Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks manager Michael Schlact ready to take the reigns
BY STEPHEN LARSON
For the first time in their history, the Fargo Moorhead Redhawks will take the field this season without Doug Simunic in the dugout. Simunic, who had been the manager for 20 seasons, was relieved of his duties by the Redhawks in August and was replaced on an interim basis by pitching coach Michael Schlact, who had the interim tag removed shortly after the season ended.
“We were all in a sort of shocked fog,” Schlact said. “Any time there’s a change like that mid-season, it’s unexpected and can throw off the routine of the season, week and day. I wanted to be sure the guys knew I had their backs, would give them my all, and I tried to make that game as normal as it could be.”
Schlact’s first game as manager was August 13, which ended as a 3-2 loss to the Gary Southshore Railcats.
That game was played just hours after the players and community were informed of the move.
“No one expects that to happen. After the fact, just as the staff did, the players knew that it’s a business and they had a job to do,” Schlact said. “These guys were pros and they put feelings and emotions behind them to play the game they are paid to play. We had an off day after that final game versus Gary, and I feel like they showed up ready to roll after that.”
Schlact was a third-round pick for the Texas Rangers in the 2004 MLB draft after graduating from Wheeler High School in Marietta, Georgia. Schlact was a highly rated prospect coming out of high school, with Perfect Game USA describing him as an “extremely interesting RHP (right-handed pitcher) who could become a possible high draft pick in ‘04. He has the arm and the body.”
On the day he was drafted by the Texas Rangers, Schlact was at home gathered around a computer with his family and his girlfriend. She would eventually become his wife.
— Michael Schlact (@michael_schlact) May 28, 2015
“It was a feeling like I’ve never felt before,” Schlact said. “I’ve had very few moments like that. Getting married, the birth of my child, and getting drafted. It was like all of the hard work came to fruition. That was really just the beginning of the journey, but to realize that I was picked within the top 100 picks of the entire draft that year was truly humbling.”
Schlact began his professional career with the Arizona League Rangers in the lowest level of the minor leagues: the Rookie league. Schlact finished his first professional season with a record of 1-1, with a 3.52 earned run average. He was rewarded the next season with a promotion to the Clinton Lumberkings, who were the Rangers’ single-A affiliate.
He would spend parts of the next six seasons in the Rangers organization, bouncing around between levels, until a shoulder injury ended his time with the club.
“I grew up, literally, as a Ranger,” Schlact said. “My memories are wonderful and will last a lifetime. I had the opportunity to be a part of six spring trainings. A few of them I was able to be around the big league team, and I was able to live in many different places all over the country. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
After leaving the Rangers organization, Schlact played independent baseball for two seasons, spending the next two years with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League. During his time, he compiled a record of 6-6, with an 8.09 earned run average.
“Affiliated baseball is a lot more focused on developing players as opposed to independent baseball,” Schlact said. “The talent of players isn’t that much different in the higher independent leagues like the American Association, but the affiliated teams want their players to work on specific things at specific times and the results aren’t as important. In independent baseball, it’s all about doing what you can to win the game.”
“Some of my fondest memories of professional baseball are independent baseball memories because it made the game fun. We had to win, we did what we needed to do to win, and the players weren’t concerned with who’s moving up to the next level or anything like that. It really brought us closer together.”
After not playing during the 2013 season, he made a brief appearance in 2014 with the Amarillo Thunderheads of the American Association, pitching just two-thirds of an inning. The next season, he graduated to coaching – taking a job as the Redhawks pitching coach, where he would spend the next two and a half seasons.
“Being the RedHawks pitching coach taught me a lot about coaching in general,” Schlact said. “Managing the bullpen, time management for myself and others, and what it takes to lead people were the main things. Beyond that, I learned more about the game as a whole than ever before and I got my first taste of what it meant to coach professional players while in the RedHawks uniform.”
Getting the promotion
Schlact learned about his predecessor’s firing in a meeting with the team’s owners, where he was told that he would be the interim manager for the rest of the season.
“The owners called me to the stadium early one day in August and told me the news,” Schlact said. “I was, first and foremost, sad for Doug Simunic. He had been the manager in Fargo for 20+ years and any time you have been doing something that long it becomes a big part of your life.
“Baseball is also a business, though. I knew that I had a job to do to lead that team the best I could given the circumstances. As the final 24 games went on I became more and more comfortable and truly enjoyed the opportunity. I’m very thankful the RedHawks saw the qualities in me to name me the manager.”
“We never actually opened up the interview process to other people,” said Brad Thom, the President of the Redhawks. “We just felt with Michael that he was in the right position.”
Schlact now will take the reigns of the Redhawks for his first full season as manager after being named the permanent manager in early September. That move was made shortly after the Redhawks’ season ended with them coming just a game short of making the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“I’m very thankful for the community of Fargo-Moorhead,” Schlact said. “The moment my family and I stepped foot there, we felt as though we were embraced and welcomed. I tell people all the time that ‘we left home and came home.’ It’s true. The fans, the media, the community … all of them are second to none. I will always represent that uniform and the community with the utmost respect and pride. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives and for being a part of mine.”
(Stephen Larson is a junior at MSUM who is majoring in multimedia journalism. He also works in the Dragon Athletic Department as a Sports Information Intern. He is from White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org)