Also, the Bratzooka is just one of many food-related highlights at Wisconsin Timber Rattlers games.
It was one of those perfect pre-summer evenings, and Appleton, Wisconsin, had come out to celebrate. Days earlier, every bit of green, for as far as the eye could see, had been buried under a record late-season snowfall. That night, with clear blue skies turning orange in late evening light, what everyone hoped was winter's last gasp was now a distant memory, and the Timber Rattlers—the Fox Cities region's pride and joy, a community-owned (and fervently supported) farm team for the Milwaukee Brewers, were holding their own against the Great Lakes Loons, visiting from the other side of Lake Michigan.
Thousands of people turned up that Thursday night in May, families mostly, to the modern, impressive Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium. Relatively few of them seemed to be in their seats at any given time, however, and it was easy to see why. Not that they weren't paying attention—this wasn't what anyone would call a disinterested crowd. It's just that there was so much else to do.
For children, this place appeared to be some kind of earthly paradise—there was a giant sand play area, large expanses of grass to run and play on, an impressive jungle gym to master, a bouncy house to flop around in, and not one, but two mascots—Fang, who is a snake, and Whipper, who looks like a distant cousin of the Philly Phanatic—to meet and greet. Adults were not left out, either; besides a Leinenkugel-sponsored tavern, open to all, there was the exclusive, upper-deck Fox Club, which was selling tickets from $20. A patio area offered a menu of all-you-can-eat ballpark staples for $30.
And so much food there was, as you might expect at a park in a state like Wisconsin, which enjoys its food, and produces a great deal of the food it consumes. Baskets of fried cheese curds, brisket sandwiches, cheesesteaks, chicken cordon bleu, soft pretzels, funnel cakes, locally made ice creams, hot dogs topped with macaroni and cheese. A kettle corn station was going strong, well into the game, selling jumbo-sized bags of freshly popped product that could feed a family for $15. There was more, so much more—a surprising amount, actually, for a park holding a maximum of around 6,500 people.
Just as the team is community-owned, the managers of the park have kept the food in-house, choosing to handle everything locally; each year, there is a contest where fans are invited to submit menu ideas—this year, they were so overwhelmed with good ideas, they chose three, one of them a Crab Rangoon in which the insides were replaced with bratwurst and sauerkraut. (The cream cheese was allowed to stay, too.) Other ideas have been tried, then retired—recently, according to reports, the Big Mother Funnel Burger made quite the splash. Even in this part of the world, however, everyone eventually came to the conclusion that a pound of ground beef smashed between two deep-fried funnel cakes was perhaps a little much, though this year, there's some kind of burger slathered in peanut butter, so perhaps the learning is ongoing.
One thing never goes away, however, and that's the humble bratwurst. On that particular evening, they were selling Cher Make brats (made not terribly far away in Manitowoc) for only $2 a pop; the sausages came in a foil-covered bag, tucked inside their buns; condiment stations offered the full range of toppings, including small vats of sauerkraut. There was plain, there were Polish sausages, a Zesty brat and one filled with Cheddar—you could get them yourself, or you could try your luck at catching one from the Bratzooka.
Being as this was a Timber Rattlers game, which might best be thought of as more of as a good excuse to throw a street fair—roughly 70 of them, each season—than your standard ball game, each inning came with its own share of bells and whistles. The one that everyone was waiting for, however, was the one where someone starts shooting bratwurst from a cannon. Actually, it wasn't quite a cannon, but rather a giant, custom-made, compressed air-gun, dressed up to look like a bratwurst in a bun, with all the trimmings. The house brat supplier, Cher Make, had sponsored the creation of the thing, and apparently, they were getting their money's worth, because in at least one corner of the stadium, the Bratzooka was the talk of the evening.
Even with all the distractions within the park, when it came time to start shooting brats into the stands, even grown men dropped what they were doing and turned their attention to the field. Presently, a minivan pulling a very large speedboat lumbered into the outfield—this turned out to be the mode of transport for a young lady lucky enough to hold the job of waving a giant, bratwurst-shaped gun around at a stadium full of game-goers, most of them eagerly hoping to catch a flying sausage.
That night, she must have fired off just five or so brats, all wrapped up in paper and tape, and then the minivan and boat were off the field, far too quickly, and everything was back to normal. The sun was setting, the game went on, the Rattlers crushed the Loons, 4-3, and while only a lucky few managed a free dinner falling from the sky, anyone who went home hungry that night had nobody to blame but themselves.