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Riding in a thing of past for relievers

Riding in a thing of past for relievers

MILWAUKEE -- Todd Coffey, the Brewers' reliever known as much for his all-out sprint to the pitcher's mound as his work once he gets there, is glad that Major League teams long ago parked their silly bullpen cars.

"Riding in one of those things would make me crazy," Coffey said. "I wouldn't do it. I think you might get five guys in all of the big leagues who would."

The Brewers were among the big league teams to employ bullpen transportation in decades past, and current pitching coach Bill Castro remembers riding in during his tenure as a Milwaukee reliever from 1974-80. Castro doesn't miss the buggies, golf carts, full-sized sedans and motorcycles that once were so prevalent around the game.

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"Looking back on it now," Castro said, "the whole thing was a little ridiculous. To think that a guy couldn't run from the bullpen to the pitcher's mound? I mean, come on."

The Chicago White Sox get credit as the first team to drive their relievers into games, beginning in 1951. The Brewers were apparently the last, using a Harley-Davidson motorcycle through the end of the 1995 season.

According to Mario Ziino, Milwaukee's unofficial baseball historian, the bullpen vehicle in Milwaukee dates back to June 23, 1958, the same day San Francisco's Willie Mays collected his 1,000th hit at County Stadium. Braves reliever Don McMahon became the first pitcher to be driven to the mound from the bullpen in Milwaukee when he was transported in the sidecar of a motor scooter.

The Braves moved to Atlanta seven years later, but the Brewers were born in 1970, and the team used a golf cart outfitted with an oversized baseball cap to drive pitchers into games. Today, it sits parked in a warehouse under Miller Park but still runs like a dream, thanks to a longtime front-office employee who stores many of Milwaukee's baseball treasures.

Pat Rogo, the Brewers' warehouse supervisor and general go-to guy, saved the bullpen car from the auction block when the team was preparing to close County Stadium in 1999. Rogo convinced club officials to keep the car, which needed a new battery but was otherwise just like new.

"I looked around and thought, 'What do we have left to remind us of when the Brewers came to town?'" Rogo said. "I was 10 years old then, and the bullpen car reminds me of that team more than anything else."

The cart is decked out with baseball bats that once belonged to outfielder Dave May and first baseman George Scott. They must have been added later, since the Brewers didn't acquire May until midway through their inaugural season or the slugging Scott until October 1971.

Another addition came much later, when the cart got a makeover for a supporting role in the 1989 film, "Major League," which featured the Cleveland Indians but was mostly filmed in Milwaukee. Movie buffs will remember hard-nosed catcher Jake Taylor, played by Tom Beringer, taking the cart to the streets to tail his ex-girlfriend, played by Rene Russo. The film's producers transformed the Brewers cap atop the cart by affixing a red button and an Indians logo.

The original Brewers "M" logo has since returned, but the red button remains.

Except for a weeklong stint at the end of the 2000 season, the Brewers' final year at County Stadium, the cart has not been in use since the mid-1970s, when it was replaced by a full-sized car. As part of a sponsorship with a local dealership, the car transported players all summer and then would be raffled away on Fan Appreciation Day at the end of the season.

Harley-Davidson joined as a Brewers sponsor in the 1990s and a motorcycle with a sidecar replaced the automobile. By that time, pitchers were trotting in.

"Only once that I can remember did a player jump into the sidecar," Ziino said. "It wasn't pretty watching him climb out of it."

Even the golf cart is a bit tight. But at least one Brewers reliever would be willing to give it a try.

"If they offered me a ride, I'd take it," said righty Mark DiFelice, who spent 11 years in the Minors before last season and had to trot the whole time. "In some stadiums, the bullpen is pretty far away, so, yeah, if they brought it back, I'd go for a ride."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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