If diligence and concentration form the ingredients of success, then Hans Schundler of Jersey City has no worries, in baseball or in life. The 11 year-old fifth grader of Hoboken’s Mustard Seed School already has accumulated experiences, accolades, and perspective that most of us do not achieve in a lifetime.
He knows, for example, that a baseball team’s performance on defense depends largely on having talented players up the middle – i.e., catcher, pitcher, middle infield, and center field – all positions that he plays, incidentally. He models himself after successful major leaguers, and he knows that “It doesn’t matter how much you practice, if you don’t practice the right way.” Heady stuff, no doubt, from an 11 year-old; although not all that surprising. He started playing T-Ball at age 5.
Hans touts baseball as his “absolutely favorite sport,” itself a fairly remarkable fact, inasmuch as he “didn’t really get that from anyone in the family.” After he played T-ball at the tender age of five, he found that he had a natural liking for the game. He played in the minors of the Roberto Clemente Little League and discovered at age eight that he “started to hit balls pretty well.” In fact, during a playoff game he hit one of them well enough to be a home run, helping his team to win a game that they were not supposed to win in a series that they “were supposed to lose.”
Over the years Hans has become a skilled player whose successful performance on the field usually indicates how well his team performs as a whole. To be sure, his individual performances rank as nothing less than stellar. He plays all of those up-the-middle positions well enough to be a starter at any of them, he hits regularly for phenomenally high averages, and he maintains a healthy perspective on game outcomes that rivals that of a seasoned professional.
He ought to know, too, because he’s “read a lot of bios about ball players,” all of whom “work hard, on and off the field.” His favorite ball player? Being a true-blue New York Yankees fan, he promptly announces Derek Jeter, of course. Watching major leaguers, he says, with the studied assurance of a college professor, enables you to “see many good things done the right way.” And, he adds for emphasis, just in case you have not been listening, “bad habits are worse than no habits at all.”
He credits his ability, his good habits, and his success to a strong work ethic that includes practice, study, and competent training. The last part of that equation derives from the influence of Head Coach Matt Smith, who happens to pitch for the Newark Bears. Coach Matt’s favorite word is “execute,” according to young Hans. It’s a philosophy that Hans has adopted for his own, as much for the training inspired by Coach Matt as for the lessons he learns from reading those bios. “You can’t execute if you don’t focus, and you can’t stay focused unless you execute,” he says flatly.
“Coach puts us through a lot of practice situations, hit-and-run on offense, bunting to move the runner, defending the 1st and 3rd situation.” It’s all designed, naturally, to train young players like Hans to keep their heads in the game, to stay focused on executing properly, to doing “many good things the right way.”
Of the eight teams in his Little League, the strongest competition comes from, as the Gods of Baseball would have it, the Yankees. Perhaps his team’s proudest moment came in 2007 when, after a rocky start to the season, he and his teammates started to “hit better, won a lot of games (and) beat the Yankees to win the championship.” Although those Little League Yankees were “the perennial champs, Coach said all along that our team would win it all. And we did. He called the shot.”
While Hans’ .377 batting average that year figured into a huge part of the offense, his team won largely on the strength of “team play over individual stats.” In fact, he’d “rather have an o-fer than have good hitting and the team lose.” That team-first attitude will take him far, especially since he has a goal to play at the collegiate level and beyond, “as far as I can go.”
With his work ethic, ability to stay focused, and innate skill level, NJB Magazine is confident that Hans can call his own shot. Time, of course, will tell, but if hard work and focus comprise a sure thing, we would not bet against it.