If you have been around sports long enough, you know that greatness is a term that can be thrown around too easily. But sometimes, a once-in-a-generation type of student-athlete comes along, and you begin to become nostalgic. The spring of 2011 began a legacy in Bulldog baseball that will soon come to close at Nicolay Field.
In the spring, four years ago, Adrian College head baseball coach Craig Rainey knew that a gem was shining just 13 miles away at Blissfield High School. The coveted recruit was a three-sport standout for the Royals and was named Lenawee County Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year as a senior. He was an All-State hurler for three years and also was named All-LCAA in basketball and football.
Eric Schmidt was heavily recruited by NCAA Division I and II schools, but ultimately chose Adrian College. That decision has led to accomplishments that have exceeded expectations, even for someone as gifted as Eric. While talent has always been there in the right arm, the key to success lies in the hours spent working on his craft. Both physically and mentally, Eric has willed his way into the record books at Adrian College.
"A lot of hard work has gone into making myself the best I can be," said Schmidt. "Playing ball in the summer to improve my game has been important, as has weight lifting and running in the offseason. Ultimately my accomplishments don't mean anything unless we are winning championships. The fact that I'm contributing towards that is the most important thing."
Humility is something that strikes you when talking with Eric. This trait is even more impressive when you consider what he has accomplished on the mound during his four years. On April 25 in game one of a doubleheader against Kalamazoo College, he became the all-time leader in school history in wins. He also ranks second in career starts, fifth in innings pitched, sixth in earned run average, sixth in strikeouts and tied for seventh in complete games. Eric was named Second Team All-MIAA on two occasions and was named Third Team All-Region as a freshman when he posted a 9-0 record. This season, he is among the MIAA leaders in wins, strikeouts and earned run average. Eric is a top candidate for MIAA Pitcher of the Year and First Team All-MIAA, which will be announced prior to the conference tournament.
Apart from any personal achievements, the Bulldogs have enjoyed remarkable success as a program during Eric's four years. Adrian has won four MIAA regular season titles (seven straight total), three MIAA Tournament titles (league tournament starts May 6) and made three NCAA Regional appearances (seven straight total). The Bulldogs were runner-up in the 2014 Midwest Regional hosted by Wisconsin-Whitewater and fell to the eventual national champion Warhawks.
Eric was notably absent from the postseason a year ago. He suffered an injury on May 2 in game one of a doubleheader at Calvin College. In the second inning with two outs, he felt a strain in his rib cage area and was forced to leave the game. It was the last pitch he threw for the season.
"It was really tough not being able to help my team during the postseason," commented Schmidt. "Being a starter and someone that my teammates rely on, it was hard to watch from the dugout. It was especially difficult once we got to the regional final and I knew that I could make a difference towards our ultimate goal of making it to nationals. It did serve as motivation for me heading into my senior year. I really want to finish strong this time around."
The end is drawing near and while someone's senior year can go by in a blur, Eric has stopped to enjoy not only this season, but also his previous three. The camaraderie with teammates and coaches during early 6:00 a.m. practices in January (he notes, these he will not miss), the long road trips during spring break to play down south, the silly handshakes that have been a ritual over the past few years in the game of baseball and mentoring the younger players to continue the legacy of Bulldog baseball.
There were two games that also stood out as benchmarks in a stellar career.
"During my freshman year I made a start in the NCAA regionals at Marietta against La Roche," said Schmidt. "I remember being so nervous before the game because it was an elimination game. We won our first game against Wooster and lost the next one against Manchester. I threw seven shutout innings to start the game and ran into a little trouble in the eighth. Being able to step up and continue the season was memorable. My sophomore year I got a huge start in the MIAA Tournament championship game in Holland against Trine. I had somewhat of an up-and-down year and got bumped around during the regular season. I had the chance to step up for the team and threw 9 1/3 innings and got the win which sent us to the NCAA regionals."
Baseball is a big part of Eric's life, but he realizes that being a NCAA Division III student-athlete means attacking the books as much as the strike zone. He is majoring in physical education and maintains a grade-point average above 3.75. He was named CoSIDA Academic All-District a year ago and is a nominee again this season. Eric also has been a member of the MIAA Academic Honor Roll for three years.
"I am a big believer in time management when it comes to baseball and school," stated Schmidt. "I like to write things down in a planner and schedule things ahead of time. If I know that I have a game later in the week, it is time to get school work done before that. Keeping ahead of things is the key and not procrastinating."
The future certainly looks bright for Eric and he wants to continue the lessons he has been taught and pass them on to the next wave of high school students. He wants to stay close to home and become a teacher and coach.
"I would like to land a teaching and coaching job around or in Lenawee County after graduation," mentioned Schmidt. "I don't know what level just yet, but I will be kindergarten through high school certified. I want to coach high school baseball and basketball. The relationships that are built through athletics are special. I did student-teaching last semester and the students look up to you. I really want to make a difference in young people's lives."
Before the future however, there is some business at hand. The Bulldogs are having another great season and have aspirations of yet another trip to the NCAA Regionals and beyond. Eric could have a few more appearances at Nicolay Field and holds tight to fond memories of pitching in front of the fans and community.
"It will be a bittersweet moment for me because these have been four great years," explained Schmidt. "There have been a lot of memories with my teammates. It is unbelievable that we have won four MIAA championships while I have been here. It is so hard to repeat year after year in baseball. You never know if a ball drops in for a hit one time to the next, so to leave here with four rings is incredible."
Coach Rainey acknowledges the impact Schmidt has had on the program.
"Eric has been one of our top pitchers since his freshman year and won a ton of games for us," said Rainey. "More importantly, his leadership on and off the field has been an example of what I want all our players to emulate. Eric has made himself into the pitcher he is today through hard work and dedication. He is one of the first guys in the weight room and leads by example. He doesn't have a power arm, but his mental approach has led to numerous accolades. He handles preparation and expectations as well as anyone I've coached."
When the dust settles and the season is finally over, there will be little doubt of the imprint that Eric Schmidt has had on the program. He has been a role model that hard work and determination can propel you beyond your wildest imagination. There is still a chance to witness the talented ball player take the mound, and an opportunity to see greatness on display at Nicolay Field.
written by Ryan Thompson