Kalamazoo — It’s been 15 years since Daniel Schlereth was in college.
Now, he’s going back to school, as the newest member of Western Michigan baseball coach Billy Gernon’s staff. Schlereth will serve as Gernon’s volunteer coach, and manage the pitching staff.
It’s the latest coaching gig since Schlereth retired following the start of the pandemic in 2020. He also just finished his first season managing the Joliet Slammers of the Frontier League.
“I was doing pro stuff and I kind of wanted to get back into college. A lot of former pros are back into college, because the (pro) game is getting a little watered down, I think,” Schlereth, 35, said last month, after attending the introductory press conference for new head football coach Lance Taylor. “I think a lot of guys are driven to the pure form of baseball, and that kind of lies in college. So, I was just poking around, and it led me to this guy (Gernon).”
“It’s been awesome so far. It’s been really fun.”
Schlereth spent more than a decade pitching in pro baseball, with 10 different organizations — but, most notably, the Tigers, who acquired him as part of the blockbuster trade that also landed them a guy named Max Scherzer from the Arizona Diamondbacks on Dec. 8, 2009.
He spoke to The News about his new gig 13 years and a day after that trade.
Schlereth had a good first two seasons with the Tigers, in 2010 and 2011, pitching in the postseason in 2011. He also pitched for them in 2012, but didn’t pitch in the playoffs as Detroit advanced to the World Series. Schlereth bounced around to another eight organizations after Detroit, but never again pitched in the major leagues. He made the decision to walk away in 2020, before joining the Pittsburgh Pirates scouting department.
But, the college itch quickly popped up, and here he is. A conversation with Michigan State baseball coach Jake Boss — who, this offseason, hired a former major-leaguer of his own, former outfielder Adam Eaton — led Schlereth to Gernon. A deal was struck quickly.
“I was looking for someone that would help take our program to the next level,” said Gernon, whose program has a rich history, but only has made one NCAA Tournament (2016) in the last 30-plus years.
Schlereth, a left-hander who pitched in 94 major-league games and 214 more in the minor leagues, almost as in relief, was one of two notable additions to Gernon’s staff this offseason. Gernon also hired longtime Toledo head coach Cory Mee as the associate head coach. Mee also has coached on staffs at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Eastern Michigan. He replaces Adam Piotrowicz, who left to become head coach at Saginaw Valley State last year.
Gernon plans to put his faith in Schlereth, allowing him to call pitches in games, and provide significant input on pitching changes. In past years, Gernon has handled that load.
Schlereth is part of the latest trend that has seen many major-leaguers head to the college ranks, some even choosing that path over jobs in the pros. Former Tiger Brandon Inge, a one-time teammate of Schlereth’s, spent multiple seasons recently on the staff at Michigan. In 2021, the Tigers lost third-base coach Chip Hale to the head-coaching job at the University of Arizona, and assistant hitting coach Jose Cruz Jr. to the head-coaching job at Rice.
Some believe there’s more teaching to be done at the college level, whereas the major leagues have transitioned in the past several years to a heavier lean on analytics.
“A lot of guys are just going back,” said Schlereth, who lives in Denver and, for now, commutes home on weekends to be with wife Bree and their three kids. “College is just fun, the baseball’s fun, the college atmosphere is fun. The turnover is not as crazy, you feel a little more settled. I was living on one-year deals my whole life, so I don’t know, this just feels good. It feels good to be back in Michigan, too. It’s kind of our baseball home.”
Schlereth was a first-round pick (28th overall) by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008, out of Arizona.
That was his last college experience, and he’s thrilled to back — even if, well, it’s a bit different.
“They make me feel old sometimes,” Schlereth said, with a laugh, speaking of the Western Michigan players, who will open the season with a three-game set at No. 1 LSU from Feb. 17-19. “But I hope they’re excited, because I am.”