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Sveum's Easter Sunday shot legendary

Sveum's Easter Sunday shot the stuff of legend

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Brewers bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel could hardly contain his excitement while shagging balls one day during Spring Training in 1996.

A young Double-A catcher with the Pirates organization at the time, Hanel realized to his delight that he was taking part in drills on the same infield as former Brewers shortstop Dale Sveum.

Hanel grew up a huge Brewers fan in Racine, Wis., and his mind instantly flashed back to his favorite Brewers memory growing up -- Sveum's Easter Sunday home run in 1987.

"The first thing I said was, 'Hey, I remember that home run you hit!'" Hanel said. "He didn't want to make a big deal about it, but I think he saw how excited I was, and I told him, too. So that was pretty cool."

As Major League Baseball crowned a new home run king this week, the memories of other memorable home runs came to mind for baseball fans. For many Brewers fans, the most memorable home run in club history came from Sveum. His Easter Sunday heroics have become almost legendary over the years.

Sveum, now Milwaukee's bench coach, blasted the franchise's most celebrated home run on April 19, 1987 -- a walk-off shot to help the Brewers storm back from a ninth-inning deficit to beat the Rangers, 6-4, at County Stadium.

More importantly, the victory pushed Milwaukee's record to 12-0, and the club went on to tie a Major League record by winning its first 13 games of the year. The 1987 Brewers earned their "Team Streak" nickname for a wild and wacky season, and nothing symbolized it better than the Easter Sunday comeback.

"Obviously, it was a special home run in this city," Sveum said. "When I step foot in Milwaukee, it's always, 'Yeah, Easter Sunday home run!' It's an honor to always be associated with that day."

For much of the game, it seemed like Milwaukee's streak was going to come to an end. Rangers starter Jose Guzman handcuffed the Brewers offense for seven innings, allowing just a Rob Deer solo home run in the fifth.

Reliever Mitch Williams blanked the Brewers in the eighth inning, and they entered the bottom of the ninth trailing, 4-1.

"It was just one of them days, where it's like, 'Ah, it's over,'" Sveum said. "[Guzman] had his slider that day, and we really didn't hit many balls hard off him or anything."

Sensing the same thing, the 29,357 raucous fans in the stands rose to their feet and roared in appreciation for the first 11 wins. Waiting in the dugout for the inning to begin, the Brewers got goose bumps just listening to the cheers.

"Hearing that noise, it was like a playoff game," said Jim Gantner, Milwaukee's second baseman that day. "It was incredible. That really pumped us all up, and we just took over from there."

The Brewers began their rally with a leadoff walk and a single. With one out, Texas manager Bobby Valentine called on reliever Greg Harris to face Deer. The big slugger swung and missed Harris' first pitch, a curveball, by "about eight feet," Sveum said.

But when Harris offered him another curveball on the next pitch, Deer made no mistake, smashing it into the left-field bleachers. That only tied the game, 4-4, but Milwaukee might as well have won it.

"Once we tied it up, we thought we were going to win for sure," Gantner said.

Harris got the second out by striking out rookie B.J. Surhoff, but then he walked Gantner on a full-count pitch to bring up the switch-hitting Sveum.

Sveum no longer remembers the entire at-bat, but he'll never forget what happened after he worked the count full on Harris. The reliever tried to catch him with a cut fastball on the outside half of the plate, but it strayed back over the middle of the plate, waist-high.

Sveum jumped on the ball, belting it into the right-field stands. The game was over; the Brewers had won their 12th straight.

But the celebrations had just begun. The crowd kept roaring for minutes after that, drawing Sveum out of the clubhouse for two curtain calls, and then a third one with Deer.

"It was one of those games where nobody really wanted to leave," said Brewers infielder Craig Counsell, a Wisconsin native who stood in the stands that day as a 16-year-old. "If you were there, you'd remember it."

Hall of Fame radio broadcaster Bob Uecker sure remembers that day. He remembers yelling into his microphone that the Brewers had done it again, another win in an incredible streak. He remembers the fans "going wacko."

Uecker has called the game his favorite broadcasting moment and one of the best games in Brewers franchise history.

"I can recall it like it was yesterday," Uecker said. "Once something like that is over, you just sit there and go, 'Wow, man, that was pretty good.'"

Over the years, Sveum's home run has taken on a life of its own. Brewers catcher Damian Miller, who grew up in western Wisconsin as a big Brewers fan, said his father and brothers still talk about listening to Uecker go crazy on the radio that Easter Sunday.

Hanel's parents had migrated to the United States from Germany in the 1950s. They remained huge soccer fans after settling down in Wisconsin, never understanding the fuss about baseball -- until the 13-game winning streak and, especially, seeing 15-year-old Hanel yell and run about the house after the Easter Sunday home run.

"That home run kind of changed the way they thought about baseball," Hanel said. "That's something that certainly got them thinking -- this is exciting."

To this day, Gantner and Sveum still meet fans who can't wait to talk about Easter Sunday. In fact, Gantner said fans have memorized so many details about that game that he learns something new every time they mention it.

As with all legendary tales, though, not all the facts get passed along correctly.

"It seems like there's 100,000 people who've told me over the years, 'Yeah, I was at that game,'" Sveum said. "'I was out there in 1997.' 'Nah, it was '87.' 'Yeah, you hit the home run in June.' I'm like, 'Nah, it wasn't June. It was Easter Sunday.'"

But Sveum doesn't mind getting reminded about that day. He has won two World Series, one as a player with the Yankees in 1998 and another as the Red Sox's third-base coach in 2004, but the Easter Sunday homer still provides him with his fondest individual memories.

"Individually, that home run will always be the highlight of my career," Sveum said. "It was definitely the closest thing to the celebration of winning a playoff game, or to hit a home run in the World Series."

Kelvin Ang is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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