I have a shameful confession to make: I haven’t been to a single Brewers game this year. Yes, the team is mostly a mess and the season is a lost cause, but Miller Park is one of my favorite Milwaukee destinations—even if the team that calls it home happens to be currently chomping the big one. It’s a beautiful stadium, a guaranteed good time, and an easy (and cheap) way for a city-dweller to fritter away an afternoon. I typically make it to at least a dozen games every season; to have not one, but zero games under my belt this late in the summer is downright pathetic. Even worse, I have no real reason for whiffing. It’s just one of those things.
How, then, I recently wondered, could I make up for lost time? How could I get the most Miller Park bang for my Miller Park buck (i.e. my eternal Miller Park stadium tax) before the Brewers packed it up for another season, the roof was closed, and Kent Sommerfeld was put back into storage? How could I rekindle my love for that big, hulking, metal pleasure dome west of downtown?
By tenting out inside it, of course.
Enter Field of Sweet Dreams, an annual event that gives stadium nuts like myself the opportunity to pitch a tent and spend the night on Miller Park’s outfield. “Wait…what?” you’re saying to yourself. “Why haven’t I done this? Why haven’t I heard about this?” Three reasons:
- It’s a family-friendly event, aimed squarely at kids and the parents or legal guardians who wrangle them. As such, there’s no alcohol allowed, and no alcohol served. Yeah.
- It’s expensive. This year, the ticket price for anyone 13 or older was $115; kids age 3-12 were $80.
- There’s no alcohol allowed, and no alcohol served. Ugh.
But forget all that, because, hey! Tenting out inside Miller Park! After saving a few pennies and graciously accepting a last-minute offer from my mother-in-law to watch my 11-month-old for the night, my wife and I decided to give it a shot this past Saturday. Would it be worth the money? Would we be the only weirdos there without a kid? Would Bob Uecker be there to help us set up our tent? Maybe Doug Melvin? The possibilities were endless.
We arrived at the ballpark at 5 p.m., a line of fellow campers already stretching from the home plate entrance all the way past Helfaer Field. Our only possessions were a tent, two sleeping bags, two pillows, and a bag of miscellaneous junk. Happily, none of it ran afoul of the event’s list of non-permitted items, which included the following: carry-in food or beverages (alcoholic or otherwise); stakes or fasteners; chairs or furniture; radios; baseball bats or cleats; grilling equipment or fire. Our dreams of making pudgy pies over a bonfire in left field would have to wait for another day.
After checking in, we were led onto the field level concourse, and then onto the field itself. The infield was roped off (there would be no running of the bases, unfortunately), but the entire outfield was fair game. My wife and I quickly set up our tent in the right field corner, organized our stuff, and gazed out at the scene before us. There we were, one tent in a sea of what we guessed was 150-200 others. Kids threw baseballs back and forth. Adults threw bags using provided sets along the warning track. A chunky kid with a dyed-blonde mohawk a few tents over threw out the rules and set up an inflatable recliner and aimed it at the scoreboard. This would be our home for the next 12 hours.
One of the perks of the event was a complimentary dinner buffet. Anticipating a no-holds-barred feeding frenzy when the 6 p.m. dinner bell rang, my wife and I hopped in line early. We weren’t expecting much, but the organizers went all out with the food: pulled pork, BBQ chicken, hot dogs; potato wedges, mac and cheese, potato chips; salad and desert. Not exactly your typical stadium fare. We loaded up our plates and took a seat next to some carnival games where kids were winning prizes and getting airbrushed shark tattoos. It was delicious.
Following dinner, and once again looking to beat the rush, my wife and I quickly got in line for a Miller Park guided tour. Hanging out in the visiting team’s dugout, we marveled at the casualness of the whole event (a group of kids were messing around with the dugout phones, to the concern of no one) and worked on our “leaning against the railing and spitting” techniques. Our tour guide soon appeared, a nice gentleman named Wayne. Assembling a group of 20 or so, Wayne led us on a nifty behind-the-scenes tour that included stops outside the home clubhouse, inside the press box (the largest in MLB, apparently), outside the scoreboard operations center (home to the Miller Park organ), outside the roof controls room (where four guys from Johnson Controls kick it every game day), and inside the visiting team clubhouse. All told, it lasted approximately 45 minutes.
Oh, and the tour also included a trip to the holiest of holy Miller Park locations: Uecker’s booth. Yes, we were allowed inside Mr. Baseball’s (and Joe Block’s) inner sanctum, which was smaller and less covered in Mr. Belvedere paraphernalia than I expected. Nevertheless, I tried in vain to contain myself as Wayne talked about Ueck’s broadcasting career (Nearly at the same level as Vin Scully and Mel Allen? Surely you jest, Wayne.) and tried to not get weirded out by the middle-aged woman standing next to me, who looked suspiciously like the middle-aged woman who stalked Bob Uecker a few years back. Now, I’m not saying it was her (her name tag didn’t match up, for one), but she did look like a slightly older version of that woman’s mug shot.
After the tour, we found ourselves with some time on our hands. Happily, the Brewers-Diamondbacks game was being broadcast on the stadium’s scoreboard. My wife and I grabbed some free lemonades (in plastic coconut cups), took some random infield seats, and watched an away game at home. It was kind of awesome. It was during the game that I once again marveled at the amount of freedom we were being given. Want to sit in a random seat and watch the game? Go for it. Wander around the outfield? Okay. Tellingly, the event seemed to be staffed solely by college freshmen, and the security detail uniformly stocked with post-retirement senior citizens. No one bugged us, asked us to stay within a cordoned-off area, or hustled us to a prescribed event. Later, when I woke up at 2 a.m. and padded my way across the field, up the steps, and onto the concourse to use the bathroom, the only employee I could spot was an older gentleman sitting in the field-level seats, reading a book.
Following the game (a Brewers loss, by the way) came my least anticipated part of the evening: a screening of Lilo & Stitch. I generally avoid children’s movie because a.) I’m not a child, and b.) their habit of shoehorning in adult-friendly references irritates the hell out of me. But as a new father, I knew my days of avoiding kiddie fare were numbered, so I gave the 2002 Disney joint my best shot. My wife and I made our way back to our tent, sat out on a sleeping bag, and peered up at the big screen. The plot—something about an alien landing in Hawaii and dancing to Elvis songs—eluded me, partly because I kept trying to place one of the voices (Kids In The Hall’s Kevin McDonald, it turned out), and partly because the film was REALLY, REALLY LOUD. Seriously, they cranked this thing as if we were camped out in the parking lot. Plus, it didn’t start until nearly 10 p.m. It was a weird disconnect between the event and its family-friendly vibe: Would a 3-year-old really enjoy being blasted out of their Pampers by a movie at 11:30 at night? The 3-year-old in the tent next to us sure didn’t. My wife and I silently thanked my mother-in-law (again), and spent the bulk of the movie reading books. (Boy, The Martian sure is a page-turner!)
After Lilo & Stitch wrapped, the screen was given over to a handful of Brewers reading a bedtime story. It was as weird and delightful as it sounds, and came across as if the players were in the middle of taping bits for between-innings trivia contests (“What is Mike Fiers’ favorite Rage Against The Machine album?”) and someone suddenly shoved a children’s book in their hands and told them to start reading. The children’s book in question was Clark The Shark, a tale about a shark who…well, I don’t really know. Once again, the plot eluded me. I was too busy enjoying the sights and sounds of Fiers, Jimmy Nelson, Jim Henderson, and others stumble their way through the thing. These men may be professional baseball players, but soothing interpreters of shark-based morality tales they are not.
And then it was 11:40 p.m., lights out. Perhaps worn down by the late-night movie, there was hardly a peep from the hundreds of adults and children populating the field of tents. My wife and I dozed off, only our sleeping bags and the floor of our tent between us and the outfield grass.
We were awoken at 6:45 a.m. to the sound of that “Charge!” bugle call thing, followed by every Beatles song that involves the words “morning” or “sun.” A breakfast buffet awaited us on the concourse, stocked with scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, hash browns, fruit, and mini muffins. My wife and I, unburdened by sleep-deprived kids, hopped in line ahead of the rush. Again, the meal was surprisingly great.
And that was it. We packed up our tent, took one last look around, and left. We were on the road and headed home by 8 a.m.
Would I do it again? Yeah, probably. It was a fun, relaxed, and completely unique experience. I got to tent out inside Miller Park! The price was definitely steep, and it seemed to fly in the face of the event’s family-friendliness (a family of four could be looking at a $500 night out), but you get a fair amount of value for your money. The novelty would probably be lost on very young children (don’t even dream of bringing an early-to-bed toddler to this thing), but pre-teen baseball nuts and chunky kids in dyed-blonde mohawks should eat it up.
Or, you know, anyone looking to make up for lost time and rekindle their love with a certain baseball stadium west of downtown. I still haven’t been to a game at Miller Park this year, but for one night, I made it my home.