'It’s the Bucks’ night,' and Brewers are all-in

July 19th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- Fiserv Forum will be packed to the rafters for Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday, with the Milwaukee Bucks one victory shy of their first championship in 50 years.

Will noted Bucks fan and sideline beer-chugger Christian Yelich be in the building?

When he was asked that question, Yelich smiled and leaned into the microphone.

“Possibly,” he said.

Yelich and his Brewers teammates have the option of attempting to score tickets for the game after the club announced Monday that the first pitch of Tuesday’s series opener against the Royals had been moved four hours earlier to 3:10 p.m. CT. In announcing the switch, the Brewers tweeted, “Yes, we want to watch the Bucks game, too.”

Game times change occasionally -- the Brewers-White Sox game on Sunday was pushed from 1:10 p.m. to 6:08 p.m. to accommodate Sunday Night Baseball -- but it’s not a move teams take lightly. In part that’s because of broadcasting complications and the not insignificant task of staffing each game with employees who may have other jobs during the day. There’s also the matter of customers who purchased tickets expecting the game to start at a certain time and made plans accordingly, particularly groups for whom last-minute changes create problems. The Brewers said any ticket holders with a conflict should call the ticket office for a comparable seat to a different game or for a refund.

But when Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns called manager Craig Counsell to gauge the clubhouse thinking, Counsell didn’t hesitate.

“I said, 'We all want it moved. Please move the game. We want to watch it,'” Counsell said. “Or hopefully some guys get to go to it.”

The Brewers sent requests Sunday morning to Major League Baseball and manager Mike Matheny’s Royals. Both entities had to approve the change. And both did, almost immediately.

So the Brewers put out word to their fans.

“It’s the first time I remember changing a game time on this short notice,” Brewers president of business operations Rick Schlesinger said. “But when you’ve got potentially an historic night for the Bucks, it’s their night. It could be an historic night for the whole state.

“It’s the Bucks’ night. We want them to win it, and we want it to be special.”

Counsell attended Game 4 in Milwaukee in person and witnessed “The Block” -- Giannis Antetokounmpo’s epic, potentially season-saving block of the Suns’ Deandre Ayton’s alley-oop dunk attempt late in the Bucks’ scintillating win. That will go down as one of the best defensive plays in NBA Finals history.

But Counsell did not see “The Steal” -- Jrue Holiday’s pickpocket of Suns guard Devin Booker in the closing seconds of the Bucks’ comeback win in Game 5 in Phoenix. That play, Holiday’s steal and alley-oop to Antetokounmpo to essentially lock down a 3-2 series lead, happened while the Brewers were on the field in Cincinnati during an 11-inning win over the Reds. It was part of a three-game sweep that gave the Brewers a seven-game cushion atop the National League Central standings as of Sunday night.

The Brewers did see the end of the second quarter of that game because it coincided with a 43-minute rain delay against the Reds. But for the back and forth of the second half, Yelich said he relied on some of the Brewers fans on hand at Great American Ball Park, who shouted updates to players in the field or while they were coming and going from the dugout.

“It’s just really exciting for the city, for anybody that’s been around and knows how passionate Wisconsin and Milwaukee sports fans are,” Yelich said. “It’s an exciting time, and I think we showed that by moving our game on Tuesday. We’re rooting for them, and hopefully they can close this game out and get the job done and bring a championship home to Milwaukee and the city. I think the city will go nuts and we’re all rooting for it. Exciting times in Milwaukee.”

That excitement certainly applies to the manager. Counsell grew up in the Milwaukee area and was heartbroken when the city’s last team to play for a major pro sports championship, the 1982 Brewers, saw a 3-2 World Series lead slip away against the Cardinals. Counsell actually attended Game 7 in St. Louis as a 12-year-old.

“We'll try to take care of business Tuesday, and then we'll absolutely be Bucks fans,” Counsell said. “I can't wait. I'm not sure what my plans are, but I've got my daughter texting me, like, 'Get tickets! Get tickets! Get tickets!' so we'll see what happens.

“It's just a thrill. To be so close, and to be down 2-0 [in the series] and do what they've done, we're all excited, we really are. I mean, the clubhouse is excited for them, I know that. We've been talking about it a lot and we're thrilled and happy for the city and happy for all the fans. It's a really, really cool thing.”