Originally created 09/12/98

Small bottled water company hits big time with McGwire



ROANOKE, Va. -- After Mark McGwire hit his record-breaking home runs and sat before the television cameras to share his feelings with the world, he paused every once in a while to take a drink of bottled water.

Meanwhile, the president of the small company in the southwestern Virginia mountains that supplies McGwire with his water was whooping it up as he watched from home, cheering as a fan and a businessman.

"We have gotten calls from all over the country," Roger Catarino said Friday. "If I could have scripted something, I couldn't have done a more effective job. It was almost magical the way it worked out."

McGwire is an investor in the company, but Catarino said he never asked him to display the Grayson Mountain Water bottles during interviews or to endorse the product.

In addition to McGwire, the other 100 or so shareholders include Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, several teammates and New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, Catarino said.

The company's bottled water, which is tapped from an aquifer beneath Grayson Mountain, is guzzled in the locker rooms and dugouts of eight baseball teams, including the Cardinals and Sammy Sosa's Chicago Cubs, according to Catarino.

But the story of how Grayson Mountain Water's popularity spread through the major leagues began well before this summer's home run derby.

In 1996, when Gene Gieselmann was the Cardinals' trainer, the trainers' society was looking for a new sponsor. Gieselmann remembered that relief pitcher Rick Honeycutt was a shareholder in a water bottling company run by Catarino, a good friend. Gieselmann visited the production plant, was impressed and invited Catarino to make a pitch before the trainers.

Gieselmann and the Cardinals started drinking Grayson Mountain Water and McGwire, who came to the team last season, liked the water so much he also asked to be a shareholder.

Grayson Mountain Water has added two production lines in the past two years and doubled its annual sales over the same period to between $10 million and $15 million, Catarino said. The number of employees has gone from 15 when the company started in 1988 to more than 40.

Gieselmann, who left the Cardinals after last season, was recently hired as Grayson Mountain Water's vice president for sports promotion.