by Scott Kindberg
June 1, 2003
A League Of His Own
It could be today when the bears take on Cattaraugus-Little Valley in the Section 6 Class C championship game at Diethrick Park.
It could be Monday in the Far West Regional, or it could be Saturday at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Tournament in Binghamton.
But make no mistake: Schmitt’s coaching days are, at best, down to a precious few. After 13 years, three state Championships in 1991, 1995, 1996 and memories to fill a truckful of scrapbooks, Schmitt has decided to go the bullpen in 2004.
Some people may have thought he was kidding. After all, his young team, which has won 12 straight games and 15 of its last 17, will only be better next year. In fact, Schmitt believes it could potentially, be the best team the Bears have ever had.
“It’s not right to stay around if I want to go.” Said Schmitt, who will continue to teach English at the high school. “If I’m not happy the way things are going, I should stay. But the kids that are coming back next year, with what they’ve experienced this year, they’ll be able to respond no matter who the coach is and have a real good shot next year.”
No matter what happens in the next week, Schmitt’s tenure at Frewsburg will be remembered as one of the best in Western New York history. He may not have as many total victories as some of his peers – he has only coached since 1991 – but, if winning championships is any barometer, he’s in a league of his own.
Along the way, Schmitt, 56 has posted a 222-98 record, including 33-9 in the playoffs. In addition to title game eight times and has been named The Post Journal Coach of the Year on three occasions.
“I’d like to keep the train going for another week,” Schmitt said. “If it doesn’t happen, that’s the way she goes. This team will always be real special because they’ve made the biggest turnaround. So many people doubted them, myself included.”
And just when it appeared that the Cinderella season was about to end, Schmitt’s Bears, who started the season 1-8, were touched by magic. One out away from being eliminated by John F. Kennedy in the semifinals last Thursday, Frewsburg posted an improbable rally, capped by Alex Miller’s three-run, walk-off home run that secured an amazing 5-4 victory.
Fittingly, Schmitt, grinning from ear to ear, predicted it would be Miller’s time before he even stepped to the plate.
“Hit it out of here,” he yelled from the third-base coach’s box. “That’s all I have to tell you.”
It was just one of many special moments that have followed Schmitt the last 13 seasons.
“You don’t get them any better than that one,” he said.
He was so revved up, in fact, that he woke up in the wee hours of Friday morning and never did get back to sleep.
“I watched that ball go over the fence maybe 1,000 times,” he said. “Guess I wasn’t upset that I couldn’t go back to sleep.
The e-mail is from Tim McMullen, now a principal at Allegany-Limestone Middle School. The subject is Schmitt.
“I will sit down this afternoon and write some memories,” writes McMullen, Schmitt’s junior varsity coach from 1995-2002. “Man, there are tons.”
Following are a few of McMullen’s personal highlights:
- (During the 1996 season), Schmitt had the No. 12 painted on the side of the dugout in honor of Dave Ostrander, who was on his 1991 team and died in a car accident. The day it was painted on, the Bears had a home game... Schmitt told them all about Dave and most of them knew him a little. If the Bears won that game they would win the league. Behind heading to the bottom of the fifth (their inning all year), they erupted for 12 runs and went on to win the game. When (The Post-Journal) did the story the next day, Bob mentioned Dave, and the fact they scored 12 runs that inning.
The next morning, the Bears had a makeup game at home. Mr. Ostrander, Dave’s dad showed up at the field in tears. The article, and Bob’s words about his son, had driven him to tears! He came out, hugged Bob, thanked him, looked at the No. 12 (painted on the dugout) and sat on the bleachers and watched the game.... What a story that was.
- I remember sitting in the lounge of the hotel in Utica (at the 1995 state tournament) after the Friday night coaches meeting, and Bob and I were watching all of the other coaches and players from the other teams. He says, “I want to leave here after this weekend and have everybody, say, “We have never seen a team like that before!”
The next day were the 28-1 and 11-7 games. But, if you remember, we were up 11-2, heading to the seventh (to that point a 39-3 scoring margin). Bob walks in from the third-base coaching box after the bottom of the sixth, shakes my hand and says, “Looks like we have a state championship. “Next think you know it is 11-7, nobody out and the bases are loaded. Bob makes a pitching change. Todd Piazza strikes a kid out, picks a kid off, and gets a grounder to David Heald at third and we win.
- I remember Bob grabbing a Gatorade or something and when the kids would come off the field to bat – behind and not hitting the ball that day – he would say, “Everybody take a swig of the ‘it juice.’ “They would all laugh and next thing you know they would string together a few hits, score some runs and that was it.
He always knew what to say, when to push, when to back off. The Bears would pull one out late, be happy running off the field and he would look at them and say, “You guys stunk today.” It didn’t matter if they won or lost, he had his own standard he wanted them to play at and his standard was high.”
Most of the time, the kids have bought into what Schmitt was selling.
“I think I’ve been really lucky to have the kind of players to buy into the program,” Schmitt said. “I think I brought enough to the program to give them an opportunity to succeed.”
Joe Mistretta, who played softball with, and coached for, Schmitt, called his friend a “winner.”
“He’s such a great leader and it follows through in his coaching,” Mistretta said. “The kids respect him and follow him.”
Added Bill Beckerink, whose two boys, Darrin and Adam, played on two of Schmitt’s state championship teams: “One of the things about Bob is he’s a very motivated person and he can motivate his players. He knows when to push the right buttons… and he takes care of the kids.
“When he leaves, Frewsburg will be missing a very, very good coach.”
But I have a means by which future generations of Bears won’t ever forget who Schmitt is. It won’t cost much and the impact will last forever.
Name the varsity baseball field located behind the Robert H. Jackson Elementary School, in No. 10’s honor.
Bob Schmitt Field.
It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?