Despite a few snow banks dotting the parking lot, spring was in the air, and the sun was warm, especially out of the wind. Everywhere I looked, I saw adults and kids in Brewers jackets and hats. Inside the park, long lines of people waited to buy even more Brewers' gear.
An unmistakable tenor of joy radiated through our fabulous Miller Park, as people settled noisily into the stands, nodding and high-fiving strangers around them or toasting each other with their beer cups. Even in the long lines for the restrooms, people seemed cheerful and, believe it or not, patient.
As he has for the last couple of years, team owner Mark Attanasio's father, Joseph, sang the national anthem to the whoops and applause of the sellout crowd. When he got to the part about "the bombs bursting in air" and the fireworks exploded, I jumped and felt my heart banging in my chest.
The regular gang of season-ticket holders that sits around me is back, hopeful and excited to see our team play even better than last year. I especially enjoyed watching how well our new catcher, Jason Kendall, works with the pitchers. As a bonus, the man is also a hitter. After three games against the Giants, his average leaped to .467 and then climbed over .500 during the Reds series.
Gabe Kapler is impressive. He too boasts a .500-plus batting average. However, once Mike Cameron joins the club after his stint in the doghouse, Kapler might not get as much playing time. That's too bad, because I confess he leaped to the top of my MVP list in the good looks department. (Other deserving players will be named later.)
Thanks to the Brewers' excellent farm system, all of us fans have had the thrill of watching young players mature. Their improvements continue. For example, Rickie Weeks burst into this season, getting on base any way he can, stealing, scoring, wearing down the opponents' pitchers and increasing the team's chances to win.
Starting with his first at-bat, Bill Hall became the crowd-pleaser of Opening Day, when he slugged the ball all the way to Friday's Grill, and then repeated the shot in the fifth.
Again this year, Ryan Braun appears to be a man without a nerve in his body. He strolls out to the plate, his face unreadable, his body loose. He digs a toe in the dirt and gets set, patiently takes a pitch, fouls off another and then calmly slams the next pitch into the bleachers.
On Sunday, watching Ben Sheets pitch against the Giants was spellbinding, awe-inspiring and enthralling. (Add your own clichés here.) His body flows as smoothly as a ballerina's. Without a hitch in the process, he nods at the catcher, steps back, sweeps into the stretch with that high kick and somehow fires the ball 95 mph as his foot sails back across the mound. Unlike other pitchers, Ben takes no time in between pitches to hike up his baggy pants, tuck in his always-loose shirt, lick his fingers or adjust his hat. He doesn't reach for the rosin bag and rarely wipes the sweat from his brow. He simply repeats his pitching process so rapidly and so efficiently the innings zoom by.
So rapidly, in fact, that the top of the first inning began and ended before my granddaughter and I had moved an inch in the food line. Ben threw 11 pitches to strike out the side.
Of course we "want it all this year," as the sports gurus say, but for now, watching great players prove and improve themselves drives my eagerness for each game, each win, each series.
And watching Gabe Kapler helps a lot too.