Shortstop supreme: Schmitz sparkled at Parker
Dan Madden coached many fine shortstops in his long stint as Janesville Parker High baseball coach.
So many, in fact, that he had to call back with several that he missed when first asked.
Bob Luchsinger, Mike Davis, Terry Teach, Jerry Davis, Tom Scallisi, Mike Lexa and Mike Brooks all manned the position while Madden was coaching.
Fitting right in with that list was Joel Schmitz.
"He was a complete player," Madden said. "I always considered shortstop as the toughest position to play, and he played it, and he played very well.
"He had excellent range, a strong arm and very good hands."
Schmitz played shortstop for the Vikings, was the starting shortstop on one of the best Janesville American Legion teams, and went on to play at both the University of Wisconsin and Northern Illinois University.
He earned nine letters at Parker, and will be inducted into the Janesville Hall of Fame on Saturday, May 14 at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
Schmitz was a three-time letter winner in baseball, basketball and soccer at Parker.
Schmitz also played on the 1989 Janesville American Legion baseball team that advanced to the World Series.
Jerry Davis, one of the shortstops who also played for Madden at Parker High and a Janesville Hall of Fame member, was the coach of the Legion.
"Shortstop is where it all starts," Davis said, saying the shortstop relays information to the outfielders and directs the infield.
"He picked up on that so quick," Davis said. "He was the rock of our team. He was a student of the game."
Schmitz had a great teacher in his father, Terry. Terry played college baseball at St. John's (Minn.).
Even his mother, Rose, played catch with Joel. That probably was limited after an incident when Joel was about 13.
"I'll never live this down," Schmitz said. "I broke her nose playing catch one time in our backyard."
He got over that, and found more favorable results from that point on.
Schmitz was part of the Janesville Babe Ruth all-star squad that won the state title in 1984. Joined by players such as Brad Freeburg, Dan Milligan, Tyler Glaser, John Kraus and John Harrington, Schmitz played shortstop and second base.
The team lost in the Ohio Valley Regional at Beckley, W. Va.
At Parker, Schmitz played soccer and basketball, along with baseball.
Mike Griffin was his coach in soccer. Griffin, who now lives in Laughlin, Nev., still remembers what a leader Schmitz was, while leading the Vikings in scoring.
"All coaches who coach a long time can single out certain exceptional athletes," Griffin said in an e-mail. "Joel, however, was at the next level...a true, outstanding STUDENT-athlete. When athletes have that additional edge of being gifted above the shoulders, as was Joel, teammates usually respect and follow their leadership.
"Besides being a fine athlete and an excellent student, I would add another characteristic to the mix...his character. He was what coaches usually call ‘a good kid.' A kid with solid personal values and moral character."
Schmitz first played soccer with his neighborhood friends, and played organized soccer for the first time when Franklin Middle School started a ninth-grade program.
"It was a lot of fun," Schmitz said. "It wasn't as big as it probably was in Madison, but it was a great sport to keep in shape."
Schmitz had an extensive experience in basketball in his youth. At Parker, he earned all-conference honors, and opposing coaches picked him out for special attention.
After he scored 12 points in a loss to Madison East his senior season, Purgolder coach Rich Cleveland said he was "delighted" to hold Schmitz to a dozen.
"We put a couple of our defenders on him—specifically the two quickest fellows on our team—on purpose," Cleveland said. "We kind of blanketed him and we were trying to deny him the ball everywhere. That was our goal, and I guess it worked."
Schmitz admits his Parker teams were overshadowed by the success Janesville Craig had at the time.
"Guys like Jeff Regez were on the East side," Schmitz said. "It was tough losing to them all the time. We just didn't have the guns to stay with the Craigs. But we busted our rear ends."
Baseball was on an equal level.
Schmitz hit .500 his junior year, which still ranks among Parker's all-time best averages. In one streak, he reached base on 12 consecutive at-bats and led Parker to a second-place finish in the Big Eight.
"Any time you hit .500 in the Big Eight, you're doing the job," Madden said at the time.
Schmitz earned honorable mention on the Wisconsin High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state team that season.
Schmitz led the Vikings to the Big Eight baseball title his senior season with a 12-2 record. That included getting the final five outs in relief in Parker's title-clinching 10-9 win over La Follette.
His nine letters while at Parker earned him the 1989 American Legion Athletic Medal.
Later that year, the combination of Parker and Craig players, along with Mark Sievert, earned a trip to the 1989 American Legion World Series by winning both the state and Great Lakes Regional titles.
"That was very special," Schmitz said. "A lot of us grew up playing Little League and Babe Ruth baseball. We had a lot of good hitters and had Jeff Thelen, Scott Odegaard and Mark Sievert pitching. It was a really good run."
The World Series was fitting, said Davis, who had Schmitz on the team starting at age 15.
"He worked so hard," Davis said. "That was his greatest attribute."
Schmitz earned a baseball scholarship to play at the University of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the school unexpectedly dropped baseball when Schmitz was a sophomore.
"It was bittersweet," Schmitz said of being a Badger. "Yeah, I was bitter. Everyone was bitter. They didn't let us know until the recruiting season was over. It was a bad deal."
While some of his Badger teammates were left in no-man's land, Northern Illinois University baseball coach Spanky McFarland knew Schmitz and asked him to join the Huskies. UW teammate Tom O'Neill also accepted McFarland's offer.
Northern Illinois was without a baseball program from 1982 to 1991, when McFarland revived the program. The head coach didn't back away from any team.
"My first year there, we scheduled Mississippi State, Alabama, Georgia and Wichita State," Schmitz said.
Schmitz's most memorable at-bat came against Wichita State's Darrin Dreifort, a two-time consensus All-American and the 1993 NCAA Player of the Year. Dreifort was the second pick overall in the 1993 draft—after Alex Rodriguez—by the Dodgers and went on to a 48-60 major league record.
"He came on in the seventh inning, and I was the first one up," Schmitz said. "His first pitch, I just heard it. It hit the mitt of the catcher and sounded like a cannon.
"I ended up hitting a 27-hopper back to him. He was throwing 95-miles-an-hour. It was the fastest pitch I ever saw."
Schmitz started at shortstop both seasons.
"I took pride in my defense," he said. "College kind of exposed my hitting. Most guys during practice wanted to take their cuts. Taking ground balls was the most fun for me."
During summers, he played on the Janesville Aces.
He still plays in an over-35 league in Prior Lake, Minn., which is near Apple Valley, where he resides with his wife, Becky, and sons, Brady, 8, and Ben, 4. He has worked for Advisors Mortgage for the past 15 years.
"He is a real winner," Madden said.