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Bidding County Stadium Adieu

September 27, 2000

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ County Stadium always was an acquired taste.

The drab decor and corrugated steel, exposed beams and electrical wires. The black-and-white scoreboard that made instant replays look like old newsreels.

The splintered wooden seats with chipped green paint. The Formica-topped concession tables. The stench of beer nullified only by the aroma of sizzling bratwurst.

It staged few pennant races, but plenty of sausage races.

But what a view, and what a place to play.

``It’s like putting on an old pair of shoes,″ said Gorman Thomas, the Milwaukee Brewers’ scraggly-haired slugger of the 1970s and ’80s. ``The new place looks fantastic, but this place is home.″

At least for a few more days.

Miller Park and its retractable roof are literally on the horizon, and next year the Brewers will move into their $394 million palace with all its state-of-the-art amenities.

On Thursday, the Brewers will play Cincinnati, one last game at the nation’s first publicly financed ballpark that was built in 1953 for $4.8 million _ about what outfielder Jeromy Burnitz made this season alone.

Then, the wrecking ball will begin ripping down the old place where the Braves won the ’57 World Series, the Brewers won the ’82 AL pennant and the Green Bay Packers played for 41 years.

``It’s going to be very emotional for me,″ said baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who brought the Brewers to Milwaukee in 1970, five years after the Braves bolted for Atlanta.

``It may not have the history and tradition and symbolism of Wrigley Field or Fenway Park,″ Selig said. ``But in the end, it’s where generations of people grew up. And it’s where we’ll always have a lifetime of memories.″

Hank Aaron. Warren Spahn. Lew Burdette. Eddie Mathews. Robin Yount. Paul Molitor. Cecil Cooper. Jim Gantner. Jim Taylor. Willie Davis. Vince Lombardi. Paul Hornung. Brett Favre.

``I’m a historian of the game,″ Cubs first baseman Mark Grace said. ``And I’m very proud of the fact I played where a lot of great players played. I’m very nostalgic about the old stadiums.″

And there’s an abundance of memories at this one.

Aaron hit an 11th-inning homer off St. Louis’ Billy Muffet to clinch Milwaukee’s first NL pennant in 1957.

In 1959, Pittsburgh’s Harvey Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings before losing both the no-hitter and the game in the 13th inning. Two years later, Willie Mays hit four home runs in a game.

On July 20, 1976, Aaron hit his 755th and last home run. A grounds crew member kept the ball for more than 20 years before cunningly getting Aaron to sign it at an autograph show and later auctioning it off.

On Dec. 18, 1994, the Packers ended a 62-year tradition in Milwaukee with a 21-17 victory over Atlanta. Favre dived into the end zone for the winning score in the waning seconds to clinch a playoff berth.

``I have a lot of fond memories there,″ Favre said. ``And that one stands out.″

Two All-Star Games were played at County Stadium, in 1955 and again 20 years later, when players complained about the field after 60,000 music fans had trampled the grass at concerts for the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.

There was Yount’s 3,000th hit and Molitor’s 39-game hitting streak.

Slugger Mark McGwire lost a home run in 1998 when an umpire ruled a fan reached over the wall. But that didn’t top his list of memories.

``You know one thing I’ll always remember? Those sacks of `diamond dust’ the ground crews piles up in the far corner of the dugout. Sometimes those things take away two or three seats,″ McGwire said. ``I remember a few times having to sit on that stuff.″

But the field itself was known as one of the best.

``You rarely ever see a bad bounce,″ Burnitz said.

Miller Park was supposed to open this season but the project was delayed when a crane collapse killed three workers on July 14, 1999.

Dick Joyal, a business and economics professor at Northland College, isn’t happy about the Brewers moving into new digs.

``Just to tear it down and build a fancy new thing that looks like a mall, to me that’s not baseball,″ he said. ``I understand why they are doing these things, but I hate to see tradition cast aside for the sake of a new building. My God, that’s where Warren Spahn pitched.″

And one of Spahn’s teammates will find it hard to say good-bye.

``When they tear this old place down,″ Aaron said, ``they’re going to take a piece of my heart with it.″

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