Miami Marlins manager Skip Schumaker (R) studies coaches from other sports leagues, including the Miami Heat's Erik Spoelstra, for ideas on how to improve his abilities. Photo courtesy of the Miami Marlins
MIAMI, May 19 (UPI) -- New coaches crave education, but Miami Marlins manager Skip Schumaker doesn't often stray far for knowledge. He yearns to learn everything about the Miami Heat's Erik Spoelstra, who he calls the "best coach in sports."
"I've studied him for multiple years," Schumaker said Thursday at loanDepot park in Miami, after the Marlins beat the Washington Nationals for their fourth-consecutive win.
"I've read all of The Athletic articles about him. There's one that just came out. I've watched every speech of his last four or five years. I think he's one of the best in all of sports."
South Florida's recent sporting successes include the Heat and NHL's Florida Panthers battling in their respective conference finals, two men's basketball teams -- Miami and FAU -- making the Final 4 and the Miami women's team advancing to the Elite 8. That success was unexpected for most, but is a Heat habit.
Under Spoelstra, the Heat have forged frequent development of young and sometimes cast-off players, forming a franchise philosophy led by rabid defensive intensity and mental and physical preparation.
The Heat -- among the most consistent winners in the NBA -- are facing the Boston Celtics in their third conference finals appearance in four seasons.
Spoelstra is the longest-tenured coach in South Florida. He led the Heat to the playoffs 12 times in his 15 seasons. He logged as many championships (two) as losing seasons over that span.
Spoelstra, 52, is often lauded for his ability to carousel player personalities and maintain focus in locker rooms despite facing constant anxieties and pressures, while kindling a competitive fire at an almost deranged level.
That identity, dubbed "Heat culture," is aided by the fact that the team constantly is in contention, while the Marlins have been long absent from postseason play.
The Marlins haven't made the playoffs after a 162-game season since 2003, but Schumaker has the team player well (23-21) and is using knowledge he accumulates from Spoelstra, Phil Jackson and other coaching icons to oversee the MLB franchise's rebound.
"I research all the best and he is the best," Schumaker said of Spoelstra, whom he hasn't met.
Schumaker's willingness to look outside of himself and beyond the baseball diamond is something his top players say they appreciate. The 43-year-old former outfielder and second baseman recently shared another book about inspiration and motivation with center fielder Jazz Chisholm Jr.
"We talk about motivational stuff," Chisholm said of his relationship with Schumaker. "He reads a lot of books written by other coaches and gets inspired by other coaches and guys that played basketball.
"That shows how much he wants it as much as we want it. He is out there trying to help us to win too. To show that he puts in that much effort, that makes us work harder and makes us want to win because of what he is putting in.
"We can't let [him] down. He is working his butt off."
Chisholm, who is on the injured list because of turf toe, said he wants to go to one of the Heat-Celtics games in Miami. But the Heat will host the Celtics on Sunday and Tuesday, when the Marlins play in San Francisco and Denver.
The Marlins star -- known for his frequently dyed hair and playing flair -- said he closely follows the Heat and respects Spoelstra's ability to navigate the web of personalities and egos that is a professional sports locker room. Chisholm said Schumaker also has that gift.
"That's how Skip is," Chisholm said. "A lot of people would not be able to connect to my personality, as a coach or someone who played way earlier than me.
"I've seen him talk to everybody. Everybody here loves Skip. He gets along with everybody."
Marlins and Heat players have supported the Panthers by wearing their jerseys and attending games throughout the postseason runs. Team social media accounts often publish supportive messages for the other competitors.
A Panthers shirt was draped over a chair near Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara, before Thursday's win. The 2022 National League Cy Young Award winner said he hopes the Marlins can soon be a part of the South Florida sports market's success.
"It would be better if the three baseball, basketball and hockey all won the championship," Alcantara said. "It would be good for the city. Especially for the Marlins, because we haven't made the playoffs since 2020 [pandemic-shortened season].
"We have to support each other."
The Marlins were among the MLB teams inside the bottom 10 for odds to win the World Series in 2023. They made several moves -- including the acquisition of MLB's top hitter this year -- to improve their roster this off-season, and now sit just 4.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East standings.
New Marlins second baseman Luis Arraez leads MLB with a .378 average. The Marlins are among the league leaders in stolen bases and strikeouts issued.
The Marlins have a minus-52 run differential this season. But, like the Heat and Panthers, they often prevail in crunch time.
They are 14-1 in one-run games and started the season an MLB-record 12-0 in that statistic. Their .274 batting average after the sixth inning is the third-best in baseball.
The Heat are an NBA-best 5-2 in postseason clutch games -- those with a margin of five points or fewer inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. The Heat earned an NBA-best 32 "clutch" wins during the regular season.
The Panthers are 5-0 in overtime games this postseason. They are 8-0 in overtime playoff games since 2021. They Panthers are also 7-1 on the road this postseason.
"It's a pretty special time to be here," Schumaker said. "Flying under the radar is OK right now because there's a lot of other things that are happening.
"But I think we have a fun team to watch, too. As soon as those seasons end, I hope they both get championships and then they can come watch our games."
The wild-card Panthers beat the top-seeded Carolina Hurricanes in four overtimes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday in Raleigh, N.C.
The No. 8 Heat, who beat the No. 2 Celtics in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, will tip off Game 2 at 8:30 p.m. EDT Friday in Boston.
The Marlins will attempt to extend their winning streak when they play the San Francisco Giants at 10:15 p.m. Friday in San Francisco.