Schroeder, Sullivan and Smith may sound like a law firm or a famous double-play combination, but to Baylor baseball fans it means one thing -- a Bear coaching legacy that spans almost six decades.
Dutch Schroeder, Mickey Sullivan and Steve Smith gathered in early spring for a rare baseball summit at Baylor Ballpark, opened in 1999 and voted the nation's third-best college park by college baseball coaches in a Baseball America magazine survey. Going into the 2004 season, the trio boasted an impressive record -- 1,188 wins, 800 losses -- with Sullivan's 649 victories spanning 20 years and two College World Series berths topping the list. Smith, who took the Bears to their first Big 12 baseball title in 2000, began his 10th season as the program's winningest coach by percentage at .629.
All live in the Waco area, and the two former coaches keep close tabs on the program they contributed to so significantly. "In Dutch and Mickey, we're blessed to have people who wanted to coach, had a love for Baylor and were not looking to leave," said current head coach Smith, 42, who played for Sullivan as an undergraduate. "They were willing to invest their lives and the lives of their families into this University."
Schroeder, 80, came to Baylor in 1948 as a junior transfer and a World War II veteran. That year, he played on an NCAA tournament team. He graduated in 1949, coached for seven years at an Austin high school, then returned to Baylor in 1958 as freshman coach for Lloyd Russell. Schroeder took the Bears' head job in 1962 upon Russell's retirement and held the post for 12 years, racking up a then-school-record 196 wins. Sitting in Baylor Ballpark this spring, Schroeder said of the facility, "I would have never believed we could have something like this."
Following Schroeder was Sullivan, 71, who had been a freshman football coach for Baylor. "I switched over to baseball in 1974 and came to realize I had the best job in the country," he said. "We had good kids to work with. We probably had more fun back then, and nobody really knew who we were."
Sullivan came to Baylor in 1950. During his undergraduate years, the outfielder excelled at the plate, hitting .519 as a senior in Southwest Conference games, the highest average ever recorded in the league. "Being a coach back then was the last thing on my mind," he said. "I enjoyed being at Baylor and wanted to play pro ball."
In his first three years at Baylor, Sullivan's teams played at the Dutton Street Park fields before moving on campus in 1977 to Ferrell Field. Like his predecessor, he marvels at how far the program and the facilities have come. "Back then, the parking lots were just sand and gravel," he said.
In summer 1980, Smith had just finished his freshman year at Mississippi College and wanted to transfer to Baylor. When he asked who the baseball coach was, the person in admissions transferred his call to Sullivan. "All I knew about Baylor was that it had been in the College World Series in 1977 and 1978 and was in the Southwest Conference. That was it in total," he said.
Smith pitched for Sullivan two years, leading the Southwest Conference with a 1.72 earned run average in 1982 and compiling a career 11-11 record. Even after all these years, Smith has never forgotten meeting his coach: "The very first thing he did when I pulled in the parking lot at the stadium was come out and put his arm around me. The legacy of Mickey and Dutch are passed along through the relationships with their players. I'm reminded of that relationship every day."
Smith left Baylor in 1983 after being drafted by San Francisco in the fifth round. He played for four minor league teams, reaching the AAA level in the Giants organization. He then served as an assistant in college ball for seven years at Texas A&M and Mississippi State before making his own return trip to Baylor in 1995.
It was a little unnerving his first year of coaching, he said, knowing how closely his two predecessors watched and followed the games. "Dutch used to make me nervous because he would sit up in the stands with his (physical education) baseball class and take notes on his clipboard," he said. "He had plenty of ideas for me, but is always interested in me and in the program. Mickey has been nothing but an encourager and always at the most opportune time."
Said Schroeder: "Mickey and I have talked about the excellent job Steve has done, especially the way he has really gotten good recruits. He has the pitching talent to be a year-in, year-out solid program."
In recent years, Smith has earned a reputation for grooming top BU pitchers, including 2002 National League Rookie of the Year Jason Jennings of the Colorado Rockies and starter Kip Wells of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This year, the Bears enjoyed one of their highest preseason rankings, No. 11, before struggling against a rugged nonconference schedule ranked by several sources as one of the toughest in the country.
Schroeder, Sullivan and Smith have played or coached for Baylor in a nearly unbroken stretch of 57 years. "That's given Baylor a continuity and a legacy it has not enjoyed in any other sport," Smith said. "I'm fortunate to be able to build on what Dutch and Mickey did and be a recipient of what they built."
Schroeder, as the elder statesman, has watched a lot of baseball through the years and has seen Baylor progress to become an almost annual postseason contender. "You have to be careful about coming back to coach the school you played at, but we all did and it has worked out fine," he said. "I still love Baylor very much and am glad to see what we've accomplished with this program."
Stricklin, BA '83, is a Dallas-based freelance writer.