'Class act' Schumaker winning respect of Padres

'Class act' Schumaker winning respect of Padres

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Make no mistake about it, the Padres signed Skip Schumaker to a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training because they thought he has something tangible to offer the team on the field in 2016.

But aside from being an accomplished pinch-hitter, from the left side to boot, and someone who can play multiple positions, the 36-year-old Schumaker is equipped with another distinct skillset that can potentially help the Padres.

"Leadership," said Padres rookie outfielder Travis Jankowski, who was 10 the year Schumaker was drafted by the Cardinals in 2001. "He cares about every one of us. He's been a true class act. He's engaging and friendly. He's been a class act. Skip's just a genuine guy when it comes down to it."

That's very heady praise for a player Jankowski has known for one month.

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If all you see when you look at Schumaker is a part-timer who has accumulated a career 1.4 WAR, then you are not digging nearly deep enough.

"He is," said Padres first-year manager Andy Green the other day, "as advertised."

Schumaker, who already this spring has started games at second base and in right field, is trying to crack the 25-man Opening Day roster in what will very well be his final season in the big leagues.

He comes to the Padres as someone who has played parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues, has World Series rings from his time with the Cardinals (2006, 2011) and has won over teammates in every clubhouse he has entered with his words and his work ethic.

He's never once taken this -- any of it -- for granted.

"I didn't think I would have one day in the big leagues. I know it's a short window, being a player," Schumaker said the other day, standing in front of his clubhouse locker. "I love the game. I know it won't be there forever."

Schumaker broke in to the big leagues with the Cardinals in 2005 and played with St. Louis for eight seasons before heading to the Dodgers (2013) and then to the Reds, where he played the last two seasons.

He's forever been a grinder, and Schumaker spent the early part of his career in a perpetual state of fighting to remain on a big league roster.

"I didn't really enjoy it as much because I was trying to stay afloat. I was trying to stay up [in the big leagues] day by day," he said. "The anxiety, up and down seven times in my career, that part was difficult.

"It's never been completely enjoyable, more trying to embrace the grind instead of trying to enjoy my time."

Postseason baseball, beginning in 2006 with the Cardinals, though he didn't play, followed by subsequent trips in '09, '11, '12 and '13 with the Dodgers essentially changed all that.

"That's when I started really enjoying it," Schumaker said. "When you start to win and get to the playoffs, there's nothing better than that."

Of the elements that rates as high as playoff experience, Schumaker said, is being able to have a presence in the clubhouse and on impressionable teammates. He was once that guy himself, a rookie with the Cardinals in 2005 when John Mabry took him under his wing. Mabry was 34, Schumaker was 25.

Mabry stressed the importance of developing your own routine. He insisted that Schumaker share a cab with him to the ballpark, picked out restaurants. Mabry provided something beyond what was required of him by his employer. That's something Schumaker has never lost sight of.

"I was lucky coming up with an organization where veterans showed players the right way," Schumaker said. "If I can be that guy for the younger kids, then you start creating that culture. If I can make an impact on [Cory Spangenberg] or [Jankowski], then I feel like I've done my job."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.