Need team to root for? Pick the Brewers

BY Reid Forgrave • October 10, 2011

America’s Team no longer plays football in Dallas. America’s Team doesn’t wear pinstripes and boast the biggest payroll in baseball. Nor does America’s Team play ball at Fenway and lay claim to breaking the Curse of the Bambino.

No, screw the big boys. America’s Team, Version 2011, is all about the little guys, and these little guys come from a most surprising place. The new America’s Team has never won a championship in its sport. It hails from flyover country, a place forgotten by the national media and ignored by the moneyed elite in favor of the bigger, the sexier, the more profitable places.

America’s Team is now the Milwaukee Brewers — the underdogs, the misfits, the antidote to big-money teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox and Phillies, and a team that, when you watch them play, you can’t help but smile.

And if you’re a true baseball fan (with hometown exemptions granted to those living in St. Louis, Detroit and Texas), you’d be a fool not to pick America’s New Team as your dog in this October hunt.

The Brewers winning their first World Series would not just be great for the working-class city of Milwaukee. It would be great for fans of small-market, small-city baseball teams around the country, reminding them they can actually win in a "Moneyball" era. It would be great for anyone who loves an offbeat movie with wacky, likable characters, the underdogs who beat the odds.

And it would be great television, too, better than the big-market giants winning another Series, the best example of sports as reality television where all of America can — and should — root for the underdog.

Simply put, the Milwaukee Brewers as 2011 world champions would be great for baseball.

And not just because it would warm Bud Selig’s heart with nostalgia for the team he used to own. In a time when the perceived popularity of baseball is dipping, when football has long overtaken baseball as America’s Pastime and when the NBA has reemerged as the viable No. 2, these Brewers — today’s version of the 2004 “Idiot” Red Sox — are just what Selig's sport needs.

It starts with the characters:

• The Ruthian first baseman, Prince Fielder, with the bulbous beard, the vegetarian diet and the joie de vive he brings both to the game and to being a cool dad to his kids.

• The heartthrob left fielder, Ryan Braun, with the best baseball nickname in a generation, “The Hebrew Hammer.”

• The quiet Mexican-American ace, Yovani Gallardo, who might be the best young pitcher in baseball.

• The wispy-moustachioed Canadian closer, John Axford, who was working as a cell phone salesman before the Brewers snapped him up.

• The everyman pitcher, Zack Greinke, whose well-publicized struggles of dealing with depression and social-anxiety disorder and the pressures of fame make him infinitely more relatable than playboys such as Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez.

• The outer-space outfielder Nyjer Morgan — aka Tony Plush, aka Tony Gumbo, aka Tony Tombstone and, most recently, aka’d Tony Clutch for his 10th-inning single to win the division series — whose multiple alter egos make postgame interviews as exciting as any game.

• And the quiet, studious rookie manager, Ron Roenicke, who somehow holds together this oddball bunch.

Baseball needs more outsized characters like these Brewers. The NFL has its Ochocincos and its Tom Bradys; the NBA, its LeBron James villains and its Kevin Durant good guys. Hell, even golf, the least sexy of any pro sport, has Tiger Woods and all he brings.

But as any screenwriter will tell you, the equation for a successful movie needs not just likable and unique characters but a plot that invests you in them. And boy, oh, boy do these Brew City Boys bring a great plot. Milwaukee is the smallest city with a big-league team, yet the franchise finished fifth in the league this year in home attendance. And only once in the past 19 years has a team from one of the 10 smallest big-league cities won the World Series. (That would be the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006.)

The Brewers are the 40-Year-Old Virgins of baseball, the team we should all be rooting for to reach the promised land after way too long of trying and always falling short. (Coincidentally, the franchise has been in Milwaukee 41 years without a World Series ring.)

Fine, so all of major league baseball’s giants have already been slayed. The Red Sox collapsed, the Yankees and Phillies choked, the Chicago teams were laughingstocks and the Los Angeles teams didn’t quite have it. Only the little guys are left, but remember: The Brewers are the littlest of these little guys, with the smallest payroll of the four remaining teams, ranking 17th in baseball.

The sad part here is that the universe usually aligns only once in a generation in places like this. There’s an urgency to these 2011 Milwaukee Brewers. The face of the franchise, 27-year-old Prince Fielder, will be a free agent after this season. The chance of Fielder staying in Milwaukee is roughly equal to the chance of Rocky Balboa beating Apollo Creed, or of a pitcher being plucked from the California penal system to play for a big-league team. In other words, it can happen, but often only in a Hollywood world, where a connection to a place and a team beats out a contract worth an extra few million dollars.

So, baseball fans, invest your heart in these 2011 Milwaukee Brewers. After all, you need to pick someone to root for. Makes the playoffs more exciting. Makes you get angry at umpires squeezing the strike zone or jump off your couch for a well-placed sacrifice bunt.

Don’t feel bad rooting against the Rangers, just because they’ve never won a World Series. Skip over the Cardinals, even though Albert Pujols will be a free agent, too. Forget the Tigers and the media clichés on how a championship might assuage the ills in Detroit’s forever-down economy.

Pick these guys.

Root for the utility man, Craig Counsell, who spent two months of this season chasing a big-league record nobody wants — most at-bats in a row without a hit for a non-pitcher. (He fell one at-bat short, getting a hit in his 46th at-bat.)

Root for the guys who, when they get a big hit, turn to their dugout, raise two hands in the air and roar — dubbed “beast mode,” cribbed from the friendly monsters in the children’s movie “Monsters, Inc.”

And root for this year’s baseball season to end with the giant-headed, barrel-chested mascot named Bernie Brewer whooshing down a big yellow slide in the outfield, just one more time, celebrating a final victory for this Brew Crew.

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