Photo: John Axford warming up before blowing the save September 27, 2012. Naturally, Reds fans next to me heckled him before he entered the game.
(All Photos by Nick Michalski)
The Milwaukee Brewers came up short in their quest to sneak into the 2012 playoffs but they made the month of September a lot of fun. That’s probably been said ad nauseam already, but oh well. I cursed them all the way, but the Cards are back as postseason participants yet again, as if they know no better than to play well and succeed. Maybe that’s just their way. Maybe they’re charmed, or lucky. In any event, fate has dealt the fans of Milwaukee’s club another severe lesson in ‘life ain’t fair’. What else is new, though? As much as Brewers fans hoped the team would somehow grab a wildcard spot, the odds were against them considering the quickly diminishing number of games to play in September. Overall, two out of four of the playoff exits for the Brewers franchise since its inception in 1970 have come as a result of Cardinals victories. It’s nothing new to be chasing the Cardinals, and another finish short of the Cards (and Dodgers) this year provides plenty of motivation and mojo to fuel a run next season to see if Milwaukee can best St. Louis, not to mention the powerhouse Reds.
Anyway, those rivalries make the game and the Central division a blast to watch. I followed the Brewers’ geographical route loosely over the last couple weeks and saw victories in each game until John Axford blew the save last Thursday against Cincinnati. My rapid-fire trip started with a Brewers victory over the Mets on Sunday, September 16, at Miller Park, a visit which also resulted in an Aramis Ramirez bobblehead. I then took in their victory in Pittsburgh on September 19, the win over Washington on the 21st, and the blown game against Cincy on the 27th. It was thoroughly enjoyable to watch the team excel over that stretch, and they were still in the playoff hunt until nearly the end of my trip.
Photo: Leaving PNC by ferry.
If you’ve never been to the stadiums in Pittsburgh, Washington and Cincy, I would urge a visit to those places. Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is one of the most gorgeous ballparks around, with terrific sight lines, the iconic spiral stairs in left field and an intimate view of the bullpens from the concourse. Also present, of course, are the immaculate city skyline views and the beautiful riverfront area where the ballpark sits. We took a large ferry from the ballpark to the other side of the river there and went up the Duquesne Incline towards our hotel. Pittsburgh is a really awesome city. I sincerely recommend it.
We also took a ferry to the new Nats’ stadium from Old Town in Alexandria, Virginia. That was really cool as well. The new Nats Park is nice and sleek, metallic, with all the amenities RFK lacked, and a unique circular scoreboard in left field. Apparently you can see the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol from some of its many vantage points, but I didn’t catch a view of those from the park when I was there (they were visible from the ferry though). I was too focused on the Brewers’ late-inning comeback to truly appreciate some of the subtleties. The park is right on the Anacostia River there, though, and the fact that you can take a ferry to the game from Virginia is sweet. It drops you off across the street from the stadium. There is also the Metro train, of course.
Photo: The bins at Nats Park wear helmets.
Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati was also an interesting experience. That was the last NL Central park on my list to check off. It’s a simple ballpark, but it has some intriguing elements like the ‘smoke stacks’ in center field that spit fire occasionally and it’s located on a river as well, looking into Kentucky. It was nice to get a sense of the culture and place of where one of baseball’s oldest professional teams calls home. One thing about the Reds’ park that Brewers fans may like is that they serve beer until the end of the 8th inning.
Photo: Mr. Red's Smokehouse menu. I particularly liked seeing the smoked quail for the Cardinals, among the smoked everything. The Brewers have a suitable menu item, beer-braised brats. Mr. Red, not to be confused with Mr. Redlegs, is the baseball-headed guy without the mustache.
Photo: A cool mosaic remembering old-school Reds.
All of these parks were great experiences, and to top it off I was able to attend a Marlins-Mets game in Queens and a Twins-Indians game in Cleveland. Those are also nice stadiums. The Mets one particularly had an impressive array of food options and a ‘dunk tank’ game where fans could line up for free to try to knock a guy into a tank full of spongy cubes (rather than water). The people in all of these cities were friendly and cool, for the most part, as well. I have a lot of confidence in the Brewers for 2013, and while my expectations will likely be more grounded than they were prior to the start of the 2012 campaign, the team showed it still has a lot of promise and potential. If they can right the bullpen, Milwaukee should be a force. While Miller Park is amazing and comfortable, it’s a great experience to catch the Brewers on the road, too, if you have the opportunity.
Photo: Center field concourse at Citi Field in New York.
Photo: Progressive Field in Cleveland.