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It was the best of times, it was the wurst of times. One minute I’m high-fiving cheering people in the stands, and the next thing I know I’m a bum. Ah, the life of an athlete – or at least one wearing a giant foam costume for a day.
With one out in the top of the sixth, I donned my “Frank,” the Hot Dog outfit. The other four runners got ready too. “Bret,” the Bratwurst wearing lederhosen, the natty “Posh” the Polish Dog in sunglasses; “Guido,” the Italian Sausage with a Chef’s hat; and the newest – “Cinco,” Chorizo wearing a gigantic sombrero. Frank looked like an All American baseball player, with his toothy smile and eye black. The costume isn’t heavy, maybe six or seven pounds, but bulky, about six feet tall. I dove in, popped my arms through the armholes, and placed the inner harness on my shoulders – and that was it. Now the top of “my” head was about 11 feet in the air. You see through a mesh screen in the character’s chest. I paced around like a caged animal, nervous but ready to run for all the mustard.
After the third out, a gate opened and we emerged from behind the left field wall as happens in every Brewers home game. I began “Hot Doggin,” and emulating the other Sausages. I high-fived some people in the stands and strutted along the left-field foul line. Soon I moved toward the Sausages lining up and all of a sudden, we were off. 43,812 fans, the 10th sellout of the season, were roaring. I was huffing and puffing – this is a long 150-yard sprint after all, and though I wasn’t far behind the Chorizo – the three leaders were gone. My casing was palpitating and sweat poured through my bun. As I finally neared the finish line down the right field line, I heard one fan yell, “You Suck Hot Dog,”’ He was right and his comment is still ringing in my ears. Italian won, followed by the Brat, Polish, Chorizo, and me, the Hot Dog…dead, rancid, last.
Today, there are some similar competitions held at other big league ballparks, but the Brewers’ Racing Sausages were the first live-action figures to race in the majors as a regularly scheduled event. What began as a cartoon video board race in the ’90s at the old County Stadium evolved into a live race, with the five Racing Sausage contestants exuberantly embraced by the home crowd. These races have taken place after the top of the sixth inning at every home game since the opening of Miller Park in 2001, and now continuing in the renamed stadium, American Family Field. The roar of the crowd is often louder for the Sausage Race than at any other time during the game. People bet on which character will win and they even have the Sausage standings every day in the local newspaper.
Everybody has a Favorite Sausage Character:
Michael Hurtz, a tall theology student from Milwaukee wearing a Loyola U Volleyball sweatshirt said, “I like the Bratwurst because my whole family is German. It’s fun and all about Milwaukee – beer and sausages.” He’s right of course. Milwaukee, this hearty Midwestern city of 600,000 is all about beer and sausages, and people consume plenty of each, with relish. Favorite beer joints include the Lakefront Brewery (The Animal House of Breweries), Sprecher, and the Milwaukee Ale House among others. Beer, brats, dogs, and sausages seem to be in the local blood. Area kids eagerly root for their favorite Racing Sausage. “I like Posh, the Polish, and I also like Rowdy Tellez,” said 12-year-old Aaron Fammgez from Oconomowoc. “I like the Chorizo, he’s Mexican,” said Evan Loker, aged 10, from Madison. “The Chef is my favorite,” said 11-year-old Christy Stumpf of Sherwood, Wisconsin with a smile. “I like the Hot Dog – he’s the underdog,” said local 9-year-old fan, Justin Meyer sitting with his family. Bonnie Johnson works behind the counter at the ballpark’s Brat Express, selling tasty Brats and Chorizo for $4.25. “I tell ya – that Chorizo is always dogging it, he’s an underachiever,” she said.
There have been some memorable Racing Sausage moments, notably the “Randall Simon Incident,” which occurred on July 9th, 2003. Then Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Randall Simon playfully bopped the Italian Sausage running by. The top-heavy figure fell over; Simon was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct and suspended from baseball for three games. The woman inside the costume wasn’t seriously injured but only asked Simon for a signed bat. Simon was suspended for three games and fined $432 for disorderly conduct. He was booed every time he returned to Milwaukee and was soon out of baseball.
“Which one is number 3?” asked Cindy Brandenburg from Wausau. “The Italian? Guido – yeah, I like him,” she said. “We have a stuffed Guido in our RV.” Brandenburg and her five kids had spots in a special bar section over the right field fence. When asked about the famous Sausages even venerable Brewers announcer Bob Uecker had an opinion. He laughed and said, “I eat them.”
That night, the American Family Field throng, packed with Brewers’ and interstate rival Minnesota Twins’ fans enjoyed a spirited ballgame. Although local slugger Christian Yelich hit one out late, the home team lost; buzzing Twins fans and accepting Brewers faithful all seemed content. It was time to be one with the Milwaukee locals and find a fresh cold beer. Yet my thighs were still burning from my doomed race and stimulation mixed with shame, 50-50. They say that every dog has his day, but alas, this was not mine. This Sausage had left the building.
Bob Ecker is a writer living in Napa, California