It might have taken nearly five years to build, but it took no time for the Milwaukee Brewers to get settled into their new home.
After years of playing before sparse crowds and battling the harshest elements in the major leagues at 48-year-old County Stadium, the Brewers welcome Miller Park as a necessary change for saving their franchise and restoring hope to their fans.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 8, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Baseball--PNC Park, the Pittsburgh Pirates' new stadium, cost $262 million to build. The cost was incorrect in a story July 23.
"It's been a godsend for the organization from a morale standpoint," said Dean Taylor, senior vice president and general manager of the Brewers.
The fan support and new surroundings also have provided a boost to the players, Brewer first baseman Richie Sexson said.
"It's a beautiful stadium, I love playing there," he said.
Even opposing players such as Shawn Green of the Dodgers--whose team will play at Miller Park tonight for the first time--do not miss the dilapidated albeit nostalgic County Stadium.
"I spent a lot of years going to Milwaukee and playing in that old dumpy stadium so it's nice to get a chance to play in a beautiful, state-of-the-art stadium," Green said.
Like the Pittsburgh Pirates, who also opened a new park this season, the Brewers are a small-revenue team struggling to compete with financially stable franchises. Management said the team could not survive without a new ballpark.
"We had very high expectations opening the ballpark, and it's fair to say that in a lot of ways that the results have actually exceeded those expectations," said Wendy Selig-Prieb, president and chief executive officer of the Brewers--and daughter of Commissioner Bud Selig.
The park was built for $400 million--two-thirds the cost of Pittsburgh's PNC Park--and has all the modern amenities, such as an interactive play area. Trendy fans can hang out at the .300 Club, an upscale private restaurant and bar for suite holders and club members.
To weather-worn fans who no longer have to sit through rain delays, the seven-panel, fan-shaped retractable roof, which closes in 10 minutes, -- may be the best change.
Dan Meis, design partner of NBBJ Sports and Entertainment based in Marina del Rey, said for the architects the most difficult challenge in the building's design was how to integrate "what's considered to be a sort of space-age technology in a retractable roof" with what baseball owners want--a nostalgic, historical atmosphere.
The building process did not go smoothly. It took 53 months, and the opening was delayed a year because of a July 14, 1999, crane accident that killed three workers and caused $100 million in damage. In January a worker was slightly hurt in a furnace explosion. Then last month a power outage forced the suspension of a game between the Brewers and Kansas City Royals.
But all building glitches should be worked out by next year when Milwaukee hosts the All-Star game, something it hasn't done since 1975.
Miller Park is one of five stadiums that have opened in the last two seasons, the others being Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco, Enron Field in Houston, Comerica Park in Detroit and PNC Park. All except Comerica favor hitters. But Brewer Manager Davey Lopes said Miller Park ranks well against the other hitter-friendly parks.
"It's a fair ball park. It's not like [Houston's] Enron Field where you hit a blooper to left field and it's going to be a home run," he said. "If Chan Ho Park was pitching at Miller Park, he's going to have the same effect as if he were pitching at Dodger Stadium."
Doubling home attendance provided the Brewers with an early spark but they have struggled lately, losing nine in a row. Despite their setbacks, Lopes said he's optimistic about the future of the Brewers, who are trying to finish .500 or better for the first time since 1992.
"It will get better," he said. "And we'll be where we want to be eventually."
For now at least they have a nice place to call home.