Bo Schultz has been with the Blue Jays only since late May, so you can’t blame his teammates for not knowing a heck of a lot about the 29-year-old reliever, aside from the fact his fastball registers in the high 90s.
There is a rumour going around, though.
“I don’t know if it’s accurate or not,” Jays catcher Dioner Navarro says, smiling, “but I heard he was discovered at a softball game or something like that.”
The joke has been circulating in the clubhouse, because Schultz actually did play beer league softball for a season, in 2006. And the thing is, if you know Bo Schultz’s story, you wouldn’t be all that surprised if the beer league softball recruiting tale were true. Because how this right-hander actually got to the big leagues sounds made up.
The quick version: He’s an outfielder-turned-journalist-turned-pitcher who thought his baseball career was over at least three times. And yet, here he is, in a pennant race.
Schultz, who’s 6-foot-3 with dark hair and a Texas accent, sits in the dugout after a pre-game warm-up. “I had no expectation of playing professional baseball,” he says, straight-faced. “I wanted to, sure—everybody who plays wants to. But it was so unreasonable, it wasn’t even worth thinking about.”
He went to Northwestern University in Illinois not to play baseball, but because it’s home to the Medill School of Journalism, one of the best in the nation. He wanted to be a baseball writer.
“Either like Tom Verducci, working the baseball beat for Sports Illustrated, or Rick Reilly, because there’s nothing sexier in the journalism world than having the back page column, you know what I mean?” Schultz says, grinning. “That’s what I wanted to do.”
Schultz was a good outfielder growing up, but he figured baseball was done once he got to college. In his freshman season he tried out as a walk-on, but the roster was trimmed and he was left off. So he pretty much quit; he played beer league softball that summer.
But the coaches at Northwestern took notice of his cannon of an arm. And when he was in his junior year, working an internship for Outdoor Life magazine (“a lot of gopher work, but valuable experience,” he says), he got a call. There was an opening on the team—at pitcher. “Do you think you could still throw hard, and pitch?” they asked. “I said, ‘Sure,’” Schultz says, shrugging.
Schultz spent the next two seasons on the mound, which was entirely new. He’d pitched a couple times in little league, but never had he been a team’s pitcher. At 21 he was for the first time. “I just tried to figure it out,” Schultz says, laughing. “It was a poor transition. I threw the ball moderately hard but with very poor command and very average-to-poor results. If you put me on a mound, I wasn’t able to use the slope. I would just kinda fall.”
But Schultz improved, and his 90-something velocity piqued interest. Over the next couple years, all this happened: He went undrafted but the Oakland A’s took a chance on him, he became a submarine pitcher, he was released by the A’s, he played independent baseball, he applied for business schools because he figured his career in the game was over (again), and then came a call from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In Arizona’s system, his velocity picked up. “That was probably the result of learning finally how to pitch from a mound,” he says.
The Jays claimed Schultz off waivers in October of last year, and he made his debut with the club in June. He’s since pitched in 41.2 innings and his ERA is 3.46. Schultz has only made three appearances in September, and he isn’t expected to be on the 25-man playoff roster, should Toronto make it to the post-season. Right now he’s soaking in being a part of this pennant race.
“Jogging onto the field, you’re playing against the best in the entire world, you know? It’s humbling to be a part of this,” he says. “It’s been a unique path here. Baseball has ended three or four times for me, and it’s been an almost conclusive end. And then something’s popped up and the opportunity hasn’t quite closed.”
Were he a baseball writer, Schultz admits he’d find his own story worth writing about. “I guess I’d want to interview myself,” he says.
Navarro is relayed a few details about Schultz’s story: About the journalism school, about the fact he was an outfielder until recently. He’s told Schultz only started pitching in 2007.
“Wow,” Navarro says, eyes wide, shaking his head. “Is that true? That’s incredible. He’s come a long way.”