"I had been out looking for a fifth starter, and realized that was very difficult," Melvin said. "As important as a fifth starter is to a franchise, a fifth sausage is important, too."
Chorizo will join the Bratwurst, Polish Sausage, Italian Sausage and Hot Dog for a race on "Cerveceros Day" -- that's "Brewers" in Spanish for you gringos -- following the sixth inning of Saturday's Brewers-Reds game at Miller Park. Chorizo will then be "optioned out to the Minor Leagues for more seasoning," according to Melvin, though there is also the issue of Major League Baseball's approval process for new mascots. The Sausage Race will officially become a five-weenie affair beginning on Opening Day of 2007.
Chorizo, a spicy pork sausage, signed a contract and was presented with a jersey reading "Cerveceros" across the front during Thursday's mock press conference, an affair stuffed with so many food references it left you with a stomach ache. But this was also serious business.
According to a recent Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report on immigration, quoting U.S. Census Bureau figures, Wisconsin's Hispanic population grew by 23 percent from 2000 to 2004 and accounted for 4.3% of the state's population of around 5.5 million in 2004. The Hispanic population grew by at least 1,000 in nine state counties, including by 14,647 in Milwaukee County.
The Brewers have stepped up their marketing efforts in the Hispanic community in recent years. The most significant effort began in 2003, when the team began producing original Spanish-language weekend television broadcasts on the local Telemundo affiliate. The addition of Chorizo marked another symbolic step.
"When I first started at Klement's 30 years ago, working with my father and grandfather, I would walk into the plant and see a lot of people from Europe," said Roger Klement, the company's co-president. "The Italians were there, the Germans were there and the Polish were there. Those three characters made it to the big leagues earlier.
"Now, when I walk into our plant I see probably 45-50 percent of our employees are Hispanic, and it's a great pleasure to bring the Chorizo to life."
The Brewers will pay tribute to Hispanic baseball on Saturday by wearing uniforms that read "Cerveceros" across the chest. Former Brewer Teddy Higuera and former Milwaukee Brave Felix Mantilla will be honored by the Brewers and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in a pregame ceremony. Throughout the ballpark, the club is promising mariachi bands, bilingual announcements and other surprises. The first 15,000 fans over the age of 17 will receive a "Cerveceros" cap, courtesy of Culver's. They will also begin offering chorizo sausages at ballpark concession stands.
"This really began as a grassroots e-mail and letter-writing campaign," said Brewers executive vice president of business operations Rick Schlesinger. "At first it was a few letters a week, and, to use a food analogy, it mushroomed to something much larger. We started taking it seriously."
While Chorizo took the field for a photo op, Melvin scuttled back to his office to attend to another matter related to a Latin American Brewer. Melvin confirmed that he has been receiving steady interest in left fielder Carlos Lee, but shot down rumors that were flying on Thursday about Lee heading to Minnesota in an imminent trade with the Twins.
"I've talked to Terry Ryan a couple of times," said Melvin, referring to the Twins general manager. "The way that they've performed, it make sense for them to get back on the phones. A month ago, it was a different scenario for them. They're the club that we're all envious of."
Melvin wouldn't tip his hand on internal discussions with Lee, who is drawing interest on the trade market because he is a power right-handed bat in his free agent year. Talks are ongoing between the Brewers and Lee's agent, Adam Katz, regarding a contract extension, but there reportedly remains a significant gap to bridge. The Brewers have made a four-year offer; Lee's agent is seeking five.
"We'll just evaluate it each day by the phone calls we get and what's available," said Melvin, who has watched the Brewers lose all four of their series since the All-Star break. "There's not much available out there when you're talking about difference-makers, but the injuries come into play now. It's disappointing that we get Tomo Ohka and Ben [Sheets] back but then we lose three-fourths of our infield. We'll make a decision soon.
"It's like the stock market. It goes up and down every day."