KENOSHA, Wis. — The uncle and the nephew sit across each other at a conference table in the athletic offices of Division III Carthage College, on a picturesque August afternoon, a clear view of athletes preparing for the fall season on the football field and the surrounding track out the window below them.
The uncle, Augie Schmidt, is 54. He looks fit and trim, muscular even, the obvious physique of an athlete. But his gravelly voice comes off as weary, and if you know who Augie Schmidt is, you know that he’s a man who’s been put through baseball’s wringer.
The nephew, Gavin Lux, is 17. He’s confident and enthusiastic, and if you don’t know who he is now, well, he hopes that you will soon. He’s one of the most highly regarded prep middle infielders in the country.
The two share a unique relationship. Schmidt–who doesn’t hide from this fact–is one of baseball’s most notable washouts, the second overall pick in the 1982 draft by the Blue Jays out of New Orleans. He won the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s best amateur baseball player in 1982 and has the dubious distinction of being one of two Golden Spikes winners to never reach the majors.
But if Lux knows that part of his uncle’s life, it’s not the part he grew up with. Rather, he grew up with Augie Schmidt the coach, the man who’s become one of the most successful small-college coaches in the country. In 28 seasons at Carthage, Schmidt is 848-378-5 and has led the Red Men to 16 regional berths, six regional titles and two third-place finishes in the D-III World Series.
Lux, who’s starting his senior year at Kenosha’s Indian Trail High, grew up around the Carthage program.
“Ever since I was really little, I would always hang around the team,” Lux said. “I was always the bat boy, and (I’d) always get to do some fun stuff with the team . . . (It’s) just like a second home.”
It didn’t take long for Lux to go from being a bat boy to practicing with players older and bigger than him. And excelling. “Early on we had him turning double plays with our guys, probably at about age 10,” Schmidt said.
It’s that glove that has garnered so much attention for Lux, a slick-fielding shortstop who verbally committed to Arizona State in June. At 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, he’s more of a line-drive hitter at this point, though his lefthanded bat has the potential for power as he grows into his frame. His style at shortstop, though, has been compared to that of Latin American middle infielders.
“(He’s) kind of got a little bit of a Latin-type of player to him at short, which is going to help him,” Schmidt said. “He’s very, very smooth. Defensively, he does things at his age that I didn’t even dream of doing.”
Another difference between the two is how much exposure to baseball Lux gets. In addition to playing his high school season, Lux is a member of the highly-regarded Racine (Wis.) Hitters Baseball Academy and this summer participated in the Tournament of Stars, the Area Code Games and the Perfect Game All-American Classic–three of the most heavily scouted amateur events in the country.
Schmidt was a multi-sport star at Kenosha’s Bradford High, where he graduated in 1979. But he played about 15 baseball games each high school season, the extent of his formal baseball back then. It’s one of the reasons he sees his nephew as much more well-prepared than he was as a youngster.
“I wasn’t prepared to deal with the failure,” Schmidt said. “And I didn’t fail a whole lot until I got to about Double-A, and it hit the fan. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I think he’s way ahead of me, just because he understands that baseball’s that way. It’s about how you deal with success and failure.”
Lux, for his part, is laid back. He knows there’s a good chance he’ll be drafted this June and said he’d bypass ASU if the opportunity is right. But he’s not worrying about it.
“I’m just going to focus on getting better and just trying to get as (good) as I can,” Lux said. “And either way I look at it, it’s a positive either way I go.”
For his uncle, this is not a second chance. He just enjoys watching his nephew handle things better than he did when he had his whole playing career ahead of him.
“I look at him and see what I was missing,” Schmidt said.
Mike Johnson is a sports reporter at the Kenosha (Wis.) News