Confessions of a racing sausage
When I was 18, I made SportsCenter. Well, at least half of me did. My legs, to be exact.
I was racing as the Bratwurst in the sixth inning Klements sausage race, and as we passed the visitor's dugout, Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue trotted out in front of our flock of fleet frankfurters. We narrowly ducked and dodged each other; he went behind the plate, and I went on to finish in a distant second place to the Chorizo. Later in the night, I found my scrawny legs on SportsCenter's Not Top 10, my own secret pride (or shame, depending on how you look at it).
See, for three years, starting in high school and ending my sophomore year of college, I was a proud member of the Milwaukee Brewers Brew Crew. The job mostly entails doing odd jobs of various levels of boredom around the stadium. But the main draw of the gig – other than getting essentially paid to go to games – was, every so often, getting to compete in the sixth inning Klements sausage race.
It's the ultimate fun factoid to bust out during icebreakers, and it always results in a pile of questions from Brewers fans (or merely fans of racing meat products). So before the first race of 2014 kicks off, it only seems fitting to share how the sausage (race) is made.
No, the races aren't rigged
This is always the first question. The races are never – I repeat, NEVER – rigged, not by the Brew Crew bosses nor the racers themselves. It is pure competition. The people in the costumes are always busting their buns. If one race was caught to be rigged, it'd put one of the Brewers' greatest pastimes at risk. That, and well, we all want to win (full disclosure: I never did).
The closest the races come to fixed is on Sundays, when the employees try to keep things even so the Little Weenies get to have a fun, competitive race when it gets to be their turn. However, we still had no idea who would win.
This also means that bribes – no matter if you're a fan, an ump or player – won't help your cause. One time, while we were waiting behind the left field gate in our costumes, a (likely) drunk fan leaning over the outfield bleachers tossed a $20 bill to one of us racers and told us he had chosen that racer for the win with his friends.
That sausage ended the race $20 richer … and in fourth place. So yeah, the only thing that decides the races is athleticism. Also: If you cheat – say jump the gun, cut a corner, push and shove, etc. – the fans hate you, the fellow racers hate you and the bosses hate you. So you certainly don't do that.
Running in the costumes is not fun
Ironically enough, the racing sausage costumes are not particularly great for racing in. After all, you're essentially running in a quite top-heavy tube with not exactly premium ventilation, occasionally on 80 or 90-degree days. There's a somewhat transparent screen so you can see, but that's about it. For about one minute, you're frying in your own hot, sweaty air (though the suits were kept well cleaned inside, so the smell in general wasn't as bad as expected).
When you first start running, you want to use your arms, but when you do that, the costume – supported and weighed on your shoulders – shifts and rattles. Mix that with finding your balance between the top-heavy tube and your shoes likely slipping on the dirt, and it's an uneasy mix. The second strategy is to grab the bottom edge of the suit and use pure leg power, but that just feels unnatural and even more top-heavy.
So basically there's no good way to race in the suit. You just have to be fast, or hope your fellow racers are slow.
Chorizo, speed-wise, is the worst
The only thing worse than trying to sprint in an already unbalanced tube is trying to sprint in an unbalanced tube with a foam sombrero. While the other sausage costumes are fairly streamlined, the Chorizo has that massive hat to deal with. On most occasions, we'd put the most experienced or fastest racer in the Chorizo outfit in the hopes of balancing things out.
The only thing more annoying than racing with that hat was trying to get through doors with it. All of the sausage costumes are taller than the doors throughout Miller Park, so getting in and out is already a hassle of awkwardly leaning forward and hoping you're low enough to get through without banging the top of the door. Add a big sombrero to that, and the process just gets worse.
So actually, we can change that subhead to "Chorizo is just the worst in general."
You never know when the day is your day
You find out your jobs for each shift whenever you arrive at the Brew Crew meeting room located under the field. Some days, you get to race. Other days, you're exclusively in the Kids Zone, monitoring kiddie slides and sausage statues.
You aren't you anymore
Sometimes, you're a sausage, but you aren't racing. Early on, you might be scheduled to don the costume and trot around the park, greeting fans, taking photos and signing autographs. And all three of those things are slightly more awkward than they sound.
When it comes to greeting fans and taking photos, you are not allowed to talk. Not at all. As a result, you master a whole Webster-Merriam dictionary's worth of communication exclusively done through thumbs ups, high fives and other silent gestures. And if your sausage lost the previous day, well, may God help you.
On my first day, I was scheduled to walk around the stadium in the Chorizo outfit. He must've lost recently because when I emerged – very slowly because that stupid sombrero had to get through the stupid door – I was greeted by a man calling me a derogatory slur for a Mexican for losing previously. And of course, you can't respond with "That wasn't me!" or "Why are you so angry?," so you respond with the only thing you have: a shrug and a thumbs up.
That same day, I was asked for my first autograph from a young fan, which seems all well and good until you've realized that you've started writing "Matt Mueller" in cursive instead of "Chorizo" or something remotely like "Chorizo." And unfortunately, no amount of thumbs ups could repair his lost childhood innocence.
It's still a rush
It may be hot in the sausage suits and awkward to shuffle around in them, much less run in a dead sprint in tennis shoes on dirt with thousands watching.
But it's still a rush.
It's pretty awesome to be celebrated and beloved everywhere you walk (minus a few exceptions) by Brewers fans and fans from out of town. I'm in tons of people's happy photos and a part of people's fond, unique memories of Miller Park and the Milwaukee Brewers. They'll never know it, but I will.
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