I had the pleasure of speaking with Andrew Schmidt, a University of Oregon alum and professional baseball player formerly with the Canberra Cavalry of the Australian Baseball League.
Andrew’s story is one of perseverance and dedication. His journey through the game of baseball is quite unbelievable. But for those with intimate knowledge of the sport know that baseball is a funny game. Everyone’s journey is different and Andrew’s is like none you have ever heard.
At present date, Andrew is currently a free agent looking for the next opportunity the game has to offer. For those interested in what type of player Andrew is, please take a look at his training video here.
Devon Teeple – The GM’s Perspective: Tell me about your time before college. Were you a highly touted prospect coming out of high school?
Andrew Schmidt: I started on varsity as a sophomore and coming into my junior year it looked like there was going to be a playing time squeeze. I had played shortstop and wanted to be recruited as a shortstop, but it looked like there were some things that were going to limit my playing time. I ended up transferring at Christmas break and went to a brand new high school with a new program where I ended up playing shortstop and was elected team captain. My junior season kind of put me on the map as far as getting recruited. At that point I was starting to get recruited by mostly smaller-to-mid-level D1’s. The two that I was most enamoured with: the University of Virginia and Mississippi State were two places where I really wanted to go.
I originally had committed to Mississippi State the summer of my senior year. During that summer I had a tournament at Mississippi States’ complex and when I met with the coaches it was exciting because I was ready to go there in the fall. However, they had made it known to me that they had two great middle infielders: an All-SEC 2b and an honourable mention All-American SS coming back, so the coaches made it clear that it was looking like I was most likely going redshirt my freshman year. After discussing it with the coaches and my family we ended up deciding to go the Junior College route.
DT: That was Tallahassee Community College correct?
AS: Actually not yet… Out of high school I had at least 8-10 offers from JUCO’s in Florida, and the one I ultimately chose was Pensacola Junior College. They had represented Florida at the Junior College Word Series the year before, and it was my first stop out of high school.
I never had any arm problems growing up. I was a pitcher, shortstop, and I could throw countless innings and never had a sore or tired arm. That fall at Pensacola about four to five weeks into fall practice I started to get a subtle dull arm pain. I visited Dr. Andrews in Birmingham and he said there was nothing structurally wrong, just try and give it some rest/rehab and I should be ready for the spring. I came back and the coaches tried to preserve my arm with a position change by moving me from short to second base; it’s an easier throw, not as much stress on the arm from that distance and just a way to ease me back into playing.
I was fortunate enough to be named the starter at 2b and was playing our first few games at second base and everything was going really well, my arm felt great, and playing as a freshman was really exciting. We started a tournament in Houston and played against some nationally ranked teams (San Jacinto, Navarro). Our shortstop pulled his hamstring the weekend after and out of necessity the coaches moved me back to short. About three games after my move I made a throw from deep in the hole and hurt my shoulder. I received a medical Redshirt so I only played in about 11 games before I got hurt.
After our season concluded in May of 2005 I visited Dr. Andrews again and had a minor surgery. I went through rehab with our training staff and prepared for my 2006 season. At Pensacola they have something called the Blood Series, which was right before our spring season started. An intra-squad World Series, best 2 out of 3 that required the losing team to donate blood to the local community blood bank. So I was playing in that and feeling great, but, sort of similar throw to the one I made the previous year, and I hurt my arm again. I elected to have a second surgery in May of 2006 to make sure everything would be cleaned up.
I returned to Atlanta, Georgia where Dr. Andrews put me into rehab with the Atlanta Braves therapists at Gwinnett Sports Rehab. I also took classes online @ PJC and was a substitute teacher at my local high school (Northview High School).
As the fall semester wore on, after talking with my coaches at PJC, we both agreed that a change of scenery was probably in my best interest.
I remember talking to the coaching staff there and they said:
“Look you have already had two seasons of Junior College come and go. Typically, you would have already moved on. We love you as a kid, you were great for our program and we’d love to have you as a member of our coaching staff, but we have to move in a different direction. If there is anything we can do, let us know”
So I decided to transfer, and I elected to go to Tallahassee Community College because the coach who recruited me out of Pensacola (Keith Little) was at Tallahassee by way of University of Richmond, and I got back in touch with him.
I had a workout with TCC in December of 2006 and transferred at Christmas break. That was my junior college career; I played at Tallahassee for two seasons, 2007 and 2008.
DT: That is really incredible. Just going through all those hardships and continuing to battle through it. You want to achieve your goal, but all these roadblocks keep getting set up in front of you.
AS: Going from Pensacola to Tallahassee after two shoulder surgeries would probably prove to be the easy part. This was probably the smallest of the hurdles that I feel I had to jump through.
DT: After Tallahassee, there is obviously your time with Oregon. Was Oregon your choice or were you spotted by some coaches. How did Oregon fit into your plans, since they were a team with a returning baseball program?
AS: I was an academic qualifier out of high school, so academics were not the struggle that some guys might face out of necessity to have to go to a Junior College to boost their academics in order to get into a bigger D1 School. I was one credit away from getting my Associates of Arts Degree and I thought I was only going to be in Tallahassee for one year. It turned out that one of the years I didn’t play at Pensacola would equate to another year to play in Junior College.
Something that I do find unfortunate is that in Junior College you don’t have quite the unlimited resources; financially, or personnel wise like we did at a big D-1 school like University of Oregon. This was difficult because my college coaches had never dealt with anyone who was in Junior College, for four years.
After my second year at Tallahassee I was getting recruited by the same brand of school that I was getting recruited by in high school; South Alabama was recruiting me heavily, Baylor was a possibility, I could have walked-on at Ole Miss as well as the University of Georgia, and I was debating between a small school with more money or a big school with more of a walk-on role.
I was playing up in the Valley League in Virginia (a collegiate wood bat league), evaluating my options when all the recruiting coordinators began to call me and all inform me that I wasn’t eligible to go to their school. Which was quite shocking to me because I had such a good GPA (3.95) in junior college.
Because the NCAA has a rule where as soon as a student-athlete starts college, every semester out of high school (8 semesters, 4 years) they have to have 10 percent of their degree completed (like a progress towards a degree).
Since I only took lower level classes at Junior College, my progress towards my degree was stagnant (on purpose/due to circumstance). Due to this NCAA rule, I essentially could not play anywhere. I applied to approximately 13 schools in the SEC/ACC that were all around five hours driving distance away from my home, worst case I could always attempt to walk-on. I was declared ineligible because they’d only take about 50 percent of my credits which made me very short of my benchmark of 80 percent to be declared eligible. Even if I took a full course load over the summer I couldn’t become eligible.
To back track a bit… TheDecemberprior (my 2nd year at TCC) I was reading online where The University of Oregon was bringing baseball back after a 28 year hiatus. Coach Horton, who was the former head coach at Cal State Fullerton was now the head coach for Oregon.
I had wanted to play for Horton since I was about ten years old and frist saw his Cal State Fullerton teams on tv at the College World Series. I remember I was up late one night watching ESPN and I decided I was going to apply to the University of Oregon. They had a brand new team, have really cool football uniforms and lots of Nike gear… I figured… “Why not?”.
So… That summer I called Oregon and spoke to their Department Head of Political Science (Jane Cramer) and she informed me that Oregon is on a quarter system and they had more flexibility with their summer hours and which hours would transfer. So I faxed her my transcripts, made a few calls and within 2 days I was on a plane to Eugene, Oregon where I ended taking 28 hours of classes in summer school before I even got the chance to speak with any of the coaches.
About half-way through the summer, I walked over and met with the coaching staff and basically gave them an abbreviated version of what I’ve told you so far. They were hesitant at first, but for me, I didn’t really have much of a choice. Due to the NCAA’s restrictions and rules this proved to be my only viable option.
Oregon was the only school in the country where I had a chance to become eligible. Although I was sort of pigeon-holed to going there, I’m very glad I went there, it was great. After meeting with the coaching staff, they told me to stay in touch, and that they would have walk-on tryouts later in the fall, but I went back every Wednesday and talked with the volunteer assistant from Louisiana (Bryson LeBlanc); I played against the school he coached at (Delgado Community College) while I was in Junior College, so he knew the program I was going from and that I could play.
Basically, I bugged him enough where he felt comfortable in vouching for me to the staff, so they decided when practice began, there were no guarantees or promises but I’d be on the fall roster. I decided that I would just make the most of this opportunity and work my butt off all fall and make the team. No matter what!
Around Halloween, I remember getting called into Horton’s office and since I was a non-scholarship guy, he told me: “if we had to make roster moves today, unfortunately you’d be one of the guys that probably wouldn’t make it”. But I continued to work hard and practice hard everyday and make the best of it, remaining positive and continuing to battle it out. I remember Horton even called me over Christmas break, to give me one last “chance” to transfer before spring term began, but I reminded him that there was no where else for me to go because I couldn’t get eligible. So I just planned on making the team in the spring, and told him I’d be back for spring ball. When practice started again in January, we had intra-squads nearly every day, and probably, not exaggerating, I hit like .650. It was crazy, I even remember one day Coach Horton making a off-color joke about our pitching coach and how I “owned him”. It was nuts going from the guy who was probably going to be cut to starting on the opening day team.
When we had our first game at PK Park (the first home game Oregon had in 28 years), I ended up getting the game-winning walk-off hit against defending National Champion Fresno State. It was crazy, such a whirlwind. I don’t think it could have been scripted any better, it was fantastic. It’s something I will definitely remember for the rest of my life.
DT: Going from the struggles to an exhilarating high like that, you couldn’t write anything like this.
AS: It was really one of those things where, whether it’s the positive mental attitude or self-fulfilling prophecy, or never say die thing, I mean all the cliché things you could throw out there, it really was a one of those situations. I remember telling myself that I could only control the things I could control, so I couldn’t control if they were going to cut anybody,but I thought “I am going to put my work in, I’m here, I’m going to make the most of everyday I have.”
DT: You hear a lot of the bad in sports these days, and you never hear the stories about the people who deal with the struggles to get where they’re going. And like we talked about, just listening to your story and being about to get it out there and let other people read this, it’s good for parents, students and potential students to hear how you can go from one low point to the pinnacle. By no means was your journey typical, but you took everything in stride, you did it and you accomplished something that not many people would have followed through with.
AS: I love other sports, I love football, basketball, soccer… All sports, but baseball epitomizes so much of life, if you are successful 30 percent of the time you’re great, you’re considered a fantastic player. In other sports, if you were successful at a 30 percent success rate, you would not be very good. Baseball is such a humbling game, as soon as you’re on top and you think you’re invincible that’s when the game will knock you to your knees. I think that’s one of the reasons that those who fully appreciate it, understand why it’s such a great game. Even the Field of Dreams speech when James Earl Jones speaks about how baseball has stood the test of time, I think that he speaks exactly to why there is something unique about the game that has allowed it to do so. The game is so much bigger than one player, one team, one event, that’s why the game commands such respect because it really is something that is fantastic.
DT: Once your time in Oregon was completed, you had a couple post-grad jobs at the George Marshall Institute and Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, yet the dream to continue to play baseball is strong. You ended up playing in the Australian Baseball League this past winter; can you describe your experience as a professional?
AS: At Oregon we struggled in our first year back, we ended up, I think, 14-42. It was a long tough rebuilding season. At the end of the season, I’m was preparing for pro ball as my college career is done; I had been hurt for two years and played for three, I was preparing to move on. But, after our last game Coach Horton called me into his office and thanked me for my hard work, and for being a team captain, as I ended being on the Leadership Committee and Student Athlete Activity Committee.
A conversation with the compliance department revealed that I had a potential sixth year of eligibility available, I just would need to apply and hope the NCAA granted me a waiver. While I waited on a decision, Coach Horton informed me that they needed someone to help run the Oregon Baseball Camps for the amateur kids out there. So I flew back to Oregon from Atlanta and was working at this baseball camp when I finally got the call that I was granted a sixth year.
I was so excited, we had a whole new recruiting class and a new team. Ironically, I actually performed better the fall of 2009 than I had the previous year. Everything was going great, right up until about a day or two before we were going to kick off the season against Cal State Fullerton. My whole family was flying out west to see us in our opening series in California, when the coaching staff posted the roster and to my surprise, I wasn’t on the team.
I was shocked and floored by that, like I said the game will humble you. That’s how I ended up in DC. I was geared up and ready to play and all of a sudden Ididn’t make the roster. To this day I still don’t know why because my numbers were even better that year. That was probably the lowest point I ever had. At this point the ride was over, time to collect my tokens and move on and baseball is over. I packed my boxes and my baseball gear. I couldn’t even stand to watch Baseball Tonight, I couldn’t watch Oregon play. I knew that I could still play, but it felt like circumstances out of my control ended my career.
What do you do when you graduate from school with a Political Science degree? You move to Washington DC and go to work. Every time I would wake up and put on a suit, I thought to myself that this isn’t the uniform I want to be wearing; I want to have a jersey on, not a tie. Baseball was still my passion, I just wasn’t currently playing, not a day went by that I didn’t miss playing.
Toward the end my stay in DC I was waiting tables to help save some money, when on a fluke day, I had a family from Australia sit in my section. They were all decked out in baseball gear, and we got to talking about baseball. I let them know about how I played at Oregon and they ended up telling me all about this new league in Australia (the Australian Baseball League).
I didn’t even know about baseball in Australia. The family gave me a contact name with a phone number and email address, so I went home that night, emailed some stuff and then about two weeks later I was on a plane flying to Australia.
I was originally training with the Adelaide Bite and everything was going really well, until about a week before the season started, Adelaide had an influx of players that were return players and the team told me that they wanted to have the Australians represent them, so I would not be on the team.
I contacted the team in Canberra (Canberra Cavalry) and made it to training and practice the next day. They signed me on the spot and I ended up starting the first game for the Cavalry against the Sydney Blue Sox; their starting pitcher had experience pitching in the MLB (Chris Oxspring).
It was another whirlwind. If all these things happened to someone else and I was told the story, I am not sure I would believe it, it’s almost like something made up?
The ABL was unbelievable. Our shortstop is in Double-A with the Reds, we had four or five guys from the Korean Professional Baseball League, another couple from the Braves and the Padres. I mean, the affiliated guys on our team, it was essentially like I was playing Minor League ball but I happened to be in Australia. The competition level was incredible, the fans were great. Australia is pretty spread out, so we got to fly everywhere. It was really a fantastic successful season. I decided, if I’m going to do this (play again), I don’t just want to play in the ABL or just go through the motions, I don’t want to just get done here and hang up my spikes back home, I want to do this for real.
I started working out two to three times a day, and once the season got done I stayed and worked in Australia for a while to save up enough money so that once I got back to the US I could go to the best training facility in the US.
I returned home to Atlanta in June and I’ve been training with Competitive Edge Sports (CES: www.cesperformance.com ) ever since. I decided I don’t want somebody else arbitrarily taking the game away from me. I am going to do everything in my power to try and realize my dream of getting signed.
At some point, everybody who’s played baseball wants to wear “that” jersey, to have the team name on their chest and your name on the back, and I feel like I’m so close. I have spent SO many hours preparing for this opportunity, in Florida, Oregon, Australia (etc) With 5:00am workouts in Junior College and freezing cold rainy mornings in Oregon.
The way I look at is, I have my whole life to see if I want to work in policy or business or whatever I want “job” I choose to do, but I won’t be able to play baseball forever.
I know deep down in my core I know that I need to be playing baseball, it is what I was born to do. I know that everything I have gone through is part of the bigger purpose. I can share my story with anyone who will listen, and because it’s so unbelievable it is a testament to my faith. Not everyone is blessed to be able to live their dreams, so I want to be able to share mine. I know that so many kids go through similar events in recruiting and scouting and it’s tough, it really is difficult to stay positive and keep your focus and not get down.
We’ll see what happens now, I am confident I’m going to get signed and get an invite to a Spring Training with an MLB organization. Everything has seemingly worked out up until now; I’m just waiting to see where the journey takes me next.
Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective
Devon is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals& Gateway Grizzlies, and is now an independent scout.