Monday, April 1 is Opening Day in Milwaukee.
While the future of Brewers baseball begins at Miller Park at 1:10 p.m. as the Rockies roll into town, over on the lakefront a new exhibit at Discovery World, 500 N. Harbor Dr., casts a view back at the history of America’s pastime.
"Baseball – Innovations That Changed the Game" opens Monday and runs through May 19. Assembling mitts, bats, catcher’s masks, jerseys and even a Crosley Field stadium light, the exhibit traces the development of the equipment that has helped baseball become what it is today.
"We're trying to communicate what this innovating thing is," says Discovery World Executive Director Paul Krajniak. "We're trying to parse it out. It's making the new. It's showing how the economics impacts it. Everything we do, it's our job to get the public thinking about (these things)."
The short-lived show – it runs a mere seven weeks – was organized with MEARS, a South Milwaukee-based auction and retail company that specializes in big-ticket sports, Americana and pop culture memorabilia.
"One of the most exciting things about this exhibit is that we are able to share the evolution of more than 125 years of baseball in a single location. The equipment on display allows visitors to see what changed, when and why. It mixes sports, history and science to help highlight where things started and how they got to be where they are today," says Discovery World CEO Joel Brennan.
"It can serve as inspiration to future innovators, whether they want to innovate in sports, science, music, art, law or some combination of all of these. (Another) thing that excites me is that we are able to also showcase a local entrepreneur – MEARS' President and CEO Troy Kinunen – who transformed an interest in collectibles into a business which has resulted in him becoming one of the foremost authenticators of sports memorabilia in the country, if not the world."
Kinunen created innovation of his own when MEARS created a system of memorabilia authentication that changed the marketplace.
"We didn't want to do this as just memorabilia," adds Krajniak. "We wanted to put it through that lens (of innovation) – from the notion of a whole other level – that memorabilia has the powerful ability to transform how you'll do your business next."
One item sure to catch the eye of die-hard Brewers fans is the 1992 Rawlings mitt that Robin Yount used during the 1992 season, during which he reached his milestone 3,000th hit.
In another area, a video monitor plays highlights of the 1957 World Series, in which the "bush league" Milwaukee Braves walloped the sass-talkin’ New York Yankees. Nearby, patrons can learn about innovations added to the game during that series, including the addition of crowd noise and analysts on broadcasts.
Brennan says that the bats and the light from Cincinnati's Crosley Field – which hosted Major League Baseball’s first night game in 1935 – are definite highlights of the show for him, but that it’s the mitts that really capture his attention.
"Maybe because I could never hit worth a lick, I was drawn immediately to the gloves," he says. "Seeing the evolution from fingerless gloves – apparently, it wasn’t ‘manly’ to wear them in the early days – to the models worn by modern ballplayers is really interesting.
"I particularly focused on two of the recent models – a Mickey Mantle autographed model from the 1950s – what kid wouldn’t have wanted one of those – and the Robin Yount model. My first real glove was a Robin Yount infielders glove, so it brings me back to my youth and to great memories of ‘The Kid’."
Brennan says the exhibition is part of what Discovery World hopes will be a series of efforts to explore the connections between sports, science and innovation.
"We can envision historic helmets from football and biking and the connection between those artifacts and the very current public discourse on concussions and brain injury," he says. "When we do programs like these, we want to drive people into our labs and classrooms for more information about the topic and more connections to their own lives. Sports can be not only a fun participatory activity and a fan magnet, but they can also help inspire learning, knowledge and discovery."
Krajniak says that he and Kinunen are already working on a similar exhibition tracing innovations in football equipment over the years.
"It's rewarding to have my collection recognized and appreciated and shared," says Kinunen.
Admission to the exhibition is included in Discovery World admission, which is $16.95 for adults and $12.95 for children. The museum is open Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., and 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Though typically closed on Mondays, Discovery World is open on April 1 to kick off "Baseball – Innovations That Changed the Game."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.