Wisconsin trio welcomes family, friends

Wisconsin trio welcomes visitors

MILWAUKEE -- Eric Hinske went out of his way to make sure his pregame snack included a side of nachos, made with some real Wisconsin cheese.

In his eighth Major League season, Hinske finally returned home as the Pirates began a three-game series against the Brewers on Monday night. The Pittsburgh outfielder grew up about 100 miles north of Milwaukee in the small town of Menasha.

While Hinske returns every offseason to visit, this is his first time coming back as a player.

"It's the only stadium in the big leagues I haven't been to outside of Shea Stadium, but that's gone now," said Hinske, who is one of three Wisconsin natives on the team. "It's pretty cool. I used to go to a lot of games at the old County Stadium when I was younger."

Hinske left approximately 15 tickets for family and friends -- with the majority of them driving down for Tuesday night's game -- but wasn't the most popular player for requests. Pirates rookie catcher Jason Jaramillo still resides in Caladonia, Wis., less than a half-hour drive from Miller Park.

Jaramillo was in the starting lineup for the sixth time this season on Monday after taking over for injured starter Ryan Doumit. Ranked as the best prospect in Wisconsin during his senior year at Racine Case High School in 2001, Jaramillo was born the same year the Brewers went to the World Series in 1982.

Jaramillo should have his own cheering section for Monday's opener. He expected over 20 family members and friends to be in attendance.

"I'm ecstatic," said Jaramillo, who was acquired by the Pirates from Philadelphia in the offseason. "I have a lot of nerves and butterflies going on right now like it's my first game. I'm just so happy to be able to be here and play."

Jaramillo has thrived in his starting role. The former Oklahoma State standout entered the game 7-for-18 at the plate in his last five starts, while handling a starting rotation with the lowest ERA (3.02) in the Majors.

"Right now, I feel comfortable and confident," Jaramillo said. "I'm just doing my job. Just given the opportunity, I knew I could do well."

Jaramillo and Hinske are two key members of the Pirates' bench inserted into the starting lineup due to a number of early-season injuries. Hinske, hitting 4-for-12 with a double, RBI and three runs scored in his last three games, was in the starting lineup once again on Monday with center fielder Nate McLouth still nursing a right oblique strain.

"That's what I'm here for," Hinske said. "I give them some stability off the bench and if someone gets injured, I can step in and be an everyday guy. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity."

Hinske said his family was evenly divided between Brewers and Cubs fans, but all of them share a passion for the nearby Green Bay Packers of the National Football League.

"I'm a big Packer fan," Hinske said. "We lived about 20 minutes south of [Lambeau Field]. I go to a game every year."

Surprisingly, there is another Cheesehead on the team. Pittsburgh bench coach Gary Varsho is a native of Marshfield (approximately 3 1/2 hours northwest of Milwaukee) and played collegiately at NCAA Division III University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

"It's pretty rare to find guys from Wisconsin," Hinske said. "You can count on one hand how many are in the big leagues."

Jeff Zampanti is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.