It’s been pretty awesome reconnecting with some of the unique personalities I worked with during my quarter century with the Cubs – as I’m on a mission to track down players I worked with to talk about their playing days and find out what they’re up to now.
A few days ago, I caught up with Dennis Rasmussen – who pitched professionally for 15 seasons, albeit briefly with the Cubs in 1992. Dennis, a 6-foot-7 left-hander, was a super nice guy to be around – and he was one of the first former players to reach out to me after my Cubs time had ended. After his playing days were over, he went from minor league pitching coach into the investment business – before remarrying and becoming involved in his wife’s family business.
Today, Dennis is the Chief Burger Flipper at the Dairy Grille in Charlevoix, Michigan. That title was too good for me to resist. I knew I had to see what he was up to.
Chuck: How does one become a Chief Burger Flipper?
Rass: “I was coaching in 1998 with the Red Sox organization in Ft. Myers, and there was a left-handed pitcher that I was mentoring named Terry Hayden. He played five years in the minor leagues with the Red Sox and the Reds and ended up having Tommy John surgery. Anyway, we stayed in touch, and I came up to visit him 10 years later in 2008. We came up to Northern Michigan … we toured around. I’d never been up here in Charlevoix, so I saw his family and the Dairy Grille. The last night I was in town, I went out with his sister, Renee. We were both single. We started talking. After about a year, we started dating long distance. In 2010, I moved up here – and we later got engaged. A couple years later, we got married. Since I was now retired from the investment business, my father-in-law said, ‘What do you think about taking over the family business? My brother-in-law and I took it over. This is the 47th year in business. Uncle Jim Hayden started it. My father-in-law and mother-in-law then ran it for 24 years. This is now our third year. So I flip burgers and sling ice cream for six months of the year in a beautiful resort town in Northern Michigan on Lake Michigan.”
Chuck: I’m assuming that this wasn’t what you thought you’d be doing after your baseball career.
Rass: “All I did growing up was play sports and travel. I really didn’t work. I had a couple odd jobs during the summer, so it kind of came full circle. The funny thing was, as soon as it happened, my brothers – who had worked through high school – said, “It’s about time you got a real job and did something that we did back in the day when we were younger.” I’m doing the same things now that they did – and I’m in my 50s.”
Chuck: Do you look at this as a job?
Rass: “No, it’s our business. My brother-in-law and Renee – it’s really their business. I work for them. I’m up here five out of the six months. It works out great. I’m here until mid-June. We opened up this year on April 1 and had one of our biggest days ever. This is kind of a tradition up here. It’s a sign of spring. Everybody looks forward to the Dairy Grille. We take it seriously. We always open the end of March, beginning of April. We close the third Sunday of every September.”
Chuck: How do you spend the other half of the year?
Rass: “We live in Detroit. My stepson, Hayden, is a hockey player and a baseball player. As a freshman this year in high school, he made the varsity hockey team. He practices or has a game six days a weeks. When I get back to Detroit, I’ll play in a couple celebrity golf tournaments. The rest of the time, we’re going to hockey practice or hockey games – following him around.”
Chuck: Any chance you lace up the hockey skates?
Rass: “Oh no. Never. No. I went to Creighton University on a basketball scholarship and also played baseball there. I was drafted in 1980 and played until 1995. We were together in 1992 with the Cubs – when we first met. I retired in 1995, then went into the investment business for 10 years. Met Renee, we got together – and here I am in Michigan. I couldn’t be happier. I love it up here. It’s a resort town. I’ve made a lot of friends over the last three-plus years. I host a Major League Baseball alumni golf tournament/youth clinic each summer. We raise a bunch of money and get some former big leaguers up here and expose the local community to the players. It’s a lot of fun. I’m kind of the resident celebrity chief burger flipper.”
Chuck: It’s hard to believe you only pitched in three games with the Cubs. It seems like you had a longer career in Chicago. You had a nice long career, and you’re very personable, so it just feels like I spent a lot more time around you.
Rass: “Exactly. I sure wish I had spent more time there. It’s actually a great story how I wound up there. I was in Baltimore’s organization in Rochester (in 1992), and my contract said I could ask for my release if I was in Triple-A on June 1, which I did. I knew the Padres were playing a get-away day game in Wrigley Field against the Cubs – and I had spent the last four years in San Diego – so I drove all night to Chicago so I could meet the Padres manager for breakfast. I got there after driving all night and saw Greg Riddoch. I told him I was healthy and that I’d like to throw for him. He said, ‘Rass, I’d love to have you throw, but we have a lot of young guys and I don’t have any room.’ Then I saw Syd Thrift, the assistant GM of the Cubs, sitting in a corner of the restaurant having breakfast with an agent. I went over there, interrupted him, and he goes, ‘Wow, we were just talking about you. Meet me at the stadium. Do you have all your stuff?’ I said yes, and went to Wrigley. I waited for a couple hours, and all the players are coming through and wondered why I was there with my bag. The clubhouse guy gave me a uniform and I threw on the side. They called my agent, and they sent me to Iowa. I was there for two starts, then got called up when the late Frank Castillo got injured. After that was over, which was about six weeks, I got released. I drove across I-80 to Omaha, where I had made my off-season home. I called the Royals, signed with them, pitched in Triple-A. I then got called up to the Royals near the end of the season and pitched really well … and ended up getting a contract for the following season. You just never know. If you can still pitch, you persevere and find a way – especially as a left-hander.”
Chuck: It doesn’t hurt to have a good attitude, too.
Rass: “I always did. I was a professional, and I just loved to play the game.”
Chuck: Not that many people can say they had three careers. You had the baseball career, including coaching, before doing investments. Now you have the family business to run.
Rass: “I’ve been very fortunate. I love to tell stories about sports and baseball and basketball … I wouldn’t have changed a thing. This career keeps me young. It keeps me in shape. I don’t have time to rest. We’re open seven days a week, 11 in the morning until 9 at night. I get going around 9 am. It’s busy. You’re running around with young kids, keeping an eye on them and making sure they stay safe – and have fun along the way. It’s a training environment where they have an opportunity to grow. You mentor them; for most of them, it’s their first job. And to be able to see them save enough money in salary and tips to buy their first car … it’s very rewarding.”