By Dan Bernstein — senior columnist

(CBS) A beautiful night in Milwaukee on Thursday had the Miller Park roof open so that 41,900 fans could enjoy the first game of a September series between the Brewers and Cubs that could go a long way in deciding the NL Central.

It was an ideal evening for Brewers fans to be in full voice, exhorting their young upstarts against the evil empire from across the border in a show of force, and similarly perfect for the usual tide of lighter blue to take advantage of less traffic and more available parking to see their reigning champion Cubs in person.

And yet there were plenty of seats to be had.

The official tally was 35,114, but the many no-shows in that number were apparent with every TV cutaway that showed a park far less than full.

Sun-Times columnist Steve Greenberg tweeted beforehand “At Miller Park, where what looks like < 10,000 Brewers fans are out on a gorgeous night to see their overachieving team take on the #Cubs.”

The usual number of Cubs fans were audible and visible, but it was astonishing to see that a team starting a crucial series in an unlikely pennant race couldn’t produce a proper crowd. Some speculate that distatste over visiting fans could be the culprit, which would be a bitter truth indeed.

Milwaukee Record writer Kyle Lobner believes that the “Wrigley North” phenomenon has created a double negative there, writing Wednesday that: “Hostile home crowds have become noticeable for the team, clearly apparent on broadcasts and actively serve as a deterrent to many Brewers fans. Local fans’ decisions to avoid the ballpark and/or resell their tickets for Cubs games create a snowball effect, causing more fans to do the same.”

So that should mean even more secondary-market value for Cubs fans wanting to make the trip, but there weren’t enough of those to fill the vast swaths of open space, a strange sight for a meaningful and tightly contested game in the heat of both record-setting weather and an unexpected divisional race.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s “Bernstein and Goff Show” in afternoon drive. You can follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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