Schoonover in the Business of Baseball
Like any shrewd businessman on Cape Cod, Dick Schoonover knows that location is everything. But it’s not waterfront properties that concern him from June to August each summer.
Rather, the statuesque septegenerian is all about protecting the arms – and possibly the livelihoods – of the players he comes into contact with as the premiere pitching coach in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
“Coaches don’t get too happy with me because I hold pitch counts down. This is the second season for these guys. They’ve played all spring. If they throw 85, 90 pitches, I’m going to go get them. At 85 pitches, your arm goes into a fatigue state. It’s like driving a car without a gas gauge. You’re next pitch can be your last. And that’s their real estate they’re dealing with. Pitching is just like real estate. You better protect your property and remember that location is everything.”
As he did last year, Schoonover has chosen to spend another season on the Cape with the Bourne Braves franchise and field manager Harvey Shapiro, with whom he works at the University of Hartford. A former professional ballplayer in the United States and Canada, Schoonover recalls the days when baseball was played only outside, not with handheld devices on computer screens.
“There’s so many distractions now,” says Schoonover. “They’re playing games on televisions instead of playing games. The kids that really love it, they’ll find someplace to hit, they’ll play catch every day. You don’t see pepper games anymore. Kids these days don’t have the bat control that they used to have. They can’t even squeeze anyone home anymore in the major leagues and they’re getting millions of dollars. They can’t bunt.”
Schoonover did it all in his day. Pitching regularly in the rotation, batting, playing defense. The game called for the all-around ball player, not the specialist. “Everyone’s a hitter now,” he says with a shake of the head.
Although always a sportsman, Schoonover put a professional career behind him when he went to work for General Tire and Rubber Company, a firm he worked with for 18 years. When the company was sold, Schoonover went out of the country to coach in Nicaragua and Holland before returning for a brief stint at Ohio State.
After a year at Ohio State, Dan Hall from Kent State University called asking for Schoonover’s expertise. The pitching coach hasn’t gone back to civilian life since. His career at Kent State spanned almost a decade, and included the Golden Flashes’ ranking in 1992 as the best team ERA in the nation at 2.37.
Building Arms and Trust
Although his credentials speak for themselves, Schoonover the pitching guru gets a little less chatty when the subject is about him and not baseball at large. Ask him about the mechanics of increasing velocity or producing more energy from the foot to the end of the fingers, and he’ll draw you a map. But when it comes to himself, he becomes less animated. He can’t hide the obvious, though, the reason so many athletes seek his knowledge and then prosper under his tutelage.
“Coaches have a lot to do. You could have a big pitching staff, so it makes it hard to get to everyone. But the big thing now is to recruit. There are coaches who believe, well you won in high school, now win here. Some of the athletes don’t get a lot of help.
The number of ball players who have put their faith in Schoonover grows every year. The abbreviated list contains names like Eric Milton of the Minnesota Twins, Travis Miller of the Cleveland Indians and Cory Lee of the Texas Rangers. Schoonover has developed more than 60 pitchers who have signed professional contracts and the current crop of Braves is only too glad to be benefiting from his experience.
“You have to be able to spot things and you may only have one pitch to be able to do this. I’ve given more than 11,000 lessons so it’s a little easier for me,” he admits, before giving another classic analogy. “You don’t have to change two tires to figure out how to put the lug nuts on. Change hits people hard, so we’re looking for places to make adjustments, not to change for change sake. It’s easier to make someone worse. It’s much harder to make them better.”
With Dick Schoonover on the Cape for another summer, improvements will undoubtedly come in abundance. “I love it out here,” he says. “I wish my wife [JoAnn] was here with me. These kids are like blotters. They’re just good kids and they want to advance and they have that talent or they wouldn’t be here.
“You only have what God gave you to work with,” Schoonover says. “This league becomes about taking what you have and refining it. You have to demand that the arm throws the ball where the computer wants it to go. Location is everything. It might not be the right way to look at it, but that’s how I look at it.”