Ballpark Breakdown: American Family Field
By Brendon McGirr
American Family Park (Formerly Miller Park)
Opening Date: 2001
Visiting Date: Pirates 8, Brewers 6 (July 2022)
My photo from American Family Field
American Family Park’s history has been dotted with controversy, starting all the way back from its initial plans back in 1996. One of the largest construction projects in Wisconsin history, the stadium was funded by a public tax that started in 1996 and just ended in 2020. Many people protested this tax for a privately owned sports team, with several politicians losing re-election after the decision was made. The Brewers were set to move into Miller Park in 2000, but a construction accident that killed 3 workers occured on July 14th, 1999, delaying the opening until 2001. A statue was dedicated to the workers and now sits just outside the home plate entrance.
The Los Angeles based NBBJ construction was tasked with building the stadium. In order to weather the harsh springs and falls that can come to a city on a Great Lake, a fan-like retractable roof was made a priority of the stadium, leading to a large chunk of the $392 million price tag. The roof works with fans sweeping simultaneously from 1st and 3rd, shielding the stadium from inclement weather as well as keeping the stadium 30 F warmer than the outside temperatures. Turf and home plate were brought in from County Stadium.
On April 6th, 2001, President George W. Bush and former Brewers owner Bud Selig threw out the first pitch for then named Miller Park, where Richie Sexton would hit the go ahead home run in the bottom of the 8th to give the Brewers a 5-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
Miller Park was given hosting privileges for the 2002 All Star game. While the game should be remembered for Torii Hunter’s fantastic catch to rob Barry Bonds, it would go down in the history books as the first All Star game to end in a tie. Some highlights of the game here.
In 2020, the naming rights to the stadium expired, and Miller Park became American Family Park. In my experience, I did not find one fan that actually called it by that name, and Miller Park is still the name used by the locals.
Surrounding Area/Getting to the Stadium
I am combining these sections for this breakdown because they really are one and the same.
While American Family Park took many tips from the retro-modern trend of the 90s, it did not follow the downtown ballpark approach of other stadiums of the area. The stadium is about a 15 minute drive from downtown proper. While this seems like a detriment, Milwaukee has turned this into a positive in two different ways. For one, over 20 bars and restaurants in Milwaukee run shuttles starting 2 hours before first pitch and ending 30 minutes after the final out. These shuttles are free with the purchase of food or drinks at the establishment. We ended up going to the Milwaukee Brat House for an early lunch and drinks before heading on their shuttle. Despite only 6 people at the time, the shuttle had a lot of energy, and the driver had Red Light trivia ready for every stop to keep the riders engaged.
Several people mentioned that Brewers fans like to tailgate before games, and I took it to be like my previous experiences at games with tailgating. As you can see here, it is quite different. We passed 3 full parking lots full of cars, grills, and yards games on our shuttle going into the stadium. It reminded me more of a football game than a baseball game, and we could feel the energy as we got off. So while farther away from downtown than other parks, the Milwaukee community has promoted this into a great community building center for Brewers fans and visitors alike.
In the Stadium
Inside the stadium, the first thing you will notice is the open concourse that goes from foul pole to foul pole. At every opening you will see a string of tabletops to lean on and watch the game. Despite our great seats, we took in the last few innings from the opening behind home plate, and the view below was probably the best we had on the day.
There are a few things that make American Family Ballpark unique. Perhaps the most iconic is Bernie’s Slide in the upper deck of left field. Throughout the game, you can see Bernie Brewer in Chalet overlooking the stadium, and when a Brewer hits a home run, he will enthusiastically go down the slide in celebration. Fans can also experience the slide by reserving spots before game day, but be warned it is pricey (we were quoted $175/person on weekend games).
The other great thing to see inside the stadium is the Sausage Race. Prior to the 7th inning, Bratwurst, Hotdog, Chorizo, Italian Sausage and Polish Sausage spring around the track to see which weiner will be the winner. We saw the Italian Sausage take the race on our visit. There are also several statues around the stadium to take pictures with the brats.
The final highlight to point out is the Bob Uecker statue and seats in section 422. These seats are obstructed view due to the pillars holding up the roof, and such can be had for only $1. At the very top of the section is a bench with iconic Brewers (and Indians in the Major League) announcer Bob Uecker you can sit with and see (most) of the field.
There are some view obstructions with the speaker system, but getting this close to the action was a nice treat.
Food of Choice
Obviously, Wisconsin is known for its cheese and their brats, and you will find these in spades at American Family Field. If you missed out on the tailgating, you can pick up one of the three signature sausage sandwiches offered at the stadium. The Chorizo breakfast sandwich, Tipsy Polish Sandwich, and the Ultimate Bratwurst can be found in the Johnsonville stands throughout the stadium. We split an Ultimate Bratwurst, and while fine, it is definitely not the best brat I had in the city. That would go to the Greek Freak Gyro Brat at the Brat House downtown (inspired by NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo). And while we did not get a chance to try, there were several different stands that offered iconic cheese curds in the stadium, which are a must try when visiting Wisconsin.
I didn’t really know what to expect going into American Family Ballpark. It was my first time going to a retractable stadium, and my previous experiences with domes have been subpar. However, the thing that really stood out to me was the energy in the stadium. While this could be due to the Brewers being in 1st place, the stadium was loud and the fans were engaged the entire game, despite a fairly poor performance by the home team that day. I also want to point out that every fan and staff member we interacted with was super friendly and happy to hear we were visiting. Every person we talked to asked how our experience was and gave suggestions to food, drinks, and activities to do during our time there. The atmosphere, paired with a stadium with fantastic view lines throughout, led to a great experience, and really highlights the community the Brewers fandom has built. Whatever you want to call this park, know that it'll be rocking when you visit.