Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Next Guy Who Sits Next to the Voice of the Brewers

As I'm sure every Milwaukee Brewer fan knows by now, radio announcer Cory Provus has moved on to take first chair on the audio airwaves for the Minnesota Twins. Once again, this leaves Bob "Starmaker" Uecker without a partner who can laugh in the background at his self-deprecating stories.

To bring you up to date, let's look at the former partners Uecker has propelled to media markets bigger than Milwaukee (which is pretty much all of them):

Pat Hughes: Play-by-play voice of the Chicago Cubs.
Jim Powell: Play-by-play voice of the Atlanta Braves.
Cory Provus: Play-by-play voice of the Minnesota Twins.

So, with a void next to the master of the cough button, I humbly toss my fitted Brewers hat into the ring to be the next second fiddle for the Milwaukee Brewers Radio Network. And while the full extent of my experience is four years at the University of Wisconsin on a student radio station that technically wasn't on the actual radio, I insist I am the perfect person for the position. And here's why:

1. I've mastered the ability to chuckle pleasantly when other people make fun of themselves in a public forum.
2. I already know you've got a lot more going for you at Hank, Hardware Hank.
3. As a Brewers fan from 1979 to the present, I'm able to retain an optimistic outlook during terrible seasons.
4. I can find redeeming qualities in the worst free-agent signings as, over the course of the season, they drag the team to the bottom of the standings like the Kraken enveloping a man-of-war (see Stubbs, Franklin; Hammonds, Jeffrey; Suppan, Jeff).
5. I can readily conjure metaphors about obscure mythological aquatic monsters.
7. I live less than five miles from Miller Park. The savings on mileage reimbursements alone makes me a bargain.
8. I know the location of every concession item in Miller Park, so when Bob needs a pulled pork parfait, I'm there and back before the end of the half-inning.
9. Any schmuck kicking around Major League broadcast booths can reference Yount, Molitor and Gantner. But how about Jaime Cocanower, Joey Meyer, Julio Machado and Brooks Kieschnick?
10. I couldn't possibly be any worse than Davey Nelson, who, if you weren't a regular listener, you'd swear was a former boxer.
11. I can bring the bumps (the music that plays coming out of a commercial ... see? I even know the lingo) all the way out of the 1990s. I mean, I like "A Murder of One" by Counting Crows as much as the next guy, but I'm fairly certain there have been a few decent songs released since 1993. "Semi-Charmed Life," for example. And "Thong Song."
12. I won't attempt to compete with Bob's signature home-run call. In the YouTube age, that would be stupid anyway. You want as many clicks as possible, and to do that, you need to mix it up. That means having a variety of calls at your disposal that appeal to listeners and internet-users of all ages. For example:
  • Generation Y: He hit that like a Kardashian at an ESPYs after-party.
  • Baby Boomers: That ball was smoked like it was backstage at Woodstock.
  • The Greatest Generation: I haven't seen anything get punished that bad since Göring at the Nuremberg Trials.
13. Name a better way to strengthen your reputation as a franchise that appreciates its fans than hiring one as an announcer. It'll curry favor with the diehards and give them hope that anyone, if they love the team enough, could one day sit next to a Hall-of-Fame broadcaster, become colleagues with players they used to cheer from the stands and live the dream of watching sports for a living.
14. Except they can't because I'm never retiring or taking a job with another team or going on vacation or getting out of the chair in the booth even if I need to pee.
15. I hail from the Bob Uecker school of contract negotiations: one-year deals hammered out face to face without an agent at the end of each season. My only stipulation: unfettered access to Bernie's slide.
16. Nothing says legitimacy like a former all-star in the booth. That's right, Cedarburg Little League, 1991, pitcher/first baseman.
17. Unlike the so-called "purists," I have no problem schilling for whichever sponsor pays the most. Even if it's right in the middle of a game. Or inning. Or play. In fact, this sentence is brought to you by the Semicolon Enthusiasts of Midwestern Iowa; it's the group that's been supporting the punctuation that connects related sentences since 1937.
18. As a duly-designated representative of Major League Baseball, I'm happy to develop the selective memory necessary to discretely discuss certain eras of the game and laud the players who gained notoriety solely by working hard in the gym and on the field to hone their skills without any help from—just to pick a random job that has nothing at all to do with baseball—a chemist. Or an owner of a California laboratory that does blood and urine analysis. 
19. Looks-wise, I'm perfect for radio: Not pretty enough for TV, not ugly enough to embarrass you at promotional events.
20. With my background in journalism, I'm used to asking the tough questions. This will come in handy during the pregame interview with the manager when I need to cover such probing issues as "What percent do you think the guys are giving it out there on the field?" and "How many games at a time is the team taking it right now?"

So there you go. Twenty reasons why it's going to be me sitting alongside Mr. Baseball when spring training games get under way in March. Unless something happens to Matt Lepay. In that case, Mr. Alvarez, allow me to present 20 reasons why I should be the new voice of the Wisconsin Badgers ...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tres Bon

Awesome or Lame (henceforth, AwoL): "Bon Iver," Bon Iver

Hearing that Bon Iver was going with a deeper, more layered sound for its sophomore effort is kind of like being told that Knuckles here is going to work you over something good with a goose-down pillow. The two things don't really jibe, but after about 10 minutes, you find that you're enjoying it.

For the sonically uninitiated, here's the Cliff's Notes version of Bon Iver's launch into the national consciousness: Boy's band and relationship break up, boy retreats to a cabin in northwestern Wisconsin, boy records album that lands him at Lollapalooza and on Kanye West's latest release.

The boy is Justin Vernon, and the album was "For Emma, Forever Ago," a minor miracle that did for falsetto what Crash Test Dummies did for basso profondo. And after that supreme effort, the challenge was to avoid getting swallowed by the enormity of expectations that typically accompanies a sophomore effort (quick, name the second album by Crash Test Dummies ... or Hootie and the Blowfish ... or Spin Doctors ... ... I thought so).

What Vernon has going for him that those luminaries of the early 1990s didn't is the musical capabilities his vocal residency in the upper register demands. On "For Emma," that meant doing as much as possible with as little as possible. On "Bon Iver," it meant making sure you don't choke on the largess that follows success, after which your resources go from Ethiopian cuisine to Golden Corral.

That sudden cavalcade of options is evident almost immediately on the new album. Whereas something as elementary as a snare drum didn't make it's first appearance on "For Emma" until nearly 18 minutes into the album, it takes a mere 49 seconds before an insistent drum beat—and a military snare at that—creeps into the opening track of "Bon Iver." And Vernon spends the next 38 minutes and 36 seconds proving he can deftly handle the concept of more.

That includes several extended vocal vacations back down in the modal register with the rest of us mere mortals, a supremely capable backing lineup that tops out at 11 musicians and a veritable three-ring circus of instruments that range from vibraphone to pedal steel guitar. Pretty heady stuff for a guy whose wildest flight of musical fancy the first time around was the use of a trombone.

For certain, music is the tail wagging the lyrical dog on "Bon Iver," which nonetheless manages to reach you with its words. How and where that manifests itself in Vernon's work varies from person to person, but for me, it was most evident in "Holocene," the opening lines of which describe the end of a night spent trying to drain Water Street dry:

You're laying waste to Halloween
You fucked it friend, it's on its head, it struck the street
You're in Milwaukee off your feet
And at once I knew I was not magnificent

But while each listener will find a different part of the album that strikes a chord, pretty much everyone will do an aural double take when album closer "Beth/Rest" rolls around. The synth-heavy track at first seems better suited for a Steve Winwood tribute. Upon repeated listening, however, the somewhat odd departure from the other nine-tenths of "Bon Iver" makes more and more sense, even though it seems better suited for the lessons-learned scene from every John Hughes movie.

The lesson to take away here: In the right hands, more is definitely better, especially on an album as awesome as this one.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Keep It Simple

In an effort to write a little more, I'm introducing a new feature to my corner of the interweb. It's called "Awesome or Lame." Let me break it down for you.

I consume a lot of entertainment options. And, shocking as it may be, I tend to have opinions about these things. But rather than apply a 1-to-5 rating scale, I prefer something a little more straightforward. Hence, "Awesome or Lame."

So, following those times when I take in (and these are listed in order of likelihood and/or frequency) a movie, television show, album, concert, play, musical, art gallery opening or poetry slam, I'll provide the definitive word on whether it's worth your time. Cool? Cool. Let's begin.

Awesome or Lame: My Morning Jacket, Live at the Riverside Theater, 6/16/2011.
Photo by Jeff Sainlar / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Having heard MMJ described as everything from "the best thing to happen to rock music in years" (yay) to "the jam band for people who don't like jam bands" (boo), my expectations were equally scattershot for this one. In retrospect, I should have set the bar based on the hour or so I spent in line outside the theater.

After the unflinchingly fawning reviews the band got last time through Milwaukee, I opted for tickets in the pit and thus found myself waiting with the rest of the throng on the corner of Wisconsin and Plankinton avenues, an intersection that must have been confused by the large, ethnically non-diverse group of people who remained there despite the many available buses that stopped to let people board.

In this scene from the 1985 classic "Better Off Dead,
 John Cusack takes crap from the guy just in front of me
 in line to see My Morning Jacket.
Those around me fell into two camps: people you would mistake as homeless except for the fact they had much nicer phones than me, and people who could easily pass for the villain in an early John Cusack movie.

In other words, these were individuals who fill most of their days with recreational drug use and coming up with ways to spend $80 on shoes that look like the ones my dad wore when he was scraping the crap from underneath the push mower. That left me, a person who gets his money from a company with a six-story building in downtown Milwaukee instead of his parents or tips at Sbarro, feeling a mite out of place.

Yet I remained hopeful. Having listened to and thoroughly enjoyed MMJ's last two albums, I entered the theater, fresh off my sixth chastising by Cusack villain to not cut in front of him and the rest of his friends, who no doubt were excited to exert their dominance somewhere besides the ski hill.

It's important you have a crystalline image of my linemates because of an important divide between them and me: I want—nay, demand—that a concert be high energy, fast paced and virtually free of ballads. They want a concert that sounds awesome right after (or while) you smoke a shit-ton of weed.

Guess who got their wish? I'll give you a hint: The people who, upon leaving the concert, said, "That was amazing," shortly thereafter said, "We should totally get some Qdoba."

Before I quickly break down the band's performance, one note: The first MMJ album I bought was "Evil Urges," which was largely derided by the faux-meless and Cusack villains for mixing a little retro-funk into a solid rock album. I mean, it only had three songs longer than 5 minutes! How the hell are you supposed to maintain a buzz when the music keeps ending after 180 seconds?!?!?! Anyway, I liked it.

So you can imagine my disappointment when MMJ's main set ended after 20 songs, exactly zero of which were from that album I so very much enjoyed. Meanwhile, the future Cheeto ingesters reveled in the 12 selections from the band's earlier efforts in between bragging about how long it's been since they washed their hair.

The footwear of choice for My Morning Jacket
lead singer Jim James, who lived up to
his childhood nickname, "Fuzzy Boots."
Still, the main set was incredibly entertaining, primarily due to lead singer Jim James' tirelessly magnetic stage presence, which was aided considerably by footwear nearly identical to what you see to your right. And eventually, the band tossed in a couple songs from "Evil Urges." That occurred just after the 12-minute jam that led off its first encore. Unfortunately, the contact high was only enough to tolerate 9 minutes of said jam, after which I left, thus missing what was likely some truly virtuoso saxophone work by lead guitarist Carl Broemel.

So, two hours, $120 and four PBR tall boys later, I would say ...

Performance: awesome.
Set list selection: lame.
Fellow concertgoers: super lame.
$4 PBRs: super awesome.

And just for fun, here's a song the band should have played but didn't.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Last Straw

I used to hold out some hope for the human race. Despite all the wars, genocides, gross financial malfeasances, environmental atrocities and Tyler Perry movies, I retained some belief in the basic goodness of people.

Then, last Friday, I walked to my car in the Uecker lot at Miller Park after an extremely satisfying 7-6 win over the Rockies, circled around back to where I left my smoldering Weber Smokey Joe a couple hours earlier and found ... nothing.

I stood agog for a solid minute and a half, trying to comprehend the situation with all the effectiveness of a squirrel trying to crack a safe. I believe my first audible sound was something along the lines of: "Nrrt."

In a last-ditch attempt to hang on to the semblances of everything I was taught about tailgating etiquette, I got down on my hands and knees to check underneath my car in case someone had moved it aside so as not to damage it with their vehicle on the way to the exit. Nothing.

My last option exhausted, I stood and staggered around in circles—a maneuver I can only assume I shared with the perpetrator of this heinous act. But while his wobbly walk was built one $7.75 beer at a time, mine was the result of the last hope for the redemption of humanity exiting my person.

Because there's a code, people. A certain level of decency we expect from one another. In the tailgating realm, the code is pretty simple:

  • If your neighbor has no means to light his grill, give him a match.
  • If your neighbor has no means to turn his meat, lend him a spatula.
  • If your neighbor has no means to open his Bud Light, screw him. He can break the bottle over the nearest solid object and cut the crap out of his mouth. Serves him right for drinking that swill.

But one tenet stands above all others: Do unto others' grills as you would have them do unto yours.

Yesterday, I went to my first Brewer game since that night. I walked by scores of fans unburdened of their worries and obligations and sobriety. Secure in the notion that when they returned three hours later, their squat little cooking conveyance would be waiting for them, grease still clinging to the grate, ready to be stowed until needed. Despite their Natural Light, Ben Sheets jerseys and general plumpness, I envied them.

As I walked back through the parking lot after the game, I thought of them heading to the exits, the well-being of their tailgating gear the last thing on their minds. And I smiled, kicking over grills as I went along.

Smokey Joe Krzykowski: May 12, 2010-May 20, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Star Is Braun

Ryan Braun is self-aware.

Early in the Milwaukee Brewer left-fielder's career, I said that as though it were a bad thing. Hell, up until Thursday, I said that as though it were a bad thing. But, as it turns out, the three-time all-star's hypervigilance may be the primary reason the Crew have its first face of the franchise since Robin Yount and his horseshoe mustache roamed center field.

Everything about the L.A. native has always seemed a little too polished. A little too contrived. A little too California cool for a region whose primary couture contributions have been dairy-related headgear and Zubaz.

Ryan Braun, getting his guido on,
circa 2009. (photo: Michael Vincent/
Skinnie Magazine)
That didn't seem like a great fit for a guy who appears to be incredibly conscientious about not doing anything remotely cheesy. A guy whose entrepreneurial pursuits include a fashion line that's more jersey shore than Bradford Beach (see right). A guy who slapped his name on a restaurant in Milwaukee's Third Ward and, in the process, became the second Brewer to attach his moniker to a mangiaria—and that's only if you count Gorman's Grill in the right-field concourse at Miller Park.

He doesn't patrol the outfield as much as he swaggers around in it. In interviews, his answers are so perfect, it makes you wonder whether he's playing Christian to some P.R. hump's Cyrano. He caught flack early in his career for admiring his home runs in a manner that would make Narcissus say, "OK, buddy, let's move it along." Upon closer examination, however, it's clear there's more to Braun than the eatery-owning, tater-watching t-shirt mogul.

After putting up video-game-type numbers in the minor leagues, he didn't big time anyone when he got to the show in 2007. He took his hazing like any other rookie, singing Boyz II Men on the team bus and donning a hot-dog costume on a flight from Houston to Atlanta.

During the subsequent off-season, in the middle of taking grounders at third base to hone his defense, he got a call from Brewers' general manager Doug Melvin, who informed him of the team's plans to move him from the infield to left field. He promptly switched to an outfield glove and started shagging fly balls.

And, in 2009, he was offered a spot on ABC's "The Bachelor" but turned down the opportunity to find the one thing that money and fame and seemingly limitless talent can't get you: a true partner with whom you share a deep and spiritual bond you can break on the cover of People magazine a week after your engagement is broadcast on national television.

The first glimpse of Braun's advertising (not acting)
potential was in 2008, when he appeared in a spot for
Remington with Victoria's Secret model Marisa Miller.
Eschewing the chance to spread the Ryan Braun brand across the country to an entirely new demographic—thus making him even more enticing to potential advertisers—proved that his discerning eye extends well beyond the batter's box. And Thursday's announcement tethering him to Brew City at least through 2020 only bolsters that claim. Particularly when you consider he was the one who initiated the process.

Could he have played out his previous contract and entered free agency in 2015? Yes. Would that have landed him in a bigger media market? Indubitably. Would it have incited a bidding war the likes of which would make Sotheby's bust a gavel in jealousy? If he keeps up this statistical pace, absolutely. And he won't need to wait long to see how it could have played out. His teammate Prince Fielder will more than likely be able to tell him all about this winter.

A little further down the line, however, Fielder will also be able to tell him about the difficulties of earning a place alongside the indelible names of whichever team lands the big first baseman. Yankee fans don't add to the pantheon of Ruth, Gehrig and Mantle lightly. The same goes for the Cubs and Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams.

The fact is, every team has a separate echelon reserved for its loyal royalty. Fielder will discover this, and Braun will listen and smile and visualize the place waiting for him in the figurative upper reaches of the Brewer franchise and the literal upper reaches of Miller Park, where the placards for Yount, Molitor and Uecker reside.

And everyone will know then what Braun is well aware of now: He's someone to build a franchise around.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's up, dawg?

Recently, my girlfriend Amanda and I reached a watershed moment in our relationship. On the cusp of another glorious Wisconsin sprummer (because of budgetary concerns and the fact that the decent weather only lasts two months anyway, the state decided to merge them into one season), we decided it was way too easy for us to do stuff.

"Don't get me wrong," I began. "I think it's completely awesome that we can just pick up and go to a movie at a moment's notice. But wouldn't it be amazing if that relatively elementary activity required twice as much planning and at least 45-60 minutes extra preparation time?"

So, we sat and pondered ways we could make our day-to-day existence needlessly more complicated. Of course, the easiest way to raze your entire life and become prisoners of your own home is to have a kid. So, for the sake of setting up several humorous observations in the next few paragraphs, we considered what it would be like to be parents (note ... mainly to my mom, but also for people who aren't especially deft at picking up subtle humor: we didn't actually consider this).

After doing a bit of research, we discarded this idea. We discovered a website that projects what you would look like as a parent using a data-intensive extrapolation based on your current level of physical activity, your income and a full-length image of yourself. It determined that I'd pretty much look like I do now, except I'd wear a lot more polo shirts, even if I wasn't going golfing, and my hair would be closer to what Steve Carrell sported in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

Then we found this other website that said it can take as long as nine months to have a kid. Plus there's vomiting, heartburn, indigestion and constipation. And we had just been to Real Chili the week before, so all of that would've been pretty repetitive.

Our timetable for the destruction of life as we knew it being shorter than nine months, we examined other options. It turns out you can adopt a kid, but if you want a domestic one, it can take a year or longer, and for the foreign models, it's at least six months. Unless you've had 17 albums certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America or are married to Brad Pitt.

Not even knowing how to get in contact with Brad Pitt, I was fairly disheartened that we would be forced to continue our carefree existence, dropping everything on a whim and driving to Madison for a football game, relaxing on the banks of the Milwaukee River with a Fixed Gear at Lakefront Brewery, enjoying a nine-day bus tour of the fall foliage in Door County.

Then, before you could say "Egg Harbor bed and breakfast," it dawned on me. At that very moment, within a 30-minute car ride, there were literally dozens of completely dependent beings we could take home that very day who, unlike a baby, can already walk, speak, eat solid food and keep quiet during "Glee." And, like a baby, you can dress them in ridiculous clothing against their will, feed them low-grade food and stick them in a crate when you get tired of dealing with them.

Yes, we adopted a dog.

The days since then have been jam-packed with daytime romps through the lush, green parks of downtown Milwaukee, evenings lounging together on the couch and nights with our new addition curled up at the end of the bed, kicking her legs in the air as she dreams about chasing fireflies.

Just kidding. We've spent every waking moment making sure she isn't about to mark every inch of the apartment as her territory or eat the entire couch cover. It's a maddening existence that swings from terror to sadness to elation and back—the kind of emotional journey worthy of Dickens or Seuss or Charlie Sheen's blog.

But then, just when you're about to reach the end of your rope and are on the verge of returning this clearly ADD-addled animal, she looks up at you with her big blue eyes, and you just know.

She's about to crap on the carpet.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tips From a Serial Tailgater

An aerial shot of the Miller Park voting district,
which casts its ballot for George Petak every year.
In the wake of my somethingth consecutive Opening Day (hanging out in mind-numbing cold, compounded by drinking cold beer in mind-numbing cold, has made me lost track) and with 77 home games remaining for the Brewers, it seemed appropriate to share some observations and tips for making the most of your pilgrimages to Miller Park this season. So, whether you're a Brewers fan or just a fan of eating fantastically unhealthy food in a parking lot big enough to be its own voting district (Leinenkugel in 2012!!!), enjoy:
  • Milwaukeeans will not be told when to start drinking. Parking lots open at 10 a.m.? My quarter-barrel in the trunk says otherwise.
  • The Brewers have thoughtfully placed several large signs at strategic locations so you can easily navigate your way to the 45-minute wait in your car.
  • The parking lot attendants at Miller Park are the best the Alexian Village has to offer.
  • When the guy next to you opens his tailgate and folds down a pair of speakers, you've lost the music face-off. Hope you like Lil Wayne.
  • In this digital age, CDs still have their place. Or at least their cases do. Particularly if you forgot your spatula.
  • A Miller Lite promotional beer holder that loads from the bottom is a great way to keep your hands from freezing and your O'So beer from not being broken on the ground.
  • Anyone who said you don't use math after you get out of school has never needed what I like to call pee-ometry. For example: Normally, you go four hours between trips to the bathroom. You left for the stadium at 9 a.m. and have had three beers, each of which reduces your ability to wait by 30 minutes. The line at a grouping of three Porta-Potties is 50 people long, and each person averages 45 seconds per turn. What time should you get in line for the bathroom? (Answer: 20 minutes ago).
  • But that doesn't mean it's OK to climb into a dumpster to take a piss, guy in front of me.
  • The words "Brewers opening day" and "unseasonably warm" have never been used in the same sentence. And that is why God bestowed mythical warming powers upon jeans shorts.
  • If it were up to the merchandise stands, beer would be free. The likelihood of someone buying a $20 plush lobster wearing a Brewers shirt increases by 15% for every point above .10 on the blood-alcohol scale.
  • A side of melted cheese is always a good idea, so stop looking at me funny and hand it over, guy I just ordered ice cream from.
  • The price of beer at major league stadiums has far outpaced the rate of inflation and is reaching a point at which the average consumer will no longer be able to afford it. So, from a price-per-ounce perspective, it's your fiscal responsibility to get the biggest one.
  • Anyone can walk into the stadium on a promotional day and get handed a bobblehead. The real challenge is finding the person whose head is lolling back and forth in a vain attempt to remain conscious—a physical state commonly known as "bobblehead drunk."
  • Guys: If you're looking for a girl at the game who knows something about baseball, don't let the jersey fool you. Check the shoes. For every inch on the heel, deduct 30 baseball IQ points. And 20 regular IQ points.
  • Girls: Make sure you take lots of pictures of the players on the field using your cell phone's camera because they're definitely going to turn out great and you're going to be glad you stood in front of an entire section to do so.
  • Paraphernalia featuring a player no longer on the team is less acceptable the longer that player is gone and the lower quality the product is. Trevor Hoffman replica jersey: OK. J.J. Hardy t-shirt with iron-on decals: not OK. Franklin Stubbs anything: never OK.
  • Go with someone who cares about the team as much as you do so if the game ends in a loss, you can share the disappointment. And the manhole-sized cookie leftover from tailgating.