Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Special Sunday at Miller Park

Whenever I go to Miller Park for a Brewers game, I glance around the tailgating crowd in the parking lot and the pre-game crowd milling around the concourses to see if I know anyone. I rarely do.

My Beloved Spousal Unit and I know most of the Brewers’ players on the field by sight, of course, as well as the manager, the coaches, maybe half of the opposition, one or two of the umpires. From our perch in the Terrace Level, we can see the radio booth and catch a glimpse of Bob Uecker or Cory Provus calling the game, and Bernie Brewer in his chalet, and the Racing Sausages, and the right field ballgirl with the terrific throwing arm. We take note when Faux Paul, my late brother-in-law’s doppelganger, is in his customary seat next to the Brewers’ dugout. We give a nod to the old-timers who man the stadium parking lots on the way in and the saxophone-torturing busker on the way out.

We also recognize a half-dozen regular Terrace Box denizens. Talk Your Ears Off and Son Of Talk Your Ears Off sit behind us and narrate loudly during every pitch and every interval between pitches in great, gory detail and imagine that this is a public service welcomed by their neighbors. There’s Zoom Lens Couple, who’ve never seen a live ballgame except through his-and-her rangefinders. Looks Like Billionaire County Executive sits on the other side of the Zoom Lenses and is a congenial chap, despite not being a billionaire. (We think.) Radio Headset Man, sitting over the portal, may look a bit stoned, but he’s managed to locate the stadium’s low-power FM frequency for the radio broadcast of the game, and that’s an accomplishment that’s eluded us.

In the communal sense, though, we hardly ever see a neighbor, or someone we work with, or someone else from around town that we know. Our encounters at the ballpark are largely transactional rather than social. Our relationship is with the whole scenario rather than the specific actors.

Today, however, was different. In a sense, we knew everyone at the game today: Brewers fans, Phillies fans, locals, sports tourists from afar. On this 10th anniversary of the horrific events of September 11, 2001, everyone in attendance was in reflective communion. We’ve all had a shared experience, one that exceeded our prior imagination, a nightmare that we can barely fathom to this day.

The sea of blue jerseys and t-shirts and caps that Brewers fans wear in common were merely a cover today; the real solidarity, the reason every pre-game step toward the sports cathedral seemed meaningful, the reason it felt almost tearfully good to see the green grass and diamond of dirt as we emerged from the portal into the sunlight, was that these steps shadowed the shell-shocked steps we took nearly ten years ago in this same venue, when we first resumed attending baseball games to try to chase the shock and numbness away.

The game itself was a festival of seriousness and silliness, both real and symbolic, full of inspiring plays and errors, two-base hits and strikeouts, patriotic songs and sausage races. Does it matter who won? Absolutely, it does! The Brewers are in a divisional race, and if divisional races matter in peacetime, they do so even more in times of peril and anxiety, when we need their distraction the most. So I’m happy to report that the Brew Crew salvaged the last game of the four-game set with Philadelphia, winning 3-2. Blue-clad fans breathed a sigh of relief when Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan, and Ryan Braun finally delivered clutch hits, scarce commodities of late, in the late innings. Yovani Gallardo whiffed twelve batters while going seven strong, and closer John Axford allowed two batters to reach before completing yet another anxious, perilous save. The "magic number" for the Brewers to clinch the NL Central crown, their first divisional title in nearly three decades, is now ten, with a mere fourteen games to play.

Moreover, the chicken curry in fish sauce that my Beloved Spousal Unit conjured up for our pre-game picnic was delicious -– and our creative cuisine was the envy of the tailgating families to our left and right! All in all, a perfect Sunday afternoon in September, despite the somber occasion. Or perhaps, with deliberate intention, because of it.

My only regret about this memorable day, apart from our inability to tune into the radio broadcast and tune out the bozo behind us, is that we once again didn’t see anyone we know personally at the ballpark. Maybe next time I’ll bring a camera along and ask our Terrace Box neighbors for their expert advice on buying a zoom lens. It might be time for a new resolution.

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