Eric Semmelhack was sitting in the home dugout at Kapco Park in Grafton on Tuesday, watching the Eau Claire Express take batting practice. His Lakeshore Chinooks teammates milled about, going through the routine of pre-game preparation.
On the surface, it was like any other summer league game going on around the country. Except for Semmelhack, a starting pitcher who just completed his junior year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the usual routine was kicked to the curb. Clutched closely was his phone – hardly the usual dugout accessory.
It buzzed, and Semmelhack recognized the number. It was his father, Mike.
He got right to the point.
"Do you know what team do you think just picked?" father asked son.
Then came the guess.
Dad had his moment then, letting his son hang a heartbeat before telling his boy, the lifelong Milwaukee Brewers fan who he took to County Stadium and Miller Park countless times, that the hometown team drafted him.
"The first thing that went through my head ... I was obviously excited ... I don't even know," said Semmelhack, who grew up in Oak Creek. "It was one of those things where knew I was going to stay in Milwaukee. I played high school baseball in the Milwaukee area, went to college at UW-Milwaukee and it was cool to be drafted by the team I grew up rooting for all these years. It just makes it a little more fulfilling when it's to the Milwaukee Brewers and it's who everybody, all your friends, grew up watching. It makes it a little more satisfying."
The Brewers selected the 12th round Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft at No. 395 overall. He was the Brewers' 14th overall selection, and one of 21 pitchers.
Semmelhack caught the eyes of scouts this year working primarily as a weekend starter for the Panthers, notching five wins and a 3.77 earned run average this season. He did lead the Horizon League in strikeouts and ranked in the top 10 in five other categories.
It's a fitting next step for the 6-foot, 5-inch, 225-pound right-hander, who eschewed several other scholarship offers to stay close to home, allow his parents to watch him play and help bring the UWM baseball team to prominence.
"I like the underdog mentality of maybe playing SEC teams and show them in Wisconsin, we do have good baseball players here and UWM is a good program and we are developing and heading in the right direction – which we are," Semmelheck said. "We had three guys get drafted and that just shows (assistant coach) Cory Bigler and (head coach) Scott Doffek are doing a good job over there recruiting with good player development. You can tell in next couple years that program might really take off and they might become a really quality baseball team year in and year out."
He hopes that competitive spirit attracted the Brewers to him as much as his talent, which Semmelheck showcased one final time before the draft last Thursday in a pro day.
"I saw a big fastball, yeah," said Bruce Seid, the Brewers director of amateur scouting. "It's not the most easiest delivery, but when it's still coming out 94, 95 and he can spin it a little bit, that's pretty good. Maybe he's a bullpen guy in the long run but he may be a pretty good one."
Semmelheck signed Thursday night and will gather with family and friends in Oak Creek this weekend and have a going away party on Sunday before he heads off to Montana to play with the Helena Brewers, Milwaukee's rookie league affiliate in the Pioneer League.
"I keep telling everybody I don't think it's completely set in for me yet, and I don't know what it's going to take for it to completely set in for me. I think it's all kind of surreal for me right now. It is kind of a business, but I mean it's what I wanted to do my whole life, so I just gotta go out there and hopefully have success and try to make a career out of it."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.