The next step

Photo by Jim PetersBrian Schmack, left, the Valparaiso University baseball coach, welcomes a recruiting class that includes his son, Kyle, from South Central. Kyle, a North All-Star, is the La Porte County player of the year after a senior season in which he hit .568 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs and won five games with a 1.98 earned run average as a pitcher. The Satellites won four sectionals and reached two regional finals during his career.

WANATAH — So how do you recruit your son?

When Brian Schmack first considered the possibility of his son, Kyle, playing for him at Valparaiso University, he went to three coaches who would know -- Tracy Smith (Indiana/Arizona State), Rich Maloney (Ball State) and Elvis Dominguez (Bradley).

"It was good to get their input, that relationship, how did they do it," Schmack said. "It was challenging early on because I'd never done anything like that. It's hard to be objective in a situation, so you turn it over to your assistants, 'hey, listen, as much as you can, make a fair evaluation without trying to make me mad.' I trust them enough. I saw what games I could, and (thought) yeah, I think that plays.' He's been around the program obviously, taken (batting practice) with them, and held his own. When it comes time to make a final decision, I let the other guys make the final call."

The final word?

"Yeah, I think the kid can hit, he can play a role for us," Schmack said.

In the end, that's why South Central's Kyle Schmack, the La Porte County Player of the Year, will play for the Crusaders, not because he lives under the coach's roof.

"That's always going to be there when you're the coach's kid," Kyle said. "People talk. They don't know the other guys who were recruiting me. They think I'm just going there because he's the head coach. I had to prove. If I wasn't, maybe I'd be the water boy or the bullpen catcher."

From the other side of the kitchen table, Brian jabs, "You still might be."

"I don't talk to parents about playing time," he joked of his wife Cari. "It's the same thing we tell every recruit, you will get a chance to showcase your talent. If I play well, he will have that opportunity. We'll see. The speed of game is the same for everyone. (Andrean's) Mike Doolin will have an adjustment. We'll throw (Kyle) in with everyone and the best nine play. It makes him and the other guys better."

Two lives dominated by baseball had never really intersected up to this point in Kyle's career. He was just starting to play around the time the Schmacks moved from Illinois as Brian came to VU to be pitching coach. Kyle was in travel ball with the Chesterton Vipers almost immediately. Due to overlap, Brian wasn't able to make a lot of games, staying in touch with Cari by phone. When he could make it, he'd typically hang out down the foul line, away from the crowd.

"I just stay out of it, watch the game," Brian said. "It's hard just to watch sometimes."

Other kids may have had their dad as a youth baseball coach, but Kyle didn't feel like he was missing out, knowing his dad was doing his job.

"I never expected him to be my coach, too," Kyle said. "I talked to my grandma about it, how it's more of an honor than a privilege. Who can really say they got to play for their dad in college? It adds another level of excitement. At the end of the day, before he was a coach, he was my dad. It makes me want to work harder."

A big, strong kid with athletic ability, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Schmack had natural talent and wasn't one to take it for granted.

"His ability to make contact, for one, not a lot of strikeouts, is above average," Brian said. "Home runs are nice, but it's a very underrated ability to put the ball in play, hit it wherever it's pitched, to have quality at-bats."

At a time when not as many baseball players really know the game or follow it, Brian appreciates his son's studious nature, even as they're sitting in the living room watching TV.

"There's teaching going on, hopefully in a more relaxed setting," he said. "The problem with a lot of kids is they don't watch enough baseball," he said. "That's how you learn the game. You're always learning."

There was little that Kyle didn't do at the high school level. He hit .450 for his career with 21 home runs, 30 doubles, 103 runs and 130 RBI. While his pitching career -- save for a possible inning in this weekend's North-South All-Star Series in Madison -- he also won 13 games with a 2.35 earned run average.

"A lot of players, the (Porter County Conference), small areas, you can tell who's better," Schmack said. "I know going in I'm not the best player in the Missouri Valley. That's a fact. Even if I went NAIA, it's definitely faster, the arms are definitely better. I just have to prepare myself. I've prepared a lot with (my dad). The only thing I can do is put my head down and keep working, keep trying to get better. My roommate (Hanover Central's Nolan Tucker) loves baseball, he loves to hit. It's good that we both like to do that type of thing. We can keep pushing each other."

Kyle will major in the business field, though he hopes he has the chance to pursue baseball beyond college. Until then, his next project is helping his dad repair their deck.

"I feel like the final goal of every player who plays college baseball is to get drafted," Kyle said. "I've got to work hard to see if I can do it. I can't wait."

Valpo is a straight shot up U.S. 30 from the house, but Kyle will live on campus, which everyone feels is the best thing for everyone involved.

"It'll be good to be around the team," Brian said. "We want him to have the same experience. We've tried from the beginning to make it as normal as possible, to treat him like any other kid. I want to treat him a certain way. I also want to treat Nolan Tucker and the other guys coming in the same way. For lack of a better phrase, it's softened me on that side, to be a better mentor, a better figure for these guys."

As much as he's looking forward to the coaching side of their time together, Brian relishes the dad side even more.

"Honestly, I think it's really just looking forward to spending four more years with him," he said. "What he's going to experience is life. You're working hard but maybe not playing right away. This is life. This is what happens. I don't care if he plays pro baseball, I want him to be a man, a contributing member of society. If baseball is five percent of what he learns of the whole thing, that's OK with me."

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