I’ve written a lot lately about the idea of a baseball community. For those unfamiliar, the basic gist is that baseball is bigger than any individual league, player, team, or nation. Baseball is baseball, and the communal aspect of baseball transcends everything else. I fear that in affiliated baseball we are losing that aspect of the game. It’s not as evident in Minor League Baseball where for the most part (team nicknames can be problematic though) teams are still only able to survive based on the identity they cultivate with their given community. In Major League Baseball, well, profit remains king and as a result, the idea of community is threatened.
The threatening of the idea of a baseball community is perhaps most readily apparent in the Milwaukee Brewers ownership deciding to rebrand Miller Park. The rebrand won’t take effect until 2021, but when it does Miller Park will be no more. In its stead will be whatever American Family Insurance decides to propose as the new name. On the surface, this may not seem like such a calamity, but let’s break it down a little.
The Brewers are associated with the brewing of beer that made Milwaukee famous. It’s in their name, but more than that it’s a vital part of their identity. They sing Roll Out the Barrell after Take Me Out to the Ballgame. A regular advertising trope from many companies in the Milwaukee area is some sort of bar worker lugging a barrel on his shoulder. The Brewers have cultivated a good relationship with local bars based on people wanting to drink and ride shuttles to the game. For the fans who drive to the game, the Brewers have made sure to have an area just for tailgating where it‘s a given that plenty of beer is being consumed along with all the food.
On the fan side of things, there’s no denying that Milwaukeeans, and Wisconites in general, love to drink their liquor. I’ve only lived in Milwaukee for a little under a year now, but it is a city that loves its image as one that can throw a few back with the best of them. It’s more than just that stereotype, the cities residents have presented themselves as a hard-working bunch who also know how to relax at the end of the day. That relaxation only comes about because of the hard work while the hard work leads to the relaxation. It’s a neverending cycle that shows how Brewers fans think of themselves, and their home team being tied into a local brewing giant who puts forth the idea that they built their empire on hard work and the need for relaxation is a perfect fit.
The convergence of team and fandom was made manifest in 2011 when Miller Park opened to the public. That one building represented everything the city believed about itself, the relationship the team had formed with its fans, and the importance of the baseball community. Miller Park became synonymous with the Brewers, so much so in fact that there are fans who don’t realize MillerCoors had paid a naming rights fee to get Miller Park all over the building. To a lot of fans, Miller Park is Miller Park simply because that’s what it’s always been and why would it ever be anything different?
In 2021 it will be something different. Whatever American Family and the Brewers work out as the new name won’t matter. People will eventually get used to the name, and whether they realize it or not Miller Park will fade and over time become nothing more than an item for Wednesday night bar trivia. It never had to happen though and is only happening because MLB and the Brewers have decided that profit matters more than community. When Miller Park is gone a large part of what has come to make the Brewers the Brewers will be lost. There’s no way to get that back, a few more dollars in a naming rights fee will drive a wedge between the Brewers and their fans.
I’m not naive enough to think that the Brewers will lose any fans over a name change to their baseball stadium. I am, however, romantic enough to think that things will be different at AmFam Field. Miller Park managed to be that rare instance of a corporate sponsorship that still connected with the heart of a team’s local identity. When that is gone the Brewers will have done damage to the baseball community they worked so hard to build. That’s a shame, it really is a great community that I’ve loved getting to know over the past year.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Visit Milwaukee