As big cities go, Milwaukee has a quaint charm to it, from its neighborhoods full of brick houses with chain-link fences to its laid-back downtown district that lacks the hustle and bustle seen in most other downtowns. So it would stand to reason that Milwaukee’s major-league ballpark would be a quaint, old-timey and cozy venue, but Miller Park is far from that. It is, in fact, a pretty audacious building considering its surroundings, with a fan-shaped retractable roof and huge glass windows throughout its facade.
Once you get inside, though, it really doesn’t matter if the ballpark seems out of place for the city it’s in. The Brewers have made it their own, and the fans come in droves regardless. Though when the home team is thriving, it makes for a pretty spectacular atmosphere, which is what I experienced when I visited one Thursday night in July.
- The Approach
Miller Park *might* blend in more with its surroundings if it were situated downtown, but it lies a few miles west, past downtown and the busy district surrounding Marquette University. So, looking west from downtown, the ballpark dominates the landscape, sitting alongside Interstate 94. Indeed, as you get closer you’ll see, depending on your route in, a few neighborhoods nearby, and you can’t help but wonder whether those people just walk to the ballpark or stay huddled inside, waiting for the pregame and postgame traffic streaming by to just die down.
The ballpark is surrounded by several large parking lots, and most fans just drive — many have a good reason for that, which we’ll reveal later. But if you don’t have a car, there are a couple alternatives. The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) runs a dedicated bus line from downtown to Miller Park, Route 90, that begins 90 minutes before each game and travels back for 60 minutes afterward; the standard bus fare of $2.25 per ride applies. This is the method I chose, picking up the bus at Wisconsin and 3rd streets and riding a fairly filled bus to the park, a ride of about 20 minutes with stops.
Or, you can find a restaurant or bar that offers a free shuttle to the game, and there are a few of them. They all drop off patrons just steps from the ballpark’s main entrance — not far from where the bus drop-off is — and, at least of the shuttles I observed, do a pretty brisk business.
- The Build-Up
As previously mentioned, Miller Park is not downtown, and thus there isn’t much around in the way of restaurants and bars. Your best bet for pregame imbibing is to hang out downtown or, even better, at one of those restaurants/bars that provides a free shuttle so that you can party and then not have to worry about driving yourself to the ballpark afterward.
The die-hards get around the lack of surroundings the best way possible: tailgating. That’s not really a thing for any sport other than football, and around Major League Baseball I’ve only seen hardcore tailgating in two places: Oakland, and San Francisco when the Giants played at Candlestick Park. But it’s a tradition in Milwaukee, too (does any state do tailgating better than the state of Wisconsin?), and for this Thursday night game against the Mets I’d estimate there were maybe 2,000 people in the parking lot tailgating an hour and a half before first pitch. I mean hanging out on lawn chairs, grilling brats, throwing baseballs around, the whole nine yards. So if you know a local, or aren’t shy about sidling up to a party and introducing yourself, you can get your tailgate on before a Brewers game. Me, I was content with just taking in the scene from afar.
- The Ambiance
It’s a big ballpark, so there’s a lot to see, starting outside the home-plate gate. There are several statues, from Milwaukee greats Robin Yount and Hank Aaron to legendary announcer Bob Uecker to a monument to three workers who were killed in an accident during the ballpark’s construction. There’s also a Little League field nearby, built on the footprint of the old County Stadium.
Food-wise, Wisconsin is known for sausages and beer, and you can find those in abundance at Miller Park. When I’m in Wisconsin I specifically think bratwurst, and those are available at pretty much every other stand in the park. But you can also find hot dogs, Polish sausages, Italian sausages and chorizo (yes, the five sausages represented in the famous sausage race in the middle of the sixth inning) at different spots around the park — no matter where you’re sitting, a stand is likely to be nearby. Look also for Wisconsin staples such as cheese curds and Leinenkugel beer (if your beer taste runs toward the less sophisticated, or less expensive, Miller is also available).
My seat was in Section 422, on the upper deck right behind home plate. Looking at the seating chart, those should be prime seats for the price, but what most seating charts don’t tell you is that there are two very wide pillars in that area (Sections 421-423), and depending on your exact seat they could block views of semi-important things such as, oh, home plate or the mound. Look up and you’ll see the pillars are very necessary, as they support the fan-shaped retractable roof right at its joint. Turned out I was parallel to the pillars so it wasn’t an issue for me. The seats at the very top of these sections are known as the Uecker seats and if you sit there (the Brewers sell those seats for $1), you’ll be kept company by a statue of Uecker (though during the game it’s guarded by a stern-looking usher who won’t let you take pictures).
It pays to be observant during a Brewers game, between the sausage race (do NOT plan on leaving your seat once the top of the sixth inning starts lest you miss it — it starts and ends pretty quickly) and the team mascot, Bernie Brewer, sliding down his slide in left field whenever the Brewers hit a home run. There were three in the game I watched and each time he did his thing, sliding down and then waving a giant Brewers flag, so fast that I was left flailing for my camera and taking blurry photos each time.
After watching a few innings from my original seat, and then taking in a couple more from a standing-room perch in the outfield, where folks were having a merry time drinking at one of a couple beer gardens out there, I ended up in a random seat along the third-base line as the Brewers finished out a rout of the Mets. From there I headed back toward the bus stop, and though the grills were all packed up I still found myself craving another bratwurst. Wisconsin’ll do that to you.