Obituaries South Orange

As Seton Hall Celebrates Life of ‘Baseball Legend’ Mike Sheppard, South Orange Police Warn of Traffic Delays April 12 &13

A large scale wake and funeral will take place at Seton Hall University this Friday and Saturday, April 12th & 13th

Streets around Seton Hall University will see additional traffic Friday and Saturday, April 12 and 13, as the University hosts the wake and funeral of Mike Sheppard, Sr., a Seton Hall University student-athlete, coach and employee for more than 60 years, who died on Saturday, April 6, at age 82.

From the South Orange Police:

On Friday: Between 1pm and 8pm, expect traffic delays due to vehicles entering and exiting the campus. Likewise, an increased number of parked vehicles in the surrounding areas may occur.

Saturday: Funeral procession will depart campus shortly after 12pm. Vehicles will exit campus onto Ward Place, turning left onto South Orange Ave and traveling west until leaving So Orange.

Expect delays along this entire route until procession leaves town. Please plan accordingly and share to help spread the word.

Seton Hall University posted the following remembrance of Sheppard on its website:

After a brilliant life as both a family man and baseball legend, Mike Sheppard, Sr., a Seton Hall University student-athlete, coach and employee for more than 60 years, died on Saturday.  He was 82.

Sheppard was the patriarch of the “first family” of baseball in the State of New Jersey for well over a half-century.  Both he and his wife Phyllis, are members of the Seton Hall University Athletics Hall of Fame. All five of their children, Mike Jr., Susan, Kathleen, John, and Rob are Seton Hall graduates with Sheppard’s three sons and son-in-law all being Seton Hall baseball standouts. His oldest son, Mike, a Hall of Famer, is currently the head coach at Seton Hall Prep, his second son, John, is the head coach at Morristown-Beard High School, while his youngest son Rob, is the head coach at Seton Hall University.

His son-in-law, Ed Blankmeyer, was a student-athlete and assistant coach at Seton Hall and is currently the long-time head coach at St. John’s University.

The visitation will be held on Friday, April 12 from 2-7 p.m., in Walsh Gymnasium (400 South Orange Avenue, South Orange, NJ 07079). The funeral mass will be held on Saturday, April 13 at 10 a.m., in Walsh Gymnasium followed by the entombment at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to both Seton Hall University and Seton Hall Prep School baseball programs.

“On behalf of Seton Hall Athletics, I extend my deepest condolences to Phyllis, Rob and the entire Sheppard family,” said Seton Hall Vice President & Director of Athletics Pat Lyons. “Mike Sheppard will forever be synonymous with Seton Hall Baseball, and the impact he had here for over 60 years is indelible. While we mourn his passing today, his spirit will always remain with us and lives on through the lives of the hundreds of student-athletes he coached and mentored. Coach Sheppard always said to never lose your hustle, and it’s assured that Seton Hall never will.”

For 31 years, Sheppard served as the University’s head coach, 1973-2003, recording 28 winning seasons and 27 postseason berths, highlighted by 15 BIG EAST Tournament appearances. He was named the BIG EAST Coach of the Year three times (1985, 1987, and 1989), and guided the Pirates to the conference tournament title in 1987. Sheppard’s squads reached the NCAA Tournament 12 times, and he led Seton Hall to appearances in the College World Series in 1974 and 1975.

Under Sheppard’s tutelage, the Pirates won 20 or more games 30 times, 30 or more games 22 times, and 40 or more games five times.  He holds a career record of 998-540-11 and ranks in the top 75 on the list of NCAA’s all-time winningest coaches (by victories).

During his tenure, more than 80 Seton Hall players have gone on to sign professional contracts, with 30 of them moving on to play in the major leagues. He coached eight MLB first-round picks, including MLB Hall of Fame inductee Craig Biggio and stars Rick Cerone, Jason Grilli, Matt Morris, Mo Vaughn and John Valentin.

In 1989, Sheppard was honored as a “Giant Steps” Award winner by the Northeastern University Center for the Study of Sports Society. In addition to being inducted into the Seton Hall University Hall of Fame in 1996, and having his jersey number 17 retired on April 25, 2004, he earned the McQuaid Medal in 1990 which is given for 20 years of academic and athletic service to the Seton Hall community.  Finally, Sheppard was inducted into the Newark Athletics Hall of Fame in 1988 and the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on January 7, 2011.

As a player, Sheppard was a catcher for Owen T. Carroll’s teams in the late 1950s.

Even after ceding head coaching duties to his son Rob, Sheppard remained a positive presence around the program as Head Coach Emeritus, and continued his duties as the Chairman of Essex County American Legion Baseball, a post held since 1983.  Every year since stepping down, you could still find him in the middle of the annual team photos, including those shot this winter for the 2019 team.

Sheppard’s reach was ever-present even beyond the sport of baseball.  In 2012, the City of Newark and Seton Hall decided to rename the University’s softball field, the Essex County Mike Sheppard, Sr. Softball Field.

Sheppard’s interest was to not only make better baseball players, but better people after four years of study and instruction at Seton Hall.  His mantra, “Never Lose Your Hustle,” has been repeated and used as a lesson for life, not just a baseball practice.  This culture, fostered and matured since Sheppard took over the program in 1973, continues to this day under his son.

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