When Jack Schimanski was still coaching baseball at Wheeler back in 2000, he was chucking up to 200 batting practice pitches a day.
"I couldn't walk for a week," Schimanski said at the thought of trying that now.
These days, his pitch count maxes out at one. The Wheeler assistant principal is retiring this spring after 46 years in coaching and education. He threw out a ceremonial first pitch before Wheeler's game with Hebron last month at U.S. Steel Yard and will do the same at 4:30 p.m. Friday when the Bearcats host Merrillville on Jack Schimanski Day.
"I made it to the catcher," Schimanski said of his RailCats Challenge toss. "I was on the mound, but I did what I'd teach my pitchers to do on a 3-2 count — scoot up a foot. I'll have to find somebody to play catch with. I may go old man style and throw an eephus. If any former players are coming back, you might see a fight at the bat rack."
Before moving into administration in 2000, the Brother Rice High School and Lewis University Hall of Famer coached baseball at Lewis (1977-78, 1990) Joliet Catholic (1979-1988) and Wheeler (1998-2010), compiling a shiny record of 541-237 at the preps level. He had 18 players sign major league contracts, five of whom — Bill Gullickson, Mark Grant, Mike Grave, Sean Bergman and Chris Michalak — made it to the big show. Grant, now an analyst on Padres television broadcasts, gave his old coach a shoutout via Twitter.
"'Ski' is one of the most well-rounded coaches I’ve ever played for," Grant said. "He was strict, but fair, and had a great sense of humor as a coach. We shared a lot of laughs. He loves to teach, both on the field, and in the classroom. I have the utmost respect for him. I love him dearly!"
Most coaches who last a long time likely won a lot of games, but they also took more from their time in uniform than the results. Schimanski was no different.
"I definitely miss the game, the kids," he said. "It's the relationships you have with the kids, not just during baseball, but at school. It keeps you young."
At the same time, the added responsibilities of coaching with sports extending well beyond the game calendar are leading most folks to get off the fields and courts sooner rather than later. Schimanski's Lewis coach and mentor Gordie Gillespie, who once held the record of wins in college baseball at 1,893, coached into his 80s.
"I talked to (Griffith's) Brian Jennings and he's been there 20 years," Schimanski said. "There aren't many guys like that now. It's an all-consuming thing. People think you just do it for the season. It's really invasive with family life. Any sport is like that. There's the whole travel thing. It's a situation where the competition is good for the better kids but what about the rest who can't do it? Now they've got personal trainers and hitting coaches. It's another ball game."
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Schimanski still loves the game as much, just on his terms. He gets to a fair share of Wheeler games and talks shop with Bearcats coach Kyle Becich regularly.
"He's doing a really great job," Schimanski said.
With family in Nashville, he gets to Vanderbilt during visits there and enjoys sitting and watching an MLB game, even if he's not an advocate of the changing philosophy of hitting.
"There's such an emphasis on strikeouts, home runs, putting the ball in the air," he said.
More time will be spent visiting family in Nashville, California, Plainfield, Illinois and Aurora, Illinois. An 11th grandchild is on the way and six of them are under 3 1/2 years old.
"That's our traveling," Schimanski said.
For 20 school years, Schimanski has made the 50-minute weekday drive from Frankfort, Illinois, to Union Township. He only has to do it another three, four weeks.
"I won't miss the ride," he said.
A reception will be held in the high school cafeteria following Friday's game. Any former Flyer, Hilltopper or Bearcat who shared a dugout with Schimanski is cordially invited. No BP, just coffee and cake.