In Milwaukee, one racing hot dog has his day in the ballpark

The Sausage Race participants at Milwuakee's Miller Park: from left, Posh the Polish Dog, Bret the Bratwurst, Frank the Hot Dog, Guido the Italian Sausage, and Cinco the Chorizo.
The Sausage Race participants at Milwuakee's Miller Park: from left, Posh the Polish Dog, Bret the Bratwurst, Frank the Hot Dog, Guido the Italian Sausage, and Cinco the Chorizo. (Courtesy Bob Ecker)
Posted: July 07, 2014

MILWAUKEE - 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.

Klement's, the well-known Milwaukee sausage maker, sponsors the nightly "Sausage Races" at Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, always in the middle of the sixth inning. This night, I was in it.

With one out in the sixth, I donned "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," a Chorizo wearing a gigantic sombrero. Frank looked like an all-American baseball player, with his toothy smile and eyeblack.

The costume isn't heavy, maybe six or seven pounds, but bulky, and 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 the head was about 11 feet in the air; I viewed the world 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 other Sausages lining up and all of a sudden, we were off. The sellout crowd of 43,812 was roaring. I was huffing and puffing - this is a 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!" (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 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 1990s 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 1994. The roar of the crowd is often louder for the Sausage Race than at any other time during the game.

Everybody has a favorite Sausage character.

Michael Hurtz, a tall theology student from Milwaukee wearing a Loyola 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. Beer, brats, dogs, and sausages seem to be in the local blood.

Kids eagerly root on their favorite Racing Sausage.

"I like Posh, the Polish, and I also like Corey Hart," said 12-year-old Aaron Fammgez. "I like the Chorizo, he's Mexican," said Evan Loker, 10. "The Chef is my favorite," said 11-year-old Christy Stumpf. "I like the Hot Dog - he's the underdog," said 9-year-old fan Justin Meyer, sitting with his family.

Bonnie Johnson works behind the counter at Miller Park's Brat Express, selling tasty brats and chorizo for $4.25. "I tell you, that Chorizo is always doggin' it," she said. "He's an underachiever."

There have been some memorable Racing Sausage moments, notably the "Randall Simon Incident," which occurred on July 9, 2003. Simon, then the Pittsburgh Pirates' first baseman, playfully bopped the Italian Sausage running by. The top-heavy figure fell over and Simon was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct and suspended from baseball for three games. The woman inside the costume wasn't seriously injured and only asked Simon for a signed bat. But Simon was booed every time he returned to Milwaukee.

"Which one is number 3?" asked Cindy Brandenburg. She and her five kids had spots in a special section over the right-field fence. "The Italian - Guido - yeah, I like him. We have a stuffed Guido in our RV."

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 Miller Park throng, packed with fans of the Brewers and rival Minnesota Twins, enjoyed a spirited ball game. Although Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun hit one out late, the home team lost, and buzzing Twins fans and accepting Brewers faithful all seemed content. But my thighs were still burning, my joy and shame balanced, for the time being.

They say that every dog has his day - and, in the end, this was not mine. It was time to be one with the Milwaukee locals and find a fresh cold beer. This Sausage had left the building.

Bob Ecker is a travel writer living in Napa, Calif.

comments powered by Disqus