This edition of C’s Chat takes us to the year 2011 with Vancouver Canadians first baseman Randy Schwartz.
I reached the Kleinburg, Ontario native in Orlando, Florida where he and his wife Brittaney are teachers at The Masters Academy Christian School. We covered a whole range of topics in a nearly one-hour long interview ranging from his teaching background, his baseball playing days growing up and his time in the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system.
The following are some excerpts from the chat held in late April, including his exit from professional baseball after the 2011 season.
“I kind of retired-slash-released. I had been waiting on my agent who was been a friend of mine and I was trying to tell him that I’m done and I happened to get a phone call while I was waiting to tell him because I wanted to tell my agent first. And so the Jays called and said, ‘Listen, we don’t have any space for you.’ ‘Well, that’s good because I was about to call you and tell you I wasn’t coming back’ so it was perfect!”
Having a teaching background to fall on, Schwartz spoke about the latest step in his career.
“I’m kind of in a youth pastor-ish role called a Student Ministry Associate where I teach half the time Bible Ministry classes and the other half, do things like Chapels and Student Ministry outreach and things like that…It’s not what ever I thought I would do but it’s better. You look back at the track of your life and I look back on my time in Vancouver and anywhere else and you see you’re really being prepared for through those experiences…it ends up that it’s a different path that it’s taking you down anyway but they’re all necessary steps. “
Schwartz grew up north of Toronto in the city of Vaughn and began to play the game when his father—a dairy farmer—built a batting tee for him to use. Randy’s canine companion also played a huge role in his baseball beginnings.
“I would just sit out with this dog named Maddie and put the ball on a tee with a little blue wooden bat with the paint all chipped off it. I’m hitting the ball and she—I mean for hours, for hours at a time—she would place it on the tee with me. My Dad still attributes to it and I do too like the fact that I was ever good as a kid probably has more to do with that dog (laughs) than about anything else.”
After playing t-ball and sandlot ball growing up, Schwartz went to play for Team Ontario and made the Canadian National Junior Team. He would play college baseball for High Point University in High Point, North Carolina where he batted .326 over his four-year career with 26 home runs.
Schwartz would go undrafted but he returned to Ontario in 2008 to play for the Barrie Baycats of the Intercounty Baseball League. He would win the league’s Rookie of the Year award by hitting .327 with a league-leading 10 home runs, helping him rediscover his passion for the sport.
“I kind of had lost the love of the game. That you think about a kid who grew up playing with his dog and playing sandlot baseball with his friends, that’s the reason why we did it. And Barrie was so fun and you had these guys like Paul Spoljaric and Todd Betts and a few other guys who had been either long-term minor league guys or major league guys or college guys but they all worked now and they played because they loved it.”
Spoljaric spoke to Toronto Blue Jays scout Rob Ducey about Schwartz. That conservation between the former Blue Jays—who were teammates during their playing days in Seattle in 1997 and 1998—led to an eventual try-out for Schwartz in Toronto.
“(The Blue Jays) told me to come down to the Rogers Centre and I hit in front of a couple of guys. Some big-name guys I didn’t even realize at the time. On the way home, I was just happy that I got the opportunity and then a couple of days later, they called and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to sign you.’ And I got to meet Paul Beeston and signed my contract with him and I have a picture of signing my contract with Paul Beeston.”
Schwartz would begin his professional career with the Auburn Doubledays in 2009. A broken foot and a back injury conspired to spoil Schwartz’s 2009 and 2010 seasons. The latter season split between Auburn and Lansing also involved a stint on the phantom DL, where he was healthy but there was no place for him to play.
“I think I was on it for 40 straight days. And so you show up every day on the field knowing that you’re not going to be able to get in the lineup. And that was a tough challenge and that really tested me as far as perserverance goes. Like what kind of attitude will you have when you know you can’t get in the lineup? What kind of teammate are you to guys around you when they’re all playing ahead of you? …But it turned around within that season…Kevin Nolan and Brad McElroy, two of my best friends on that team…And Sal Fasano as a manager was just every player’s dream…He was compassionate but direct. I really grew a lot under him as far as just a man but also as a player.”
The 2011 season saw Schwartz return north of the border to join the Vancouver Canadians after the team signed a Player Development Contract with the Blue Jays. Schwartz was excited about the prospect of Canada’s Teams joining forces.
“I just knew how good of a thing it would be for Canadian baseball in general and being a guy who played for Team Ontario and grassroots baseball, just a little more of an impact that way knowing that this is going to make a real difference for kids growing up actually in the B.C. area and but across the country just to know that there is this team and to be able to follow it.”
“When you go to college in the States and you play ball professionally…and even playing baseball in Toronto growing up, I would always kind of get made fun of because I didn’t play hockey and so you never quite fit in. And then you go to the States and you’re the foreigner and you’re on a visa and all that stuff and then you get to come home and like when we are going across the border, like you’re the Canadian walking home. It really was neat.”
One of the first highlights for Schwartz with Vancouver was homering in back-to-back games June 30 and July 1 at Nat Bailey Stadium. The Canada Day blast was extra special.
“I remember roaring, deafening sounds from the crowd so to hit a home run on Canada Day as a Canadian guy and hear the whole crowd go nuts and a lot of them knew too that you are a Canadian guy…you soak that it and that’s why you play the game.”
The best game of Schwartz’s career took place on July 14 against the Boise Hawks when he homered twice and added a triple.
“The best thing about the whole thing was my now-wife who was my fiancee at the time had never really seen me play an actual game and she flew up and that was her first game there. She was in the crowd sitting next to my host parents and saw that game…We were engaged the year I was in Vancouver…and then for the post-game interview and I think (C’s broadcaster) Rob Fai had known that she was there so that was part of the interview…I had my parents listen to the live cast back in Ontario, I had my fiancee there and again, you’re on your home soil. It was pretty special.”
As the 2011 season wore along, Schwartz saw his playing time reduced.
“In the second half, once (Kevin) Patterson showed up—who’s a really good dude and one of my better friends on that team—like I just kind of became a role playing guy at that point and really played behind him and (Balbino) Fuenmayor and a couple of other guys, and Andy Burns. And so I got to be a morale guy for that and keep guiding n guys through. And probably that was my better part of the role and maybe a lot of the reason I was sent there—besides being Canadian—was that I was one of the older guys who could help navigate this with some younger guys.”
The Canadians made it to the post-season by clinching a second-half playoff berth after narrowly missing a first-half bert. There were two pitchers who stood out to Schwartz during the playoff drive.
“Guys like Jesse Hernandez and guys like that would just have awesome outings and we would just fight but him specifically and I remember him and Drew Permison. I mean bulldog fighters and the kind of guys you would go to war with because of the way they battle on the mound…It was those guys who drove us through and the pitchers that really carried us.”
Those are just some of the highlights of this interview. I invite you to listen to the interview in its entirety right here which includes stories about his first professional hitting coach who had ties to Michael Jordan and about his introduction to C’s teammate Noah Syndergaard.
Thanks a million again to Randy Schwartz for taking part in this instalment of C’s Chat.