As a lifelong Brewers fan, I’d put a conservative estimate on the number of games I’ve attended at both Milwaukee County Stadium and Miller Park in my life at 100.
I figure I’ve been to an average of five games a year for the 20 years I’ve lived in Wisconsin, and over that time I feel like I’ve seen the best and worst of what sets Milwaukee apart from any other baseball city: the tailgate.
This weekend, I (pictured above) will have the honor and the privilege of attending a Brewers-Twins baseball game with some of MSF’s finest, including Amanda Lawson, Drew Lange, Tyler Juranovich, and Kurt Crowley. As the de facto “host” of the trip, I feel the responsibility to show my fellow writers how to kick off a real afternoon of baseball.
The concept of the tailgate is simple: show up, cook food, drink beer, then head into game. That’s not exactly how it works in Wisconsin though.
From my experience, there are five key areas crucial to a baseball tailgate, and if one of these areas is lacking not only your afternoon but the season of the team you are cheering for can fall apart as well.
1) The Set-Up
As you head into the parking lot of the ballpark, you need to position your vehicle strategically so that when you pull into your assigned spot, you will be lined up next to the other vehicles in your party. This allows you to commandeer as much pavement as you are entitled to. If you’re lucky, the car next to you will head in early, giving you an extra car width to tailgate in.
Immediately after parking your car, (or before, if you’re not opposed to the tuck-and-roll) you need to start setting up the tables, chairs, and grill to mark your territory. It’s an unwritten rule that you get the asphalt in front of your vehicle, but it’s always nice to stake that claim as soon as possible. If you are planning on playing tailgate games such as bean bag toss or ladder golf, you will need more space, or risk injury/damage to cars.
Pro tip: If you’re in an especially large group, consider bathroom amenities as well. Not everyone wants to wait in a long line at the porta-potty, and I’ve been to tailgates where a 5-gallon bucket did the trick. Drape tarps over two open car doors, stick the bucket in between the two, and you have yourself a nice little outhouse.
Setting up your tailgate should be done one-handed, as you enjoy a cold refreshing beverage with your other hand.
What you pack to drink can vary greatly. I like to bring a case of beer just to have as “community beer” for those guests over 21, and then some craft beers to enjoy while eating.
For Saturday’s game, I’ll be bringing two Wisconsin specialties: Pearl Street Brewery’s El Hefe, brewed right in the city of La Crosse where I live; as well as Horny Goat Honey Blonde, based right out of Milwaukee. I felt like hitting both “coasts” of Wisconsin would be an appropriate representation of Wisconsin beer.
If you’re planning on doing a real tailgate, liquor is often included too. Whether it’s a 7&7 (my favorite), Jack and Coke, or if you’re pulling out all the stops with bloody marys and all the fixings, you can’t go wrong with a little variety.
Pro tip: In addition to beer and spirits, non-alcoholic drinks are a must. Water is critical on a hot July day, and there is no better feeling than pounding a cold water when you get back to the car after a long game. I normally pick up an extra jug to keep in the cooler during the game and then have enough to cool me down (and help sober me up).
Now to the best part, at least in my opinion.
In Milwaukee, it’s a must that you have some sort of sausage on the grill, whether it be bratwurst, Polish, or Italian sausages.
I’m a burger fan myself too, and one thing I’ve had at tailgates that knocked my socks off is Chorizo and egg burritos. It sounds like a lot of work, but all you need extra is a frying pan and some tortillas. I have grease stains on my Brewers jersey proving how delicious they are.
As for the grill itself, you really can’t go wrong with charcoal or gas. Gas is quicker and takes less clean-up, but if you’re going to do it right, go with charcoal. The extra time it takes to heat up the grill can easily be spent drinking.
Don’t forget tongs for the sausages and a flipper for the burgers. Otherwise you will get burnt. Trust me on that one.
Pro tip: Side dishes are important, but in my mind, can be lived without. I’m never going to turn down a good potato salad or macaroni salad, and it’s nice to have a bag of chips too. But my main focus is the meat. And of course, if you’re tailgating in Milwaukee, you need the Secret Stadium Sauce.
As I mentioned earlier, a tailgate needs some entertainment to pass the time.
There’s certainly something to be said for just relaxing in a chair with a cold beer, but playing one-handed games such as bags/cornhole and ladder golf/testicle toss. I’ve also seen washers, beer pong, flip cup, and just good old fashioned catch.
Pro tip: If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s nothing like busting out the Louisville chugger, sometimes known as the Dizzy bat, and seeing how far you can send that beer can flying.
Clean-up is important before you head into the game because face it, if you don’t clean up, your stuff will get stolen.
Put away all the food, and if for some weird reason you have leftover beer, lock that up too.
The only thing that can be left out is the grill, as there is an unwritten honor code, at least at Miller Park, that if you leave your grill tucked under the trunk of your car to cool, it should be left alone. I’ve been to dozens and dozens of Brewers games and never had a problem with this.
Pro tip: After you’re all packed up, grab a road beer (or three) and enjoy your stroll into the park.
A few more tailgating observations:
- If you forget something, your neighbor will happily trade you the needed item for beer.
- If an errant baseball/bean bag/frisbee/Vortex football lands in your tailgate area, don’t be a dick. You’ve been there before, so just toss it back. And then offer them a beer.
- My mom insists that you wear sunscreen.
- On that note, keep your shirt on. There’s a certain physique associated with Milwaukee. It’s best kept hidden. Feel free to bribe these people with beer to put their shirts back on.
And that’s pretty much it!
The proper tailgate takes some planning but the effort is definitely worthwhile. I know plenty of people who will come to Miller Park just to tailgate and don’t even bother getting tickets. I’m not sure what that says about the play on the field, but the experience definitely comes close to rivaling what goes on underneath that retractable roof.