I was born May 25, 1986, four years after the Milwaukee Brewers had come within a game of winning a World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The 80’s were good to the Crew, with a playoff appearance in 1981, an Americal League Pennant in 1982, and “Team Streak” in 1987. For the decade, the franchise went 804-760, a .514 winning percentage. Those are pretty good numbers for a franchise with an all-time winning percentage of just .474.
But growing up, I was raised a Brewers and Cubs fan (blasphemy in today’s world), but at the time, they played in opposite leagues, there was no interleague play, and they were never going to play each other in the World Series. When interleague play began, it still only gave the two teams a few opportunities to play each other, so I was able to manage. Then came 1998 and the Brewers switched leagues and were now all of the sudden battling the Cubs in the same division.
I still attempted to stay a fan of both teams up until 2005. Through the Crew’s first seven seasons in the National League, they had zero winning seasons, while the Cubs had made a couple of postseason appearances (1998, 2003). Since they were never both good at the same time, it made it somewhat manageable to root for them both. In 2005, the Brewers finally broke their string of losing seasons, posting an 81-81 record. With the improvement of the Brewers, I had a choice to make. Being from Wisconsin, it was an easy pick to go with the Brewers for good and completely abandon the Cubs.
I’ve seen a 106-loss season, 12-straight losing seasons and 14 without a winning one. Second half collapses and an unusually exciting race to a .500 year. In 2007, I got my first real taste of a playoff chase (I hate it when analysts and others call it a pennant race, because it’s not), but alas a second half collapse left the Brewers two games behind the dreaded Cubs in the division and on the outside looking in. Then came 2008.
2008 is the season I’ll always talk about. Where I watched those games the final week of the season, where I watched the NLDS, the phone calls I made, the feelings I felt. For the rest of my life, I can watch (or listen to Uecker’s call) of Ryan Braun’s 8th-inning home run against the Cubs on the final day of the season. It gives me goosebumps whenever I think about it. The tension when the playoffs started, and how fast those four games went (were they even played?) It seemed like Game 1 began and a few hours later Game 4 was ending. I want those feelings back. I got that taste of playoff fever, and now having to live without it this year is torture.
This year the Brewers had too many questions, too many key injuries, too many holes in their staff and lineup. Losing two staff aces was too much to overcome, and key players like JJ Hardy and Corey Hart took steps back. Rickie Weeks finally began to develop into the player people thought he could be, and then another injury ended his season.
Now it’s September, the Crew is sitting at 75-77 and are eliminated from postseason contention (they were mathematically eliminated Tuesday night), but in all actuality, they’ve been out of the race for a month. I still watched, but sometimes it was too much. Their starting pitching so regularly left the team down five, six, even seven runs down to start games and even with a potent offense they still could not make it a game. I don’t want to become a spoiled fan, because I realize the difficulty the organization has to compete year in and year out. We’re not the Yankees, Red Sox, or Cubs. But that run last year has shown me what life was like in the race, what it felt like to clinch on the final day of the year, and with that missing this year it’s become tough to watch the team play.
I still follow the team, albeit nowhere near as close as last year or earlier in the season. But now I pay more attention to what individual players are doing, not the team. I want Ryan Braun to get 200 hits (185 and counting), I want Prince Fielder to lead the league in RBI’s (currently up by two), and I’m still attending one more game this year (my fifth) and I want to get to hear “Hell’s Bells”. That’s how I’m coping, how I’m trying to fill the hole. It’s a sufficient replacement, something that will get me through, and I’ll never abandon the team, but it hurts watching these final weeks with nothing to look forward to but next year’s Spring Training.