History from Home Plate: Granite Falls Baseball, Part 4

Jess Gorman
Staff Writer
Mike Richter, Butch Richter and Nick Richter bringing home the 2002 state championship trophy.

By 1993 the Kilowatts were fielding a team so cohesive their new mascot should have been glue. Folks who would be considered long time staples of the community now, back in 1993 where young men just playing a game. Tim Knapper, Mike Richter, Jeff Asche, Trevor Schulte, Tim Tanner, Adam Almich, and more were playing the field and racking up wins in the name of the home team. Headlines like “Knapper throws well in home opener”, “Asche’s slam, good pitching lead Kilowatts to 4-0 week” and “Kilos find sweet revenge at Marshall” littered the weekly summer pages of 1993. Win after win propelled the well oiled machine forward, claiming league playoff victories. The Regions of 1993 were hard fought, “Kilowatts slap out 16 hits, comeback from 4-0 deficit to earn top region spot” creating candy for the community eyes to read in early August of 1993.

On September 8th 1993 the Granite Falls Advocate Tribune headline worth holding your breath for came, “Incredible! Kilos win state crown”. The opening excerpt from the article read “The moment is framed in time. First there was a loud crack of the bat - hundreds of heads turning to watch the ball soar - as if it had wings. For just a moment, time stopped-like a slow motion movie-heart beats ticking so loudly they could almost be heard. Then, as though someone pushed the sound button-Dick Putz Stadium exploded with a mixture of joyful glee and painful moans. The man of the hour-Jason Fischer-tore around the base paths, unaware of where he was, but certain something great was happening. His grand slam home run in the ninth inning, triggered a labor day celebration that went on for hours as the Granite Falls Kilowatts celebrated an 8-5 win over Dassel-Cokato and the amateur state baseball championship.” Fischer said “I don't remember first or second base” and worried as he passed through home “it's not over yet, I hope it's enough runs” and it was more than enough. Fischers ball landed well beyond the 323-foot left field fence and history was made with Granite Falls taking their first ever State Championship win in the team’s history.

Trevor Schulte, former player and current head coach of YME’s boys baseball ten years running, spoke to the Advocate Tribune this past week to reflect on his time with the Kilowatts. Schulte played from 1990 into the 2004 season, rostered for both historical state wins as an outfielder and pitcher, but was away at college for most of the 1993 season, playing a bigger part in the 2002 state victory. When asked about his fondest memories, “I wouldn't say it's one game in particular, it was just the team aspect, being around that group of players, it was like we were one big family. We were in everyone's weddings together, and our families still keep in touch. It was about camaraderie". In thinking of his comrades, Trevor remembers the team jokester as Jeff Asche “He was the one that kept everyone loose in the dugout” but he also remembers everyone being built a little “that way” noting “We had a whole heck of a lot of fun together”. Schulte also remembers his time crossing paths with Butch “Mr. Baseball” Richter, “He was great guy to play for, you were always trying to please Butch” going on to add “ I still remember when we won state championship at St. Cloud, bringing the trophy over to him in the stands and he started to tear up, it was a very special moment”.

Trevor’s son Ty Schulte, a high school senior, currently plays for the Kilowatts and is also a pitcher like Dad, along with a new twist of deftly covering first base. Dad remembers little Ty dragging his bat through the dirt in those later seasons, playing with other little future Kilowatts. Having a long history of coaching, Schulte also enjoys getting to be just a Dad in the stands. Watching young Ty play, Dad says “I'm proud watching him play, he does things a lot better than I ever did. Keeping his composure and understanding the game, he probably knows more about the game at his age now than I ever did at that age.” Thinking on his field time overlap with current Kilowatts coach Mike Richter, Trevor remembers coaching the young Richter in Legion ball when Schulte was fresh out of college, noting now their sons field the amateur team together. “ Mike does a great job with the Kilowatts, they are in good hands with him” chirped Shulte.

Mike Richter played from 1994 until 2007 with the Kilowatts name branding his chest long beyond his field time as first basemen and designated hitter. Richter took over managing and coaching in 2006, only keeping his name on the roster in 2006 and 2007 to fill a needed spot with the goal of cultivating the team into something stateworthy again utilizing a new crop of young players. In reflecting on the 2002 State Tournament win, Richter remembers his personal proudest moment “For me it was hitting a homerun to tie the game against Princeton in the 2nd game of the state tournament”. “I wasn’t blessed with speed” noted Mike about his time playing but his son Chase added in later discussion “If only I had got his hitting genes”.

Mike remembers the big wins but resonates on the funny moments, giggling about team members trying to rescue an injured fox from the roadside only to have a car interior ruined. Memories of his Grandpa Butch fill his mind, “He always said the game wasn’t over until the last out”. As spectators in the stands of other state championship games, Mike remembers his grandpa and him staying late in Shakopee well into a 13th inning and there was no sign of heading home for Mr. Baseball. “What do you think Grandpa?” asked young Mike wondering if it was time to hit the road only to hear back ” I think they need a run”, “I knew we weren't leaving that game until the end” said Mike foundly. Mike now hangs his hat on the happy fact that he can go sit in the stands of nearly any amature game in the state with his simple “GF” hat on, and if near an older fan, they always ask “Hey! Did you know Butch Richter?”.

Mike credits a supportive family that values baseball making his success with the team possible. He has two boys, Cole and Chase, who are both currently rostered for the town ball team. “Most people don’t get to commit to this, 43+ games, weekends, tournaments, I would have never been able to get away with all of that if I didn't have a wife who liked baseball” noted Mike, who is thankful for his wife Amy Richter who aids with many facets of the team.

Richter reminisced on the early 2000’s and all the little boys playing in the dugout, watching their dads and getting to know the rostered seasoned players whose gloves they would someday fill. Having three generations of Richter’s filling the Kilowatts bench over the decades, Mike thinks on watching his boys play for the team his Grandfather, his cousin Nick and himself all called theirs, “it feels very special, there's no doubt, very special, and I hope nothing more than to see them get to experience a state tournament, be apart of it on the field” going on to add “ As a father getting to see my kids enjoy something that I really enjoyed, it's really awesome”.

Cole Richter was a regular staple of the most recent Kilowatts season, brother Chase, who has been away at college in Mankato has stayed rostered but did not travel as much this past summer. Chase supported the team in another way working on numerous aspects of social media and data management for the team and is fired up for more of a digital presence in the next season. One can only imagine how Butch Richter's heart would be warmed watching his grandsons play and find new avenues of spreading the local baseball news.

Tim Knapper, the current Community Education Director at Yellow Medicine East, was also a big asset of the home team from 1993 into the 2006 fielding numerous positions. Being on the field for two state championship teams, Knapper was a 2 time state championship MVP. Knapper once again rang the bell of comodarey being the real highlight that stuck to his bones all these years later, “A lot of those guys are lifelong friends, we still do things together”.

His son Bennet was still in a stroller during the end of Knapper’s time on the field, but now Bennet is on the field himself brandishing a Kilowatts jersey. Tim dreams of the tradition building with his younger son, Nikson, who he hopes will want to carry on the field work alongside his brother under the Knapper name, if he so desires. In considering how it feels to be in the stands now, watching Bennet briskly and gracefully move across the field, Knapper says “It's a different experience, I don't want to say I get nervous, but it's always easier to play than to watch” adding “Im grateful he gets to play and do it here in Granite.”

The team of young champions stuck together for most of the 90’s into the early 2000s. Keeping a strong record and returning to state to win once again in 2002 with many of the same players. Nick Richter, now the KCC Director, played also alongside his cousin Mike in the 2002 state win as a strong infield utility player. The big headline of the 2002 state win from the Marshall Independent, “State Champions-Kilowatts go 6-0 in Losers bracket to win Class C state baseball title”. It should be noted that current Kilowatts player Craig Listul was rostered as part of the 2002 state winning team and still smacks a mean ball out of the park for the Kilowatts as recent as this past 2020 season.

2003, 2004 and 2005 were all years the Kilowatts made it to the state tournament, leaving with hard fought memories but no big trophies. In 2005 the team really started to change and by 2006 the rebuild began under then new coach Mike Richter. 2006 was rough, barely two wins all season rough, with the fresh new faces figuring out what teamwork means and how the game should be played. It didn't take them too long to get their bearings and in 2007 the newly minted team made another state championship appearance. Mike considers this one of his favorite comeback stories.

Coach Richter has been working on another state win since 2006. In an interview earlier this year he referenced his green team finding their way, “We are a young team, but watch us next year and in the coming 2021 season as the players grow and develop for an unstoppable future”. Looking back at 145 years of Granite Falls baseball and the raw talent fielded in the current team, long lineages of Dammann, Asche, Knapper, Richter, Tanner, Schulte and more, alongside new name talents of Brandon Grund, Colten Vien, Jordan Odegard and so many talented youths, there is no doubt there is another state championship in the Kilowatts near future. If fans wonder when the current talented crop of young players will make history again for Granite Falls, tune into next season's coverage, show up to the games, and don't take your eye off the ball.