Schmakel ready for Tigers’ seasonWritten by Dave Woolford | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The clubhouse manager for a major league baseball team is a person who is asked to sacrifice, fill the cleanup spot, pop up whenever needed, make occasional home runs, never get caught stealing and never, ever choke up.
And for all that, which is a minimal part of his job description, he gets paid a minor-league salary.
But Jim Schmakel of Perrysburg couldn’t be happier with the start of his 28th season as the Detroit Tigers’ Clubhouse manager.
”I’m going to be 55, the salary is low, there’s not a lot of retirement benefits and you just have to roll with the punches,” he said recently while loading one of two trucks headed for the Tigers’ training camp in Lakeland, Fla. ”It’s fun working with the players. ”It’s fun working in the clubhouse. The players have been so nice to me and my family that they’re just a pleasure to be around.”
Schmakel, a graduate of Central Catholic High School and UT, is in charge of clubhouse maintenance, making sure it’s clean and livable. He’s also responsible for washing towels, making sure there’s shaving and toiletries available and feeding the players, sometimes three times a day in training camp.
And guess who buys and prepares the food? If you said, ”Jim Schmakel,” you’re batting a .1000.
”The club doesn’t buy food or drinks. I buy it and the players reimburse me,” Schmakel said. ”The more you do for the players, the more chance you have to make additional money.”
Schmakel won an annual Toledo Mud Hens Bat Boy contest his freshman year at Central Catholic and worked 13 years for the Mud Hens while playing basketball at UT and then going on to teach and coach at Central Catholic and Woodmore High Schools.
”I used to run down to the concession stand to buy hot dogs and coffee when I was with the Mud Hens,” Schmakel said. ”I said, ‘this is silly,’ and I bought a coffee pot. Then I bought a grill. It exploded from there. Why have a caterer when I could make my own food? I used to cook most of the meals in the clubhouse at Tiger Stadium.
Schmakel doesn’t do much of the cooking nowadays, using different restaurants to supply the food on specific nights, and occasionally taking food to Detroit in catering boxes from Belmont Country Club and Biaggi’s in Perrysburg. There’s certain fare for specific nights, ranging from sushi to pizza. Friday, for instance, is Little Caesars night. The players can take pizza to go if there’s a big crowd and a lot of traffic.
”I’ve worked over 3,300 hours in a season, including traveling, unloading planes at 3:30 in the morning, getting condos for the guys, picking them up at the airport and getting them limos or rental cars if they want them at spring training,” Schmakel said. ”We’re maitre d’s, chefs; we wear a lot of hats. The players appreciate that.”
Former Mud Hens General Manager Charlie Senger also appreciated it when Schmakel flew with the team to Richmond, Va., and Jacksonville once a year. It was Schmakel’s job to keep the pilot from flying too high when he was on the ground.
”I’d take him out to get a sandwich and go back to the motel to watch TV with him in his room,” Schmakel said. ”It was my job to keep him sober.”
Schmakel will be working with another Perrysburg native, Jim Leyland, the new Tigers’ manager, who replaced Alan Trammell.
”I met Jim when I worked with the Hens when I was about 15. He was in our system at the time,” Schmakel said. ”If there was anyone to replace Alan, Jim is the guy I would have wished for.”
Schmakel travels back and forth to Detroit numerous times during the year. He has two vans that have logged a total of about 522,000 miles. Schmakel admits his family — wife, Pat; sons Brian and Jay (a student equipment manager for the University of Michigan football team), and daughter Katrina — has had to make sacrifices in his absence.
”My family has been a huge supporter of this whole thing and they’re big baseball fans,” Schmakel said. ”I’ve probably been away from home too much, but my family has been to All-Star games, a World Series and playoff games, so there’s a little give and take there.”
Give and take — that’s how Tigers’ Clubhouse Manager Jim Schmakel supplements his minor salary in the majors.