South Bend, IN 10/24/2013
by TJ JorgensenWhen I began talking with free agent veteran pitcher and future hall of famer Steve Schroeder about the possibility of putting together this softball team in the late fall of 2010, I had no idea what kind of team we would have. Along with bringing in Schroeder, we also brought in longtime friend of the organization Terry Patesel and veteran infielder Tim Austin, but the biggest move was when Steve, Terry and myself began working on bringing together what we dubbed "The Amish Express". Before to long, Fred Schmucker, Leland Schmucker, Jeremy Hochstetler and Faron Miller were all in camp with SKS and I remember the word going around that "SKS just go Amishized." Lol. I loved reading that. We have had our fair share of success in recent years - including two straight seasons of runner up in NSA Worlds (2009) and ASA Nationals (2010), but with those talent-filled teams from 2009-2010, also came a lot of ego's, and heads butting. We had gotten away from what SKS was all about. With the addition of respected veterans like Schroeder and Patesel, and the talents of the Amish, we changed everything. Scaled back our wild uniforms, and decided to just focus on putting a winner on the field. And winning is what we did. With the help of the Amish as well as the rest of this team, SKS had a remarkable - somewhat historic - season, reaching the finals in 18 out of 19 tournaments, including the NSA B Worlds and the NSA Super B Worlds. We won 10 tournaments, including the ASA B state championship. We had almost as good a season in 2012, winning 12 tournaments, including the GSL B World Series and the ASA B state championship. In 24 tournaments, SKS finished in the final four 18 times. In 2013, SKS welcomed in members from Wildman and had their third straight big season with the Amish on board, winning 10 tournaments, the ASA B state title for the third straight year, the CSA World Series and at one time, we won five straight tournaments, going 22-0 during that stretch between May and late June. And those wins during that streak were no cake walks.. two Directors Cup championships and a Flag Day title. For the 2013 season, SKS played in 18 tournaments, reaching the final four 16 times - including reaching the final four 15 times in a row to end the season. Despite the season ending on somewhat of a sour note (finishing fouth at the GSL B Worlds), we had nothing to hang our heads about. Over the last three years, we went 235-57 - a winning percentage of .805. We won 32 of the 61 tournaments we entered during that span and reached the finals a remarkable 47 times in the last three years. A big reason for that success since the start of the 2011 season has been four Amish dudes that would change more than they ever knew about SKS. The maturity and wit of Freddy Schmucker... the huge sense of humor of Leland Schmucker... the boyish smile on Faron Miller... and the leadership and determination of Jeremy Hochstetler... these are all things that infected our team. They brought a new way of life - the Amish way - as we would later learn. Not familiar with the Amish way? Take a 45 minute trip from South Bend to Topeka and you will see 98% of pure Amish softball. This is the birthplace of real hardcore, defensive minded softball. And its where it all began for the four Amish that called SKS home for three years. In Topeka, kids as young as five years old are sitting in the dugout watching, taking it all in, so that one day, they can pitch where Faron Miller is right now. There are 10 year old boys imitating the batting stance of Leland Schmucker. Softball is life in Topeka. And SKS was lucky to be infected with this new way of playing the game. In 2014, Street Kids will take to the field without the four Amish who changed the course of softball for the guys in red and white. They are moving on to other things, but not without some sadness. Fred Schmucker called me two weeks ago and we spoke for about 45 minutes. "The best fun I have had in softball was with this team over the last three years," said the eldest Schmucker. "Every time we walked up to the park, we had that feeling like we knew we could win every tournament. But it was not just because of the talent - there were teams more talented than us. But we had a closeness.. we played as a team. And that led to more wins than we ever thought." Yes, I am stepping away from the field after so many years playing and coaching, so even if the Amish were on our team in 2014, I would not see them all the time regardless. But knowing they are not in SKS uniforms in 2014 does make me a little sad. I will miss watching Freddy catch balls that very few people can catch up to. I will miss seeing Erms make amazing plays up the middle, then throw the ball 10 feet over the first baseman's head. LOL. Sorry Erms, had to do it! I will miss watching Faron grow over three years as a man who split time with Steve Schroeder, learning from him, and now pitching at the highest level in the game, hearing ESPN announcers talking about him on the mound. I will really miss Lelands corny jokes. I've said it a hundred times, I would pay money to see Leland stand on stage with a Microphone and a Busch Light just talking. I remember at a tourney in Michigan, I was walking out of the gas station as he was walking in and he turned to me with this serious tough guy look and said "what are you looking at, cupcake?" I laughed so hard I spit out my energy drink. That half-serious sense of superstardom that Leland walked around with kept all of us on our feet with laughter. That is what I think Freddy meant about our closeness. I think I finally figured out the key to the success over the past three years: We were so busy laughing and having fun that we didn't even notice all the wins piling up. It was a great ride, and I hope we have even bigger seasons to come. But for me, the last three years with the Amish were the best years of my life.