On game night, Miller Park is filled with recognizable faces.
On the home side, you have Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Ben Sheets and Ryan Braun.
On the visiting side, you have Tony La Russa, Dusty Baker, Ryan Howard, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. And, of course, Mark Simons.
If that name doesn't ring a bell, you probably haven't ventured into Dugout Box 121. Simons, a season ticket holder known to friends and ballpark neighbors as "Guido" and "The Doorman," has held court from Row 4, Seat 10.
Though they might know him by name, thousands of Brewers fans recognize Simons from his "work" on FSN Wisconsin's broadcasts of the games. Simons' seats, adjacent to the visitor's dugout, put his face on screens across the state almost every time a right-handed batter steps into the box. Almost always decked out in a jersey and cap, Simons has become the unofficial "face" of Brewers fans.
Two weeks ago, this OnMilwaukee.com correspondent sat with Simons during a game against Cincinnati and came away with the following observations:
- In addition to being an intelligent, gregarious and engaging guy, Simons is a very savvy baseball fan who lives and dies with his favorite team. He loves going to games so much that he purchased a home within walking distance of the ballpark.
- The view from Simons' seats is amazing. From higher up in the stands (or the press box), the game unfolds at a languid pace. Up close, you get a more realistic feel for the velocity of pitches, the ferocity of swings and the speed of baserunners. You also see more of the interplay between players, managers and umpires.
- Milwaukee doesn't have a lot of celebrities, so it's great that someone like Simons has a high profile. When you think of prominent fans, you think of people like Jack Nicholson and Dyan Cannon at Lakers games and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck at Fenway Park. Because the Bradley Center is one of few arenas that has the announcers and statisticians seated courtside between the benches, the fans aren't prominently displayed on the camera.
- In order to sit in Simons' second seat, which is usually occupied by his lovely wife, Stephanie, you have to be ready for a constant barrage of phone calls and text messages from friends who happen to be watching the game. This reporter received a dozen calls and texts in the first three innings, with comments that ranged from "Nice shirt," "Get off my TV" and "How are the peanuts?" Simons has the kind of visibility that prompted teams to sell rotating banner ads behind home plate and on courtside tables. Guerrilla marketing gurus and product placement experts salivate about that kind of visibility, which could may lead to Simons looking like a NASCAR driver in the near future.
We talked to Simons, who works in Brookfield, about his seats, his celebrity and his passion for the game.
OnMilwaukee.com: How long have you been a season ticket holder? And, with such great seats?
Mark Simons: I've had tickets for a long time. I'm not sure of our first year (late 1980s or early '90s) but we didn't always have a full season. We started off with a 20-game package and had that for quite some time. The year before Miller Park was supposed to open, we went to a full season to get a good seat at Miller Park.
At County Stadium, we had seats that were in the lower grandstand, they were great seats right by where the beer vendors came out from getting cold beer, so we knew who to ask for a cold one!
When we first got to Miller Park, we had seats nine rows back behind the plate, but the next year a number of people bailed, so we moved to these seats. I've had them since 2001. Once I moved to Milwaukee from Madison, I decided to take more games, so one of the guys that I used to share my seats with now has his own seats two away from me.
MS: I usually get asked how can you afford to go to so many games and how can you get off work to do it? Well, I take vacation for the day games, and the night games aren't a problem because I won't have a meeting at night on the days that the Brewers are in town. We save every year to buy these tickets, and frankly if the prices keep going up, we'll have to move back. Or, we could sell some ad space to help us with the cost!
OMC: How long have you been a Brewers fan?
MS: I've been a Brewers fan since the first time my dad took me to a Brewers game, which was in 1973 when the Brewers played the A's.
The A's uniforms were the most striking thing I remember about that day, and so from then on, while I liked the Brewers, I really liked the A's. Of course, since the A's were winning, it was pretty easy.
The Brewers were not very good in the early ‘70s, but Hank Aaron coming to Milwaukee in 1975 was something special. I remember going to the park for all fan giveaways like Bat Day. I wish I wouldn't have used that bat in Little League!
As the A's started to decline, the Brewers started to play well it was easy to move back and forth as a fan. Of course, the 1978 season was something else for Brewers fans because we were no longer the doormat of the league. Bambi's Bombers were just fantastic.
OMC: Was Stephanie a Brewers fan when you met, or did you convert her into one?
MS: When I first met Stephanie, she was a huge White Sox fan that had given up on baseball because of the 1994 strike. Getting her to Miller Park was a big deal, in fact she swore she would never set foot in the park.
Well, the White Sox were playing the Brewers in July 2001, and I had tickets, so we sat at the game. It was July 15, 2001, it was a beautiful sunny Sunday, and as she sat there in the park, eating peanuts and drinking beer she said the words that I'll never forget: "You know there really is nothing better than sitting at a ball game, eating peanuts and drinking a beer." Yeah that was pretty much it for me.
With as many games as I went to, she started to become a Brewers fan, and, frankly, I thank Bud Selig for moving the Brewers to the National League, because had they stayed in the American League, I'm not sure it would have worked out!
We both share an extreme dislike for the Cubs, so that makes baseball even better.
OMC: What's your favorite part of being so close? What do you get to see in those seats that others miss?
MS: The thing I love the most is the interaction that you see between coaches, managers, umpires and players. You get to see the facial expressions on some players when they strike out or when they curse themselves or the umpires on their way back to the dugout.
You can also at times hear what a manager is screaming at an umpire or get an insight into some stupid play that a player did in the field and the reaction of the manager.
That happened (recently) when (Cincinnati outfielder) Jay Bruce threw to second to try to get CC Sabathia instead of throwing it home to get Craig Counsell. (Reds manager) Dusty Baker screamed, "What the hell is he doing out there?"
Of course, since (third base coach at the time) Dale Sveum stopped Counsell from scoring, it was a moot point but that was pretty cool. I also get the reaction and discussion with the umpires from where they come on and off the field. I've developed a lot of great friendships with those guys, and it adds another factor to the seats.
OMC: What's it like being recognized around town? Do you have any funny stories from that?
MS: It is pretty crazy. It happens, frankly, on a daily basis, I usually get a question "Do you go to a lot of Brewers games?" It is strange, because when I had those seats for the first three years, not many people would even notice that I was at the game. The Brewers were so bad that no one was watching the games.
Now, I've met people from Denver, L.A., Nebraska and New York who watch Brewers games, and when they get to Miller Park, they'll come down and say hello and tell me and Stephanie how much they enjoy watching us on TV.
I usually get the comment that I'm the biggest Brewers fan, I always tell them I'm not, there are bigger die-hard fans out there, it is just that they're not on TV when the Brewers are playing.
I guess people can sometimes identify with me because I live and die on every pitch and every game.
As far as meeting people, the best story was when Stephanie and I were in Pittsburgh for the All-Star Game, we were at a MLB party, and a guy came up and said, "Do you live in Milwaukee, because I think I've seen you at Brewers games." When I told him I did, he said he was a huge fan and really enjoyed watching the broadcast with me in the picture. Then he introduced himself ... Jack Zduriencik (the Brewers scouting director)!
I nearly fell over, and told him, no, I was a HUGE fan of his and the work that he's done for the Brewers. I didn't recognize him because he had shaved his head since the last time I met him.
The funny thing is that the Brewers notice us as well, I've had Geoff Jenkins, Bill Hall and others mention that I'm a "hardcore" fan. When were in Denver for the Rockies game, I ran into Hall, who was with Prince Fielder. When I asked Prince if he liked the photos I gave him (they were of him sliding in by Matt Capps when they were playing the Pirates), he looked somewhat puzzled. Billy then said, "You don't recognize him do you?" Prince said no, and then Billy said "He's the guy that is the first to stand up whenever you hit a homer! " Then Prince started laughing and smiled and said he didn't recognize me since I wasn't wearing my hat!
MS: I've got a lot. My favorite was Ken Griffey, Jr., and Adam Dunn. They were always ones to talk to you and give you grief, but in a good way. Dusty Baker looks for us every game since his days with the Cubs and knows we're going to ride him if there is a bad play for his team.
Lou Piniella has been really great, over the past two years he usually has a running dialog with us during the game. The last time they were in town, he looked at Stephanie and asked if she was praying. He then said, "Well, I certainly am!"
I also enjoyed giving grief to a number of guys that got VERY upset, guys like Kent Mercker and LaTroy Hawkins were two great targets, along with Brandon Phillips. The funny thing is that the guys I used to get over the most turned out to be friends later. The late Cory Lidle, who once threw his gum at me, would meet me before the game to say hello. Hell, even Denny Hocking, who was really one of the first to jaw jack back to me, ended up standing up in our wedding.
I guess the best part are the stories that you get from having a player like Jay Bruce, who I rode for two series here in Milwaukee, give me a wave at the end of the series and tell me that he'll see us next year.
Aramis Ramirez and I usually go at each other every series that the Cubs play. If he strikes out, he never looks up, but for every hit or run scored he usually is looking for me on his way back to the dugout. Michael Barrett was Stephanie's favorite to taunt, since he got into that big fight with (White Sox catcher) A.J. Pierzynski a few years ago. When we saw him at spring training he said, "you guys are the best fans in baseball!"
We were pretty sad when he got hurt this year, because it meant that we wouldn't see him when the Padres came back to Milwaukee.
The teams I love to see in town are the Cardinals and Cubs. While I can't stand the Cubs "fans" that invade Miller Park, I do like the banter I can get going between us and the players. In one moment this year, we were talking to one of the umpires and I was telling him how I disliked LaRussa and that him wearing his sunglasses was really weak. The umpire told me that he thought Tony wore them because they were prescription sunglasses and that it helped him watch the ball when it went into the lights. I laughed and told him that I heard it was because he didn't want other managers to know what he was looking at. The next day, the umpire calls Tony out of the dugout and starts talking to him, then he points directly at me and Stephanie and continues his conversation. When Tony came back to the dugout he looked at us and started squinting and looking like he couldn't see us. It was pretty funny and, frankly, it was the first time I saw Tony have a smile on his face when he played the Brewers.
As far as umpires, we're good friends with a number of guys and that is something we cherish. They've got the toughest job in sports in terms of travel and everything else, and so whenever they come to Milwaukee we'll get together just to say hello. A few years ago I did make comments to a couple of them after they had a bad day, but now I don't even bother, since I know so many of them, I know that they certainly don't want to hear about it from me or anyone else.
OMC: Any other funny stories from being "The Doorman?"
MS: I've got a ton, it is just a question of picking one of them! When the Brewers were playing the Yankees back in 2005, the Brewers had beaten the Yankees twice so I was feeling pretty good. Well, Gary Sheffield was standing on the top step of the dugout, since he was in the hole for the batting order. I started going after him telling him how it was funny that he took some magic beans that made his muscles grow and how outrageous it was that Barry Bonds stole his cook (this was all from the Sports Illustrated article that ran in the spring). I never swore at him, but I just kept going after him. Well Bernie Williams was in the on-deck circle comes walking back says something to Gary, and then goes in the dugout and gets some security guy and points me out. I'm like, "OK, I'm toast." So when Bernie came back, everyone in my section was taunting him "Bernie is a tattle tale" -- things like that. Well, the cops showed up and Brewers security showed up, but Brian Cashman was there in the front row along with a guy from MLB Security and they both said I didn't do anything bad and shouldn't get tossed.
About two innings later Bernie comes out of the dugout looks at me and says "I'm sorry!"
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.