I never pictured Wisconsin as a baseball state, but Friday night at the Kohl Center convinced me otherwise.
The Badger state has become the Brewer state, and I'm not talking about Miller Lite, Leinenkugels or Spotted Cow.
Wisconsin has embraced our country's national pastime, specifically the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Wisconsin Badgers and Northern Michigan University Wildcats opened the 2011-12 hockey season at the Kohl Center on Friday night, but all eyes were on the Crew.
When the puck dropped at the home of the Badgers' hockey team, there was a sizable, yet less than stellar, crowd at the Kohl. However, they weren't in the bowl watching hockey. They were out on the concourse watching the Brewers on televisions.
Those who were in their seats had their eyes glued to smartphones. In the press box, nearly every monitor was tuned to TBS, from radio announcers to writers and yes, even this Atlanta Braves fan was keeping an eye on the Brew Crew.
Thankfully, there was a giant video board at center ice for replays so I could verify the legitimacy of NMU's penalties - and yes, all but one passed for legit in my mind.
As teams were introduced and the national anthem played, I figured there was just a late arriving crowd, that everyone was still stuck two blocks away on State Street, downing some brats and brews watching the Brewers.
When the first period ended and John Axford had blown his save to force extra innings, I made my way out to the concourse for a drink. That's where all the fans were, not in line for a malt cup or soft pretzel, but fixated on televisions.
Back in the press box, three student workers in the sports information department were leaning over the edge of their box to watch my monitor, while a few others - camera men, videographers - had made their way into the press box to huddle around whatever monitor had space.
With Carlos Gomez on second base and Nyjer Morgan at the plate, we all watched as Morgan - better known as Tony Plush or @TheRealTPlush on Twitter - ripped a bouncing ball up the middle to drive in Gomez, sending Milwaukee into a league championship series for the first time since 1982.
As Gomez came home, the press box erupted in cheers and you could hear the concourse join in. Heads turned from the seats and word quickly began to spread throughout the Kohl Center, until the final score finally popped up on the big screen and the highlight of the game-winning hit followed.
The replay of Morgan's hit received the largest cheer of the night, even louder than Badgers freshman Joseph LaBate's game-tying power-play goal that sent the contest into overtime.
From that point on, the most popular people in the crowd were those sporting Brewers' gear. Giving a "beast mode" shout-out was an added bonus to land on TV or the big screen.
While a few began to monitor the Cardinals-Phillies game, attention in the press box shifted entirely to hockey as NMU took a 2-0 lead in the second period, followed by a Badgers comeback in the third period that was spoiled by Reed Seckel's wrap around in overtime for a Wildcat win.
Still, there was a buzz about the Brewers and the few Yoopers who made the trip weren't the only ones excited about the possibility of a Brewers-Tigers World Series staying alive.
Friday's events have happened in the Kohl Center or in hockey rinks in Wisconsin before, but it was always for Badgers football or the Green Bay Packers. It was never for the Brewers, who have rarely given the state a reason to care about baseball this late into October.
It's tough now not to pay attention, especially to the unpredictable Plush.
The Brewers have legitimate fans now and a real following in their home state. Some have been around since 1982, but in hiding. Others realized there was a Major League Baseball team in Wisconsin in 2008, and many more jumped on the bandwagon around August.
Then there are people like me, who aren't going to leave the Braves - though I should - but have taken an interest in the Brewers.
The Badger State and Cheesehead State has become the Brewer State. I'll enjoy this odd phenomenon while it lasts.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is email@example.com