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Minor league stop produces major surprise 33 years later

by Tim Linden | May 02, 2011

Douglas Schaefer, president of EJ’s Produce Sales Inc. in Phoenix, has a few regrets about his six-year professional baseball career, but his first season in Great Falls, MT, in 1975 is not among them.


Douglas Schaefer (right), president of EJ’s Produce Sales in Phoenix, at a baseball charity event with Damian Smith, the son Mr. Schaefer never knew he had until 2008, when he was contacted by a private investigator. (Photo courtesy of Damian Smith)
Mr. Schaefer got a call from a private investigator June 4, 2008, asking him if he was the Douglas Schaefer who was a pitcher on that San Francisco Giants farm team more than three decades before.


“I told him I was and he told me I had a son that I never knew that I had,” Mr. Schaefer said.

After a DNA test proved that he truly was the biological father of Damian Smith, Mr. Schaefer met the young man. “It is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me.”

Mr. Schaefer and his wife and daughter have embraced the relationship with Mr. Smith and his wife and mother, and Mr. Schaefer said, “We all get along very well. I have a son, my daughter has an older brother and my wife and my son’s mother really like each other.”

Mr. Schaefer explained that after being drafted and sent to Great Falls with a bunch of other young players, the team’s general manager informed the players that there was a lack of housing because the Missouri River had recently flooded the area. The players stayed in a condemned hotel for the first night but then Mr. Schaefer met a woman who had a spare room, which he ended up renting for the length of the season. Because of their non-compatible hours and Mr. Schaefer’s desire to keep his housing situation intact, the two had a friendly but platonic relationship. However, as the season was drawing to a close and he was ready to move out, he acknowledged that the two had an intimate encounter one evening. However, he went home when the season ended and was sent to another minor league town the next year.

“I never heard from her after that and I never really thought about it,” he said.

In fact, not too long after that, he met the woman of his dreams, got married and they had a daughter. And he went on and lived his life. Mr. Schaefer stayed in the minor leagues a few more years before a line drive to the knee led to the end of his career, and the start of a new one in the produce industry.

Fast forward to June 4, 2008, and the call from the private investigator.

“That same day we talked on the phone,” he said. “Soon he came out and visited and then he brought his wife to meet us. It was great. We all got along immediately.”

While Damian Smith had been looking for his father for about 15 years, he didn’t have the spelling of his name and professional baseball teams guard the personal information of its players very closely. Eventually, the son did get the correct spelling and was able to track down his dad. Last year dad and son got together for a celebrity baseball game held in the Phoenix area that Mr. Schaefer plays in every year.

“We got to play catch for the first time and I had tears rolling down my cheeks,” he said.

Father and son have also teamed up recently on a business venture having to do with saving energy in the produce industry. “We have a great relationship,” Mr. Schaefer said.