Mike Schultz was fresh out of high school, a plebe soon to learn about the Naval Academy's demanding life style. But on the baseball field?
He met Navy Coach Joe Duff. Duff liked him from the start, considered him the Midshipmen's only "legitimate center fielder," a player with speed and a good arm. Only Joe Duff wants more than ability. And when the baseball team went to Florida last spring, Schultz, then a freshman, found out exactly what Duff wants.
"Mike was the leadoff man, and this pitcher's ball sizzled," Duff said, smiling. "Mike struck out, got up, went out to the field and somebody hit a ball into left-center. Mike ran after it and the other outfielder held the guy to a double.
"So the inning ends and we're behind 2-0 or something and I'm standing and here sits the guy over here. So I look around and say, 'What's the matter, Mike?' He says, 'Coach, I pulled my hamstring.' I said, 'Oh, here we go.' He started limping, so I said, 'Okay, Mike, you be the bat boy.' So he was the bat boy for the rest of the week. Never played any more, and we sent him to the jayvees."
Between seasons, Schultz lifted weights and worked diligently on his swing. He earned a starting spot this spring, and now he is the leading hitter (.429) on a 28-8 team that recently won the Eastern Intercollegiate Baseball League and earned a berth in the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 1982.
And he's doing things the way Joe Duff wants things done.
"He lifted weights, worked hard and kept his mouth shut," said Duff. "See, that's another thing. When you're a salutatorian, valedictorian you have a tendency to articulate. I'm not interested in the charismatic type. Just go out and play ball. Why make life more complicated than it is?"
To Duff, baseball is simple. It's as natural as the dirt you play on. You hit, you catch the ball, and you do it better than your opponent because you do it with intelligence and you play as a team. Hooey to running gloves, wrist bands and prima donnas.
"You've got running gloves, hitting gloves," Duff said. "Shoot. That never took Babe Ruth out. If they think it's important, let them have it. It's a commercial venture. I have guys sending me gloves now. What the hell, is that going to make you a good hitter?"
"He likes baseball the old-fashioned way," said senior left-hander David Landwehr, who is part of a four-man starting rotation that is 26-4 and has a 1.95 earned run average. "He wants us to go out there and play the game. He doesn't care about all that hot dog stuff.
"If you're not going to play his way, you're not going to play."
To play Duff's way is to play with the utmost concentration. For 25 years as Navy's coach, Duff has eschewed the individual and emphasized the team. He has been very successful: 458 wins, 217 losses, 11 ties.
"Yes, he is demanding and he doesn't like theatrics," said Schultz, who also leads the team in runs (46), hits (57), doubles (11) and stolen bases (19).
"He pushes hard for the fundamentals. His philosophy is quite applicable to our situation. Whereas we don't have the talent here, we have to play at a level above, intensity-wise and concentration-wise . . . It seems that you can never loosen up out there because as soon as you do, he is going to see it, and he is going to straighten you out."
Drew Tanner, a senior pitcher, said Duff constantly will direct questions to players on the bench, quizzing them about the number of outs, the ball-strike count.
"If you don't know the answer to the question, he'll get really upset," said Tanner. "He tries to have a senior down in the bullpen all the time to make sure everyone down there is in the game. His theory is . . . we have an advantage because we can think better."
Duff's theory is most reflected on Navy's pitching staff. Tanner, who has a "major league" curveball and an 8-2 record, leads a rotation of sophomore Steve Weiman (6-0, 0.94 ERA), sophomore Todd Bibza (5-1, 1.81) and Landwehr (7-1, 2.51). For college pitchers, they have an amazing strikeout-to-walk ratio (204-36).
Duff can't stand to see his pitchers walk a batter.
"You preach and preach all the time," said Duff. "Pitching is rhythm and we stress that all the time. We got this guy sophomore Mark Wesley from Atlanta up here, he drives me up the wall. He's a skinny kid and he thinks he's a power pitcher. I said, 'Crumsakes, make him hit the ball.' I never ask anybody to strike anybody out. He's a nice kid. I think he'll grow up and pitch for us next year."
Said Landwehr: "It's something that's constantly driven into your mind: get ahead of the batters and throw strikes."
Duff talks candidly of the way he believes baseball has changed for the worse. He talks about how baseball used to be, without its free agents and what he calls pampered players. When Duff was an assistant at Navy, Max Bishop, the head coach, approached baseball the same way.
" 'I want to give you one bit of advice,' " Duff said Bishop told him. "He said, 'Don't you ever give up on a bad player. You may have to use him.' And it's so true. I mean, this is before the computer, the psychiatrist.
"I think you have to change in some ways. But the game hasn't changed. The plate is still there, the bases are in the same spot. You have to do the same things to be successful. We don't have any great talent. We don't have any illusions of grandeur. We're fortunate to have fine kids."