'Shooter' living dream as Cards' BP pitcher

Former chemistry teacher Schutzenhofer preps players, fields

'Shooter' living dream as Cards' BP pitcher

JUPITER, Fla. -- It's a Monday morning in Jupiter, just 30 minutes past sunrise and still about three hours before the first wave of players will trickle out of the clubhouse and onto one of the fields at the Cardinals' spring complex.

Catchers have gathered in the batting cages for early work. Players pass through the makeshift cafeteria to find some breakfast. A few can be spotted in the workout room for an early training session.

But while the city is awaking and players are prepping for the Cardinals' Grapefruit League game in six hours, a 67-year-old retired chemistry teacher hurries around the complex to complete a list of tasks that will ensure the day's activities proceed as scripted. He's not only the organization's most resilient pitcher, but also the Cards' early-morning painter, dressing the fields with the necessary equipment and tools.

Dennis Schutzenhofer -- or "Shooter" as he's affectionately called around here -- describes the work as "living the dream." And why wouldn't it be? After spending 35 years teaching and coaching high schoolers in the Belleville (Ill.) school district, Shooter is now a full-time member of a Major League organization, one that relies upon him to get fields ready for work and players ready for games.

"I pinch myself all the time," Schutzenhofer said, smiling.

Shooter is entering his 17th year with the organization, which invited him to serve as a batting-practice pitcher in 2000 after he impressed throwing to Fernando Vina, Edgar Renteria, J.D. Drew and Placido Polanco during a tryout. Because he still had a full-time job, Shooter assisted only before summer home games.

After his retirement in 2006, Shooter was invited by manager Tony La Russa to help as a full-time batting-practice pitcher. He works all games, home and road, during the regular season, and has added responsibilities in Spring Training.

That spring work begins around 7:15 ET each morning, when Shooter wanders to the back of the Cardinals' complex with a detailed list of the day's activities. With that paper in hand, he knows exactly what equipment he'll need.

On this day, two fields need to be prepped. Each field will get one bag of hitting utensils -- which include a pine tar rag, rosin bag, ceramic sleeve, weighted donut and glue stick for grip -- and some of the 60,000 baseballs the team will use over the course of a season.

Shooter divides the baseballs into various groups. The Major Leaguers get mostly new ones -- "pearls," as he calls them -- while the tarnished ones are utilized for outfield drills and pitchers batting practice. The number of new balls needed each day depends upon the condition of those left over from the day before. Those are loaded onto the back of a golf cart, along with several empty seed buckets, which will be used to collect balls during BP. Bullpen catcher Kleininger Teran arrives as Shooter finishes gathering the equipment, and the two then ride around the complex dropping off the needed items on Fields 1 and 6. The setup process isn't completed until the two drag a ball machine onto the field for the outfielders to use later that morning.

By 8 a.m., the fields are ready, and Shooter is now needed in the batting cages where he can assist hitting coach John Mabry with players who want to take early swings. A few hours from now, he'll be back on Field 6, throwing batting practice to a group of position players.

During his on-field BP session alone, Shooter will throw about 120 pitches. He does this every day from mid-February until season's end.

"My legs and ankles hurt more than my arm," he said after the session. "I never have upper-body problems. I have a good routine where I get loose."

Shooter fills in wherever else he's needed before sneaking away mid-afternoon, usually while the game is still in progress. Though he dresses in uniform for every workout, Shooter is not permitted to be in the dugout. During the regular season, he assists with the team's instant-replay work.

It's the sort of responsibility that someone who grew up a Cards fan in the shadow of the Arch never could have imagined would be his.

"It's been a great job," Shooter said. "There are 10 million people in the world who are passionate about baseball who would trade places with me in a heartbeat."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.