By Jeff Odom
When Kyle and Eric Schindler signed to play baseball at St. Petersburg College (SPC) last spring, neither brother knew how special the experience could be.
The Freedom High graduates spent four years playing baseball for the Patriots, molding the team into a contender and helping it clinch its first winning season (15-10) and playoff berth in program history last year.
As seniors, Kyle, a right-handed pitcher and infielder, went 4-4 with a 2.33 ERA in 57 innings pitched and Eric, a catcher and outfielder, batted .388 with 10 RBI.
Now, the twins have focused their attention on turning around the SPC program the way they always have — together.
The Schindlers started playing youth baseball at the age of 6. The two were inseparable from Little League through AAU and high school.
“All through our life it’s been great,” Kyle said. “We’ve always been on the field together.”
The brothers said they wanted to help build Freedom’s baseball program from Day 1, but they found it was harder than they imagined.
The squad had a combined record of 29-40 their first three years before finally showing its potential in 2012 when the Patriots qualified for the playoffs as the Class 7A-District 9 runner-up.
“It was great,” Eric said. “Freshman year we were 10-13. Sophomore year we only won eight or nine games, and it was awful. Then we came out junior year and shocked a lot of teams and started out 6-0. … Then, we turned it all around senior year and pretty much said hop on, boys. Let’s go.”
The duo didn’t have any doubt that they would continue their baseball journey with each other, no matter what college they ended up at.
“We went to different schools to work out like College of Central Florida, Brevard, Hillsborough and Daytona (community colleges), and then after every single workout we didn’t feel as good about it, but when we visited St. Pete it felt right,” Eric said.
They quickly decided SPC was going to be their next home.
“When we told people we were going to the same school together, they were like, ‘Oh, really?’ and the first thing they would be is shocked,” Kyle said. “I guess you don’t see that often; twin brothers or brothers in general going to the same school together. It’s a blessing, though.”
Eric said the biggest thing that stuck out to him was the opportunity to play in front of family and friends.
“Everyone that you’ve played with, all of your teammates and coaches and friends and family, they can still see you progress and watch you keep playing,” Eric said.
The SPC has dealt with its share of trouble during the past few seasons.
The program was cited for recruiting violations by the Florida Community College Activities Association in 2010 and was forced to forfeit its 2008-09 Suncoast Conference title, all regular season games from 2008 to 2010 and was slapped with a two-year postseason ban. Then, former coach Rob Francis was dismissed following an arrest in 2011.
The Schindlers said the opportunity to help rebuild the program — much like they did at Freedom — was actually a bonus.
“It’s easy to go to a big school and win all the time, but to turn a program that is not as highly known as other schools is a great thing to do,” Eric said. “Our assistant coach had a talk with all of the freshman before the season, and he was talking about the different kids coming in and how we have to start winning. … We told him that we had turned a program around to be one of the best in the county, and that it felt amazing. … I really feel like this can be the same situation, and it’s going to be huge.”
Kyle echoed his brother and said they hope to one day be compared to other famous siblings in the major leagues like B.J. and Justin Upton of the Atlanta Braves.
“Our coach in the fall told me and Eric that we play the game the right way,” Kyle said. “He said to everyone in the room, ‘I’m not trying to boost up anybody or fill anyone’s head, but there’s two people in this room that may not get drafted, but the Schindler brothers are known around the state for how they play the game.’ … Even to this day, people tell us they hated playing against us, but they respected us, and I think that’s because we’ve been playing the game the right way and that will always be key.”