This past Sunday I attended the Milwaukee Brewers Annual Winter Fan Fest, more commonly known as Brewers On Deck. Here’s a recap of the event and a bit of my personal perspective, with a few photos to boot.
My good friend picked me up at 8:00 a.m. and we made the 1.5-hour trek to Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Center (formerly Midwest Express Center, Midwest Airlines Center, Frontier Airlines Center and Delta Center) where the event has been held since 2009 – but for good reason. The room is huge enough to accommodate thousands of fans. And believe me, thousands and thousands of fans were on hand this year.
The Brewers generally don’t release an actual attendance number, but this year looked and felt like possibly the highest mark in history. Our first indication came when we tried to get into the street level lot behind the center, but it was full. So, we ended up going round and round in a parking ramp. The positive is the ramp had walkway access to the center. Team insiders say the day after the recent transactions bringing Christian Yelich and Lorenz Cain happened, they sold at least a thousand tickets. It was the single largest sales day ever for On Deck Tickets.
We arrived right when the doors opened at 10:00 a.m. and could tell it attendance was higher due to the long line wrapping through the halls of the center. It took about 45 minutes for us to get into the event. The front office says it will evaluate how things went and look for solutions for faster event entry. Certainly, the last-minute ticket spike caught them a bit off guard in terms of staffing.
If you’ve never attended an On Deck event, it’s packed with autograph and photo opportunities, shopping, games, kid’s clinics, Q&A’s, and game shows. Once we got inside we used the map to get an idea of the layout and event schedule. We typically hit the Brewers Community Foundation sale first, and did again this year.
The sale is like a rummage area of team items. In past years, it was a free-for-all and almost impossible to get close to any items without darn near starting a fistfight. These days the sale area is controlled by capacity. I’d say it makes for a more pleasant shopping experience. I did however have a minor stress attack when I realized I didn’t have my list of missing bobbleheads. After a quick call home, my wife logged onto our laptop and sent the list. Whew – problem solved! I didn’t wind up buying any bobbles from the rummage sale, but my friend snagged a game used jersey for his collection. You just can’t beat the prices, for sure!
We wandered for a bit and kind of checked out the various areas, including the alumni autograph session. The line was very long, so we just hung around back and got some photos of the former players. What a cool concept though – 25 bucks for signatures from Robin Yount, Jim Gantner, Gorman Thomas, Larry Hisle, Cecil Cooper, Don August, Paul Wagner, and Jeff Cirillo.
Speaking of long lines, practically everything was backed up at that point so we hit the vendor shopping area, which is a sports collector’s dream come true. It’s one long row of vendors back-to-back (two sided) with everything from baseball cards to bobbleheads. We even saw an unopened bottle of 1982 champagne from the playoffs. Of course, the bobbles always get my full attention, and I about fell over when I found four out of the five 1982 mini bobbles I’m missing. They were stadium giveaways in 2007 and never a priority to me until recently. I’ve had poor luck with the glue not holding up on a few that I owned previously. My original Jim Gantner lost his arm and we couldn’t glue it back on, which was a bummer but it did make for a cool photo. My friend also had no complaints over finding a 2007 Rickie Weeks that he was missing, giving him a sorely needed second baseman in his collection.
Next up was the 1:00 p.m. “Meet the Management” session (or “State of the Union Address” as we call it). We arrived to the bleachers early to get a good spot part way up with no obstructions. After counting six chairs we realized besides owner Mark Attanasio, General Manager David Stearns, and Assistant General Manager Matt Arnold, we’d probably be seeing the new players as well. Correctomundo! Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, and Jhoulys Chacin also appeared to thunderous applause. We had a great time snapping photos and listening to their comments.
Many of the questions from the audience centered around additional acquisitions and the state of the farm system. You’ve probably read by now that Attanasio said there is still room on the payroll to add a starting pitcher if the opportunity presents itself. Stearns added that there wasn’t one way they would lean (trade vs. free agent) in acquiring the right player.
When the session ended, we were off to a late lunch. Lunch was…well, a long wait and it was what it was. About 15 bucks for chicken tenders, fries, and drink. Certainly, not ballpark food by any means, but it served the purpose and got us off our feet for a bit.
From there we decided to get into some of the shorter autograph lines. As in recent years, around 2:00 p.m. the crowd dissipates quite a bit. The lines for Jhoulys Chacin, Hernan Perez, and Manny Pina moved along well. In the Pina line, my friend heard a downer story from the fellow in front of him. Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich were added to the free autograph area together and he and a friend stood in line for two hours only to come up empty handed. The free area is a first-come/first-served line until the 30-minute session is over. The other paid areas are limited to 250 people to eliminate the line building for hours before the session.
We also time bouncing in and out of the free photo area, remembering back to the year when we easily got photos with a young Jonathan Lucroy, before he became a star player. This time we managed to get photos with Jett Bandy, and even Brett Phillips late in the day.
My friend remarked the day had been a whirlwind and I also felt like it was over too quickly. We missed a few things like the Brewers museum and team store, which was fine because we’ve seen much of that stuff before.
It was a fun and energizing day that always helps bridge the last gap between winter and spring training. I figure there are far worse ways to spend the admission fee!