To say that the Brewers’ Game 7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals hit me 100 times harder than most Brewers fans may seem like hyperbole, but considering what I had to do the morning after has stuck with me forever.
I was 12 and in seventh grade at Eighth Street Middle School in downtown Milwaukee and Brewers Fever had swept through the school thanks to Typhoid Molly, Rockin’ Robin and the infectious play of the Crew. Plenty of us willingly succumbed to the symptoms — staring wide-eyed at Robin’s historic season, shortness of breath as the Brewers rally in the late innings, profuse sweating as the Crew plays a game with the season on the line.
Some of us had been in the throes of it for years, even when the Crew wasn’t rewarding us with good baseball. It started early with a trip to County Stadium for Helmet Day or Ball Day or Cushion Day and continued when Bud Selig brought the all-time home run king, Henry Aaron — “Hammerin’ Hank” — back to Milwaukee. You were crushed when they traded George “the Boomer” Scott to Boston for some guy named Cecil Cooper, but adopted Coop’s batting stance when, as a left-handed batter, you saw how effective it was in reducing the strike zone and how it helped to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand without sacrificing power. You remember your dad picking you up at daycare after school and having him tell you the Brewers scored 11 runs to win their home opener against the Baltimore Orioles. You can’t forget the ’78 and ’79 seasons when the Crew was good enough to give fans hope and the phrase “Wait ‘Til Next Year” some bite. You remember Sixto Lezscano’s grand slam on Opening Day in 1980 and you remember Bambi’s heart attack derailing the season.
You remember the ’81 second-half title — and forgot the strike — because you were there on that gray Saturday in the left field grandstands thanks to Brewers/Pepsi Fan Club tickets you could use at any time during the second half of the season. You remember cheering until you were hoarse and then getting home and watching the news, basking in the beautiful, simple words Bob Uecker used to describe the clincher:
“Rollie’s ready and here he comes one-two. Suh-wing and a miss. Goodbye, Detroit, hello New York!”
And of course, the ’82 season — the hopes, the dreams, the desires — all coming to fruition in Baltimore and against California only to have it come crashing down in St. Louis. Want to know how naive I was? How much of a fan? I believed that in the ninth if the Brewers could load the bases, Roy Howell — Roy Howell — could hit a grand slam to put the Crew ahead 7-6.
That was part of the naivete. The magic had run out. The dream had died. It was no coincidence the line that flashed across the screen when I finally managed to turn off the TV resembled that of flatline on an electrocardiogram. I wept as hard as I ever had.
It didn’t help that I had to wake up in six hours and deliver the Milwaukee Sentinel to nearly 75 customers in the River West neighborhood. There was a picture of a woman at a bar, head down just behind a half-guzzled beer. I don’t remember the headline, but it probably had “loss” or “fall” in it. Every time I pulled a paper out of the bag, I saw that painful image. Every time it plopped on a stoop, it sounded like a slap in the face. It took me and my brother, who was with me that morning, half the route before we realized that we could turn the paper over and deliver it without the constant reminder of the pain of Game 7.
If anything, the parade down Wisconsin Ave. the day after the Game 7 loss was both an enervating and an inspiring show of love for a team that fell short of its ultimate goal. Though at times we became queasy, Brewers fans couldn’t get enough of the thrill ride that was the ’82 season. After Buck Rodgers was fired and Harvey Kuenn turned them loose, we threw our hands in the air and screamed in delight as we went along for a great ride. The parade and the ceremony at County Stadium were just the cars pulling into the station. The journey had been unprecedented. It had been excellent — at the plate, in the field, on the mound, in the stands, by the grills in the Stadium parking lot and in Brewers fans’ hearts.
While it may have looked strange to outsiders to see a city throw a parade for a bunch of losers, that’s not how it felt to us. We had to thank them somehow. They had won us over and Brewers fever had not abated, not even at Eighth Street Middle School. It was a school so small it didn’t have a gym and they had to bus students over to the old Lincoln High Gym on Ogden and Cass.
That Thursday, our bus had to go around the parade route to get to the gym, but we followed our usual route West on Wisconsin Ave. on the way back. Just as the last of the parade was making its way to County Stadium. The crowds had thinned, yet it still must have been strange to see a school bus take up the rear.
But it wasn’t, at least not to us. Time has dulled the memory of who started the chant, but inspired by going down the same route as our heroes, the students on the bus broke out in one loud, constant “Here We Go Brewers, Here We Go” chant until we pulled up in front of the school, where, thankfully, our teachers let us watch Robin Yount ride into the welcome home ceremony on television.
We still had the fever.
We still do.