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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Amateur vs. Athlete: Batting practice with recent NESCAC Player of the Week

Welcome to Amateur vs. Athlete: a column where we, lowly sports writers of The Campus and fans of our beloved Middlebury Panthers sports teams, delve into the mind of an in-season varsity athlete by challenging them to a one-on-one competition in their craft.

This week, I joined Mitchell Schroeder MIIS ’24 in a battle against the mini “hack attack” pitching machine. 

Ah baseball, America’s favorite pastime!

Candidly, baseball is one of the only mainstream sports I have never been able to indulge in. I swear I tried, but every time I failed to understand what tension of the game has kept millions of fans adoring the sport. The slow pace of the game and repetitive nature of the sport make jaw-dropping plays few and far between to the untrained eye. Sure, there is an obvious athleticism to baseball, though admittedly, it is one I would always assume I could handle with ease. As is starting to be a trend in inviting polished varsity athletes to a solo showdown in their area of expertise, my preconceptions were entirely incorrect.

Should you check out the attached highlight reel online — and I recommend you do if you would enjoy a laugh at my expense — you will notice a clear distinction between the immense force Schroeder was able to generate compared to my amateur attempt. Schroeder walked me through the mechanics of hitting to the opposite field while we loosened up off the tee. Once I had graduated from step-back drills, we geared up the “hack attack,” which allows the hitter to see the angle of release, simulating a live arm sense of timing and location.

Fans of baseball, or even more casual viewers who may only know the sport through “Moneyball,” understand the importance of statistical analysis to the modern game. In order to observe as many in-depth statistics as possible, Middlebury’s advanced system allows the hitter to see the location of their hit, the launch angle and the exit velocity of their hits from within the batting cage. The majority of pitches I faced stayed well under 70 mph, a fraction of the speed of the pitches that Shroeder and his teammates face on a daily basis, and the few times I did manage to connect with the ball resulted in virtual outs.

Despite the unimpressive velocity of my swings, I must admit that the feeling of a hit was satisfying, exciting and opened my eyes to the intoxicating nature of a sport I had never understood.

Given my total inexperience with a bat in my hand, I was lucky to face the challenge with a true heavy hitter. Schroeder could do no wrong against Bowdoin College on April 6, earning NESCAC Player of the Week and surpassing the 100 career-hits mark, now standing at 110 during his time in a Panther jersey. 

To gain an insight into his baseball prowess, I questioned Schroeder about his career, his game-day routine and the biggest challenges of the sport.

Lexi Linafelter: How did you get started playing baseball?

Mitchell Schroeder: I started playing baseball when I was six years old and I saw my friend from school, Lucas, wearing a really cool jersey. I obviously wanted a jersey too, so I showed up the next day, started playing baseball, and that was that!

LL: What is your favorite part about baseball? 

MS: It’s kinda corny, but getting to come back to your teammates after doing something well is really the best feeling in the world. I’ve obviously had some highs and lows throughout my time playing baseball but the thing that gets you through the lows is thinking about the feeling when you do succeed, and you get to celebrate with your teammates, that is the best part of the sport.

LL: If you could play another position in baseball, which would it be? Why? 

MS: I think playing shortstop would be so fun just because they’re so athletic. Watching our shortstops, Chris [Borter], Zip [Malley] or Baker [Angstman] play is so fun because they get to make a ton of cool plays and doing that would make me feel a lot more athletic than I am.

LL: What is the hardest part about the sport?

MS: You can do everything right that you can control, and you can still get out or strike out. It’s a sport where the results don’t necessarily match the preparation and that can be really frustrating. On the flip side, one of the best parts of the sport is that sometimes you can get away with things that you shouldn’t have, but I think it’s really challenging to play a sport where you can do everything right but still fail. So of course, failure is very common but learning how to deal with failure is so important and is something that I will take with me from the sport for the rest of my life.

LL: What’s your walk-up song? Why?

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MS: “The Devil is a Lie by Rick Ross. Ross is my favorite rapper and I won’t choose any other artist for my walk-up song. I switch songs from season to season, but this year it’s been “The Devil is a Lie, and I am loving it so far.

LL: You’ve put up a great season so far, but you had a massive day yesterday in a doubleheader against Bowdoin — you went four for five at the plate, hit 12 RBIs, two grand slams and a double across on the weekend. Was there magic in the air? What about yesterday made you so successful?

MS: That was such a fun day. The wind was blowing out and I got some good pitches to hit. Something really great about playing for this team is that they really can’t pitch around you to get to the next guy, so you’re gonna see pitches to hit; if they get around Borter, they have to deal with me and if they get around me, they have to deal with Kyle McCausland ’25, NESCAC Player of the Year [2023]. I’m lucky to play with guys who you can’t get around and was lucky enough to put a couple of good swings on the ball.

LL: What’s in store for the rest of the season?

MS: A lot of fun competition. We have our NESCAC series coming up, this weekend we have Amherst, then Wesleyan away and all of those games will be really important for seeding for playoffs. Those are always really fun baseball games and just competing every single day is something that I’m looking forward to. 

While my hitting stats did not quite earn me a spot in the lineup this season, you can check out several critical games in the Panthers’ latter half of the regular season at Forbes Field. Middlebury will take on NESCAC opponent Amherst College (17–5) on April 19 and 20 at home. 

Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.