O’Gara, Brian (2018)
“I love the game on the field, the history and traditions and statistics. But what I also see through our MLB events - and I definitely saw through that struggle - is how impactful Baseball is even beyond the field of play, as a force of positivity in people’s lives. I’m really proud to be a part of this game, and appreciate this great honor from the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame.”. - Brian o’gara
A native of Westbrook, Maine and a member of their 1979 Little League state champion team, Brian O’Gara has served as an executive in Major League Baseball’s headquarters in New York for 28 years. Along the way, in his role directing the ballpark ceremonies, entertainment and game presentation operations for MLB’s major events, he has been a part of some of Baseball’s biggest moments.
Over a quarter century of World Series drama, All-Star Game celebrations, Home Run Derby slugfests — along with domestic and international showcase events — have all been part of O’Gara’s tenure in the Special Events department for the Commissioner’s Office, during a time of major growth in the game.
But dreams of the Major Leagues started on Longfellow Street in Westbrook, Maine. “Almost every night before going to sleep I’d pretend to pitch the final out of the World Series,” recalls O’Gara, “throwing a rolled-up ball of socks across the room to a target on the wall.”
Now, after the final out of the World Series, he has a different role than the one he pictured during those childhood days: O’Gara and his MLB colleagues coordinate the World Series Trophy presentation. After Game 7 of last year’s Fall Classic, when he delivered the World Series trophy to the stage for Commissioner Rob Manfred to award to the Houston Astros, it marked O’Gara’s 143rd World Series game.
Growing up in Maine, O’Gara’s Little League team won two Westbrook titles and he was part of the city’s first state Little League champion in over two decades. His parents – Phil & Patsy O’Gara – were avid Red Sox fans, and the family made an annual trip to Fenway Park the highlight of each summer.
After 4 years at Westbrook High, O’Gara enrolled at the University of Notre Dame thanks to academic scholarships and summer job money from S.D. Warren paper mill.
“Anyone who drove past the old Exit 8 in Westbrook and got a whiff of S.D. Warren can pretty much guess what I smelled like after working those overnight shifts scraping sludge plates. But that was really good money for a college kid.”
Covering Notre Dame’s football and strong national athletic program for the college newspaper, and interning in the ND athletic department, O’Gara caught the bug for the sports business that propelled him to Major League Baseball. He had great mentors at Notre Dame who are all still close friends today. Pat Murphy (now the Milwaukee Brewers bench coach), Bubba Cunningham and Bill Scholl (now Athletic Directors at North Carolina and Marquette, respectively) and many others were instrumental in helping O’Gara channel his drive and work ethic..
Currently the Vice President of Special Events in the Commissioner’s Office, O’Gara is responsible for planning and producing the ballpark events for MLB’s largest dates on the calendar. He regularly directs All-Star players and Hall of Famers through major nationally-televised ceremonies, and has met every living President. He orchestrated MLB’s stirring tribute to Ted Williams at the 1999 All-Star Game in one of his final appearances at Fenway Park, and on-field ceremonies that has allowed MLB to use its biggest platforms to honor heroes from all walks of life, including our nation’s veterans, community heroes, and baseball icons..
MLB’s current Little League Classic, bringing two teams to Williamsport, PA in conjunction with the Little League World Series, has special meaning for O’Gara going back to his Westbrook days. His 1979 Maine Little League state championship team reached the Eastern regionals and fell just few games short of Williamsport..
O’Gara’s work has taken him to all 30 ballparks, several countries including Cuba and Japan, and some of the most iconic places in Baseball. But the Little League World Series stands out for him. “It’s such a great representation of our game today. Enthusiasm, skill, sportsmanship, international growth and just pure fun. It’s a really special place. We’re proud to be able to bring MLB there, and help make some lifelong memories in the process.”.
Creating lifelong memories is something he should know. O’Gara and his colleagues at MLB focus on that every time another event comes along. “People have heard me say this every time we start a major event. There will be fans who come to a World Series game or an All-Star event that will never experience that again. Years from now, they’ll be sitting on the porch talking about tonight. This is one of the key memories they will carry with them throughout their life. So we need to make sure we work hard to get every last detail right.”.
And through it all, O’Gara has stayed true to his roots. He’s worked in New York for 28 years, but when he meets someone and they ask where he’s from, he still instantly says Maine..
“When you look at a tree you don’t see the roots that support it, but they’re an essential part of that growth. I know this sounds so corny but that’s how I view my roots in Westbrook. With those Maine roots, and you throw in some development at Notre Dame and the incredible support of my family, that’s my foundation.”.
O’Gara and his wife Kate have three children in college: Sean, Megan and Molly. “To me, the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame recognition is a family award. You don’t have this kind of career without family involvement and support. My family has been part of this throughout. Growing up my kids have spent a lot of time at ballparks.”.
One of the MLB traditions that O’Gara helps direct each year for the last decade is when MLB stops an All-Star Game or World Series game to have the fans stand in unison in the fight against cancer. And when O’Gara faced a grueling battle with stage 3 cancer two years ago, the Baseball community stood up for him. “My coworkers were so supportive, as was our MLB leadership and people from all 30 Clubs.”.
During one of the toughest times in the treatment process, he received a recorded video from David Ortiz encouraging him to stay strong. “That was so thoughtful of Big Papi and the Red Sox,” O’Gara recollects. “That kind of support was great medicine during some dark days.”
From Notre Dame Athletics https://strongofheart.nd.edu/profiles/brian-ogara-2016/
“I’m in the control booth at Petco Park and Rachel Platten is performing ‘Fight Song’ right in front of home plate,” he says. “Fox television is broadcasting this live, so we want to get this right.”
As O’Gara focused on the sound quality and other details that the home viewer would never notice unless an error was committed, someone tapped him on the shoulder. O’Gara turned and the person pointed to the outfield, where the giant video screen was playing Fox’s feed. There stood Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, holding two signs. One of them read, “I Stand Up For Brian O’Gara.”
“I definitely felt a lot of eyeballs on me at that moment,” O’Gara says.
In September doctors told O’Gara that all traces of his cancer had vanished. He will need to go in for cancer screenings regularly, but last autumn he was thrilled to be back to work and cancer-free.
“I have never seen anything like what I witnessed at Wrigley Field on the Friday afternoon (before Game 3 of the World Series, in Chicago),” he said days after the Cubs had clinched the championship.
“Five hours before the game, and there had to be 15,000 people just hanging around the streets surrounding the ballpark. They were taking pictures, soaking in the atmosphere, just so happy to be finally able to touch and feel and experience the World Series.”
It was a joyous celebration that O’Gara himself understood and appreciated. He had always cherished such moments, but now even more deeply.
“Everyone will get back to their daily lives soon enough,” he says, “but right now Cloud 9 is pretty crowded.”
MLB executive still feels pride for Westbrook, his hometown.