April 4, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

Coach learned importance of first impressions

By By Chuck [email protected]

EDITOR'S NOTE: In the first of a five-part series published last month, long-time Hauser educator and baseball coach Jerry Schoen reached a crossroad in his life at the ripe old age of 22.

As a collegiate junior, one of Schoen's high points had occurred in the NCAA Western Regional. Playing the University of Arizona, the future Hauser coach had bopped a 3-run homer off future major leaguer Scott Erickson (Erickson's career spanned 16 years with six teams including the Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees. He was the American League wins leader in 1991 when he helped pitch the Twins to a World Championship. His baseball card credits him with 142 career victories).

For the record: Schoen's "yard-job" did not prevent defeat. The Colonels lost that game to the Wildcats and then were eliminated later from the post season by Cal State Fullerton.

With sights set high, Schoen progressed to the midst of his senior season at Eastern Kentucky University. He, again, was a key cog for the Colonels. But he also had a sore arm - one that was not going to improve without surgery.

With his second baseman leading the Ohio Valley Conference in hitting, EKU head Jim Ward thought the decision to be easy. Schoen should finish the season and then have his shoulder repaired during the summer. But... "Not so fast coach."

Schoen had been dreaming-a-dream since a Little Leaguer. He wanted to be a Big Leaguer. And he also knew that his key to the 'BIGS' might be easiest found during the upcoming summer. And he knew he wasn't likely to find it during rehabilitation workouts.

Schoen realized that to attract attention of MLB scouts, he would need to be at his best. That would be possible only if surgery and rehab was ancient history.

"Coach (Jim Ward) and I weren't on the same page," recalled Schoen. "Sure, I wanted to stick out the season, but..."

But, that doctor in Cincinnati had told him that to play in the summer, the surgery needed to be done immediately, if not sooner.

"I made the decision to get better faster," he said. "I wanted the surgery, which meant my playing days at Eastern were going to be over."

Schoen had a dream to pursue and it was time to get on the road. The road led to an operating room and then to the gym. Finally, the road led up the east coast of the United States.

"There was a tryout run by the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau," Schoen explained. "My dad rented a car for me and I headed out by myself.

Schoen's first stop was at Holy Cross University in Wooster, Massachusetts. While there, he did well.

"My 6.7 in the 60 caught their attention," Schoen recalled with a smile. His trip to that point had been of longer duration.

"I had driven all night to get there," he said. "I parked in the lot of a Burger King and slept in the car. I ate breakfast, took a shower, got dressed and went out to the field."

Schoen was determined his appearance was going to be more than cameo.

"I had driven 14 hours to get there," he said. "I wanted to be sure they got a good look at me."

The scouts were - at least - curious.

"They guy in charge asked me who I was and what was I doing there," Schoen said.

The answer of the recent college grad - was blunt.

"I'm here to sign a contract," Schoen informed him.

The scouts wanted another look. Schoen was asked if he could make it Boston on the second day. He was told all MLB teams would have scouts in Beantown. That type of camp is similar to the one at which Tim Tebow recently participated.

On his limited budget, Schoen secured himself a hotel room. When he arose, the skies had opened. Rain was the newsmaker.

"Financially, I was on my own," Schoen said. "I had left home with $120 and a gas card."

But he had also departed with more important stuff. It was called a will to succeed. And he knew his 'will' had to outweigh the frustrations his "dream-world" was pitching his way.

"I've always told the kids here at Hauser that it boils down to how bad you want something," he said. "No one was going to give me a thing. Some of the other kids had a name behind them. Ken Griffey, Jr. had 'Griffey.' Buddy Bell had 'Bell.' Pete Rose, Jr. had 'Rose.' I had a gas card."

The Boston tryout never happened. Mother Nature saw to that. The next stop was in New Hampshire.

"The scouts asked me if I could make it. I told them they could count on it. So on I drove," he said.

The rain followed.

Augusta, Maine was the last tryout. Schoen got there early. Along with his batting tee, the professional hopeful arrived a day ahead of time and in time to get loose.

"For a couple of hours, I just hit tees," he said. "I went to the field we would be playing on."

The next day, Schoen again ran a 6.7. Then - Schoen put his defensive abilities on display.

"They gave me 15 to 20 groundballs at third, shortstop and second base," he recalled. "That was good because the normal amount was five or so."

Following the running and the fielding drills, Schoen recalled becoming the focus of the camp.

"I did well in the field," he said. "And I got to talk to Lennie Merullo - the guy who ran the camp. At age 98, Merullo is now the eighth oldest living former major league player.

The retired Cub encouraged the young hopeful.

"He told me I had done great and hopefully through an injury or something, a team would want to pick me up," said Schoen. "He wished me luck. I got in the car and headed back home."

Two days later . . .

"A guy from the (Los Angeles) Angels called me," said Schoen. "He told me they were interested in signing me for the following year."

The news was great. And it followed a discouraging summer during which Schoen had been labeled by most as "too slow."

"Most of the camps had been in the Cincy area," he said. "But that 6.7 was not a lie. And ironically, it was my speed that was the main reason they looked at me so closely on the East Coast."

It was now time to share more recent history.

"I haven't shared much of the speed story with my kids here at Hauser," he admitted laughing. "I have told them that sometimes it helps to look the part."

Schoen may or may not have done his best to do that.

"When I went to camps, I showed up with a pair of cutoff sweat pants and a white t-shirt," he said. "I wore bootie socks and the lightest pair of spikes I could find. I know they thought I was just some softball player who had walked in off the street."

He later found out he had flunked the positive, first-impression test.

"One of the scouts even asked me if I had pants," Schoen said. "He told me I needed to wear them, always. And always look like a ballplayer.

"On that practice field... that was my first job interview. Going to any kind of workout, they impressed on me how important and how big of deal that first impression could be."

Schoen brought that "lesson plan" with him to Hauser.

"I've shared those thoughts with the kids here," he said. A bit here - a bit there. Now . . . I'll go out to dinner with a former player and I'll start telling a story and he'll say, 'you never told us that one.' I'll just remind him that back then, he didn't care. Now, as an adult, he understands those lessons.

"I know what it was like to be 18. I knew all the answers at that age."

Over 20 years, Schoen has taught local kids lots of lessons. But before he started teaching, he still had some learning to do.

Schoen had caught his dream. It was a temporary catch, but it was a catch. And before coming to Bartholomew County, Schoen had some professional ball to play.[[In-content Ad]]