Seth Schwindenhammer, Red Sox ProspectAugust 16, 2011
By Dave Willis
LOWELL — Following two difficult seasons to start his professional career, Lowell's Seth Schwindenhammer experienced the meeting of a lifetime with his hometown idol — longtime major leaguer Jim Thome.
"When he was in Florida this spring rehabbing we went out to eat," said Schwindenhammer. "He talked to me about the game and gave me advice about how to approach the game. It was great."
That wisdom from the potential future Hall of Famer, who on Monday became the eighth member of the Major League Baseball 600 home run club, seems to have had a major influence on the young slugger.
Last night, Schwindenhammer represented the Lowell Spinners in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game at LeLacheur Park and won the All-Star Skills Competition. He also ranks No. 2 in the league in homers this season.
"What (Thome) said has been working so far," said Schwindenhammer. "Just go out, have fun and don't dwell on the bad at-bats."
Expectations were high for Schwindenhammer when he was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 MLB draft, after he hit .434 with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs as a senior at Limestone Community High School (Ill.)
The massive 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, who had committed to play at the University of Illinois, immediately signed with the Red Sox $175,000 signing bonus.
But the transition to professional baseball proved to be a difficult one for the youngster. In his first two minor league seasons, he hit a combined .193 with only one home run and 19 RBIs in 69 games.
"It's tough, but you try to come back the next day and do the best you can," he said. "You try to forget the bad at-bats. You try not to dwell. But it's hard."
His fortunes began to turn this spring while playing extended spring training in Florida, when he made contact with Thome.
Thome, who had starred at Limestone Community High School (1987 graduate) just like Schwindenhammer, was in Florida rehabbing an oblique injury and offered to buy him dinner.
"He is a great guy and I am so glad it happened," said Schwindenhammer. "He talked to me about having fun. He said if I have any questions he is there for me."
True to his work, Thome — the five-time All-Star who is currently the designated hitter for the Minnesota Twins — has remained a sounding board for Schwindenhammer this season.
"We have kept in touch," said Schwindenhammer. "If I need to ask any questions, he's there to talk. I don't want to bug him, but it's amazing to know you have a guy that's done so many amazing things in baseball there for you.
"When he hit his 600th career home run (Monday against Detroit) I texted him and congratulated him."
With Thome as an influence, Schwindenhammer has taken off at the plate this year.
Through 42 games, Schwindenhammer ranks second in the New York-Penn League in home runs with nine, trailing just Tampa Bay's No. 9 prospect Jeff Malm (12). His 28 RBIs are good for second on the Spinners but just 11 off the league lead.
"He has been working so hard," said Spinners manager Carlos Febles. "It takes time. We have told him nothing happens overnight. He is getting better, and if he keeps working hard things will work out for him."
Schwindenhammer's issue has continued to be strikeouts. His New York-Penn League-high 89 strikeouts are a main reason he is hitting .215. Ironically, Thome ranks second in major league history in strikeouts (2,453).
"I have been working on it a lot with (Spinners hitting coach) Rich Gedman," said Schwindenhammer. "It's tough to get through, but I am to the point now where I realize everyone is going to strike out. It really is just another out."
The Spinners do not want their slugger to dwell on the strikeouts.
"It can be very hard to overcome," said Febles. "But he can't be afraid to strike out. That will put him in a hole. He has to stay aggressive. He isn't consistent yet, but he is getting a lot better."
But Schwindenhammer does plenty of damage when he puts the ball in play. When he makes contact, he is hitting .446 (37 for 83).
While he popped out in his only at-bat last night, he homered twice to win the skills competition, done instead of a traditional home run derby.
"When you really hit one you don't feel it in your hands," said Schwindenhammer, who also made a great play in right field. "You feel it mentally, but you don't feel it off the ball. That's how you know you got it."
All in the name
If Schwindenhammer makes the majors, he would break Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia's record for the longest last name in MLB history.
"Everyone always says, 'If you get to the big leagues it's going to be history.'" he said. "It's going to be history by one letter, but I have to make it happen first. I haven't met Salty yet, but I'm sure he'll find me and give me crap about it."
If Lowell's Seth Schwindenhammer were to make the majors, his 15-letter last name would be the longest in major league history. Here's a look at other epic MLB names:
Name – Letters – Time in Majors
*Jarrod Saltalamacchia – 14 – 2007-present
William Van Landingham – 13 – 1994-97
Jason Isringhausen – 12 – 1995-present
Mark Grudzielanek – 12 – 1995-2010
Nomar Garciaparra – 11 – 1996-2009
Carl Yastrzemski – 11 – 1961-83
* — Tops all-time