EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of our summer-long ‘Season With The Bluejays’ amateur baseball series
CROFTON, Neb. — Be patient.
Your time will come.
Pay your dues and you’ll have your day.
Those were never adages Chris Kleinschmit heard when he began his amateur baseball career with the Crofton Bluejays. It just came — he found out — with the territory on a squad that was never going to have issues fielding a full team.
He was going to have be patient.
“At times, it’s frustrating,” Kleinschmit said before last Thursday night’s home game against Scotland. “But you have to stick it out.
“You’ll eventually get your chance.”
It just took him three seasons.
Now 22, Kleinschmit has gotten his chance to see more playing time — including in a starting role for a handful of games — this summer for the Bluejays. He’s gotten an opportunity to prove himself in the field (in a number of positions) and at the plate.
His patience paid off.
“Finally,” the Wausa High School graduate said, with a smile. “Eventually it comes around.”
Patience isn’t typically a necessary quality in amateur baseball. Not every team has a roster of 15-20 players like Crofton boasts every summer, so that means in most cases, the names on the roster are all but guaranteed to play every game — or at least the ones they show up for.
When you have so many players, though, it’s understandably difficult to ensure everyone gets playing time. It’s a juggling act, according to long-time Crofton player/manager Carl Schieffer.
“We’re all adults,” he said before the Scotland game. “It’s not for me to ruin their summer. They came to play, just like everyone else.”
And yet, not everyone can.
Kleinschmit knows that first-hand.
For two summers, he didn’t see much action for the Bluejays — he would pinch run or pinch hit or play in a non-league game — and that was quite a change for him, he said.
“You get used to playing every game in high school or in legions, and then you come here and there are guys just as good, if not better, than you,” Kleinschmit said.
Beyond adjusting to that change, players in Kleinschmit’s position also have to deal with something else: How are you supposed to improve your game if you’re not playing?
To that point, Schieffer pointed from his spot in the Crofton dugout before last Thursday’s game to Kleinschmit, who was taking grounders at third base. Kleinschmit, the manager added, plays third base and also right field for most games, and he’s always willing to take extra grounders and fly balls during practice.
“How you get playing time is based on whether or not you do all those little things,” Schieffer said.
And here’s what he means: A lot of guys on an amateur baseball team play different positions (sometimes in the course of one game), so if you expect to play all over, you better get work in on that particular spot.
“That’s where it starts, and if someone really wants to do it, you can see it in the body language before a game,” Schieffer added.
From there, that pre-game work will hopefully carry over into a game. And that’s where Kleinschmit has taken the next step this season with his extended opportunities, according to Schieffer.
“When the time comes, he’s able to harness that and his confidence only grows,” the manager said.
Kleinschmit is one of a handful of young Crofton players this summer who have done their best to take advantage of their opportunities, a group that includes: Capp Bengston (primarily a pitcher), Lathan Maibaum, Colton Schieffer and Justin Mueller.
“The most fun part of this job is seeing the growth of a player,” Carl Schieffer said.
— — —
Two nights after a ninth-inning rally came up just short in an 8-7 loss to rival Wynot, the Bluejays were rather relaxed for last Thursday’s home game with Scotland.
Any lingering disappointment was not evident.
And as it turned out, the Bluejays were about to witness history.
Cousins Ben and Austin Hegge went on to pitch a combined eight-inning no-hitter against Scotland, as they helped Crofton blank the last-place Highlanders 10-0. Ben pitched the first five innings and Austin went the final three as the Bluejays won by the mercy rule.
Both Hegge pitchers down-played their achievement (it was Crofton’s first no-hitter in two years), and Ben said afterward that he most enjoyed the chance to play with family — his brother, Nick, also plays for the Bluejays.
“The coolest part is to get to play with your brother and cousin,” Ben said. “It’s fun to play with all of these guys, but it’s especially fun to be with those two.”
— — —
The question heading north to Irene for Sunday night’s game was simple for the Bluejays: Could they keep the momentum going?
They had just come off a week where they won a one-run game (Lesterville), lost a one-run game (Wynot) and won easily (Scotland). They were entering the final week of the regular season, so Crofton was officially in ‘crunch time’ mode.
And for three innings Sunday night, all was going according to plan.
The Bluejays built a 7-1 lead on Irene midway through the third inning. Everyone was contributing. Starting pitcher Scot Donner had started to settle down from a first-inning home run. Crofton was taking advantage of Irene mistakes.
From there, though, the momentum slowed down.
The hometown Cardinals slowly chipped away. They got to within 7-6 in the bottom of the seventh inning. Crofton, however, responded with a run in the eighth and took an 8-6 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Irene’s Sam Parkinson drilled a grounder to second base. It was briefly bobbled and the throw to first base was a bit off line, and two runs scored to tie the game.
Then in the bottom of the 10th, Marcus Van Driel led off with a single and Alex Loes followed with a walkoff double to send Irene to a 9-8 victory.
“We just didn’t finish,” Crofton manager Carl Schieffer said after his post-game chat with his players.
There really wasn’t much Schieffer needed to tell his team, he said; everyone realized what happened. It was a particular brief post-game conversation because the Bluejays had to turn around and travel to Wynot, Nebraska for a makeup game Monday night.
“Every time we’ve ever played up here (Irene), it’s one of those things where if you leave them in it, they’ll come back,” Schieffer said.
“You can’t leave the door open against these teams.”
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