By: Greg Levinsky
FALMOUTH – With the unfamiliarity of new teammates, coaches, towns and ballparks, having a close friend in the Cape League is a ball player’s greatest asset. Western Illinois rising seniors Ian Koch and C.J. Schaeffer are not only college and summer ball teammates, but are helping each other cement themselves in college baseball’s most prestigious summer league.
Both on temporary contracts with the Falmouth Commodores, they are fighting for their spots this summer together and succeed playing together. Koch earned a full-season contract last summer with the Commodores after going 3-2 with a 3.72 ERA.
On the field they work in unison. Koch is a pitcher, Schaeffer a catcher. They paired up in the Commodores’ opening game where Koch fired 2.1 scoreless innings to pick up a win, notching three strikeouts. Koch said seeing Schaeffer behind the plate allows him to perform at a higher level in a talented Cape League. Instead of throwing a heavy dose of fastballs to a new catcher, Koch works his pitches and spots.
“He called like nine sliders in a row,” Koch said of Schaeffer’s signs. “That’s only something my catcher would do.”
Through three games, Schaeffer is batting .308 (4-for-13) with a pair of RBIs and hitting in the middle of the order. It’s early in the summer season, but both are performing at a high level.
Koch, who turns 21 in August, hails from Crystal Lake, Illinois. Schaeffer is from Lake St. Louis, Missouri and turns 22 in September. Each had breakout junior seasons this spring at the collegiate level for the Fighting Leathernecks.
Koch earned First Team All-Summit League Honors as a junior this spring, going 4-6 with a 4.38 ERA in 16 appearances, all but one of which were starts. Schaeffer was named to the Second Team All-Summit League after he led the conference in runners caught stealing with 19. He batted .275 with 12 RBIs. He also caught every single inning Koch pitched in 2018.
Western Illinois Head Coach Ryan Brownlee said their tremendous spring seasons paid testament to their hard work, but addressed each’s improvement more specifically.
Brownlee said Koch is now hitting what was viewed as raw, or as he put it “green” potential.
“You knew that it was in there, that it was going to come out,” Brownlee said. “But to Ian’s credit, he’s worked hard every year.”
And of Schaeffer, Brownlee credited his catcher for working hard despite playing irregularly as a freshman and sophomore. He was stuck behind catcher Adam McGinnis, now a member of the Chicago White Sox organization.
“C.J. did such a good job of getting himself ready for this season,” Brownlee said. “He got his body in shape. His mentality was different.”
“I mean I was always in the bullpen working on my craft in practices,” Schaeffer said. “In every opportunity I got I just tried to take as much from each game and learn from it.”
Brownlee has myriad connections to the Cape League as well. He played under Commodores Head Coach Jeff Trundy in 1996 as a member of the Cotuit Kettleers when Trundy was an assistant, and later served as Trundy’s assistant coach in Falmouth during the summers of 1999 and 2000.
He just finished his sixth season as head coach at Western Illinois and touted Koch and Schaeffer as two players he sent to Trundy under high regards because of their mutual “trust.”
A 6-5, 225 pound right-hander, Koch struck out 21 in 19.2 innings pitched last summer mainly out of the Commodore bullpen. Schaeffer spent last summer with the Mankato MoonDogs of the Northwoods Collegiate Baseball League and was named league all-star.
Schaeffer not only caught all of Koch’s outings this spring, but called nearly every pitch. Their chemistry helps each other succeed. As the only catcher on the roster during the week’s first season, Schaeffer eyes his opportunity and Brownlee isn’t worried about him being overworked.
“He’s used to that,” Brownlee said. “He caught 95 percent of our games this year, so we he’s used to catching every day.”
Koch and Schaeffer hope to play well, and if they do, it’ll more likely than not be together.
“I don’t have that thing in the back of my head, the what if,” Schaeffer said. “The what if the pitcher does this, it’s kinda nice to know who I’m catching.”
Although both are on temporary deals, Brownlee said he can certainly envision them sticking around if they continue to play well.
“They communicate really well with each other, so there’s going to be some comfort for those guys because they know each other and have been around each other for years,” Brownlee said.
Additional coverage: McDonough Voice