Every sports guy or gal has one sport that stirs a passion in him or her, a sport that drives that person to do questionable things — things he or she would never do in any other venue than a sporting arena. Red Wings fans throw octopi on the ice, Packers fans wear cheese on every foreseeable (and unforeseeable) part of their bodies and Red Sox fans throw pieces of pizza at one another after botching a foul ball.For me, the last 15 years of my life have been consumed with the Milwaukee Brewers, and let me tell you, it hasn’t been a pretty sight.When the Brewers were in a pennant race with the Blue Jays in the 1992 season, I quickly became a fan of Milwaukee’s blue-collar team. Pure hitters like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, and pitchers like Chris Bosio, Cal Eldred and Jaime Navarro led the Brewers to a 92-win season. It was only customary to think a home playoff series in County Stadium was just a year or two away.Boy, was I wrong.After watching subpar players like Franklin Stubbs, Curtis Leskanic and Chuck Crim make Milwaukee the laughingstock of baseball, I became one of those brainwashed fans who thought what I was doing before the game impacted the result on the field. Hence, the crazy superstitions were born.We’ve all done it. Don’t change a lucky shirt, don’t shave during a winning streak and don’t ever gloat. Unfortunately, those rules didn’t even compare to how sick I am in the head before heading to Miller Park. Before attending a game, I have to wear the same Brewers jersey, shorts and shoes as the last game, but that only happens if the Brewers won the last game I attended. If they lost, an entirely new wardrobe must be worn. This is only the beginning.I have to drive the same way to Miller Park (County Y to I-94 and exit off Miller Park Way and cut off 10 cars in the process) and listen to 50 Cent in the tape deck of my 1991 Dodge Caravan up until Bob Uecker comes on air with the Brewers pre-game show. I always keep score with a black pen and have to sit on the first base side. If any of these things are out of alignment, the Brewers will falter. I do this nearly 40 times a summer.Disgusting, isn’t it?But it gets worse, as I am admitting that I am personally responsible for some of the worst Brewer moments in the past 10 years. When the Brewers were 45-41 at the All-Star Break, I called my friend to gloat about how the Brewers were going to do it this year. Finally, I’ll be able to watch my beloved Brewers play in front of a packed house in the playoffs! What happened? The Brewers finished 22-53, the worst mark ever for a team entering the All-Star break with a winning record. Oops. The Brewers’ franchise worst season was my fault because, as I sat 10-rows up on the third base side (it was awkward the entire game), I became a first-hand witness to Geoff Jenkins shattering his leg sliding back into third base and missing the rest of the season.It’s been a troubled past, as anyone who’s gone to a ballgame with me knows how problematic I am. I have bowled over dates for a foul ball (sorry, Alanna), lost countless dollars betting on the Brewers (I hate you, Tony), skipped a JV football game to go to the final game at County Stadium, and what do I have to show for it? Nothing except heartache, anger and a worn-out 50 Cent tape. However, all that is finally starting to change.For the first time in more than 20 years, the Brewers are actually showing signs of life. After a year of growing pains, J.J. Hardy leads the Brewers in RBIs, Rickie Weeks’ fielding is improving and Prince Fielder could hit a baseball into Lake Michigan if he wanted to. But what has set the Brewers apart this season is having a starting rotation that can rival any team in baseball. Free agent signee Jeff Suppan and 18-game winner Chris Capuano became the first Brewer duo to each win four games in the month of April. The Twins don’t have that, the Red Sox don’t have that and the Yankees sure don’t have that. Even the bullpen, one of the main factors in Milwaukee’s continual downfall, has turned into one of the best in baseball. Francisco Cordero has been the best closer in baseball so far this season after being thrown on the trash heap in Texas, Carlos Villanueva has come up big when he’s needed to and Derrick Turnbow is no longer Derrick “Turn-Blow”.Granted, it’s only May 4, but the 2007 Brewers are creating a buzz around Wisconsin that doesn’t come around all too often.But I am not convinced. The Brewers have teased me before. Everyone says the Brewers will falter, they can’t sustain this momentum and they won’t make the playoffs. So what if the Brewers haven’t given me as much as I have given them over 15 years? I still haven’t jumped off that bandwagon, because as soon as I do, something bad might happen. That’s when I need to be there, with my lucky shoes, jersey, black pen and scorecard ready to go.I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a summer in Milwaukee.Just please don’t ask me about the playoffs.Benjamin Worgull is graduating with degrees in journalism and theater. If you want to share your craziest superstition or if you want him to buy you a drink at Miller Park on the first base side, contact him at email@example.com.
UW\’s John Ramage, Derek Stepan and Jake Gardiner won gold with Team USA at the World Junior Championship.[/media-credit]When Derek Stepan, Jake Gardiner, John Ramage and assistant coach Mark Osiecki left UW to represent team USA in the 2010 IIHF World Juniors tournament in Canada, the Badgers knew the next few games without them would be challenging.Well, UW won the Badger Hockey Showdown, and as for the three Badgers and their coach who competed up north, they returned as world champions.A rivalry renewed The 2010 World Juniors tournament was held in Saskatoon and Regina, Canada, and to no one’s surprise, the host country — defending champion and winner of the last five Junior tournaments — was the heavy favorite.Aside from the obvious challenge the Canadian roster presents, Team USA had to battle another obstacle — the hostile crowd.“The whole country is watching, I mean there is one out of every three Canadians watching the tournament,” Gardiner said. “It’s like their Super Bowl.”Stepan and his teammates knew they were in for a battle from day one.“We walked into the locker room and saw all this Canadian stuff hanging and we were like ‘well that stinks,’ so a couple guys just starting ripping it down,” Stepan said. “Then we came back to the locker room and there was USA stuff everywhere. It was fun.”So with a redecorated locker room and a hockey-crazed nation glued to its television sets, the U.S. and Canada renewed their rivalry and met for the first time in the preliminary round.The Canadians emerged victorious after a thrilling game was decided in a shootout.It was a heartbreaking loss for the Americans who let a two goal lead slip away. But with the knockout round next there was no time to wallow in defeat.Team USA took down Finland and Sweden as it earned a spot in the gold medal game and once again, team Canada served as the opponent.Gardiner remembered the unforgettable scene as he took the ice.“There were 15,000 fans and it was tough playing there,” Gardiner said. “It was the loudest crowd I’ve ever heard or seen before — it was just crazy.”The crowd was spectacular and the game was no different as the Americans found themselves in a familiar situation. Team USA had a two-goal lead with less than 15 minutes remaining in the third period. But Canada stormed back and tied the game late in the third.The game was eerily similar to the first showdown between these two teams, but this time around a shootout wouldn’t be necessary.American defenseman John Carlson scored the game winner in overtime as a sold out arena in Saskatoon went silent and 22 young men let out roars of excitement.“It was really a blur,” Ramage, who assisted on the game-winner, said. “I was so happy I didn’t even know what to do. There was just so much joy and excitement. It was unreal.”As the team USA celebration winded down, the medals were distributed as the champions listened to their national anthem, with gold hanging from their necks.“One of the proudest moments of my life,” Gardiner said. “To win the gold medal and put on the USA jersey made me proud, it made my parents proud and all that hard work paid off.”A leader emergesNot only did the Americans receive gold medals, but they were also awarded the championship trophy, and as team USA’s captain, Stepan was the first to get his hands on it.But Stepan doesn’t wear the captain’s ‘C’ at UW. Three other Badgers share that responsibility as tri-captains. But according to UW and USA assistant coach Osiecki, Stepan was the obvious choice to lead the Americans.“His leadership really came through, and before we even named captains you could see he was inching that way,” Osiecki said. “The team just fed off him. And it’s not too different here, he is a great leader for [Wisconsin], but he knows the pecking order and he is very humble and respectful of it.”Some players struggle with added responsibility that comes with the captaincy, but that wasn’t the case with Stepan. The Hastings, Minn. native was the tournament’s leading scorer with 14 points as he anchored team USA’s top line.And while the points lead spoke volumes to Stepan’s ability, Osiecki claims it’s the traits that often go unnoticed that made Stepan the impact player he was.“It wasn’t so much that he blew everyone away with his skill, but it was all the little things he did — good stick position, good body position, his play on the penalty kill and his ability to distribute.”Upon his return to UW, Stepan will no longer have the ‘C’ embroidered on his sweater, but he brings back a wealth of leadership experience to his team.UW head coach Mike Eaves insists leadership can be taught, and now one of his young players has learned how to become a leader with experience gained on the international stage.“You learn how to be a leader, when to talk and when not to talk, leading by example on and off the ice — you learn all those tools,” Stepan said. “For me it was an honor to wear the USA jersey to begin with, but to have a ‘C’ on it and to have 21 guys look up to you is even more of a special feeling.”Memories that will last a lifetimeFor Stepan, Gardiner, Ramage and Osiecki, there isn’t much time to sit back and enjoy their gold medal triumph. The Badgers have a critical three-week stretch looming, but after practice time was taken to reflect on their tremendous success.“You really can’t put it into words. It’s a feeling that you worked so hard for,” Stepan said. “It was special and it was such an honor to wear that jersey — it’s something I’ll never forget.”And perhaps the proudest of the four was Osiecki, who watched the three young men he coaches at UW flourish as members of team USA.Because while so many things were different and new for the players in Canada, one thing remained the same — Coach Osiecki was there to watch from the bench.“It was great with us having three of them there, and that will always hold a special place in your heart,” Osiecki said. “They all did very well and they’ll come back with a ton of confidence. … That experience that they can share with the rest of our guys is invaluable.”