MILWAUKEE, AUG. 26 -- The parking lots were full an hour or so before game time most nights, and the lines at the ticket windows were 10-deep and growing. Autumn weather has returned stunningly early to southern Wisconsin, and as a cool, wet wind whips off Lake Michigan, the fans hunker into their seats with jackets and blankets.

These days, they come to County Stadium not only from Milwaukee, but from places like Racine and Waukesha. They come for the cold beer and the sweet-smelling brat and the tailgate parties, but they came mainly to see Paul Molitor grab a piece of baseball history and to watch a bit more of what has been an incredible season for their Milwaukee Brewers.

They show up early and stay late. They wear cardboard blocks of cheese on their heads -- thus the nickname, "Cheese Heads" -- and they turn up the polka or rock music on their stereos. Almost every team in baseball boasts of a family-type atmosphere, but the Brewers appear to have achieved one, from the friendly ushers to the garden parties to a young team that enjoys attention.

"We joke about the Cheese Heads," said outfielder Rob Deer, gesturing toward the stands. "But they've been the greatest. This has really been an incredible season, and they're part of it."

County Stadium is a gray old lady, neither beautiful nor fresh anymore. It creaks and groans on cool nights, and after a half-dozen expansion projects the last 34 years, it has almost grown out of itself. But although it might not have the conveniences of, say, Royals Stadium, it doesn't have the coldness, either. This is a real stadium for a real city and real fans. And a home for an amazing team.

The fans first noticed Molitor's hitting streak two weeks ago when an extra 7,000 or so showed up to see it reach 26 games against the Texas Rangers. By the time it stretched to 39, the fifth-longest this century, almost everyone had noticed.

So many so that the Brewers are on a pace to draw two million fans for only the second time in their history. Club officials say thank Molitor for part of that. The last two weeks, the Brewers have played seven home games, and club officials estimate Molitor may have brought about 10,000 extra people a night. Or to put it another way, he has made them around $450,000.

"The cash register rings every time he gets a hit," Brewers vice president Dick Hackett said.

The streak also put the Brewers directly in the glare of the national spotlight again and, far from shying from the attention, Molitor seemed to be enjoying it. Before Tuesday's game, he climbed into a golf cart outside the Brewers' clubhouse and was taken to a press conference a hundred yards away.

He made the trip again after that game and was asked again and again about all the attention.

"No, it isn't bothering me," he said. "It may be a distraction, but I realize this is something that hasn't happened too often. I'm trying to enjoy it."

Television stations here led their programs with news of the streak, and the two daily newspapers each seemed to send about a dozen reporters to cover each game. Sometimes, those reporters got overly enthusiastic. In fact, one showed up in the photographer's booth next to the Brewers' dugout last weekend and, when Molitor made an out, he heard someone with a notepad calling, "Hey, Paul, can I talk to you?"

"I can't talk right now," Molitor said and continued back to the dugout.

His wife Linda and sister Judy attend almost every game, and his mother drove over from St. Paul last weekend. He especially wanted to extend the streak to 48 games because the Brewers would be playing in his hometown of Minneapolis.

"I think my dad wishes it would end now," he said recently. "I don't think he can stand listening to the games anymore. I talked to him today, and it seems like it's getting to him."

Through tonight, Molitor began each game with a good luck two-handed handshake from Deer. The one time they forgot the shake, Molitor went hitless in his first three at-bats. He found Deer in the seventh, they did the handshake and he doubled off Chicago's Jim Winn in the ninth to extend the streak to 24 games.

At the urging of reliever Dan Plesac, the stadium stereo system played Sonny and Cher's "The Beat Goes On" each time Molitor extended the streak.

"The whole thing has become dream-like," Molitor said beofre tonight's game. "My wife and I have talked many times sitting home watching the late news. We think, 'Who is this guy they're talking about?' It's almost a experience of being removed from the body because we've never had an opportunity like this. To be this close, with that type of company {Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, etc.}, I'll always be very proud."

All of this was one more incredible touch to what has been an incredible season for the Brewers. Remember them? They finished first in 1982, won 87 games in 1983, then fell to 67-94 and 71-90 before bottoming out at 77-84 in 1986.

Last winter, management promised that a generation of exciting young talent was about to mature. To coax that young talent along, the Brewers hired a 39-year-old manager named Tom Trebelhorn, who taught math winters in the Portland, Ore., school district.

Maybe the Brewers didn't know what to expect from Trebelhorn or young players such as Deer and Dale Sveum and B.J. Surhoff, but they were certain that they had swallowed their worst medicine. The days ahead would be brighter.

"This," said General Manager Harry Dalton, waving toward a big crowd on a bad-weather night, "was beyond expectations. We just didn't know. I got an inkling when we got to spring training, and I saw how organized Tom was. Then a couple of our young players came through and . . . "

And the rest is history. In a baseball season when teams in San Francisco, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Oakland have been reborn, when once proud franchises in Baltimore and Los Angeles have fallen into disarray, no story has been more interesting than the Brewers.

This is the team that started the year with records of 13-0 and 20-3. The team that followed that with 12 straight losses. They it won six in a row.

Then, just as it was settling into a nice 87-victory pace, Paul Molitor comes off the disabled list and starts to win. From not playing against anyone, he hit everyone, first 15 straight games, then 20, then 30.

"Yes, this has been a remarkable season," he said. "From talking to players around the league and from what I've seen, the atmosphere right here at County Stadium is as wild and pumped up as anywhere."

Probably more so. He got huge ovations just for stepping into the on-deck circle during the streak. They likely will continue.

"I've thought about how important it is to let them know they've been a part of this," he said. "I hope they know it. I really didn't want to tip my cap on the field because it seemed like showing off. But I had to acknowledge that I appreciated the reaction."