One telephone call five months ago from New York Mets’ Farm Director Jeremy Barnes is all it took to bring Steve Schrenk to Syracuse.
Schrenk hadn’t planned on being in uniform this season.
When the Syracuse Mets began this season’s Triple-A East season in May, Mike Cather was the pitching coach on manager Chad Kreuter’s staff. Weeks into the season, Cather was gone, and Barnes needed a replacement at NBT Bank Stadium – pronto. When in need, a familiar face is always a friendly way to go about a search.
Barnes came up in the Philadelphia Phillies minor league system as a shortstop for three seasons, and Schrenk held various pitching instructor positions for 16 seasons with the Phils. Another connection between Barnes and Schrenk is the “Land Down Under.”
The baseball world gets even smaller for Schrenk and Barnes by way of the Australian Baseball League. For the 2011 season Schrenk, who last pitched MLB innings for the Phillies in 2000, logged time as manager and coach with the Canberra Cavalry. Barnes, after hanging up his spikes as a player stateside in 2014, signed up for three seasons with Canberra in various roles.
Landing a coach at any level in the minors once the season is up and running is difficult. Schrenk was back home in his Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania home working with his Pitching Coach Pro business, in which he works 1-on-1 with pitchers of all levels of experience. Joining the Syracuse staff , and the cities in which the club travels and teams they play, also, wouldn’t be all too unfamiliar to Schrenk. Two seasons back, Schrenk served as the pitching coach to the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the Phillies’ top affiliate in what was then the International League.
It appears tutoring Syracuse Mets pitchers was a role Schrenck was destined for.
With Syracuse on the road this weekend for the last time this season, Schrenk is confident about his contributions to the Mets’ organization going into the off-season.
“It has been great. I jumped into the fire right away. I feel our (Mets) pitching has improved. We have had a lot of pitchers come through. I love working with the guys to help them be better, and to be part of that growth when they get to MLB.”
Syracuse is in Scranton/Wiles-Barre through Sunday (including two doubleheaders), then back home to finish off their season at NBT Bank Stadium hosting the Buffalo Bisons with five games beginning on Wednesday.
Just as the players on Syracuse’s roster, coaches, too, are striving to earn a spot on a major league staff. Schrenk is no exception. He is looking forward to the day he is an MLB pitching coach. He is patient.
At age 30, after 13 seasons toiling at all levels in the minors, Schrenk finally got “the call.”
“It was pretty special,” Schrenk recalled during our telephone conversation this past week. “I was with Scranton (Red Barons were in 1999 Philadelphia’s Triple-A affiliate), and we were on the road in Pawtucket. Marc (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre manager Marc Bombard) gathered the whole team around in the locker room to make an announcement. He said I would have to go through Francona (then Phillies’ skipper) to get to the big leagues. Then, he (Marc) told me and everyone on the room that I was called up.”
That “pretty cool” moment, according to Schrenk, had extra meaning to finally reaching his professional goal. A half dozen years earlier, while playing Double-A ball with the Birmingham (Alabama) Barons for eight games, Schrenk’s manager was Francona.
…there couldn’t be a more qualified poster boy for a battler; someone that refuses to quit believing in themselves, than Schrenk.
Schrenk’s story is one his pupils should easily gravitate to. 13 seasons until making his first of 52 MLB pitching appearances over two seasons, 380 games in the minors, 16 seasons suiting up for 11 teams, there couldn’t be a more qualified poster boy for a battler; someone that refuses to quit believing in themselves, than Schrenk.
From working, at times, virtually due to COVID-19 protocols with young pitchers, Schrenk has adapted with the hands that he has been dealt. Familiar faces that have come through Syracuse’s roster this summer have made for a calming transition for Schrenk. Jerad Eickhoff (8-2) and Vance Worley (4-5) currently on Syracuse’s pitching staff go back with Schrenk to their days together in the Phillies’ minor leagues.
“I want everybody to have a chance to pitch in the big leagues,” says Schrenk. “I want them to fulfill their dreams. I try to keep in touch with all my pitchers.”
As Schrenk will pack up his belongings after the season finale on Sunday October 3, he will summarize both his work and those he tutored by one word – consistency. How the pitchers grew; are they better now than when he arrive in June. Both Schrenk and the Mets’ organization will judge how fast could pitchers make adjustments with details in their delivery, and how individuals deal with success and failure.
“I love all the data that’s available today. I learn as much as I can, and use it to my advantage”, explains Schrenk.
Don Cooper, 18 years as the Chicago White Sox pitching coach and the late MLB pitcher and coach Jackie Brown are at the top of the list of which Schrenk has many of who have influenced his career. Now, as fall begins the countdown to spring training, Schrenk has high hopes for the 2022 season, and his possibilities with the Mets.
Checking on one of his Pitching Coach Pro pupils, Josh Paulina, no doubt is on Schrenk’s to-do list. Paulina,19, is a rookie pitching in the San Diego Padres’ system.
Possibly being a Cooper or Brown to pitching hopefuls in the Mets’ organization, with players coming up and down on the depth charts, Schrenk will continue to serve as an inspiration that all things are possible in baseball. No matter your age or background.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980’s. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.
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