Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Brewers Opening Week 2014

All photos of Brewers Home Opener available on Flickr.

Baseball is back!  And after the winter we just went through, not a moment too soon.  I'm not normally one who complains about winter, but after a month of below zero temps, I don't think I've ever looked forward to a season more than this one.  There are other reasons this particular Opening Day is exciting to me.  First and foremost, I got a job near Milwaukee a few months ago, so this weekend I am finally moving back home!  While I will miss the Mallards, I am super excited to be able to "call in sick" and go to a Brewer game whenever I want, particularly because of the team they are fielding this year. 

Which brings me to my next point - the Brewers broke the bank once again this year and should at the very least be competitive.  Their big move of the offseason was signing one of the top free agent pitchers available, Matt Garza.  The Crew has historically had bad luck with free agent pitchers during the Doug Melvin era - Jeff Suppan, Randy Wolf, and Braden Looper just to name a lackluster few - so it's taken me awhile to warm up to the deal.  But the fact that we were able to get a power pitcher in his prime (unlike our previous signings) for only $52 million given what pitchers are going for these days is a steal.  Even though I would love to see our young guys get a chance, you can never have enough starting pitching depth, and I think he will be a great leader and will help the staff immensely.  I'm also very excited about the signings of Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds to platoon at first base.  Overbay is still a fan favorite in Milwaukee from his stellar 2004-05 seasons with the Brewers, and I was one of 46,000 who welcomed him back with his old "OOOOOOOO" chant when his name was introduced in the starting lineup on Monday.  I think he proved last year that he still has something left in the tank and can still play great defense, something the Brewers have been lacking at that position since Prince Fielder left.  Mark Reynolds was the guy I was hoping for from the beginning of the offseason to sign.  I like that he is a power bat off the bench and I like that he plays both corner infield spots, because Aramis Ramirez is 35 now.  For the RBI potential you can get for a guy you only have to pay $1 million I think it's a no brainer.  While neither guy would be attractive for a full season, in the aggregate between these two guys, I think you're looking at a .250-25-80 first baseman, which I will gladly take.  I'm really glad they did this instead of trading for a first baseman, because hopefully next year Hunter Morris or Mitch Haniger will be ready to assume the role permanently, or otherwise the Brewers will have at least $50 million coming off the books to sign a free agent.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself - let's play this season first.  Monday was surprisingly warm day for the home opener vs the Braves (it seems like the Brewers play the Braves or the Rockies on Opening Day every year for some reason).  Following the usual Opening Day tailgate of sausage and bloody marys, I did a lap around the stadium with my girlfriend Megan to check out all that is new and exciting at Miller Park this year.  I've mentioned many times on this blog how the Brewers more than any other major league team reinvest revenues into their stadium, and you can always count on something new at the ballpark.  This year the big investment in my mind was finally bringing back a standing room section in right-center field, something I've been clamoring about for years.  Miller Park has little to no standing room in the stadium, so this was a step in the right direction.  This is where I used to stand with Erik all the time, and where I stood with Megan during the majority of Monday's game - getting on the jumbotron twice in the process thanks to my killer dance moves.  The addition of an AJ Bombers stand - a local burger joint - was another huge improvement.  I did not actually see it in person, but I love Bombers and I love that the Brewers continue to add more food options, so I can't see how it wouldn't be great.  Speaking of food, TGIFriday's in left field finally got a facelift this year as well.  Later this year, Bob Uecker will also be getting another statue at the park, this time way in the top row of the section appropriately named the "Uecker Seats."  The statue and his $1 ticket section are both in reference to his old Miller Lite ads where he would be sitting in the worst part of the stadium.  So that is a definite photo-op that needs to happen.  The last thing I noticed was that the team store was once again expanded.  All of these things really enhanced the stadium this year, particularly the standing room section, whereas in some years the addition of more seats was just kind of unnecessary.  A request I would have for an easy thing to fix in the coming years would be rebranding all of the signage, I think it is very outdated.  Other than that, I'm not sure what else could be altered that wouldn't involve changing the footprint of the field.

The Brewers completed their brief opening homestand this afternoon by losing 2 out of 3 to last year's NL East Champion Braves.  It was a good series in the sense that the starting pitching was phenomenal, but bad in the sense that the bats never really got going and very easily could have won 2 if not all 3 games.  It would have been nice to sweep Atlanta early in the season before they get healthy and realize that BJ Upton should no longer be in the major leagues.  I'm no scout, but that guy seriously has the worst swing I've seen since my JV high school team.  A few things of note to watch for the Brewers this season.  1) Can Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura build on their all-star seasons of 2013?  2) How will the 2nd base platoon shake out?  3) Will Gomez be a sustainable leadoff hitter?  4) Was last season a fluke or is Yovani Gallardo in decline?  And lastly, 5) the Brewers finally seem to have some depth in the high minor leagues.  Will guys like Nelson and Hellweg and Morris do well when they are inevitably called upon this season?  Others might question whether or not Ryan Braun will bounce back to his old self, but that is honestly the one area on this team I am not at all concerned with.  I am predicting 88-90 wins and a Wild Card birth this season.

I don't think I've updated the Miller Park stadium rankings since the Tour, so here's that.  Still a middle-of-the-pack park for me objectively speaking, but much improved since 2007.

park stats and rankings
(see also original post from 9/4/07):
aesthetics - 8
views from park - 4

view to field - 4
surrounding area - improves to 3 (Menomonee Valley area has improved a little)
food variety - improves to 9 (new stuff added almost every year now)
nachos - 9
beer - 8 (price and variety both have gone up a lot)
vendor price - decreases to 7 (hot dogs are $4.75 now)
ticket price - 10 (bottom 3rd of league)
atmosphere - 9

walk to park - 6
parking price/proximity - decreases to 5 (general parking is $10 now)
concourses - 7
team shop - increases to 10 (much expanded, t-shirt of every player)

best food - anything from pavilion in right field
most unique stadium feature - the retractable roof, Bernie's slide
best jumbotron feature - Topps memory game
best between-inning feature - Klements Sausage Race

field dimensions - 344/400/344
starters - Julio Teheran (ATL) v. Yovani Gallardo (MIL)
opponent - Atlanta Braves

time of game - 2:45
attendance - 45691
score - 2-0 W
Brewers score that day - 2-0 W  

Brewers 1-2 (3 @ Red Sox, 3 @ Phillies)
Reds 0-1 (3 @ Mets, 3 @ Cardinals)
Twins 0-2 (3 @ Indians, 3 v. Athletics)

Erik - 2

Peter - 1

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