By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon
Bill Schmidt addressed his St. John baseball team in the dugout after their season opening loss Tuesday at Smith Field. Schmidt knows better than anyone that this team cannot be compared to the one he coached to a state championship 30 years ago.
Still yet though, he lectures them in much the same way he would any other team he’s led.
“Even when I had that caliber team, I still spent time after each and every game going over things that need to be corrected,” Schmidt said. “We missed some signs today, and we had kids not even looking for signs.”
It has been 25 years since Schmidt wore the manager’s uniform for the St. John Heralds. Schmidt made his return to the dugout Tuesday afternoon as the Heralds opened their season against Hearts for Jesus Christ at Smith Field. The homeschool group out of North Olmstead named the Guardians spoiled Schmidt’s return by defeating the Heralds, 22-8.
But, Schmidt, who started the baseball program at St. John in 1974 and won a state championship in 1983, wasn’t about to diminish his enthusiasm for the task ahead.
“It is special to play at St. John,” Schmidt said. “I want them to learn the game, and with kids nowadays that’s a big leap. It used to be we played sports all year round. A lot of kids today never had that experience. It’s a shame because sports can teach kids so much.”
There will be no quick fix though, and times have certainly changed with high school athletes.
“When the game ended today and the kids went home, they were done with baseball,” Schmidt said. “It used to be I’d have kids begging me for balls on the weekend to go hit. But now there’s so many other things for them to be involved with. They don’t have the same mindset.”
The retired teacher knows the challenge ahead.
“I knew this wasn’t the ideal situation to walk into,” Schmidt said. “But I didn’t want to see the program go down the tubes either. And I’m not just in this for one year either. I really want to try to build something here. Six or seven years ago, the program was OK, now we’re pretty much starting from scratch. We have a young team. We don’t have the numbers that we need. We don’t have the experience. That’s going to come.
“There were a lot of positives that we saw out there today. The score kind of got away at the end of the game, but we were fairly competitive, our pitching was OK, our hitting was OK. I’m certainly not going to lose any sleep over it.”
The Guardians (2-0) jumped on the scoreboard in the first inning. After having their lead-off man retired on a grounder to third, the Guardians roughed up Heralds starter Chris Stein with six-consecutive hits to plate five runs.
St. John (0-1) got a hit from Mike Mahoney and an RBI double from Stein in the bottom of the first to make the score 5-2.
The Guardians would continue to pound the baseball though as they scored three runs in the second and two more in the third.
“We had the advantage of having already played a game this season,” Guardians coach John Smith said. “We didn’t swing the bats real well yesterday, I think we were a little more relaxed today and it helped.”
St. Johns looked to get back in the game in the bottom of the third. Mike Zullo doubled home two runs and the Heralds would load the bases with two outs and the top of the order due up. Guardian’s starter Ben Lyons however would get a huge strike out to get out of the jam.
“That was clutch,” Smith said. “He came in with a good fastball and that was definitely a big moment in the game. That was good for him because he’s pitching a big game this weekend.”
The Heralds scored twice in the third and fourth inning. The Guardians got three in the fourth and put the game away with a nine-run fifth.
“If we make a few plays here and there, the score would have been a lot closer,” Schmidt said. “What really hurt was in the fifth inning we had two strikes on their hitter and then we hit him. They scored eight runs after that. That would have been the third out.”
Shafer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.