Lessons from Cal Rip­ken Jr. helped Car­di­nals in­terim man­ager Shildt

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY DAVID SCOTT [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Mike Shildt can look back on his time grow­ing up and liv­ing in Char­lotte and point to any num­ber of peo­ple who helped him get to where he is to­day — in­terim man­ager of the St. Louis Car­di­nals.

The list would in­clude for­mer Olympic High base­ball coach Bob Rhodes, for­mer West Char­lotte High base­ball coach Gary Weart and ath­let­ics di­rec­tor Deb­bie Jones and Char­lotte 49ers coach Loren Hibbs.

“But they’re too nu­mer­ous to men­tion every­body, re­ally,” Shildt said.

One name does stand out to Shildt, how­ever: Hall of Famer and for­mer Char­lotte O’s star Cal Rip­ken Jr.

Shildt and Rip­ken built a re­la­tion­ship in 1980, the one full sea­son Rip­ken played in Char­lotte as a mi­nor-lea­guer and one of many that Shildt spent as the team’s club­house boy and al­laround go­pher.

“Cal was great to me,” said Shildt, 49, who was pro­moted when the Car­di­nals fired Mike Ma­theny on July 14.

Rip­ken, who would later set a record of play­ing in 2,632 con­sec­u­tive ma­jor-league games over 16 sea­sons, re­mem­bers that sea­son in Char­lotte and the 11-year-old kid he hit grounders to, as well.

“It makes me smile and re­flect on such a fun time in my life,” Rip­ken said in an email. “I will be watch­ing (Shildt) and prob­a­bly root for the Cards a lit­tle more.”

Shildt grew up in Char­lotte’s Star­mount neigh­bor­hood, near South­Park Mall. His mother, Lib, was an ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant to O’s gen­eral man­ager and owner Frances Crock­ett. When Mike’s school day was fin­ished, Lib would pick him up and they’d head to Crock­ett Park, the O’s home in Dilworth be­fore it burned down in 1985.

“He was this lit­tle rug rat running around at first,” Lib Schildt said. “He was just one of the club­house boys, do­ing var­i­ous amount of things. Then they’d let him shag balls with the play­ers. Those years clinched his love for base­ball.”

Shildt was a bat­boy and also helped with the du­ties that keep a club­house running — pol­ish­ing play­ers’ shoes, pick­ing up tow­els, running er­rands.

“I wasn’t just wip­ing the shoes down,” Shildt said. “I’d use paste and re­ally buff them up.”

Shildt even­tu­ally grad­u­ated to work­ing in the press box, where he helped of­fi­cial score­keeper

Ed Wal­ton, some­times op­er­ated the score­board and made food runs for hun­gry re­porters.

The 1979 and 1980 sea­sons were espe­cially mem­o­rable for Shildt. Those were the years Rip­ken played for the O’s.

“Mike re­ally latched on to Cal,” Lib Shildt said.

The two talked base­ball end­lessly and Rip­ken of­ten hit grounders to Shildt dur­ing the O’s ’80 South­ern League cham­pi­onship sea­son (Rip­ken also played briefly for the O’s in 1979).

“My sea­son in Char­lotte was very mean­ing­ful to me and was a big year for my devel­op­ment as a ballplayer,” said Rip­ken, now CEO of Rip­ken Base­ball and founder of the Cal Rip­ken Sr. Foun­da­tion. “It was a great time and I formed many friend­ships with many peo­ple in and around the team like Mike and the other guys in the club­house. It makes me feel good that he said I had an im­pact on him all those years ago.”

Shildt soaked up his time with Rip­ken.

“Cal was the first to come in ev­ery day,” Shildt said. “We had great coaches who worked with him, but he owned what he did. He’d be se­ri­ous about bat­ting prac­tice, play the game, then be the last to leave. He’d go in with (man­ager) Jimmy Wil­liams and talk about the game af­ter­ward.”

The way Rip­ken laid the ground­work dur­ing his days in Char­lotte for his ca­reer in the big leagues con­tin­ues to res­onate with Shildt and how he deals with play­ers in what is now a big-league club­house.

“It just teaches you how im­por­tant habits and work ethic are,” Shildt said. “You de­velop that down (in the mi­nors). Every­body has abil­ity, but that’s no longer what sep­a­rates you. It’s how mo­ti­vated and con­sis­tent you are.”

‘BE­CAUSE THEY’D HAVE ME?’

Shildt con­tin­ued his du­ties with the O’s after Rip­ken left for the ma­jors. He played Lit­tle League and later for the Olympic High Tro­jans and Amer­i­can Le­gion Post 262.

Al­though he threw a cou­ple of no-hit­ters in Lit­tle League, Shildt never de­vel­oped into a star player. But he was good enough at Olympic to have hopes of play­ing in col­lege. First con­sid­er­ing Win­gate, he changed his mind when two Post 262 team­mates said they were go­ing to UNC Asheville.

Asked why he chose the Bull­dogs, Shildt an­swers with a laugh:

“Be­cause they’d have me? My mail­box wasn’t ex­actly filled up with re­cruit­ing let­ters.”

Wear­ing jer­sey No. 8 — a trib­ute to Rip­ken, who was by then a star with the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles — Shildt was a three-year let­ter win­ner as an in­fielder with the Bull­dogs. But he re­al­ized he had reached his ceil­ing as a player dur­ing a road game against Ten­nessee dur­ing his fresh­man sea­son.

“I kept hit­ting foul balls into the first-base dugout and, as a right-handed hit­ter, that’s not good,” he said. “So it got me think­ing that if I wanted to stay in the game at a higher level, it would be coach­ing, not play­ing.”

Shildt grad­u­ated with a busi­ness de­gree from UNC Asheville. He be­gan his coach­ing ca­reer as a Bull­dogs as­sis­tant for two sea­sons and spent one fall as in­terim head coach. One day, while work­ing to make ends meet in the bak­ery sec­tion of the Fresh Mar­ket in Asheville, he heard the head-coach­ing job was open at West Char­lotte High.

Shildt ap­plied and got the job, tak­ing over the day be­fore the 1994 sea­son started. He would lead the Lions to back-to-back win­ning sea­sons in 199596 and was named the Ob­server’s coach of the year in 1996.

His high school coach­ing ca­reer ended when West Char­lotte’s ad­min­is­tra­tion re­placed him with a full-time fac­ulty mem­ber to com­ply with an N.C. High School Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion rule that dis­cour­aged non-fac­ulty coaches.

“I owe a debt of grat­i­tude to Gary Weart, Deb­bie Jones and West Char­lotte,” Shildt said. “That’s where I cut my teeth in coach­ing.”

DE­VEL­OP­ING WITH 49ERS

Shildt was quickly hired by the Char­lotte 49ers’ Hibbs as an as­sis­tant, work­ing as the team’s hit­ting in­struc­tor, re­cruit­ing co­or­di­na­tor and third base coach.

“He was an even-keeled guy, not too high or too low,” Hibbs said. “That bodes well for the pro level, where it’s not ‘rahrah’ like in col­lege. So I think him coach­ing with us was a great fit for him. I was sure he could make the tran­si­tion from col­lege to the pro ranks.”

Shildt was, in fact, think­ing about what coach­ing pro­fes­sion­als might be like.

“That was col­lege base­ball at its high­est level, back when they were in Con­fer­ence USA the first time,” Shildt said. “There were guys with pro abil­ity and that helped me un­der­stand what I’d be deal­ing with at the next level.”

After two sea­sons with the 49ers, Shildt worked as an as­so­ciate scout for the MLB Scout­ing Bureau from 1999-2003. He then joined the St. Louis or­ga­ni­za­tion, where he be­gan work­ing his way up the coach­ing lad­der.

In eight sea­sons as a mi­nor-league man­ager for the Car­di­nals, Shildt won three league cham­pi­onships.

Now in his sec­ond sea­son in St. Louis, Shildt was the Cards’ bench coach when Ma­theny was fired. Shildt was named in­terim man­ager, ef­fec­tive through the end of the sea­son.

The Car­di­nals, sit­ting in fourth place in the Na­tional League Cen­tral, are 4-5 un­der Shildt en­ter­ing a week­end se­ries that be­gins Friday against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Sta­dium.

He had to fig­ure things out in a hurry. The first full se­ries he man­aged was against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, with each game be­ing na­tion­ally tele­vised by a dif­fer­ent net­work.

“Han­dling the me­dia, all that, was more stress­ful and time con­sum­ing for me than the base­ball side of it,” Shildt said.

Shildt re­cently built a house in Matthews and lives there in the off­sea­son. He also founded the On Deck Base­ball Acad­emy, which has pro­grams to de­velop young play­ers, in Pineville, and is a co-chair­man of Base­ball For Life, an area non­profit that spon­sors a men­tor­ing pro­gram.

Shildt said he’s not con­cen­trat­ing on try­ing to keep the man­ager’s job past this sea­son. John Mozeliak, Car­di­nals’ pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions, told the St. Louis Post-Dis­patch that “due dili­gence” for a search for a per­ma­nent man­ager would take place dur­ing the sea­son but the hunt would con­tinue in the off­sea­son.

“I can’t get too wrapped up too much in that,” Shildt said. “I never want this to be about me. This is a good place for us to suc­ceed. We’ll see what hap­pens. But I un­der­stand it’s a re­sults-ori­ented busi­ness.”

And a cer­tain for­mer Char­lotte O will be watch­ing. Al­though Rip­ken says he and Shildt haven’t seen much, if any, of each other in the years since they left Char­lotte, he hopes that will change now.

“That seems to be how the game is,” said Rip­ken. “Peo­ple ad­vance and move on and fall out of touch but you al­ways have that bond. I hope to see Mike again and I am sure we will go right into sto­ries from Char­lotte and have a great time and a good con­ver­sa­tion.”

GARY LANDERS AP

St. Louis Car­di­nals in­terim man­ager Mike Shildt re­cently built a house in Matthews and he lives there dur­ing the off­sea­son.

JEFF ROBERSON AP

St. Louis Car­di­nals in­terim man­ager Mike Shildt is a Char­lotte na­tive whose first base­ball job in­cluded shin­ing shoes for fu­ture Hall of Famer Cal Rip­ken Jr. with the city’s mi­nor-league club.

Char­lotte Ob­server File Photo

Cal Rip­ken Jr. taught Char­lotte’s Mike Schildt the value of a good work ethic, by his ex­am­ple.

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