For the first time in more than 60 years, there will be a new skipper in the dugout as Waterloo embarks on a new Mon-Clair League journey.
Taking over for the legendary Vern Moehrs is one of his former players, Barry Grant.
“Vernie called me last summer when I was on vacation with my family,” Grant said. “We were in a camper in the middle of South Dakota. He said ‘Barry Grant? You’re a hard guy to track down! After 62 years of running the ballclub, I am retiring and turning over the team to you.’”
Grant said he was “taken aback” and “honored” to have been asked, but needed time to think about it.
“I finally called Vernie back after deliberating and discussing it with my family and told him I would do it,” Grant said.
One condition Grant had upon assuming this new role, however, was changing the team’s name from the Millers back to the Buds.
“I asked (Moehrs) his thoughts on changing the name back to the Buds,” Grant said. “He said ‘it’s your team, do what you think is right.’ That solidified my decision even more.”
Grant grew up in St. Louis and attended Christian Brothers College High School before going on to play college baseball at John A. Logan College, St. Louis Community College and Memphis State University. At MSU, he was a first team all-conference outfielder-catcher in 1992.
Work transferred Grant from Memphis to the St. Louis area after college, and Grant started playing for the Buds in 1997. He continued to do so for several years.
“(We) loved the people and the town so much that we decided to live in Waterloo,” Grant said. “(I) played for the legend Vernie Moehrs and had some of the best teammates of my entire career. Our teams were outstanding. We won a lot of baseball games and titles, but I am most proud of the friendships that I made, most of which are guys that I still call my close friends to this day.”
Grant said his high school coach, former major leaguer Neil Fiala, called Moehrs to get him on the Buds.
Prior to joining the Buds, Grant played collegiate summer ball for Fiala as a member of the St. Louis Yankees, which finished as national runners-up.
“The Yankees were loaded with talent and future major leaguers like T.J. Mathews, Brian Boehringer, Billy Mueller and countless other minor leaguers,” Grant recalls.
Barry and his wife Amy started Grand Slam Sports Academy in Waterloo in 2006. Together, they have four children: Ty, Valerie, Kassidy and Kendall.
Barry and Amy met while attending John A. Logan, where Amy was a star softball player.
“We used to throw BP to each other or go to the batting cages on some of our dates,” Barry said. “She was a much better hitter than I was. You can say it was love at first pitch.”
After the two founded Grand Slam, they started the Waterloo Wizards youth select baseball and Waterloo Mystics select softball programs.
“Many of the kids that came through the academy are currently playing in the Mon-Clair League, and both the Wizards and Grand Slam are still going strong today thanks to Tony and Becky Morrow and their coaching staff,” Barry said.
Grand Slam is also the offseason training facility of the Buds.
In addition to his new managerial post with the Buds, Barry still plays baseball and coaches in the St. Louis Men’s Baseball League and Men’s Senior Baseball League.
In fact, Barry’s Missouri Stars of the MSBL are four-time world series and national classic champions.
Barry said he is “old school” by nature. His father, Don Grant, was a college and semi-pro baseball player, and he and coaches Barry learned from had certain coaching styles that he has incorporated into his approach.
“My staff and I will be honest with our players on where they stand or how they can improve,” Barry said. “I want the dugout to be loose and fun – but always learning from pitch to pitch how to be the best they can be. I won’t put up with bad teammates; we will pick each other up and have each other’s back.”
Joining Barry on the Buds coaching staff this summer are Jeff Kaiser, Gabe Doiron and Scotty Williams.
The Buds open their season this Sunday afternoon at Borsch Park against the rival Valmeyer Lakers.
So, just how does Barry follow a legend like Moehrs?
“To be honest, you can’t replace a legend like Vernie,” Barry told the Republic-Times. “You can only hope to continue the culture and legacy that he has built for the past 60-plus years. Embrace the past and teach the next generation of players the Buds’ way, the history of the players and coaches that have come before them, and the spirit of competition that the Mon-Clair League is known for. You can tell them stories of the guys that wore the uniforms before them, the Hall of Fame players Vernie coached, and about the 42 divisional titles, the 23 playoff titles and the countless other championships he won during his reign as manager of this club. You teach them about the civic pride of representing the great town of Waterloo.”
And that’s why Barry is here, living in Waterloo and now managing the Buds.
“All my kids grew up here because I was a Waterloo Bud. That is how deep this tradition is to me, and I know many other alums of the program feel the same way I do,” he said. “My role is to carry the torch that he has miraculously carried for 62 years and to establish my own team’s identity – all the while reminding them of our rich tradition.”