January delivers unexpected warm whispers. They slip under pant legs. Squinting stops. The booger freeze melts. No one runs for cover.
Minds light up like a 777 Jackpot. Slows the animal kingdom down, including humans suddenly loitering in street corner conversation. There’s flashes of bare feet and beer bottle beaches. Cinderella is ready to be reborn. Every baseball team’s record sits at a perfect; 0-0.
The sensation haunts Sam Doobins. He cringes at men and women removing animal furs and feathers; at ankle flesh being subtly exposed. He crawls back into the franchise’s early years; the Milwaukee beer barrel logo; its wood spout for a nose and no expectations.
Sam sips beer and watches garbage men move with Nascar pit crew efficiency. He sees the Lynwood girls playing hopscotch in the snow. He observes from behind a sealed bedroom window. The mouths on the street move, but don’t say anything, just the way Sam likes it.
He remembers the nine consecutive losing seasons followed by Bambi’s Bombers, 200 home runs, a winning record six years in a row, a World Series, and then momentum switching directions again; a three-year spiral, but then….oh then! sweet and miraculous then! the spring of 1987 happened and life was never the same for Sam Doobins. The proof he had always coveted appeared in spring flesh.
On Easter Sunday, April 19, the Brewer hosted the Texas Rangers. They had already won 11 games in a row to start the 1987 season, but trailed 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Sam Doobins was one of 30,000 fans ready for a County Stadium miracle.
It was 50 degrees with a 15-20 mph wind blowing in from left field. The sun was shining. Shirts were off, but not Sam’s. He huddled under the fleshy crowd guarding his seat, performing magic rituals. Tap the right side of the seat four times, pound left foot two times, clap hands and hold them together six seconds
Glen Braggs walks. Tap, pound, clap. Greg Brock singles. Tap, pound, clap. Cecil Cooper flies out to center field. Rob Deer crushes a Greg Harris curve ball into the wind and the ball refuses to slow down, soaring to the top rows of the left field bleachers and nearly leaving the stadium. Game tied 4-4. Tap, pound, clap.
Sam had never been inside so much noise, never heard so many screams or seen so many arms flailing, people jumping up and down not even the last out of the 1982 American League Championship and yet, he didn’t move; just tap, pound, clap.
B.J. Surhoff strikes out. Jim Gantner walks. Tap, pound, clap. Dale Sveum hits a high fastball off the same Greg Harris; this one to right field, way less mammoth than Deer’s, but enough to clear the fence. The Brewer win 6-4 and no one exits the stadium; not the fans or players of either team. It’s too loud to leave, maybe louder than any regular season game has ever been. It’s only April 19th. Tap, pound, clap. 12 in a row to start a season, tap, pound, clap.
George Webb never promised free hamburgers. The owner of the Wisconsin burger chain simply predicted the Milwaukee Brewers would win 12 in a row, just like he predicted the Milwaukee Braves would win 11 in a row and the minor league Brewers before them the same. But in 1987 all that changed. Dale Sveum hit a game winning home run and George Webb Restaurants dished out 168,194 hamburgers for free.
Sam Doobins entered the George Webb on Farwell Avenue, April 20th, 1987 at 4:30 pm, approximately 24 hours after Sveum hit the home run. He sat at a 1950’s style booth, fingered nervously with the napkin dispenser and sugar tower and when he was absolutely certain no one knew he was there, he tapped the right side of the seat four times, pounded his left foot two times, clapped his hands and held them together for six seconds.
A skinny armed waitress slid across the floor and delivered a hamburger to Sam Doobins. Not a word was spoken between them.