Perhaps no story epitomizes what Opening Day means to so
many people better than Lou Mongtomery’s.
The 91-year-old has spent more than a quarter-century working
for the Brewers, and he’s a familiar sight for media members. He’s a fixture in
the press box, guarding doors and such, but as I’ve mentioned before, I think
his most important job is reminding us whippersnappers of baseball’s
One of my favorite aspects of Opening Day is catching up
with the people you see at the ballpark, and at the top of that list is Lou.
Turns out he had a bit of a rough offseason, mainly because he had open-heart
surgery. Part of the ordeal included rehabilitation sessions afterward, and he
dutifully attended more than 30 of them, but skipped out on the last few.
Seems there was this vacation he simply could not miss. “Down
to spring training,” he said.
So yeah, Lou’s doing just fine now. Better than fine,
Because the season’s started, and he’s part of it again.
Mark Attanasio and his father, Joe, were milling around the Brewers locker room after the win.
Well, make that two wins. The Brewers' 5-4, 10-inning triumph over Colorado, and Joe Attanasio's effort with regards to singing the national anthem. Joe heard plenty of compliments on the performance, and Mark wasn't shy about sharing them.
"I think the consensus today was this was the best," Mark said.
Countered Joe: "You want me to sing O Solo Mio now?"
Joe's delivery of the anthem has become a Brewers Opening Day tradition, and the club's had him to step up to the plate for particularly big games, too – playoff efforts and such. Still, he swears it's neither taken for granted nor old hat.
"Because you never know," Joe said after his ninth Opening Day performance. "You don't know."
Turns out those skulls didn't make it into John Axford's video montage by accident.
After the Brewers opener, he noted that he didn't request their placement there, but surmised that "someone obviously follows my skull fetishes of sorts, I guess."
Um... skull fetishes?
"Yeah, I probably own about 25 skull T-shirts," Axford said. "Actually, I'm probably wearing one today. Let me look."
He delved into his locker and checked, found a particular hanger, and held it so that a few reporters could look.
"There you go," Axford said. "Skull t-shirt." Specifically, a white skull set against a black background, likely the work of T-shirt purveyors Wiskullsin.
Lest you be concerned about how just how seriously Axford takes skull appreciation, fear not. "Most of mine deals with T-shirts. I don't go much farther than that," he says. "I don't think I'll carry one around my neck or anything like that."
Ever since he became the team’s closer, Brewers closer John Axford has made quite the impression in Milwaukee. There was the 2011 season, when he saved 46 games. There’s his penchant for interacting with fans through social media. There the facial hair… lots of different facial hair. And it’s all combined to make him something of a fan-favorite.
Don’t expect Monday’s blown save to change that just yet. Sure, he gave up a two-out solo homer to light-hitting Dexter Fowler that tied the game at 4-all. And yes, he’s got some work to do after struggling through last season.
But man, what an entrance montage.
As Axford jogged out to the mound – on his 30th birthday, no less – the song “New Noise” by Refused played over the loudspeakers and the Brewers big screen turned Metallica music video. There was a skull painted like a baseball. There was a battle axe featuring a Canadian maple leaf. There was Axford, superimposed over it all.
It was exactly the kind of cool, energetic (and slightly intimidating) type of thing you want from your closer.
So maybe Dexter Fowler is just a fellow fan of “New Noise.”
It was greeted with all the media attention reserved for a regional crisis.
The kidnappers struck back in February, abducting a hero to Milwaukeeans and barbecue aficionados everywhere. Guido, the Italian Racing Sausage, was abducted from a public appearance, pranced around a Cedarburg bar, and then taken underground.
Who could do such a thing? What would become of the Sausage? And, more importantly, what about the children?
But the kidnappers, either feeling the heat or searching their hearts, returned the Italian. They even sent a note of apology, as well as a few pictures, to USA Today. In the end, Guido was all good.
Just not quite in game shape.
Because in the season’s first Sausage Race, he finished last.
Hey, these recoveries take time.
Yovani Gallardo will be the ace of this Brewers pitching staff, but his ace stuff wasn’t there today.
Gallardo labored through his five innings of work, throwing 96 pitches in the process. Colorado got to him for 10 hits, two of which were home runs. He only walked one batter, but he also didn’t deliver a single clean inning. In the end, he and the Brewers were fortunate that it all resulted in only three Rockies runs.
He’ll have better days. And frankly, the Brewers will need them. They have enough question marks on the pitching staff.
A calling card of the Brewers’ offense during the Doug Melvin era has been its penchant for power hitters. Once there was Carlos Lee and Prince Fielder. Now you’ve got Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez. Even guys like Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez bring a fair share of pop.
In fact, one of the few offensive players on the roster who doesn’t count on power for his production is speedy outfielder Norichika Aoki.
So of course, the first Brewers home run of the season comes courtesy of Norichika Aoki.
His solo drive over the right-field fence also gave Milwaukee its first run of 2013. And he looked pretty good on the home run trot, too.
The player introductions. A stirring National Anthem from Joseph Attanasio, son of Brewers owner, Mark Attanasio. The ceremonial first pitch. Players jogging onto the field. A video board montage. Late-arriving tailgaters. It all led up to this.
At 1:10 p.m., Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo went into his windup, delivered the white sphere plateward, and Colorado’s Dexter Fowler watched it go by for ball 1.
Brewers baseball was back. Farewell, winter. It’s been real.
The national pundits don’t expect great things from this edition of the Brew Crew. Too many pitching questions, they say, from the revamped starting rotation to the rebuilt bullpen. Some think they’ll challenge for a wildcard berth. Almost nobody believes they’ll challenge N.L. Central favorite Cincinnati for the division title.
Not that playoff berths have ever been decided by preseason predictions.
Milwaukee still returns almost every piece of an offense that led National League in runs last season. Even with Corey Hart missing the first month of the season with a knee injury, scoring should be the least of this team’s worries. It’s not hard to imagine the offense, anchored by Ryan Braun, carrying the load while the pitching rounds into shape.
Moreover, if this team gives any hints of contending for a playoff spot through the first half, expect the Brewers to be buyers at the trade deadline. There’s a reason the club committed a three-year, $33 million contract to Kyle Lohse. The Brewers believe they’re still in the midst of a competitive window, and they’ll do whatever they can to take advantage. General Manager Doug Melvin and owner Mark Attanasio have not been shy about making bold, unexpected moves. No reason to expect they’d change that philosophy now.
But for now, leave the future talk for the future. The game’s underway. The first inning ended scoreless. Most of the tailgaters even made it in from the parking lot.
Greetings spring. Welcome back.
Just outside of Miller Park’s home plate gate, they’d left the tailgating behind and were lined up out to the parking lot, all bundled up against temperatures that would freeze water, and not minding one bit.
Inside of the gate, the turnstiles awaited. Beyond them, white rally towels emblazoned with a blue Brewers logo and magnetic schedules to track the club’s 2013 escapades, all free for the taking. Beyond them, eight Brewers Diamond Dancers, four on each side of the wide entrance concourse, poms fluttering in celebration. Beyond them, concession stands, gates rolled up and ready to feed the masses.
And beyond them, the ballpark.
When the gates finally opened just past 11 a.m., Milwaukee Brewers players were already on the field taking batting practice. As fans started trickling into the park, a few particularly anxious ones rushed down to either dugout, pressing as close to the field as possible. They wanted a better view, sure, but a better chance of gaining an autograph to go with their souvenir towel and schedule. Out in left field, some fans had gathered on the walkway above the Brewers bullpen, and they cheered balls that flew over the fence.
First pitch wouldn’t arrive until 1:10 p.m. But first looks were already in the books.
Image via Shutterstock.