Going into his 57th season of coaching baseball in Racine, Jack Schiestle continues to be inspired after all these years. And this has nothing to do with pursuing championships.
It has everything to do with making an impression on kids.
One example is center fielder KJ Banse, who is one of Schiestle’s all-time favorite players. There was a time when Banse was just the opposite of that.
“He used to be very difficult to coach,” said Schiestle, who turns 76 on June 9. “And he knows that. But he has just grown up into a really neat young man. He helps me so much — much more than people realize.
“He’s in pharmacy school, just to give you an idea how bright he is.”
Those are the type of players Schiestle is looking for as his team prepares to open its season Sunday with a noon Land O’ Lakes League game against the Genesee Rebels at Horlick Field. And he’s confident he has a large assortment of them, including several former Racine County players. Many are projects, but that’s fine with Schiestle.
The more established players include Banse (.320, one home run, 12 RBIs), infielder Sam Beers (.451, five doubles, 11 RBIs) and infielder-outfielder Jason Walczak-Zelem (.338). Beyond those three, Schiestle hopes there’s some players who emerge and give the Kiwanis some badly needed offense after going 16-12 last season.
“We had two home runs and 34 doubles, so you can see we don’t carry a lot of power,” Schiestle said. “We didn’t have many stolen bases, either.
“It’s just a basic team. We just play hard and we were lucky enough last year where we started out 1-4 and we ended up playing in the (Land O’ Lakes League) semifinals against Burlington. Burlington knocked our socks off, but we fought our way back.”
Familiar names on the Kiwanis include catcher Alec Spang (Union Grove), infielder-outfielder Kyle Semrad (Horlick), outfielder Bradley Hansen (Union Grove), third baseman-pitcher Chris Collins (Waterford), Alex Sadowski (Park) and infielder Matt Friesema (Case).
Spang suffered a broken hand while playing for Bryant & Stratton College and is still recovering.
Schiestle has also brought in players from outside the county. They include outfielder Adam Cairo (Kenosha Indian Trail), pitcher Andrew Freiburg (Kenosha Tremper), catcher Kyle Sagan (Oak Creek), infielder Ben Randow (South Milwaukee), pitcher Ben Sranske (Milwaukee Saint Thomas More) and pitcher-infielder Charlie Brockman (Milwaukee Marquette).
“Charlie is going to be the real thing,” Schiestle said. “He’s going to be maybe one of the best ballplayers I’ve ever had.”
Filling out the roster are pitchers Nick Alfini (3-4, 3.11 ERA), Collin Stanley (4-1, 3.60), Vinny Rotunno and Mike Tuttle, and catchers Josh Fields and Hunter Fredrick.
A lot of these players were developed in Schiestle’s baseball camp.
“It starts in November,” he said. “We run a 16-week baseball program. These kids come in for 16 straight Saturdays and we finish a week before baseball starts.
“By the time we’re done, they’re pretty good. The proof is in the pudding.”
As has been the case for more than a half century, Schiestle can’t wait to get started, even though he has an assortment of heath issues.
“I love it and my kids take care of me,” he said.
- Following their season opener Sunday, the Kiwanis travel to Simmons Field Thursday for a 7 p.m. game against the Kenosha Kings. They return to Horlick Field Wednesday, June 5 for a game against the Barons.
All are Land O’ Lakes League matchups. There is no admission charge to any games.