Milwaukee fans bask in playoff glow

Milwaukee fans bask in playoff glow

MILWAUKEE -- Most fans hadn't yet looked up from their beers and brats and portable radios when one couple, wearing matching blue and gold, paused on their way into the main gate of Miller Park. They were not alone. A spattering of fans stood still nearby, snapping photos of the scene and the 7-year-old stadium as they've never seen it before. Miller Park, site of the playoffs. Imagine that.

"For sure, a real long time coming," said Jason Wisniewski, 30, of Hartland, Wis. "I've been waiting my whole life for this."

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For those raised on either version of Brewers blue, this was indeed no ordinary Saturday. Fans swarmed the stadium parking lots hours prior to Game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Brewers and Phillies, tossing around footballs and beanbags and whatever positive sentiments they could muster. They weren't about to let a two-game series hole spoil this, the first playoff game in Milwaukee in 26 years.

"I'm really just happy for the city," said Matt Tooke, 31, of Oshkosh, Wis. "Our fans deserve it."

Tooke, in attendance with his older brother Adam, has also been waiting for this his "entire life" -- ever since watching the Brewers lose the 1982 World Series to the Cardinals. And so he and his brother lounged outside Miller Park hours before the gates opened Saturday, recalling how their father taught them how to keep track of baseball standings during the 1982 season.

That Brewers team, in a possible inspiration to this one, won the final three games of the best-of-five American League Championship Series, climbing out of an 0-2 hole to clinch the pennant.

"We've got two games at Miller Park, and we've got CC Sabathia in Game 5," Tooke said, snapping back to the present day. Just then, he looked up to see a fan, dressed in a suit of armor made entirely from empty beer cartons, march past.

"And we've got people like that," he said.

Such atmosphere diffused throughout the acres surrounding Miller Park, where thousands of fans parked their cars in neat rows and their beach chairs in scattered bunches. Many wore classic Brewers gear -- the type the team wore back in 1982. A plane flew overhead trailing the letters: "GO BREWERS!!" Take a stroll down any given aisle, and the sound of country music from one car would clash with sports talk radio from another.

And fans streamed past all the while, crowding the stadium well before first pitch. Mike Fehl, 29, flew from Houston back to his home state of Wisconsin in order to take part in the festivities and insisted that it was worth the trip.

"I've been to playoff games in Houston and Minneapolis and some other cities, and people are more excited here," Fehl said. "That's for sure."

And that makes sense, considering the wait. The Brewers haven't been to the playoffs since their World Series loss in 1982, despite at times appearing more than capable. Last year, for example, they jumped out to a sizeable lead in the NL Central before falling back into mediocrity throughout the summer months. And this year they appeared ready to do the same, before a furious charge during the season's final week.

The Tooke brothers recalled watching last Sunday's regular-season finale, ditching their regular routine for a chance to see the Brewers make the playoffs.

"It was the first Packer game I missed in a number of years," Adam Tooke said, with a fair bit of pride in his voice.

"This does feel like the culmination of 26 years of waiting," his younger brother chimed in. "Everything seems to be working out how it should. Regardless of how it goes today, this is going to be a wonderful event."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.