I have always been a football fanatic. My earliest memories involve watching men on the TV running around against a green backdrop. I played the game from a tender age, and I collected cards, completed sticker albums and acquired shirts of football teams from all corners of the globe.
I love watching any sport in the flesh. I have a season ticket for my local football team, Tranmere Rovers, and I used to travel down to Chester as a teenager to watch the Chester Jets basketball team. At university, I used to travel over to Leeds to see the Rhinos with my flatmate who was a Rugby League man. I even run an American Football team, the Wirral Vikings.
I played rugby, cricket and hockey at school. I have played tennis, badminton, squash, volleyball, bowls, darts and snooker and I have attempted long-distance running and swimming, but all fell by the wayside.
The point of all the above is to demonstrate that I love sports and will give anything a go. Yet nothing has ever fully grabbed my imagination and become as all-consuming as the latest sport to grab my attention: baseball.
It was as late as July 2018 that I watched my first ever baseball game. The FIFA World Cup had just finished in Russia. I had watched every minute of every game, planning annual leave from work to help achieve the feat. After France defeated Croatia in the final, there was a void that football had filled for the previous month. I needed something to help waste my evenings.
A good friend of mine is equally fanatical about sports. He could relate to everything I have said above, and he had always maintained that baseball grabbed his attention like nothing else. So, the day after the World Cup Final, I thought I would check in on what absorbed him so much, aided by my work colleague’s BT Sport subscription.
The Boston Red Sox were playing. I am not sure who against, I think the Rays perhaps. I enjoyed what I saw and heard, and a close game was keeping my attention late into the night. Then as I was contemplating bed, it already being past midnight, Craig Kimbrel came out of the bullpen to save the game for the Red Sox and … everything … just … fell … into … place.
The intense stare, the crimson facial hair; Kimbrel threatened to f*** you up through body language alone. The mound was Kimbrel’s dojo. Kimbrel got the save; the Red Sox won, and baseball had a new devotee.
I have had some near misses with baseball in the past. I remember going to Florida at the age of eight and being bought a ball and glove, as well as treating myself to packs of baseball cards. I was particularly proud of a Tampa Bay Devil Rays card, having driven to Tampa to visit one of the theme parks. On that trip, I also saw the Atlanta Braves (or at least some sort of training camp run by them) at Disney World of Sport. Later in life, I got into a phase of watching the film Moneyball on a fortnightly basis for a good six months.
Yet for some reason, I never felt compelled to actually watch the sport for real. Despite my spiel above about grossly consuming sport, the era of MLB being shown on Channel 5 completely passed me by.
With thirty teams playing games five or six times a week there is just too much to try and keep completely on top of, so my friend suggested that the best way to keep up with baseball was to pick a team and follow their fortunes. It was an odd situation. I picked my football team through family and geographical ties, but I now had complete carte blanche to pick one of thirty teams.
Despite the tale above, I was not going to pick the Red Sox. Living in Liverpool, you see too many people sporting the caps because of the mutual ownership of the Red Sox and Liverpool FC. Nor was I going to pick the Yankees or Dodgers due to the volume of gear worn by fashionistas who do not know what sport those teams even play (I was now above them having watched one game).
My team would have to be under-the-radar. My team would have to have little or no success, so I could not be accused of glory hunting; I wanted to get in on the ground level. Most importantly, my team would not be West coast; I actually wanted to see my team play on a semi-regular basis.
I brought up a list of franchises to have won the World Series on Wikipedia and scrolled to the bottom of the page, straight to the no-hopers. Six clubs have not won the World Series, and of those, I immediately ruled out the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners, simply for sitting on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. I also quickly ruled out the Texas Rangers for no other reason than I did not like the sound of their name.
I was left with a shortlist of three: Colorado Rockies, Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers. One of them immediately stood out.
My favourite comedy film of all time is Wayne’s World. In that film, Wayne and Garth win tickets to see Alice Cooper in Milwaukee, enjoying a lovely day of seeing the sights (which is mainly a brewery visit) – excellent! If you’ve seen the film, you’ll remember the famous scene of Alice Cooper explaining that Milwaukee is actually an Indian name pronounced “mill-e-wah-que”.
Then I thought about other times when Milwaukee had stood out to me, at least compared to Colorado or Tampa Bay. The cult film Baseketball features a team called the Milwaukee Beers. Kris Marshall’s character in Love Actually goes to Wisconsin in search of beautiful American woman (and I have seen Kris Marshall buy a pint of cider at Green Man Festival). Ron Burgundy thinks his beloved dog Baxter has travelled to Milwaukee in Anchorman. I have drunk, and enjoyed, Pabst Blue Ribbon. All signs pointed to Milwaukee.
The payoff of my decision has been incredible. It turned out the Brewers have a fanbase utterly devoted to their ballclub who stick with them through thick and thin. They have a fantastic young manager, Craig Counsell, and GM, David Stearns, who are turning water into wine with their approach to roster construction. They have a moustached mascot who flings himself down a yellow slide every time a Brewer slugs a home run into the outfield bleachers. They hold races for people dressed as sausages during mid-innings breaks.
My decision to throw my weight behind the Brewers almost paid instant dividends when they came within a game of reaching the World Series in 2018. Despite being quite possibly their newest fan, the pain of losing to the Dodgers in the NLCS was worse than seeing Tranmere get relegated twice on the bounce; I kid you not.
For the past 18 months, I have consumed all things Brewers. I watch their games as often as I can in full, and watch extended highlights each day on my lunch break at work. I have scoured the vintage shops of Liverpool for Brewers merch, finding three fantastic t-shirts. I wear my baseball cap everywhere and have spent far too much money building a folder of my Milwaukee Brewers baseball cards.
Now I hope to continue to convey my love for this little franchise through this esteemed website on a weekly basis. The 2020 National League Central is shaping up to be a fascinating tussle between four great teams (sorry, Pirates fans). The Brewers have a future All-Star in Christian Yelich who does more incredible things with each passing week. Despite the loss of stars such as Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal, the roster constructed for 2020 is fascinating and could launch the Brewers to a third straight postseason appearance for the first time in their 50-year history.
And there will continue to be racing sausages.
Matthew Robinson is one of the new writers contributing at Bat Flips and Nerds. You can enjoy his insightful takes throughout the season as he joins our Brewers team for 2020. Follow him on Twitter @tacticsmatt