For Schmidt, nothing minor about tonight's game

The Shadow box picture frame is mounted in the family room, the ball and the bat displayed for all to see, a testament to one man's determination, a tribute to all that glistens is not always seen. If the Petaluma house was to catch fire, there's a good chance Skip and Robin Schmidt would grab the frame before anything else, it holds that much meaning.

"Even if it ends today," said Skip Schmidt, "there's nothing that can be taken from Konrad, from us. This (display) represents the culmination of all the sacrifices he made."

And the justification for everything. The ball is their son's first hit in the big leagues. The bat is the instrument which delivered it on Oct. 1, 2010, off Dodgers' pitcher John Ely. Both were given by Konrad to his folks as a Christmas present last year. Barry Bonds doesn't look at any of his seven National League MVP trophies with any more affection than the Schmidts look at that single bat and that single ball.

It's as if that one hit is worth a thousand words, maybe a million. Let's start with tonight and work our way back. Konrad, 26, is playing in the Triple A All-Star Game tonight in Salt Lake City. Konrad, a .310 hitting catcher for the Reno Aces, is on the Diamondbacks' 40-man roster. Which means he just an eye-blink, or someone's pulled hammy, from being in The Show longer than the eight at-bats he had in 2010.

"Konrad has gone through so much to get this far," said Robin, her voice catching. One might be tempted to write off that emotion because that's what parents do. They have so much invested, they bleed pain and suffering.

It was the summer of 2006 and Skip and Konrad were in one car, Robin in another, headed north from Tucson, back to Petaluma. Konrad had just been told by Andy Lopez, the baseball coach at the University of Arizona, that Konrad was no longer Arizona's starting catcher. In fact, Schmidt no longer had a scholarship. Just a year before Schmidt was the catcher on SRJC's state championship team. A lot of four-year schools came calling but Arizona, well, it has one of the best collegiate baseball programs in the country. Schmidt couldn't refuse.

Lopez and Schmidt butted heads. They never clicked. So he was headed back to California with his folks. His dream of playing pro ball was dead, losing a baseball scholarship not being a confidence-builder or a resume-enhancer. Was Schmidt feeling low? He wasn't even feeling that good.

"But on the way back," his mother said, "we got a call from Gary Powers, the head coach at Nevada-Reno. He offered Konrad a scholarship right then and there."

A godsend? So much so that Robin has only one uniform framed in their house, the pinstripes of Nevada-Reno. Nevada-Reno restored Schmidt's confidence but didn't vault him into the limelight. The Diamondbacks signed him as an undrafted free agent on March 28, 2007. Schmidt was sent to Yakima in the Northwest League, a low Class-A team. He was the fourth-string catcher. The first-string guy was Mississippi State's Ed Easley, who had just won the Johnny Bench Award as the best catcher in college baseball who was drafted in the first round by the D-Backs.

"I thought Konrad would play a couple years of pro ball," Skip said, "and that would be it."

At the end of Yakima's short season, the three catchers in front of Schmidt were injured. So Schmidt was moved up to Class-A Visalia in 2007. He stayed in ClassA in 2008; his average started to pick up. In 2009, he hit .304 with Visalia and .438 in a brief start at Triple-A Reno. The Diamondbacks liked him enough it put him Double-A Mobile (Ala.), where he became a Southern League All-Star. They moved him to Triple-A Reno this year.

"I don't know if I could have stuck with it like Konrad has," Skip said. "I really admire him for going after his dream. We are kind of in awe of him, to tell you the truth."

"We always joke," said Robin, a court reporter, "that Konrad was living the nightmare."

That's because an undrafted free agent is not given the benefit of the doubt, or extra time to work on a flaw or, for that matter, a financial cushion of big-time bonus money. An undrafted free agent who is listed fourth of the depth chart in low A ball commonly is there for two reasons — as a practice player or injury insurance if the top guys get hurt.

Yet here Schmidt is on July 13, 2011, a Triple-A All-Star, while the highly touted Easley is in Double-A. Schmidt has a .300 batting average in his four-plus minor-league seasons, Easley .244 during the same time.

"You know, Konrad is really a football player at heart," said Skip, a retired firefighter. Along with Scott Ware, Konrad was the Empire's Co-Defensive Player of the Year as a senior linebacker at Petaluma. To clarify, dad was referring to his son's heart to compete, refusal to quit, to find an edge, to push when everything is pushing back.

Major league air is fresher and sweeter for a kid no one thought could make it. So when Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson gave Schmidt the lineup card from Schmidt's first at-bat in the big leagues last September 13 in Cincinnati, Schmidt held it like gold bullion. In his first at-bat, Schmidt was told not to swing until he was thrown a strike. He walked on four straight pitches.

"Welcome to the big leagues, kid," said Reds first baseman Joey Votto.

When Schmidt returned to his locker after the game, a bottle of champagne was in his stall.

"For another kid from the 707," said the note from Petaluma's Jonny Gomes, a Cincinnati outfielder.

So Robin and Skip Schmidt are in Salt Lake City tonight to watch their son. They didn't expect to be there, hadn't financially planned for it. They didn't complain, however. They wouldn't, Konrad might say. After all, he got his grit from somewhere, you know.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs. You can reach Staff Columnist at 521-5223 or

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