March 28 marks opening day for Major League Baseball (our minor league team Jumbo Shrimp’s first game this year is on April 4). It may be the earliest opening day in history, but fans can be assured of two things: All 30 teams will play that day, and beer will flow big-time at all the ballparks.
Beer and baseball go together like a horse and carriage. The beverage is so entrenched in the game that its absence would be conspicuous. But the love affair between beer and baseball was not always so fervent. In the beginning, when the National League launched in 1876, its organizers didn’t want beer in its ballparks. It took the American Association’s entry to get beer in the game.
In 1882, the AA realized that baseball should appeal to blue-collar workers as well as their upper-crust clientele. To draw more working-class spectators, the AA lowered ticket prices, scheduled games on Sundays and began to include alcohol among its refreshments roster. This approach appealed to brewing companies’ marketing gurus so much that many of the teams received corporate sponsorship. Alas, the AA couldn’t sustain its operations and folded after the 1891 season. Its players were absorbed by the NL, as was the lucrative policy of selling beer.
One of the earliest instances of a team embracing beer in the ballpark is the case of the St. Louis Brown Stockings. The team, later to be known as the Cardinals, was owned by Christian Friedrich Wilhelm von der Ahe, a saloon owner who noticed that business in his bar increased on game days. With this information, Von der Ahe surmised that spectators would likely enjoy a few brews during the game, so he installed a beer garden at the team’s home field, Sportsman’s Park. It was a hit.
Over the years, beer has become inextricably associated with ‘America’s National Pastime,’ as the sport has been labelled. Breweries took notice of its popularity and began to coordinate marketing campaigns. In 1941, Falstaff began sponsoring Dizzy Dean’s radio broadcast of Browns games and, 30 years later, sponsored Harry Caray. “Holy cow!”
Brewers began positioning themselves with local baseball teams and formed relationships to be the official beers of teams and stadiums. In New York, the Yankees became associated with Ballantine and the Mets sidled up to Rheingold. Beer was so popular in baseball that Milwaukee, a bastion of German beer production, named its team the Brewers. The big beer producers became almost synonymous with baseball. They advertised in stadiums, sponsored broadcasts—both radio and TV—and named their own stadiums.
Today, with the craft-beer revolution going full bore, ballpark managements are adding locally brewed beers to their refreshment lineup. Jacksonville’s minor league team, the Jumbo Shrimp, serves several local brews by Intuition Ale Works, Bold City Brewery and more, as well as several national craft beers.
The experience of sitting in the stands and watching the heroes of the diamond gracefully make plays would just not feel complete without a hot dog in one hand and a cold beer in the other. It may be the most perfect—and quintessentially American—way to spend a balmy summer evening.