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    Mudville: November 29, 2021 4:23 pm PDT
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    Teams of Dreams

    You never know where Tommy Schaff is going to show up.

    Here’s a hint – scan the stands or even the field prior to or during a baseball game. Chances are that Schaff, 57, will be throwing out the first pitch, sitting in a prominent seat or hobnobbing with some of the game’s former greats.

    Schaff has a knack for being part of many special events, particularly during the recently completed season. He threw out five first pitches this season at ballparks across the country, bore witness to some big moments by some big-name stars and got to experience the Field of Dreams extravaganza between the Yankees and White Sox in August. That latter doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering he is an investor in and part owner of the Field of Dreams movie site complex in Iowa. He also sits on its board of directors.

    The 57-year-old St. Louis resident is the managing partner of Major League Sales, a strategy and consulting firm that has a distinct baseball feel. Schaff has structured his company so that everything he does is tied to baseball, whether it’s his Nine Innings Sales System or his Five-Tools Sale School Event.

    He is also a big-time collector of all things baseball, particularly bobbleheads. Schaff has 5,472 baseball nodders at last count, many of which are three-footers, including one 10-foot bobblehead for which he has special plans.

    And, it all stems from his love of the game.

    “I threw out the first pitch in Los Angeles this year in the game that Max Scherzer got his 3,000th strikeout and pitched an immaculate inning,” Schaff said. “I actually threw out five first pitches this year in Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles and St. Louis. Bank of America quit their rewards points program and I had all kinds of points so I used them. I gave two away then I had two first pitches, two first bounces and a spiked ball. I threw it right into the ground in Cleveland. Fortunately there weren’t a lot of pictures of that one. Two bounced on the plate but my wife [Mary] threw a perfect strike in St. Louis.

    “Hopefully the August Field of Dreams game will become a tradition. It’s a great opportunity to expose people to the field and the game and create some memories between teams. Hopefully it can be a long-term fit for everybody.”

    “It was cool. In Baltimore [Aug. 26] it was 103 degrees and 10 minutes later, after I throw, Shohei Ohtani is on the mound and then he leads off the top of an inning and hits his 41st home run. In a half hour after I was on the mound he pitched from the same mound and then hit a home run. On Sept. 10 in Houston, the Astros were playing the Angels and it was Ohtani again. They sing the National Anthem, I throw, Ohtani pitches and then hits his 44th home run, all within a half hour. I saw some great moments all year. It was just good luck they let me pitch all the time.”

    One of Schaff’s coolest moments came on Sept. 12 when he threw out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium. He watched Scherzer collect his 3,000th strikeout that day and throw his third career immaculate inning to tie Sandy Koufax and Chris Sale, as well as seeing a near-perfect game. San Diego’s Eric Hosmer’s one-out double in the eighth broke up the bid for perfection.

    Schaff sat next to local fan Steve Choi, who casually mentioned the perfect game, breaking the long-standing baseball tradition of not mentioning it when a pitcher was throwing such a gem. Then up stepped Hosmer.

    “We let this guy have it,” Schaff said. “Teasing and laughing how he cost us the game of a lifetime. Two nights later, the Dodgers held Tommy Lasorda Bobblehead night and a week later I got a Lasorda bobblehead from my new lifelong friend saying I hope this makes up for blowing the no-hitter. We are making plans to go to the All-Star game next summer in L.A. Baseball people from any place are my kind of people.

    “I had a great baseball year. Fifteen stadiums, five first pitches, I got my Savanah Bananas fix in. I saw the Macon Bacon and went to the Ty Cobb Museum. I’m a baseball guy.”

    September 12, 2021: Tom fistbumps a Dodgers ball girl moments after throwing out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium.

    Schaff may be a baseball guy but if it seems like Schaff has a bit of Zelig in him, that’s only because he does. He’s also got a bit of P.T. Barnum in his as well. He is a master salesman and baseball historian, combining his two loves together in his work with Field of Dreams.

    The complex gained national attention this summer when the Yankees and White Sox squared off in a highly publicized game in August. It gained further attention in September when Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas, who will serve as the CEO, purchased a majority share in the complex and named former Dodgers general manager Dan Evans as the outfit’s COO. The group purchased Go the Distance Baseball, which owned the site, and All-Star Baseball Heaven. This is Heaven LLC purchased the site and is a joint operation between Thomas and Rick Heidner, a Chicago-based developer and entrepreneur.

    Schaff’s first experience with the Field of Dreams was over the Labor Day weekend in 2013 and led to him becoming a part owner within three years. It all spawned from his attending the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York.

    “My brother and I are at the All-Star Game and I have a suitcase full of jerseys,” Schaff said. “My brother says you should write down your favorite player for every number one to 31 and wear a different jersey for every day of the month. I go down the line and make my list, Ozzie, Jeter, Killebrew, Molina etc. I inventory what I have to find that I have 15 of 31 and that I am missing 16 of my favorite players to complete the month.

    “I put the names of the 16 missing jerseys in a search engine for Dick’s Sporting Goods to see if they have them and what pops up, but the Field of Dreams. Nine of the 16 players I didn’t have were playing there on Labor Day. My brother said I should go up there and get them signed and I said, no, I’m going to go up there and play. I’m thinking, I’m a salesman, I can make this work.”

    Labor Day 2013: Tom Schaff emerges from the cornfield at his first game at the Field of Dreams.

    So Schaff set about calling the Field of Dreams marketing and promotions folks to make his pitch. He offered a proposal for where he would be an event sponsor and in return he wanted a signed ball and jersey from everyone in the game and a chance to play.

    “He tells me it’s going to be expensive and that he would call me back,” Schaff said. “He calls me back and tells me the number and it’s so low that I can’t believe it. He said that was the best he could do. I hung up and started laughing. So I go there and I have such a great time and think, I should do this kind of stuff all the time for the rest of my life. So I have.”

    Schaff ultimately winds up catching Jim Palmer during the old-timers softball game after Carlton Fisk bows out because of a family emergency. It turned into a bit of a comedy when Schaff has trouble throwing the ball back to Palmer. At one point, Johnny Bench came to the plate with a chair and a bat. He placed the chair behind the plate and gave Schaff the bat.

    “He says I have an idea and he hands me the bat,” Schaff said. “He sits down to catch and tells me to hit. So Palmer throws a pitch and I get a double. The next day there is a big picture in the paper and it’s all over the country and the caption says that he’s throwing in a fundraiser for The Wounded Warrior Project to Reggie Jackson at the Field of Dreams but it was actually me. After the game, Bench signs his jersey for me, “Tom, you should be the DH, Johnny Bench”.

    “That’s my claim to fame. I thought when the game was over, why don’t I do this all the time? I wanted to do it as often as I could and lift up the game. The owner of Field of Dreams asked if I wanted to be an investor and that’s how it happened. Since then, I have played softball with Charlie Sheen and the cast of Major League on his 52nd birthday. We also hosted the cast of Sandlot for softball and a night of karaoke with Wade Boggs and welcomed the cast of A League of Their Own, too. I’ve played there five or six times and it’s just become something we do.”

    September 3, 2018: (From Left) Corbin Bernsen, Tom Schaff, Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger celebrate Sheen's 52nd birthday and the 25th anniversary of the film Major League at the Team of Dreams Game.

    Schaff has met or played with more than 60 Hall-of-Famers by his estimate but he still wants to do more. He wants to bring a Northwoods League team to Field of Dreams and make it their home. He needs to wait, however, to see what the future holds for the Field of Dreams MLB field before that happens.

    “My goal is to get a Northwoods League team in Illinois and that would be in addition to the Field of Dreams team,” he said. “There are several owners of Northwoods League teams who are owners of multiple teams. If I get to do a team at Field of Dreams I’d get to be a partner but not the partner. If I do it in another city I could be the partner.”

    The Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League ceased operations last month and Schaff is exploring how he can replace the Miners with a Northwoods League team there. The Miners were the league’s most successful franchise since joining the circuit in 2007. They were the 2012 league champs and won four other division titles. They were named the league’s Organization of the Year three times and own several league attendance records.

    And that’s where the 10-foot bobblehead comes in. It was once painted weekly and sent across the country to be used on the set by TBS during game of the week broadcasts. He purchased it two years ago and it resides in his office. He intends on having a naming contest should he get a future Northwoods League team and then have the bobblehead painted accordingly.

    Schaff has also had hopes of one day building other fields or mini ballparks that look like old-time parks like Fenway or Comiskey on the Field of Dreams site to host youth tournaments but that plan is currently in limbo. The Reds and Cubs are scheduled to play there next summer and Schaff thinks that Major League Baseball would like to preserve the “sanctity” of the field by leaving the cornfields etc. alone.

    August 21, 2021: Atop the Green Monster at Fenway Park with (from left:) Brian Moses, Tom Schaff, Tom Searcy and Mike LaVista - checking out the Texas Rangers at Boston Red Sox.

    “I know Dan Evans is working with MLB,” Schaff said. “I don’t know what the status is going to be or when they would announce it. My gut is that it will probably be our plan to build numerous historic ball fields but like most plans, they get altered. My guess is that we will see fewer fields and probably less pomp around it, likely being regular fields. I don’t know if they will be built to scale like the original plan but that was in a world that didn’t involve MLB. After the success of the first game [between the Yanks and White Sox] who knows what will happen.

    “Hopefully the August Field of Dreams game will become a tradition. It’s a great opportunity to expose people to the field and the game and create some memories between teams. Hopefully it can be a long-term fit for everybody.”

    Schaff added that his ultimate wish is to have annual games with its very own stadium that would host weekly fantasy teams, such as the Red Sox versus the Yankees. Additionally, he would like to have a shrine for the Negro Leagues and the All American Girls Professional Baseball League all of which could serve as a satellite of sorts for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

    “I’d like to have something where we could give more people access to the history of baseball and we would serve as an advocate for women in baseball and people of color,” he said. “I could live there over the summer and be active with the Northwood team. In a perfect world, we’d have our own stadium with over-the-top clubhouses that would rival the best clubhouses in baseball.

    “We’d have all the best food, too, and attract the best college baseball players in the country to win a championship. That’s how [Dallas Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban does it. He creates the best locker room experience, has the best towels, tells the visiting players to keep them and attracts players to come play for him.”

    Schaff certainly knows about dealing with people. He also knows about baseball. And he has combined those two loves to be baseball’s version of Johnny on the Spot.

    Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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