There will be a fresh face pulling the strings in the Okotoks Dawgs dugout this year.
Mitch Schmidt, who is in his 12th season with the Bellevue Bruins – a NAIA national champion organization – began his full-time coaching career in 1995 with Montana State University-Billings and Minot State University. Throughout Schmidt’s 22 years behind the bench, he has coached 87 players who have signed professional contracts – 51 of them being former Bruins. Numerous individual athletic and academic awards from the National and Conference levels have been awarded to players he has coached, including (15) NAIA All-American awards, (3) NAIA National Gold Glove awards, (17) Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete awards, (128) All-Conference awards, (31) Conference Gold Glove awards, (57) Conference Scholar Athlete awards, and (3) Conference Baseball Scholar-Athletes of the Year awards. Since joining Bellevue in 2005, the Bruins have made four NAIA World Series appearances – most recently in 2016 – 10 MCAC Tournament appearances, and have earned two NSAA regular-season championships – 2017 was also a banner season for the The Billings, Mont. product.
The resume sure looks good, but now it’s time to learn a bit more about coach Schmidt.
DS: What did you know about the Dawgs program prior to accepting the position?
MS: To be honest, I have a little more knowledge about the Dawgs and the WMBL than most will expect an NAIA coach in Nebraska to have. I have many personal and professional connections with current and past players and coaches in the WMBL. Specifically, the connections I have with the Dawgs come from Jon Reed (Dawgs and BU Bruins Alumni), Chandler McLaren (Dawgs and BU Bruins Alumni), Andre Kinder (Dawgs Alumni), Bruce Amende (Dawgs Alumni), Ryan Rogers (Dawgs Alumni), David Head (Dawgs Alumni), Cody Artalejo (Dawgs Alumni), Aaron Conyers (Dawgs Alumni), Taylor Fish (Dawgs Alumni), Brandon Stennis (Dawgs Alumni), Kyle Kubat (Dawgs Alumni), and JT Patterson (Dawgs Alumni and current BU Bruin) to name a few.
Every player I have spoken with that has gone up to the Dawgs has had a great experience on and off the field. That experience is a direct correlation to the “Dawgs Way” of going about their business on and off the field every day. Talking in the baseball circles about summer baseball placement for our student athletes, Okotoks is the No. 1 choice in the WMBL with no doubt. The players are surrounded by other high-level players and coaches that continue the growth of life’s lessons through baseball. Not to mention the facilities that are available to these young men to further their craft – WOW. With all this said, as a college baseball coach looking to send our players to the best place for development and not know what the Dawgs are all about is an injustice to our players. My knowledge of the Dawgs tradition as a first class organization is the reason that when John Ircandia contacted me with the offer to coach in Okotoks, it did not take long to say -YES!
DS: What can you say about the passionate fans of Okotoks, where you’ll be coaching in front of 4,100 fans on a nightly basis?
MS: During the 2008 World Junior Baseball Championships, I had the opportunity to see the passion and knowledge for good baseball in Okotoks, first hand. I can absolutely say it rivals the atmosphere I have experienced with Bellevue University at the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. As a coach at the NAIA level, there is nothing better than playing in the Friday night game in Lewiston. In advance, I would like to say THANK YOU to the fans and I cannot wait to make some life-long memories with all of the Dawgs fans when we get the chance to play 35-plus nights this summer in this environment.
When I told Bruce Amende, former Dawg, that I was going to coach in Okotoks this summer, he told me that the most amazing crowd he had every played in front of was on Canada Day in Okotoks. He asked me to get video for him this year. Done deal. Ladies and gentlemen, I present a challenge – let’s break the attendance record this year!
DS: How would you describe your coaching style?
MS: I do not have a specific style of coaching but my personal drive to always be the best at whatever I am involved in is evidence of my competitiveness. To be competitive, you have two things you can control: Your attitude and your effort. My personal attitude and effort will rub off on the players as baseball is a game of opportunity. We will value our opportunities to put pressure on the opposing team defensively and offensively. There are seven ways for a batter to make an out and there are seven ways for a batter to reach base safely. As a team, we will use all of them defensively and offensively at some point during the season, and we will find a way to win each night. Baseball is the greatest game ever because it is the only game that the defense controls the ball. With that said, if we have to play small ball one night to win, we will, if it is all about doubles, bombs, and RBIs that night, we will put on a show. The teams I have coached in the past have been successful through natural reaction to each opportunity due to superior preparation from practice, practice, and more practice, scouting, scouting, and more scouting, games, games and more games. As I said before, baseball is the greatest game ever, we play games to have fun and winning is fun. That is why I coach to have fun and win!
Every day on and off the field you will see from me: A smile and a laugh because when you are happy and enjoy life, the people around you will also. Have fun and be positive because when it is fun for you, it is fun for everyone around you. Be committed and loyal because when you make sacrifices for the team, they can count on you for anything. Present desire, persistence, and work ethic because when you possess drive to do your best, you will always be able to defeat adversity. Show a positive attitude and effort because these are the only two things you can control in your life.
DS: With a franchise looking for another WMBL championship, what are your projections for this season? Is it championship or bust?
MS: Projections and predictions are all unknown opinions, what I would like to do is promise we will “PLAY with PASSION” every day because we know that everyone in the Dawgs family from top to bottom is hungry for a WMBL championship. We are currently working on the Dawgs next WMBL championship and there is no other result that will be acceptable this summer.
DS: What are your thoughts on the incoming roster?
MS: This year’s roster has some amazing potential. We have signed some talented baseball players that include familiar faces from Dawgs past rosters with the College team and Academy teams. I think the mix of returners and rookies have talent that gives us the potential to make a clean sweep in the WMBL individual awards. But again, potential and talent are nothing without Attitude and Effort.
DS: Last season, Okotoks broke records in terms of home runs and wins, is it possible to build on that success?
MS: Records are concrete facts in history and the fact that there is no doubt the Dawgs have been one of the most potent organizations in the WMBL year in and year out sets this current team up for success. The teams of the past have built the foundation for this “program of tradition and excellence.” Each player on this team will know it truly is an honor to be a part of the Dawgs baseball family. We will all know that there will be a big red target on our backs. Setting new records will be our goal every day! This group of players will be making memories that everyone in the Dawgs family will enjoy watching.