Mike Schilling isn’t happy to be in a gym on the 20th day of March. The day is cold and rainy and snow is in the forecast. So his Springfield Wildcats baseball team is practicing base running and fielding ground balls on the hardwood and throwing off mounds made of plywood.
But hopes are high, and that makes Schilling happy. The pitching staff is deep, the defense is accomplished and a trip south is only a few days away. The Wildcats will leave snow and ice behind and trade it for green grass and sand on a four-game road trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“When you play high school and go far like that, it’s more rewarding,” said senior pitcher A.J. Schnitzler, who has traveled a lot on summer teams. “You feel more pride because when you walk around you wear the Wildcat jersey.”
The beach trip will be memorable, but when the Wildcats get home they want to make good memories in Greater Western Ohio Conference play. It won’t be easy against that competition, but Schilling is “cautiously optimistic” that his fourth team will be his best and break a string of losing seasons.
The No. 1 reason for optimism is a staff of four senior right-handed starting pitchers with experience and confidence. Their expectation is that with three or four runs the Wildcats will be in every game.
“In our conference, you see so many good teams,” Schilling said. “You get a pitching staff like this and you like to think this is the year we have a chance to bring one home.”
Nate McGlothin and Schnitzler are the No. 1 and No. 2 starters who will pitch against their GWOC division opponents. McGlothin, who signed in February with Miami-Hamilton, had a 1.95 ERA last year and struck out 54 in 46 2/3 innings. He was the hard-luck guy with an 0-6 record. Against Xenia he threw seven no-hit innings and left the game in a scoreless tie. The Wildcats lost in extra innings.
“I’m a strikeout kind of guy,” said McGlothin, who depends on his command of four pitches. “I like to see people walk back to the dugout dragging their bat. That’s my favorite thing.”
Schnitzler injured the thumb on his non-throwing hand recently on a tag while playing first base in a scrimmage. He hopes it won’t cause him to miss any starts. Last year he was 5-1 with a 2.33 ERA. Schnitzler plans to pitch in college but has yet to decide where.
The other starters are Jaykob Cave-Stephens, who will pitch at Johns Hopkins, and Avery Swigart, who is also the team’s best hitter and regular shortstop. Swigart will play at Sinclair Community College.
“You can see how confidence has grown over the years,” Schnitzler said. “This is the best pitching staff I’ve ever been a part of.”
Schilling said, “All four of them are going to give us their best effort. They all love to pitch, they love the craft of being a pitcher.”
The Wildcats are also counting on the togetherness that has developed among the seniors and juniors.
“We spend so much time together, and we are so close,” Schilling said. “I know every team when they break the huddle they say family. In our program it seems like it’s more significant than others.”
Fridays are often reserved for a team outing at Buffalo Wild Wings. “We call it the family dinner,” Schnitzler said.
Most of the team members are just baseball players. They work out together starting in September. McGlothin’s attitude exemplifies the dedication this group has shown to the game.
“I don’t look at myself as a hitter,” he said. “I don’t look at myself as a defensive player. I mean, I love playing baseball, I love playing defense, I love hitting, but pitching is where it’s at. That’s the way it’s always been for me.”
During that inside practice on March 20 McGlothin was on the plywood mound working on his craft. Pitching coach Doug Stoll and McGlothin had an ongoing conversation. Stoll gave him game situations and McGlothin threw the appropriate pitch. The pitcher who will study turf management at Miami was working hard, but he longed to be outside.
“I like working on baseball fields,” he said. “I like being around the game, I like being part of the game. There’s just nothing like it.”
And this is the season the Wildcats hope to be able to say the same thing.
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