Tag Archives: Green Bay Packers

Baseball on the radio – an American love affair

Colleen Brenton’s road to working as a reporter on the Green Bay Packers for Wisconsin radio station WTMJ is a fascinating one.

As she told Elephant Sport, it was listening to the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team on the radio as a kid that changed her career path and life.

The baseball regular season is 162 games long, a baseball game lasts about three and a half hours, so keeping up with a team is difficult for most avid fans. If you’re a fanatic of Major League Baseball, you’ll spend a considerable amount of hours watching baseball each year.

“Bob Uecker changed my life, really”

To put that into perspective, if you watched every game of your team in full during a season, you’d be sitting down to watch for 567 hours, or 23 and a half days.

The very essence of the baseball’s lengthy format therefore leads fans to explore all the different methods of following games, whether it be partial season tickets, short highlights, condensed game highlights, or even just reading boxscores in newspapers.

But for Colleen Brenton, growing up over a thousand miles from her nearest team, she only had one choice when she was growing up in the 80s: radio.

An essential medium

Dodgers commentary legend Vin Scully

Baseball is a very conversational sport. With notable gaps between innings and pitches, it gives commentators a chance to breathe, and share personal anecdotes. The best commentators often make the game seem like it’s being played around their spoken cues, and engage their listeners in their musings from their lives in the sport.

The continuing importance of radio coverage of baseball, has made many broadcasters famous down the years.

During the summertime, they’re heard in millions of American homes, in cars and while out and about over portable devices. Most people are too busy to invest multiple hours five days a week to watching the sport.

The best commentators – like Vin Scully, who has been calling Los Angeles Dodgers games for 66 years – feel like family to the fanbases they talk to, and employ a masterful sense of timing and pace.

“I swear,” exclaimed Fox Sports Radio’s Colin Cowherd last September on his radio show The Herd. “It’s like Dodgers players wait for Vin Scully to finish telling stories before hitting balls or throwing pitches sometimes, it’s unbelievable. All his stories end perfectly with a catch.

“He’ll tell a nine minute-long story and then say: ‘and man landed on the moon… Oh, this ball looks like it’s headed to the moon, and it’s gone! 3-2 Dodgers, home run!’ That’s the power of his announcing.”

For Colleen Brenton, who grew up in Idaho, it wasn’t Scully who provided her window into the baseball but another US baseball broadcasting legend: Bob Uecker of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The first pitch

“Bob Uecker changed my life, really,” Brenton told Elephant Sport. “My parents were never interested in sports when I was growing up, so I pretty much had to fend for myself.

“The Boise State Broncos – who play college football to a decent standard – are the only relevant sports team in the whole state, so finding a team to follow was hard because there wasn’t a local pro team for me to latch onto. I had to look outside my state. That’s when I found the Brewers.”

“It’s like Dodgers players wait for Vin Scully to finish telling stories before hitting balls or throwing pitches sometimes, it’s unbelievable”

Milwaukee just happened to be the closest team to Brenton, as well as the smallest market in the Major Leagues. It suited her to be supporting ‘small town’ team after living in a state which is ranked 39th out of 50 in terms of population.

“They’re the underdogs. They don’t have the money to compete with the big teams, or the location. But that’s what makes the fanbase what it is, and it’s special,” she continued.

Heated rivalry

During mid 1960s, Milwaukee had it’s first taste of Major League Baseball, when the ‘Braves’ played at County Stadium. Financial issues forced the team to switch to Seattle as the ‘Pilots’ but they lasted just a single season before going bankrupt again and moving back to Wisconsin, becoming the Brewers.

That season away from the Mid-West came as a wake up call for much of the fanbase, who have remained some of the most loyal fans in the sport since.

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“I remember what happened, I was tuning the dial on the radio – I was 14-years-old and it cut to a Brewers-Cardinals game. Now the Brewers rivalry with the Cards is pretty heated, and it hooked me immediately.

“I’d never seen a baseball game before, I knew nothing about the team, or the sport but the enthusiasm of Uecker was infectious. I continued listening for the rest of the season and beyond.

“I went to see the Brewers without having ever seen anything other than pictures of them in papers”

“I find that baseball in many ways is better on the radio than it is on TV and even live because of the way colour commentators describe the game. I found that as I grew up Uecker was always there for me, almost every day, during the summer, through thick and thin, he was on the radio in my room.

“Maybe that’s because how I grew up following it? Back then it wasn’t even on TV in Idaho outside of the World Series.

“I then became desperate to see the game properly, after just hearing it for so long, so when I learnt to drive at 16 I drove to all the way to Milwaukee to see the team for the first time.”

Road trip

Going to your first baseball game live is a real milestone for many Americans, and it was no different for Brenton, when she saw the Brewers at County Stadium playing the Chicago Cubs for the first time.

“After falling in love with the Green Bay Packers as well, I moved across the country to fulfil my dream”

“Can you imagine being a fan of a team for years, and never seeing them with your eyes? I went to see the Brewers without having ever seen anything other than pictures of them in papers. I had only ever seen the World Series on TV.

“I remember Greg Counsel hitting a home run to give the Brewers the lead, jumping up and down and screaming in the aisles.

“When I left County Stadium, I had seen baseball – and sport – in a different light. It was that day that I decided it was such a big part of my life, that not only did I want to work in the sport, writing about it, but move to Wisconsin to be closer to it.

“And in 2012, after falling in love with the Green Bay Packers as well, I moved across the country to fulfil my dream.”

New beginnings

When she arrived in Wisconsin, finding a job covering the Brewers was harder than she thought.

Writing about baseball is by no means an easy job, as so many people want to do it. So instead, she took a different approach, taking an internship at WTMJ – a local radio station – which eventually allowed her to cover the Packers during the season for a full-time wage after years of writing for free.

“It’s my dream job, writing about sports. It’s even more of a dream because I worked so hard to get there. I’d always loved writing as a kid, and I didn’t know back then that writing about sports would be how I’d earn a living. I love it!

“I may not be writing about the Brewers, but it’s because of them that I’m writing about sport. Without Bob Uecker’s radio calls, I doubt I’d be living in Green Bay, Wisconsin right now, writing about American football for a living.

“And I certainly wouldn’t have a Brewers season ticket…”

On The Road With My NFL Team

Going on the road to watch your team in the NFL is a strange thing.

As with all the major sports in the USA, the distance between each team can be anything from sharing the same stadium, to travelling almost 3,000 miles across a single country and multiple states.

But the main difference is that the NFL is king in America, and travelling to see your team play away from home is more like a pilgrimage; it’s taken very seriously. And I didn’t realise that fully, until I flew from London to Charlotte to see my NFL team – the Green Bay Packers – play the Carolina Panthers away from the team’s home field.

The Panthers aren’t the most storied team in the NFL, having formed as part of the League’s expansion in 1995, but its fan base are about as passionate as the rest, despite it needing a bit of growth. Bank of America Stadium is also a really cool place to catch a game, if a little generic for a downtown stadium.

It seems to suit the team, the structure is new, and exciting, but lacks any character gained from a lengthy history.

None of that mattered though, as joining the thousands of Packers fans outside – who had also travelled an incredible distance to see the team play – made Charlotte feel like the streets surrounding Lambeau Field back in Wisconsin, proving that Pack fans really know how to make anywhere in the USA feel like a home from home.

Small market, big support

“Oh yeah, if the Packers come to town it’s always the biggest game for us,” said Adrian Green, a sales assistant at a sports retail store local to Bank of America Stadium.

“They just come in droves and it’s actually a real positive for our business round here. I mean, even the Panthers’ rivalry games don’t attract the same sort of support as the Packers, wherever they play, it seems like the entire fanbase converges on the city.”

Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium

And he really wasn’t joking, as the tailgating scene surrounding the stadium was littered with people of all ages donning ‘Green and Gold’.

“Oh, it was only a 14 hour drive down,” said one Wisconsinite in a worn-out Packers jersey, while grilling a bratwurst beside his truck. “We try and do one game a year outside of Green Bay, it’s just really fun to see new places and cheer on the team as a road warrior.”

The pre-game festivities have become an essential part of every NFL gameday now, as everyone meets up and parties in the huge parking lots or bars near the stadium.

Back in Green Bay, Lambeau Field is quite segregated from the rest of Wisconsin and its major cities Madison and Milwaukee. It’s a small town, in the middle of an agrarian part of America; so gameday is a day which eight times a year, brings everyone together in celebration of the smallest market in the league.

Tailgating in the middle of a city is so different. Charlotte is very much cosmopolitan, and densely populated, so the areas where fans party are tightly packed and spread out. It didn’t detract from the experience though, as per usual, I was constantly offered all manner of food and drinks when walking around, between the various set ups soaking it all in.

“Has the game started yet?” one fan asked me. “No,” I replied. “There’s still an hour until kick-off.”

“Brilliant,” he said. “More time for beer!”

Warm welcomes

The atmosphere in the stadium was also a friendly one. Whether it’s just a ‘Southern Hospitality’ thing or not, it was really encouraging to see both Panther and Packer fans alike cheering, chatting and sharing the game experience together.

There’s no segregation in America, which to a UK fan may seem very alien, but out in the US it’s normal. I didn’t have to be quiet when the Packers scored – partly because there were so many of our fans, and partly because Panthers fans were very accommodating.

“American sport sets itself apart from other countries when it comes to fan culture”

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever shouted louder during a game, despite being surrounded by fans wearing black and blue jerseys. The Packers started strong, but played awfully after leading at the end of the first Quarter. Until the final 15 minutes of regulation, Carolina were firmly in control, leading by three scores, but the Packers battled back and made for one of the more exciting finishes to a football game I’d ever seen.

Down just one score with two minutes to go, Green Bay’s Demerious Randall intercepted Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton to give the Packers extremely favourable field position for one last shot at victory.

The section I was in erupted, with a unique mixture of groans and jubilation. I’ll never forget jumping up and down, screaming and high fiving all the fellow fans around me. What seemed like a foregone conclusion at halftime was suddenly turned on its head; I guess that’s the sort of drama which gets so many people make the trips to opposing teams’ stadiums.

Incredible experience

In the end it wasn’t meant to be though, as the Packers turned the ball over just a few yards from the score. My team, our team, Wisconsin’s team, had lost; and it was somehow gut-wrenching, despite all of us having accepted defeat seemingly hours before the game’s conclusion.

Those of us wearing green were left with long journeys home ahead of us, including an eight-hour flight back to London for me.

But it was worth it. Seeing the NFL for what it really is behind the TV screen, and in its native country is always an incredible experience.

American sport sets itself apart from other countries when it comes to fan culture, because it’s always such a great experience for families, as much as die-hard fans; it’s closer to Bundesliga, than it is Premier League.

“Better luck next time,” one of the Panther fans said on the way out of the stadium. “You guys are good, and we’re just riding high. See you in the playoffs hopefully? It’ll be a great game!

“Oh, and thanks for making the trip,” he added just before turning an opposite way to us onto the street outside the gates. “You guys made the atmosphere special today.”