The stands were full as the anticipation of ‘him’ coming to the plate was a long-awaited event, second only to the unveiling of the Bud Selig statue the previous year. But this anticipation was for someone who could actually do something ON a baseball field, not conspire against the players by collusion with the owner down on the South Side of Chicago.
Many had their first brat of the season, fully dressed with kraut and Secret Stadium Sauce from the middle stand on the third base side of the main entry. That’s where you get the good ones. It is dipped and smothered with the magic sauce. It went down smoothly with that cold Miller Lite as all eyes were on the first base dugout.
As he appeared to go onto the on-deck circle, picking up the rosin bag and tapping it on the handle of his black bat, there was a heightened murmur rolling throughout the stands as he was grasping it with both hands and pulling it over his head, waggling it back and forth over the back of his head to loosen up the kinks of a long winter wondering if he could play without assistance. The fans watched in near quiet as Gomez, last year’s Gold Glove winner in centerfield, led off the game for the home team against the team that left the Cream City so many years ago, breaking hearts of a generation of fans in the hinterland where beer and sausages go together like peanut butter and jelly, not chicken and grits.
The practice swings he made took on new meaning as last year’s All-Star, Jean Segura, batted second. Then, taking the bat upside down, grabbing the barrel of the stick, popped the bat to the ground, releasing the bat ring which weighted the bat for practice swings, he stepped out of the on-deck circle and riding a wave of applause and fans standing in ovation of their fallen star, Braunschweiger stepped across the batters box, across home plate and took his practice swing facing third base before he stepped into the box where right-handed hitters stood, politely acknowledging the crowd’s moving welcome with a slight upward motion by his right hand, bat resting and tapping home plate, before he took his stance.
Why this acknowledgment of by those who are, all that is, right and good, to a fallen hero who not only took PEDs but lied about it to everyone he had ever met…family, friends, workers, fellow players from his team and opposing teams, partners in business…everyone?
The understanding here, Milwaukee is an extremely parochial town. It is, from the very beginning, built upon hard-working, blue-collar folks who went to school to be educated and to church on Sundays and were taught the Golden Rules of life. The town is Catholic, not unlike Boston or Chicago or Baltimore. Yet this is a community filled with deep conviction that you do have a second chance to redeem yourself and people are entitled to redemption.
That won’t happen in Philly or Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or Los Angeles. It’s not that they are bad. It is simply that they are not this parochial. It absolutely will not happen in Phoenix where they still believe that it is better to shoot someone than allow them to explain what they did and why they did it. After all, the Zona is only a bit over 100 years old. It is also the home of the Sherriff who puts his prisoners in pink and has them stay outside all year-long in Tent City.
What will be interesting is to see how he is greeted in one of the most respected baseball towns in the country, St. Louis. The bitter rival of the Milwaukee nines throughout most of the later half of the Twentieth Century, St. Louis has a reputation not unlike Milwaukee. It has seen some of its own disgraced and ashamed. How will they welcome the latest Black Sheep from the other beer city up North?
On Monday, April 28th, we will find out. That will be the fourth game of the year between the Brewers and the Cardinals and the first visit of the Cerveceros to the Land of Busch to play the Cardenales.
Then we will see. Then we will learn the depth of the disgrace. Let’s hope his thumb gets better before then.