By Joe Darby
Ronnie Rantz is one of those lucky people whose jobs and personal pleasures have blended together into one enjoyable life.
As the new chief executive officer of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Museum Foundation, his luck is set to continue.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work in a field that I love,” he said in an interview Thursday at the HOF museum. “I’ve never had to punch a clock or work 9 to 5. It’s been a fantastic life.”
Rantz, 44, was a pitcher with two LSU baseball national champions, the teams of 1991 and 1993. He played some minor league ball but recurring arm injuries ended his career on the field However, he had a great fallback — sports broadcasting.
“I had always wanted to be a broadcaster,” he said. “Even in high school, when I played baseball for Menard in Alexandria, I would sit in the dugout and pretend I was broadcasting our games. The other players got a kick out of that.”
And when he played for LSU, Coach Skip Bertman would sometimes allow Rantz to broadcast the games on campus radio when he wasn’t pitching.
Then, in partnership with Lynn Rollins, Rantz formed the Jumbo Sports Network in 1998, which became quite successful regionally and broadcast sports from several southern athletic conferences.
The highlight of that aspect of his career came in 2001, when LSU and Tulane played a super regional series at Zephyr Field in New Orleans, for the right to advance to the College World Series in Omaha.
“The stadium was sold out for all three games, the series had attracted nationwide attention and one of the suites in the stadium sold for $25,000 just for that series,” he said. “And it was our broadcasts that were televising the games.” LSU won the first game but Tulane took the next two to advance to Omaha.
A story involving Tulane Coach Rick Jones, a Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee, is one of Rantz’s funnier memories from his broadcast career.
“Rick was very superstitious. If he found a penny on the ground and it was tails up he felt he had to turn it over so the head was showing. Well, the LSU team found out about this and dumped a whole jar of pennies in the Tulane dugout so Rick had to run around turning over half the pennies.”
Rantz, although a former LSU hurler, had a good relationship with Jones. He noticed one year that Jones was avoiding him before games. “I found out that after one pregame interview Tulane had lost the game so Rick considered it bad luck to talk to us before the game. He could talk to us after the game, but not before,” he said.
Rantz’s biggest thrill on the field was winning the 1991 College World Series, LSU’s first national baseball championship. “You know LSU had been to Omaha three or four times and had lost, so people were saying Skip Bertman couldn’t win the big ones. Of course that was ridiculous because Skip went on the become the greatest college baseball coach ever.
“But our win in 1991 got the monkey off Skip’s back. He could say, look, my system works. And the players who had been to Omaha and lost had something to prove, they kind of had a chip on their shoulders. We had a great team, Seven players went on the make the Big Leagues.”
The 1993 champions “were not the best team in college baseball that year, we just won. We won on the back of Mike Sirotka,” the star LSU pitcher who went on to play in the majors also.
Given his background, Rantz said he is eager to get started as the foundation CEO. He said that Lisa Babin, the outgoing head, “did a fantastic job. She got the museum going, she opened this building and put on an induction ceremony that gets greater each year.
“What I want to do us to upgrade things and work to change things that need changing. I don’t want to hear ‘this is the way we’ve always done it.'”
Rantz continues to work in broadcasting and he said every chance he gets he will plug the museum and Natchitoches on the air. He also plans to create a mobile museum in a bus or RV — a museum on wheels — to visit all around Louisiana. “We might send it to schools or maybe park it in the parking lot of Tiger Stadium on game day,” he said.
Outside of northwest Louisiana, a lot of the state’s residents don’t know the museum exists, he said. “We want to change that.” He said he is optimistic on Natchitoches’ future, with the new hotel going up across from the Events Center. That’s going to help a lot. More people will be going to the restaurants and shops here,” he said.
Rantz, who has been involved in numerous other enterprises and charities, will continue to be based in Baton Rouge but will visit the museum at least once a week. “I’ll be spending a lot of time here and I’ll be promoting the museum and Natchtoches when I’m not here.”