Best birthday present ever: Sterling Schmidt goes to Twins camp, wins prestigious award
Sterling Schmidt was told by his brother, Shane, that he had to be home at 5 p.m. on his birthday. He didn't question it. Sterling was informed a package was being delivered and he had to sign for it, so he made sure that he was home.
However, when Shane and his two sons, Shaynen and Shad, showed up at the house, Sterling wondered, "What the heck is going on?"
Sterling, a 1982 Alexandria graduate and owner of Crosstown Delivery, celebrated his 55th birthday on Aug. 7, 2018, and got one of the best birthday presents ever.
Stan Dickman, executive director of the Minnesota Twins Baseball Fantasy Camp, called and told Sterling he was going to the team's fantasy camp the following January.
"I almost lost it," said Sterling, who was born with cerebral palsy. "I couldn't believe it."
The Twins fantasy camp is held each year at the CenturyLink Sports Complex, which is the club's training facility in Fort Myers, Florida. The camp provides participants with the opportunity to put on a Twins uniform in a big league locker room each day, and play a minimum of seven games on the same diamonds used by the Twins, with former major league greats serving as the coaching staff.
Shane has attended the camp the past seven years and knew his brother would have a great time, even though he wouldn't be able to play in the games due to his cerebral palsy.
"He loves the Twins and has always been interested in baseball," Shane said of his brother.
This past year Shane told Dickman about Sterling, saying he just wanted Sterling to have the experience even though he was unable to play. Shane, who asked if Sterling could be on his team and participate as much as possible, was told the fantasy camp had a Heroes program for veterans, similar to what Make-A-Wish does for children.
"He gave me an unbelievable price (about a fifth of the regular cost)," Shane said. "Sterling got to spend a week with the Twins and it was a lot of fun for all of us."
Trip of a lifetime
Several members of Sterling's family went on the trip in early January. His daughter, Shyann, accompanied him, along with nephews Shaynen and Shad and their families. His cousin, Joe, who he said he is very close to, surprised him and was in Fort Myers, as well.
"It was the trip of a lifetime," said Sterling. "It was better than expected. There were so many nice people. They all treated me like a king."
Sterling, who coached boys and girls softball for 25 years in Alexandria, shared highlights from the trip, which included having the fantasy camp participants coming to him for information about each game. He said they would ask him who was up next, what the score was and for statistics.
He said he became buddies with Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, who pitched for Minnesota in the 1970s and again in the '80s.
The day Sterling got his chance to bat in a game of rookies against the coaches, Blyleven was teasing him and asking if was going to steal bases. Sterling said he hit the ball and ended up making it to third base with his hit, with Shane pushing him around the bases in a wheelchair as he has a hard time walking.
"Me and Bert, we're friends now," Sterling said, noting that a couple of weeks after he returned from the camp, he attended a Twins winter caravan stop in Fergus Falls, knowing Blyleven would be there. "He asked me what I was doing there and I told him I only live 45 minutes away. I even bought him a beer afterward."
Among the best times during that week in Fort Myers came after the games in the locker room, when he got to sit around with all the guys and talk baseball.
"We sat for what seemed like hours talking ball," he said. "It was so fun."
Because it was his first fantasy camp, Sterling was considered a rookie. And as a rookie, he received a full-sized baseball bat. All of the coaches, who are former Minnesota players, lined up and signed the bats for the rookies.
"It was so unreal. Unbelievable," Sterling said.
But that wasn't the best part.
Afterward, Jim Lundeen from RJM Distributing — which brews and bottles Killebrew Beverages in Minnesota — came over to talk to Sterling. They had been on the same team.
"He told me, 'You made my whole week.' I just said 'Wow, thank you,'" said Sterling.
Also on their team were Shane, Shaynen and Shad Schmidt, the "Ballbarians." The team of 15 players was coached by former Twins Al Newman and Juan Rincon.
But even that wasn't the best part, Sterling said.
At the beginning of the week, players were told about various awards that were given out at the end of the camp. One in particular, the Kirby Puckett Award, caused Sterling to think to himself, "I want to get that award."
Out of 144 campers, which included 35 rookies, there were seven nominees for the award, including Sterling. Other awards were dished out throughout the week, and Sterling said he received a couple, including MVP of the team and MVP of the game.
It was on Sunday night, however, during the last awards ceremony, that Sterling heard the announcer say that the Kirby Puckett Award was going to a guy who knows baseball and has a heart for the game. Then his name was announced.
And that was the best part.
"I got a standing ovation," he said, adding that it wasn't the first time. That came when he graduated from high school.
"It truly was a trip of a lifetime," Sterling said.
On the Twins official fantasy camp Facebook page, a Feb. 13 post read the following:
"We've saved the best for last. Each year at Twins Camp, one camper is selected as the recipient of the 'Kirby Puckett Award.' This prestigious recognition annually goes to that camper that most exemplified the passion for baseball and all-around positive attitude that Kirby brought to the clubhouse each day and was responsible for helping the Twins to two world championships. This year's recipient is no exception and if you had the chance to share any time at all with Sterling Schmidt, you knew instantly that he is as knowledgeable as any Twins fan anywhere.
"Congratulations Sterling! You are an inspiration to us all!"