By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Apr 05, 2009 at 8:33 AM

With nearly 2 million tickets sold already, Miller Park will again be a hot spot for Milwaukeeans this summer.

Fans looking to get their baseball fix, without the headaches and hassles, can still enjoy the National Pastime -- and get a glimpse into the Brewers' future -- by driving just two hours north.

Beginning this season, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers will serve as the Brewers' Class A affiliate. The agreement means the road to Miller Park, for many of the franchise's young prospects, begins in the city of Appleton.

The agreement, reached in September, was a natural fit. The Timber Rattlers were happy with their relationship with the Seattle Mariners, but couldn't pass up the opportunities afforded by a relationship with the Brewers.

And already, less than a week before the Midwest League season gets underway, the team is feeling the benefits. More than 4,000 tickets have been sold for Thursday's home opener against the Quad Cities River Bandits, surpassing the franchise record of 3,474, set in 1995. Ticket sales for the season are high, too.

"There's a lot of excitement with the fans in the area," says Timber Rattlers President Rob Zerjav. It's really showing when it comes to ticket sales, especially season ticket and package sales. We're already approaching a sellout for opening day.

"It's just blowing everything else away. That's the best way to describe it."

The agreement with the Brewers comes after a 16-year partnership with the Mariners that was very beneficial to both sides. Among the standout players that got their professional starts in Appleton are David Ortiz -- then known as David Arias -- who spent the 1996 season in Appleton and Alex Rodriguez, who played briefly with the Appleton Foxes before becoming the youngest player in Major League Baseball later that season.

Parting with Seattle wasn't an easy decision, but in the end, the opportunities presented by a relationship with the Brewers were just too numerous to pass up. The two clubs reached an agreement in September and it's been a whirlwind since.

Case in point: since adopting the Timber Rattlers nickname in 1995, the team's logo has consistently been one of the best-sellers in all of minor league baseball. In fact, Wisconsin has placed in the top 10 for sales in 14 of the last 15 years. Since September, sales are up 300 percent from a year ago.

Additionally, Brewers hopefuls won't have to wait long to get a taste of their future home park. The Timber Rattlers will be at Miller Park on Friday, April 24 to take on the Cubs' Class A affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs, in what's being dubbed the "Border Battle."

Fans will get an opportunity to see the product up close and personal and hopefully, Zerjav says, want to make the trek to Appleton later in the summer when the weather gets nicer.

"We're hoping they want to come up and see us again," he says. "In the summer months, they'll want to come up and bring the family to Time Warner Cable Field."

Families that do make the trip won't have to break the bank. Tickets range from anywhere between $5 and $8.50 for reserved seats. Tuesdays are "Bang for your Buck Nights," with tickets, sodas hot dogs -- and, yes, beer -- all priced at $1.

There are also on-field promotions every half inning. Fridays are Family Nights, when kids 12 and under get to eat free and run the bases following the game. And after all weekend night games, there's a post-game fireworks display.

"A lot of people might be surprised at what we offer," Zerjav says. "They may come up for the baseball to begin with, and realize how fun and family-friendly it is. They may come up with buddies first and decide to bring the whole family up next time."

Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium, opened in 1995, is the Timber Rattlers' home turf and has reserved seating for roughly 4,500 people with general admission grass seating available down both the right and left field lines.

Zerjav describes the park as having the creature comforts of a major league stadium with the intimacy of a minor-league park. The seats are close to the action and there are a number of concession options, as well as a team store.

"It really fits the market well," Zerjav says. "It'll be 15 years old this year, but doesn't really show its age. Every seat is a good seat and fans are right on top of the action. If you've been to Miller Park and had the opportunity to sit right behind home plate or really close to the field; that's every seat here. If you haven't been fortunate enough to have that opportunity, this is a great way to get that up-close experience."

New this year is a state-of-the-art video board, which Zerjav says is just another way of bringing a big-league atmosphere to the park.

"Fans will get to know our players through headshots, stats, graphics and other animations," he says. "It's the kind of stuff you see at major league stadiums in any sport, and now you can see it here, too."

The stadiums comfy confines also make it a great place to snag an autograph or a picture with the Brewers' starts of tomorrow. Players at the Class A level are often getting their first taste of professional baseball and still enjoy interacting with fans.

Prior to their relationship with the Brewers, the Timber Rattlers were a big success in Northeast Wisconsin. Attendance regularly was among the best in the Midwest League, merchandise sales were good and community support was high.

But add in the Brewers -- especially with their growth in popularity over the last few years -- and things couldn't be better right now for Zerjav and his staff of 16 full-time employees and numerous part-timers and interns.

"We had a great product before, a great facility, an amazing staff and a lot of fun," he says. "There's always been great fan support, but now it's going to another level with the Brewers."