Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball coach Greg Gard beamed with satisfaction as he left the court at American Family Field following the Brew City Battle on Friday night. No doubt pleased that his team had captured a 60-50 win over Stanford in a hard-fought contest, Gard also basked in a moment that finally came to fruition after 15 years.
“It’s a huge kickoff to the college basketball, which is what we wanted, a spotlight on our game,” Gard said. “It’s great for the state of Wisconsin and basketball within the state.”
Nearly 18,000 fans filled seats for the first basketball event ever held in the Milwaukee Brewers baseball stadium. After a series of stops and starts over the years and slower than expected initial ticket sales, hoops fans eventually embraced the event and showed up in droves.
When the Badgers men’s team took the court for the nighttime matchup with Pac-12 Conference member Stanford, the crowd roared its approval. The school’s band played from seats along the first-base line and cheers echoed from multiple levels of the spacious ballpark.
Bucky Badger was in the house, of course, along with American Family Field mainstays Bernie Brewer and the Famous Racing Sausages. Fans also rose in unison for the playing of House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” a spirited Badgers sports tradition.
The atmosphere had Gard seriously contemplating about making the Brew City Battle a semi-regular affair, perhaps every two to three years, while using this year’s event as a template.
“I’m sure we will discuss it in depth,” Gard said after the game. “It went off as well as we could have ever expected.”
The environment had the feel of a NCAA Final Four, Gard said, adding that fans approached him as he was leaving the court to voice their appreciation.
“They were so excited to be able to be part of this event,” he said.
The players also expressed appreciation for the opportunity to be involved in the unique event. The Brew City Battle marked the first time in nearly seven years since a college basketball game was last staged in a baseball-only park. That event, called the “Bill Walton Basketball Festival,” was a multi-day affair that culminated with a featured matchup between San Diego State and the University of San Diego at open-air Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.
“It was great to look up in the stands and see three or four levels filled with red,” said senior forward Tyler Wahl, who led the Badgers with 17 points.
Stanford coach Jerod Haase said the event provided his players with an experience they won’t soon forget.
“The atmosphere, the layout, the entire event was really special for our guys,” Haase said.
The event also featured a matchup of the Badgers women’s team against Kansas State. Although only a sparse crowd was on hand for the mid-afternoon showdown, the teams nonetheless found the atmosphere special.
“It was better than I expected,” Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie said. “The promoters of this event did a great job with our team. We were excited to play in it and we’d do it again. It was a really good event.”
However, Mittie would have liked to have had a later tip-off time for the women’s game.
“I don’t like that 3:30 start. That would be my biggest complaint,” he said. “It’s hard to get a good crowd.”
Nonetheless, the overall experience was memorable, Mittie added.
“For me, I was excited,” he said. “I love unique games like this, partly because it’s a big deal. It has an NCAA tournament feel to it. That is important for our players to experience.”
Wisconsin women’s basketball coach Marisa Moseley also likened the Brew City Battle to an NCAA basketball tournament event.
“For our kids, what we are trying to establish here for our program in the future is that we want to be able to compete in Final Fours and win national championships,” Moseley said. “If we get opportunities to get what that feels like, it’s really a priceless opportunity for them.”
Senior guard Julie Pospisilova basked in the moment, despite the team’s loss.
“It was really cool just to play on the baseball field in our home state,” she said.