Like your hair’s on fire
Coker's Schmotzer emphasizes continuous hustle on diamond
CARY, N.C. -- Forget for just a moment that Coker wasn’t able to stick around for long in the NCAA Division II championship tournament.
There are hundreds of teams around the country wishing they could’ve been there, but they’re all back home. Many were preseason favorites, powerhouses picked to win it all. Not even that was the case for Coker.
Before the 2013 baseball campaign got under way, the Cobras were picked to finish eighth in the nine-team Conference Carolinas. Somebody somewhere evidently didn’t have a whole lot of faith in the squad put together by head coach Dave Schmotzer.
Coker didn’t finish eighth. Instead, they wound up second behind Mount Olive in the regular season, won the conference tournament after that and then made it to the DII tournament with a victory in the Southeast Regional.
Losses to Tampa Sunday and Grand Canyon Tuesday eliminated the Cobras from DII baseball’s biggest stage. But don’t for a second think that it’s going to derail Schmotzer’s love for the game and his faith in his players.
“You can’t drown in your self-help soup, or somebody else is going to beat you,” Schmotzer said. “You’ve got to get up [Wednesday], you start recruiting. I’ve got to sign some kids now. You just move forward.
“These 15 seniors, man, this is a tough time. They’re getting off this horse that they’ve rode their whole life. They’ve got to go find another horse to ride. They’re going to take this with them. We play the game at game speed. We work out at game speed. I want them to do the same thing with their life. You cut corners, somebody’s going to beat you.”
And that preseason eighth-place ranking? Schmotzer most definitely filed that one away.
“That was a slap on the face,” Schmotzer said. “Maybe it was good for the bulletin board when it came out. It was bit embarrassing. We’ve so many games over here, and we’d been down a little bit here lately. But people know us. They know how we get after it.
“We may not have had a championship to show for it, but now we can say, ‘I told you so.’ Now, we can say, ‘I think somebody got that preseason ranking wrong.’ The cosmic thing about it is that we were picked to finish eighth, yet we’re one of the eight teams still standing months later. Take that to the bank.”
After getting the program started in 1993, Schmotzer is the only baseball coach Coker has ever known. Almost from the day he arrived on campus, he’s had a few basic rules for hustle.
Run out ground balls and round first base like Pete Rose.
Hit a pop up, and you’d better be standing on second base when it comes down. It doesn’t matter what inning it is or what the score might be.
Do the little stuff like backing up bases.
That’s it. Hustle like your hair’s on fire -- with a few of the guys on this team, that’s saying something -- and you’ll be fine with Schmotzer.
“It becomes infectious,” he said. “In the dugouts, they’re yelling at kids, ‘Get on second! Get on second!’ They know they don’t want to answer to that in practice the next day.”
Schmotzer is equal parts baseball coach, philosopher and therapist. One of his most important mantras is that what happens today on the baseball field has implications far down the road, long after a player hangs up his spikes.
“You treasure what you have, no matter how long it lasts or how long it takes,” he said. “They’ll refer back to these days. I always tell these guys, ‘It’s what you’re doing at 40 that counts.’ What leads you up to that age is what you refer back to.
“This season is about Coker baseball, going to the [tournament] and the smiles on everybody’s faces as the bandwagon gets bigger and bigger. In a bigger sense, it’s about this new lesson, about being able to take what we have with you into the adult world.”
Attitude isn’t the only thing that’s infectious in and around the Coker world. So is winning, which Schmotzer calls “the narcotic for learning.”
“Gosh, just to see the kids get bolder and bolder, we were a runaway train in this past regional,” he said. “We may not have been as good as that team that we were playing. This kid may not have been as good a position player [as the other team's], but collectively speaking, this was an electric bunch of guys who had more energy than a locomotive. It was a buzz.”
The excitement at Coker is real. After winning its regional tournament, the Cobras got an escort from both police and fire trucks from the airport back to campus. Once there, the traditional solo ringing of the campus tower bell turned into an all-out cacophony as players each took their turn.
Facebook, Twitter, text messages … it doesn’t matter. Schmotzer has heard from many of his former players, all jazzed about what happened with the team this year.
“This is a special place,” said Schmotzer, whose twin brother Dave is the school’s head men’s basketball coach. “You may not have ever heard of Coker, but if you come, you’re going to see that you may not want to leave. It’s really a neat little place.”
With more than 30 years and 600 wins overall to his credit as a college baseball coach, Schmotzer has been at this game for a long time. Still, he has no plans to step out of the dugout any time soon.
After all, it’s just not possible to get this kind of jacked up anywhere else.
“I’m not tired to challenge kids and I’m not tired to get in here early and stay late,” Schmotzer said. “I’m not tired to go on a cruise. I’m not tired to go eat a steak. I have the energy to go lead these kids another day, to see if we can accomplish our final task -- and that’s to win another game, which is our next game.”