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Why Craft Beer at the Ballgame Is a Big Deal

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- The Kansas City Royals are not a great team, and for that their beer-loving fans should be grateful.

The team has had three winning seasons in the past 20 years and hasn't made the playoffs since 1985. It's produced great talents such as Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Zack Greinke, who all left town when it was time to seek a bigger payday. Thus, when 2012 came around and the franchise hosted the All-Star Game despite not putting up playoff bunting since the Reagan administration, baseball fans who hadn't peered into Kaufmann Stadium in a while got a bit of a surprise when they saw the billboards surrounding the midsummer classic.

Multinational brewers SABMiller (SAB) and MolsonCoors (TAP) decided to merge their U.S. operations into MillerCoors in 2008 and reduce the number of big breweries competing for Major League Baseball sponsorship space. After Missouri's Anheuser-Busch (BUD) was bought by Belgian beer giant InBev in 2009, the new company started cutting back the amount it was willing to pay teams for sponsorship rights. Sensing it had to do something to stave off a loss in revenue, the Royals offered a little more leeway to their beer sponsors and were able to land Kansas City's own Boulevard Brewing.

This season, Boulevard's beer is all over the stadium. The brewer has a huge Budweiser- or Coors-sized sign in left field, two Boulevard Grill locations in the stadium and beer vendors with backpack-mounted kegs of Unfiltered Wheat Beer that they pour when they reach a customer's row. While it's nice that more Major League Baseball stadiums are carrying beers made by small, local brewers, a deal such as the one that exists between Boulevard and the Royals is a step toward restoring the natural order of beer-and-baseball partnerships that was broken decades ago.

For those unaware of the longstanding ties between baseball and beer, consider that brewers' names grace the facades of three Major League Baseball stadiums: The Cardinals' Busch Stadium in St. Louis, the Colorado Rockies' Coors Field in Denver and the Brewers' Miller Park in Milwaukee. The number of facilities named after brewing companies among other major league sports: Zero.

As big a presence as beer has in baseball now, its ties to the game used to be much tighter. Across the country, teams were inextricably tied to local breweries through stadium signs, sponsorships and early baseball broadcasts. In Boston, Narragansett Beer sponsored Braves and Red Sox broadcasts, put Red Sox legend Ted Williams in its ads and featured game announcers Jim Britt and Curt Gowdy espousing the merits of 'the "straight from the barrel taste" of 'Gansett. Newark, N.J.-based Ballantine Brewery sponsored longtime Yankees announcer Mel Allen, who labeled each Yankees home run a "Ballantine Blast."
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