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County Stadium

Milwaukee, WI
Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers
August 16, 2000

By Ken Schlapp

In 2003, when I took my big baseball trip around North America to see every current stadium, there was only one stadium that I had previously visited, which no longer existed.  That stadium was Milwaukee County Stadium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which I had seen a game on August 16, 2000.  At that time, I had no idea that I would be taking the big trip in 2003, and certainly had no idea that I would be writing about it for ballparksofbaseball.com.  Therefore, I did not take notes at the game, but I know I kept score and took photos, but with several moves and changes in my life, I have not been able to locate either the scorebook or the photos.  I do still have my memories and many online resources to fill in as many of the gaps as possible, so I will give it my best shot to tell a story.  I am calling this Stadium # 42, even though my visit to Milwaukee really took place before Stadium # 1 in the Bronx.  I am also tacking my travel distances to the end, rather than the beginning, which should not matter, since I will end up with the right total regardless.

Milwaukee County Stadium was the first ballpark built with municipal funds.  The City of Milwaukee had originally built this stadium (beginning in 1951) for the Minor League Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association.  However, the city also intended to entice a Major League franchise to relocate in Milwaukee with their fancy new stadium.  Therefore, the stadium was built to facilitate Major League baseball in terms of size and scope.  Considering that the Boston Braves moved their franchise to Milwaukee for the start of the 1953 season and the opening of the stadium, they were quite successful with their intentions.  In fact, the Minor League Brewers never had the opportunity to make County Stadium their official home

County Stadium had a very successful beginning with the Braves.  During the 1953 season, the Braves drew 1.8 million fans in attendance, which was a new National League record.  The Braves continued to lead the league in attendance until 1959, when the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.  The Braves also had success on the field.  Hank Aaron began his Hall of Fame career in Milwaukee in 1954 and led the Braves to two consecutive World Series appearances in 1957 & 1958 including the World Championship in 1957.  However, during the early 1960s, the Braves success, along with the attendance began to decline and the Braves, under new ownership, packed up and moved to Atlanta for a new start.

After the Braves left, a part owner of the team, Bud Selig, who was also a Milwaukee businessman, pushed hard to bring baseball back to Milwaukee and County Stadium.  At the time, the Chicago White Sox were not drawing well in nearby Chicago, which led Selig to schedule 9 home games for the White Sox at County Stadium in 1968 and 11 more in 1969.  The amazing fact for those games is that those 20 games represented about 12% of the White Sox games those two years, but the attendance was so good, that the attendance for the Milwaukee games represented approximately one-third of their total attendance!  Despite that success in attendance, Milwaukee was not one of the four cities to house expansion franchises in 1969.  Unfortunately, the choices for expansion were too far along before these games were played and the cities that did bring in new teams were San Diego and Montreal in the National League and Kansas City and Seattle in the American League.

Much to Selig’s delight, the expansion Seattle Pilots were a failure and fell into bankruptcy.    In rather abrupt fashion, Selig purchased the Pilots during spring training in 1970, and the Pilots were moved to Milwaukee and renamed the Brewers for the start of the 1970 season, which was the name of County Stadium’s originally intended tenant.  The Brewers continued to play their home games in County Stadium until its demolition after the 2000 season.  At least this time, Milwaukee did not lose their Major League franchise, the Brewers simply moved into their new stadium, Miller Park, which was built beyond the outfield walls of County Stadium.  In addition to the Braves, White Sox, and Brewers, The Green Bay Packers of the National Football League also played 2-3 home games a year at County Stadium from 1953 through 1994.

As for my visit to Milwaukee County Stadium, I had to do some research to figure out exactly when I did visit.  What I did remember was that I drove to Milwaukee from Chicago after auditing my company’s health practice for the first time.  I also knew that from Milwaukee, I drove to Minneapolis the next morning to catch a weekday afternoon game at the Metrodome, and to visit my sister Linda, who lived in Minneapolis at the time.  My first course of action was to contact Linda to find out when she lived in Minneapolis.  That part was easy and the answer was from 1998 to 2002.  Then I searched backwards on my Outlook calendar at work, but meetings and appointments only go back as far as October 2002, so that was a dead end.  My next course of action was to search through the Twins schedules on baseball-reference.com to find all day home games played on Wednesdays or Thursdays between 1998 and 2002.  Then I kicked myself for being dumb, because I knew I visited County Stadium during its final season, so I narrowed my search down to 2000.   Once I isolated all Wednesday and Thursday home day games for the Twins, I searched the Brewers home schedule to find out if they had a home night game the day prior to any of those Twins home day games.  Luckily, for me, August 16, 2000 was the only such instance, and when I checked the box score and saw that Jeff D’Amico was the winning pitcher for the Brewers, more memories came back and I knew I had the right game.

Now that the game date is settled, I can focus back to try to draw out my memories of my experience at the game.  As I stated above, I worked in my Chicago office for two days, then rented a car and took the 90-minute drive up north to Milwaukee for the Brewers game.  When I got there, I checked into my hotel, which was only 1-2 miles from County Stadium.  I asked the receptionist if it was close enough to walk and he said yes, so that is what I did.  Since this was the last season at County Stadium, the Brewers new park was mostly completed, at least as far as the structure is concerned.  My path from the hotel to County Stadium took me past Miller Park, which was exciting considering this was the first time I had ever seen a stadium still under construction.  Although, I will say that the walk took me through a seemingly deserted park and construction area, so I was not so sure that walking back at night would be a good idea.

In general, I always like to sit behind home plate, regardless of how high the seat is, so I bought a ticket in the upper level between home plate and 3rd base (at least as far as my memory tells me).  I remember walking in through the concourses that reminded me of Yankee Stadium II and Wrigley Field as far as the limited space to walk to get food and head to the rest rooms.  However, the catwalks that led to the press level are what really stood out to me.  Maybe I am wrong, but they did not look to sturdy and gave the stadium a much older feel to me.  I know that County Stadium was less than 50 years old in 2000, but it felt like it was as old as Wrigley based on its state of upkeep.

Aside from the Brewers, Milwaukee is famous for brewing and for good sausages and bratwurst.  This is not a bad thing considering I am a bit of a beer geek.  I will be the first to tell you that Miller is not amongst my favorite beers, but I was a less educated beer aficionado 12 years ago and I was happy to have a beer at the game, but only one.  I never have more than one beer; because I would much rather watch the game the run for another beer and take 17 trips to the rest room.   I also made sure I had a brat with sour kraut and secret stadium sauce, which was great.

Once I had my beer and brat in hand, I was set to sit down to watch the game.  The first thing that stood out to me from my seat was the view of the new stadium beyond the outfield walls.  The new stadium looked gigantic compared to County Stadium, but it also looked like it would be much nicer.  It was clear from the condition of the seats, catwalks, and concourse areas, that Milwaukee was due for a new ballpark.  From my perspective, it was fun to see both new and old standing side by side.

The game started with Jeff D’Amico retiring the Reds in order.  It looked like the Reds pitcher, Rob Bell would do the same when he retired the first two Brewers on outfield flies, but then Geoff Jenkins touched him for a single in front of cleanup hitter Richie Sexson.  Sexson, did not disappoint in his role as cleanup man and blasted a 2-run homer, which sent Bernie Brewer sliding down from his beer-barrel chalet and into the giant beer mug in left field…and also gave the Brewers a 2-0 lead.  It is hard to think of the Brewers without their mustachioed mascot Bernie Brewer.  Thankfully, the Brewers did hit a home run and did it early so I could see the famous slide.  Jeremy Burnitz followed the homer with a double and moved to 3rd on a wild pitch, but would eventually be stranded at 3rd.

D’Amico allowed two base runners in each of the next 3 innings, but did not allow a run until the top of the 5th. The Reds finally got on the scoreboard when Dante Bichette drove home Ken Griffey with a 2-out RBI double to trim the Brewers lead to 2-1.  Then D’Amico proceeded to walk both Sean Casey and Michael Tucker to load up the bases, but he would again escape further harm by inducing Pokey Reese to ground out to 2nd base.  At this point, I had to get out of trouble as well, since that one beer finally got to my bladder.  I asked the people around me to keep an eye on my backpack while I headed out to the rest room.  They looked at me strange, but said sure.  When I was walking back to my seat, the guy sitting behind me said he sure liked all the things he took from that bag.  I thought it was pretty funny that they were goofing on my apprehension to leave my stuff behind.  I got a good laugh, but did not miss any of the game.

The Brewers threatened in the bottom of the 5th, but did not score after leaving the bases loaded.  D’Amico settled down in the top of the 6th, retiring the Reds in order for the first time since the 1st inning.  It was after the top of the 6th though that the excitement started, because that is when the sausage race takes place.  The race is between the giant Bratwurst, Polish Sausage, Italian Sausage, and Hot Dog mascots.  The four wieners start running by the 3rd base line and head around the rim of the field towards 1st base to the finish line.  The crowd was more excited during this race than any other point during the game.  I have to admit that it is both goofy and fun, only I do not remember which sausage was the big wiener and which one was wurst!

Charlie Hayes then led off the Brewers 6th with a single of Scott Sullivan and came around to score on an RBI single by Rafael Belliard to bump up their lead to 3-1.  D’Amico faced the minimum batters again in the 7th, although Griffey did single before being erased on a ground out double play to 3rd by Bichette.  This would be the last inning for D’Amico, who worked 7 innings, giving up only 1 run on 8 hits, 1 walk, and 1 hit batter with 2 strikeouts.  For the v7th inning stretch, The Brewers added a unique twist by having their fans sing along with Roll out the Barrel after the traditional Take Me Out to the Ball Game.  I like the way the fans got into it.  Then the Brewers would end up tacking on 2 more runs in the 8th while 3 Brewer relievers would combine to close out the last 2 innings to give the Brew Crew a 5-1 victory.

After the game, I struggled to find a taxi, but I eventually did.  The cab driver was originally from Africa (unfortunately I do not remember which country), but very proud of his adopted new hometown.  I had told him I was only in Milwaukee for the game, and he was disappointed that I was not going to experience one of the many festivals that Milwaukee hosts.  He said I should come back to try all the diverse ethnic foods and fun that go along with the festivals.  I was happy to talk to him for those few moments to see someone as proud of where he is from as I am of my hometown of New York City.

Thankfully, as I noted in my write-up on Miller Park, The Brewers did not forget about County Stadium once it was demolished.  In its place now stands Helfaer Field, which is a youth size Baseball stadium that is available to groups for a fee, but open to all for Sunday afternoon games. When we got to the field there were various people playing catch on the field and eating at the picnic tables inside this miniature stadium.  All around the field, you will find plaques honoring Milwaukee Baseball history on a decade-by-decade basis, and there are even large monuments outside the front entrance commemorating Milwaukee's championship teams.  And, of course, they have not forgotten to have a commemorative home plate at the spot where home plate at County Stadium actually stood.  The kids can even play out in Bernie Brewer's Dugout Playground that is just beyond the outfield fences of Helfaer Field.

Bottom line – I am glad I was able to get to a game at County Stadium before it was demolished.  It was clearly an older stadium that its time had come, but the charm of Bernie the Brewer, the sausage race and the fans made this a fun experience for me.  Later on, the Brewers new Stadium, Miller Park, would become one of my favorites.

Basic trip facts:
-Stadium  - # 42
-Old Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 40)
-Under construction Stadium Sites visited – Miller Park (Total – 4)
-Miles traveled – 190 via driving and 1,466 via Air (Totals: Driving – 20,311, Subway - 132, Amtrak – 460, Air - 38,012, Total – 58,915)
-States, provinces, Districts and/or commonwealths passed through – Illinois and Wisconsin (Totals: States – 48, Provinces – 2, Districts – 1, Commonwealths - 1)
-Seats – Upper Level near home plate…I think
-Prices: Parking - ??, Beer - ??, Souvenir Soda - ??, Hot Dog - ??, Scorecards/Program – ??
-Credit Card giveaway –  Do not remember
-First Pitch -  7:10 PM
-Results: Brewers 5 – Reds 1, W – Jeff D’Amico, L – Rob Bell, S – None
-Home team record to date – 30 wins, 23 losses
-Record of “team I was routing for” to date – 23 wins, 30 losses
-Attendance –  26,339
-Lodging – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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