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MILWAUKEE -- After 26 years of waiting for this party, the threat of rain couldn't stop Brewers fans from giving their team a proper postseason sendoff.
A crowd of 14,188 packed into Milwaukee's lakefront Summerfest grounds, a venue usually reserved for summer music festivals but Monday transformed into baseball heaven for Brewers fans who have not tasted postseason baseball since 1982. Just after 5 p.m. CT, the National League Wild Card-winning Brewers joined the party.
If Rally Monday was any indication, it's going to be a wild week during the Brewers-Phillies National League Division Series. Game 1 is Wednesday afternoon in Philadelphia.
"We're just getting started," left fielder Ryan Braun told the crowd. "It's great to get to the postseason, but it's even better to advance."
With news helicopters fluttering overhead, beer vendors working at full speed and the clouds temporarily holding their moisture, the Brewers said thanks to the fans who came out 3 million strong this season.
Left-hander CC Sabathia, Mr. Three Days' Rest, drew the biggest cheers. Masters of ceremonies Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder had a schedule to follow, but the fans had other ideas. Chants of "C! C! C! C!" prompted a change in the program, and Sabathia obliged.
One by one, other players followed. A curtain call went to newly crowned cult hero Seth McClung, who said a few words to satisfy the fans. But closer Salomon Torres may have stolen the show, delivering a performance worthy of a professional wrestling event.
"Twenty-six years!" Torres bellowed, dancing around the stage. "You've waited 26 years, and you can wait no more!"
The men behind the scenes of the Brewers' 90-win season also stepped into the spotlight. Principal owner Mark Attanasio, who will celebrate his 51st birthday on Tuesday, was presented a No. 51 jersey by the Brewer who bears that number, reliever Brian Shouse.
And then came general manager Doug Melvin, who took over at the end of the Brewers' 106-loss 2002 season and rebuilt the franchise. He pulled the trigger on the July trade that netted Sabathia.
"It's the fans here that gave me the motivation for going 'all in,'" Melvin said. "I want to thank CC for that trade. It made up for all of the bad ones I've made."
That drew a laugh from the fans. One of them happened to be Milwaukee's mayor.
Mayor Tom Barrett arrived in a Sabathia T-shirt. He said his 15-year-old son has suggested that Barrett raise the sales tax to help keep free-agent-to-be Sabathia around next season.
"I don't think that's going to work," Barrett said.
The mayors of Milwaukee and Philadelphia have already coordinated on a friendly wager. Barrett, who showed up Monday wearing a CC Sabathia T-shirt, wagered a case of Milwaukee bratwurst. Philadelphia Michael Nutter put Philly cheesesteaks on the line.
Barrett was at Miller Park when the Brewers clinched the Wild Card on Sunday.
"With the stock market, with the foreclosures, with people losing their jobs, I think people need joy in their lives," he said. "This is pure, unadulterated joy for baseball fans. People wait for this [in spring] and here we are in autumn, and we're still hoping."
The celebration around thee city did not end Sunday night.
While the FanZone store at Miller Park remained open 24 hours to accommodate fans wanting to snap up their postseason caps and T-shirts, fans partied all night online, where one message board featured such subdued discussions as, "The 'OMG WE'RE GOING TO THE PLAYOFFS' THREAD!" Talk radio buzzed throughout the day Monday, and after the clouds parted in mid-afternoon, fans streamed into the Summerfest grounds, usually reserved for music festivals, but on Monday turned into a rest stop for the Brewers on their way to Gen. Mitchell International Airport.
The team will work out at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia at noon CT on Tuesday, then will play a postseason game at 2 p.m. CT on Wednesday for the first time since Oct. 20, 1982.
Barring a rainout of Game 1 or Game 2, the team will be back in Milwaukee on Friday for a workout before Game 3 on Saturday and then, if necessary, Game 4 on Sunday. The Brewers held back some postseason tickets for fans who commit to at least a 20-game season ticket package in 2009. Single-game tickets have already been distributed via an online lottery.
It's not exactly surprising that tickets are in high demand. The Brewers have had two winning seasons since 1992.
"The lows were never as low as this high is right now," right-hander Ben Sheets, the longest-tenured Brewer, told the Rally Monday crowd. "That's all thanks to you fans."