Schnyder leads growing Wildcats

Published 12:02 am Saturday, April 8, 2017

RESERVE — For practically all his life, Justin Schnyder has dreamed of being a professional baseball player.

As a youngster, he used to go to East St. John High School games to watch older cousins play and would see the big sign listing all the names of players who had been drafted. Some had even gone on to solid careers in the major leagues.

One of them was his cousin, Wendell Henderson.

Someday, Schnyder thought, his name would be up there with the best of the best.

That sign is long gone, but Schnyder’s dream is not.

Now a senior pitcher and outfielder for the Wildcats, Schnyder still has high hopes for his future, even as his team struggles.

East St. John High baseball head coach Wendell Henderson, in blue, the former Leon Godchaux catcher and minor leaguer, oversees batting practice Wednesday afternoon at the school. The Wildcats are 6-16 overall and 0-6 in district play heading into the weekend. (Lori Lyons/L’OBSERVATEUR)

“I started playing when I was 4,” he said. “My auntie used to bring me out to the park to go watch her kids and I just fell in love with baseball. It’s been my dream to make it to the MLB ever since. I’m trying to achieve my dreams.”

It isn’t easy being a Wildcat, though.

The 2017 Wildcats are 6-16 heading into today’s scheduled District 7-5A game at Thibodaux.

They have yet to win a district game.

They came close on Tuesday, going into extra innings against Central Lafourche before the Trojans scored on a walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth inning.

That wasn’t even the worst loss, though.

That came in Monroe when the Wildcats were locked in a 2-2 tie with Haughton through nine innings. They lost in the 10th.

“I pitched nine innings,” Schnyder said. “We fought hard. We tried but, in the end, they won on a walk-off base hit.”

Schnyder, who is the Wildcats ace, said he hates to lose.

“We just have to have the mindset that it’s just another day,” he said. “We’re going to try to win but if we don’t, it’s just a game. It’s not serious.”

He pauses before adding: “It’s hard. I really hate losing.”

It’s not the fault of the new coach, who took over the team this season.

Henderson is the fourth coach the three senior players have had. The team has had six coaches in the last seven years.

“It’s been very confusing because you have to adapt to a different coaching style and how they want you to learn things and stuff,” Schnyder said. “This year has been fun, even though it hasn’t been one of the best years. The team learned a lot.”

Henderson was a standout catcher at Leon Godchaux High School in Reserve.

Selected in the 28th round of the 1977 Major League draft by the Chicago Cubs, he opted to play for Grambling State University for four years. He was drafted again in 1981, in the 24th round, and spent five years knocking around the Cubs’ minor leagues.

Since he returned home, Henderson has spent years coaching youngsters, including his young cousin, and helping out the high school team.

He became the head coach after Jade Falgoust departed for Archbishop Rummel at the end of last season.

It hasn’t been easy for him either, he said. He’s got three seniors; the rest of his starters are sophomores.

“They don’t know the game,” Henderson said. “They spend all this time playing X-Box or whatever. They don’t know how to hit. They think they know. They think it’s just a round ball and a round bat and all you do is swing. Hitting is an art and you have to work hard at it.”

Schnyder, he said, is a bright spot, with an 89-92 mph fastball and good understanding of the game. He is 1-2 with a 3.13 ERA. He is hitting .393 with 12 RBIs.

“I’ve been watching him play since he was a baby,” Henderson said. “He’s a good high school pitcher. When he’s on the mound, they play with more intensity because they know he’s going to keep them in the game. He’s the glue that keeps them together.”