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Just off Bluemound Road in Milwaukee, you can get a hot cup of coffee and then walk up a short ramp to Stadium Sports Stuff, a small, local business where you can get whatever you need when it comes to sports merchandise, but more importantly you can get what you didn’t know you wanted.
It’s an old school sports shop with an old school owner in Mick Pavlovich where you can walk out with something for a just a couple dollars, find that top-of-the-line authentic jersey you desire or that Milwaukee Braves hat with just the right kind of "M" on the front.
"That’s one thing I was always in the forefront, that I thought I had a good niche of and people even maybe copied me was bringing in old school stuff," Pavlovich said.
"From the day I opened my store on 52nd Street and the fact that I used to work for the Milwaukee Braves back in the day, I thought, 'man, wouldn’t it be neat if we could get Milwaukee Braves caps in,' because I know people would still love that. I started bringing that stuff in."
Pavlovich has been running Stadium Sports Stuff for 25 years, first near County Stadium and now at its current location off Bluemound and 84th, and he runs a shop that harkens back to a different time in sports retail.
Stadium Sports Stuff is not antiseptic. Pavlovich greets you once you walk in, often excusing himself from a conversation to do so. Pictures of County Stadium and baseball greats of yesteryear adorn the wall behind his modest desk. Some include Pavlovich, and some are autographed and dedicated to him.
You may walk in looking for a T-shirt, hat or jersey but you could leave with much more than that – especially if you get to chatting with the owner.
Pavlovich grew up in Milwaukee and spent many days hanging around the ball park in the summer time, identifying the Braves players by their cars and waiting for autographs. Then he’d run over to the visiting side where the opponent’s would file out of the bus, trying to convince one of them to sneak him into the game.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t – but that didn’t matter much.
As he got older, Pavlovich got into the ballpark on his own as a bat-boy in 1964 and 1965. Then, when he graduated in 1966, he took off after the team down to Atlanta and became the visiting clubhouse manager – the youngest in the major leagues.
With the draft for the Vietnam War looming, Pavlovich enlisted on his own into the Army and despite getting two notices that he would be sent to active duty, never was. Instead, he drove a vehicle in the inauguration of President Richard M. Nixon in Washington, D.C. in 1969.
After his military career, he worked at Kearney and Trecker but as the factory began to move his hours around and lay people off, he read the writing on the wall – so he opened the first incarnation of Stadium Sports Stuff on 52nd and Bluemound in 1983. He worked both jobs for a time before finally devoting himself fully to the shop.
"We did OK," he said. "I didn’t get rich but I made a living doing something I enjoyed. A lot of my buddies had always said they envied me because I had this type of a business, guys who made a hell of a lot more money than me said ‘We talked we’d rather be doing what you’re doing.’ It’s kind of nice doing something you enjoy and being your own boss."
And, in between, perhaps you heard his voice at times on WAUK in Milwaukee, WGLB in Port Washington and WRKR in Racine and maybe even saw him in the ring as an announcer for WWF and the AWA.
"That was a fun part-time job, getting in the ring with Hulk Hogan and the Crusher and all those clowns," he said with a smile.
As with many businesses, the shop’s success ebbed and flowed with the city’s economic cycles. Pavlovich did well enough to move to Arizona after about two decades, but returned to re-open the shop at its current location in 2009.
The business has also changed.
Stadium Sports Stuff was one of the few shops in the city where you could go to find the hats and jerseys for teams around the country. As the leagues expanded their reach and became less regionalized and the advent of internet shopping, Pavlovich found that his clientele was looking for more Milwaukee and Green Bay-related products.
"We had all the other teams and guys would come in who were cap collectors or jersey collectors and for whatever reasons you would sell all the various teams," he said, chuckling over the memory of the sudden influx of San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears fans in the 1980s and '90s.
"I would get in a wide variety and people would buy all different teams. When I came back it didn’t take long to realize all this other stuff doesn’t sell like it used to. It’s few and far between. It’s more local. Brewers, Packers and a little bit of Badgers and a little bit of Marquette.
"It’s really local now which kind of hurts business a little bit. I used to do better when people would buy more teams."
But one thing hasn’t changed – people will always look for that unique item.
At Stadium Sports Stuff, that item is often the iconic "M" hat of the Milwaukee Braves. Sure, you might find them elsewhere now, but the ones you find in Pavlovich’s store are hand-picked by the former bat-boy himself, from the right colors to the right trim to the right width of the letter.
"I had to give them specs and I’m thinking you guys got the specs why do I have to do this?" he laughed.
He had to do that when the hats were being shipped in with different shades of navy and large, block "M’s" as opposed to the thinner logo of yesteryear. Now, they’re not entirely the same as back then – the "V" in the middle of the logo isn’t as thin and curved as it should be – but it’s about a close of a replica as you’re going to find.
"Most people don’t know but the real aficionado’s (do)," he said. "They just had little idiosyncrasies in the caps over the years that were different."
He picked up one off his shelf.
"This is real true to what they wore."
The game has changed, both the one on the field and the one off it, but attention to detail and customer service remain the pillars of good business. Pavlovich brings that and more to Stadium Sports Stuff. It may be old school, but as with many things in retail, what’s old is always new again.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.