Yount: Retired Brewers star holds on to Wisconsin ties
By Jim Cryns
Robin Yount's sweet swing helped make his baseball career a successful one, but in his retirement he's moved on to a more sour pursuit -- lemonade.
Yount broke onto the Major League Baseball stage almost 40 years ago as a 19-year-old rookie shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers. After the youthful debut, "The Kid," as Yount was known, earned two Most Valuable Player awards, amassed more than 3,000 base hits, entered the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Now he's moved on to other pastimes, including his own line of lemonade and part-ownership of a summer league baseball team.
More than three years ago Yount unveiled Robinade - Old School Lemonade, with the aim of raising money for charity.
“Wisconsin has allowed me to do a lot of things,” Yount said. “A close friend of mine owns a juice business. For quite a while he joked around and said we should do something with a juice.”
The friend is Tom Boehland of Madison's Citrus Systems, which was founded in 1985.
Yount utilizes his name to promote the beverage, which is sold largely in supermarkets. “It’s something Tom and I thought would work in Wisconsin,” he said.
Yount met Boehland through racecar driver Bobby Rahal. Yount said long before Rahal became a racecar driver his family was importing juice concentrate. Over time, he became friends with Boehland. When Yount finished a stint coaching with the Brewers he was still interested in working with a project that would keep him involved with Milwaukee and Wisconsin.
"Initially I thought of what Paul Newman was doing, all for charity and I thought, ‘why not?'" Yount said.
Yount has been working with the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer Fund for quite a while and wants to make it clear 100 percent of the profits are going towards charity.
“We just kind of threw the product out there,” Yount said. “One thing I’ve learned is you have to sell a lot of lemonade to make any money.”
Yount said the venture has been able to donate in the range of $35,000 a year for the past several years. “We’ve been able to grow each year. At first, we broke even, then the next year we grew a little more.”
“This is not a major production, I can promise you,” Yount laughed. ”Just a few guys knocking on doors and having the connections to make it work.”
He said the company recently came up with a shelf-stable product that can be put onto shelves. “In the past we’ve had to keep everything in the dairy section to keep cold. The new product will help with our visibility.”
Yount said he’s had discussions with Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers' executive vice president, about getting more exposure for his product. “They have a deal with Pepsi right now, but if that changes, we may find ourselves in the park.”
The product has already expanded into one baseball market, albeit one a couple steps below Major League Baseball.
“We are going to sell it at Concordia University with the Lakeshore Chinooks,” Yount said. “That’s already a done deal.”
Yount's ties with the Chinooks extend well beyond lemonade sales.
Last fall, Yount was announced as a minority owner of the team, a Mequon-based Northwoods League team affiliated with Concordia University. The Chinooks are the newest members of the 16-team collegiate summer baseball league. The Chinooks' ownership group consists of twelve investors, most notably Brewers play-by-play announcer Bob Uecker and Yount.
The Northwoods League was founded in 1994. Unlike college baseball, players use wooden bats and minor league specification baseballs and play a 70-game season over the course of 76 days between June and mid-August. Wisconsin is home to six additional teams; the Green Bay Bullfrogs, the Wisconsin Woodchucks (who play in Wausau), the Madison Mallards, the La Crosse Loggers, the Eau Claire Express and the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters.
The Chinooks will play their home games at the new Kapco Park on the Concordia campus. Kapco Inc., a family-run metal fabrication and stamping company in Grafton, donated $1 million toward completion of the school's new baseball field.
Yount said he became involved with the project out of respect for Jim Kacmarcik, Kapco's president.
“I had been doing some radio spots for Kapco,” Yount said. “I got to know Jim personally and realized what a great guy he was for the community.”
Yount said when Kacmarcik started to think about it, he realized the team and facility was great for the school, a situation most of the Northwoods teams don’t have.
“We will be able to utilize students from the school to do a lot of the work in running this ballclub," Yount said.
Yount said students can get experience and even earn credit for their involvement.
“They can teach students how to run a baseball team by selling tickets, by developing trainers," he said. "They have an athletic training program right at the school.”
According to Yount, Kacmarcik isn't focused on making money with the team. “If he broke even, he’d be satisfied. He just knows it’s the right thing to do.”
For his part, Yount said he would use his name in any public relations way it might help.
“I’m going to utilize my baseball connections to butter up coaches and get them to send their players here," Yount said. "At some point, Jim wants this team to be the team every college kid wants to play for.”
Yount said he’ll work mostly behind the scenes, but that doesn’t mean fans wont see him at the park from time to time.
“I don’t look at that as business,” Yount said. “If it’s not fun anymore, I won’t do it. It sounds too much like work. This is fun.”