Sometimes, almost too interesting.
Everything about FAU’s closer screams excitement. Every pitch is dramatic.
On the mound, Schneider’s setup and right-handed sidearm delivery is a series of twitches and jolts, culminating with an aggressive lurch that’s not exactly toward the batter, but kind of feels that way.
It’s as though a family of snakes invaded Schneider’s undershorts and he’s attempting to jump out of his uniform while delivering a slider.
At times his hat falls off as the ball winds it way to the plate. Often both of his feet are off the ground during his follow through – a hop toward the third base side of the infield that often concludes with both hands on the ground, breaking his fall.
“I’ve got to be amped up when I go in,” Schneider explains. “I get pumped up, My teammates pump me up. I just go out and attack the zone.”
Schneider isn’t a prototypical closer who slams the door by blazing thunderbolts past over-matched college hitters.
Tailing into a right-handed batter’s hands, his fastball sometimes reaches the high 80s. The slider looks similar out of his hand, but drops and slices the other direction. He has a change-up, but throws it almost exclusively to left-handed batters.
In 26 innings Schneider’s allowed 24 hits and 13 walks, while striking out only 16. He’s hit another four batters.
He’s simultaneously a high-wire act and the Owls’ safety net.
“If runners are on, I just act like no one’s on,” Schneider said.
Schneider’s almost always putting FAU’s lead in some jeopardy. Only four times this year did Schneider retire the side in order. He gives FAU’s opponents hope. Then he turns into Lucy, pulling the ball away from Charlie Brown’s foot.
The junior college transfer didn’t allow an earned run in Conference USA regular season play. An All-Conference USA selection, Schneider’s 15 saves are six more than any other C-USA hurler and tie him for sixth-most nationally.
“He gets the job done,” FAU coach John McCormack said. “It’s not pretty. He gets the job done. He really likes to compete.”
The baseball season, which begins in February and can exceed 60 games, lends itself peaks and valleys.
For Schneider, the low point came in early May, allowing three runs in 2 1/3 innings to Central Florida – half of the earned runs he allowed this season. FAU’s hitters picked up Schneider that night at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, rallying to actually get him the win, but afterward McCormack noted that a bullpen shakeup could be coming.
The closer’s role never left Schneider’s grasp, and on what turned out to be the Owls’ final game of the regular season Schneider only surrendered one hit in 1 2/3 scoreless innings, earning the win in FAU’s 6-5, 10-inning victory over Western Kentucky.
“The one thing he does have going for him is he has experience,” FAU coach John McCormack said. “He’s done exactly that for a long time – throughout his life – going back to, he was a closer in high school.
“Sometimes when you take high school starters and you convert them [to closers], they don’t understand the mentality. That’s his greatest strength. He understands the mentality of closing.”
Schneider recorded his 14th save of the season in FAU’s C-USA tournament opening round defeat of Florida International in somewhat boring – for him – fashion, allowing only one hit while striking out one in a scoreless inning.
The heavy lifting came two days later. With the Owls potentially needing to defeat Louisiana Tech in an elimination game to secure an NCAA tournament berth, McCormack called on Schneider in the eighth inning of a game FAU led 7-5.
Despite hitting the first batter he faced, Schneider faced the minimum in the eighth courtesy of a strikeout and a 4-3 double play. Now holding a three-run cushion, McCormack stuck with Schneider for the ninth inning even after a weather delay of more than an hour.
Initially, it appeared to be the wrong decision. Schneider walked the lead-off hitter and hit the second batter, bringing the tying run to the plate. After missing the strike zone with his first two pitches to the third batter of the inning, McCormack strode briskly to the mound.
Rather than pulling Schneider, McCormack gave his closer a pep talk, along with a moment to gather himself.
“He was just like, You know we’re not taking you out of this game. This is your game. You’ve got this,” Schneider said. “I just had to take a step back and see where I was. Then I finally realized that the closer ‘s job is my role, so I finally was like, alright, I’ve got to step up and do that.”
Schneider did allow his first earned run of the season to a C-USA team that evening. Cody’s Wilson’s heads up play in center stole an out for the Owls at second on a play that should have loaded he bases for the Bulldogs. And La. Tech eventually put the tying run on base before Schneider, snakes and all, banished the Bulldogs to their summer leagues.
“He gave me a heart attack and a stroke, but he got it,” McCormack said. “Both at the same time. Is that possible?”
In the breathtaking world that is a Zach Schneider save appearance, it’s not only possible, it’s somewhat expected. And the next time McCormack needs saving, Schneider will be there.