Buysse busy building baseball program at IUSB

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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

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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

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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)

 

Wagner continues to hone his baseball broadcasting craft

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A baseball broadcaster’s life is more than calling the action on the field.

Relationships must be built with players, coaches and managers.

Ben Wagner, a graduate of Fairfield High School (1999) and Indiana State University (2003) who is in his 11th season as the play-by-play voice of the Triple-A International League’s Buffalo Bisons, says it is in the relationships area where he has made his greatest improvement.

“I have a little bit more of a feel of how to operate a clubhouse,” says Wagner. “It’s been one of my major strengths in the last few years. That took awhile by learning and doing. There’s no road map. Every clubhouse is different.

“To do a baseball job really, really well, you’re going to have to know the dynamic of that clubhouse and the people that are within those walls so you can relay that on the air.”

Wagner has learned to be sensitive as he prepares to inform and entertain his radio or TV audience.

Every player has a different backstory.

“Some are excited to be at Triple-A and will talk to you until they are blue in the face,” says Wagner. “There are guys who fight for that 25-man job at the end of the bench coming away from spring training that are so disappointed that they are at Triple-A.”

Others are caught in the numbers crunch and are not happy about it. Rosters are constantly in flux between a Triple-A and major league team (in Buffalo’s case, the Toronto Blue Jays).

“There’s a certain feel, I think, and broadcasters and media people have to have to be respectful of that buffer zone,” says Wagner. “But, at the same time, you have to do a job.”

It’s all about mutual respect.

Take the case of Joe Biagini, who pitched out of the bullpen for Toronto in 2016 and started in 2017 before being sent to Buffalo, where he made his debut Monday, Aug. 7.

Wagner had never met the 6-foot-5 right-hander.

“You don’t want to ambush a guy in the middle of the clubhouse,” says Wagner.

The play-by-play man introduced himself to the pitcher before the game in Indianapolis. In a brief conversation, Wagner learned about Biagini’s travels and his expectations for the outing.

“I knew he was going to throw less than 50 pitches,” says Wagner. “I got little nuggets where I could have credibility on the air.”

In the case of Wagner and his broadcast partners (Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Duke McGuire and Pat Malacaro), they are not digging for dirt, but those interesting details to share with listeners and viewers on various platforms, including ESPN 1520 AM (the team’s flagship), WGGO 1590 AM, WOEN 1360 AM, Spectrum Sports in Buffalo or online.

“We don’t break news,” says Wagner. “We’re not a broadcast network. We’re employees of the team. We’re respectful of all that stuff.”

Wagner operates with sensitivity and clarity.

“Sometimes guys’ careers are in the balance and it’s what you may know ahead of time,” says Wagner. “You have that access to the team day in and day out. You’re the eyes and the ears and you have to tie it all together.”

Wagner wants the Bisons broadcast to be a “constant and enjoyable listen.”

Consistency and quality is helped by familiarity. Wagner and analyst McGuire have been paired for a decade.

“I know when Duke wants to talk,” says Wagner. “That goes a long way in how our broadcast sounds. There’s a certain comfortability in the way the Bisons broadcast sounds.

“That makes it sustainable whether it is the excitement of Opening Day; it’s April and where we’re coming out of the gate strong all the way to those 8-23 June games that I’ve had to endure … You can’t get too high. You can’t get too low .. You hopefully show up, call a good game, you’re mechanically sound and people enjoy all 27 outs.”

The aim is for a first-class product each time the Bisons take to the air or the net.

“I’m trying to treat it like a major league broadcast every night because that’s where I want to be,” says Wagner. “I want to be in a big league booth. Finding things that are interesting for them hopefully reinforces what I’m trying to do.”

The mediums for Bisons baseball have changed since Wagner called games for the Single-A Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws in 2004 and even since he did his first Bisons game in 2007.

“We were sending box scores and game stories via fax,” says Wagner of his early days. “Now, if you’re a reporter or a news agency, you’re not waiting on a box score. You’re  looking at my Twitter feed (@benwag247) or the team’s Twitter feed (@BuffaloBisons).”

Wagner has also watched analytics become more important and technology expand with the advent of TrackMan, which allows teams to measure and quantify things like the release point of a pitcher, number of revolutions of a pitch and a hitter’s tendencies.

“We have guys that travel with us that cut up every at-bat, every pitching sequence and are uploading it to major league sites,” says Wagner. “They’re harnessing all this data.”

When calling games, Wagner often writes the question “Why?” at the top of his scorebook.

He puts himself in the listener’s place.

Why are you supposed to be listening to this game?

Why are you still tuning in to this game?

Why is this at-bat important?

Why is this pitch important?

“I remind myself and then remind the listener,” says Wagner. “I’m trying to harness their attention in a world that has no attention span. Especially in baseball, we have to keep rehashing why these things are important.”

Wagner catches himself asking these questions while watching afternoon Major League Baseball games that have turned one-sided.

“How would I keep the game interesting?,” says Wagner. “That’s my challenge.”

While he occasionally has time for a longer story, he keeps things flowing.

“I look at it as though everything out of my mouth has to be condensed to 140 characters,” says Wagner. “Every little nugget about a guy, every play — in terms of description — has to be short and concise and really to the point.”

Wagner has been with Buffalo through three affiliations — Cleveland Indians, New York Mets and now Toronto.

Canadians often come to Buffalo to shop, dine or go to sporting events like Bisons baseball. The Peace Bridge is 5 minutes from Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field and it’s less than 100 miles from Coca-Cola Field to Rogers Centre, home of the Blue Jays.

The relationship with the Mets provided wide exposure on SportsNet New York.

“There were days the Mets were off and the Bisons were home and they’d broadcast our games and (viewers) could see the prospects and get an idea of what’s going on down on the farm,” says Wagner. “We were trying to get some excitement built around the young players coming up.”

Rogers Communications owns the Blue Jays and has several media platforms to broadcast games for Canada’s lone big league team.

Wagner is a frequent contributor to Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto.

“Guys on the Blue Jays broadcast — Jerry Howarth, Joe Siddal and Mike Wilner — have been stalwarts when it comes to supporting the affiliation. Because of that, they bring me in.”

Wagner and Howarth jockey emails back and forth all the time.

“I may know a guy is on the move, but he has no idea because he is focused in on the 25 men who are on the roster in Toronto that day,” says Wagner.

When Taylor Cole was called up to pitch the Jays, Wagner was able to provide some interesting perspective on the 6-1 right-hander.

“I’ve seen him pitch six times already,” says Wagner of a player who had been hurt then moved through the Toronto system. “I was able to share that information.”

Wagner does speaking engagements on behalf of the Bisons during the off-season and also does play-by-play for college football and basketball.

BENWAGNER

Ben Wagner, a graduate of Fairfield High School and Indiana State University, is in his 11th season at play-by-play voice of the Buffalo Bisons. Buffalo is a Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Wynegar wants Indianapolis hitters to know the mental side

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Butch Wynegar is not a meteorologist.

The former big league catcher and longtime hitting coach just likes to use weather terminology to describe the experience of a batter stepping into the box at the highest levels of baseball.

“I call it the Eye of the Hurricane,” says Wynegar, who is in his third season with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis Indians. “You’re trying to find a way to stay in the calmness of the hurricane and out of the surrounding winds — the fans, the score, the big league stadium, facing big league guys you idolized. When you get caught up in the moment, it’s hard to slow down.

“It’s you and the baseball.”

Wynegar was a switch-hitting catcher and played Major League Baseball for 13 seasons with the Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees and California Angels, retiring in 1988.

Butch began his coaching career in 1992. Among his jobs have been roving hitting instructor for the Texas Rangers’ organization, big league hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers and Triple-A hitting coach in the Yankees system.

Wynegar helps hitters with the mechanics of their swing, but wants them to understand the thinking side of their craft.

“Something the common fan doesn’t understand unless you’ve played this game is how much of hitting is mental,” says Wynegar. “I might have done it (as a player), but I didn’t do it to the degree I know how to do it now.”

Wynegar wants his hitters to know what to expect from a pitcher and how each team is going to pitch to him. He also wants them to be able to see what they did well and where they need improvement and take that into the next at-bat.

“I told guys a number of times, your swing here (in Triple-A) will probably work in the big leagues,” says Wynegar. “The difference between here and the big leagues is the mental side of hitting.”

Wynegar’s aim is the get his hitters ready to step right in and perform for the Pirates.

“When they go to Pittsburgh, hopefully the adjustment period is a little shorter,” says Wynegar, who regularly corresponds with Pirates hitting coaches Jeff Branson and Jeff Livesey. “They understand how to slow the mind down, slow the game down.

“When they get up there, the game tends to get a little fast for them. It’s the major leagues. You face guys you grew up watching. It was the same thing with me. There was Catfish Hunter or Jim Palmer, who I grew up watching, and I go, ‘Holy Cow!’ and the game starts spinning fast for me.”

A fan of a book written by former big leaguer Shawn Green, “The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph,” Wynegar has turned Indianapolis infielders Erich Weiss and Eric Wood on to it.

The book tells how Green broke into the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays and the transformation he made mentally and physically.

“There was a lot of mechanical stuff, but their was a lot of mental stuff,” says Wynegar. “He got into meditation and relaxation and all that.

“That’s a big part of hitting.”

Wynegar looks at Weiss and his swing reminds him of Green’s.

“I wasn’t making the comparison that you’re going be Shawn Green one day and go 6-for-6 and hit four home runs in a game (like Green did with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002) — he might,” says Wynegar. “Somebody pops into your mind and this guy reminds me of so-and-so. I might bring that up, but I tell them this is why you remind of him. It might be a confidence booster.”

What is Wynegar’s prescription for a slump buster?

“Go back to the basics,” says Wynegar. “Back in my era, we were not afraid to move around in the box — move closer; move back; move front; choke up. Guys today will just not choke up.

“For me it was spreading my stance out a little bit to reduce my body movement. I really trusted my hands and I’d choke up on the bat a little bit. I was all about contact anyway … That was from Pitch 1.”

When Wynegar sees a hitter who is in a rut — maybe a little tired from the grind of the long season — he asks them a simple question: “Are you going to make an adjustment to overcome what you’re doing?”

He cites an example from his time with the Brewers (2003-06).

“When I was the big league hitting coach in Milwaukee, every year Geoff Jenkins came to me somewhere in August and said, ‘Butchie, I can’t find my home run swing.’ Four years in a row, he’d tell me that,” says Wynegar. “I told him, you can still help us with singles and doubles.

“Calm your swing for about 10 days and you’ll get a second wind.”

Wynegar came through in the Eye of the Hurricane with the Yankees on June 30, 1983. He was reminded of that this week by former New York teammate and current Buffalo Bisons manager Bobby Meacham, who made his MLB debut on the afformentioned date.

Meacham came into he game as a defensive replacement, but didn’t get to hit that day because of Wynegar’s two-out home run in the 12th inning against East Chicago native Tim Stoddard as the Yankees beat the visiting Baltimore Orioles 4-3.

“You think I’d remember a walk-off home run,” says Wynegar. “I remember Tim Stoddard. I remember getting an extra-inning base hit that won a game. I don’t remember a home run.

Wynegar joked to Meacham, “I hit so many walk-off home runs, I couldn’t remember them all.’”

Of his 65 career long balls, the lone game-winner was the one described above.

“I wasn’t a home run hitter,” says Wynegar. “I was a line drive/contact-type hitter.”

In all his time in baseball, Wynegar has come into contact with many talented men. Another teammate in New York was Don Baylor, who died Monday, Aug. 7, of cancer at 68. They were also opponents.

“I’ve got a photo at home where there’s a play at the plate and Donnie’s shoulder in embedded in my chest and I have my mouth wide open,” says Wynegar. “I held onto the ball. I do remember that.”

Famed for his toughness, Baylor was hit by a pitch 267 times during his MLB career.

“He stood right on top of the plate and dared you to throw a fastball in,” says Wynegar. “I never saw him rub somebody when he got hit. He’d just drop the bat and go to first base.”

While they wore the same uniform, Wynegar really gained an appreciation for Baylor.

“What a great man he was,” says Wynegar. “He and Dave Winfield were very similar, but Dave was more boisterous and not afraid to tell you how good he was. Donnie was the opposite. He was kind of quiet. He led by example.

“He was gentle giant in the clubhouse. He just had the respect of everybody with the way he played the game and by his leadership.”

BUTCHWYNEGAR

Butch Wynegar is in his 24th season as a professional baseball coach and his third as hitting coach with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. (Indianapolis Indians Photo)

 

Gary SouthShore RailCats embrace independent baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Outside the lines, professional baseball in Gary, Indiana, is very much like it is in many places.

Affordable family-friendly entertainment is the goal. Fans are invited to have a good time at the ballpark. The experience at U.S. Steel Yard includes food, giveaways and other forms of fun.

As a member of the independent American Association, the Gary SouthShore RailCats operate differently than Major League Baseball-affiliated clubs.

“It is not a developmental league, but it is an opportunity league — an opportunity for everyone from the radio broadcasters looking to break into professional baseball to groundkeepers to general managers and managers,” says 13th-year Gary manager Greg Tagert. “And, most importantly, it’s an opportunity for players who may have never gotten the opportunity to continue their careers or extend their careers.

“What it’s done for the industry cannot be underrated.”

But the emphasis is on the pennant race (Gary went into play Monday, Aug. 7, at 40-33 and seven games behind first-place Lincoln in the AA Central Division; the RailCats were two games out of the wild card lead in a 100-game season) and not getting a player ready for the next level.

“We make no apology to the players,” says Tagert. “We tell them from the beginning, we are all about winning.

“When a player steps through the door, it’s not about: Is he going to get his at-bats? Is he going to bat third? Is he going to pitch the sixth inning every night?

“Sometimes the players find that out the hard way. They’re used to a different type of format. They are surprised at the level of competition and the emphasis put on winning … It’s not for every player, just like it’s not for every manager.”

Tagert is a native of Vacaville, Calif. He a pitcher at San Francisco State University. He served as pitching coach at the University of New Mexico in 1988 and an associate scout for the Detroit Tigers in 1993-94.

A manager in independent baseball since 1995, Tagert enjoys the challenge of having the ability and the responsibility of building a team.

Unlike affiliated ball where players and coaching staff are assigned to a franchise and are told how to develop the talent with hopes of one day seeing them in the big leagues, Tagert makes all on-field personnel decisions.

“Player procurement and all the player decisions sit at this desk,” says Tagert. “That’s something I would not give up.

“It is the lure of the job for many of us (independent baseball managers) … The challenge is great. But it’s like anything else in life. If it was that easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.”

League rules limit rosters to 23. An additional one player may be on the disabled list during the regular season. Of those 23 players, a maximum of five may be veterans and minimum of five must be rookies. The remaining players will be designated limited service players and of those LS players only six (6) may be LS-4.

Tagert says the classifications create a unique kind of parity in the league and also creates opportunity.

The American Association is full of players with MLB experience and others who played at the Triple-A or Double-A level.

Right-handed pitcher Jorge DeLeon, a reliever for Gary, played for the Houston Astros in 2013 and 2014.

MLB scouts regularly cover the independent leagues.

Notable Gary alums include outfielders Jermaine Allenworth and Nathan Haynes and left-handed pitcher Tim Byrdak.

Allensworth, who played at Madison Heights High School and Purdue University, was a first round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1993 and played in the big leagues with Pittsburgh, the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. He was with the RailCats in 2006 and 2007.

Haynes was a first round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 1997. He played in Gary in 2006 and then with the Los Angeles Angels in 2007 and Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.

Byrdak made his MLB debut with Kansas City in 1998. He played in Gary in 2003 and became the first former RailCats player to play in the big leagues with the 2005 Baltimore Orioles.

Wes Chamberlain, who played six MLB seasons including in the 1993 World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies, was a RailCat in 2003.

Some players to see at least a little MLB time that also wore a Gary jersey include first baseman Randall Simon (2010), third basemen Howard Battle (2003) and Jarrod Patterson (2008), outfielders Trey Beamon (2004), and Bubba Carpenter (2002, left-handed pitchers Tony Cogan (2007-09), Jim Crowell (2007), Brad Halsey (2010), Onan Masaoka (2009), right-handed pitchers Zach McClellan (2010) and Brad Voyles (2008).

Crowell played at Valparaiso High School and the University of Indianapolis. McClellan played at Indiana University.

There’s were Australian first baseman Ben Risinger (2005) and Japanese outfielder Masato Fukae (2016).

Texas Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce was a former RailCats outfielder (2004-05).

The team has retired No. 23 for right-handed pitcher Willie Glen (2005-07, 2010) and No. 45 for Gary native and coach Joe Gates. Glen played at Plainfield High School and the University of Evansville. Gates played at Gary Roosevelt High School and briefly with the Chicago White Sox.

The RailCats were part of former Northern League and began as a road team in 2002 while 6,139-seat U.S. Steel Yard was being constructed along U.S. 20, South Shore rail lines and I-90 (Indiana Toll Road) and very close to the steel mills.

The first RailCats game at U.S. Steel Yard was May 26, 2003.

Chicagoans Pat and Lindy Salvi bought the team in 2008.

Gary was a member of the Northern League through 2010 and won league titles in 2005 and 2007. In 2010, the RailCats joined the American Association and reigned over it in 2013.

The current AA lineup includes Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.), St. Paul (Minn.), Sioux Falls (S.D.) and Winnipeg (Manitoba) in the North Division, Gary, Kansas City (Kan.), Lincoln (Neb.) and Sioux City (Iowa) in the Central Division and Cleburne (Texas), Salina (Kan.), Texas (Grand Prairie) and Wichita (Kan.) in the South Division. Salina is a partial road team in 2017.

Gary takes a bus to all its games. It’s about 16 hours to both Grand Prairie and Winnipeg. There’s usually days off built into he schedule to allow for that kind of travel.

A commuter trip will be added in 2018 when the Rosemont, Ill.-based Chicago Dogs join the league.

RailCats general manager Brian Lyter is in his fifth year on the job after working four seasons in affiliated baseball with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers.

With Tagert handling most of the baseball side of things, Lyter tends mostly to the business side.

Lyter has watched the community embrace the independent baseball model while embracing the amenities at the park.

In a competitive Chicagoland market that offers the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and many other entertainment options, the RailCats draw well with most fans come from northwest Indiana.

Through it’s first 37 openings, Gary was averaging 3,573. That ranked fourth in the league behind St. Paul (8.293), Winnipeg (4,336) and Kansas City (3,984).

Some of the things Lyter appreciates about the American Association is that players have a “little more staying power” and that the product is top notch.

“Some people underestimate the quality of baseball,” says Lyter, who compares the overall level of play to Double-A.

GARYSOUTHSHORERAILCATS

Four decades later, South Bend Post 50 still Indiana’s lone American Legion national champions

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

American Legion Baseball dates back to 1925.

Indiana joined in 1926 and has crowned a state champion 91 times, including Rockport Post 254 in 2017 (competing now in the Great Lakes Regional in Napoleon, Ohio).

Only one Indiana team has ever reigned at the American Legion World Series.

That’s South Bend Post 50 in 1977. “Machuca’s Marauders” went 18-0 during the tournament run, which included the state tournament and a win against Lafayette Post 11 in the championship game in Richmond and concluded at the American Legion World Series in Manchester, N.H.

Post 50 topped Boyertown, Pa., Santa Monica, and Hattiesburg, Miss. (twice) to finish as the best 16-18 baseball team in America.

More than 3,800 teams entered the double-elimination event at the local level in ’77 and the lone team standing at the end was from South Bend, Ind.

“We thought that was going to open the flood gates (to other national champions from Indiana Legion baseball),” said Mel Machuca, Post 50 manager in ’77, at a 40-year reunion of the title-takers.

It just hasn’t turned out that way.

Machuca has often been asked over the years how he won a national championship.

“If I knew that I would do it again,” said Machuca in response.

But that team 40 years ago certainly caught lightning in a bottle.

On the way to that special achievement, Post 50 beat the defending national champions (Santa Monica, Calif.) and the previous national runners-up (Arlington Heights, Ill.). Between the two, those loaded squads had 13 players that went on to be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

The lone MLB draftee for Post 50?

It was Dan Szajko. The outfielder, second baseman and third baseman was picked by the Montreal Expos in the 27th round out of Notre Dame in 1982 and played in the minors through 1985.

Slugging third baseman Jeff Coker did have a brief minor league career after his Post 50 days.

Szajko was the youngest player on a ’77 Post 50 squad dominated by older guys. In those years, American Legion Baseball was 18-and-under (later changed to 19U).

“He was 16 and a gift from (South Bend John Adams High School coach) Len Buczkowski,” recalled Machuca. “Dan Szajko was the player to be named later.”

Two players hit .429 during the Legion tournament run — center fielder Szajko and shortstop Bill Schell.

Greg Heyde (15-1) won eight tournament games, Dave Hankins (15-1) seven, Dennis Janiszewski two and Dave Yates one to pace the pitching staff. Heyde were also left fielders.

First baseman Jim Andert, pitcher/center fielder Mike Clarke, pitcher/right fielder Jeff Kowatch, catcher Scott Madey, catcher Dom Romeo, catcher John Ross, pitcher Jeff Rudasics, pitcher/second baseman Will Shepherd, first baseman Mark Toles and second baseman Gary Vargyas were also a part of the champs. Bob Kouts was past commander of Post 50 and longtime Indiana baseball chairman.

Bill Barcome was assistant coach at American Legion Coach of the Year in ’77 (Machuca was Manager of the Year). Dan Toles was a bench coach during the tournament run. Todd Machuca served as batboy. Veteran reporter Forrest “Woody” Miller wrote about the team’s exploits in the South Bend Tribune.

Janiszewski died in 1996, Kouts in 2002 and Miller in 2009.

Machuca, who would coach Post 50 into the ’80s and went on to guide youth teams in Carmel, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, built what turned out to be  a national championship team with a simple formula. He introduced it at the first ’77 tryout session.

“Baseball is a defensive game,” said Machuca. “Hitting wins games. Pitching wins pennants. Defense wins championships.”

Machuca and Barcome made sure players knew what they were doing on defense.

Post 50 was also well-armed for the task at-hand.

“I was blessed,” said Machuca. “I had eight pitchers (using four of them in tournament play).”

The squad that Machuca assembled became very close, which is in evidence all these years later as players gather to swap stories on the golf course, at dinner and at a South Bend Cubs game.

“What we had here in South Bend, the attitude was amazing,” said Machuca. “They were family.

“They took us for the ride. I didn’t play. Bill didn’t play. Everything was built on trust.”

Machuca interjected confidence from Day 1.

“‘You guys are the best I’ve ever seen. You’re going to win the state championship. Go home and be prepared to work for that,’” said Machuca of his words that day. “It seems that what we’ve lost is kids today aren’t willing to work together for a common goal.

“They want an advantage. They want to be guaranteed this and guaranteed that.”

In American Legion Baseball, the team you register is the team you take into the tournament. There are no add-ons or ringers.

“Whatever you start with, you end with,” said Machuca.

In ’77, there were no designated hitters or courtesy runners in American Legion Baseball and that’s the way coaches, players and organizers liked it.

Tryouts for the ’78 Post 50 team drew 400 eager youngsters.

Two decades after the national title, the Post 50 men of ’77 played a game against the Post 50 team of ’97. The “old” guys did well enough to get that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid reaction: “Who are those guys?”

Even folks in the local baseball community did not know about the national champions.

A seed was planted which grew into a book, co-authored by Machuca (No. 20) and player Will Shepherd (No. 11).

“An Inning At A Time: An American Legion Baseball National Championship Story” was published in 2011.

Machuca explained the title of the book.

“I win innings, I don’t win games,” said Machuca. “Games are too big. Do what you can do at the time.”

In the Arlington Heights game, Post 50 got down 5-0 early. Machuca asked his players to come back with one run — two would be a bonus.

“‘We get one run and we’re going to win this game,’” said Machuca of that in-between half innings speech. “Once you get to the point of total confidence on the field, it’s hard to get beat.”

Shepherd looks back on the national title and still marvels at what he and his ball-playing buddies did.

“For my money what makes it special is that it was a legitimate World Series. It was a bracketed, countrywide tournament. One state champion moved on the regional and that one regional champion moved on.”

The 91st American Legion World Series Aug. 10-15 in Shelby, N.C. Games will be shown on ESPN3 and ESPNU.

SBPOST5077-1

South Bend Post 50’s 1977 American Legion Baseball national champions at a 40-year reunion dinner are (from left): First row — Will Shepherd, Bill Schell, manager Mel Machuca, assistant coach Bill Barcome and Jeff Kowatch; Second row —  Paul Kazmierczak (member of ’75 and ’76 team), Mike Clarke, Jim Andert, Greg Heyde, Dave Hankins and Jeff Coker. Not pictured —  Dennis Janiszewski (deceased), Scott Madey, Dom Romeo, John Ross, Jeff Rudasics, Mark Toles, Dan Szajko, Gary Vargyas and Dave Yates plus batboy Todd Machuca and tournament bench coach Dan Toles.

Contact Steve Krah at stvkrh905@gmail.com