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Glove launches, head-punching and, yes, Dippin’ Dots: The makings of Virginia’s Stephen Schoch

What’s it like to go from a quirky lockdown reliever, who’s little known outside his own bullpen, to becoming an instant national college baseball folk hero? Over the past week, that’s exactly what’s happened to Virginia closer Stephen Schoch, thanks to the Cavaliers’ dramatic win in the Columbia Regional and an interview that the righty gave after icing a midday 3-2 elimination game victory over South Carolina.

The chat went viral and so did Schoch, who has since changed his Twitter bio (@bigdonkey47) to: “UVA baseball thrower guy #37 I talked about Dippin Dots on tv once and now idk what’s going on.”

To find out what exactly is going on, we tracked down Schoch, who is still in Columbia, where the Hoos face Dallas Baptist (Saturday, noon, ESPNU and ESPN App) to see who will advance to the College World Series.

Ryan McGee: First things first. How many times per day do people mispronounce your last name? (It’s pronounced “Shock.”)

Stephen Schoch: Well, it doesn’t happen as much now as it did a week ago [laughs]. It’s always been pretty much every day. Just last weekend I went to the Old Dominion-South Carolina game, and I was in my Virginia stuff and getting heckled pretty good. All of a sudden these three guys were calling it out like “Skoshe!” I shoot back at them, “Hey, learn how to say my name before you yell at me!” It ended up being three scouts from the Rays, Astros and White Sox. Then I was like, “OK, cool, actually, you guys can call me whatever you want.”

McGee: What’s the last week been like for you? Not just the internet fame, but quick reminder, Virginia also blasted its way into the super regional in super dramatic fashion.

Schoch: The winning part, that’s all that really matters. I’m like that … all the time. I’m just kind of a weird guy and I say whatever’s on my mind. Especially right after I’ve pitched because my mind has been in all sorts of different places. I guess that’s what that interview finally captured [laughs]. But all that’s really mattered is that we’ve kept winning and I’ve gotten to keep on playing college baseball. Because the NCAA isn’t going to throw me another year just because I said something in a TV interview about Dippin’ Dots. All this attention is awesome. But it isn’t nearly as awesome as getting to play baseball for the University of Virginia for this much longer.

McGee: You know, I was the sideline reporter for the BYU-Coastal Carolina football game back in December, and BYU has all those dudes who are like 28 years old. That’s you, too, right?

Schoch: Totally. Everyone is always saying “old guy” this and that on Twitter. I tell them, you have to mix it up, y’all. Now, I will give credit to one guy who said, “This 50-year-old needs to calm down on the mound before he blows out a hip.” And I can’t lie to you, he hit the nail on the head because after the first inning against South Carolina (a save earned in a regional elimination game) my hip did get a little tight and I was thinking, maybe I do need to relax a little and do some stretching in the dugout.

McGee: How old are you?

Schoch: 24.

McGee: But in everyone’s defense, that’s old for a college baseball player. And with that haircut and beard, your headshot looks like a photo of a Civil War soldier.

Schoch: [Laughing] Yeah, people say that, but I’ve also looked like this ever since I’ve been in college. I’ve just always looked really old. I have shaved it off before, but then when I see myself in the mirror, I don’t even recognize myself. I always fall into that trap around Halloween, wanting to see if I will look good with just a mustache, so I will pick a costume of a guy who has a mustache. One year it was Magnum P.I. And I just realized that saying that probably doesn’t help with the old guy comments, does it?

McGee: UVa is your third college baseball team. You’re a sixth-year grad student. Where all have you played and why?

Schoch: I am from Maryland, but I first went to Appalachian State [in 2016] and loved it there, but my coach was told his services were no longer needed, so I transferred closer to home at UMBC. I had to sit out a year because of the transfer rules then. I had a great time at UMBC, because the coaches there let me be myself.

McGee: We all saw you throw your glove out of the stadium like you were mad at it after a big win in the regionals. But that’s nothing new, right? UMBC just tweeted about a glove launch after a big win several years ago.

Schoch: The first time I threw my glove after a win was probably four years ago. It was after the Bethesda Big Trains had just won the championship game against the Baltimore Redbirds.

McGee: The who beat the who in the what now?

Schoch: This was the championship of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in 2017. Me and all my teammates, we looked up to this one guy who played in the local softball league, named Rick Davis. In slow-pitch softball, they have the rule where you can only have so many runs, but he didn’t care if the bases were loaded or empty or whatever. He was going to hit a bomb and let everyone in the park know about it. I’d sit there in the bullpen and watch him for eight innings and not get fired up? Yeah, right.

I had a play at first and the runner tried to slap the ball out of my glove. It made me mad, so instead of punching him and starting a brawl, I threw the glove with the ball in it out of the ballpark. If you think about it, that was really a pacifist approach.

McGee: So, your inspiration was a dude playing softball next to the field where you played summer ball? Rick Davis. Was he like a mechanic or a preacher or a mailman or something?

Schoch: I never asked because in my mind he was whatever I thought he was. It’s more fun to imagine it. But a competitor is a competitor, no matter where they play or what they play.

McGee: So, you played at UMBC three years, 2017-19, and right smack in the middle of that is when we all learned who the Retrievers were because they famously beat top seed Virginia in the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament … and then after you graduated UMBC you transferred to Virginia? How did that play?

Schoch: In grad school the first thing you do is an icebreaker, and you go around the room and tell everyone who you are and where you’re coming from. So, that was always a tough one to let out there in Charlottesville. But it was awesome to be at UMBC when that happened. Since we’ve made it to the super regionals, you think I can say that and it be OK?

McGee: Sure. Just like you can talk about caves and Dippin’ Dots. It’s OK because you clinched a gigantic postseason win. Speaking of, I’m sure there are people who think the beard and that interview are just part of all the goofy stuff we see players and teams do during the college baseball postseason, but I get the feeling that’s probably how you talk all the time.

Schoch: For the last 24 years of my life, that’s how I’ve been. That’s how I’ve always talked. But that day was the first time that someone had televised me hitting myself in the head for 20 minutes straight and then put a headset on me and said, “You know what, live TV needs this guy.”

McGee: Do you punch yourself in the head on a regular basis?

Schoch: Yeah, I only do that on days of the week that end with a ‘Y.’ I do it anytime I’m thinking. But especially after I’ve thrown a bad pitch. I don’t want to feel good about myself after that, so I go to the back of mound, whisper a few sweet nothings into my own ear. What I think about myself in that moment — nothing good — and then I’ll hit myself in the head and tell myself to believe all the thoughts and go for it.

McGee: You had always dreamed of playing at Virginia and finally had that chance, but then COVID happened and your 2020 season was taken away. Now, here you are with a second chance and every game you play, that could be your final pitching appearance, your last game. You clearly love the game, but does all that make you appreciate this more right now?

Schoch: I am so thankful that I got to come back this year. COVID made me appreciate it more, but also, I stepped away from school between seasons, summer and fall, to go work and earn some money. I did landscaping because I thought it was like working out, but if you attack landscaping like you attack relief pitching, you end up hurting yourself.

McGee: Like, don’t hit yourself in the head with a rake when you mess up?

Schoch: Something like that. So, I took a job in insurance sales. You know what I learned then? Stephen Schoch isn’t really built to be behind a desk. I was making about 250 cold calls a day and maybe talking to four people a day. I wasn’t good at it at the time. After quarantine I had kind of forgotten how to communicate with other humans. I didn’t hate it. I enjoyed going into the office. But it really made me realize that if I had a chance to come back and play baseball one more season, I was going to make the most of it. I was really going to enjoy being on a team, being with my teammates. I was really going to get the most I could out of it.

McGee: And by getting the most out of it, you mean getting free Dippin’ Dots.

Schoch: I have had so many amazing interactions on social media since that interview, but how about the CEO of Dippin’ Dots reaching out to me on Instagram? I’m hoping that once my amateurism is up, I can do some things with him and help him spread the Dippin’ Dots gospel.

McGee: It kind of makes you wish that the NCAA had this name/image/likeness thing worked out already …

Schoch: Right? I wish they could have gotten some of this NIL legislation passed sooner. But what I really wish is that now so many people have offered me free Dippin’ Dots, in that interview I wish I had said that the fan offered to buy me a Lamborghini, you know?


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