Nov. 10, 2004
An Empty Seat ...
I had planned on writing this week about how our fall practice has been going, but a phone call yesterday changed everything.
It literally changed everything.
Warren "Doc" Schneider passed away Sunday night.
When I arrived at Florida Atlantic University in the fall of 1987, the Director of Athletics introduced me to an elderly gentleman, who, I was told, sat in the dugout during games. Little did I know what a good friend I would have sitting next to me each game.
Doc liked to joke to his family that he "showed up and the new coach let me stay".
He stayed for 17 years. That brought Doc's tenure to the first 24 years in the life of FAU baseball.
Back in 1981, Florida Atlantic University began intercollegiate competition. The fledgling athletic department sponsored Golf, Tennis and Baseball. There were no athletic trainers yet, so a retired surgeon named Schneider offered his services.
Steve Traylor was the coach charged with building a college baseball team from scratch. Doc was his first trainer and a fixture in the dugout during Steve's seven years and 268 victories. Under Steve and Doc, FAU won an NAIA District championship and participated in an NCAA Division II regional tournament.
Duke University stole Steve Traylor away from FAU in 1987, which led me to Doc.
There were some rough times for me a few years into my FAU career. We weren't winning enough, I was going through a divorce, and my boss was on my back. Through it all was one constant - the friendship and support of Doc Schneider.
We would have lunch during the off season, and he was always trying to counsel and comfort me as I struggled through times less happy than of late. Doc took a personal interest in my children. He loved it when Jim and Jeff would be here on vacations. Doc always spent time with them in the dugout during games. He was especially fond of Jeff, perhaps because he was younger. Doc would often tell me what a special kid he felt Jeff was.
When my son Jim went on to pitch for us and did so well his senior season, Doc was as proud as I was. He couldn't believe the same kid that ran around chasing foul balls for Snickers bars, was now one of our top relievers.
Doc was always frustrated that, in his view, the Athletic Department seemed to place more emphasis on Basketball at the expense of Baseball. He felt the same way when Football started. He was an extremely loyal person and wanted the best for us.
At one point he made an appointment with the Director of Athletics, and argued that I was not being treated properly and that the Baseball program was getting the short end of the stick. My boss called me and informed me that I had a great supporter, but I got the feeling he didn't want to sit through another meeting like that.
Doc would sit in the same place, near the door of our dugout, and took pleasure in the fact that our players would always make a point to stop and shake his hand and say hello. On hot days he would have a wet towel ready for the starting pitcher and drape it over his head to cool him off.
One thing you dare not do was to stand in his line of vision. Doc would let you know in no uncertain terms that "you make a better door than a window." Coaches were not exempt. Just ask Coach Mac.
I lived in fear that a foul ball would one day be ripped into the dugout and hurt Doc.
One time, former pitching coach Bob Deutschman jumped aside as a screaming line drive reached the dugout. The ball hit Doc in the arm. As we rushed to his side, he was unfazed, but angry with Coach Deutschman for jumping out of the way. It was alright to block the view if you blocked the ball.
Umpires will often warn a coach that they've heard enough from the dugout about balls and strikes. Many times after such a warning, I would hear Doc's voice, "That's not high!" No ump had the nerve to eject Doc.
So now what do I do?
I know that I never spent the amount of time with my parents that I should have. Maybe that is why I have had friends like Doc and the late Edwin Nelson. Perhaps there has been some hidden, internal, displaced affection in our relationships. I don't know.
Doc Schneider was like a father to me. He was the understanding parent who was always there, win or lose. Like my Mother, he always took my side and gave me credit for more than I deserved. I guess when you are 54 years old, you tend to lose many of the people you love. I just thank God that so many people have come into my life. Doc is at the top of the list.
In an hour I will join Nina Schneider and her family as Doc is laid to rest. I can only guess how they will all cope. I know that Doc loved Nina deeply, and I will pray for her as she enters this stage of life without him.
Doc will always have a seat in our dugout and a place in my heart.
Shalom, Doc. KC