GRANITE FALLS — This column is dedicated to Granite Falls’ William (Butch) Richter, whose health is failing. He’s now in a swing bed at the Granite Falls Hospital.
He was in charge of everything — from player recruitment and contracts to the overseeing the team’s operating budget, from maintenance of the field, which bears his name, to supervision of the concession stand.
Richter, the general manager of Granite’s amateur baseball team, is the biggest reason why the Kilowatts were one of the most feared and successful Class C teams from the 1990s on.
Butch, I hope you remember these games, which I have been a part of.
1979 state tournament
The Kilowatts, who were in third place in the league, drafted Marshall pitchers and made a serious run at the state tournament championship.
Here’s a personal story involving the home plate umpire for the Granite-Cold Spring game, which was played in St. Cloud. Cold Spring was 30-2.
Well, the umpire was out until 5 a.m. celebrating the 90th birthday of the late Larry Knigge of Marshall, the secretary of the Southwest Umpires Association.
The umpire awoke at 9 a.m. to eat breakfast, and somebody told him that his eyes were bloodshot. He forgot to take his contact lenses out when he went to sleep. Ron Lenz of St. James was his umpiring partner.
By 10 a.m., the umpire had to be at the ball park under state tournament protocol.
He wasn’t feeling the best, but he put on his best face, considering the circumstances from the previous night of over-celebrating.
Immediately, there was a fair/foul call when a Granite Falls player hit a long fly ball down the left-field line. The umpire ruled a home run. He must have gotten the call right because nobody complained.
How big was that run? Well, the Springers tied the game after trailing 3-1. The Kilowatts won, 4-3, on a sacrifice fly after loading the bases on three Cold Spring infield errors late in the game.
Granite continued its Cinderella journey, knocking off previously-unbeaten (39-0) Lonsdale in the semifinals, 5-4, and advancing to play Arlington in the championship game. The finals were 3-3 before the A’s won, 6-3.
Butch Richter was the manager of that ‘79 Granite team.
1992 state tournament
Granite versus Dassel-Cokato at the Mini Met, Jordan. It’s hard to believe, but that game had a total elapsed time of 6.5 hours.
First, I believe, it was about the seventh inning when the D-C second baseman suffered a broken arm. He was applying a tag on a simple steal play. I can still remember the sound of the bone cracking. Before the player left the field, there was a delay of about 20-30 minutes.
Then, there was a rain delay, which lasted more than an hour. The umpire told his partner, Mike Gort of Marshall, it was a good time to order a pizza.
It was delivered to the first base box, which served as the headquarters for state board members to monitor the on-goings during the game.
Finally, the game lasted 16 innings, with Dassel-Cokato winning, 4-3.
The following season, Granite got revenge, beating that same D-C team in the state championship game. Thanks to Jason Fischer’s grand slam.
That 1993 state title would be the first of two for the Kilowatts under Butch Richter as general manager.
1999 state tournament, co-hosted by Granite Falls and Marshall
It was Granite versus Bemidji in the opening round of Class B, and a night when 90 relatives were in attendance to honor Butch Richter.
On this given night, the baseball facility would be renamed Richter Field, which was fitting for the many years of service he and Vernon (Bud) Blindt provided to make it one of the finest fields in southwestern Minnesota.
The game, which started about 45 minutes late due to the previous games going longer than expected, brought one of the largest crowds to Richter Field. All of the fans were there to show their appreciation to Butch.
Bemidji jumped to a 4-0 lead off Kilowatts’ ace, Curt Kvam, who finished with 15 strikeouts before leaving in the ninth inning.
In the eighth inning, Granite tied it, 4-4, on Jason Fischer’s grand slam.
In the bottom half of the ninth inning, the Kilowatts loaded the bases with one out as No. 9 hitter, Jon Rambow, strolled to home plate.
He was 3-for-3 in the game, but the chances were slim that he would get a fourth hit. It was a perfect time for a squeeze bunt and one of the best late-game comebacks in state tournament history.
However, Rambow hit into a 6-4-3 double play, meaning extra innings.
It was a 10th inning Granite — and its huge crowd — would like to forget.
First, left-handed pitcher Trevor Schulte had problems throwing a slider. He eventually walked Bemidji’s lead-off hitter.
For area fans, Schulte, a native of Montevideo, played professional baseball with the Marshall Mallards (1995) in the North Central League.
Then, Schulte uncorked a wild pitch into the first-base dugout. It was the only pick-off throw in the entire game.
With one out, Bemidji advanced a runner on third base with a fly ball to right field that allowed the runner to tag from second.
Schulte then threw a wild pitch, which missed catcher Brad Stromdahl of Marshall by several feet. What a way to lose a 10-inning game.
2002 state tournament
Now, the umpire turned to a sports writer, covering the Kilowatts during the state tournament held in St. Cloud.
There were many unforgettable moments as Granite came through the losers bracket to win six games to capture its second state title.
First, Mike Richter — Butch’s grandson — hit a game-tying, two-run homer against Princeton. The Kilowatts won the second-round game, 7-6.
Granite kept winning, qualifying for the finals to play Lonsdale, which was unbeaten and needed to win one game.
The Kilowatts won the first game, 7-5, with back-to-back home runs from drafted player Neil Jensen (Alexandria) and Nate Dammann. The latter became a bullpen catcher for the Minnesota Twins.
The Kilowatts won the second game, 7-4, thanks to superb relief pitching from Tim Knapper, who also worked in Game 1.
I can vividly recall the members of the Granite Falls team going back to the home plate area and presenting the championship trophy to Butch.
It was a fitting tribute to the man who put together teams, which went on to build a dynasty for 20 years in amateur baseball.
Later that winter, there was a celebration of Richter’s 81st birthday at the American Legion at Granite Falls.
I was glad to be invited, as it was a chance to allow me to mingle with the players who I had umpired in previous years and now who I had the pleasure of watching and writing about as a sports reporter.
The Independent put together a four-page commemorative edition of that 2002 state tournament, highlighting all nine games. There were complete box scores and final state tournament statistics.
I felt it was something I could do for the community of Granite Falls and for William (Butch) Richter, who gave me so many memorable moments in what has been a 32-year umpiring career.
Mutual respect society
Butch, you were a person I truly respected — first, as a manager and secondly, as a Hall of Fame baseball executive.
Yes, we didn’t always agree on the field — that happens between umpires and managers — and I ejected you. But, we made up for our differences and became pretty good friends.
We went out for supper every time I had a chance to come to Granite to cover a high school sports event. We had interesting telephone conversations centering around — what else? — baseball and sports.
You were a first-class person who hired me as an umpire, and the person who allowed my son, Jeff, to umpire there as a 16-year-old.
You haven’t been seen at the Granite Falls ball park of late, and without your presence and making of the popcorn, there’s something missing.