Duke von Schamann carrying on family name in pro sports
RubberDucks right-hander impressing in first season with the Tribe
On a late September afternoon in Columbus, Ohio in 1977, the second-ranked Oklahoma Sooners saw a 17-point lead vanish at the hands of Woody Hayes's third-ranked Buckeyes over the course of the second and third quarters of a nail-biting college football matchup at The Horseshoe.
With Ohio State up 28-20 entering the fourth quarter, it appeared to be over for the Sooners, particularly after a potential game-tying two-point conversion failed after a late touchdown. However, Oklahoma managed to recover an onside kick and drive to within field goal range in the final seconds of the contest.
The fate of the game would rest on the leg of Sooners placekicker Uwe von Schamann, a native of Berlin, Germany already making a name for himself in Oklahoma and was about to seal his name permanently in Sooner lore. With the Buckeye crowd chanting "Block that kick!", von Schamann jokingly gestured as an orchestra conductor as if he were leading the crowd in the chant. With three seconds left in regulation play, von Schamann calmly split the uprights from 41 yards away to send the Sooners to victory.
"You could say there’s a lot of pressure in something like that," said von Schamann's son, Duke, a starting pitching prospect for the Indians, "So maybe keeping calm under pressure, I seem to do pretty well with that, so that’s something he’s taught me."
Hoping to follow in his father's footsteps to a successful professional sports career, Duke von Schamann aims to prove himself to his new parent club in Cleveland after being acquired in an early season trade that sent left-hander Colt Hynes to the Dodgers. So far in 21 games for the AA Akron RubberDucks, the right-hander has gone 7-6 with a 3.76 ERA.
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Duke von Schamann played high school ball at Edmond Santa Fe High School and then collegiately down at Texas Tech University, which is also the alma mater of current Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin and, ironically, the very player von Schamann was traded for, Colt Hynes.
“Pretty much my entire family has gone to OU, so I was kind of the outcast when I decided to go to Texas Tech," von Schamann explained, "But they actually offered me to play position player and pitcher and my offer to go to Oklahoma was only for a pitcher."
The right-hander's collegiate career got off to a rough start, however, as he would require Tommy John surgery during his freshman year in 2010.
"It was a rough deal having to miss an entire year of playing, especially my first year in college," von Schamann admitted, "I wanted to play so bad, but it taught me to love the game. Out there watching my teammates play while I’m up in the stands, it really made you miss getting out there every day. I’m glad I got it done. My elbow feels great now. No problems. I just think it gave me spirit for the game again because sitting out for a year wasn’t fun.”
In 2012, von Schamann was selected in the 15th round of the draft by the Dodgers. During his first two seasons of pro ball, the right-hander moved up quickly through the Dodgers organization making it all the way to AA in just his first year. Overall, he posted a 17-11 record with a 3.84 ERA between 2012 and 2013. His exceptional strikeout-to-walk ratio stood out as he fanned a total of 144 batters in that span compared to only 52 walks in 206 innings of work.
Left-hander Colt Hynes was purchased by the Indians from San Diego during last offseason. After failing to make the opening day roster out of spring training, he was designated for assignment. Only a few days into the regular season, the Tribe reached an agreement with the Dodgers to ship off Hynes back to the West Coast in exchange for the young right-hander von Schamann, who was assigned to AA Akron.
“My experience has been very good," said von Schamann on being traded to the Indians, "I’m very happy and very comfortable. When I first got over here, everyone was very welcoming and everything like that. All the players on the team are very cool and we’ve become great friends.”
The 23-year-old did not start out in the rotation in Akron, though. However, he did follow the same procedures as a starter even though he was pitching out of the bullpen. In four outings before moving to the rotation, von Schamann pitched 16 innings while allowing only three runs (1.69 ERA) and striking out 15 against only one walk.
"I just basically had to wait my turn," von Schamann explained, "I knew that I was going to be a starter eventually and I just wanted to go out there and help the team win as much as I can, throw a lot of strikes and prove to them that I can get that starting spot. People got moved up, moved down, stuff happened and luckily I got a day to start and I’ve never turned back since then.”
It was after journeyman right-hander Kyle Davies moved up to AAA that a permanent spot opened up for von Schamann in the RubberDucks rotation. In his first official start of the season for Akron, the right-hander pitched six innings against the Altoona Curve allowing only one uneaned run to give him his first win with his new organization.
Over the course of the next two months, von Schamann was up and down in more ways than one. In addition to the mixed results the right-hander was getting on the mound, he also had a couple opportunities to make spot-starts in AAA Columbus. In two outings for the Clippers, von Schamann is 1-0 with a 6.52 ERA.
“It was an awesome experience getting to go up there," said von Schamann, "I got a win up there. It was tough, though. The hitters are a lot older and mature. Pretty much all the guys have had big league time, somewhat. It was tough, but I think I’m ready for that."
Akon pitching coach Jeff Harris concurs on the value of early experience at the next level.
“Anytime guys can go up there and experience the next level and then come back and pitch here, it gives them a little more confidence in just knowing what the level is like up there," Harris explained, "He’s done a good job of not worrying about who’s moving where and just focusing on the task at hand."
For about a month between the middle of June and the middle of July, von Schamann had a span of five starts where he struggled going 0-4 with an 8.06 ERA with the biggest red flag being a 7-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in that span as his command declined drastically.
“I think it was a mechanical issue," von Schamann admitted, "Through my rough stretch there of about three weeks to a month, I was walking a lot of people and that’s not really my game. I've always been a guy who can go out there every day and pound the strike zone."
Jeff Harris and the RubberDucks coaches worked with the right-hander during his rough stretch in order for him to rediscover the command and strike-throwing ability that made him successful in the past and earlier in the season.
“I just think his delivery got a little out of whack and his arm was dragging behind a little bit," Harris explained, "But we sharpened some stuff up and cleaned up his delivery a little bit and the life in his arm came back. He figured out how to get the ball to the glove-side of the plate and keep it there."
With the RubberDucks entrenched in a heated division race which is now coming down the final stretch, they need consistent pitching from their top starters in von Schamann, Joe Colon and Will Roberts. While Akron is likely to secure a playoff berth either way, they are well within striking distance of first-place Richmond for the division title, which would earn them home field avantage for the first round of the playoffs.
The Oklahoma native has certainly done his part lately as he now has six straight starts of seven innings or more and five straight quality starts. In that latter five-start span, von Schamann is 4-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 35.2 innings of work. More importantly, the right-hander has only issued one walk and has fanned 19 in those outings. Even better, opposing hitters are only batting .181 against him since July 13th.
According to Harris, the improvement of von Schamann's breaking pitches has led to his recent success and increase in swings and misses by opposing batters.
"He's made a lot of improvements with his curveball and his slider," explained Harris, "He’s tightened them up a little bit. He’s got a good changeup, too. He’s a young pitcher who’s still learning how to use his stuff, but he’s been doing a good job when he gets ahead of putting guys away."
The right-hander admitted the adjustments he's made have helped him find his groove again on the mound, which has gotten him back on track as of late.
"Lately I’ve felt more comfortable," said von Schamann, "I’m not walking anybody, I’m getting ahead of batters and it’s helped me out a lot.”
Uwe von Schamann went on from Oklahoma to play six years in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins as a placekicker. So how far away is his son from beginning his own major league career?
"The guy competes," said Jeff Harris, "He throws strikes and he knows how to pitch. Those guys, if they get a chance, hopefully they can continue to develop and put themselves in a good position to have that opportunity one day."
Right now, von Schamann has age on his side having just turned 23 two months ago and is already pitching at the AA level with even some experience in AAA. But the inspiration of his father's success as a professional athlete continues to motivate the right-hander each day.
“It’s awesome that my dad played in the NFL and it’s just cool to be able to carry on our name," said von Schamann, "I’m hoping to carry on our name into professional sports as well."
As far as pitching in Cleveland, von Schamann hopes to take the hill at Progressive Field at some point in the near future, but remains realistic.
"That’s my dream to play for the Indians," the right-hander explained, "Whenever it happens, it happens, but I’m going to keep striving towards that goal until I get there."
The Indians have had a very good track record in finding under-the-radar talent and developing it into productive assets for their team. Take a look at some of the recent trades that have panned out: Jake Westbrook for Corey Kluber, Esmil Rogers for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes, even Michael Brantley as the player-to-be-named-later in the CC Sabathia trade... Could Duke von Schamann be the next in that line of talent?
Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.
Hard to believe we got a legitimate starting pitcher prospect for a guy we purchased and released in spring training. I wonder why the Dodgers gave up on him. I assume they have a lot of good prospects ahead of him. They always seem to have pitching.