Two for the Ages

Remembering Eastern baseball legends Oestrike and Welch

By Jeff Samoray

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Eastern Magazine

Pat Sheridan, Ron Oestrike and Bob Welch

The first fastball came in hard over the heart of the plate. The batter swung ferociously and missed, nearly falling over on the backswing. Reggie Jackson, New York’s “Mr. October,” adjusted his Yankees helmet and dug back in the box. His opponent: Dodgers rookie right-hander Bob Welch, just 21 and one year removed from collegiate play at Eastern Michigan University. 

The stakes were high. Los Angeles inserted Welch to close Game Two of the 1978 World Series. Jackson, at the height of his Hall of Fame career, batted with two runners on base. The Dodgers held on to a 4-3 lead. Jackson was the last man to get. 

The Dodger Stadium crowd roared when Welch’s next pitch, a high inside fastball, knocked Jackson off his feet. He fouled off the next pitch, then two more. Jackson took another tight fastball before fouling yet another. 

Bob Welch

The nine-pitch battle, which extended to a 3-2 count, ended when Jackson struck out swinging. Ecstatic teammates and fans rushed the mound to congratulate Welch, while Jackson cursed and threw his bat in the Yankees dugout. 

The nation had just witnessed one of the great pitcher/ batter confrontations in World Series history. Ron Oestrike had to be smiling.

Oestrike developed many young men into professional ballplayers during his 23 years as Eastern’s head baseball coach. Welch, who went on to a 17-year major-league career, was one of the most successful. Just as his World Series strikeout remains imprinted on the minds of Dodgers fans, so does Oestrike’s legacy on EMU athletics. He made Eastern a baseball powerhouse with 657 wins, a national title and consecutive College World Series appearances. 

Sadly, Eastern lost both of these men earlier this year. Welch died of a heart attack on June 10 at age 57; Oestrike died on July 11 at age 82 after a lengthy illness. But their respective baseball legacies, which flourished on the diamonds of Ypsilanti, will long endure.

Always Ready to Play

 “Oestrike was always consumed by what he was doing and always thinking of ways to get better,” says Jim Streeter, retired EMU associate athletics director for media relations. “He wanted nine guys on the diamond with his attitude. Maybe they weren’t the most talented players, but they’d outwork and outsmart the opposition.”

Oestrike, a Flat Rock native, played baseball and football for Eastern from 1951-54 and earned a bachelor’s degree in education. After a stint in the Army, he coached several sports at Trenton High School and earned a master’s degree at the University of Michigan. In 1964, Oestrike returned to Eastern as assistant football and baseball coach and associate professor. The following year, he took over as head baseball coach, a position he held until retiring in 1987. 

Ron Oestrike

“Oak,” as his players affectionately called him, soon became legendary for his passion for the game and dedication to playing “anyone, anytime, anywhere.”

“When the team went on the road, it was like a barnstorming tour,” Streeter says. “I remember one trip through Tennessee when we played any little college we could find. If it looked like rain, Oestrike would go to the opponent’s field and work on it himself to make it playable. He had no right to do that, but other schools enjoyed his passion for the game.”

Eastern’s baseball program reached new heights in 1970, when Oestrike led the team to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championship. Sharp recruiting over the next few seasons brought Welch and left-handed starter Bob Owchinko (another future major-leaguer) to the team. Oestrike and his dynamite pitching tandem led the Eagles (then called the Hurons) to a fifth-place finish in the 1975 NCAA College World Series and runner-up spot in the 1976 College World Series.

“Those years were instrumental in putting Eastern baseball on the map,” Streeter says. “Recruits saw what we achieved with a limited season and bad weather. By the mid 1970s, we had sent a number of kids to the majors and minors. Incoming players knew they didn’t need to go to Arizona or California to find success.”

Pat Sheridan, who played nine seasons with the Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees, was Eastern’s center fielder from 1977-1979. His father, Arthur, played baseball at Eastern with Oestrike in the early 1950s. When Pat graduated from high school in 1976, Eastern was well-known for its baseball success. So when Oestrike recruited him, the commitment was easy.

“Oak’s record spoke volumes and the effort he put into playing games was great,” says Sheridan, who retired from baseball in 1991 and works as an independent insurance agent in Canton. “It isn’t so easy to play spring baseball in the Midwest. I recall a game when it was snowing pretty hard. I wore glasses at the time and couldn’t see from the outfield. When I walked back into the dugout, Oak got mad and told me to get back on the field. He didn’t want any acts of God to ruin any opportunity to play baseball.”

Oestrike also drilled baseball fundamentals into his players. He wanted them to understand his theory of hitting with runners on first and third and no outs, or how to best position infielders in a sacrifice bunt situation. 

“I didn’t learn anything in the lower minor leagues that 

I hadn’t already learned in college,” Sheridan says. “Oak’s practice drills stuck with us. We didn’t think about the fundamentals during games—we just reacted. All of us had great respect for Oak’s massive intelligence for the game.”

Winners in Baseball—and in Life

“Playing baseball at Eastern for Oak was one of the best decisions I ever made,” says Danny Schmitz (BS79), Hurons second baseman from 1974-1977. “My education, coupled with my baseball experience, mapped out my life.”

The Yankees drafted Schmitz in 1977 and he played minor league ball in the organization’s farm system. Later, he managed a Class A team in the Minnesota Twins system. In 1987, he returned to Eastern to serve as an assistant baseball coach following Oestrike’s retirement.

Since 1991, he’s been the head baseball coach at Bowling Green.

“Many of the drills and defenses we run at Bowling Green are ones I learned from Oak,” Schmitz says. “He also got to know his players personally and was a great motivator. 

He was the first to give encouragement, but he also let you know when he expected more.” Schmitz and Welch both grew up in Hazel Park and attended the same middle and high school. From an early age, it was apparent that Welch was an exceptional athlete and person, Schmitz says.

“Bobby never bragged about his athletic abilities—he just had a drive to be the best,” says Schmitz, who was a year older than Welch. “He also had an amazing ability to make friends, not just with his teammates, but with everyone. He was a great teammate and a fun-loving guy.”

Welch injured his pitching elbow during his junior year at Eastern and missed most of the 1977 season. But that didn’t hurt his reputation as a major league prospect. Schmitz recalls droves of scouts who attended Eastern games that year, mainly to watch Welch throw bullpen sessions.

“Bobby hardly pitched that season, but the Dodgers still made him their top draft pick,” Schmitz says.

In his long and highly successful major-league career with the Dodgers and Oakland Athletics, Welch won 211 games, made two All-Star teams, and played on five teams that reached the World Series. He won titles with the 1981 Dodgers and the 1989 Athletics. Welch had his best season in 1990. He finished 27-6 with a 2.95 earned-run average and won the American League Cy Young Award. He’s the last major-league pitcher to win more than 25 games in a season. After retiring, Welch became a pitching coach with the 2001 World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks.

Throughout his life, Welch struggled with alcoholism. He chronicled his disease with co-writer George Vecsey in “Five O’Clock Comes Early,” published in 1991. By all accounts, Welch overcame his battle with the bottle and stayed sober.

“What I remember most about Bobby’s career is his World Series strikeout of Jackson,” Schmitz says. “That moment still gives me goose bumps. It made the guys who played with him proud to be Hurons.”

Oestrike, who kept in touch with his former players, came to Tiger Stadium in 1988 to visit Sheridan and Welch, who was with the visiting Oakland Athletics. A photo of the three men together and signed by Oestrike has a place of honor in Sheridan’s office.

“Oak has a wonderful broad smile in that photo,” Sheridan says. “It’s hard to feel that just yesterday both of them were young and vibrant. We lost two really good men.”

“I was devastated when I heard about Bobby’s death,” Schmitz says. “I always considered him a dear friend. I have so many memories of all the laughs we shared. 

“It was really tough to learn about Oak’s death. Oak was respected by everyone—he is EMU baseball. I’ll always remember his laugh and the twinkle in his eye. He loved his family and he loved Eastern baseball.

“I’m very blessed to have known both of them, and it was so hard to lose them within a few weeks of each other. I guess they needed a head coach on Bobby’s team in heaven.”

Distinguished Careers


  • EMU head baseball coach: 1965-87 Managerial record: 657-508-8
  • National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) championship: 1970 NCAA College World Series: 5th place, 1975; runner-up, 1976
  • Mid-American Conference (MAC) titles: 1975, 1976, 1978
  • MAC Tournament championships: 1981, 1982 NAIA Coach of the Year: 1970
  • NCAA Coach of the Year: 1976
  • American Amateur Baseball Conference Hall of Fame: 1970
  • EMU Athletic Hall of Fame: 1979
  • Oestrike Stadium dedication: 1988
  • Dr. John W. Porter Distinguished Service Award: 2000


  • EMU pitching record: 17-6 (1975-77)
  • Major League Baseball (MLB) amateur draft: 1st-round pick (20th overall) in 1977 by Los Angeles Dodgers
  • MLB pitching record: 211-146 (1978-94 with Dodgers, Oakland Athletics)
  • American League Cy Young Award: 1990 MLB All-Star: 1980, 1990
  • World Series championships: 1981 Dodgers, 1989 Athletics, 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks (as pitching coach)
  • EMU Athletic Hall of Fame: 1998