By PAUL GOTHAM
Talking with Jon Schwind, one could get confused as to whether you’re having a conversation about baseball or preparing for an upcoming anatomy examination.
The Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand has spent portions of his now seven-year minor league career recovering from a variety of injuries. There was the broken arm and broken thumb which limited him to 30 games in 2012. A broken hamate (small bone in the wrist) cut 2014 to 49 contests. He played just 29 games in 2015 because of a ruptured spleen as the result of a collision in the outfield.
Schwind recovered from each of those setbacks and returned to the field, but seeing action in a regular season game during 2017 looked like an impossibility at more than one point this season.
After playing in a career-high 78 games during 2016, the former Hilton Cadet and Marist Red Fox felt in the best physical shape he had been in his career during the off-season. That changed less than two weeks before spring training when he experienced discomfort in his side after routine workouts at home.
He went to spring training and played through the pain, even saw time in a big league spring training game before following the advice of one of his coaches and seeking advice.
The examination showed a full tear of an internal oblique (muscle that run along the side of the abdomen).
“I was worried that I needed to compete and make the team, so I didn’t want to do that,” Schwind said of the procedure. “It’s probably a good thing. I would have tried to play through it, and I would have ended up just tearing it off the bone.”
He returned in late May only to head back to the disabled list a few days later with a torn intercostal muscle (tissue that connects the rib cage to the abdomen).
“It’s been a weird year.”
He attributes the injuries to leftover scar tissue from his splenectomy.
“All this stuff is on the exact same side, and it’s right below where I had my surgery,” he explained. “I’m trying to stretch stuff, and scar tissue won’t allow it. Before I know it, I tear it.
“I play hard. It’s one of my strengths and one of my weaknesses. I play the game at one speed. I’ve gotten a lot better at it, but it’s probably gotten me in some situations where I’ve gotten hurt.”
Schwind’s latest recovery ended when he played three games with the West Virginia Black Bears of the Class A (Short) New York-Penn League in late July. Sunday night he was activated on the Altoona Curve (Double-A Eastern League) roster.
“I told myself and my wife (Lindsay) you know what I’m super happy; I’ll at least play a game in 2017,” Schwind said recalling his mindset in late July. “That was really exciting. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a few more in here over the next couple weeks and the next month.”
During this most recent rehab stint he accepted a spot with West Virginia as an unofficial player-coach.
“They wanted me around the younger guys – the new draft guys to mentor them and be an avenue for them that they could go and talk to someone. It’s always different from manager to player as compared to player to player.
“[The organization] wanted somebody there to introduce them to the Pirate culture and the grind of minor league and how to be a professional. I had some duties. I coached first base, ran the outfield and some post-game meetings before our manager would talk to the team. It was a really good experience.”
He leaned on time spent in the off-season as an assistant coach with the SUNY Brockport Eagles.
“Having coached at Brockport the last two years helped. When they’re young, it’s good. You just want to kinda get them in the right mindset and help ease them into it. I’m not really telling them tons of stuff about baseball. You’re still teaching them the game, but you’re teaching them the ins and outs of the game. You’re not necessarily always going over mechanical stuff. You just want them to play. You don’t want them to have think about anything. You just want them to react and then help them learn themselves.
“When it comes down to it, you’re going to have a lot of good coaches, but the best coach is going to be yourself. You’re the one working when nobody else is there.”
The time away from playing has focused Schwind’s perspective on the game.
“I like teaching. I want players to look at the game a little bit differently. Instead of just viewing what happens, I want them to get their eye off the ball, if that makes sense. A lot of times you’re watching the game, and you’re watching where the ball goes instead of watching other things around you that affect a lot more things. That’s my goal when I’m helping players or other teammates.”
As for full-time coaching, Schwind can wait on that.
“Down the road coaching is definitely going to be an avenue that I’m interested in. Hopefully that doesn’t happen for another 15 years. That’s the plan after my playing career is done.
“I have a very strong support system. My wife is great. She definitely supports my goals in terms of baseball. I have been fortunate enough to keep playing and hopefully be given another chance this year and another chance possibly next year.
Altoona (58-54) sits in second place a half game behind first place Bowie. The Curve hosts a three-game series with Reading starting on Tuesday.
Schwind is one of eight former Section V athletes currently playing professional baseball at the minor league level including ChrisBostick (Aquinas), Ernie Clement (Brighton), Cito Culver (Irondequoit), Logan Harasta (Webster Thomas), Grant Heyman (Pittsford Sutherland), Steven Klimek (Greece Arcadia) and Danny Mendick (Pittsford Mendon).