Schmidt likes what they’ve done to the neighborhood

Mike Schmidt/career highlights

  • 548 home runs (15th on all-time list)
  • MVP of 1980 World Series, leading Phillies to title
  • Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame, 1995
  • 12-time All-Star
  • 10-time Gold Glove winner
  • Led Ohio University to 1970 College World Series

Baseball legend Mike Schmidt returned to his hometown Thursday as the celebrity guest at the grand opening of Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway.

“Welcome to my neighborhood,” he said to a group of politicians and other invited guests when it was his turn at the podium.

Indeed, Schmidt was home. He grew up near the corner of Siebenthaler and Ridge avenues, fewer than five minutes from the new racino. And played golf across the street.

“I learned to play over at Kittyhawk,” he said, looking across Wagner Ford Road. “I’ll never forget the first round of golf where I broke 100. It happened on the Hawk golf course right over here.”

He remembered the large racino property as a General Motors plant and was impressed by the new development.

“The recession has taken its toll on a lot of areas of the town, especially our area, north Dayton,” Schmidt said. “To see what they’ve done here and the job creation and the influx of income into the community is a wonderful thing.”

Schmidt’s mother, sister and brother-in-law live in Vandalia. His father died in 2011, the same year Fairview High School, Schmidt’s alma mater, was torn down.

The Baseball Hall-of-Famer said he gets back to town twice a year.

“The family business was swimming pools and ice cream,” said Schmidt, whose family ran the Phillips Aquatic Club and Jack’s Drive-in at Leo and Keowee streets. “I have two beautiful little granddaughters now, so we are still into swimming pools and ice cream.”

Schmidt, who lives in Florida and turns 65 next month, was diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma in August 2013 and underwent chemotherapy and radiation.

“I had a little bout with melanoma for about eight months and the prognosis now is really good,” he said.

Even though Schmidt was a guest of a business that will make its money off gambling, he no longer partakes in such pastimes, and was able to pinpoint the moment he made that decision.

“It was about 15 years ago in Tahoe. I couldn’t count up the aces and the one face card (in blackjack) and I took a hit on a 20, so I said, ‘You know, you’ve got to give up gambling.’ “

Schmidt also talked baseball during his visit to the racino. Some of his takes on the issues of the day:

Pete Rose: "It has been 25 years (since Rose was banned from baseball). Surely, Pete was in a bit of denial for about 14 years. When he agreed to admit to the commissioner that he in fact bet on baseball I was there. He's a good friend.

“The whole issue has sort of been lying under a rug in the commissioner’s office for a long time. Maybe a new commissioner coming in will have an interest in reopening the Pete Rose issue. Pete is not a menace to society. He’s 73 and I think it would be great if they reopened it and at least put some closure on it for Pete as he gets up in years.”

Pace of play: "We just had a 2-hour, 12-minute game the other night in Philadelphia. They vary. What are you going to do, cut 10 minutes out of it? Forty-five minutes would be another story, but if they make the batter stay in the batter's box or increase the size of the strike zone and call more strikes you'll save 10 minutes.

“I think it’s just a ‘hot topic.’ I don’t think they’ll ever come up with any concrete changes. Baseball’s awful hard to change. Apparently they’re not worried about the length of games if they put replay in it.”

Derek Jeter: "He's a breath of fresh air. He handles his fame as well as anyone possibly could. A lot of young kids want to grow up and be like Derek Jeter. I'd have no problem if they were mine saying that."

Designated hitter: "I think we're way past the point where it should be. The two leagues are out of balance. The way we are headed with the sort of entertainment world we live in, I think we'd be a lot more entertained if there were one more hitting in the batting order in the National League.

“It might be an older guy like me in his last couple years, but can still hit who can’t run and throw much anymore and there’s a place to be on the field against maybe a great young pitcher.”

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