The Art and Skill of the Man behind the Mask
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Every player on a baseball field has skill and talent, but there is one player on the Green Bay Bullfrogs roster that goes unnoticed on a daily basis.
You ask what makes him special.
He plays a position that takes a consistent mental and physical beating every day, catcher. While it is difficult, you’ll never hear him complain.
In reality, he revels in the fact that he has the chance to oversee an entire pitching staff and thus, the game. While he doesn’t get the recognition and glory he deserves, he has gained the respect and admiration around the league from his peers for his defensive skills behind the plate.
Throughout the history of baseball there have been many great catchers, such as Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, and Josh Gibson to name a few. There is more than their physical skills that Schaeffer admires. It was their mental approach that he strives to replicate.
“I don’t necessarily want to be exactly like some of the greats who have caught this game,” Schaeffer said. “I would like to approach the game with the same type of mental attitude that they had. I feel that is what made Yogi and Pudge far above some of the others.”
He enjoys the mental aspect of trying to understand how each pitcher works. It has always been said that pitchers are a ‘different breed.’ In some essence, Schaeffer is part of that breed because he must know what gets each hurler fired up and also what calms them down during a game.
That knowledge has led Green Bay to rank first in the league in strikeouts and second in ERA.
There are many tasks that a catcher has during the course of a game, but one of the most highlighted is throwing out base runners. This season he has thrown out 13 base runners, which ranks him in the top half of the Northwoods League.
It may not be noticeable to the average fan, but when a base runner inches ever closer to the next base he is more likely to try and steal.
“There are a lot of little things that runners do,” Schaeffer said. “Many of those signal or give me hints as to what they have in mind. I just have to be quick with my throws.”
Respect and trust are gained not given, even in the game of baseball. The North Carolina State product has gained the trust and respect of the entire pitching and coaching staff, hands down.
“It is a respect thing,” Schaeffer said. It is more of a professional relationship between us. We trust each others calls out on the field.”
“It helps the staff a lot,” Interim Field Manager Jordan Bischel said. “I don’t worry a lot about what he is doing out there. When he makes a call, 99 percent of the time it is the right one. It takes the mental stress out of the game and most of the pitchers feel good about what is going on.”
Most of the time when catchers are in highlight reels, it is because they are either tagging a runner out at home or getting run over. Why then would you want to put yourself into a position that has a chance of getting pounded on a daily basis?
Schaeffer has chosen to put himself in harms way because it is one of the most, if not the most important, position on the field.
When he played shortstop in Little League he once took a groundball to the face, which resulted in a concussion. From that point on he decided that catching would be a better position suited for him and that no ball would ever get past him again. Thus, he has molded himself into a defensive catcher.
“Personally I like to be a defensive catcher. You are like the quarterback of the team who has control of the game. Besides you are the only guy that sees the whole field.”
I would bet on it that – when a 200-plus pound runner is barreling down on you, trying to squash you like a pancake – you would run like a little girl.
Schaeffer, though not the biggest man at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, has no intention of letting his opponent score on him.
More often than not, he hears the runner coming before he sees them. What does he think about potentially getting hit by a Mack truck?
“Oh no, this is going to hurt,” he said laughing about taking on collisions at the plate. “I just accept the fact I have to block the plate at all costs. Most of the time I think ‘alright here we go again.’”
As he has to take the physical beating behind the plate, there is also a lighter side to the position.
One always wonders, what is said on the mound between the pitcher and catcher?
“A lot of the times I am trying to get the pitcher to loosen up and making them feel comfortable,” Schaeffer said. “Sometimes it’s telling a joke and other times it’s telling them what they need to work on. What is said on the field stays on the field”
Why then does it always take so long?
“There are times when I’ll get up and walk real slow out to the mound when the pitcher isn’t paying attention. I’ll just show up there and he’ll say ‘hey what are you out here for?’ Many times it is to get them relaxed and not think about the guy in the bullpen.”
After a shutout, no-hitter, or even possibly a perfect game is thrown, the pitcher gets the glory. They are thrust into the limelight and the last person one thinks of is the catcher. Schaeffer knows that the catching position doesn’t receive the recognition it probably deserves, but he basks in great pitching performances.
While the pitcher gets the glory, it is the catcher who keeps the tempo going throughout the contest.
“I am like the drummer in the band,” Schaeffer said. “Everybody looks at the singer as the greatest person on the face of the earth, but it is the guy on the drums who keeps the beat going.”
The game of baseball is one of the most difficult sports to perfect and Schaeffer knows that improvements can be made constantly. Maybe one day it is his blocking, the next day it’s his hitting, or it might be his throwing runners out on the bases.
The Green Bay Bullfrogs and Northwoods League are that perfect place for him to learn and strive for the Major Leagues. But who inspires him to push to be the best?
“My family,” he said with pride. “They have been real supportive and helped me out a lot. They have put a lot of time and money into me playing ball and I owe it to them for helping me out.”
As well as playing for his family, the native of Port St.Lucie, Fla., plays for the love of the game. If it weren’t for his family and the game of baseball, Schaeffer probably wouldn’t be behind home plate catching for your Green Bay Bullfrogs.