On Monday, the Milwaukee Brewers wrapped up a thrilling Labor Day victory over the Chicago Cubs with a fielder’s choice walk-off by Christian Yelich to extend their Wild Card lead and pull within four games of the Cubs for first place in the NL Central. But after the game, no one was talking about the Brewers’ race for their fifth playoff appearance in franchise history; rather, it was all about Cole Hamels’ postgame comments on the state of the rivalry.
"When you have the majority of Cubs fans in the stands, I don't know if that's a rivalry," Hamels told reporters after the game. "They aren't going to like me for the comment, but look at the ticket sales."
This is not the first time the Cubs have taken over Milwaukee, and it likely won’t be the last. It’s understandable that more Cubs fans come to Miller Park than any other visiting team (though Cardinals fans often make their presence felt as well). Miller Park is just a hair under 90 miles from Wrigley Field, Brewers tickets are often significantly cheaper than their Cubs’ counterpart, Chicago is the third-largest market in the nation, and plenty of former Chicagoans currently reside in the Milwaukee area.
Eradicating Cubs fans from Miller Park is impossible. However, it’s not impossible to at least make the Brewers’ friendly confines seem less, well, friendly. Take a listen to Anthony Rizzo’s home run from Monday’s game:
There is no retort to Hamels’ comments when a dinger off the bat of a Cub at Miller Park sounds instead like a playoff game at Wrigley. Debating the existence of rivalries can be a fruitless conversation, but if Brewers fans want to call it a rivalry, they at least have to show up to the games.
Yes, fans can easily sell their tickets to Cubs fans and turn a much bigger profit than they do during the rest of the season. But being a fan isn’t about making money. September games on a holiday weekend against your biggest rival with a division crown potentially on the line should be must-see contests, not must-sell.
Things can change, but it’s up to the fans. Hamels – a longtime Philadelphia starter – mentioned how Phillies fans used to dominate Nationals Park in D.C. for years. And he wasn’t wrong about that either. As a Maryland resident, I saw it first-hand. But about six years ago, the Nationals finally put together some winning seasons, fans protected their home turf and it hasn’t been a problem since. The Brewers’ players have done their part and are putting together a quality on-field product. It’s time for the fans to follow suit.
And it’s not like Wisconsin sports fans are any less rabid than the ones in Chicago. Every year, when the Vikings, Bears or Lions visit Lambeau Field for a critical division game, Packers fans batten down the hatches and the roars for the green and gold seem even louder than usual. Why can’t Wisconsin do the same thing for the Brewers? It’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison with just eight NFL home games to 81 in the MLB, but for the biggest games of the year – such as the Brewers’ last home series against the Cubs this season – those same fans should still be showing up in droves.
Brewers’ fans are typically phenomenal. Attendance is high every year in spite of the market size, and should the Crew qualify for the postseason, the city will be buzzing and Miller Park will be rocking. The fans don’t need to bring that same intensity every night – frankly, that would be exhausting – but there is room for improvement, particularly when the Cubs come to town.
This team deserves a crowd worthy of a contender. Let’s make sure we give it to them in the biggest moments.