Pemberville Legion field named for ‘Chopper’ Schmeltz

On Saturday, Pemberville American Legion Post 183 named their baseball field for longtime coach Donald “Chopper” Schmeltz Sr.

Schmeltz, at age 72, passed away on Feb. 19 of this year. He had been the Pemberville Legion baseball coach for 44 years, sending multiple teams to the state tournament. As a player for the Pemberville Legion, he teamed with future Major League manager Jim Leyland of Perrysburg. 

Schmeltz first started coaching Pemberville in 1983. He is also known for his years playing on the famous four man softball team, Mr. Softball. Mr. Softball was a traveling team taking on any opponent that dared, mostly for fund raising events.

For five decades every summer, Pemberville Legion baseball was a village tradition, competing across the state and nation. During one span in the 1990s, Pemberville won 468 games and lost only 169.They sported incredible records against mostly legion competition, from a 58-7 season in 1992 to 39-21 in 1991, their worst season the entire decade.


Best in the area

Schmeltz and his staff said their baseball players are typically among the best the area has to offer. 

“I have coached a lot of kids whose parents I had coached before. It’s pretty easy for me because the players want to come here and play. It’s a lot easier because it’s (the players) are better now, and the coaches are getting younger,” Schmeltz told The Press.

“The kids from Eastwood and Gibsonburg and Woodmore and Genoa, I don’t have to sit around trying to hit the ball and pitch it to them. I can explain it to them and it’s pretty easy (for them to understand). It didn’t used to be that way. I’m pretty sure that they can play before I get them. I watch (high school) games during the year.”

One of the team’s first big years was 1996 when the team was state runner-up. The team included Andy Clough from Genoa, Aaron Lawniczak, Corey Loomis, Jeremiah Drake, Jeff Opfer, and Allan Witker from Eastwood, Kurt Smith from Northwood, and Garry Isbell from Lake.

Finishing the season 43-23, they made it to the final round undefeated and only had to win one of two games against a team from Cincinnati. They lost the first game 3-1, and then lost the second, 6-2. Pemberville was a team that had batted .290 all season but only had four hits in the finals.

Pemberville twice advanced to the National Amateur Baseball Federation tournament in Marietta, Georgia, finishing fourth in 1995 and 1999. In 1997, Pemberville won the first annual Black Swamp Classic in Bowling Green against national competition.

Other local players who went on to play college baseball include two Northwood stars, Matt Kalmbach and Scott Judy, who played at Youngstown State and Ball State, respectively. Jeff Benevitas, Genoa, played at Tiffin University.

Gary Nissen, also a Genoa graduate and current head coach of the Comet baseball team, played for Post 183 with Genoa graduate, Eric Wolfe.  Both played at Malone College.

“I’ve had a lot of good ballplayers,” Chopper, Sr., succinctly told The Press once.


More recent success

In more recent years, helping him was former Northwood coach Dave Russell and Guy Elston, a Stony Ridge resident who pitched in the minor leagues (Columbus Clippers) with the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians. Under their guidance, there were more trips to the state tournament.

Former Pemberville Legion player Brent Hayward, from Gibsonburg, spoke highly of the team’s coaches during his playing days.

“They were amazing. They work with you individually and help the kids with their hitting,” Hayward told The Press.

A couple years back Schmeltz’ pitching staff was led by Tyler Haas (Eastwood) and Scott Mackiewicz (Lake), who both went on to play NCAA Division I baseball. Haas, a three-sport standout at Eastwood is continuing his baseball career collegiately at Bowling Green State University. He spent four summers playing for Schmeltz.

“’Chop’ gets us elite players and puts together a lineup everyday that puts us in a position to win,” Haas said. 

Mackiewicz also credited the Pemberville coaching staff for helping his game.

“Coach Chopper has been around for many years and knows all aspects of the game,” Mackiewicz said.

One of the interesting aspects of Legion baseball is that the players get the opportunity to compete against each other while playing for their schools but then become teammates while playing summer ball.

“A lot of them are guys that I hate playing against (during the school year), but you want to play with them during Legion ball,” Haas said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Mackiewicz adds, “It’s really fun to actually play with some of the people I’ve faced in high school because you can get to know them and it creates a bond.”

Schmeltz told The Press that going up against elite competition is the best way to improve one’s skills. It’s like AAU competition, but only for baseball players.

“These guys can all learn a lot in the summer,” Schmeltz said. “You’re getting all the kids that are No. 1 pitchers and you’re playing against good competition.”

Playing Legion ball is also a great way to get exposure for players wanting to earn a scholarship for college.

“We have college scouts and pro scouts at nearly all of our games,” Schmeltz said. “I have certain ones who, when I know they’re going to be there, I’ll have someone pitch so they can see him.”

Russell, who had an impressive run as the head coach at Northwood that included a trip to the Division IV regional finals, says Legion provides other advantages.

“It’s a tremendous benefit for these players to play against some of the top talent in Northwest Ohio as well as in the state night in and night out. For the young guys, it makes the high school season that much easier and they can excel and attract the eyes of colleges,” he said. 

“The older guys who are committed already can continue to hone their skills against top talent. For the older guys that aren’t committed (to college yet), there are college and professional scouts in attendance at just about every game. Add ‘Chop’ and his 40-plus years of coaching to that and he is known all over the state with college coaches. If a player is interested in going to a particular school, odds are Chop knows the coach and will have him there at a game. That’s a huge benefit.

“Chop has helped hundreds of players get into college and that speaks volumes. It’s about getting kids into school to further their education and play a little baseball while doing it. Scholarship money from baseball helps tremendously as well.”

(— includes copy from Press file stories written by Sports Editor J. Patrick Eaken and contributing writer Yaneek Smith. The Press acknowledges that there were years not included in this story and there are many more from the list of former collegiate and even professional baseball players who played for Schmeltz, plus teams that qualified for state).



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