Rick Grammond is the walking, talking, laughing encyclopedia of all things Pierz Pioneers athletics.
You can hear his witty words on his brainchild "You Are There Sports" podcast on the Sfmsports.net Channel 3.
When he's not covering a Pierz event, then it must be amateur baseball season because Grammond is on top of all things Victory League as well.
Question: You see a lot of communities and fan bases, how unique is the Pierz fan base? It just seems like one of the strongest, most loyal that I come across year in and year out.
Rick Grammond: It really is a great community and fan base in Pierz. They travel well to events, no matter where and are always supportive of our kids, but that should be expected. What I enjoy most and have always highly respected about our fans is that in all my years I've never been embarrassed by any behavior I've witnessed from the stands, whether it's in regards to officials or the opposing team. Our fans have always been highly respectful and represented the Pierz community very well.
Q: Because of the football team at Pierz, you've had a lot of travels and a lot of long falls. What's your fondest memory of covering Pierz football away from the football field?
RG: I think it's the bus rides with the team that we've taken to places like the Fargodome, Duluth and down to Minneapolis. I think a lot of people would be surprised to know how little actual football talk there is among us on those rides. Usually the discussions revolve around the Vikings or Gophers, Twins, Wild or Timberwolves, movies, fishing, what's growing in the garden, family, vacations and just everyday life. But my personal favorites have always been the community send-offs and the welcome home ceremonies for the teams. That's something that'll never get old.
Q: You left radio and started your own internet sports show "You Are There Sports." Talk to me about that decision and how it came about and what prompted you to finally pull the trigger on that endeavor?
RG: It really came down to seeing that the technology was available to do what I wanted to do and that by starting "You Are There Sports," it would provide me the flexibility to broadcast not only more events, but to provide coverage to sports that had never had that type of media coverage.
As an example, I never would have imagined that one of the most enjoyable things I've been able to broadcast since I began "You Are There Sports" is track and field. I've been able to do a live broadcast from both the section and state true team meets and it was an amazing experience. Doing my best to give well-deserved attention to our Pierz athletes in track and field, cross-country, tennis, golf and dance is really gratifying to me. And I would never have considered, let alone taken the plunge to do this, without such tremendous support from so many of my friends in the Pierz community that encouraged my decision and have been loyal listeners and supporters from the beginning. Technology is always improving and changing and people of all ages and generations are more and more comfortable with listening to events on this platform.
Q: You're also a huge supporter, follower, reporter of amateur baseball. There was a lot of realignment talk leading into this coming season including Sobieski moving up to Class B. What are your thoughts on what transpired and was there enough movement?
RG: You're right, I do love amateur baseball and especially our Victory League. What you're seeing right now is the state board attempting to put a system in place that will identify which teams should be classified as Class C and Class B. I'm convinced there will never be a perfect system that will please everybody. Some communities are struggling to get commitments from enough players to field a team every game. I can't imagine anything more frustrating for a team manager than to have to wonder each game if he's going to have nine guys even show up to play.
The Victory League saw the franchise based in Crosby decide to take a leave of absence because of this issue. So that dropped the Victory League from 20 teams to 19 and then you factor in that the Sobieski Skis were reclassified to Class B for the next two seasons and now Region 8C has lost one of its most successful and best drawing teams from the field, it remains to be seen how that will affect things in 2019.
Baseball was here way before me and it will be here long after I'm gone so the temptation to overreact to these changes is certainly there, but the game of baseball in central Minnesota and in the Pierz area is still very strong.
Q: You look at the Pierz coaching roster and so many of them were former Pioneers themselves. What is it that keeps bringing these bright, young energetic coaches back to Pierz?
RG: We certainly do have a lot of former Pioneers that have returned to the coaching sidelines. I can't speak for them, obviously, but I imagine that a lot of it has to do with them having grown up in and gone through the Pierz School District and system themselves and had a very positive experience. They witnessed firsthand the community and administrative support. They have deep roots already in the community so they feel extremely comfortable in making the decision to come back and work, live, raise a family of their own and give back to their school and community.
Q: Social media has certainly exploded the past four or five years and it seems like the sporting world and Twitter are a perfect marriage. You've created quite the following with your Twitter handle @rgrammond. Between your witty back-and-forths with Minnesota State High School League's John Millea and your continuous updates on Pierz athletics, what do you like most about Twitter?
RG: Well, let me first say that I think that John Millea of the Minnesota State High School League does just an amazing job of highlighting and featuring athletes all over the state in such a positive manner. I first got to know John when he was the prep reporter for the Star Tribune and we met while covering the state wrestling tournament and our friendship has continued to this day. I highly respect what he does.
As a broadcaster, Twitter is a wonderful asset to me because it's a great way to get quick score updates from other games from all over. In that regard, I use it as a tool of the trade. I can quickly find out the scores of games around the conference and all over in real time. And I do find it very entertaining to engage with other people for fun. When social media first started becoming prevalent in society, I made myself a promise to never use it to express my personal beliefs on topics such as politics or religion. To me, it's purely a way to quickly transfer information in a timely manner and to get a laugh once in a while. It's going to be very interesting to see what the next big development in information technology is going to be.
Q: Pierz won its first state football title in 2004 in a win over Eden Valley-Watkins. I've always argued, despite nobody listening, that the 2005 team was better. Your thoughts?
RG: This is one of those fun discussions that takes place quite often with Pioneers fans and friends. My answer to this question has always been that I don't rank one team over the other in any year. It would probably be a different story if we were talking about teams from different schools, such as "Was the 2004 Pierz team better than the 2005 Eden Valley-Watkins team?" But my reasoning has always been that we've been so fortunate to have so many good teams that, for me, it's impossible to rank one above or below another.
If I tried to do match-ups in my brain and knowing each of those teams as I do, I could probably come up with reasons why one team could beat the other, but then I'd turn around and find the rationale why the other team could find a way to win, too. I mean, could the 2017 Pioneers defense stop the 2003 Pioneers offense of Craig Luberts and Tony Andres? Could any Pierz defense shut down the 2001 Pierz passing game led by QB Dan Saehr's 25 touchdown passes? Could the 2015 offensive line of David Skiba, Brett Kapsner, Teddy Dehler, Logan Stangl, Jackson Michaels, Kolton Eischens and Matt Kummet be stopped by anyone? So my short answer is: I never choose one of our teams over another because they're all our teams.
Q: How much do good wrestling programs help football programs? It just seems like wrestlers are often times the best tacklers on a football team. Pierz has long been a great wrestling town as well. How much has that affected the football team, do you think?
RG: I definitely think there is a direct correlation between wrestling and football. Both require good footwork, balance and strength. But I think the biggest mutual benefit of having both the wrestling and football programs, and our baseball program as well, at Pierz being so successful is that our athletes have grown accustomed to competing at high levels in major arenas.
Most high school athletes are rightfully proud to be able to say that they once got to play at one state tournament. But we've had numerous athletes that can say they've competed at the Metrodome, Target Field, Xcel Energy Center, U.S. Bank Stadium and TCF Bank Stadium. It's always a great honor to get to play in those awesome facilities and our athletes certainly don't take it for granted. but it's certainly been an advantage that most of them have been there before.
Q: I've always said that if I could pick one community to move to and live in it would be Pierz. What makes that city appear to be such a great place to live?
RG: I think any community is only as good as the people that live there. And Pierz has great people. That includes locally owned businesses supporting each other, different civic organizations that are active in the community, a strong school system-and that includes both the public school and Holy Trinity in Pierz-and a real sense of community pride.
It's a community that has a very strong faith-based background, but I think most of all the thing I've noticed about Pierz is that when one member of the community is hurting, we all hurt. People rally around each other with an astounding sense of support. I think the people of Pierz know that they've got their neighbors' back because that neighbor has theirs.
Q: Personally, I think it's Thielen Meats. I have to stop and get some beef sticks and jerky every time I cover a Pierz event. What's your go-to purchase at the meat market?
RG: Talk about Sophie's Choice. It's all so good, but I'll just say that a Thielen Meats double-smoked ham is the star of my family's Easter dinner table every year.
Q: If you were to call one major sporting event what would it be?
RG: A question I often get from people is 'What's your favorite sport to broadcast?' And while I love them all, my answer is always baseball. There's just something about the pace of the game that lends itself to observing, to storytelling, to speculating and to second-guessing. As a child, it was the first sport I grew up learning to play and love. The history of the game, the statistics, the memory of the first time my dad took me to old Metropolitan Stadium to see my first Minnesota Twins game. So if I had the opportunity to broadcast any major sporting event, it would have to be a World Series game.
Q: If you could go back in time and be at a sporting event, say the U.S. hockey team's win over the USSR in the Olympics, which one would you like to be at?
RG: The 1980 Miracle on Ice would certainly have been special to be at and I would have loved to have been at The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1973 when Secretariat was winning the Triple Crown. I was fortunate enough to attend the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and witness the opening ceremonies in person as well as events such as curling, figure skating, men's and women's ice hockey and downhill skiing.
I'm a big fan of boxing so seeing Muhammad Ali fight in person at Madison Square Garden against Smokin' Joe Frazier or the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman would have been incredible.
My all-time favorite athlete was Houston Oilers running back Earl Campbell, so I would have loved to have seen No. 34 run all over those darn Pittsburgh Steelers.
But back to baseball, I'd have to say that I was at the one sporting event I'd like to have attended in history and that was Game 7 of the 1987 World Series at the Metrodome when the Twins beat St. Louis.
I'll finish this feature with a story your readers might enjoy about that experience. I was at Game 7 in 1987. But I never saw one single pitch. You see, in 1987 I had completed my enlistment in the United States Army and decided to use my veterans benefits to attend Brown Institute in Minneapolis to attend broadcast school. While going to school, I got a part-time job with a place called Sims Security. We were the guys in the red polyester jackets at events that showed people to their seats, tried to stop people from knocking beach balls all over the stadium, made sure people were OK when a foul ball came into the stands and so on.
So I was working at the Metrodome on the afternoon when the Twins clinched a tie for the American League West in 1987 by beating Kansas City by hitting three home runs in the bottom of the first inning, and I was working again when they played the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series. In both of those instances, I was inside the stadium, so I could actually see the game. But not the World Series.
For the World Series, I was told that I was being assigned to guard the Twins locker room. So my duties were to stand outside the clubhouse door and make sure no unauthorized personnel got in. To give you an idea of the set-up, the Twins dugout was on the third base side of the field and the players had to walk up a flight of concrete steps, go through a set of glass doors and then the clubhouse was located across the concourse.
So on the night of Game 7, I didn't have to do too much before the game except stand around while players and coaches came and went. But as the start of the game got closer, a lot of big names started to come by. I got to meet Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, the players' union representative at that time was former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger and I met him, and the commissioner of baseball at that time was Peter Ueberroth and he was there with the World Series Trophy.
But then the game began and I was all by myself in this big empty concrete concourse, but I could hear the roars of the crowd. But I couldn't see any of the action. All I could do is look down through those glass doors, down the stairwell and see just a little bit of the Twins dugout where they kept the bats and batting helmets.
Once I saw Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti having a talk about something a couple of steps up the stairway. Then in the middle of the game, when the Twins were up to bat and as I looked through the doors, suddenly up those steps came Kirby Puckett. He was coming up to the clubhouse for some reason. There was Puck, right in the middle of Game 7 of the World Series, coming right at me. I didn't say anything, I just pulled open the glass door for him and he walked by me into the locker room.
So I went back to looking down into the dugout to see what I could see. A few minutes couldn't have passed and I never heard the door to the clubhouse open, but all of the sudden, I felt a hand slide into my front left pocket and then I heard that unmistakable voice that Kirby had say, "I'm gonna pick your pocket, man" ... and then he was through the glass doors and back down the steps into the dugout.
Had that really just happened? Of course, we know the Twins went on to win Game 7 and the World Series. Before the game, I was instructed that if the Twins won, I was to stand outside the locker room door for the mandatory five-minute cooling off period before any reporters and news media were allowed in. And I was also told that if the Twins won and the team decided to go back down onto the field to celebrate with the fans, that absolutely no champagne bottles were to be allowed to be carried by the players down to the field. So the Twins win and they come racing up to the locker room to celebrate and once they closed the door, I took up my station in front of the door with all the major news networks waiting on me to give them the green light to go inside to begin their interviews. I remember some of them weren't too happy that I was making them wait. And then, sure enough, I got the word that the players were going to be headed down to the field to salute their fans, most of whom were still inside the stadium and celebrating. One of the first players to head back to the field was Gary Gaetti and yes, he was carrying a big bottle of champagne with him. I told him, 'You have to leave this with me, Gary. I'll hold it for you until you come back up.' And he handed it to me as he and the rest of the team went down to the field.
Twins fans might recall that back in 1987, they had made a late-season trade to acquire the great four-time Cy Young winner Steve Carlton. But Carlton hadn't done too much in his brief stint and wasn't on the playoff roster. Other Twins that hadn't been put on the playoff roster included a pitcher named Mike Smithson. He was a tall, curly-haired right-handed pitcher and both he and Carlton came down to the clubhouse in the later innings to get into uniform so they could join in the team celebration down on the field.
After a while, the players began to make their way back up the steps to the clubhouse. One of the first ones to come back was Mike Smithson. I was still holding Gary Gaetti's bottle of champagne but Smithson grabbed it out of my hands as he walked by and carried it with him into the clubhouse. It didn't bother me too bad because I figured Gaetti wouldn't even care, let alone remember, that the champagne bottle he'd given me for safe keeping, was no longer in my possession. I was wrong. Gaetti walked up the step and came right over to me and wondered where his bottle was. All I could tell him was, "Ask Smithson." He laughed and walked away.
I don't recall how long I stayed outside the clubhouse but it was a long time after the game was over. One thing that I do vividly remember is that the only member of the St. Louis Cardinals that came over to congratulate the Twins was their great Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith. I recall he had changed out of his uniform and was now wearing a black turtleneck with a big gold chain and a gorgeous, full-length fur coat. That night was Oct. 25, 1987. My birthday is Oct 26 so technically by the time I left the Metrodome late that night, it was my birthday and instead of riding the city bus home, I decided to walk all the way home through the streets of Minneapolis ... and I don't think my feet even touched the ground.