Tipping Pitches: Sports and Fatherhood: Loyalty Brewing


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sports and Fatherhood: Loyalty Brewing

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I was born in Ripon, Wisconsin in 1975.  It was perfect timing, really, to become a Milwaukee Brewers fan for life.  The Brewers started becoming competitive in the late 1970s, were a playoff team in 1981, and became the "Harvey's Wallbangers" when I was seven.

I see seven as a critical age to determining whether or not you're going to become a big baseball fan.  If you don't latch on sometime around then, the likelihood of you being a disloyal baseball fan increases with each passing year.  Or at least that's how I see it.

I can't stop being a Brewers fan.  It's in my blood, I guess.  I also have a brother who helped encourage my fandom.  Even when we moved to Michigan in 1984, an AM antenna concoction was developed to assure that we'd be able to continue listening to Bob Uecker and Pat Hughes, even if it was through the crackling static.  We continued following through their flops of the mid-80s, and clung to every at-bat through their 13-game winning streak to start 1987 and Paul Molitor's 39-game hitting streak in 1989.

We knew the numbers and batting stances of every player, whether they were left-handed or right-handed.  We collected their baseball cards and knew every meaningful statistic dating back to a player's rookie year (or even through the minor leagues if Topps, Donruss or Fleer provided them).

The 1990s were painful as a Brewers fan, more or less.  The early 2000s weren't any better.  But we started seeing glimmers of hope with the arrivals of players like Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo.

It's the fan who sticks with a team through the bad times who can truly appreciate the good times.  This is what I tell my two oldest sons Michael, eight, and Ryan (aka Pee Wee, PW or P-Dubs), five.

I admit, like every dad I dreamed of having sons who cheered for the teams I cheer for now and as a boy.  But you really can't force it on them.  That backfired on me with the Packers (they root for the Broncos), and nearly backfired with the Brewers.  I backed off, and slowly Michael started expressing interest in the Brewers.  His brother followed.

It's no mistake that Michael's loyalty to the Brewers strengthened in 2008.  Michael was seven (the magic number) and the Brewers were headed to their first playoff appearance since the 1982 World Series.  Like me, he followed everything about the Brewers.  He knew them all, their numbers, their batting stances.  It was in his blood.

We live in Colorado.  Time to give a shout out to technology and the MLB Extra Innings Package.  For most of the season, we watched every game on TV this year.  It engulfed us.  I eventually started following more online as they fell out of the race because it was too painful to watch day in and day out.

In or out of the race, September 28-30 were circled on the calendar in this home since the start of the baseball season.  It was the three days -- the only three days -- when our beloved Crew would appear in Colorado.

I still have a picture of myself in the early 1980s before attending a Brewers game in Milwaukee.  One of my favorite players at the time was Cecil Cooper.  Number 15, left-handed, and the coolest batting stance to imitate.  When he stepped up to the plate, the entire crowd bellowed, "Coooooooop!"

Prior to that game, I made a sign out of cardboard and a stick that I'd take with me to cheer on my guy.  Of course, that sign read, "COOP!"  In that picture, I was decked out in a Brewers cap, Brewers shirt, and Brewers wrist band.

My boys wanted to follow suit.  I gladly cut out some pieces of cardboard for them (about the same size as what I used back in the day), and they went to town. 

Both boys created two-sided signs.  When Ryan Braun was up, Pee Wee would flash his "Go Braun!" sign, complete with pictures.  When anyone else was up, he'd flash the "Go Brewers!" sign, complemented with a picture of Prince Fielder hitting a home run and saying (translated), "Yo man, what are you doing?!"  Prince was saying this, of course, because he could not believe the other team would pitch to him -- ball flying out of the park.

Michael's two-sided sign said "Go Fielder" on one side and "Go Brewers!" on the other.  Not quite as artistic, but the thought was there.

There was some concern that PW wouldn't be able to attend the game at all.  Starting Saturday night, he came down with a fever.  Nothing changed by Sunday or Monday, and he stayed home from school.  He stayed home again on Tuesday, but luckily everything cleared up and he was ready to go to Tuesday's night game.

It would just be me, Michael and P-Dubs.  JJ was too young, so my wife would stay home with him.  The three of us were excited.  It's all I could think about all day long, and I'm sure the boys were much the same.  Starting in the afternoon, I threw some brats on the stove in beer to slow cook for a while.  Fired up the grill at 4:30 and threw the brats on the grill for me and dogs on for my wife and sons.  It was the Loomer Family Tailgate.

You know the kids are excited when we're able to get in the car to something on time.  It was 5:15 sharp, and we were out the door.  Right on schedule to get into the park and soak it in before the 6:40 start.

Of course, we ran into some traffic on I-25 heading up to 20th Street.  Traffic during rush hour in Denver is to be expected, but the three accidents didn't help.  Luckily, our traffic was simple rubber-necking since all of the accidents were on the other side of the road.  It took 45 minutes to make a drive that would normally take 25, but thankfully we were on the side we were.

A little after 6:00 we met up with my buddy Eric to pick up our FREE Brewers tickets.  He knows some people who had season tickets who weren't attending (more on Rockies fans not attending later), so we were all set up.  Eric would partake in a malty beverage and meet us at the game later.

I'm sure the boys and I were a sight.  Boys carrying their cardboard signs and all of us decked out in Brewers garb.  We were proud.  Excited.  Running.  Let's get to that game!

Through the turnstiles, the first thing we did was buy a couple of game cards.  Michael is not only a big Brewers and baseball fan, but he's a stat nerd like his Pops.  He's been talking about getting a game card all week long.  PW, of course, didn't care about keeping score, but I knew I had to get him one to prevent any potential tantrums.

We were inside by about 6:15 or 6:20.  Seats were pretty empty at the time, and we moved down a few so that our view was unobstructed.  Right field line in the corner, 15 rows up.  Perfect seats, really.  We waited anxiously to see some of our Brewers on the field, as at the time it only seemed to be littered with Rockies.  Corey Hart and JJ Hardy were soon spotted walking in the outfield.  Chris Narveson warmed up with Jason Kendall.  Still, that was it.

"Oh say can you see, I'm proud to be an American" and let's play some baseball!

The Brewers started out strong.  Felipe Lopez reached base, followed by a Corey Hart out.  Before I can tell P-Dubs who is up to the plate, he's standing with his "Go Braun!" sign.  Proud.  Still standing.  He doesn't sit down.  Still standing with that sign as Braun hits a shot off of the wall that gets my "Get out!" call, but to no avail.

Second and third, one out for our man Prince Fielder.  PW flips his sign around to show "Go Brewers!" and Michael joins him with his "Go Fielder!" sign.  Fielder intentionally walked (which would happen again two innings later).  Casey McGehee grounded into a double play, and the inning was over.

It was pretty much the story of the game.  The boys stood up with their signs for entire at-bats, likely annoying Rockies fans around them.  Braun would hit another near home run that would turn out to be a double.  Fielder would get intentionally walked to load the bases.  Mike Cameron would hit into a double play to end the inning.  Too many missed chances.

Something we (or maybe just I) found humorous was the laid back attitude of these Rockies fans.  I realize it's a Tuesday night, but how is this game not packed?  Fans were still trickling in by the fifth and sixth innings, or making a temporary showing before leaving.  And it was dead silent unless the scoreboard flashed a "Get Loud!" instructional.

There are six games to go!  The Rockies are two games up in the Wild Card.  This place should be packed, and I know for a fact that Milwaukee would be.

I guess part of the issue in Colorado is the transplants from around the country combined with the "expansion team" syndrome.  Fathers and sons don't have the same relationship with the Rockies that I do with my sons.  There are no fathers with pictures of them holding up signs for their team close to 30 years ago, wanting to continue that tradition.

Anyway, it was getting late.  A game that was initially flying by bogged down in the sixth when the Brewers couldn't get anyone out.  It was the eighth inning, Brewers down 5-2 and Hart, Braun and Fielder were due up.  It's a school night, but we'd give them one more shot.  Came up empty.

So we left, but I did so awkwardly.  I hate leaving a game early, and didn't want to encourage such a practice.  But PW was getting over a sickness and I didn't want to keep the boys up past 10:00.  Sometimes, being a responsible father trumps all.

We hop into the car and turn on the radio.  Top of the ninth inning, one out, no one on.  Mike Cameron's up.  He'll strike out, I thought.  Walk.  JJ Hardy's up.  He'll get out, I thought.  Single.  Two on for Jason Kendall.  They'll pinch hit for him, right?  They need a home run, and Kendall's the weakest hitting player in the game.  Nope, left him in.

By the sound of the announcer's voice, I was encouraged.  Down the left field line...  Fair or foul?  It's gone!  It's gone??  It's gone!!

We may have been in the car, but we went nuts.  Jason Kendall of all people!  Jason Kendall!

So, we missed the best part of the game, unfortunately, but it wasn't over.  The boys would continue their new tradition of raising signs for Braun and Fielder during their at bats, even if the ceiling of the car would resist them.  The fun would continue.

The game ended up going to extra innings and we actually got home in time for me to watch Chris Ianetta hit a game-winning home run (after what should have been strike three, of course) to end the game.

It's ok.  It was a great experience for all of us, and one that Michael and P-Dubs will tell their kids about one day.  It was the first of hopefully many father-and-son live game action Brewers bonding memories.

Next time, we need to wear the luck wrist bands.


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