Schmitt steps down as Middleton's manager

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Rob Reischel
After a terrific 16-year run that included the only state title in school history, Middleton manager Tom Schmitt resigned this week. Schmitt wanted more time to watch sons Brennan and Brady play collegiate baseball./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

It was mid-March when Tom Schmitt saw the light.

Middleton’s long time baseball manager was in Winterhaven, Fla., watching his oldest son Brennan and his University of Wisconsin-La Crosse baseball team.

Brennan’s Eagles still had a handful of games to play. But Tom Schmitt headed back to Middleton to coach the 2018 Cardinals, a group that included his youngest son, Brady.

It was at that moment, Schmitt realized his heart was in two places at once. And that was a tricky path to navigate.

So earlier this week, after a sensational 16-year run as the Cardinals’ skipper, Schmitt resigned.

Brennan Schmitt has two years left at UW-La Crosse and Brady will try out for the Eagles this fall. Now, with a far more flexible schedule, Tom Schmitt will be able to see his two sons instead of trying to follow their progress on his phone.

“It’s been a good run, a really good run,” Schmitt said Thursday afternoon. “But I just know I won’t get those years back if I don’t do it now.

“A couple of times this year, I made one of Brennan’s game after we practiced. But I just didn’t want to keep juggling schedules. I gave this (managerial) job my entire effort and focus. But with both boys gone now, it was going to be tough.”

Schmitt had a remarkable run with the Cardinals, going 287-124 overall (.698) and winning five Big Eight Conference championships — including the 2018 crown. Schmitt led Middleton to state seven times in 16 years and guided the Cardinals to the 2003 state title — his first year at the helm.

Schmitt’s resignation sent shockwaves through the program from both current and former players.

“Coach Schmitt resigning is a tough day for the Middleton program,” said Shane Adler, a four-year varsity player at MHS and a two-time all-state selection. “He brought an intensity and focus that you don’t always find at the high school level.

“He held his players to a high standard, which led to a lot of successful seasons during his time. He loved the game and it showed with the way he coached on the field. He always expected his players to show up and give 110%.

“He taught me to never take any opponent or any day that you get to spend on the field for granted. Any day playing for coach Schmitt was a good day and playing for him was one of the best opportunities I had growing up as a kid. Middleton was fortunate to have him since 2003 and he will surely be missed.”

Drew Finley Haag, a standout center fielder who helped Middleton qualify for state in 2016, agreed with Adler.

“Since (Schmitt) started coaching me when I was 12 years old, he always taught us to do things the right way,” Finley Haag said. “He taught us to be not only respectful players, but respectful young men, as well. He is someone I can call on about anything in life and I know he will give me good advice. I'm thankful that I had the chance to play for him.”

Schmitt, a 1985 graduate of Columbus High School, was a standout for the Cardinals. After Schmitt graduated from UW-Oshkosh, he began teaching in the Middleton-Cross Plains district.

Schmitt became Middleton’s JV coach in 1993 and he held that position for 10 years. When Mike Zimmerman stepped down as the Cardinals’ varsity coach in 2002, Schmitt took over and experienced immediate success.

With an aggressive style and a star-studded team, Schmitt led Middleton to the 2003 WIAA Division 1 state championship. That was the Cardinals’ first — and only — state championship in program history.

“As far as winning a state championship, there’s not too many better feelings than that,” Schmitt said. “I don’t know if I have a special team or a top highlight that stands out more than others. But when you win it all, that’s pretty special.”

One of Middleton’s strengths under Schmitt was its consistency.

The Cardinals also reached the state tournament in 2005, ’06, ’09, ’12, ’14 and ’16. In addition, Middleton won four straight Big Eight Conference titles between 2007-’10, then won the league again this spring.

“Everybody wants it as a goal to win it every year,” Schmitt said of a state title. “But it’s just as important to have good relationships with kids and try helping them become good people.

“We had a solid program and we were so consistent. We didn’t waver from what we were doing. There was a pretty good baseline of where Mike (Zimmerman) had the program and we kept building it into a state power.”

While the Cardinals were extremely successful on the field, Schmitt earned plaudits for more than just baseball.

Schmitt was a terrific teacher who didn’t simply preach baseball. He also passed on several life lessons to his team.

Schmitt and Sun Prairie manager Rob Hamilton started the “Cardinals Strike Out Cancer” game in 2014. That event raised approximately $55,000 for American Family Children’s Hospital pediatric cancer research during the last five years.

“It was great playing for coach Schmitt,” said Drew Haack, a 2013 MHS graduate who also played at UW-Milwaukee. “He loved the game of baseball and taught us the right way how to play.

“He taught us how to be successful on the field and how to win. He also taught us how to be successful off the field and how to develop into grown men. He has done a great job in his time coaching Middleton, leading them to success each year, even in years when they weren’t supposed to be the best. My four years with him were great.”

Kevin Peternell, a standout pitcher during Middleton's run of four straight conference titles, shared Haack's sentiments.

"Playing for coach (Schmitt) was exciting and competitive," Peternell said. "His knowledge and love for the game enhanced my drive to try and compete at a higher level."

Schmitt didn’t rule out coaching again once his sons are done playing collegiately.

But for now, Schmitt plans to watch the careers of both Brennan and Brady unfold knowing he gave the Middleton program all he had.

“The biggest thing is we played good baseball, but we’ve produced some pretty good guys, as well,” Schmitt said. “It wasn’t just always baseball, it was life skills and life lessons.

“We certainly tried to put them in position to be fine young men. So it was always fun to see those kids progress, both on and off the field. It was a great 16 years.”


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