CHARLOTTE, NC – Life is fascinating. Each day brings twists and turns that even the most creative authors in the world cannot conjure up in their ever fertile minds. Case in point. The Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs which are in the midst of taking over the championship sports calendar as they do each year during the month of October. This year, one of the four contenders for the National League Pennant is the St Louis Cardinals team, led by sophomore Cardinal manager, Mike Shildt.
In their own way, the Cardinals are akin to the National League version of the New York Yankees. Not that they have won the World Series as often as New York’s pin-stripers, no team has done that. But nearly every year when the baseball playoffs roll around, you can usually count on St Louis to be in the hunt.
Secret origins of Cardinal manager Mike Schildt
Mike Shildt was born in Charlotte, NC in 1968. Unlike St Louis, Charlotte is not what you would call a “baseball hotbed.” The city owes most of its early team sports allegiance to Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) basketball. That’s due in part to its key location on what is known as the South’s “Tobacco Road.” And, to a lesser degree, through its association with college football.
With the recent emergence of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA and the national dominance of the nearby Clemson Tigers football program, it’s easy to see why baseball holds a distant following in the minds and hearts of regional sports fans.
Which quite naturally raises a key question. Namely, just how did Mike Shildt from Charlotte, NC, become manager of one of the perennial powerhouses in Major League Baseball?
Shildt played high school baseball at Olympic when it was one of the newer high schools in a city that was undergoing growth surges beyond anyone’s expectations.
College baseball days. Only OK.
Shildt’s collegiate baseball days were spent playing for the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNC-A) Bulldogs, where curve balls became his nemesis, ending any hopes of a professional career.
Like so many other players who became great big league managers however, Shildt’s love and devotion to the sport spurred him to study all the nuances and subtleties of the game for no other reason than to compensate for his lesser skills by being smarter than his competition. After all, for all of the negativity surrounding the pace of baseball, this is one major team sport where outsmarting an opponent is every bit as conducive to winning as is purely raw talent.
Mike Shildt become Coach Shildt
Shildt began his career when became head baseball coach at West Charlotte High School. The school was better known at the time as a statewide football powerhouse in the early ’90s. But under Shildt, his Lions had their first winning baseball season in 20 years. He also coached American Legion baseball. Then, he took a position as assistant coach for the Charlotte 49ers college baseball program for five years. During the off-season, Shildt owned a baseball training facility in North Carolina, becoming a full-time baseball instructor for area youths.
It wasn’t long before Shildt’s talent for instructing caught the eye of professional baseball executives. They soon hired him as an associate scout. Combining his skills as a keen evaluator of talent with the environment of having the top baseball players in town utilize his training facility, Shildt was quickly recognized as an asset for a Major League baseball organization’s minor league operations.
Kicked upstairs to Class A manager
Working as the area scout for the St Louis Cardinals in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, Mike Shildt began his minor league managerial career on a recommendation from future Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. As a part-time coach, the Cardinals sent Shildt to the Cardinals’ Single-A affiliate in the New York–Penn League during the 2004 and 2005 seasons. He became a full-time manager in 2006 and continued with the Cardinals’ NY-Penn Class A affiliate until the end of the 2007 season.
In 2008, Shildt coordinated the Cardinals’ minor league spring training camp before becoming hitting coach for the Johnson City Cardinals during the 2008 season. Not a bad gig for a guy who couldn’t hit a curve ball.
Unsurprisingly, Shildt was named St Louis Cardinals Minor League Manager of the Year by Scout.com as well the Appalachian League Manager of the Year in 2009.
Perhaps no award that Mike Shildt received during his meteoric rise in the Cardinals organization was more revered, however, than the George Kissell Award for his “excellence in player development.” Kissell was one of the most beloved and respected front office executives in St Louis Cardinals history.
Mike Shildt gets surprise call to manage the St Louis Cardinals
Part of the way through the 2017 season, Shildt became the full-time Cardinals third base coach before his promotion as the team’s bench coach in 2018.
When the Cardinals fired manager Mike Matheny on July 14, 2018, the team made Shildt their interim manager. In the process, he became only the eighth man since 1900 to manage a Major League Baseball team despite not having ever played professional baseball at any level.
Following last season, the Cardinals awarded Mike Shildt a three year contract to manage the Cardinals for his efforts. That promotion soon paid off for the team. He currently leads the Cardinals as they battle against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Divisional Series (NLDS).
Now a contender for the 2019 National League Pennant
Shildt won his 100th game as Cardinals manager with a 6–2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 9, 2019, his 51st birthday. Following a 3–2 win over the Chicago Cubs on September 22, 2019, the Cardinals clinched a playoff berth for the first time in Shildt’s career as manager, and the first for the team since 2015.
A personal connection
But here’s the rest of the story. Three years before Mike Shildt was born, I, too, was proudly wearing a Cardinals uniform and taking lessons to improve my bunting skills.
My instructor was none other than George Kissell himself.
Two decades later, my son Andrew played shortstop for Mike Shildt at West Charlotte High when the drought of losing seasons ended.
You see the baseball fraternity is small, but it truly is a “band of brothers.” And life indeed remains fascinating.
—Headline image: Mike Schildt, Manager of the St Louis Cardinals, 2019 National League Central champs after clinching the victory. Screen grab via YouTube video source.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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