(The crowd waits patiently)
I had never been to Brewers On Deck previously, but since admission to this year’s event was free, there was nothing to lose. I had no idea what to expect, but with free admission I would not have been surprised if The Wisconsin Center was stuffed full. Although there was a fair amount of folks waiting to get in when it opened at 10:00am, the crowd felt relatively thin all day. At one point it was announced the attendance was about 10,000 fans. Considering a Miller Park sellout is over 40,000, it was far from jam-packed. (Update 1/27: Apparently it was the best attended On Deck to date with over 14,000 fans.)
That’s not a complaint, of course. Maybe some people look forward to massive crowds when they go out, but I prefer a comfier atmosphere. I don’t know how attendance compared to past years or what the Brewers were hoping for, but there were enough activities to keep me entertained.
The “Interactive Stage” had Q&A sessions all day with various players, which was a great opportunity for fans to hear funny stories or see what happens when you ask someone a question they aren’t expecting. Jonathan Lucroy was the first participant.
(Lucroy talking about framing pitches, probably)
When it was my turn to ask Lucroy a question, I tried to think of something interesting. This is what I came up with: “From the fan’s perspective, it seemed like Randy Wolf was a tough guy to work with. What was he like?” It seemed to catch Lucroy off guard, and his response was brief. I believe his exact wording was, “He knew what he wanted to do, and he did it.” I did not detect a great deal of fondness in his tone.
(Rollie Fingers introduced by Brewers announcer Robb Edwards)
Rollie Fingers was next. One fan asked, “What was your weirdest mound conference?” (Damn, that’s what I should have asked Lucroy.) Fingers told a story from his days with the A’s when he came into a game to relieve Catfish Hunter. The first batter he faced hit a single on the first pitch. The next two batters also got hits in early counts, quickly loading the bases.
A’s manager Dick Williams came out to the mound, and didn’t even address Fingers. Instead, he asked the catcher (I don’t remember who), “How’s he throwing?” To which the catcher replied, “I don’t know, I haven’t caught a pitch yet.” Fingers said he eventually got out of the inning.
(Setting up the Milwacky Squares)
The most popular Main Stage attraction was the On Deck version of Hollywood Squares, featuring Hunter Morris, Marco Estrada, Doug Melvin, Lucroy, Bob Uecker, Craig Counsell, Ryan Braun, Joe Block, and Olympic Gold Medalist Bonnie Blair. It was hosted by Dennis Haskins, who played Mr. Belding on the old show “Saved by the Bell” (I understand Haskins performed the same role at last year’s On Deck).
This skit was notable for two reasons. First, it was Braun’s first exposure to a large segment of the general public since his suspension. Second, it was impossible to ignore that Haskins is disturbingly overweight. I have no idea how long he’s been this size, but it’s a jarring sight if you’re not ready for it. I’m no doctor, but it looks like the man needs help.
As for Braun, he was a mensch to participate in a game that hinges on whether the celebrity is being honest. After he gave his first response, someone in the crowd said, “He’s lying!” Everyone had to chuckle about that. Later in the game when Braun had to give another answer, he acknowledged the heckler by saying something like, “As that one guy pointed out, I’ve gotten into trouble in the past when I haven’t been completely forthcoming.” I think we all appreciated that Braun is going to be a good sport about this (not that he has a choice).
(Doug Melvin talks and gestures about signing Matt Garza)
Next on the Main Stage was a Q&A with Melvin, owner Mark Attanasio, assistant general manager Gord Ash, and Counsell. This panel got off to a fun start when Attanasio confirmed the Brewers had signed free agent pitcher Matt Garza. It was nice for fans to be able to feel like we got the news first. When asked about what held the deal back, Melvin declined to get into specifics, and Attanasio was quick to point out that contract negotiations just take time.
Unfortunately, no news on Yuni Betancourt.
The Brewlywed Game followed, featuring the couplings of Brian Anderson-Bill Schroeder, Robin Yount-Jim Gantner, Donovan Hand-Jim Henderson, and Will Smith-Johnny Hellweg. There were plenty of amusing moments, but the most memorable was the Anderson/Schroeder repartee around the question, “What does your partner do right before every broadcast?” Long story short – Schroeder takes a big dump before going to work. Just like the rest of us. (Fun fact: Gantner brushed his teeth before every game.)
(Geoff Jenkins talks about being the man, probably)
Before I knew it, On Deck was almost over. The last thing I saw was Geoff Jenkins at the Interactive Stage. For what it’s worth, Jenkins said it was bittersweet that his final year with the Phillies included knocking the Brewers out of the playoffs. He also doesn’t mind if you ask him if people still mistake him for Brett Favre.
In all, my assessment is Brewers On Deck would have been a great deal for a small fee. For free, it was a steal. Since On Deck was free primarily because the Brewers had a lousy 2013, I wouldn’t necessarily hope for it to be free next year. But if it is, it’s not a bad consolation.