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Two for the Show

by Ed Stout

Triple A is the highest level of minor league baseball. Players there often refer to a potential promotion to the major leagues as “going to the show.” Most Triple A players, however, never get that promotion and never get to the show.
If a student entered Fairview High School in late summer of 1961 and graduated in June of 1965, that student was in school with two young men who did get that promotion. I won’t say the odds against this happening are astronomical, but they’re pretty darn high. Nevertheless, during my time at FHS, Fred Scherman and Mike Schmidt were also Bulldogs and both turned out to be major league players. I wasn’t friends with either of them. Yet that fact doesn’t prevent me from saying a thing or two.
Fred Scherman (FHS ’62) was a senior during my freshman year. He was a good basketball player and as you might have surmised, he was a great baseball player. He was a left-handed pitcher with a blazing fast ball. He was easily the most dominant player in the Dayton area.
I tried out for baseball during my freshman year. Fairview did not have a baseball junior varsity. Instead, seventy-some freshman boys were trying out for three or four varsity slots. Those were not great odds and I did not make the team. I did, however, get to bat during tryouts. As my luck would have it, Fred Scherman was pitching. I never imagined a baseball could be thrown that hard or have so much movement. In the ten or so pitches he threw me, I did make contact. I hit two foul balls. Believe it or not, I was very proud of that. Many of the boys at tryouts didn’t make contact at all and just whiffed when Scherman was pitching.
I’m not sure what Scherman did right after high school (there was no baseball draft until 1965) but by 1969 he was a pitcher with the Detroit Tigers, where he remained until 1974. He spent the next two years with the Houston Astros and Montreal Expos. His last year in baseball was 1976. Overall, he had a respectable major league career and I will never forget those two foul balls.
Mike Schmidt (FHS ’67) was two years behind me both at FHS and at Charles L. Loos Elementary School. I don’t remember much about Schmidt in high school. As a sophomore when I was a senior, he was not an athletic star. My main memories of Smitty go back to elementary school. One memory in particular stands out.
When I was in the 5th grade, Schmidt was in the 3rd. There was a big 6th grader we’ll call Arty. When I say big, he was approaching six feet tall in the 6th grade. One day at noon recess, Arty, with football in hand, dared anyone to catch his passes. Arty could throw very hard and even though there were a bunch of us kids standing around, we all declined. All of us except one, that is. Little Smitty, who was barely four feet tall, said that he could catch Arty’s pass. Arty then started throwing these incredibly hard passes to Schmidt, who was some fifteen yards away. Each time he threw, Schmidt would make the catch. The ball was thrown with such force, it would knock Mike down. Yet each time he would roll on the ground and bounce back up with a smile on his face. He would then hold the ball up to show that he had indeed made the catch. We simply couldn’t believe it. All the kids on the playground talked about it for days thereafter. “Did you see little Smitty catch those balls that Arty threw?” “Man, that was something.” I wonder if Mike Schmidt would remember that day? My guess is that he would.
Mike Schmidt’s baseball career turned out to be much more than merely respectable. He went to Ohio University after graduating from Fairview. In time, he was a Sporting News All American. He was drafted by the Phillies, where he had a magnificent career. He is generally considered to be the greatest 3rd baseman to ever play the game. Think of it, of all the major league players who, during the last 109 years, have put on the glove and gone out to play 3rd base, one of our Bulldogs was the best. (“La Dee Dah, the Bulldogs are the best.”)   

I’ve come across other young men who eventually made it to the show. I coached Kevin Barker, who is currently with the Reds, from the time he was 12 until he was 18. When my son was a senior in high school, I saw him pitch against Billy Wagner. My son let in two runs in the first inning, on errors, and Wagner won the game 2-0. Wagner is considered to be one of the top five relief pitchers of all time.
Judging from what I saw when they were young, I’m surprised that Schmidt, Barker and Wagner made it to the big leagues. I am not, however, surprised that Scherman made it. As imposing as he looked when I was in that batter’s box, I’m surprised that he didn’t win as many games as Cy Young (according to the Baseball Encyclopedia, during his 8-year career, Fred Scherman won 33 games. Cy Young, on the other hand, won 511.). I can still remember that chilly March day with my knees shaking when I was trying to make contact with that blazing fast ball. I had never seen anything like that.
Of the millions of boys who play or have played youth baseball, only a comparative infinitesimal number ever make it to the big leagues. It is indeed remarkable that during my time at Fairview there were two for the show.