Note: My blog, which has been posted once a week, will change to once every two weeks. Next post will be September 26-27. Thanks ! Please leave comments! Special thanks to Momma Betty Lorenz.
Growing up I must have been a disappointment to my Dad. Clearly in our family, athletic ability skipped a generation. Not much could be expected from a skinny, slow kid that was just average height for his age.
I loved baseball. I was the kind of player that was and is still not valued in little league or in high school. I was a great glove man, but couldn’t hit. I needed to be crafty to keep up with the good players, typically the coaches I had, except for my Dad, who helped with my craftiness, were too stupid to notice.
I learned the game, studied my opponents and hustled my rear off, which was the reason why I was made fun of by my Junior Varsity High School Coach and by my teammates. No one slid headfirst. No one dove for fly balls and grounders. No one sprinted to first on a foul ball or when receiving a walk. I did and was roundly teased because of it. One time, in a strategic situation the opposing manager decided to walk me to load the bases, my teammates fell down in laughter.
There were two life learning moment that put it all in perspective and taught me that all the crap I had gone through to play baseball was worth it.
Our conference rivals were the Benicia Panthers. Everyone at John Swett hated these guys. Early in the year, we were playing Benicia and the game was tight. In the last inning Benicia was ahead 3-1. With two outs, George Limmer, our Designated Hitter, doubled in a run closing the gap to 3-2. I was hoping Limmer would hit a homerun because I was the on deck batter. Walking to the batter’s box I was still fairly confident. I had faced that pitcher before. I had kept written notes on every pitcher I had faced since I was in the 6th grade. If I was patient, and if he threw me something down in the strike zone, I had a chance.
As I was digging in, the Manager for Benicia asks for a time out and replaces the pitcher. Damn it! It was Nick Esposito. Tall and lanky, Esposito had steely blue eyes and straight white hair cut like his momma used a bowl on his head and just trimmed around it. I’m pretty sure Esposity had not lost a game that year. He threw in the upper 80’s. Far too much smoke for me to handle.
I prayed for two things: First, please don’t hit me. It could kill me. Second, please throw two wild pitches so the tying run could score before I struck out.
After Esposity completed his warm up tosses, I stepped into the batter’s box. I didn’t dig in this time because it was easier to get out of the way of an inside pitch that way. My plan was to swing at the first three pitches, strike out and walk back to the dugout with my head down and pretend that I was upset.
Esposito went to the stretch, spun around and picked George off second base. GAME OVER. I never saw a pitch! Schneiders becomes a footnote. George instead of me catches the wrath of our Manager.
After the game, the players were shaking hands and when the Benicia manager shook my hand, I said “Coach thank you so much for picking that guy off second.” Coach Lorenz’s face contorted oddly and he said “What?” I said still holding his hand. “I was the guy that was at the plate when you brought in Esposito. There was no way I was gonna hit that guy!”
Coach Don Lorenz starting laughing, then I started laughing. It pissed my manager off.
About 8 weeks later we are playing in a tournament hosted by Benicia. Last inning we are leading 1-0. This was a majestic struggle between two good teams. Benicia’s half of the inning to bat. Three more outs and we win.
I’m put into Right Field, I think by mistake. That would be the only way I would be in the game. First batter lines out to the third baseman. Next guy up hits a two hop routine grounder to short, our shortstop fields it, takes his time and throws the ball up the right field line missing the first baseman completely. The runner didn’t slow down headed to second. I was running in to back up first base, fielded the ball off the fence, turned and threw as hard as I could. I’m not sure if I even knew where the ball was going. Right on the money! The runner is out at second! Next guy bounced one to first, Game over. We win.
After the game Coach Lorenz who had to be upset at the loss called me over to the side and said, “Schneiders that is one of the best darn plays I have ever seen. Congratulations.”
First, I thought that it was cool he remembered my name. (Better than my own manager.) Second, that was true grace in the face of defeat. At that moment, the wins and loses didn’t mean as much. I was just taught how to be a gentleman. I learned that we were all there to take our lumps, to mature and to become men. In the face of defeat, there is always tomorrow, in the joy of victory, there is always tomorrow and neither matter. What matters is how you behave in the face of both.
30 years later, Coach Lorenz and I sat next to each other at a church social event. Neither one recognized each other, after talking a bit it all came back. The Coach and I became great friends. He was just as good a teacher and mentor off the field as he was on. Coach Lorenz will always be part of my heart.
Thanks Coach for remembering my name…