The game of baseball is steeped in nostalgia. Every crack of a bat on a ball evokes memories of sluggers from the past like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Lou Gehrig. The cheers of the crowd mingles with the smell of popcorn and hotdogs. Perhaps the most important part of the experience are the vendors shouting, “Getcher cold beer here!”
Beer and baseball are taken for granted today. The beverage is so much a part of the game, its absence would throw off the balance of the universe. But the love affair between beer and baseball wasn’t always so hot. When it debuted in 1876, the National League didn’t want beer in its ballparks. It took the American Association to bring suds to the stands.
Upon its 1882 debut, the AA realized baseball appealed to blue-collar folks and upper crust snobs. To draw more working-class people to games, the AA lowered ticket prices, scheduled Sunday games and sold alcohol in the parks. This approach appealed to the marketing gurus at breweries so much, they backed many of the teams.
When the AA folded after the 1891 season, its players were absorbed by the NL and, because of its popularity, alcohol sales became the norm in ballparks across America.
One of the earliest instances of a team embracing beer in the ballpark involves the St. Louis Brown Stockings. The team, later known as the Cardinals, was owned by Christian Friedrich Wilhelm von der Ahe, a saloon owner who noticed his bar business increased on game days. So von der Ahe, surmising that spectators would likely enjoy a few brews during a game, installed a beer garden at the team’s home field, Sportsman’s Park. It was a hit.
Over the years, beer has advanced to be inextricably associated with the national pastime. Breweries saw the popularity of baseball and began marketing campaigns capitalizing on the sport. In 1941, Falstaff Brewing Corporation began sponsoring Dizzy Dean’s radio broadcasts of Browns games and, 30 years later, sponsored Harry Caray’s “Holy cow!” broadcasts.
Brewers also got in on the action and began partnering with local baseball teams, forging deals to become the official beers of teams and stadiums. In New York, the Yankees were associated with Ballantine Beer – the team’s first television sponsor – and the Mets sidled up to Rheingold Beer. Beer was so popular in baseball that Milwaukee, a bastion of German beer production, named their team the Brewers. Over time, the big beer producers were almost synonymous with baseball.
Today, with the craft beer revolution in full swing, ballparks are adding locally brewed beers to the lineup. In Jacksonville, our minor league Suns team serves several local brews from Intuition Ale Works, Bold City and others, as well as a selection of craft beers from other brewers.
Sitting in the stands, watching the heroes of the diamond gracefully make plays, would just not be complete without a hot dog in one hand and a cold beer in the other. It may be the most perfect way to spend a balmy summer evening – and perhaps the most American thing you can do.