themselves in the wake of some very lackluster concessions in the first 10 years of the stadium.

I suppose I have to talk about the team now, even though I don't really want to. Words cannot even begin to describe how awful they look. People talk about how the 2011 team started 0-3 and went on to win the division, but I think those in the industry generally expected that team to right the ship and do well. The 2015 iteration is a sad compilation of aging free agents, mid-level prospects that have not yet reached their potential, and utility roster-fillers who only play defense. The pitching staff has given up 26 runs in 4 games and 20 doubles, which is the most given up in the first 4 games of a season since 1914. The offense that was churning out 9 runs a game in the spring has come to a sputtering halt and looks pathetic. Jonathan Lucroy doesn't have a hit yet and Scooter Gennett has already gotten himself ejected from a game for outwardly showing his frustration over sucking. Carlos Gomez looks out of shape and there is a pretty reasonable fear that Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Braun, and/or Adam Lind could just break down and go on the DL at any point in the season. If you can't tell from what I'm saying, yes the Brewers are still winless. But the season is young, and even though I don't expect the team to do well, there are some bright spots. Braun and Jean Segura seem to be back to their early 2013 forms and are hitting a lot of line drives. Lind is a complete, professional hitter and I'm really excited to finally have a real first baseman on the team; I always liked him when he was on the Blue Jays. Khris Davis showed substantially more plate discipline in the spring, and if that translates into the regular season, he will eventually evolve into an effective cleanup hitter next year when Aramis is gone. I think Wily Peralta is going to have a big year and is legitimately about one season away from being a real Cy Young candidate. I'm also always excited to see Mike Fiers pitch because he has a chance to completely dominate a lineup and strike out 10 every time out. Even though I think this team needs to sell of some of these expiring contracts this year and rebuild, I am still excited for baseball to be back. I've purchased tickets to a lot of games already, so I at least have to feign optimism - after all, that is what Spring is all about in Milwaukee.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 04.11:
Brewers 0-4 (3 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Pirates)
Reds 4-0 (3 @ Cubs, 3 @ Cardinals)
Twins 1-3 (3 v. Royals, 3 v. Indians)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 0

Peter - 3