By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Kurt Johnson & Jerry Stayner
When he was a youngster just learning the game of baseball, Paxton Schultz once left for home in the middle of a game, thinking he was finished. Now a junior on the Orem High baseball team, it’s staying for long hours of hard work that have made him one of the state’s most talented pitchers and hitters, and the Tigers are happy he sticks around.
“I remember there was one game we were playing, and I think we were up by a lot and the coach took us out and we just walked away and just went home, thinking we were done I guess,” Schultz said. “We were pretty little.”
Ever since he played tee ball at Cascade Elementary School as a 5-year-old, the one thing Schultz remembers about baseball is how much he loved to play the game. He has the size to present an imposing figure on the football field or on the basketball court, but the junior chose to focus on his first love from the moment he arrived on the Orem High campus.
“I think like that was the sport (baseball) that just came easier to me when I was growing up and I was really good at it,” Schultz said. “I had a lot of fun. People always say, ‘You’d be good at football,’ but I just didn’t have a lot of fun playing it. That just wasn’t my sport. I think it was ninth grade when I decided I had something good going here and I can keep it going and just focus on baseball and hopefully that will take me places in life.
“I played football up to eighth grade and basketball up to ninth grade. I just wanted to focus and make it to the next level in baseball. There’s times I miss playing some football or basketball, but I just look at it as if I’m working on football of basketball, I’m not working on my baseball, working towards the goal. I’ve got to keep that in mind and I feel that was the right decision to focus on this and I’m glad I did that.”
Schultz has become one of the state’s most potent home run threats, with seven long balls on the season as his team entered the Class 4A state tournament. He is also a dominating force on the pitcher’s mound, which is where he sees himself long-term, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love to swing the bat. He’d still take a game-winning home run over striking out a key hitter any time. That has been his feeling since his first home run.
“I was, I think, 11 years old, and I was playing over at Orem City Center,” Schultz said. “We had a super league game there. There was small fences like for little kids and I hit one into this big pine tree in right field. It was the best feeling. It was the first one ever. I hit it and I started running, and then realized it was a home run, it’s out of here. It was a great feeling.”
Of course, there have been many since, including a game-tying blast this season that qualifies among his best baseball memories so far.
“There’s nothing like hitting a home run, you just feel so good,” Schultz said. “Against Skyline, we were down one run, I think it was actually bottom eight and I hit a home run to tie it up. It was such a great feeling, just knowing you’re helping your team stay in it.”
Schultz bats left-handed, but throws it from the right side. He moved to the left-hand side of the plate to swing it right at the beginning, at his father’s suggestion.
“Tee-ball, I went up first right-handed, then my dad switched me and told me, ‘You’re going to go up left-handed,’ and it’s been that way ever since then,” Schultz said. “I like batting left-handed. I feel like some pitchers aren’t used to it and they get tense on you and give you a pitch or walk you. Just messing around in the cages, we mess around switching it (to the right side), but we just look ridiculous.”
It’s pitching where Schultz sees his greatest potential long-term. He’s had plenty of success on the hill as well this year, sporting a 7-1 record heading into the postseason.
“I enjoy pitching a lot, just something else to the game,” Schultz said. “It’s a different view of things and I feel that will take me further than my hitting will. I feel like sometimes I have a lot of control and know what to do in situations. I just take over the game from there. I’m in control and I like that.”
Sometimes, Schultz feels that on days he is on the bump, he becomes even better in the batter’s box.
“If I’m pitching good, I feel like I can do anything,” Schultz said. “I feel like the confidence level is a little better when I’m pitching good. If the other pitcher hits me, I’m going to get him back. I want to get a hit off of him.”
It’s not quite the same as capturing the moment with the dramatic home run, but Schultz does get a rush out of his big moments on the hill.
“This year, we were up at Olympus and we were up by one (run),” Schultz said. “I came in pitching in the bottom of the sixth inning, bases loaded, no outs and I got out of it with no runs scored. That was a big moment for us in the season.”
It looks like his Tiger team will need plenty more big moments from Schultz as it takes its first steps into playoff baseball since 2008. This team includes a core group of kids that have been playing together for a long time, and that is paying off, along with the new intensity that came with the arrival of first-year head coach Carl Hermansen.
“We probably have nine or 10 guys from our super league team that have played together since we were eight years old,” Schultz said. “We’ve grown up playing together. We’re close, we’re comfortable with each other and we know what to do.
“I think when Coach Herm came in, he took it to a whole other level for us. The intensity is so much better. This offseason, we did hard workouts and they just taught us how to work hard and just push through things and we’re all in it as a team.”
Controlling the Classroom
Schultz carries a 3.98 GPA and he is being recruited by schools all over the country, including some high-profile schools with serious academic requirements.
“I just stay on top of it,” Schultz said. “You’ve got to realize grades come first. You have to get good grades to play baseball, first of all. I don’t think a lot of kids get that trying to get to the next level, that grades are very important if you’ll make it or not. I’ve really focused on that and realized school will always come first, then baseball.
“I feel like getting a good education is one thing,” Schultz said. “I’ve been talking to a lot of Ivy League schools and Stanford. I feel like if you could play baseball and get a great education while you’re doing it, that’s a win-win right there.”
A lot of people have played a role in the development of Paxton Schultz as a baseball player and as a person, but it all begins at home.
“My dad’s been there the whole time, and so has my mom,” Schultz said. “They’ve been there supporting me. My dad’s coached me ever since I’ve been playing baseball. He’s always been there, helping me and coaching me to do whatever, go hit in the cage or go throw a bullpen, whatever. It’s great to have someone there. My siblings are always there, cheering me on.”
When he arrived on campus at Orem, a veteran player, Parker Overly, took Schultz under his wing and helped him adjust quickly to life on the high school diamond.
“Freshman year, I didn’t really know him, but I was a freshman and he was a junior,” Schultz said in discussing Overly. “I watched him and how he played, how he always had confidence when he went out there and I tried to model my game after him. He was a good player. He ended up getting hurt, which was a sad thing, but he was always a competitor and always wanted to win games. I just wanted to go after it like he did.
“He was a huge example on me, and I see my younger teammates and how much of an example I am to them. They look up to me – I’m a captain and leader to them – and they know they can count on me in hard times and situations.”
Through it all, Schultz is a young man who has learned to excel on the baseball diamond, but his baseball has also taught him a lot about succeeding everywhere else.
“In baseball, you’re always thrown challenges, even if it’s in one inning, in a game, in a season, you’re going to get challenged with hard times and you’re just going to have to battle through it,” Schultz said. “No one’s going to help you, except your teammates will help you, but you’re going to have to, for the most part, step up and do it.”