Longtime Brewers’ groundskeeper dies

Gary Vanden Berg, the Brewers’ longtime groundskeeper who oversaw the team’s move from open-air County Stadium to retractable-roofed Miller Park, has died after a yearlong battle with cancer.

Hired by the Brewers in 1981, Vanden Berg saw the team through the 1982 World Series and the 2002 All-Star Game, floods at County Stadium in 1986 and at Miller Park in 2004, plus everything from a tractor pull to rock concerts to bowling tournaments. His most recent job title was Director of Grounds.

He had twin sons, John and Joel, who worked for the team. Joel spent a summer as an intern in the team’s baseball operations department, and John was a 25th round Draft pick of the Brewers in 2002 who rose as high as Double-A Huntsville.

“Gary was a fixture of the Brewers — one of the faces of Miller Park for a lot of people,” said infielder Craig Counsell, whose father, John, worked in the team’s front office during the 1980s.

“You could tell how much he loved what he did by just him being there at the ballpark this year,” Counsell said. “He was sick, he was having a hard time, but he wanted to be there. It was really important for him to be there.”

Some co-workers hoped the Brewers’ best regular season in club history provided a source of strength. Director of Baseball Operations Tom Flanagan, whose tenure began as a batboy in 1990, last saw Vanden Berg at Miller Park on Sept. 23, the night the Brewers clinched the National League Central.

“You could tell that being at the park was his passion,” Flanagan said. “We were all pulling for him.”

Vanden Berg had a difficult job after the Brewers moved to Miller Park, where the huge, moveable roof panels limited the amount of sunlight that could reach the field. The turf occasionally drew criticism from players, and Vanden Berg took that criticism to heart, Counsell said.

“He would ask frequently, ‘How am I doing? What can we do better?’” Counsell said. “He definitely wanted input.”

A number of Brewers players joined members of the Miller Park grounds crew in wearing bracelets this season in support of Vanden Berg with the phrase, “Believe in miracles.” Vanden Berg told WTMJ-TV in June that he did believe, and said he was ready for the end of his life.

“I’m looking forward to going to heaven,” he told the station. “So in that sense, you know, I’m not afraid to die.”

The Brewers were planning to release further information on Tuesday afternoon.

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1 Comment

Gary was my first boss in professional baseball when I was hired on the Grounds Crew at 16. There wasn’t a more dedicated, hard-working person in Brewers history than Gary, but he never sought publicity for it. He set the standard for the best Grounds Crew in baseball.

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