Action Team hits a Grande slam04/15/2013 12:29 PM ET
By Chris Haring / Special to MLBPLAYERS.com
For 44 years, George Grande has been a friendly and familiar face in sports broadcasting, particularly the baseball community. His impressive résumé includes playing baseball for the University of Southern California, a 17-year stint calling games for the Reds (1993-2009) and hosting Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for 30 years. Grande also anchored ESPN's inaugural "SportsCenter" broadcast on Sept. 7, 1979.
For the past four years, Grande has taken on another special role as moderator of monthly conference calls for participants in the Action Team, a national youth volunteer program administered by the Players Trust and Volunteers of America.
The monthly calls enable student Action Team captains from more than 135 high schools across the country to talk with Major League Baseball players and guests about the significance of volunteering and initiating community service projects.
"My relationship with the Players Association goes back to the Marvin Miller era," Grande said. "When I decided to scale back my full schedule of games with the Reds, I knew I wanted to continue to stay connected to the game and to projects that help perpetuate what's good about the game."
Grande's passion for charity complements his love of baseball. He considers the Action Team program an ideal synthesis of the two.
"The Action Team represents what too few people know about and more people should find out about in terms of the way baseball players react to the people around them," Grande said. "All you have to do is go to one Action Team event, whether it's online or in person, and see how kids react to our players and how our players react to the young people.
"Those people that are in the game have a great opportunity to help young people grow as baseball players, but more importantly as people and contributors to what we all hope will be the best society we can be."
Just as he would before setting foot on a baseball diamond or facing the camera for a telecast, Grande prepares himself for moderating the dialogue between players and students.
"You plan and do your homework for whoever you're relating to, but then you react to what happens," Grande said. "I have longtime relationships with the veteran players, and I have seen some of them from their Minor League days through their Major League days.
"They all are concerned about the games, about the organizations they're part of, the communities they're part of, and all their actions, not their words. It's easy for them to explain and talk about what this means to them, but more importantly, it's a lot easier for them to actually walk the walk, not talk the talk."
During his time as moderator of the Action Team calls, Grande has been impressed by the participation of Major Leaguers in the Action Team program and in the calls. LaTroy Hawkins was the player guest on one of his favorite teleconference calls.
"I think Hawk would be at the top of that list because of his experiences as a youngster and his ability to relate, whether with teammates or schools that he visits or talks to on our calls. He talks about his grandmother and what a great influence she was on his life and how he's tried to live up to her guidelines," Grande said.
"He may not be the All-Star or Hall-of-Fame caliber player ... But believe me, he is one of the most important players that anyone can cross paths with because of that, because of the essence of who he is."
Grande goes into the teleconferences with his own thoughts and topics, but he also encourages the Action Team captains to steer the conversation.
"Each and every month, there's always a gem of a question that comes up that opens the door," he said. "You try to parlay that into another direction to go in. While we have an idea of what we want to talk about, I think it's really dictated to and directed by the Action Team captains."
One group that particularly embraces the spirit of these calls is the Action Team from St. Anthony Jr./Sr. High School in Maui, Hawaii. The school's Action Team coordinator, Janice Pruett, takes great pride in her Action Team and appreciates Grande's constant recognition of their service projects.
"Just by him acknowledging the kids and everything, it really gives him that little extra idea that they're (the kids) important, even though we're out in the middle of the ocean, and that we're important to the whole scheme of the Action Team."
The time and effort Grande puts into the monthly teleconferences with students doesn't go unnoticed.
"George has volunteered his time to make our youth volunteer program a success, clearly leading by example," Players Trust director Melissa Persaud said. "He's even called in from vacation, not wanting to let the Action Teams down. He is committed to the program and believes in its mission. His passion for the program is evident."
Tanisha Smith, who as national director of volunteer services for Volunteers of America introduces Grande, players and guests at the beginning of every call, said: "His presence on the call for our listeners and for our Action Team kids certainly brings another element to the success of the call, to the professionalism of the call and also to the fun."
For Volunteers of America manager Lyman Smith, it's the way Grande's contribution resonates with the students.
"I often listen with the ear of the students," Smith said. "That's what impresses kids; they can tell by the way George responds to them, the way he asks his questions and the way he reacts to what they share. He really respects them.
"George cares about the person. That is a wonderful model for these students, and that comes across so strong."
While the audience of the monthly teleconference calls with the Action Team may be measured in fractions compared to his television broadcasts, Grande walks away each time with a sense of gratification and optimism.
"After every show is finished, we sit back and take a moment to think, 'Wow, we're pretty lucky to be associated with some really special young people and some pretty special athletes.' It's a very enjoyable hour that we spend once a month, and it's even more impressive when you stretch that out over the course of the year and you realize the people that you've touched and the people that have touched you.
"Never underestimate the power, strength, vibrancy and uniqueness of our youth. You can never fully grasp how many great things they can accomplish."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.