The Pride of Hillboro
The fourth child of James and Katherine Perry Schmidt - Daniel Webster Schmidt - was born May 22, 1893 at the family homestead on River Road in Hillsboro Massachusetts.
Having immigrated to the United States from England in 1879, Dan's mother was a newcomer to the country but the Schmidt family had been in New England for generations, the family roots buried in the rolling hills along the Rhode Island and Connecticut state borders.
James and Katherine were married in 1881 and soon thereafter settled in Hillsboro, just east of Greenville. James was a teamster for the Hillsboro Tool Company founded after the Civil War and becoming renowned for producing top-quality hand tools that sold country wide. James drove a company delivery wagon for most of his working life. By the 1890s he was a union leader, one of the most recognizable figures in town.
James and Katherine had seven children: Irene, Walter, Barry, Chester, Clifford, Dan, and Albert, but only four of the seven survived into adulthood. Barry was stillborn, Chester died at nine months from pneumonia, and Babe Albert was tragically killed falling from a wagon at the age of two.
The surviving children attended the Hillsboro Grammar School where they studied reading, arithmetic, drawing, history, geography, and science. In junior high, they also took non-academic subjects such as sewing and seat-caning and before Dan left the school in to enter Hillsboro High School in another building, his final assignment was to sand and refinish his school desk.
Each Sunday Katherine led her children to the downtown First Congregational Church. Sometimes they went on foot, but more often they were brought to services by horse-drawn wagon or sleigh with James perched high up in the driver's seat. Katherine was a strict Congregationalist and she ruled her household with an iron will, tolerating no nonsense from her six-footer sons in spite of her small size (barely 5-feet-2).
The Sabbath was rigidly reserved for church, Bible reading in the kitchen, and a frugal meal. Katherine forbade most activities except for the one Katherine had a soft spot in her heart for: baseball. Her two youngest surviving boys - Cliff and Dan - both knew their mother had a weakness for baseball. The Schmidt boys were strapping boys and gifted athletes graced with speed, agility, and a natural-born passion for the national game.
So each Sunday afternoon, beginning in early April and not ending until the snow flew, out from behind the barn, the peace and quiet of the Lord's Day was punctured by the periodic "pop, pop, pop" of a baseball smacking into a catcher's mitt as young Dan fired one fastball after another to Cliff, crouched over a plate 60 feet away.
The Schmidt boys played neighborhood ball at the makeshift field just up the street from home. There were plenty of local boys to field enough players for quality pickup games and, as it turned out, one girl – Sarah Elias – who was pretty good too. Of course, initially Sarah was laughed away by the boys who weren't about to let a girl play alongside them, but it was Dan Schmidt who recognized the girl's speed, eye coordination, skill, talent and athleticism – not to mention her beauty – and he's the one who gave Sarah a shot to play one afternoon when the boys were short a guy to make even teams.
It turned out that pigtailed Sarah with her golden brown hair was just as good as half the boys on the field that day and from then on whenever Dan and Cliff played in neighborhood games, Sarah was on their team too, usually at second base. She was the best bunter in Blue County and her speed allowed her to beat out most of her groundings which made her the perfect leadoff hitter. She didn't have a pistol arm but she was agile enough to make most routine defensive plays.
Sarah wasn't always wanted by the others but because she was accepted by The Schmidt Brothers nobody argued when she played too. Dan was a shy boy despite his talent so getting the beautiful Sarah to play with him was his safe way of having her near him. She was the prettiest girl he had ever set his eyes on.
The Schmidt Brothers eventually graduated to the Hillsboro town diamond and because they always made the starting lineup with Cliff providing young Dan a steady hand behind the plate, Sarah Elias continued to play and the eldest Schmidt brother (Walt) served as the club manager.
Cliff and Dan soon joined the Hillsboro High School team which was among the best in Blue County. The boys reluctantly had to play without Sarah now, of course, but she continued playing with them in local pickup games and in weekend competitions. Sarah also became involved in drama at the high school as well as theatrical productions at area churches and halls.
But it was baseball that remained the main attraction in Hillsboro.
"Any batter who tries to bunt against Hillsboro High is an automatic out," Dan boasted to Sarah. "It's almost impossible to squeeze a bunt past us."
Dan's curveball had a perplexing dip, and, every so often he'd mix in a spitter or other trick pitch for good measure although it was his blazing fastball that mesmerized his growing trail of strikeout victims.
"He's wild as a hawk," a Greenville News and Dispatch sportswriter wrote of the young Schmidt at the time. "He can blind the batters with his fast one but he has difficulty finding the plate."
By the age of 16, Dan was the undisputed ace of the Hillsboro High nine, regularly striking out fifteen or more batters in an afternoon. Under the watchful eyes of Coach Frank Riggins, the Hillsboro Hurricanes High School Baseball Club squared off against foes from all across Western Massachusetts. Baseball was big business in Blue County and when Hillsboro's Dan Schmidt took the mound, shopkeepers closed their doors and joined the thousands of baseball fans who turned out to cheer their team on.
"You have tremendous crowds each time you play in Hillsboro because everybody's coming to see you," Sarah told Dan.
"They're coming to see all of us," the humbled Dan replied.
"The permanent grandstands are only filled with people who took special trolley excursions from Greenville and Riverside when you pitch," Sarah insisted.
For Hillsboro there were no greater a rival than the bigger Greenville High in the adjacent town across the Blue River. Conversely, there wasn't a schoolboy baseball fan in Greenville who hadn't heard of Dan Schmidt. The competition between the two communities was extremely intense and in a move that later would have easily disqualified any school from competitive sports, a representative of the Greenville High School Athletic Association, Kenneth T. Murphy, went so far as to extend Dan a personal invitation to leave the Hillsboro Hurricanes and pitch for Greenville.
"Dear Schmidt," Manning wrote: I don't know you personally and you don't know me either. But just the same I'm going to give you a piece of advice that you can take or leave. You should think about coming over here to school. I would show you the advantages of such a move. I'm telling you, Schmidt, you're making a big mistake if you stick to a stink team like Hillsboro. It's only going to hold you back. Leave your studies be the last of your troubles because we can fix that here, too."
Dan was flattered by the recruitment attempt and he showed Sarah the letter.
"You'd never abandon the Hurricanes, would you?" She asked with worry.
"Of course not," Dan laughed.
The real truth, of course, was that Dan would never leave Hillsboro High because that's where Sarah went to school
Dan stuck the letter into his growing collection of clippings, box scores, photos, and other memorabilia that he kept in his room.
Of course, just because he wouldn't pitch for Greenville High, that did not mean Dan Schmidt would turn down other opportunities, particularly when money was involved. By the spring of his junior year, Dan was regularly crossing the border into New York State to pitch semipro and community ball, while pitching for Hillsboro High too. Teams paid by the game and Danny was always in demand because of his ability.
While in high school, Dan often hurled two games during the week, took a train to a small town in upper New York State for a Saturday game with a touring semipro team and then returned to Hillsboro by early Sunday morning to be on deck that afternoon to pitch. Cliff sometimes accompanied his brother and on some occasions Sarah Elias tagged along too "for the adventure" as she put it.
Occasionally the semipro contests turned rough with fights and threats and dirty play but at $75 a game it was worth it.
"I make real money in semipro baseball," Dan rationalized when his mother worried about his safety or Sarah missed him around the neighborhood. "Plus, I love playing ball."
As it turned out, Dan's ventures into New York State proved instrumental to his big-league future. During the summer of 1911 he accepted an invitation to pitch for the semipro Cohoes (near Albany) in a series of exhibition contests against local New York State League all-stars. Dan was beaten once during that four-game stretch but he mowed down the all-stars in the remaining contests, scattering nine hits and striking out an eyebrow-raising fifty batters in a three-day stretch. The achievement easily shattered the standing record and caught the eye of several big league scouts.
Catching wind of Dan's performance in Cohoes, Pat Moran - a catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and a Fitchburg (MA) native - was among the first big leaguers to approach him. Moran was followed by the Boston Braves who in February sent scout Jack Dorsher to Hillsboro to watch Dan burn over a few pitches in the high-school gym. Oldest brother Walt handled all negotiations and during the spring of Dan's senior year he accepted an offer on Dan's behalf from Moran and the Phillies. Walt cemented the deal by signing a statement on the back of a National League contract, promising Dan's services to Philadelphia.
Elected captain of the high school team his senior year, Dan was focused far more on his final season with Hillsboro than with his future in the big leagues. Behind Danny Schmidt's fastball, the Hurricanes whipped nearly every opponent they faced that spring, jumping out to first place early in the season with a 5-0 victory over Miller City in front of 1200 boisterous hometown fans and the team never looked back.
In the fifth game of the year, against Riverside, Dan tossed a no-hitter and struck out 20 batters and while his team was defeated four times that season, Hillsboro easily outdistanced its Blue County League opponents to earn a trip to the Pioneer Valley High School championship.
Once again Dan and the Hillsboro Hurricanes would face Miller City. After they split the first two contests of the series, there was no question who would take the mound for Hillsboro in the finale in Miller City. Dan pitched well that day but the Mudhens nicked him for two runs through eight innings. Behind solid pitching, Miller City nursed a 2-1 lead into the top of the ninth but then Hillsboro finally began to rally. There were two men out and Harry Morton was on third and Dan was on first. Clem Thomas hit high a line drive that should have been good for two bases and would have given Hillsboro the lead, and in all probability the game, but it was not meant to be. In a brilliant defensive play, Miller City's shortstop lunged to his right and snagged the drive with his bare hand giving the home town the game and the championship.
The season, and Dan's high-school baseball career, came to a heartbreaking end. All of the Schmidts were in the stands that day, along with Sarah Elias, and they congratulated Dan on an outstanding high school career when the game was over. Sarah even went so far as to wrap her arm around Dan's as the group headed for the train and the long ride home.
A few days later, Dan received his diploma from Hillsboro High School and set his sights on the majors.