Brewers help Marlins feel at home in Milwaukee

September 15th, 2017

MILWAUKEE -- The oddest thing about the start of the Marlins' home-away-from-home series at Miller Park on Friday was how normal it all was. They dressed in the visitors' clubhouse, wore their usual road uniforms and took batting practice in the second slot, typical for a road team. The statistics and results counted like they would for any other Marlins visit to the Brewers' retractable-domed home.

There wasn't a clue that something was off until just before 7:10 p.m. CT, when Dee Gordon trotted out to second base instead of striding to the batter's box.

"It kind of feels like we're on a normal road trip," Gordon said. "That's all we can do."

Major League Baseball and the Marlins requested at lunchtime Wednesday that the series be moved to Milwaukee, so resources in Miami could remain fully committed to recovery efforts from Hurricane Irma. By Thursday morning, the Brewers were selling tickets.

Staffing a stadium on such short notice is a challenge, so the idea was to sell only the 10,000 or so seats in the lower bowl for Friday's game, and 23,000 seats in the two lower levels on Saturday and Sunday. Demand was so high in the first hour of sales that the Brewers expanded Friday's capacity to the same level as the weekend. Tickets still remain at for the games Saturday at 6:10 p.m. and Sunday at 1:10 p.m., a Brewers spokesperson said.

Several small gestures helped the Marlins and their families -- who are on the trip with the team -- feel at home. Families were accommodated in an all-inclusive group area at Miller Park with pre- and postgame meals. Palm trees and colorful decorations dotted the concourse and "The Point" beyond the left-center-field wall.

"With everything that's going on with our fans in the South Florida community, there's a lot of things that need to be done that are more important down there than a baseball game," said A.J. Ellis, an adopted cheesehead whose wife is from the Milwaukee area. "I'm very thankful to the Brewers for opening this place up for us and allowing us to play here. We're excited to be here."

The Brewers were happy to have three extra games at home, even if they batted first. Despite that tactical disadvantage, the games will count as home games, giving the Brewers more than 81 home contests for the first time in franchise history.

Because the Marlins began the week expecting to host the games as scheduled, the idea of a neutral site was never broached, said Brewers chief operating officer Rick Schlesinger, who runs the team's business operation, or general manager David Stearns, who heads the baseball side. Schlesinger was at lunch on Wednesday when MLB COO Tony Petitti called, asking about the availability of Miller Park.

"I think we recognize that this is a challenging situation for [the Marlins]," Stearns said. "They're being respectful of what's happening in their community, and they don't want to take resources away from the efforts that are going on down there. I'm personally happy we can make this happen."

Brewers manager Craig Counsell credited the club staffers who scrambled to make it happen.

"It seems like you just open the doors and it happens, but there's a lot of work that goes into it," Counsell said. "I'm thrilled [about] how many tickets have been sold and how many fans are going to come out. It's a great statement, and they get to see important baseball games."

While the Brewers have their sights on the postseason, many Marlins staffers and players were thinking of home. Some of Gordon's family members were still without power.

"I knew my family was together, so that was the biggest thing -- nobody got hurt and we were talking to them throughout the whole situation," Gordon said. "It's tough to do without power, but you'd rather not have power than somebody be hurt."

The Marlins expect to return home Sunday night to host the Mets at Marlins Park beginning on Monday.

"The first thing I think about is back in my neighborhood, there's a couple that we know who was pregnant and was due any day at the time of the storm," said left-hander , who is scheduled to start on Saturday night. "They gave birth a day or two ago now. That is what comes to my mind when you talk about the big picture -- there's certain things you don't get to choose the timing of."

Just like the baseball schedule.

"It'll just give us a chance to walk somebody off in their own stadium," Ellis said. "That would be kind of a cool feeling."