Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Local man realizes fantasy big league dream

by Mike Ramczyk

June 28, 2012

ELKHORN — For a lot of die-hard baseball fans, a common dream is to one day play for his or her favorite Major League Baseball team.

Usually, just going to a game or getting an autograph are the closest most will come to the fame of a big league star.

Though Jon Keough isn't going to play for the Milwaukee Brewers in a regular season game, he experienced the next-best thing June 21 at Miller Park in Milwaukee.

The 25-year-old Elkhorn resident and 2005 Badger High School graduate took part in Milwaukee Brewers Fantasy Camp, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for fans to get a taste of the bigs.

Keough, a Lake Geneva native and lifelong Brewer fan, was given his own authentic Major League jersey, hung out with former Brewers and even got to play a game on Miller Park's field.

Jon's employer, Frank's Piggly Wiggly of Elkhorn, was offered two passes to the camp, which was sponsored by Pepsi. Jon, a store manager, didn't hesitate when invited by his boss. It was the first time Frank was offered passes to the camp in eight years.

"Of course, being a die-hard Brewer fan, I wanted to go," Keough said. "My boss knows I'm a Brewer fan, and I guess it was a way to say thank you. All I could think of is, 'Oh my god, I can't wait.' It may never happen again. What baseball fan wouldn't do something like that?"

Keough has been going to Brewer games with his dad and various family members his whole life. His dad even caught a home run ball at the 1982 World Series.

"It's been in my blood," Keough said. "My dad and I are both die-hard sports fans, especially the Brewers. True fans stick with the Brewers through bad and good."

Last Thursday morning, Keough and a co-worker along with 17 others (24 were invited) were off on an adventure to Miller Park.

Upon their arrival, around 9 a.m., the lucky fans got to walk on the field and take a few quick photos before entering the visiting clubhouse. What Keough saw next made his jaw drop. Waiting for him was his own locker, which featured an authentic nameplate and Brewers jersey with his name and favorite number on the back. In fact, there was an entire Brewers uniform, with the same hat, pants and socks the players wear.

Keough, who had grown up playing baseball and has always loved the Brew Crew, couldn't believe his eyes.

"It was like a dream come true," said Keough. "I didn't realize there would be a locker set up for us. Growing up, anybody who plays sports wants to make it big. I had butterflies when I saw my locker and my jersey."

Keough, who said most people spell his last name wrong, joked that his first name was spelled incorrectly on his nameplate (it was spelled Jonathon, but it's Jonathan).

"It was kind of funny, my first name was spelled wrong," he said. "But nothing could take away from that moment."

After Keough and the other fans got suited up, they were introduced to two Brewer legends, Jerry Augustine, a former pitcher, and Jim Gantner, a former second baseman. Both were key members of the Brewers' only World Series appearance in 1982.

"Both guys were class acts," Keough said. "They were chit-chatting with us the entire time. They never made it seem like they were better than us."

The group was then divided into two teams, one of nine players and one of 10. Keough joined the nine-player team and prepared to play. First, Keough got to hit in the Brewers batting cages with Gantner, then he headed to Helfaer Field, a little league field outside of the stadium, to work on defensive drills with Augustine. Gantner stressed keeping your eyes on the ball when hitting, and Augustine taught the proper footwork at each position and the proper way to turn double plays.

"It was surreal," Keough said. "It was a bit overwhelming being in the presence of two former Brewers. They were always there to give us positive reinforcement. There was a little pressure of trying to look like a pro when I'm really a schmo."

After honing their skills, Keough's group walked out to the ATI club just outside of the right field fence for lunch. The buffet featured hot dogs, brats, burgers, barbecue chicken breasts, baked macaroni and cheese, pasta salad and dessert.

"It wasn't some rinky-dinky lunch," Keough said.

Lunch got the group fueled up for the day's main course, a five-inning, two-hour baseball game played on Miller Park's field.

"Running up the stairs of visiting dugout and looking out at stadium was amazing," he said. "To see that from a different perspective and not be in seats, it's breath-taking to see the stadium's true glory."

Keough held his own in the game, going 3-for-5. His goal was simply to hit the ball out of the infield, which he did with two bloop singles. All nine players got to hit every inning, and Augustine pitched batting-practice speed to each fan. If the last batter got a single, it was worth two runs. A double was worth two runs, a triple three, etc. There were no walks, so each batter had a chance to get himself out.

Keough played all three outfield positions and shortstop, making a few put-outs in the field. At the plate, he used the bats of current Brewers Mat Gamel and Carlos Gomez and his name was announced over the loud speakers, "Number 23, Jonathan Keough," and his at-bat was shown on the JumboTron.

"My first time in batter's box was breathtaking," Keough said. "It was my favorite part. It was the icing on the cake to actually hear your name in this huge stadium. And seeing Bernie's slide and the Dew Deck, you get that aura from all the great hitters. So many great players have been up to bat in this stadium."

A fitting ending

After the game, the fans were allowed to ask Augustine and Gantner questions and get autographs.

While the only question was whether the Brewers would be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline (Augustine said the team would have to build toward the future if it doesn't go .500 in the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati series), Keough used the opportunity to get autographs for his 18-month-old son, Jordan.

Augustine and Gantner signed Keough's Brewer hat and personalized autographs to Jordan which read, "to Jordan, best wishes." At such a young age, Jordan now has autographs from Augustine and Gantner as well as Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks and former Brewer Casey McGehee.

"I told Augustine it means a lot to me being a die-hard Brewers fan," Keough said. "I've watched them my entire life. Someday, it will mean a lot to Jordan. It really means a lot to me. It's nice to know athletes are still human and still have feelings and would do something like that. They're not just for the money like a lot of people think they are."

After his first-hand experience on a big league field, Keough will never look at baseball players the same.

"I have the utmost respect for them," he said. "Playing on the field opened my eyes. They get paid the big money for a reason. It was the second greatest thing that's happened to me besides my son being born. It's almost like you won the lottery. It was our day and it was all about us, and they made sure it was."