I’ve lived in Madison for 13 years and this is the first time I’ve noticed anybody caring about the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s definitely the first time I’ve cared about the Milwaukee Bucks. But now the Bucks have a legitimate superstar in Giannis Antetokoumnpo and a likeable cast of supporting characters like 19-year-old former refugee and skinny blockmaster Thon Maker. The kids had a rare unscheduled day on Sunday and the Bucks were in the playoffs against the Celtics and there were nosebleed tickets on Stubhub for $40 apiece so why not?
You may know that I kind of hate driving so if I’m gonna drive all the way to Milwaukee it’s got to be for more than a Bucks game. When I thought about what the kids would really want to do it was pretty clear — see the Brewers, stay over, then see the Bucks. So that’s what we did!
Notes on the Brewers:
- I got lost in the impossible off-ramp spaghetti surrounding Miller Park and we ended up not getting into the ballpark until the second inning. The Brewers were already down 4-0. 4-0! To the sad Miami Marlins, the team Derek Jeter is using as a tax dodge, the team so bad Marlins Man cancelled his season tickets!
- But as soon as we sat down, Travis Shaw muscled a huge home run to left center. Didn’t even look like he got all of it, he kind of sliced it. But Travis Shaw is a big strong man.
- Brewers just keep creeping back. Crowd stays in the game, at no point do you really feel the Brewers are out of it. Three straight Brewers hit what look like go-ahead home runs but each dies at the wall. (Ryan Braun at least gets a sacrifice fly out of it.) In the 8th, Derek Dietrich loses an Eric Sogard fly ball in the, I dunno, the lights? The roof? He plays for the Marlins and he just doesn’t care? Anyway the ball plunked down right next to him, Shaw hustles in from second to tie it, Eric Thames, who starts the play on first, tries to get in behind with the go-ahead run but is tagged out at or rather substantially before the plate because Eric Thames made a bad decision.
- Josh Hader looks like he should be playing bass in Styx.
- Then comes the bottom of the 9th and the play you might have read about. Still tied 5-5. Jesus Aguilar, who’s already warmed up twice in the on-deck circle, finally gets his chance to pinch-hit against Junichi Tazawa. Gets behind 0-2. And then just starts fouling, fouling, fouling. Takes a few pitches here and there. Full count. Foul, foul, foul. And on the 13th pitch, Aguilar launches it to center field. I thought it was gonna be one more death on the warning track. But nope; ball gets out, game over, fireworks. I felt like my kids got to see true baseball.
On to Milwaukee. Bucks play the Celtics at noon, in what, if they lose, could be the last ever game played at Bradley Center. (This is a bit of a sore point for UW folks, who absorbed as a budget cut the $250m state contribution to the arena’s cost.) We have breakfast at the hotel and chat with a nice older couple in Packers/Celtics gear — what? — who turn out to be Boston forward Al Horford’s aunt and uncle from Green Bay.
This is only the third NBA game I’ve been to, CJ’s second, AB’s first. We wander around inside the arena for a bit. Two separate groups of Bucks cheerleaders come up to AB and applaud her curly hair. I think people are especially struck by it when they see us together, because I don’t have curly hair, except here’s a little-known fact: I do have curly hair! I just keep it short so it doesn’t curl. In 1995 or so it looked like this:
Anyway. The atmosphere, as I have promised AB, is more intense than baseball. Bucks build up a 19-point lead and seem poised to coast but the Celtics come back, and back, and back, and finally go ahead with 52 seconds left. Jaylen Brown plainly capable of taking over a game. Aron Baynes has a very dumb-looking haircut. Milwaukee’s Thon Maker is ridiculously skinny and has very long arms. He’s just 21, a former refugee from South Sudan. We saw his first game as a Buck, an exhibition against the Mavericks at Kohl Center. Those long skinny arms can block a shot.
Game tied at 102, 5 seconds left, Malcom Brogdon (called “The President” — why?) misses a layup, and there, rising like a Greek column above the scene, is the Greek arm of Giannis Antetokounmpo — the tip-in is good, Celtics miss the desperation last shot, Bucks win 104-102, crowd goes berserk.
I was going to blog about this last week but got busy so let’s throw in more sports. Bucks eventually lose this series in 7, home team winning every game a la Twins-Braves 1991. The next Friday, I’m giving a talk at Maryland, and the Orioles are playing that night. It’s been five years since I’ve seen OPACY. I brought CJ along this time, too. The Orioles are not in a good way; they’ve won 6 and lost 19, though 3 of those 6 were against New York at least. Attendance at the game, on a beautiful Friday night, was just over 14,000. The last baseball game I went to that felt this empty and mellow was the AAA Tucson Toros, several months before they moved to El Paso and became the Chihuahuas. Chris Tillman, tonight’s starter, was the Orioles’ ace five years ago. Now he’s coming off a 1-7 season and has an ERA over 9.
So who would have thought he’d toss seven shutout innings and take a no-hitter into the fifth? Never looked overpowering but kept missing bats. His first win in almost a year. Manny Machado, surely now in his last year as an Oriole, strokes a home run to dead center to get things started. It’s a beautiful thing. It doesn’t even look like he’s working hard. It’s like he’s just saying “Out there. Out there is where this ball should be.” Pedro Alvarez homers twice, in exactly the opposite manner, smashing the ball with eye-popping force. Jace Peterson, who the Orioles picked up off the Yankees’ scrap heap, steals third on the shift when the Tigers third baseman forgets to pay attention to him. He did the same thing against the Rays the night before. I am already starting to love him the way I love Carlos Gomez. Maybe now the Orioles are going to go back to being a bad team that makes good use of players nobody else wants, like Melvin Mora and Rodrigo López.
Besides me and CJ, this guy was at the game:
Never get tired of that flag.