People are most important thing about baseball to Charlestown’s Romans

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ricky Romans likes to win and clutch trophies as much as the next guy.

But as he has grown older, the head baseball coach at Charlestown High School has discovered that the people in the game mean the most to him.

“I’m a competitive person,” says Romans, who has guided the Pirates since the 2004 season, playing in three sectional title games (winning 3A hardware at Silver Creek in 2009) and taking top honors in the Mid-Southern Conference in 2015, the senior year of son Drew Reich (a pitcher and third baseman who played one season at Owens Community College in Ohio and is now at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill.). “We haven’t won the number of championships I would have preferred, but we’ve done a lot of good things.

“It’s about the relationships — the players, the people involved, the administration. It’s been a successful venture. I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly.”

Romans really enjoyed having his father around the diamond.

Rick Romans Sr. was a left-handed pitcher drafted out of Jeffersonville High School by the Kansas City Royals in the 20th round of the 1971 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (KC picked Roy Branch and George Brett 1-2 that year).

After two seasons, a teenage Romans returned to southern Indiana, where he worked and passed on a love of baseball to young boys like Rick Romans II.

Eventually, the elder Romans became pitching coach at Indiana University Southeast and young Ricky was always hanging around the IUS program.

He played four years at Jeffersonville High for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Al Rabe at second base or in the outfield, graduating in 1994.

A transition to IU Southeast seemed like a natural and he did head for the New Albany campus. But his college playing career ended almost as quickly as it began.

“I quit playing baseball after fall session of my freshman year,” says Romans. “It was very challenging decision at the time. I had to work (to buy a car). Looking back, I wish I was never done. I talk to kids today about sticking with things. I tell them they have your whole life to work.”

Still clinging to his love of the game, the younger Romans was offered the chance to join Rabe’s staff at Jeffersonville for the 2003 season.

“He helped me with understanding the game of baseball a little bit better,” says Romans of Rabe, who also helped him get involved in IHSBCA leadership (Romans is the association’s president in 2017-18).

When Charlestown job came open, Romans got the chance to head up his own high school program.

“It was just a golden opportunity,” says Romans. “They had struggled in years prior. I had the chance to go in and build something over the years.”

His father, who had been a volunteer at Jeffersonville, was his son’s pitching coach those first three seasons.

After that, dad still faithfully attended games and practices. He was a familiar face around the field — whether that was on-campus or at Charlestown Little League (where the Pirates played 2009-12 while a new school and athletic facilities were being constructed in Clark County).

In 2017, the man who taught his son to love baseball was not around.

“This past spring it was really weird for me,” says Romans. “He wasn’t there.”

Rick Romans Sr., died in September 2016. Dale Lewis, Ricky’s stepfather, passed in March 2017 (11 years after the death of Toni Lewis, Ricky’s mother).

Romans heads toward the 2018 season with a coaching staff featuring Brian Smith, Chuck Latham, Chris Nickles, Matt Siler and little brother Josh Romans (who played at Charlestown for Ricky and coached Floyds Knobs American Legion Post 42 with him in the summer of 2016).

This summer was the first since 2008 that Post 42 did not field a team with Romans as manager. Post 42, which finished second in the state tournament to perennial powerhouse Rockport Post 254 in 2015, is hoping to bounce back in 2018.

Romans, who is married to 14 years to Jennifer and also has daughters Kinley (11) and Kaylee (6), has been director of sports and athletics for the City of Jeffersonville since January 2008.

He gravitated toward the IHSBCA because it allows him to be even closer to the sport and the people in it. That started with long-time executive director Bill Jones (who died in 2015) and moved onto executive director Brian Abbott and assistant to the executive director Phil McIntyre.

This summer, Romans helped stage the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Muncie. The 2018 series is slated for South Bend with the 2019 festivities in Madison.

“It boils down to nothing more than wanting to be involved,” says Romans. “I love listening to the speakers (at the annual state clinic). I love talking baseball. Baseball is my passion. I was born into it.”

RICKYROMANSROYTHURMAN

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association president Ricky Romans (left) poses with 2017 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series MVP Roy Thurman. Romans, a Jeffersonville High School graduate, has been head coach at Charlestown High School since 2004. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Sinker effective pitch for Kokomo native, Padres minor leaguer Weir

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Making more of his pitches go down has helped T.J. Weir go up in professional baseball.

Weir, a graduate of Kokomo High School (2010) and Ball State University (2014), has incorporated a sinker into his pitching repertoire and is now at Double-A in the San Diego Padres organization after beginning the 2017 season at High-A.

According to Tim Weir, T.J.’s father, off-season throwing partner and pitching coach at Kokomo High, his son learned the sinker while playing catch a couple off-seasons back with big league reliever Craig Stammen.

Todd Linklater was one of T.J.’s pitching coaches at Ball State and had coached Stammen while guiding pitchers at the University of Dayton and helped get the two hurlers together.

“Last year he used a four-seam fastball and sometimes a sinker,” says Tim Weir. “This year, it’s primarily a sinker. He can rely on the sinker and can get a swing and miss or ground balls in counts where he used to give up hits.”

T.J. played at UCT Cal Ripken Baseball League until 12 and travel ball with the Central Indiana Kings (coached by Tim Weir, Chad Reida and Keith Vautaw) and Tim Weir-coached Indiana Force through his 15-year-old summer before he went with the Indiana Bulls to be coached by Todd Dunwoody then Alex Rynearson.

All the while Tim, a 1982 Kokomo graduate who played Wildkats baseball for Carl McNulty and Mike Smith, was paying close attention. He knows his sons’ mechanics almost better than he does.

“I don’t like to admit it, but sometimes he’s right,” says T.J. of his father. “He knows the game really well. He watches the game online and sees things I need to fix.”

The 25-year-old Weir now often uses the sinker — thrown at 90 to 93 mph — in fastball situations and it has aided the 6-foot right-hander in going 4-1 with a 1.65 earned run average in 31 games and 49 innings with the Double-A San Antonio Missions after going 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 10 games and 19 1/3 innings with the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm.

Weir, who also throws a curve, slider and occasional change-up, has a way of describing himself as a pitcher.

“I’m a strike thrower,” says T.J. “I get ahead in the count and keep (hitters) off-balance.”

In his last 10 appearances, Weir has thrown 101 of 230 pitches for strikes while going 1-0 with an 0.56 ERA over 16 innings.

“I take pride in throwing strikes, being able to field my position and things like that,” says Weir, who was often a third baseman or shortstop when not pitching at Ball State.

Getting ahead in the count allows Weir to sometimes “pitch backwards” from the conventional sequence.

“The Texas League only has eight teams (four in Texas and four up north),” says T.J. “We play the same three teams over and over again. You need to be able to adjust on the fly.”

But players don’t actually fly in the Texas League. All trips are by bus. The shortest from San Antonio is 2 1/2 hours. It takes about 12 to get to Springfield, Mo. The Missions take two buses on that long haul and don’t have to share seats. Otherwise, players do their best to get comfortable on one. Not an easy task for Weir, but even tougher for bullpen mates like (6-9 Brad Wieck) and (6-7 Trey Wingenter).

T.J. played for Steve Edwards at Kokomo and was a classmate of right-hander Nolan Sanburn, now in the Washington Nationals system.

Weir was recruited to Ball State by Greg Beals and played for Alex Marconi his first two collegiate seasons and Rich Maloney his last two. Before Linklater, his pitching coach at BSU was Jeremy Plexico.

“It was cool to be able to hear from both of them,” says T.J. “They came from two very different experiences. (Plexico) is tall and left-handed. (Linklater) is a short righty.”

Weir went back and forth from believer to starter at Ball State. He was primarily a starter his senior season, when he was selected in the 17th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Padres.

Of his 124 minor league appearances, all but 20 have come as a reliever.

“I’ve found a rhythm and a routine I like in the pen,” says T.J., who usually pitches two innings per outing and has yet to pitch on consecutive days.

He has also learned much from San Antonio pitching coach Jimmy Jones.

“He’s great,” says T.J. of Jones. “We relievers listen in during starter’s bullpens. He’s always dropping knowledge.”

Jones has conveyed the importance of control over the body — even when tired from the long season.

“You learn how to play catch the right way,” says T.J. “You can get in so many bad habits. We play six months straight. You learn how to conduct yourself as a professional and take every rep seriously.”

T.J. will be seriously busy once the 2017 season ends.

Giving back to his hometown, he will conduct a free kids baseball camp Sept. 30 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

On Nov. 18, T.J. is to marry former Ball State volleyball player Kati Vasalakis in Muncie and then move to Cincinnati where she is now working.

After recovering from the 2017 season, Weir begins ramping up his throwing program in preparation of 2018 in December.

TJWEIRSAMISSIONS17

T.J. Weir delivers a pitch for the 2017 San Antonio Missions. The Kokomo, Ind., native is in the San Diego Padres organization. (San Antonio Missions Photo)

 

Cubs appreciate what dietitians can do for their performance

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What athletes put into their bodies can go along way in what they can accomplish.

The field of sports nutrition just keeps growing every year.

The Chicago Cubs have led the way in professional baseball circles, where each team is looking to require dietetic staffers at the big league level.

In 2016, the Cubs fulfilled Dawn Blatner’s goal when they became the first Major League Baseball organization to place these licensed nutrition experts with all of its minor league affiliates. Blatner is assisted in Chicago by Jenny Westerkamp.

Marta Scechura, who is now a Sports Nutrition Associate at the University of Notre Dame, led the dietary needs of the Low Class-A South Bend Cubs the first season. It’s been Emily Kaley in 2017.

Kaley is part of a little community that also includes the two dietitians in Chicago and four at other Cubs minor league stops.

Following the plan set up by Blatner and giving it her own flavor, Kaley keeps South Bend players on a beneficial nutritional path.

“I make sure they have access to well-balanced meals every single day,” says Kaley. “I meal plan for two meals everyday of the season (pregame and postgame).

“Nutrition is important for your performance,” says Kaley. “It can make a big difference.”

With a “plate check” chart on the clubhouse wall, the team has a chance to take in well-balanced portions of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.

With about 40 mouths to feed and tastes coming from all over the U.S. and Latin America, Kaley works with a local caterer (as well as those at out-of-town destinations in the Midwest League) to mix up the menu.

“I need to make a variety of all different kinds of foods to help them stay interested in eating healthy foods and not get bored with what they’re eating,” says Kaley. “We can’t have chicken every single time.”

Kaley takes requests and provides healthy smoothies packed with nutrient-dense foods. The ingredients depend on the player’s goals — gaining, losing or maintaining weight.

“I’m right in the clubhouse doing it,” says Kaley. “They see it and smell it. Sometimes they want to help. Sometimes they want to taste test.”

If players don’t like what’s being presented to them, peanut butter and jelly is an alternative.

With clubhouse/equipment manager Terry Fellows doing the shopping with a “Costco haul” at the beginning of a homestand, Kaley makes sure her hungry crew can have healthy snacks like fruits, homemade popcorn or banana bread.

There is also access to superfood shots — Matcha for energy, beet for endurance, pickle juice as a cramp stopper, ginger for immunity, collagen for protection and tart cherry for recovery.

She is also there to answer all the nutrition questions thrown her way and troubleshooting.

Kaley went on one road trip and might go on another before the 2017 season closes. When she’s not with the squad, she has strength and conditioning coach Ryan Nordtvedt providing the snacks while she is in South Bend catching up on planning, notes and filing assessments sheets for the Cubs organization.

As a fifth-year veteran of professional baseball, Nordtvedt has also been a resource to show Kaley how things function. He also provides her with player weights so she is able to use food to help them gain, lose or maintain.

“I’m glad the strength and conditioning coach is here and locked into nutrition being an important part of professional baseball,” says Kaley, who also works with athletic trainer Logan Severson in South Bend.

Kaley, who plans to become a board-certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) this February, has a Masters degree in Sport Nutrition from University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Simmons College in Boston, where she also played lacrosse.

She grew up in Bangor and Manchester, Maine, and earned her karate black belt and played lacrosse and soccer at Maranacook Community School.

“I was raised in a healthy environment,” says Kaley, the daughter of a dietitian mother (Lori) and diabetic father (Bruce) with sisters (Lindsey and twin Zoie). “I brought lunches to school everyday. I fueled well for soccer practice. I knew how food effected me.”We didn’t got out to eat a lot and in-moderation. We didn’t have soda in the house. We had ice cream once in awhile.”

Kaley went from Simmons into a Morrison Chartwells Distance Dietetic Internship in Charlotte, N.C. While there, she got to work with elite swimmer Ryan Lochte, who was training at Queens University. She was invited to go to Colorado Springs see to the nutrition needs of Team USA Swimming and Team USA Track and Field athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in the year leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I was in the presence of Michael Phelps and gave him a smoothie one time,” says Kaley.

Those kinds of athletes are very much in-tune with their nutrition and how their bodies respond to food.

At the low levels of pro baseball, it varies from person to person and not all metabolisms are the same.

“It’s super fun to work with the 18- to 24-year-olds,” says Kaley. “They’re just starting to get it.”

EMILYKATEY1

Emily Kaley is the dietitian for the 2017 South Bend Cubs. The Chicago Cubs organization was the first to have registered dietitians for all of its minor league affiliates. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Alum Catey keeps success going at Hagerstown

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Respect for all the little things have led to big things at a little school.

Hagerstown was ranked No. 1 much of the season in IHSAA Class 1A baseball in 2017.

The Tigers lost in the Carroll (Flora) Regional championship game to eventual state runner-up Rossville and finished 28-5 in Brad Catey’s sixth season as Hagerstown head coach.

Hagerstown reigned at the Seton Catholic Sectional.

Catey spent his whole pre-college school career in Hagerstown (K-12) and graduated in 2000 before studying and playing basketball at Indiana University East in Richmond. He played several positions for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Lloyd Michael — shortstop as a freshman, second base as a sophomore, left field as a junior and catcher as a junior.

“I moved wherever Lloyd needed me to move,” says Catey, who was part of 1999 squad that lost to eventual state champion Evansville Mater Dei in the 2A Indianapolis North Central Semistate and also played football and basketball for the Tigers.

Third baseman Cory Childs was a 2A first-team all-state selection for Hagerstown in 1999 while pitcher Jesse Johnson earned that distinction in 2000.

Catey spent four seasons as a Hagerstown assistant before taking over for Michael with the 2012 season.

“He taught me to respect the game,” says Catey of mentor Michael. “We made sure we do the little things right. We always ran on and off the field. We backed up the plate. You give yourself a chance to win.”

Hagerstown has won three sectionals (2013, 2016, 2017) and six crowns in the Tri-Eastern Conference (which also includes Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester) with Catey in charge.

At the same time, the Tigers have produced three first-all-staters — pitcher Cole Bartlett (2A) in 2013, outfielder Owen Golliher (1A) in 2016 and pitcher Drew Pyle (1A) in 2017.

Right-hander Bartlett pitched at the University of Missouri and was taken in the 25th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is with the Missoula (Mont.) Osprey.

Hagerstown’s success got Catey a spot on the North coaching staff for the 2017 IHSBCA All-Star Series in Muncie, where he got to coach TEC Player of the Year Trey Kelley one more time before he headed off to Earlham College.

“That was an awesome experience,” says Catey, who served on a South staff led by Plainfield’s Jeff McKeon and also featuring Batesville’s Justin Tucker and Columbus East’s John Major. “I got to coach a lot of (NCAA) Division I talent.”

H-town goes back to 2A for the 2018 season — and likely the Cambridge City Lincoln Sectional field — with plenty of optimism.

The junior varsity squad, coached by Bruce Charles, went 22-0 last spring.

“We don’t like to rebuild; we reload,” says Catey. “It makes my job a little easier.”

Hagerstown graduates Charles, pitching coach Dan Davis Jr. and outfielders coach Jay Hale (outfielders) are all expected to be part of the staff in 2017-18.

Hagerstown Little League has served as a high school feeder program for years. Many current juniors and seniors represented Indiana at the Great Lakes Regional when they were that age.

To help maintain the relationship with HLL, each high school player is required to umpire two games a year.

“That’s one of the reason we keep our numbers so high,” says Catey. who had 38 players on varsity, junior varsity and C-team squads in 2017. “For a 1A school, that’s really good.

“Most our guys have found a good travel team. We encourage our guys to find a little better competition.”

Among those travel organizations are the Hagerstown Heat, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Nitro.

Across Indiana, the 2017 season brought with it the new IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

Hagerstown had a number of quality arms to get through its schedule, including Kelley (Class of ’17) and Pyle (Class of ’18).

“It didn’t seem to effect us that much,” says Catey. “We had a lot of people we could use. Some other teams had to drop JV games because they had to use guys in varsity games.

“The biggest equation is the JV and varsity pitches they can pitch in a week.”

Catey leads students through simple equations as a math teacher at Hagerstown Elementary.

Recently, he has been teaching young girls how to slide. Oldest daughter Lilly (7) is an 8U softball player. Brad and Darcy Catey’s youngest daughter is Peyton (5).

BRADCATEY

Hagerstown High School baseball head coach Brad Catey celebrates a 2017 sectional championship with daughters Peyton (left) and Lilly (right).

Buysse busy building baseball program at IUSB

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Buysse has hit the ground running as the first full-time baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend.

Buysse, who was hired July 25 after serving three seasons as head baseball coach at South Bend Washington High School, has been assembling his coaching staff and preparing for the arrival of his players (fall semester begins Monday, Aug. 21.).

That’s when implementation of the program’s culture can begin in earnest.

After talking with seniors and other returnees, Buysse has found that the players want a brotherhood.

“A big part of our fall will be building a hard-working, positive, all-in-the-same-boat culture,” says Buysse. “They are very excited. They really want that bond as a team.”

The idea is to be selfless and care more about teammates than themselves.

There will be practices and intra-squad games in the fall as Buysse and his players become familiar with one another.

“It’s going to be a learning experience all the way around,” says Buysse. “We’ll see what Titan baseball looks like moving forward.”

A three-week break in October will allow players to get a break from daily baseball activities while they continue to lift weights, condition and go to class.

Buysse ticked off the program’s priorities.

“They start off the field,” says Buysse. “We want to develop men; everyone graduates. After that comes the classroom. Wins and losses are down the list.”

Daily class checks are likely with Buysse and his staff. All newcomers will be required to spent a minimum of four hours per week in study table. All players will be expected to use these resources until they have a 3.0 grade-point average or better.

Buysse has set a goal of a 3.4 accumulative team GPA. That’s for the fall and the spring.

“I’m not a big believer in relaxing expectations during the season,” says Buysse.

The grade rule is not meant to be punitive but to show them what is available to them.

“We’re trying to show these guys all the tools they need to be successful (on the field and off) and showing them how to use those tools,” says Buysse. “If they graduate, they’ll graduate with an IU degree and that will open more doors than playing college baseball will.

“The resources they have here are just unbelievable. I have are just unbelievable. I have the backing of the administration. They want to see this be a success.”

The John Glenn High School and Saint Joseph’s College graduate has hired Trace Myers as a part-time assistant. Chris Mangus, Luke Gaboury and Kyle Liedtky will be volunteer student assistants while Kyle Heeter is the strength and conditioning coach.

Myers comes from the University of Notre Dame, where he was director of operations for the rowing program. Mangus was the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the year last spring and is working to finish his degree.

The Titans, a member of the NAIA and CCAC, go into the fall with a roster of 31 players. That includes about a half dozen recruits and transfers.

Buysse played at SJC for Rick O’Dette (now at St. Leo University in Florida) and the coach told his players “baseball is 10 percent of what we do.”

Saint Joseph’s shut its doors in May, taking the baseball program with it. With Buysse at IUSB and the Titans playing many of their games in Chicago, he expects to see many SJC alums to back his program next spring.

Buysse will have his assistants out on the recruiting trail this fall, attending showcases and working at camps.

IUSB is looking to fill its schedule, which is capped at 55 games.

Newton Park in Lakeville, about 11 miles southwest of campus, will be the Titans’ home facility.

As a joint effort between the school and Newton Park, the baseball team will provide a labor force to get things done at the complex and the owners will supply materials.

IUSB will have priority at the field.

“They want us there and are willing to work with us,” says Buysse.

The Titans will work to be very visible in the community, appearing at local schools and participating in service projects.

Buysse has been active with the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and the new South Bend Cubs Foundation and expects to continue in some capacity.

DOUGBUYSSEIUSB

Doug Buysse is the new head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend. (IUSB Photo)

 

Boone Grove gives Antone coaching opportunity

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Antone may be young.

But he goes into his first season as a high school baseball head coach having learned a great deal from a pair of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers.

Antone, who turns 27 in November, is now in charge at Boone Grove High School in Valparaiso.

Andrean’s Dave Pishkur was the corner infielder’s coach his first two prep seasons as a player. Chesteron’s Jack Campbell provided his wisdom in Antone’s final two high school campaigns. Antone graduated from CHS in 2009.

“I had a really good experience at both places,” says Antone. “I built real good relationships with coaches, teachers and my friends that I still have today.”

Antone played one season at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., before transferring to Valparaiso University.

Anxious to get his coaching career started, he became an assistant at Valparaiso High School while doing his student teaching in the spring of 2014.

The 2015 season was spent as an assistant for Campbell’s Trojans and 2016 and 2017 for Pishkur’s 59ers. This summer, he was an assistant for the Northwest Indiana Oilmen of the Midwest Collegiate League.

“I’m very, very glad I made the decision I did,” says Antone. “If I didn’t there’s no way I’d be as far along as I am right now.

“I’m at a very good advantage to have played and coached with (Campbell and Pishkur). Dave has learned as he’s gone on. I learned from him to never be satisfied. I try to always improve myself as a coach.”

Antone has done that by accessing Pishkur’s library of baseball books and DVDs and traveling with him to clinics.

“I like talking with other coaches, seeing what they do and picking up anything you can incorporate into my program to make it a little bit better,” says Antone whose Boone Grove staff so far includes Chesterton classmate and teammate Jack Wilson, 2014 Boone Grove graduate Jake Gholsten and Bryan Hill (who was an assistant to Rollie Thill who resigned after 14 seasons, six sectional, two regional and six Porter County Conference round robin and tournament titles with more than 300 wins).

Antone hopes to pick up another assistant or two to lead a program expect to have 30 or more players on varsity and junior varsity squads in the spring of 2018.

“In order to be successful you need to surround yourself with good assistants,” says Antone. “You coach them about the vision for the program and let them know what their responsibilities.”

This fall, Antone is leading Boone Grove seventh and eighth graders in a PCC schedule. He has also gotten a chance to meet some high schoolers and looks forward to working more with them soon.

The Wolves lost to IHSAA Class 2A northern semistate qualifier Hebron in the 2017 Boone Grove Sectional championship game.

Antone looks for his team to “be grinders and play the game one pitch at a time.”

He expects to have a good mix of veterans and newcomers. There are some freshmen who could contribute at the varsity level.

Classes began Monday, Aug. 14 at BG, where Antone is an alternative school teacher. He taught the last two years at Andrean after three years at St. Patrick’s School in Chesterton, where he went from pre-school through eighth grade.

Antone played Little league baseball at Liberty Rec in Chesterton then travel ball with the Duneland Flyers as a junior high schooler and Indiana Breakers while in high school.

PATANTONE

Pat Antone, a graduate of Chesterton High School and Valparaiso University, is the new head baseball coach at Boone Grove High School.

 

‘Trust the process’ approach guides South Bend’s Mitchell

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Major League Baseball’s minor leagues are about development.

With a motto of “trust the process,” South Bend Cubs outfielder Kevonte Mitchell continues to learn the game in his fourth professional season.

Mitchell, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Saturday, Aug. 12 at Four Winds Field by going 2-of-5 at the plate with a double, two runs batted in and one run scored, originally committed to play at Southeast Missouri State University.

When the baseball and basketball standout and honor roll student at Kennett (Mo.) High School was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 13th round of the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Mitchell opted not to put off his pro development.

“The Cubs made an offer that I couldn’t refuse,” says Mitchell. “Coming out of high school and learning from professionals right away, I felt I needed that. I wanted to learn.”

Kevonte’s dad did not play baseball. His mom played a little softball.

Growing up in the Bootheel region of Missouri, the son of Kevin and Darlene Mitchell and younger brother of Brianne took to the diamond at an early age.

“I found out I was kind of good at it so I just kept playing it when I was younger and here I am today,” says Mitchell.

He looks back on his days as a newly-minted pro and remembers that as another learning opportunity.

“I had to grow up really quickly, I’ll tell you that,” says Mitchell. “I’ll never forget my first night out in Arizona. I’d never been that far from home.”

An 18-year-old Kevonte gave himself a pep talk.

“There’s no turning back now,” says Mitchell. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and play the game that I love.”

After stints with the rookie-level Arizona Cubs in 2014 and 2015 and Single-A short-season Eugene Emeralds in 2015 and 2016, Mitchell has spent the whole 2017 season with South Bend in the Low Class-A Midwest League. The Cubs are 61-56 overall; 22-26 in the second half.

Using his swiftness, Mitchell has played mostly right or left field and been a threat to steal or base or go first-to-third. He was a third baseman and shortstop in high school.

“My speed is a big factor to my game,” says Mitchell. “As an outfielder, I’ve learned about routes and how to get to the ball quicker. I still need help with that.

“I’ll play anywhere (manager Jimmy Gonzalez and the Cubs) need me. I’ll be ready to go out there.”

Where trusting the process comes in the most for the 6-foot-4, 185-pounder is in the right-handed batter’s box.

“I’ve made a lot of adjustments since the start of spring training,” says Mitchell, who came through action Saturday hitting .252 with 11 home runs, 53 RBI, 51 runs scored and 18 stolen bases (.270, 1, 8, 8 and 3 in the last 10 games). “I don’t consider myself a power guy. I have the potential to maybe be a power guy one day.

“I’m just trying to be a better hitter. I’m focusing on going the other way, knowing what the pitcher is doing with runners on base. With two strikes, I try to shorten up (my swing) and see the ball.”

Mitchell saw the basketball go through the net on a regular basis during his time with the Kennett Indians. He poured in 1,585 career points. He was all-state as a senior and holds the school record for rebounds.

“I played whatever the coach needed — 1 through 4,” says Mitchell. “Sometimes I’d bring the ball down (the court). Sometimes I’d be posting up.”

The Cubs don’t want Mitchell getting hurt by playing full-out hoops.

“I’ll shoot a couple shots here and there,” says Mitchell.

But mostly he trusts the process while getting better on the diamond.

KEVONTEMITCHELL

Kevonte Mitchell, a South Bend Cubs outfielder, turned 22 Saturday, Aug. 12. He is in his fourth professional baseball season. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Contact Steve Krah at stvkrh905@gmail.com