The 38-year-old is nearing the completion of his fourth season with the Cardinals, while serving his second year as full-time position coach for the organization's short-season Single-A New York-Penn League entry. Shildt also worked part time in 2004 and 2005 in the same capacity, but initially focused primarily on his scouting duties for the Cardinals.
The life of a minor league coach is nomadic by definition, but in this particular league for this very organization, it has been even more so. In the last three years, the club has been located in three different states. The 2005 New Jersey Cardinals became the 2006 State College (PA) Spikes and now the 2007 Batavia (NY) Muckdogs. Shildt has followed skipper Mark DeJohn every step of the way.
Back in his playing days, the North Carolina native was a scholarship player at UNC-Asheville but cheerfully admits his inability to hit the curveball meant a change to coaching at his alma mater then high school baseball in his hometown of Charlotte. Shildt then became an assistant coach at the highly-successful UNC-Charlotte program as his collegiate coaching career covered five seasons.
Shildt then entered the baseball training business, where he owned and operated a year-round facility, teaching and continuing to coach youths for four more years. Immediately prior to joining the Cardinals organization, he was an associate scout for the Major League Baseball Bureau for three seasons. In January, 2004, Shildt formalized that major career move when he was hired by the Cardinals organization as an area scout covering North and South Carolina, Virginia and part of Tennessee.
Shildt explains how he became a Cardinal. "It was really through word of mouth. I had gotten a little burned out in the instructional business. I wasn't learning as much. I was the boss, so I didn't feel like I was challenged anymore. Out of the blue, I got a call from our assistant general manager, John Mozeliak, and it has been outstanding to this point. I owe so much to him for giving me the opportunity."
It was an unusual, but not unheard of arrangement in that Shildt could both scout and coach. He describes how that came about. "I got into the scouting department with the understanding that I would also have a hand in player development. And, the Cardinals have been true to their word," he said.
Blazing the way for Shildt were men like Tommie Shields, now with the Atlanta Braves, as well as current Johnson City manager Joe Almaraz - other individuals who have successfully melded the two roles in the Cardinals organization. Shildt appreciates and emulates them, knowing full well that he is in a great situation.
"It has been very beneficial for me. I feel like I have the best of both worlds. It hopefully allows me to provide some synergy to both departments – scouting department and player development points of view. It also helps me as a scout to see what plays in this league and up the line for my work in amateur scouting," he said.
Shildt couldn't do any of this alone. He gives heaping portions of praise to Jeff Luhnow, Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development and DeJean, his boss in the dugout over much of the last four years.
"I am most appreciative to Jeff Luhnow for allowing me the opportunity to continue to work in both scouting and player development. Jeff has been very supportive of my career to my good fortune.
"Mark DeJohn has been such a strong and positive factor in my development on the player development side. He is the best pure baseball guy I have come across – from an instructional standpoint, from a teaching standpoint and from a game management standpoint. I absorb everything he says. I really study how he manages the game and manages the players."
With his diverse background, Mike Shildt seems an ideal man to help DeJohn and the Cardinals to mold youthful amateurs, like the ones he coached and scouts in North Carolina, into productive, balanced professional players.
On the field, Shildt does pretty much everything, including pitching batting practice, running infield practice, positioning the defense as well as manning the third base coaching box during games. In addition, DeJohn often consults with Shildt on in-game decisions.
His current compliment of 14 position players with the Muckdogs average under 21 years of age, including two teenagers. While there is plenty of talent, it is not fully developed, both in the game of baseball as well as in life. In that role, Shildt serves as much as a father figure as he does a coach.
"We have got to get the guys to understand how to go about being a professional as much in their preparation, in how to carry out their business off the field, so it translates to on-field performance," he said.
It doesn't come together for all players overnight. These coaches have to work at what is their biggest challenge as short-season Class-A leaders. First priority is off the field.
"A good portion of our first month with these guys is just getting them into a routine, understanding what to do with their down time, understanding that they are professionals now and to prepare themselves in a certain manner on a daily basis. As a position player, this is foreign to many of these guys, having played a collegiate season. That is the biggest adjustment period – off the field," said Shildt.
The organization develops an individualized plan for each player and the coaches play important roles in helping the players in understanding, then executing that plan.
"Everybody's got their own plan which we all work against in somewhat broad strokes. It is my goal to get them to understand what we want them to accomplish, in relatively simple terms. Once they understand these concepts and how to go about their work ethic and their habits, they work on those concepts to be more consistent so they can repeat them in a game," Shildt explains.
The physical attributes and ability of the player are important, but the coaches really drill down on what is needed to ensure the desired behavior can be demonstrated time and time again.
"The difference between the guys here and moving up the ladder all the way to the Major Leagues is obviously ability to some degree, but it is even more about being able to repeat your best effort on a consistent basis. That is what we are trying to implore these guys to do."
Shildt knows the challenge is great, but is pleased with the progress demonstrated by his 2007 Muckdogs charges. "The learning curve is pretty steep at the rookie league level but we are starting to make some real positive strides with these guys," he said.
Continuity and repetition is important for learning, yet aggressive player advancement between levels in the system like we have seen this season by the Cardinals is both necessary and appropriate. Shildt sees both sides of the coin clearly.
"As an organization, it is a positive for our scouting department and our player development department to accelerate these guys' development. But, when you are here and as soon as you get some continuity and the team starts to put a run together and win some games, that part of it is frustrating."
Shildt quickly made sure there was absolutely no confusion about what their number one priority is and shows pride in what his charges have accomplished up the line in Quad Cities and even Palm Beach this season.
"Ultimately, it is our job to put players in a position they can do the best they can and move to the next level. We were able to do that with seven players in a relatively short period of time already, so that is tremendous in itself."
After working in both scouting and player development, Shildt sees his future more on the player development side, where he has greater control over his results. The uncertainty of whether scouted players will be drafted and if drafted will they sign, as well as his competitive side fueled by game action makes the development aspect most fulfilling for Shildt.
"You get to live with these guys every night. And every night, there is a result. It is more interactive. I really enjoy working with the young people and the level I am working at. I don't have a tremendous aspiration to move up the line step-by-step, year-by-year... I like the level I am at. I have a lot of experience with this age group, experiencing what they are going through. They are open and they are eager and you can actually impart some instruction into them. At a certain point, they are molded. They are hardened."
Mozeliak agrees with Shildt's career path and is not shy in expressing his admiration for the coach/scout. "Mike has displayed a passion for both scouting and player development, but I believe he feels most at home on the field. As a young scout, he has done an excellent job learning what tools translate into a professional player as well as gaining valuable experience in uniform to help him better grasp this transition from amateur to pro. He has a bright future in this game and has been nice addition to our baseball operations staff," the Cards' AGM explained.
With the backing of experienced pros like DeJohn, Luhnow and Mozeliak, coupled with his experience and devotion, there is no doubt why Mike Shildt has influenced so many Cardinals prospects and should continue to touch many, many more in the future.
And don't forget about the army of Mike Shildts out there working hard each and every day…
Note: Interested in learning more about the 2007 Batavia Muckdogs? We have posted a set of audio interviews with Manager Mark DeJohn and four of his standout players in recent days, all exclusively for subscribers of Scout.com. If you haven't joined, consider our seven-day free trial now!
Centerfielder Tyler Henley
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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