By VINCE PELUSO
Bill Schmidt started the St. John baseball program in 1974 and delivered a state title to the Heralds in 1983.
So, it’s only logical that the man who was responsible for the start of the program return to restart it.
Schmidt returns this season to take over a St. John program in need of a resurgence.
As a non-OHSAA member last season, St. John used players from other schools to fill out the roster, but that isn’t the case this season.
Schmidt might only have 10 players to work with right now, but they are all true Heralds.
“I say things to these boys, sometimes they might look at me kind of funny, but I told them the other day, ‘I said it’s going to be a privilege to put that uniform on. It’s always a privilege. It’s not that we think we’re better than anyone else, but you’re the only kids representing your school,’” Schmidt said. “I’m excited about it. It’s kind of exciting for me to get back with the kids.”
A lot has changed in the 25 years that have passed since Schmidt last manned the dugout for the Heralds.
In that season, St. John went to the regional tournament. Now, the Heralds are just focused on building a program that is hoping to one day regain OHSAA status.
“First off, we know numbers are a problem, right now, we’re slowly building this up,” Schmidt said. “I knew this was not an ideal situation to walk into. We may dip down to the eighth grade since we’re not in the association at this point and there was some concern about that. But baseball isn’t like football or basketball where you’re going to get physically beat up. I’m not going to put a kid out there who isn’t capable of handling it.”
One other concern with using a junior high player is that he could forfeit a year of eligibility should St. John later join the OHSAA, but for now, Schmidt said that isn’t a problem.
“We inquired about that and they wont,” he said. “If someone played today and we went back in, we’d be fine. So that’s been out there a little bit, but we’ve settled that. As far as the spring schedule, the league (Lake Effect Conference) we’re in, I’ve been told it’s not as competitive as the basketball was so I think we have a chance to be competitive.”
For now, it’s all about working with the group that he currently has, a group that is just one or two injuries away from not having enough players to compete.
“We can certainly use a couple more kids,” he said. “But I’m going to go with what I have. It’s a building process. I’m trying to teach them the game, how it’s to be played, break down everything for them. I’m giving them a lot of stuff, sometimes a little too much, but I want them to learn. I want to teach them the proper way to do something and for some of them it’s really new. It’s a lot of things to kind of grow.
“I’m going to do the best I can and I told them, ‘We want to know the game and know what to do in situations and whatever happens, happens.’”
Although it’s been 25 years since he’s coached, Schmidt has never lost his passion for the game.
He hasn’t coached, other than a few years as a volunteer assistant for previous St. John’s teams, but he was always a fan of the game.
“Physically, I have not been a coach, but it’s my favorite sport. My wife thinks I watch every major-league game there is, which I don’t, but I’m a devout Pirate fan,” he said. “I stay in contact with it that way. I remember growing up the games weren’t on TV so we listened to every Pirate game on the radio and I learned the strategy talking to my dad and learning from different managers and that gave me insight.
“It’s funny, I was yelling in the other room one day and my wife came into the room and said, ‘what are you yelling about?’ And I said, ‘this guy did something dumb on the bases, he’s a major leaguer, he shouldn’t be doing that.’ And she said, ‘but he plays for the other team!’ It still bothered me, though. I’m critical of things I see because I really enjoy this game.”
One of the main reasons for Schmidt’s absence from the diamond was he battled cluster headaches for years, but at this point, he said he’s healthy.
And while he won’t predict the future, he doesn’t see this opportunity as a one-year-and-done deal.
“It’s not a one-year thing at all,” he said. “I’ve had some medical problems but I think I’m over that, I’m able to handle that. I wouldn’t have done this for just one year unless they were absolutely desperate, I don’t think that’s fair to the school or to the guys or even to me.
“I’m 66 years old. I’m not saying I’ll be here for any number of years because I have no idea, but it’ll be more than one, unless something prevents from continuing.”
At 66, 25 years removed from coaching, times have changed a bit for Schmidt. Today’s student-athletes aren’t quite the same as the group he coached in the 1980s.
“It’s a lot different for me, I think athletes today are a lot different than when I first coached because there are so many outside interests, so many electronic devices,” he said. “It used to be whatever sport was in season, that’s all you did was play that sport. Now it’s a lot different. The first thing I said to them was the time I have with them, whether it’s an hour, two hours, whatever it’s going to be, I want that devoted to baseball.
“I can’t force them to do other things at other times, but the time with me I want to be dedicated to this team and to yourself and to this school.”
One of the important things for Schmidt is respect.
The former coach of current Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer said he was recently reminded of conversation he had with the 1982 St. John graduate before Meyer took over at Bowling Green.
A conversation that went along with what he’s attempting to instill into the 2013 Heralds.
“When Urban got the Bowling Green job, we had supper together and we were talking about respect,” he said. “People think when you’re talking about respect you’re talking about respect for the coach. But it’s also respect the other way around. They’re giving me what they have. Physical talent; there’s a ceiling right now, but they’re giving me what they’ve got and I’ve tried to give them back what I’ve got.
“So we want respect to go both ways and to respect our opponents as well as inside our group here.”
As far as the onfield product is concerned, Schmidt didn’t sugar coat things — St. John is in full rebuilding mode.
“I’d say we’re pretty much starting from scratch,” he said. “I have about four kids I’m working with to be pitchers, you’re always worried about finding guys to throw strikes and that’s my goal right now, throw it to the plate and what happens, happens. If we don’t do that, then we’re in big trouble.
“Hitting, we’ll see how that goes. I’d like to be strong defensively, we have a couple areas where we’d like to have another player or two, certainly. But we’ll probably be OK defensively, it depends on the pitching combination.”
The biggest thing for Schmidt is that his team will be comprised of St. John players only.
“That’s the biggest change, no kids from other schools,” he said. “That team from last year, you’re not going to see that this year. We might have a few eighth graders if they’re able to play. I don’t really care what grade it is, the best kids I have will play. I started many freshmen when I was coaching here before.”
While some might be concerned about whether a successful coach such as Schmidt can handle some of the rough patches that are likely to come with rebuilding a program, Schmidt said he isn’t worried.
“It just felt like the right time for me,” he said. “I knew that I’m not walking into a situation that I can expect state championships or anything like that. I didn’t really care. People asked, ‘do you know what are you getting yourself into?’ Yeah, I do. I told the kids if something happened when we get down to eight players and we can’t play, I’d still give my season to them and work on anything we can.
“I only have one senior, so at the top of the scale it’s really light, but the fifth through eighth graders look pretty good and you can see where we’re going to build. It’ll get better as the years go on. We’ll be better from Day 1 to Day 2.”
Schmidt’s daughter, Katie Anne, is a at seventh grader at St. John and he said that was a factor in him wanting to get back involved with the Heralds’ athletic program.
As far as his wife of 37 years, Kathy, is concerned, Schmidt said she supported his decision to return to coaching.
“She’s fine with it,” he said. “She was very supportive when I coached before. She was ready to punch out a few umpires in her time.
“Now that we have a little girl, things are different. But she’ll give me all her support.”