BOWLING GREEN — It has been more than a quarter-century since Danny Schmitz made a decision that changed the course of his life and, over time, the Bowling Green State University baseball program.
After one season as player-coach with the Mud Hens in 1984, which closed out a 790-game minor league playing career, and three years as manager of the Minnesota Twins’ Class A affiliate, Schmitz was offered the move up to Class AA Orlando.
“Pro ball was good to me, so it was a very difficult decision,” Schmitz said. “But the pay wasn’t terrific, the travel, being away from home, two residences, having young kids and wanting to be a part of raising them … a lot of reasons for what I did.”
What he did was take an assistant coaching job at his alma mater, Eastern Michigan. The Orlando job eventually went to Ron Gardenhire, who now is in his 13th season as manager of the Twins.
Imagine where Danny Schmitz might be today. The answer is, right where he wants to be.
Now in his 24th season as head coach at BG, Schmitz is coming off a pretty good weekend. On Saturday, a Falcon baseball letterman from the early 1970s, Gary Haas, handed him a symbolic check for $1 million. Twenty-four hours later Schmitz, 59, became the second-winningest coach in Mid-American Conference history with victory No. 635.
Schmitz credits longevity and assistant coaches and outstanding players, but there is nonetheless something amazing about what he has done. He’s not coaching at Texas or Southern Cal. His is a mid-major program in the north. His office is in the football stadium, the team’s locker room is in the hockey arena, and games are played at venerable (as in old) and few-frills Steller Field.
The 2014 Falcons are 23-23 and if that doesn’t knock you over consider that weather and field conditions forced them to play 27 straight games on the road to open the season. That’s right, 27!
“I haven’t experienced anything like that in 24 years,” Schmitz said, shaking his head.
Well, there was last season. BG was down 4-0 in the fourth inning of a must-win season finale if it hoped to limp into the MAC tournament with the last berth and seed. After wasting a bases-loaded opportunity in the eighth, BG scored twice in the ninth to win then swept to the MAC tourney title and its third NCAA tournament appearance under Schmitz.
The Falcons hope to avoid similar drama this week as they go to Buffalo for three games, figuring to need at least one win to return to the MAC’s postseason.
The gift to the program from Haas includes some up-front money and much more down the road and Schmitz is putting together a list of spending priorities, most all of which are facility-driven, including a FieldTurf playing surface.
“It won’t be the Taj Mahal, but we need to do something with the stadium … a few whistles and bells, you know,” he said.
After this spring, they might want to consider a dome.
“Danny’s Dome,” Schmitz said, laughing. Danny’s Dome over Warren Steller Field at Gary Haas Stadium. A little wordy, perhaps, but Schmitz’s name belongs in there somewhere.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.