Schreck's Final Stretch

by Chad Bishop

After standout career at Duke, Vandy outfielder looking to leave mark in Nashville with strong finish

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — RJ Schreck’s journey appears to most people to be nothing short of remarkable. But those who know the Vandy right fielder best are not surprised.

“I try to do a lot with what I have,” Schreck said. “I think my biggest asset in baseball is my mind.”

When Vanderbilt (29-11, 13-5 SEC) hosts Kentucky (30-10, 11-7) for a three-game series starting at 6 p.m. Friday, Schreck will be right in the thick of it. The Commodores will be looking to bust out of a four-game losing streak and to build some momentum before the calendar flips to May.

Schreck has been a key component in the squad’s overall success this season, and he figures to have a major role in the Commodores’ chase for a national championship.

And as his sojourn with the Dores nears its end, Schreck couldn’t envision a better opportunity for completing his college career.

“Seasons are going to have bumps in the, road and we knew that going in. This is our bump in the road,” Schreck said. “It’s a matter of how we respond and come out of that. If you would have told me 41 games into the season that we’re a top-10 team in the country and we’re in second place in the SEC now? Yeah, it’s exactly where I wanted to be coming into the home stretch.”

A California Kid

Schreck began playing baseball at the age of 3 or 4, he estimates, and he doesn’t have a great answer as to why he was drawn to this game more than others.

Schreck’s father, Doug Schreck, is a cardiologist from Queens. His mother, Tina Koopersmith, is a gynecologist from Long Island. Neither had a particularly notable athletic background that would have hinted at the baseball success their youngest son would achieve.

“I think, for one, I was probably the best at it compared to other sports,” Schreck said of his gravitation toward the diamond. “My high school coach likes to describe me as either the most unathletic athletic kid or the most athletic unathletic kid. I’ve heard that from numerous people over the years, and I think that’s fair.”

Schreck was never the standout baseball star in his hometown of Los Angeles. Even his youth baseball team was loaded with future college players and future professionals.

There was something different about Schreck, though. One of his early coaches, Chris Dollard, recalled a time when Schreck stood out—and it had nothing to do with athletic ability.

“RJ … so intelligently smart. He was way beyond his years as a young kid, how intelligent he was. One, just in general, but two about the game itself,” Dollard said. “One time, in 9-year-old baseball, it’s nothing but chaos. But it was an inning we had to sub all the kids in and out. It was his time to sit out.

“He’s on the bench, chaos is happening, I have two other coaches … doing a whole bunch of other stuff on the field, and RJ comes up behind me and says, ‘Hey, Coach Chris, you want the corners in?’ I couldn’t believe it.”

From Tinseltown to the Tar Heel State

At the historic and prestigious Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles, Schreck had a fine stint playing baseball.

Schreck played on the freshman team in 2016, the junior varsity team in 2017 and then began logging games for the varsity squad. He hit .410 as a senior, .480 as a junior and had five home runs over those two seasons.

Those numbers, as solid as they were, didn’t land Schreck on many recruiting charts. So he narrowed his college choices down to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where eldest brother Ben had gone, or Duke, where his mother went to medical school and his older brother Jeremy got his undergraduate degree.

Schreck decided on the later, given the opportunity to walk on to the baseball team.

But before he made that decision, he had come to Nashville to explore Vanderbilt—strictly as a traditional student. He first met Vandy head coach Tim Corbin on that trip.

“It wasn’t much baseball talk, it was more getting to know me personally, getting to know my dad and then just being super nice and cordial about being there to offer assistance in the college process—trying to help me play somewhere because he’s that kind of person,” Schreck recalled. “He wants everyone to succeed.”

Corbin knew of Schreck’s baseball success. Vanderbilt had recruited current senior Sam Hliboki as well as Pete Crow Armstrong, now a minor league baseball player, but at the time there were no available spots on the roster for Schreck.

So Schreck wound up at Duke. On Feb. 23, 2019, he made his college debut against Northwestern and began a four-season journey that led to the here and now.

Trading Blue for Black and Gold

Schreck jokes that in his first season with the Blue Devils he saw the field more out of the program’s necessity than his talent.

“It was kind of I was the best of the worst of who we had,” he said.

Listed as a 6-foot-1, 185-pound outfielder then, Schreck hit .182 in 32 games with five RBIs. He struck out 30 times in 77 at-bats.

The 2020 season began with Schreck battling a nagging hamstring injury. He played in seven games, getting one hit in 10 at-bats before COVID-19 ended the season.

The computer science major maintained a steady focus on his academics while he struggled to find an athletic foothold.

“I’m a walk-on at Duke, I’m not highly recruited, didn’t play much until junior year, and so I never really thought about professional baseball as an option,” he said. “Because of that, I was very school-focused and wanted a degree that had a clear path that I was comfortable and excited to work with.”

In the fall of 2020, Schreck was still unsure of his abilities as a baseball player. And at about the same time he realized he was tipping the scales at 178 pounds. So he reached out to some former teammates who were now professional ballplayers for advice on how to gain weight and strength.

Schreck’s regimen and mindset changed as he began to consume 4,000-5,000 calories per day. He started seeing eating as an assignment, and not just something he did. And it wasn’t long before the results followed.

The 2021 season saw Schreck lead Duke with 18 home runs while batting .337 and slugging a team-high .635. In an NCAA Regional game against Liberty in Knoxville he belted three dingers.

Schreck followed the 2021 season with an eight-homer, 37-RBI season as a senior.

“More so it was just putting on sufficient muscle mass and weight to the point where my flyouts actually became home runs—they had the ability to leave the yard,” Schreck said of his progress as a power hitter. “There’s a little bit of swing analytics and trying to develop—not trying to force the ball in the air but trying to develop a swing where misses are not weak ground balls. Weak ground balls don’t really help anybody.

“So when you get your misses in the air, it always gives you a chance.”

Finale With the Dores

After his streak of success with the Blue Devils, Schreck had hoped to get picked up in the 2022 MLB Draft.

“After my junior year I had a (financial) number and got a bunch of calls from (MLB) teams,” Schreck told The Anchor Podcast. “But (the offers were) X amount of money below my number. It wasn’t a crazy number, just something we felt was right in the moment. After my senior year it was, ‘OK, I have my degree, it would be fun to play another year of college baseball, but the reason we got into this was to play professional baseball. We did our four years. We fulfilled that.’

“So now it was letting teams know, ‘You call me, I want to sign, give me a chance, I want to play, I don’t care what it is.’ For whatever reason that didn’t happen. I was blessed with this opportunity to come here.”

While Schreck waited around for a professional contract, he also put his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal. Several programs, including Vanderbilt reached out, and there was a mutual understanding that Schreck wouldn’t commit to or enroll at any other university until after the draft process.

Vandy assistant coach Mike Baxter kept the lines of communication open throughout. When it was clear that his professional dreams would have to wait, Schreck began to envision life as a Commodore.

“The draft obviously didn’t go how I wanted it to, and I immediately got a call from ‘Bax’ [saying], ‘Hey we want to move on this. We really like you and want to get you out to campus.’

“It was a no-brainer, having a relationship with the coaches, knowing the facilities and then having an ex-teammate in Hliboki. He was pushing it really hard over the summer the whole time.”

Schreck started his Vandy career 5-for-28. He’s been scorching baseballs ever since.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound outfielder leads the Commodores in average (.366), homers (10), RBIs (45), total bases (99), doubles (13), hits (52), slugging (.692) and sacrifice flies (six).

Schreck has had just one error in the field only six times since the start of March has he finished a game hitless at the plate.

With Vanderbilt only half a game behind South Carolina in the SEC East Division, and just one win shy of a 19th straight 30-win season, the Commodores need Schreck’s production to continue in the most crucial part of the schedule—and of his career.

“I’m just happy that we’ve all been able to turn it around,” he said. “There’s nothing I would change.”

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.

 

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