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Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010

Ballyard Brainstorms Are Springing to Mind

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Winter, schminter. For fans of the Milwaukee Brewers, spring has sprung. The magic words: "Pitchers and catchers report Saturday" to training camp in Arizona. Accordingly, the Observers take a few practice swings.

Artie: Six weeks and change until the season opens at home against Colorado, launching the Brew Crew's march back to the playoffs!

Frank: Well, it's six weeks until our baseball preview, when we'll announce whether that's a realistic hope.

Artie: In the meantime, I'm announcing our first annual John Jaha Memorial Poll.

Frank: Our what?

Artie: We all remember Mr. Jaha, ain'a? The slugging first baseman in the ’90s who could never stay on the field at County Stadium because of injuries? In this poll I'm inviting fans to guess the date when Rickie Weeks suffers his latest season-ending injury.

Frank: Weeks' health, of course, is a key question for the Brewers. And we'll get to it in our preview on April 1. But I've been making my own preparations for the season.

Artie: Such as?

Frank: As the holder of a 20-game ticket plan, I seized the opportunity to buy single-game tickets online ahead of the general public. But this time I'm not jinxing the team.

Artie: Explanation, please.

Frank: Last February I was so excited about the final week of ’09 home games against the Cubs and Phillies that I dropped a bundle on them. And when the games arrived the Brewers were well out of the playoff race.

Artie: So this year...

Frank: I held off on the last two home series, this time against Cincinnati and Florida. Which means the games will be super-meaningful.

Artie: Good for the Brewers. And you'll have more money to spend on the playoffs.

Frank: My other off-season activity was telling the Brewers how to improve the ballpark experience.

Artie: You sent a crank letter?

Frank: Hardly! The Brewers make sure to call season-ticket folks to ask if we have suggestions. I had a nice chat with my ticket agent, Kara, and learned that one of my concerns already was on the team's agenda.

Artie: Which was?

Frank: The driveway leading up to the main Miller Park entrance, which is filled before and after games with those vans and minibus shuttles from taverns. I'm not trying to be dramatic, but there's a tragedy in the making there.

Artie: How so?

Frank: The shuttles are constantly going in and out while fans are streaming into and out of the ballpark, and there hasn't been much traffic control. Sometime last season a sign appeared saying the speed limit is 15 miles an hour, but I often saw the shuttles going much faster. Meanwhile, before the game fans cross the driveway to see Helfaer Field or chase a ball they've been tossing. And after the game folks heading toward the "Giants" parking lot north of the freeway cross the shuttles' exit lanes.

Artie: And no one's directing traffic?

Frank: No police officers at the pickup point, anyway; they're at the head of the driveway supervising the intersection of pedestrians and two roadways. Late in the season I saw some folks in special outfits in the shuttle lot, but it didn't seem like they were doing much. I told Kara I was worried there'd be a serious accident.

Artie: I know we had to be pretty alert in that area after some games.

Frank: Kara said team officials were discussing the matter, too. And last month the Brewers announced a $300 yearly fee for each shuttle to help pay for more safety staff in that area.

Artie: From your lips to Mark Attanasio's ears!

Frank: I'm guessing it wasn't just my squawking, but it was nice to be consulted.

Artie: What else did you suggest? Lower beer prices?

Frank: I wasn't dealing in fantasy. Although this idea comes close: EASE UP ON THE LOUD MUSIC!

Artie: Amen to that, but if it ain't happened yet, it won't.

Frank: But I'd settle for this: How about a break from the five-to-seven seconds of "Smoke on the Water" or the "Brady Bunch" theme or "Ice Ice Baby" between pitches?

Artie: Geez, they must be the only times anyone hears the lush lyrics of Vanilla Ice anymore.

Frank: But whatever song it is, we only hear a few seconds. Whoever the Brewers' vice president for music is, he must like to push the button just because he can.

Artie: Hey, remember that Sunday game where we noticed that for about a half-inning that between-pitch music wasn't there?

Frank: I remember we enjoyed the fact that we could converse in peace.

Artie: Just like fans did for about a hundred years without baseball falling apart.

Frank: Oh well, here's another of my ideas: Add a couple of spots at the loge level near the foul poles where the balls, strikes and outs are displayed.

Artie: Where's that stuff shown now?

Frank: On the main scoreboard and above the press box, which is fine for most vantage points in the stadium. But in the last few rows of the loge, in certain places neither one of those spots is visible.

Artie: Didn't they used to have the count and outs out near the foul poles?

Frank: Yup, but since that long LED advertising strip appeared, they got lost. Now those foul-pole spots show only the line score, pitch counts and pitch speeds. Why not cut a few feet off the LED to make sure all the fans know the count and outs?

Artie: Mighty reasonable, I'd say. More information, fewer Miller Lite logos.

A Detour From Excitement

Frank: Six weeks until Opening Day—or about as long as it took to run the Daytona 500.

Artie: Which felt like the Daytona 5,000 by the time the checkered flag dropped. For all the jazz about changes in the cars and the return of bad-ass racing, NASCAR couldn't keep the track in one piece at its premier event. Really bad!

Frank: And you're the gearhead here. I only tuned in when I thought it might be ending, but everyone was standing around while NASCAR was filling the pothole. And it happened twice!

Artie: But to hear the TV announcers, everything was just super-duper, top-of-the-line thrilling. Talk about shills!

Frank: I didn't hear much of it, but there wasn't a single hint that this might not be the best advertisement for NASCAR.

Artie: It's like Mussolini's Italy or something; the France family owns the system and the tracks and has everyone under its thumb, so they have to spout the party line. And the party line includes ALWAYS naming your sponsor. It's not enough to say, "My car is runnin' good." It's gotta be "the Pepsi Delco Viagra Kitty Litter Chevy..."

Frank: This sure didn't make me want to tune in for the next event. Yeah, when Jamie McMurray prevailed in that two-lap final sprint, it was darn exciting. Let me know when those five-minute bursts are gonna happen and yeah, I'll watch. But it seems like there's a whole lot of nothing between the flashes.

Artie: And remember, Daytona is NASCAR's Super Bowl, even though it starts the season. This was like Al Qaeda became a bunch of pranksters, snuck into the Super Bowl and stole all the footballs, so you can't play the game.

Frank: They couldn't even get the final green-white-checkered flag sprint done in one try; of course there was another crash and yellow flag.

Artie: It's a NASCAR cliche—"Restarts beget restarts."

Frank: Maybe it's just me, but isn't it self-defeating to make changes to create more take-no-prisoners racing if that just produces more of the boring caution periods? And why do they need 43 freakin' cars in every race? Open up the track a bit and maybe there'd be more actual racing.

Artie: But first of all, have a road that doesn't crumble. Cripes, they might as well have been racing on Oklahoma Avenue!