...who always seemed to me suspicious. A cypher, not unlike George Will except for his distressing political affiliation. Which is all the more disturbing considering that sharing an equal lack of height does nothing for disclosure, since Wikipedia does not list GW's height, or lack thereof. Doubly suspicious, now I think of it. He just looks like a short fellow, don't you think? Nothing wrong with that, of course, as I've numerous relations with similar shortcomings, but still...
He just looks so small, hmmmm.............
LOS ANGELES — Dave Salo was barking “back flat!” and “heel speed!” as he crisscrossed the pool deck at the University of Southern California. Salo, the Trojans’ men’s and women’s coach and a member of the United States’ 2012 Olympic staff, has earned a reputation as a breaststroke whisperer for his success working with swimmers with different backgrounds and disparate styles.
Michael Alexandrov uses paddles during a workout with Dave Salo, a revered breaststroke coach at the University of Southern California.
His breaststroke training contingent on a Saturday morning last month included Kosuke Kitajima, the 2008 Olympic double gold medalist; Eric Shanteau, the American record-holder in the 100 and 200 meters; Michael Alexandrov, the American record-holder in the 100 and 200 yards; Rebecca Soni, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in the 200 meters; and Jessica Hardy, the world record-holder in the 100 meters.
Shanteau, Alexandrov, Soni and Hardy will take a break from racing one another to battle a European team of all-stars in the Duel in the Pool on Friday and Saturday in Atlanta. It will be a homecoming for Shanteau, 28, who grew up in Lilburn, 20 miles northeast of Atlanta, before pulling up his roots for fertile training grounds at Auburn University and later at Texas Aquatics in Austin.
A 2008 Olympian, Shanteau was a seeker drawn to Southern California nearly a year ago by the cult of 20-something breaststrokers subjecting themselves to Salo’s esoteric practices.
“I felt like I needed to do something completely different to get to the next level,” Shanteau said. “If you’re in the top 99.9 percent, how do you beat that one-tenth percent? I needed to shock my body.”
Shanteau said he was still adapting to Salo’s low-mileage, high-quality, technique-driven training regimen when he placed fourth in the 200 breaststroke over the summer at the world championships in Shanghai. The second-place finisher was Kitajima, who contemplated retirement after successfully defending his Olympic breaststroke titles in the 100 and 200 at the 2008 Beijing Games.
A celebrity who is recognized everywhere he goes in his native Japan, Kitajima escaped to Los Angeles. He was renting a house in Santa Monica in the spring of 2009 when he sampled a few Salo workouts. Within weeks, Kitajima had left thoughts of retirement behind.
“There’s no stress here,” Kitajima said. “I thought, I can do this.” He added, “My breaststroke’s different from Jessica, from Eric, but Dave knows what advice to give all of us.”
Alexandrov was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. His father, Plamen Dontchev, was a 1980 Olympian in the 100-meter breaststroke. Alexandrov competed for his homeland at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. A former Northwestern standout who has called the United States home since grade school, he gained dual citizenship in 2006. After the 2008 Olympics, Alexandrov sat out a year of international competition so he could represent this country. He trained in Tucson before joining Trojan Swim Club in April.
“Dave helps you go faster when you think you’re already peaking,” Alexandrov said. “He notices little things in your stroke that can make a big difference.”
The breaststrokers who train under Salo catch the water on their pulls in the same place, but that’s where the similarities end. Hardy, who also is expected to contend for an Olympic medal in the 50 freestyle next year in London, has a core of steel to complement her Gumby-like leg flexibility.
Her strengths are not to be confused with those of Soni, who has neither an extraordinary pull nor an extraordinary kick, but her timing when she puts the two together is exquisite. Kitajima has a powerful kick, but his technique is what makes him hard to beat. His body position is so efficient, he skims the surface like a water bug. Shanteau has a powerful kick that compensates for a weaker upper body.
Different strengths call for different approaches. At one workout last month, Shanteau was swimming a breaststroke set in the 50-meter racing pool, which was set up for short-course yards. Kitajima was in the adjacent diving well doing his best impression of a yo-yo. He was performing a drill in which he swam breaststroke while wearing a belt with a surgical tubing tail that a teammate held to create extra resistance. When he was done, the teammate reeled him in as Kitajima continued to stroke, a sensation akin to riding a wave into shore.
Soni and Hardy were in the same pool as Shanteau, but Soni was in a middle-distance group that included Shanteau, while Hardy was ensconced with the sprinters.
The breaststrokers race head-to-head plenty of times, but it is not as if a mini-Olympics breaks out at every workout. Salo has created an atmosphere that manages to be competitive and collaborative without becoming cutthroat.
“It starts with Dave because he’s able to keep everybody engaged,” Alexandrov said. “It’s addictive, actually, because there’s so much adrenaline. People don’t back down. It’s two hours of all-out swimming, going as fast as you can while maintaining your technique.”
While not a one-workout-fits-all proponent, Salo does insist on one time interval for all, which is a departure from the way other coaches typically handle those who swim the breaststroke, the slowest of the four competitive strokes. The conventional wisdom is to give breaststrokers more time to complete each distance in stroke-specific training.
“It helps that there’s so many of us breaststrokers out here and we’re all in the same boat,” Shanteau said.
During another workout in the fall with the other postcollegians, Soni, who graduated from Southern California in 2009, was kicking breaststroke in a lane with swimmers doing the dolphin kick, or flutter kick. After a few hundred meters, Soni looked like an iceberg that had broken away from the floe. She was several meters behind her nearest teammate.
“She’ll come in and be frustrated,” Salo said. “I know she’s working hard. That’s kind of our understanding of each other.”
Salo had a successful age-group career in the breaststroke, and he knows what his swimmers are feeling — sometimes better than they do.
“You’ll talk to swimmers, they’ll say they feel like they’re kicking their arms into the recovery,” he said. “But if you look at the videotape you see that the arms are leading the way. That’s the challenge of coaching breaststrokers. You have to be able to describe what you want them to do in a way that makes sense to them because they operate so much on feel.”
In July, Hardy, 24, stood atop the podium after winning the 50-meter breaststroke at the world championships. She was flanked by Russia’s Yuliya Efimova and by Soni, who was third. It was a sweet result for the United States and a clean sweep for Salo, who also works with Efimova.
“He really, really, has a technical understanding of the breaststroke better than anyone on the planet,” Hardy said, adding, “I hear in my dreams every night: ‘Back flat. Back flat.’ He sounds like the Aflac duck.”
For those who wonder just how powerful sports has become in the American psyche, take heart from the latest polling results that show two figures surpass -- albeit barely -- the favorability rating of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ edge out Rodgers, a feat that could not be accomplished by the likes of George Washington, Mother Theresa, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and even Santa Claus.
In fact, an astounding 13% of Americans said they have a negative opinion of Santa Claus, the mythic figure who does nothing more horrible than drop off presents once a year. To be fair, 67%, or almost two-thirds, said they have a positive opinion of the fat bearded one, according to Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-affiliated polling firm, which released the survey findings Thursday.
The polling firm found that 75% of Republicans gave Santa Claus good marks, while just 61% of Democrats backed the gift-giver. (It may be worth noting that, as outsiders, Republicans are hoping for a present-filled 2012 election cycle, with most national polls showing a steady disenchantment with how the country is doing, particularly on the economy. Thus, Democrats may be expecting stockings stuffed with coal or perhaps an alternative energy source, like solar power.)
The firm said it undertook the current poll after it found that Rodgers was viewed favorably by 89% of voters in Wisconsin, a record high in the agency’s polling. “It got us to wondering -- can anyone top that?” the firm said in a statement.
So it tested a bunch of leading personalities last weekend.
Lincoln, who freed the slaves while fighting to keep the United States together in the Civil War, was seen positively by 91% of Americans, compared to only 2% who had an unfavorable opinion. Jesus Christ came in with a 90% favorability rating, but 3% of voters saw him in a negative light.
Two other figures beat the 80% favorability mark: George Washington, the general who earned the title of “Father of his country,” at 86% and Mother Teresa, the late humanitarian who tended the sick and dying in India for more than four decades and who is on her way to becoming a Roman Catholic saint. She rated an 83% favorability score.
The poll was based on 800 people surveyed from Nov. 10 to Sunday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Perhaps not so surprising was the top answer.
When asked, “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of yourself,” 93% gave themselves a positive rating, compared to just 1% who had a negative opinion, proving the old adage that the person to trust the most is yourself.
-- Michael Muskal
Photo: The Green Bay Packers, led by QB Aaron Rodgers, No. 12, huddle on the field. Credit: Matt Ludtke / Associated Press
There is pride in ownership among Packers stock holders, who tailgate before their annual meeting. "They don't do that at I.B.M.," a team executive said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — In any other place, they would be called souvenirs, documents suitable for framing, or even a sham. But here in the heart of Packers country, they are stock certificates that confer to the owner a microscopically thin and perhaps meaningless slice of the hometown team.
The Green Bay Packers are the only publicly owned team in the N.F.L., the rarest of rarities in a sport dominated by billionaires and the nation’s largest corporations. The team’s fans are fiercely proud of this status, which dates to 1923 when Curly Lambeau and four local businessmen incorporated and sold 1,000 shares of the team at $5 each to keep it afloat.
It is that pride that is about to be appealed to yet again. According to a filing with securities regulators in Utah, the Packers planned to issue new shares “on or around” Tuesday for about $250 each. The team hopes to raise at least $22 million after fees, about what was generated in 1997, the last time it employed the tactic.
The money raised this time will help offset some of the $143 million needed to add up to 7,000 seats and replace the scoreboard and sound system at Lambeau Field.
The question is, will fans who have closets full of Brett Favre jerseys and foam cheeseheads, as well as stock certificates hanging on the wall, shell out hundreds of dollars for more shares? The short answer is yes, if only because they cannot resist the chance to support their team and indoctrinate the next generation, too.
“We live and breathe the Packers,” said Chuck Olsen, the owner of Olsen’s Piggly Wiggly, which does a big business selling bratwursts to tailgaters on game days. “Everyone wants to be part of this, so I’ll buy a share for my grandson, who is now 1 year old.”
In an era when teams routinely beg, threaten and cajole their host cities into helping them build new stadiums, the Packers’ approach of asking their fans to contribute is refreshingly quaint.
Unlike the growing number of teams that require fans to pay tens of thousands of dollars for personal seat licenses before they can get season tickets, the Packers do not obligate anyone to buy their shares, which cost not much more than a nice jersey sold in the gift shop. (The Packers do charge ticket holders a one-time user fee to help pay for renovations, but the prices are relatively modest and the fees are refunded if they give up their tickets.)
The ability to tap their fans’ seemingly bottomless good will has helped the Packers avoid some of the civic showdowns that have raged in other N.F.L. cities. In neighboring Minnesota, for instance, the Vikings have been negotiating for years with lawmakers, who are split on whether to help the team build a new stadium and how much the public should contribute.
In Green Bay, the Packers issued stock not just in 1997, but also in 1935 and 1950 to bolster their sagging finances, and fans snapped up the shares even though they were little more than a gift to the team. They offer none of the privileges, or risks, of normal shares: they do not appreciate, are not traded on an exchange and produce no dividends. Owners get no discounts on tickets, although some merchandise is available only to shareholders. They can also attend the annual shareholders’ meeting, where they can vote on new board members and pepper management with questions.
With the economy flirting with recession and more than 4.75 million shares outstanding, the Packers are confident that their fans will line up by the thousands to buy shares again. The team currently has 112,264 shareholders.
The shareholders helped keep the team afloat for many years. But the championships of the 1960s and the N.F.L.’s decision to split its national television contracts evenly among all of its teams helped stabilize the Packers and keep them from leaving Green Bay, the smallest city in the league.
Unlike teams in New York, Chicago and other big cities, the Packers have fewer well-heeled fans and companies that will spend money on naming rights deals, multimillion-dollar sponsorships and corporate suites. In 2000, just three years after the Packers won the Super Bowl, the team was the 23rd most valuable franchise in the N.F.L., according to Forbes magazine.
So the team used all the proceeds from its 1997 share sale and the revenue from a half-penny local sales tax increase in Brown County to pay for the expansion of Lambeau Field in 2003. With more seats, restaurants and a new team Hall of Fame, the Packers’ revenue and profits grew.
This year, after winning the Super Bowl again, the Packers are the ninth most valuable franchise in the league, worth $1.089 billion, according to Forbes.
With the wind at their backs, the Packers do not have to ask taxpayers for help this time. In addition to the share sale, the team expects to tap a capital improvement fund dedicated to upgrading the stadium, user fees from the newly added seats and loans from local banks and potentially the N.F.L.
This is a big relief to public officials. With consumers struggling to get by, and local governments slashing services, the last thing lawmakers want to do is debate whether to raise taxes to benefit a sports team, even one as beloved as the Packers.
“If it’s a priority, people find the money,” said Jim Schmitt, the mayor of Green Bay, who bought shares for his three daughters in 1997 and was vice chairman of the Lambeau Field Stadium Board when the county raised taxes last time. “You’re not going to see these at Target.”
In a town so devoted to one team, it is not surprising that fans like to brag about going to games, say, during the Vince Lombardi era, or rubbing shoulders with players like Bart Starr and Max McGee. There is also an informal pecking order of fans who own shares from earlier years.
In 1974, Richard Oliver acquired four shares issued in 1950 for $25 each from his wife’s aunt. The shares have since split 1,000 to one, so Oliver technically has 4,000 shares. But the original certificate hangs handsomely in his home office, where he sniffs at the notion of buying newer shares.
“The only people buying them now are the people that want to be boastful and say to their boys at the tavern, ‘I’ve got a share of Packers,’ ” Oliver said. “There’s a certain amount of pride having the certificate.”
For Oliver, who ran a title business for many years, his shares were a calling card. When he spoke at out-of-town conferences, he never failed to meet other Packers fans. He loved to attend annual meetings, which years ago were held in a room below a bowling alley across from the courthouse. Oliver recalls meeting players from the 1960s teams and legends like Tony Canadeo and Buckets Goldenberg.
“It was a good old boys club,” he said. “We knew if we ever lost the Packers, it would be the death knell of the city of Green Bay.”
Annual meetings these days draw about 12,000 shareholders and guests at Lambeau Field at the end of July, and many of them tailgate beforehand. “They’re not doing that at I.B.M.,” Wied said, joking. Some wear foam cheeseheads, including one fan who writes the word “owner” on the side of his.
Unlike a meeting at I.B.M., the annual Packers meeting elicits few questions about the team’s balance sheet. Instead, most concern the team and, this year, the league’s newly signed collective bargaining agreement. Some fans suggest ways to improve the stadium. Shareholders vote on a slate of about 15 board members, who are almost always elected with 99 percent of the vote.
All in all, it is a pretty tame affair, which is not unexpected for a team that has 92,000 names on its waiting list for tickets, or fans rabid enough to buy a piece of paper that calls them an owner. Perhaps, though, if fans hang on to their shares long enough, they will be able to resell them for a handsome profit.
Mike Worachek, who runs a collectibles shop not far from Lambeau Field, said a share issued in 1950 could fetch as much as $2,000, while one from 1935 could bring in five times that amount. Their price will only rise when the new shares are issued, he said.
Still, fans are so smitten with their shares that few change hands, Worachek said. And even fans who have shares are likely to buy new ones as well.
“There are a lot out there already, but Packers fans are funny,” he said.
My nephew Anthony, 10, is the proud owner of Penn State shorts, underwear, socks, jerseys, sweatshirts and plastic football players.
The thrill of his young life was seeing the Nittany Lions beat Indiana at FedEx Field last year. He even bravely broke with generations of family tradition to declare that he loved Joe Paterno more than Notre Dame.
So I’ve got to wonder how the 84-year-old coach feels when he thinks about all the children who look up to him; innocent, football-crazy boys like the one he was told about in March 2002, a child then Anthony’s age who was sexually assaulted in a shower in the football building by Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s former defensive guru, according to charges leveled by the Pennsylvania attorney general.
Paterno was told about it the day after it happened by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant coach who testified that he went into the locker room one Friday night and heard rhythmic slapping noises. He looked into the showers and saw a naked boy about 10 years old “with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky,” according to the grand jury report.
It would appear to be the rare case of a pedophile caught in the act, and you’d think a graduate student would know enough to stop the rape and call the police. But McQueary, who was 28 years old at the time, was a serf in the powerfully paternal Paternoland. According to the report, he called his dad, went home and then the next day went to the coach’s house to tell him.
“I don’t even have words to talk about the betrayal that I feel,” the mother of one of Sandusky’s alleged victims told The Harrisburg Patriot-News, adding about McQueary: “He ran and called his daddy?”
Paterno, who has cast himself for 46 years as a moral compass teaching his “kids” values, testified that he did not call the police at the time either. The family man who had faced difficult moments at Brown University as a poor Italian with a Brooklyn accent must have decided that his reputation was more important than justice.
The iconic coach waited another day, according to the report, and summoned Tim Curley, the Penn State athletic director who had been a quarterback for Paterno in the ’70s.
Curley did not call the university police, who had investigated an episode in 1998 in which Sandusky admitted he was wrong to shower with an 11-year-old boy and promised not to do it again. (Two years later, according to the grand jury report, a janitor saw Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy in the showers and told his supervisor, who did not report it.)
Curley waited another week and a half to see McQueary, who told the grand jury that he repeated his sodomy story for Curley and Gary Schultz, a university vice president who oversaw campus police.
Two more weeks passed before Curley contacted McQueary to let him know that Sandusky’s keys to the locker room had been taken away and the incident had been reported to The Second Mile, the charity Sandusky started in 1977.
Prosecutors suggest that the former coach, whose memoir is ironically titled “Touched,” founded the charity as a way to ensnare boys. They have charged Sandusky, now 67, with sexually assaulting eight boys he met there.
Despite knowing of the two similar rapes, The Second Mile did not do anything to keep Sandusky away from vulnerable children until 2008.
Curley said he told Sandusky he could no longer bring children onto the Penn State campus. In other words, Jer, if you want to violate kids who live in cow town where everything revolves around the idolatry of Penn State and Paterno, kindly take them off campus. The predator was still welcome on his own, though; he was spotted at the football team’s weight room working out last week.
Curley told the university president, Graham Spanier, about the matter, and it got buried. Paterno, Curley and Schultz disingenuously claim they were left with the impression that the contact might have been mere “horsing around,” as Curley put it. That’s grotesque.
Like the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State is an arrogant institution hiding behind its mystique. And sports, as my former fellow sports columnist at The Washington Star, David Israel, says, is “an insular world that protects its own, and operates outside of societal norms as long as victories and cash continue to flow bountifully.” Penn State rakes in $70 million a year from its football program.
Paterno was still practicing for the game against Nebraska on Saturday, and supportive students were rallying at his house. This is what Israel calls “the delusion that the ability to win football games indicates anything at all about your character or intelligence other than that you can win football games.”
I can only hope that by the time Anthony’s parents work up their nerve to have what they call “the conversation” with him about his fallen idol, St. Joe and the other Penn State scoundrels will have been ignominiously cast out of what turns out to be a not-so-Happy Valley.
MILWAUKEE — The routine these past few days has seemed well rehearsed.
It has been that way, it feels like, forever.
“We have a special bond, obviously,” Weeks said. “Everywhere I went, I just kept playing with him. Through baseball, we formed that close friendship.”
People who have spent time observing Weeks and Fielder said their friendship was a rare luxury in professional sports. They have off-season homes a couple of miles apart in Orlando, Fla., around where both grew up, and Weeks is the godfather to one of Fielder’s two children.
With Milwaukee trailing by three games to two in the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Fielder and Weeks will try to stave off elimination in Game 6 on Sunday for a chance to send the Brewers to their first World Series since 1982.
But at the end of the Brewers’ postseason run, whether it be this weekend or after a World Series appearance, the nature of the infielders’ friendship, at least its proximity, could change. That is when Fielder will become a free agent. Next season, he could be wearing the jersey of another major league team, something neither player has done.
“I’m not really thinking about that,” Fielder said of his free agency. “I’ve been trying to think of now, this moment.”
Fielder’s past, though, particularly with Weeks, is a rich one. The two played together at every level of the minor leagues, both rising rapidly through the Brewers’ system. They each made the major league team in June 2005 and have been there since.
“They were close, they had that camaraderie, and they were two prime-time players,” said Ed Sedar, the Brewers’ third-base coach, who served as the club’s minor league field coordinator when Fielder and Weeks were coming through the system.
But their relationship goes further back than that. Before playing against each other at nearby high schools, the two were teammates on Chet Lemon’s Juice, an amateur club coached by the former Detroit Tiger.
The two were not immediate friends. Fielder was the youngest player on the team, and Weeks was still rushing off to football practice after the baseball games. But Weeks said he noticed Fielder because of his size and his hitting ability, as well as the presence of his father, Cecil, a major leaguer, who came to some of their games.
“They haven’t changed,” said Ralph Santana, a mutual friend who grew up playing baseball with and against Fielder and Weeks and was drafted by the Brewers in 2001. “Rickie’s always had great hand speed. You can’t teach that. And Prince, he has always hit bombs, mammoth shots.”
Santana, 31, who attended the Brewers’ 7-1 loss in Friday’s Game 5 of the N.L.C.S., recalled being with Fielder in 2003 when they learned the team had drafted a player from their hometown. “Someone told us they drafted Rickie Weeks in the first round,” Santana said. “And we were like: ‘Yeah! That’s crazy!’ ”
Weeks and Fielder, reunited again on the right side of infield, became roommates for the first time while playing for the Class AA Huntsville Stars. Weeks was the tidy one; Fielder, no slob, was more laid-back. But other habits irked Weeks a bit more.
“He was a big snorer,” Weeks said, laughing. “Luckily, we’ve got a little bit more money now and we got our own places, so I don’t have to worry about hearing that anymore.”
John Shelby, the Brewers’ outfield instructor, compared the pair’s friendship to the one he had with Cal Ripken. Shelby and Ripken played together at each level in the Baltimore Orioles organization before making the major league club together.
And while Weeks said he had not discussed next season with Fielder, Shelby said Weeks would be the first to know if and when a deal occurred.
“I will guarantee you,” Shelby said, “when Prince figures out what he’s going to do, Rickie will know, too.”
September 15, 2011, 4:27 pmBy JIM LUTTRELL
The Quad asked readers to submit recipes for football tailgating parties, and the response made us hungry for some football, but mostly just plain hungry. We’ll give you a dish or two to try each week, starting with a bratwurst stew from Vivian Henoch, a fan of the Wisconsin Badgers.
Henoch writes: “Throw me a brat and a brew, and I’ll tell you a thing or two about Madison, Wisconsin, where I learned to consume both in liberal quantities. Here goes the revelation of my vintage: another ol’ Boomer, coming of age in those heady years during the late 60s and early 70s.
“Fast forward: today the touristy and chirpy State Street Brats, a sports bar and grill, bears little resemblance to the Brat Haus of my memory, a Madison institution, serving brats, cheese curds, and beer since the ’30s, 40 years before I set foot through its doors.
“It would seem there’s no end to instruction and protocol for preparing, serving and sharing the perfect brat experience: to chill or not to chill the brats before cooking? To prick or not to prick the meat? To simmer in beer before or after the grilling? Yellow mustard or Düsseldorf brown? Bun or Bavarian roll? Light beer or dark?
“To get your juices really flowing, I suggest a stew.”
It’s not too late to contribute your own dish. Use this form to send us your recipes, and please include a picture of your fare and perhaps an interesting back story.
Prep time: about an hour before the game.
By PAT BORZI
MILWAUKEE — They appeared from behind the left-field fence in the middle of the sixth inning, five tall, costumed wieners with heads like Easter Island statues but wearing hats. The Miller Park crowd of 43,613 cheered and whistled Sunday as the Milwaukee Brewers’ famous racing sausages lined up on the warning track and took off.
This is Brewers baseball, in which a team seeking its first World Series title still has time for complete nuttiness. Eight years after a visiting player accosted one of the sausages with a bat, the races have become such a part of Miller Park that players are often besieged by relatives seeking to participate.
“Everybody in my family has done it,” Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder said. “My wife’s done it. My two boys have done it. My wife’s cousin came and actually tore her A.C.L. doing it. She took it like a champ. She went home, she was walking around and, like, my knee hurts.”
The sausages are so popular that they make public appearances, and the Brewers organized a five-kilometer run/walk for charity with five runners in the costumes. But Fielder, even after seven seasons of watching wieners jog past his dugout, still does not get the appeal.
“I never understood that,” he said. “I think it’s cool, but I don’t know.”
Brewers infielder Craig Counsell, who grew up in Wisconsin — his father, John, worked in the Brewers’ front office for eight years — said it was simply a case of Wisconsinites celebrating their heritage. In a state known for sausages, cheese and beer, it is the ultimate gag.
Best of all, he said, it is nontransferable. Teams in other cities have co-opted the basic racing idea, using United States presidents, scoreboard subway cars and pierogi, but only Milwaukee has sausages (and for that matter, Bernie Brewer, a longstanding team mascot who slides down a chute after each Milwaukee home run).
“It’s unique to Wisconsin,” Counsell said of the sausages. “It wouldn’t work anyplace else.”
The origin of the races is sketchy. Laurel Prieb, a former Brewers vice president who is now Major League Baseball’s vice president for Western operations, said the races existed when he arrived in 1991, but only as a cartoon shown on the scoreboard at County Stadium. Three animated wieners — a bratwurst and Polish and Italian sausages — scampered past Milwaukee landmarks and finished at the stadium.
“At some point, somebody — and I don’t know who came up with the idea — said, ‘Why don’t we rent some costumes and do it live as a kind of surprise?’ ” Prieb said. “It was meant to be a one-and-done thing.”
The live debut is believed to have occurred on May 29, 1994, the day the Brewers retired Robin Yount’s No. 19, although the team’s chief operating officer, Rick Schlesinger, said he could not confirm the date.
Prieb could not, either, but he does remember how it played out. The animation proceeded as usual until the final leg, when three costumed wieners emerged from the left-field corner and ran along the warning track.
The stunt was well received, but Prieb said Brewers officials hesitated doing the live version regularly. “We were fearful people would say it was the hokiest thing they ever saw,” Prieb said. “So we only did it sporadically.”
But by 2000 the live races had become so popular that the Brewers decided to run them at every game. “Lo and behold, it became an iconic thing,” Prieb said.
By then the race featured a fourth wiener, a hot dog. The fifth, a chorizo, for Milwaukee’s Hispanic community and Hispanic contributions to baseball, joined permanently in 2007 after a one-day trial the year before.
The sausages are considered mascots and have names. Brett, the bratwurst, is identified by his lederhosen. Stosh, the Polish sausage, sports dark glasses and a rugby shirt. The one with the mustache and the chef’s outfit is Guido, the Italian sausage. Frankie Furter, the hot dog, wears a baseball uniform. Cinco the chorizo dons a sombrero.
There is even a Sunday wrinkle in which the adult wieners do a midrace handoff to similarly costumed children, although that was put aside for the postseason.
The races received national attention in 2003 when the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Randall Simon conked the Italian sausage on top of the head with a bat, leading to Simon’s arrest and a three-game suspension. “That was supposed to be a joke, but it didn’t turn out to be a joke,” said Bob Uecker, the Brewers’ longtime broadcaster.
The Brewers do not allow just anybody to race. Brewers employees, often members of the grounds crew, usually wear the costumes. The Brewers generally prohibit non-employees from racing because of liability concerns, said Schlesinger, the chief operating officer.
“You need a connection, and then a connection and then another connection,” he said. “If a certain star quarterback with the Green Bay Packers whose name escapes me wanted to race and was willing to sign a waiver, we’d look at it.”
Milwaukee officials would not permit Sunday’s participants to be interviewed, citing a sort of sausage silence.
“The sausages don’t talk,” said Tyler Barnes, the team’s vice president for communications. “It’s one of the basic rules of racing meat.”
But the list of guest participants is so lengthy, including at least three former players — Pat Meares, Geoff Jenkins and Hideo Nomo — that it is not hard to find one willing to speak. A popular question is one Fielder has asked for years. “I’d think it would be hard to run in those things,” he said.
It is not as hard as you might think, Prieb said. He raced once, at Wrigley Field at the invitation of the Chicago Cubs, a rare sausage road trip. “It takes a few steps to get used to it,” he said.
And Prieb insisted the races were not fixed.
T. J. Quinn, an investigative reporter with ESPN, talked his way into the race while covering the Mets for The Daily News in 2002. He wore the hot dog costume and said the race was honest.
“The grounds crew guys who normally run in it grabbed the good ones, the Italian and the brat, so I got the dog,” Quinn said in an e-mail. “They told us not to speak to anyone because sausages don’t talk, and that it was a real race. The suits were surprisingly light, and there’s a screen in front of your face that you can see through fairly well.
“I had no issues with mobility, but I could have employed better course management; when I came to the turn I had to leap over the on-deck circle, and when I landed everybody had turned. I still managed to catch the Italian at the line by leaning. When you’re dressed as an 8-foot sausage, you can really lean.”