Dennis Schutzenhofer is one of the many people behind the scenes who help tune the St. Louis Cardinals into a finely-operating machine. Wearing number 90, he has been one of the half-dozen external (non-coach) batting practice pitchers for the major league club for over ten years now. Dennis has worked pre-games at home for the last decade and added road trips to his duties three years ago.
The retired chemistry teacher and baseball coach from Belleville enjoys his work, for which he had three decades of preparation.
“When I got out of coaching high school baseball in 2001, I had a lot of new free time,” he said. “I had thrown all of my own batting practice from March 1 through August 15, including summer Legion ball, every year for 30 years.”
Schutzenhofer secured his “ideal job” through a series of happy circumstances. He explains how it came about.
“I knew all of the guys that threw for the Cardinals back then, but I didn't have any pull,” he recalled. “By coincidence, a friend of mine's brother-in-law was a former teammate of (Cardinals first base coach) Dave McKay. Two phone calls later, I had a tryout on Opening Day 2001. The first guys I threw to were Fernando Vina, J.D. Drew, Edgar Renteria and Placido Polanco. I threw good strikes and they hired me.”
“Schutzy” jokes that he hopes he can keep doing it five or six more years – if his arm holds up and the Cardinals are willing to keep him around.
I asked him roughly how many pitches he throws each day. The answer was mathematically precise, like the metronome pace required of a batting practice hurler – one every six seconds.
“I throw ten pitches per minute times 15 minutes, or 150 each and every day,” Schutzenhofer explained.
While he is obviously not throwing batting practice at maximum effort, it is worth remembering that 120 pitches for a major league starting pitcher is considered a full day, with the offerings spread out over three hours in blocks of 15-20 at a time.
Among the honors Dennis received was pitching batting practice to the American Leaguers during the All-Star Game festivities last summer at Busch Stadium (pictured).
In the off-season, Schutzenhofer keeps lean and trim by officiating high school and college basketball games. His son Andy, a former Illini star, played three seasons in the Cardinals system. The first baseman was a 2004 Florida State League All-Star and reached as high as Double-A Springfield in 2005.
Dennis’ job with the Cardinals is not just about helping to prepare hitters before games. He has another important job completely unseen by fans and television cameras.
During road contests, he waits patiently down the tunnel, watching the game on a monitor until the seventh or eighth inning. That is about the time prospective pinch hitters make their way down to the internal batting cages behind and/or below the Cardinals dugout to warm up and get in a few cuts before entering the game.
Like his afternoon efforts, Schutzenhofer’s late-game responsibilities are very straight-forward.
“I can do one of three things. It depends on what the hitter wants. I can put the ball on the tee, I can toss underhand or throw live BP,” he explained.
Remember that those tosses are on top of the 150 pitches he threw three or four hours earlier. That cooling down and warming up again cycle would be tough on any arm, let alone that of a 60-year-old.
Schutzenhofer wouldn’t have it any other way, knowing he has his dream job, even if it is one that few know about.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Brian pens a column each Wednesday at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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