Tyler Schimpf lost his hat.
But this was no ordinary bit of headgear. This one held special meaning for the Capital Christian High School senior pitcher. It carried words of motivation. It included the initials of Schimpf’s late father, William, next to a cross.
Schimpf placed the blue-and-white hat on his equipment bag in the dugout and grabbed a batting helmet before taking an at-bat on the eve of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. When he returned, it was gone. No sign of it since.
For a spiritual teenager who clings to every memory of his father, Schimpf has an idea of what might have happened to the cap. William Schimpf plucked it, reaching from the heavens. The father is closer to the sun, to watch his son, with a slight bend in the brim unlike how kids wear them today.
“It’s true, it’s true!” Tyler Schimpf said laughing after his latest pitching gem to improve to 7-1. “Dad may have it. I don’t know how to explain it otherwise. It was there, then it disappeared. Gone.”
Known as “Coach Billy,” William Schimpf was a beloved area coach for youth baseball and softball who opened his backyard for dozens of kids to work on their swing. He died from a heart attack Aug. 19, 2011.
Losing a father at any age stings. Losing a father as you’re navigating through the early, awkward days of high school with an ever-changing body can be doubly difficult. Schimpf had to grow up faster than he’d wanted. He became open with his feelings. He promised to live his life in his father’s honor. He became an honors student and a baseball prospect.
The funeral services drew more than 1,000 people. Dressed in his Capital Christian uniform, Schimpf spoke eloquently at the service. And he continues to speak. Thursday, Schimpf was selectedto speak to Capital Christian students and faculty and share his view on school, family and life. Schimpf urged the gathering to “embrace every day.”
His mother, Sheri, couldn’t hold back the tears.
“Tyler’s become an unbelievable speaker,” Sheri said Friday, still emotional. “He’d never spoken before and he was wonderful at the funeral. I was just shocked, but also so proud. And it’s so true. We lost a great husband and father and a life teacher to so many children, but we’ve bonded closer as a family.”
When he steps on the mound, Schimpf scratches a No. 13 in the dirt to reflect his jersey number and the one his father used.
“It’s been the hardest thing to get through in my life, and I’d never wish it upon anyone,” Schimpf said. “My dad made me who and what I am. My goal in life is to do well for him, and I hope I have.”
Schimpf’s father would be proud of his 4.0 student, a campus leader and star of Capital Christian’s baseball team, which will try to win its second consecutive section Division Vchampionship Monday at Sacramento City College against Lindhurst.
At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Schimpf towers above his peers and foes in size and ability. He is batting .360 with some moon-shot home runs, and uses his fastball to mow through lineups. He signed a letter of intent with Texas, his dream school, and he’s been scouted by big-league teams.
Schimpf said he now looks to his older brother, William, an aspiring firefighter, as his mentor. The brothers are in constant contact with their older sisters, Tammy Bradford and Crystal Rankin.
“They’re everything to me,” Schimpf said of his family. “We look after Mom. Sometimes we’ll see her with tears. She’s still hurting. We all are. When we lost Dad, we lost everything – the house, the cars. We moved into an apartment, but we didn’t look at any of that as a downer. It was a steppingstone, and it made us appreciate all the little things. If we have Sheetrock and a roof, we’re good, and we’re very good.”
Schimpf found a haven at Capital Christian, a school with a close-knit student body. He urged teammates and classmates to appreciate their parents, and he won school character awards in each of the past three years.
And he continues to be touched by people he’s never met.
“When we lost Dad, I got bags and bags of mail,” Schimpf said. “Letters from students, teachers, people in the community. That was amazing. Being here has been the best thing for me.”
The Capital Christian community continues to reach out to the family. When Sheri was hospitalized this past winter for bladder surgery, keeping her out of work for two months, school staffers and community members sent meals and notes of encouragement.
“We’ve had little miracles every single day,” Sheri said. “After we lost (William), we had to move into an apartment – our five-bedroom house (contents are) in storage – and I cleaned houses to help keep us going. Tyler volunteered to do a car wash to help. We have such good friends. We’re doing OK. I cook three meals a day, so the place smells homey, and there’s a lot of love here.”
Capital Christian athletic director Suzanne Baker said Schimpf’s resolve “impresses all of us.”
“Tyler’s driven,” Baker said. “It was their dream, Tyler and his dad, that he go to Texas. Tyler realizes life can be pretty short, so go after your dreams. And he’s honoring his dad through how he lives his life.”