A bear is now a top Dawg.
Story by Bruce Campbell
Mitch “Big Bear” Schmidt was introduced as the new head coach of the Okotoks Dawgs at the organization’s annual awards dinner and banquet on Saturday at the Foothills Centennial Centre.
The Big Bear looks Teddy-like – a burly guy with a thick beard and a seemingly constant smile on his face. He replaces Tyler Graham who was at the helm the last two summers. But don’t let appearances fool you.
Schmidt can go Kodiak the odd time if needed
“I am a disciplinarian and I am not,” Schmidt said. “I like things done with dignity and respect. We will play hard, if I see someone who is loafing it means someone else will be in the line-up.
“On our Bellevue coaching staff, I am the hammer, my nickname is the Big Bear and there’s a reason. When I come out of hibernation, everyone knows….”
Schmidt, an associate coach with the Bellevue Bears in Nebraska, where he has been for 13 years, brings a winning tradition to the Dawgs.
The Bruins have been in the NAIA World Series 13 times since 1995. They are presently ninth in the NAIA pre-season rankings.
Bellevue will ring a few bells with Dawgs fans. The Dawgs first shortstop, Jon Reed in 2007 attended the Omaha-area school. As well former Dawgs coaches Andy Davis and Travis Varley were with Bellevue.
“We sent a number of guys up here,” Schmidt said of his prior connection to the Dawgs. “I have also known some of the coaches who have been up here. I know D.R. (Dawgs bench coach Dave Robb), I know Tyler Graham. When (Dawgs executive director) John Ircandia called me to talk about the coaching position, it didn’t take me very long to say yes… The winning culture and the support from the community, that’s why I chose to come here.”
There’s a winning culture in Okotoks, but there hasn’t been a Western Major Baseball League championship Dawg-pile celebration since 2009.
Schmidt realizes that’s what the Dawgs fans are craving after having spectacular regular seasons the past two summers.
He likes what has been done in the off-season.
“We have already signed some of the best NAIA players in the United States,” Schmidt said. “Pre-season All-America Francis Ventura has already signed with us. Obviously D.R. has done a great job in kids from the Arizona area. A couple of the arms that he signed, the Bernhardt brothers are legit.
“The catcher from Mesa, Marcus Skundrich, I am going to say the people up here have never seen a catcher like him – his arm-strength is incredible.
“We will win and we will play hard. Compete every night.”
That means the Dawgs coaching staff has to have the players ready to play hard and with honour when they step on the Seaman Stadium field.
“They are in Okotoks, who take pride in baseball… The coaching staff that we have here, DR, Andy Peterson, Joe Sergent… we have been around. Everyone of us will talk about the things we learned about in life through baseball.”
Schmidt has proven there’s more than just baseball for the players he coaches.
Bellevue was recognized with a Team Academic Excellence Award for having a team with a 3.0 grade point average or higher (in a 4.0 scale).
The new skipper grew up not too far from Big Rock Country – Big Sky Country.
He hails from Billings, Mont. and was a Baltimore Oriole fan – borderline hall-of-famer O’s hurler Dave McNally grew up in his hometown.
Schmidt is a bit like Orioles legendary manager Earl Weaver, but without the umpire-baiting antics and short fuse. Like Weaver, Schmidt was never a star player, but soaked up his diamond knowledge watching and loving the game.
“I have been lucky to have played some real good coaches and the experiences I had gave me the opportunity to go on and coach,” said Schmidt, who actually got to meet Weaver. “What I have done as a player, doesn’t really dictate who I am as a coach.”
The 48-year-old Schmidt attended Northern Colorado University where he pitched, played some outfield and DH’d.