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After four straight no-hitters, Mitchell High pitcher Patrick Schuster is king of the mound

TRINITY — Patrick Schuster woke up Tuesday morning at 7 a national celebrity.

In between throwing a state record fourth consecutive no-hitter and grabbing six hours of sleep, the Mitchell High School senior pitcher had received 37 text messages.

He was supposed to do ESPN's Mike and Mike radio show from Mitchell, but after the excitement of the previous evening, he left the light on in his truck and his battery died, causing him to miss the show.

He did one radio interview in the morning, a handful of interviews at school. He did a local TV interview after school and one with ESPN, blew off another radio interview at 3:30 p.m. and declined to drive to St. Petersburg this morning for yet another.

"(Wednesday) I'm having dinner with a reporter from the New York Times,'' he said.

Schuster then rolled his eyes and let out a deep breath.

"This is a lot of fun, but I hope it doesn't last much longer,'' he said.

Schuster's recent run of dominance — he hasn't allowed a hit in his past 261/3 innings and has struck out 60 hitters — has made him, at the moment, Tampa Bay's most famous baseball player.

• • •

Schuster, 18, is still filling out his 6-foot-2, 165-pound frame. He throws a 90-mph fastball, a wicked slider and a baffling curve. And the combination of all of these things was enough to bring out a dozen professional scouts to his most recent performance.

Schuster started playing baseball when he was 5, and dad, Roger, taught him to bat right-handed before discovering his son was a lefty.

Schuster played for Holiday Little League, and parents complained he threw too hard.

"I didn't always know where my pitches were going,'' he joked.

He moved on to AAU, or Amateur Athletic Union, at 10, deciding baseball was his future.

"He was a natural,'' Roger said.

Things could not have been better on the baseball field. Patrick was making all-star teams, striking out batters and hitting homers at an impressive clip.

Off the field, things could not have been going any worse.

Just as Patrick was blooming as a baseball player, his older brother, Shane, was diagnosed with a juvenile form of bone cancer at age 22.

A former baseball and football player at Gulf High, Shane shared his family's athletic bloodlines — Roger was a standout football player and wrestler at Pembroke High in western New York, where he met Sharon, the statistician for some of Roger's teams.

But the cancer was too strong.

Sharon remembers trying to explain to a young Patrick that Shane had tumors in his lungs and wasn't going to live long.

"Well, if he needs a lung, just let me give him one of mine,'' Patrick said.

Sharon slid a finger under her sunglasses Tuesday to keep the tears from falling.

"I don't think Patrick got his mind around the fact that he was going to die,'' she said. "But I think that made him the strong, compassionate person he is. I think he grew up understanding compassion, because that's all there was.''

After four years of a hard battle, Shane died Sept. 21, 2002.

Last year, Patrick wrote STS — for Shane Thomas Schuster — on the back of his shoes, then went out and struck out 20 batters in a win over Gulf, tying a 51-year-old Pasco County record.

In Monday's record-setting no-hitter, he had the date his brother died on the back of his shoes.

"I don't remember a lot, but I remember what an amazing person he was,'' said Schuster, who was 7 when his brother was diagnosed.

Perhaps that is why Schuster says he enjoys pitching so much. He feels he is in control of his own fate. "I feel safe on the mound,'' he said.

• • •

Schuster grew up admiring the Atlanta Braves' Chipper Jones, but now Tampa Bay Rays ace Scott Kazmir is his favorite player. Both are hard-throwing lefties; Schuster is consistently clocked in the low 90s.

"He reminds me exactly of me,'' said Schuster. "He likes to challenge hitters. He doesn't pitch around anyone. That is exactly how I like to pitch.''

At Cypress Falls High in Texas, Kazmir once threw four straight no-hitters, and struck out 172 hitters in 75 innings his senior year.

Schuster has struck out 110 in 55 innings.

"I want to see him pitch,'' Kazmir said Tuesday. "It's flattering that he even tries to emulate me, very flattering. ''

Kazmir passed on a Texas scholarship after being a first-round draft pick, and Schuster, a University of Florida signee, could soon face the same decision as a large signing bonus offer is likely to be thrown his way.

Schuster is like any other 18-year-old, his parents say.

His room has a framed story and a collage of photos, a few trophies — his pitcher of the year award given to him by his team last year is the most precious one, he says — and baseballs and gloves scattered about.

Until Monday, none of the balls were from any of his no-hitters; he did have one from a home run he hit last week, though.

As he tells the story, Schuster tugs on the tuft of hair sprouting from his chin. He's not superstitious, but after his first no-hitter, he told girlfriend Alyssa Updegrave as a joke that he wasn't going to shave until his streak was broken. Now, he's stuck with it.

Updegrave hates it, but she'll have to live with it until Tuesday, when Schuster, who has allowed only nine hits all season, makes his next start in a district semifinal at Countryside High.

Truth be told, he seems like he wants the streak of no-hitters to end. He'd rather just get the win, which would clinch a playoff spot for the 20-3 Mustangs, and keep his final prep season going.

"It's been incredible. It's kind of sad, thinking the season could end,'' he said. "I like playing high school baseball with these guys. Winning a state championship would be icing on the cake.''

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

After four straight no-hitters, Mitchell High pitcher Patrick Schuster is king of the mound 04/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 6:34am]
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