Baseball aficionado Jeff Schaefer grew up in Patchogue and was a 1979 graduate of Patchogue-Medford High School. After Schaefer attended University of Maryland, he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1981. He made his MLB debut in April of 1989 with the Chicago White Sox.
Schaefer has had a five-year MLB career as an infielder with three different teams: the White Sox, three seasons with the Seattle Mariners and a 1994 campaign with the Oakland Athletics. Presently, he resides in North Carolina and owns a baseball facility where he teaches his skills and wisdom to kids competing on the diamond. He was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Long Island Advance spoke with Schaefer about his experience growing up in Patchogue and his lifelong passion for the game.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Long Island Advance: How did you start playing ball as a kid and what got you into it?
Jeff Schaefer: Growing up on Long Island in the ‘60s, baseball was huge. Bigger than any other sport. So, you played baseball and every town had their youth organization or their youth club, [like the] North Patchogue-Medford Youth Athletic Association… All the guys around me loved the game. We played the game, not only involved in rec organizations, but in our neighborhoods, on the street, around the fields we could find. We’d pick up games constantly, and that just evolved. I've never not loved this game.
ADV: Unfortunately, sandlot and pickup games don't really happen much anymore.
J.S.: The travel showcase is big. Everything is managed form. The cool part about the way you grew up on Long Island was parents weren't always around all the time especially if you were playing a game in the street. You were the GM, the manager, the players, the umpires. You were everything. I think a lot of that developed the instincts that I had as a player definitely helped develop some of the tools. No doubt.
ADV: Were you ever involved with the Lake Ronkokoma Cardinals, the Carl Yastrzemski family team?
J.S.: No. I played for the Port Jeff A's and we went to the Connie Mack World Series and it was the first team from the east to win it in 19 years. Yeah, so, that was a big thing to do.
ADV: Do you follow Pat-Med alumni Marcus Stroman? And if so, what are your thoughts on Marcus? How do you think he's going to do this year with the Mets?
J.S.: Marcus is always going to compete. His competitiveness dominates his talent. Is he good? Yes, he is. Is he an All Star at times. Is he an All star forever? He's not a 14, 15 year All Star guy, not a Nolan Ryan, or someone like that. Is he a Hall of Famer? Don't know if I see Hall of Fame on him, I'm going to be honest. I know his dad; was a catcher a couple years behind me when we met. I still talk to Earl [Stroman] But I am a Marcus Stroman fan. No doubt about it. Want his stuff to be good. Want good things to happen to him. He's taken everything he's gotten and matched it out.
ADV: Do you think if the Mets make a run, Marcus Stroman can have ice water in his veins and really come up clutch in some big time postseason games?
J.S.: Oh geez. He loves that moment! Absolutely. I would give him the ball at any big time situation. He loves the moment, he loves the spotlight. Which is nothing wrong with that. He loves to entertain. He loves to prove people wrong. There's no doubt in my mind if I was managing the club, he's getting the rock. Go do your thing man! And people are jealous of him. He doesn't care what people think. He doesn't care what Jeff Schaefer thinks. He's just gonna prove that I'm this guy. I love it, I absolutely love it.
ADV: Discuss the difference between being a utility player in multiple positions compared to someone who knows where they will play each day.
J.S.: Being a utility player at the Major League level is one of the toughest jobs in baseball. And it's not only physical, it's mentally tough… You have to prepare yourself for short games. When I say short games, it can be a three-inning game or one-inning game, or a one-out situation in a pinch… You have no room for error. You have none.
ADV: Most memorable MLB moment?
J.S.: I'm going to say that the most memorable moment was when I got to witness the first Griffey-Griffey game. I hit a double in that game, it was amazing. The cherry on top of that, I got to watch them hit back-to-back homeruns. Pretty chilling when you're a baseball fan and you're actually watching it.
ADV: Any advice to Long Island kids that want to play ball?
J.S.: Go South, if you can. If you can get South, obviously, there's a lot more attention and more baseball being played. You’ve got to play this game a lot of times to get good… And if you love the game, do what you can do to get yourself to the next level. Don't project onto the big leagues when you're a high school player. Work and project yourself onto the highest college level... Then, once you're in that situation, be a starter for as many years as you can, just keep doing what you're supposed to be doing, show everybody that you can play this game. That's how it worked out for me.
ADV: Tell me about what you do today and the U Deserve A Chance Foundation.
J.S.: There's several things we do. CBCBaseball.net is our travel showcase organization. We start with kids from age 10, all the way up to 17… Our kids practice two to three times a week before we take the field. We network with college recruiters heavily, moving kids onto the next level.… Also, I am the regional director for USA Baseball's National Identification Series, and what we do is recruit kids and we put them into a regional event… Then U Deserve A Chance Foundation is probably the thing I'm most proud of in anything that I've done in the game. We started to raise funds that allow kids who can't afford to be involved in baseball to be involved. No kid has ever walked away from the organization saying he can't afford to play. On top of that, we've helped families move, we've helped with funeral arrangements, we've helped families to turn on their heat. [We've distributed] scholarships for kids. It's a pretty special organization.