Schumaker ready for new beginning in L.A.
Drafted by St. Louis in 2001, 33-year-old will give Dodgers depth at multiple positions
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Drafted in 2001 by the Cardinals, Dodgers utility man Skip Schumaker spent more than a decade in the St. Louis organization, building relationships with players, coaches and, most important to him, the community.
So when the club that was all he'd ever known traded him to Los Angeles in December, it left the 33-year-old a bit shaken.
It wasn't that the move caught him off-guard. Schumaker knew the time was coming when he'd have to change teams. Plus, the Dodgers were the team he grew up rooting for in Southern California. What troubled him about saying goodbye to St. Louis was what he and his family had to leave behind.
"It was bittersweet [because] I spent my whole career there," he said. "I made a lot friends, my wife made a lot friends, kids made a lot friends, and we had a nice little network. We were part of the community. A lot of great things happened there. We had a good relationship, and there are no hard feelings. But it was tough at first."
The thoughts that helped Schumaker feel better about the move all dealt with the situation he landed in with the Dodgers.
"I got pretty lucky, to say the least. They could've shipped me to a lot of different places who aren't looking to win right now," he said. "So I just moved from one organization who wanted to win now to another. And being in a veteran clubhouse with guys I've played against for a number of years, it's been pretty easy."
Schumaker has a few familiar faces surrounding him. Nick Punto played for the Cardinals in 2011, and new batting coach Mark McGwire has been around Schumaker the majority of his career.
"I've been fortunate enough to work with Mark since 2005, he's a really good guy," Schumaker said. "He knows a lot about baseball, the hitting, the techniques, the mental side. There is so much he brings to the table and I am very fortunate to be a part of it. I'm always learning, but 90 percent of what I know is from him."
That consistency of having the same batting coach for so many years is what Schumaker credits for much of his success.
"I've had the same set of eyes on me for a number of years so he knows what works and what doesn't," the career .288 hitter said. "I think I can get out of those prolonged slumps because he knows right away what's wrong. He's very good at identifying what's going on with your swing, whether you're Albert Pujols or just a guy like me."
With the Dodgers, Schumaker's role will primarily consist of backing up Matt Kemp in center field and Mark Ellis at second base, although he can play both corner outfield spots as well.
"We've seen Skip from the past, we know he can play all over," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He comes in good shape, he's got a light body, he's got some toughness and he's got some experience. He gives us a lot of versatility."
The flexibility that made Schumaker a valuable piece for the Dodgers to add began in 2009 when the Cardinals taught the lifetime outfielder to play infield.
"The team released Adam Kennedy, so Tony LaRussa called me and asked me about it," Schumaker said about transitioning to the infield. "We had a really good outfield, we had guys like Ryan Ludwick, Chris Duncan, Cody Rasmus and Rick Ankiel. So we had some guys who could play, and I was coming off a pretty good season so they wanted to get more bats in the lineup and try me out.
"It was a very uncomfortable Spring Training for me, but Tony gave me a long leash and I was very fortunate that he did. It ended up working out pretty well."
Since then, Schumaker has played in 401 games at second base with a fielding percentage of .980. He still feels more comfortable in the outfield but admits he has come a long way at his adoptive position.
"I played outfield my entire career, so I feel like I still need more reps in the infield," he said. "It was a mental grind at first because you don't want to be the guy making mistakes, messing up a Chris Carpenter groundball. I took it very serious. It's still a work in progress because the outfield comes more natural to me, but I'm fortunate to go back and forth."
Still, Schumaker is thankful to his old team for taking the time to build him as an infielder. He knows it has helped extend his career and will lead him to more opportunities in the future with his new club.
"It's helped me get more at-bats because, if guys need days off, I can play four different spots," he said. "I'm very grateful for that."
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.