Miller Park holds a time capsule of Brewers history
Gallery: A look inside the Miller Park time capsule
Miller Park may be approaching the teenage years, but the Milwaukee Brewers franchise has a unique history that stretches into middle-age status. This year will mark the 43rd season of baseball under the Brewers moniker, which means there are generations clicking the turnstiles having never set foot in County Stadium, never been wowed by gawking at Bernie Brewer slide from his chalet into a mug full of "beer," never witnessing Tommy Harper steal a base.
Within the bowels of the current ballpark lies a concrete storage area with one-of-a-kind links to the past. Measuring 160 feet wide by 220 feet long, this warehouse, tucked away near the south dock entrance to Miller Park, houses keepsakes and relics that may someday find a more shining home than some generic cardboard box.
The warehouse watchdog is Pat Rogo, who for 20 years has taken it upon himself to help preserve the past.
"It's instinct," said Rogo, whose two-decade employment has been to supervise and maintain the coming and going activity of the stadium mailroom. "I know anything that's worth something and stuff that is rare and not made anymore, things we don't have a lot (of) around here. These are things that represent an important date or time in history with this team."
It's an unofficial badge of honor that the 56-year-old Rogo proudly accepts, being able to recognize something of little value now but may turn into a priceless piece of franchise memorabilia down the road. Even before County Stadium was on the wrecking ball hit list, Rogo would scour every nook and cranny of the decaying yard to unearth a chunk of the baseball past worthy of a place in the team's trophy case.
"It's like a scavenger hunt," said Rogo. "I come across stuff that we brought over from the old ballpark that I haven't seen in awhile, and it's now a real neat piece.
"I would find things in old closets and cages. That's where I found the old bullpen car. I found it in a cage covered with tarps and it had probably been there for 10 years and never used. I took it out, cleaned it up, got some batteries for it and made it work."
The one-of-a-kind bullpen buggy made a reunion appearance during the final week of County Stadium play, and if you pop in the movie "Major League" this funky golf cart makes a cameo as well, tricked out with an Indians logo plastered over the Brewers' old-school "M."
"It's a collector's piece, and they were going to auction it off, but I convinced (former Brewers Vice President) Laurel Prieb that it meant more to the Milwaukee Brewers than some bar owner that could display it. So we kept it."
Rogo's warehouse has ample room to provide the bullpen car a safe and secure garage. Mixed in amongst the daily operational items that truly belong in storage, Rogo has squirreled away gems from seasons gone by that even survived a flood in 2009 because Rogo insured his labor with strategic placement high above the watery floor below.
"The one thing I learned when we came into this ballpark is a new appreciation of County Stadium," said Rogo. "Because I worked in it for so long, I used to just look at it as something that was falling apart, but as we were changing over to the new park, I saw the historical value of what was there, knowing that in a matter of a few months it was going to be pavement."
Rogo's vision was shared and actually got a jump start from Mario Ziino, the former Brewers assistant director of media relations who spent a quarter of a century chronicling the Brew Crew.
"When I was with the ball club, I became the unofficial/official historian based on the fact that I was the in-house scribe and had been with the Brewers since 1978," said Ziino. "Once we started talking about a new ballpark (around the late '80s), I started scrounging around the park for items to preserve. I found a room in the bowels of County Stadium filled with binders of newspaper clippings dating to when the stadium was first built."
Ziino began to scavenge on his own, hitting up the Brewers brass for items they may have tucked away over the years. There was no warehouse where Ziino could pack away his treasures, so he asked equipment manager Tony Migliaccio if there was an unused travel trunk available to keep the keepsakes safe.
"He remembered that there was a trunk tucked away from the old (Seattle) Pilots and gave it to me," said Ziino. "Perfect! What better way to store archives than in an archive."
This Brewers time capsule now has a home base in the Miller Park storage bunker. But to better paint a picture of what this home to history is like, pop in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and view the final scene where a government worker boxes up the Ark and files it away with thousands of other relics. Sandwiched on shelving between Jeffrey Hammonds Bobbleheads, Doug Melvin letterhead and the Racing Sausages wrapped in off-season plastic, there are souvenirs carefully boxed, bagged, manila envelope-sealed and labeled.
"As the Brewers regime began to evolve, and the future Miller Park groundbreaking took place, Laurel Prieb commissioned me to start planning for a Hall of Fame at the new ballpark," said Ziino. "I mapped out my vision of what it should entail. Besides a typical display of artifacts, I suggested that it should include a working library where students can come and do research not only on the Brewers but baseball too."
Certainly a more fitting resting place for these well-preserved pieces of Brewers history. But the museum got flipped to the back burner and budget sliced out any future plans, keeping these keepsakes tucked away and only unveiled for brief moments of reflection.
"I suggested that it should also have a theater for showing vintage movies and highlights, as well as lectures and perhaps a college course or two," added Ziino. "He (Prieb) thought that would be a great idea and when the plans of the park were drawn up, it was to include such a facility. It became cost prohibited from an insurance and maintenance standpoint, so it was scrapped. I continued to store the items in my office area. I had a conference room and a separate archive room where all the things I collected were safe and secure."
"Mario and I had been working for a number of years collecting old material ... stuff we would find in the ballpark that commemorated the Brewers at County Stadium and now at Miller Park," added Rogo. "The team is going to be here longer than I will be around and at some point, who knows, maybe they'll have a museum that goes back to 1970.
"In 2020, it's going to be 50 years, so maybe that's a good time."
A trip down this baseball memory lane with Rogo unearths remnants that even surprise players and executives from the past when they take a peek. Rogo sifted through boxes gathering dust, but managed to track down traditional mementos featuring game-worn equipment by legendary Brewers like Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Henry Aaron. There's a business card from team President Bud Selig's first year of business in Milwaukee, and lineup cards used by Manager Davey Lopes during County Stadium's finale and Miller Park's baptism.
There are items as recent as the bases used in the 2011 National League Championship Series, and as far back as the County Stadium switchboard used to dial up front office types during the Braves and early Brewers days. All Star games played in both ballparks have relics and reminders represented, and all the historic "firsts" of Miller Park have been gathered and documented: everything from the pen used by Governor Tommy Thompson to seal the deal to build the new Brewers home to the autographed ceremonial first pitch baseball delivered from the mound by President Bush.
Hall of Fame? Museum? Seems like a home run.
"I had (Brewers Assistant General Manager) Gord Ash come up to me at the On Deck event and ask 'Where did you get this stuff?' and I told him I've been collecting it for years," said Rogo. "He asked me why it isn't in Miller Park now. I told him it kind of got phased out, but I still keep on collecting the stuff hoping that maybe someday, something will happen.
"At some point, this ballpark is going to have a lot of history now that we've been to the playoffs. At some point, probably when I'm long gone, all of that is going to be worth something to that generation that was here at the beginning of this ballpark."
Old schoolers like Rogo and Ziino get the chills just rewinding and thinking back to the infancy of the Brewers franchise and all the reminders that still exist thanks to their scrounging and saving ways. Perhaps the ball club will find a way to let more eyes see the vision conjured up by these packrats to the past.
"When I display this stuff, I see the over-40 people that will look at it and say 'I remember that game or era' and you see a smile on their face," said Rogo. "That's why I do this, that's why I have it ... to bring back the memories. And now the kids today, maybe in 2020, can say 'I was at that game and I remember that year at Miller Park' and show their kids."
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