Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Good local beer in Louisville Slugger Field? Now as before, don't count on it.

Potable Curmudgeon: I know you don’t care, and you didn’t actually make the sign, but I’m going to tell you, anyway: Blue Moon isn’t from Belgium.

Worker: Oh, yeah? So, where’s it really from?

PC: Well (reaching into the ice and pulling out a bottle), it says here Denver and Memphis, so that’d make it Coors, right?

W: Suppose so. Having a beer?

PC: (Gritting teeth) Redhook, please.

Later … my second trip to the beer stand …

W: Hey, there he is. You want one of those American beers?

PC: Sure. The one from Seattle. You have any Ichiroll?

Last Saturday evening, I accompanied Mrs. Curmudgeon to an exciting baseball game at Louisville Slugger Field, where the hometown Bats rallied from behind to defeat the Columbus Clippers.

It was a fine evening, with warm summer breezes sans excessive humidity, and of course an obligatory pre-game trip to Browning’s for a meal of assorted appetizers and brewmaster Brian Reymiller’s excellent house ales – IPA and ESB, to be precise.

Unfortunately, some things never change, and twenty paces past the Browning’s entryway bring the visitor through the central concourse to the turnstiles, and as in the past, once inside the ballpark itself, “abandon hope for good local beer/all ye who enter here.”

That’s an ongoing shame, and one that would be a community scandal if the hypocritical upper management of the organization were capable of feeling shame about the missed opportunities to market to all segments of the public, and not just the lowest common denominator served with a profound lack of originality by Centerplate, the team’s made-for-Slugger Field concessionaire, and flagrantly abetted by the front office’s naked greed.

To be perfectly honest, during the past few baseball seasons, I’ve steadily lost interest in the topic of good beer in the ballpark. My solution has been to quit attending games -- not because I enjoy the game of baseball any less, and not because I couldn’t bring myself to watch a sporting event without imbibing alcoholic beverages.

Rather, it ruins it for me knowing that year in and year out, the club’s management operates in such a manner as to flout utter contempt for my preferences, both at the concession stand and in my working life, while at the same time I can look in all directions and see business entities queued, willing and eager to cater to the needs of a target demographic that is willing to spend freely to enjoy the finer things in life.

Like a craft-brewed local beer, served predictably at selected locations around the field.

Here’s the last piece I bothered to write on the topic, which was published in the FOSSILS newsletter in September, 2002. Looking over it, I can see places where slight revisions might be made, but overall it remains accurate four years later.

I’m here to admit openly that there was no consumer campaign in 2003, and so the Philistinism rages on with no end in sight.

Until there is improvement, televised major league baseball with the beverage of my choice will remain the household norm – unless, of course, I enjoy Browning’s and return home, comfortable that I kept a few dollars out of Gary Ulmer’s pocket.

Not to mention A-B's.



Several weeks ago, when the freelance LEO reviewer Marty Rosen approvingly surveyed the dining and drinking options in Louisville Slugger Field (home of the Triple-A Louisville Bats), something within me snapped.

I remembered what I’d read in numerous publications about new and exciting food and beer choices in less parochial minor league baseball parks across the United States, paused to compare these progressive examples to what traditionally has been available to us in Louisville, and became massively annoyed with the beer-and-skittles mentality prevalent at the ballpark.

My question, then as now, is this: Exactly what must happen for us to have good, locally brewed beer to drink in our good, local ballpark? Geography speaks volumes. Cumberland Brews is a couple of miles away, BBC a block down the street, and Browning’s in the same building … and all three brew excellent beer, yet there was no locally brewed beer at Louisville Slugger Field in 2002. However, as always, there was plenty of beer brewed in St. Louis, Seattle and other corporatist outposts nationwide.

What explains this state of affairs?

You can forget arguing that good beer is its own sales pitch, or that small local businesses should get a fair shake in a facility constructed with governmental assistance. It all comes down to this: How many of us know what is involved with being permitted to vend products in a sports venue?

Product placement in these situations is one of the last great bastions of unfettered payola, a consideration of cash as opposed to quality, and an opportunity to perpetuate a good old boy network of palm greasing whereby the big players tithe in large amounts so as to prefigure the playing field for everyone else, irrespective of size. It’s informal, not illegal in any written, contractual sense, but it goes on just the same, and anyone in either the beer or the baseball business who says otherwise is a fool, a liar, or both.

There’s the rub. Minor league baseball routinely markets itself as the antithesis of large-market shenanigans like those described in the preceding paragraph. The minors? Listen to the party line: Hey, we’re not the same as the majors. Our team is the local team, playing in the local ballpark, charging reasonable ticket prices and involving the community in whatever way possible, from honoring little league teams to hosting workplace group outings. No strikes here, no sirree; we’re the good guys.”

Taking all this into account and digging a bit, I found myself provoked far beyond mere annoyance, into the realm of indignant irritation, by learning the degree to which the Bats, the team’s “localdownhomefriendlyimagery” aside, have been extorting local brewing businesses by asking a huge sum in “voluntary” advertising before the concessionaire opens the first tap. It is a sum that is unaffordable, one that would preclude profit on the part of a small producer, and one that probably contributed to the demise of the last brewery (Oldenberg) who dared chance it.

It runs counter to all logic. With so many positive experiences in other minor league ballparks, why would the management of the Bats be so blind to the possibilities of involving local breweries at an affordable “price”? How could the management of the Bats ignore the segment of ticket buyers who want something more than warm Budweiser?

Egad! Could it be that the sheer volume of financial support from big players like Anheuser-Busch has, ahem, clouded the team’s vision all along? Am I wrong, then, in concluding that one of two things must be true: Either the management of the Bats is awash in St. Looeyback developmental funding (and the exclusivity that these valuable coupons imply), or it’s just plain stupid -- dull tools in a shed reeking of dishwater beer and business as usual.

Judging by the precious few responses to all our questions, grudgingly proffered by the management of the Bats as though we were seeking the plans to build a dirty atomic bomb, it’s difficult to tell which of my conclusions is the case. Many people have written to LEO and to Bats officials. How many of you got a response?

Or, in the case of general manager Dale Owens, a coherent response?

From the start, the team’s reaction has been vintage, obstructionist Nixonian: Change the subject, circle the wagons, refuse to answer, and finally, when all else fails, defame the messenger and the motives of those with the temerity to demand accountability from local “movers and shakers” who are so busy flattering the corporate egos of Missouri-based brewery executives that they seem to have forgotten the identity of the community they somehow purport to move and shake.

It was a sadly predictable response from people who, in team president Gary Ulmer’s own words, already had decided with certainty that “the vast majority” of Louisville baseball fans “want the basics at the ballpark.” Left unspoken was the corollary: “While we allow Anheuser-Busch’s money to make the decisions for us and the fans, majorities and minorities notwithstanding.”

The Bats baseball season is over, and there’s nothing much to be done now. But the fall and winter approach, and it is my intention to use the time I have to organize our campaign for next spring. Perhaps, behind the plainly arrogant façade that has greeted our legitimate questions this year, there is a glimmer of recognition in the executive suite of the Louisville Bats that we are not going to go away. I hope so, because all rhetoric aside, I know full well that the team’s management is capable of doing the right thing.

If it does not, then we must plan to be there next season to remind them of the errors they’re committing. And if they do the right thing, and good, local beer does come into the park, we must be ready to support it, both by drinking it ourselves and by educating the other baseball fans. I know that we’re up to the challenge. Is the team?


antzman said...

There is nothing quite refreshing as a Los Angeles made Kirin Ichiban...

A couple weeks ago that same stand, while trying to sell me some soft of porkchop sandwich was pushing Bud's Spring Heat, "a Belgian Beer" they declared!

That being said, that lonely stand way out in the outfield is a bastion of dim light in an otherwise pitch black sea of miserable beer. I will take the (God help me) Newcastle in a 12oz can over the swill poured elsewhere in the ballpark.

smoosh said...

I agree with Todd - Ichiban is HORRIBLE! I had one at Steinert's a year or two ago ... and Roger, before you bash me about that it was a Sunday and the Colts game was blacked out. If you want to open Sportstime again on Sundays ... ;-)

The real travisty is that he'll import a beer from Kona, Hawaii, but not serve in beer brewed in his own stadium.