Though tailgating, or activities very much like it, occur in connection with rock concerts, weddings, and other events, it is a social phenomenon most closely associated with sporting events. Now several decades old, tailgating has graduated from a fad to a tradition.
Tailgating is something that occurs outside a stadium, in or near a parking area, on the day of a game. Though it can occur during or after the game, far more often it is a pregame activity. To tailgate is to eat and drink while socializing in a group outside the stadium.
The name comes from the fact that the custom is to spread the food out on an open tailgate of a vehicle, but tailgating certainly does not require such a vehicle.
The ingredients for a tailgate party are whatever people desire, but traditionally they involve barbecued meat (you can cook the meat in advance and bring it with you, or better yet set up a grill in the parking lot to prepare the food on the spot) and a cooler full of beer, or soft drinks for the kids.
Football fans are the undisputed kings and queens of tailgating. Tailgating has not caught on with baseball fans nearly to the same extent as with football fans. Around many ballparks in urban centers, there really isn’t any room to properly spread out and tailgate. In some places-Dodger Stadium, for example-it’s even illegal by local ordinance (at least if alcohol is involved, which it nearly always is with a tailgate party).
Tailgating in baseball is certainly not unheard of however, and there are plenty of ballparks where it’s done. But there’s only one ballpark where tailgating has reached football proportions.
That stadium is Miller Park in Milwaukee, home of the Brewers. In fact, baseball tailgating was already an established custom in Milwaukee before Miller Park opened in 2001. Brewer fans were used to having a similar good time outside County Stadium, which preceded Miller Park.
The Brewers went out of their way to build Miller Park so as to be tailgate-friendly. Not only are fans given plenty of space to spread out and cook their own food in a gargantuan parking lot, there are also concessions and tailgate supplies on sale, portable lavatories, and even hot coal dispensers.
Literally thousands of people tailgate before most Brewers games, cooking up wonderful smelling bratwursts, Italian sausages, and other local Wisconsin delicacies. Even if you show up at the game alone and grill-less, there are plenty of hospitable tailgaters ready to share a beer and a brat with a new friend.
It’s no exaggeration to say that in Milwaukee, the tailgating is as big or bigger an attraction for many fans than the ball game itself. Indeed, lots of folks don’t get around to wandering in from the parking lot until the fourth inning or so.