Todd Butler and Jim Schwanke squared off in opposite dugouts for many games in the SEC. Butler handled the hitters at Alabama, Schwanke at LSU. They were intense rivals.
"I can tell you for sure that in 1997 when we were both in the College World Series, I didn't think that one day I'd coach his son," Butler laughed last week. "No, I wouldn't have guessed that."
Alabama beat LSU in the Super Regionals for a CWS trip in 1999. In 1997, LSU beat Alabama at the CWS for the national title.
Willie Schwanke is a 6-1, 185-pound freshman on the UA squad that will open the season in two weeks as the nation's consensus No. 1 team. The Frisco, Texas product turned heads in the fall with his compact lefty swing that powered line drives to all fields.
Head coach Dave Van Horn isn't sure about Schwanke's position in the field, but knows he'll fit nicely when he fills out his batting card. He's also a talented pitcher, but will concentrate on cracking the lineup as a position player as a freshman.
"I'm not sure where Schwanke fits as far as third, first or designated hitter, but he should play," Van Horn said. "He can hit. He's also got a plus arm and might be a pitcher at the next level."
Butler isn't surprised about Schwanke's hitting ability, knowing his father. Jim Schwanke's pupils at both Oklahoma State and LSU were impressive at the plate. College baseball historians will remember Pete Incaviglia, Robin Ventura, Warren Morris and Brandon Larson.
"Willie is one of the most advanced freshman hitters I've been with in awhile," Butler said. "His father was a very good college hitting coach and I'm not surprised. Willie has studied the game from that perspective."
Without question, son learned lessons well from father, now an agent/advisor. Father didn't try to push his son to Arkansas, but it was clear he approved.
"My dad knows Coach Butler really well," Willie said. "I know they get to spend a lot of time together watching prospects. They are very good friends. He let me pick my college, but he thought this was a good choice."
Butler is recruiting coordinator, hitting coach and assistant head coach for the Hogs. He loves Schwanke's sweet lefty stroke and his work ethic. There is a lot of power in a body that is still filling out.
"He's got pull power, but he'll go the other way, too," Butler said. "He uses every ounce of his body to impact the baseball.
"As he develops more strength, I think he has a chance to be special. He exudes confidence and has a work ethic second to none.
"His swing is very compact and he really studies (New York Yankee) Robinson Canoe on video. He also has good strike zone awareness.
"I thought he was good when we signed him, but I didn't know he was this good. It's the intangibles — the attitude and makeup — that makes him good. He is a worker. He's tough."
The toughness image played well with Schwanke.
"I think I am," he said. "My father is tough, so I want to say I get that from him. But I might get it more from my mother. If someone knocks me down, I'm going to jump right back up. I don't mind."
Dad gave him more than toughness.
"I think what he taught me best was an understanding of leverage," Schwanke said. "He taught me how to use my legs. There were a lot of drills growing up, things I still go back to if there is a bad day."
Hard work is his motto after a bad day.
"If I go 0 for 3, then I am going to do something extra," Schwanke said. "I think there was a time in the fall when Coach Butler asked me to slow down. He was worried about the wear and tear on my wrists and body. I told him, ‘Coach, this is what I do.' I do know there are times you can over do it. But my dad always preached effort. I know some days you need a day off. I have listened to Zack Cox explain his routine and there needs to be a day off in there. But not many."
Schwanke was the Dallas Morning News hitter of the year last year, but he found out that it's not always going to be easy in the SEC.
"The fall was a definite adjustment," he said. "I came in as a pitcher, too, and there were some days in the bullpen with Coach (Dave) Jorn. Right off the bat, I figured out there are no mistakes to hit. There is more velocity, but the difference at this level is that pitchers don't miss on location.
"I saw the way the catchers and the pitchers figured out the hitters. (Catcher) Jake Wise is good at that. They will figure out what messes up your head. They can always spot the fast ball. You see that command."
Those with an eye for good swings will have an easy time spotting Willie Schwanke.
Willie Schwanke can play third, first or may crack the lineup as a designated hitter.
Photo by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated
State of the Hogs: Willie Schwanke
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