Pitching to contact helps South Bend lefty Rondon earn 10th victory

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Manuel Rondon averages more than seven strikeouts per nine innings and the left-handed pitcher in the Chicago Cubs organization still likes to blow hitters away.

But the 22-year-old Venezuelan is beginning to appreciate what pitching to contact can do for him.

Rondon, a fourth-year professional, went a season-best 6 2/3 innings and pushed his 2017 record to 10-3 Monday, July 17 in helping the South Bend Cubs best the visiting Cedar Rapids Kernels 2-1 in Midwest League play.

His 10 wins are twice as many as any other South Bend pitcher has amassed so far this season.

After issuing a leadoff walk and seeing Cedar Rapids score a first-inning run without a hit, Rondon went on to put up zeroes.

The lefty would yield four hits (two doubles) with three strikeouts and three walks while getting five groundouts and six flyouts. He benefitted from double plays in the second and third innings.

South Bend pitching coach Brian Lawrence chalked up Rondon’s successful outing to “attacking the hitters and not being predictable.”

Lawrence watched the southpaw command his fastball and mix in his other pitches and throwing different pitches and different ball-strike counts to keep the Kernels off-balance.

“He’s done that well for the last couple starts,” said Lawrence of a player who was purchased in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels in 2015 and was named the Northwest League Pitcher of the Year in 2016. “(Early in the season) he had some games where he was missing up in the zone and got hit around a little bit. It just took him a little bit of time to get his rhythm again. Now, it comes down to keeping the ball down and changing speeds.”

Getting ahead of hitters allows Rondon to effectively use his change-up.

Rondon, whose native language is Spanish, spoke through South Bend teammate Alberto Mineo after Monday’s start.

“He said he honestly loves striking out guys, but there are situations where you have to pitch to contact, if you want to go longer in the game and keep your pitch count low,” said Mineo. “Today was his longest game (of the season) and he was pitching to contact.”

Mineo, who singled in both South Bend runs Monday, related that Rondon liked how his curve ball was working. With more experience, he is gaining confidence in his ability to get hitters out.

Rondon also expressed his appreciation for the Cubs coaching staff to cheer up players during good days and bad days and how the South Bend fans support the team.

MANUELRONDON

Manuel Rondon is a left-handed pitcher with the South Bend Cubs. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Homestead graduate Jernigan enjoying experience as second-year pro

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andre Jernigan grew up in Fort Wayne watching young baseball players chase their professional dreams in the Midwest League.

Jernigan, 23, is now doing the same as an infielder with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

A Homestead High School graduate in 2012 and Louisville Slugger All-American at Xavier University in 2016, Jernigan was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round of the ’16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after being named Big East Conference Player of the Year.

At spring training this year, Jernigan enjoyed picking the brains of former Minnesota Twins who were Fort Wayne Wizards coming through the minors — LaTroy Hawkins (with Fort Wayne in 1993) and Torii Hunter (1994).

“It’s incredible to play on the same fields and in the same league as them,” says Jernigan, who played 36 games for Elizabethton (Rookie-level Appalachian League) after the draft and four contests for the E-Twins in ’17 before being assigned to Cedar Rapids June 29.

“We’re lucky to come out here and just play,” says Jernigan. “I just like to take it day by day and enjoy the experience. It’s that fun and excitement you had when you were a kid that made you want to become a professional baseball player.

“It’s very easy once you get out there to lose sight of that. You start to think of it as a job. My main goal is to come out and learn something new and get better each and everyday.”

Playing so many games, pro baseball can become a mental and physical grind. But Jernigan chooses not to see it that way.

“You don’t think I have to play today, I get to play today,” says Jernigan. “It’s really just a blessing to be out here.”

Jernigan grew up playing shortstop and accept for being moved to third base by then-Homestead head coach Steve Sotir during his sophomore year, he was an everyday shortstop until he became a pro. The Twins have used him at second base, third base, shortstop and even one game at catcher.

“A ground ball’s a ground ball though the ball gets too you faster at third base,” says Jernigan. “The Twins talk about (playing multiple positions). I’ve always been told the more versatile you are, teams can get you more playing time.”

Jernigan is thankful for a foundation laid by Sotir, who now works at The Base in El Paso, Texas, and current Homestead head coach Nick Byall.

“They run a great program,” says Jernigan of Sotir and Byall. “I look back on the drills and some of the things we did. I can’t thank them enough with helping me with my development.”

Scott Googins, who became head coach at the University of Cincinnati after the ’17 season, was head coach at Xavier during Jernigan’s days as a Musketeer.

“Coach Googins made sure that we put together a tough schedule and faced the Vanderbilts and the Arizona States and some high-power arms,” says Jernigan. “Playing those teams in those series definitely helped in the sense that I’ve seen the velocity and the breaking balls.

“I seen some of that electric stuff. The biggest thing (in the minors), everyone you face now is a Friday night guy.”

The key is to hit the pitcher’s mistakes.

“I want to find a pitch and drive it,” says Jernigan. “You must be ready for the fastball at all times. You can adjust to the off-speed after that.”

Andre was born to Frankie and Stacey Jernigan in Muncie and the family landed in Fort Wayne around the time Andre was starting school.

Frankie Jernigan graduated from Muncie Central High School and earned a baseball letter at the University of Nebraska (1989). He passed along his knowledge and love of the game to sons Andre and Austin (who played baseball at Homestead and is now a senior student at Ball State University).

“I can’t thank him enough for all those days when he threw us BP and hit us ground balls,” says Andre of his father.

Andre played travel in younger days with the Mavericks and then with the Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).

In one of those small world phenomenons, The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy owner/senior baseball instructor and director of player development Manny Lopez was a minor league teammate of Ramon Borrego when both played in the Twins organization. Borrego is now manager of the Gulf Coast League Twins.

Jernigan graduated from Xavier with a degree in finance.

“I’ve always been good with numbers,” says Jernigan. “It’s one of those things that I find interesting.”

Another interesting family connection is former NBA standout Bonzi Wells. He is connected in Andre’s mother’s side.

Wells shined on the hardwood at Muncie Central and Ball State and then played with the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets before stints in China and Puerto Rico.

At 40, Wells now plays in the new BIG3 pro 3-on-3 league.

Jernigan says Wells recently talked with youngsters at Muncie Central.

“He has that inner drive that keeps you going,” says Jernigan.

ANDREJERNIGAN

Andre Jernigan, a graduate of Homestead High School and Xavier University, is in the Minnesota Twins organization with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

IHSBCA All-Star alum Fox speaks from the heart

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Fox knows the honor of being chosen as an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant.

Before he went on to play at the University of Michigan and 14 seasons in professional baseball — making his big league debut in 2007 with the Chicago Cubs — Fox played for the South in 2000 in Fort Wayne.

Fox, who is now retired as a player and living in Michigan, accepted an invitation from former Wolverines and current Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney to address the 2017 All-Stars and their families at a recognition banquet Friday, July 14.

A 1 p.m. doubleheader is slated for Saturday, July 15 with one wood-bat game at noon Sunday, July 16 at Ball State in Muncie.

Outlining the passion, persistence, perseverance and patience it took him to make it to baseball’s pinnacle and play five different positions with seven different MLB organizations plus stints in independent ball and in Mexico and Korea, the Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate told his story.

Fox, 34, first congratulated the Class of 2017 All-Stars.

“This is a great honor,” said Fox. “You may not know it now. But looking back on my career, these are some of the memories that I hold dear. It is a testament to your talent and a dedication to your craft. It’s awesome.”

Why did Maloney choose Fox to speak when the coach has had so many players with what many would call better resumes?

“I asked him why me?,” said Fox. “He chuckled like the answer was obvious — ‘You played. You were there.’ Who else was going to stand up here and talk about getting from here to where I am now?”

Deciding against a prepared speech, Fox spoke from the heart.

“At the end of the day, I wasn’t a superstar player,” said Fox, who was selected in the third round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs and signed by scout Stan Zielinski. “I was a role player my whole time in the big leagues (through 193 games, 489 at-bats, 20 home runs, 73 runs batted in with the Cubs, Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles). These kids don’t want to be a role player. They want to be the best.”

Fox asked the people who know him best to list his best qualities and he compared them with his own self assessment and came up with those four P’s.

Playing with passion, persistence, perseverance and patience, Fox found a way to stay on the field. He related a story of playing in Triple-A with the Iowa Cubs. He came up as a catcher and was working out before a game as a third baseman when his manager came to him.

“‘Of all the players I ever managed or coached, you’ve got the most out of your ability,’” said Fox of the words he heard that day. “That’s probably the biggest compliment I ever got.”

The manager went on to say that Fox did not have the physical ability of some of his teammates, but he possessed something special and said: “You come out here and find ways to compete. You’re trying a different position not because you have to but because you want to. You’re trying to get better.”

Fox said he was not equipped to talk about being a superstar, but he could speak to the effort it takes to get the most out of his God-given talent.

“My nose was to the grindstone,” said Fox. “I was so concentrated on where I wanted to go that I never actually sat down and thought about what got me there.”

Fox and his closest friends and family agree that he has passion.

“I loved to play baseball and if you don’t love it, it’s not going to last long,” said Fox. “This game can chew you up and spit you out.”

The IHSBCA All-Star alum also encouraged the current All-Stars to enjoy baseball as a team game — something that often goes away when professionals are competing for jobs and playing time and looking out more for themselves than chasing victories.

“That’s why I enjoyed playing in Mexico and playing independent ball,” said Fox. “Guys were just out there playing games.

“There was a time in Triple-A that I hated the most. It didn’t even matter what team was on the other side of the field. It was a competition in your own dugout. That’s not baseball.

For Fox it was about enjoying the competition and seizing the opportunities.

“At the end of the day — even with all the business things — you go out and play,” said Fox. “No matter where it is. No matter what country you’re in. No matter what level you’re at. We get too caught up in where you play and not how you play.”

How about persistence and perseverance?

“Everyday in the major leagues, I was overmatched physically,” said Fox. “These guys were 5-star athletes. I had to find a way to compete. You’ve got to be persistent. Coach Maloney said to me, ‘You know what the second-most favorite thing about you was: You never took ‘no’ for an answer.’”

Fox got much of his MLB playing time on the days when a regular would ask off with a particularly tough pitcher going that day for the other team?

“If you name a tough left-handed pitchers between 2007 and 2011, I probably faced them,” said Fox. “(The regular) would come in and say, ‘CC Sabathia’s pitching today? I don’t feel so good.’”

“When I stepped in that box, I feel I had nothing to lose. They could be a Hall of Famer. What did I care? That’s what made me as good as I was. I just wanted to play.”

Fox also learned to be patient.

“It doesn’t happen on your time,” said Fox. “You can feel like you’re ready. You can feel like you deserve it and you see other people take your place. But you keep playing and you will get your chance.

“They pass guys over because they are too busy complaining (about being slighted).”

Fox reflected on his career and said it was not the numbers he put up but the times he spent with teammates and families and the places he got to see along the way.

“I encourage you to enjoy the journey,” said Fox to the All-Stars. “You don’t know where it’s going to take you. You don’t. You show up everyday, you play hard and you have fun doing it and the rest will take care of itself.

“I once had a friend tell me, ‘You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.’ He’s right. You have no idea where this game is going to take you. You have no idea where life is going to take you.”

To illustrate his point, Fox talked about being invited to big league spring training with the Cubs in 2007 and where it led him.

It was Lou Piniella’s first season as manager and Chicago’s top two catchers — Henry Blanco and Michael Barrett — were called away to the World Baseball Classic. Fox was with the big club, but spent his sweaty afternoons warming up pitchers in the bullpen.

“I knew I was getting sent back down. I knew I wasn’t making the team. But I got the experience. I knew what the scouting report was about me: Good hitter. Can’t play defense. It bothered me. I wanted (Pineilla) to see what I was or wasn’t capable of doing before he read it in a report that I didn’t agree with.”

When Barrett came back from the WBC, Fox was the lone player on the roster who had not logged an at-bat or a defensive inning.

Barrett encouraged Fox to say something to the coaching staff.

The Hoosier finally worked up the courage ask for a chance to show what he could do before going to minor league camp.

Fox got his wish. He would play at the end of an away game against the Royals.

Called to hurry from the bullpen, Fox scrambled to the dugout and to the plate and socked the second pitch he saw — a slider — for a double off the wall.

In the ninth, Fox belts a first-pitch home run to plate the decisive run in a Cubs victory.

The next day, the Milwaukee Brewers came to visit the Cubs. Fox started the game on bullpen duty. When called upon to hit late in the game, he pops another first-pitch homer.

“I’ve seen four pitches (in big league camp) and have two homers and a couple,” said Fox.

The next day, Cubs bench coach Alan Trammel told the team to “keep it close until Fox can hit.”

Fox again homers that day.

“I thought I was going to black out,” said Fox.

The next day against the San Francisco Giants, Fox was called in from he bullpen to play left field — for the first time in his life.

Sent back to the minors, Fox opened the season by playing in the outfield and made his debut July 19 in right field at Wrigley Field.

“It just goes to show you that you never know where this game is going to take you,” said Fox. “I played five different positions in the big leagues (right field, left field, catcher, first base, third base). For a guy who couldn’t use a glove, I thought that was pretty good.

“So don’t ever put yourself in a box or limit yourself. Somebody else may see a capability in you that you don’t see yourself.”

JAKEFOX

Jake Fox, shown with the independent Somerset Patriots, played 14 professional seasons and was a 2000 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant. (Somerset Patriots Photo)

North All-Stars coach Turner simply enjoys teaching the game of baseball

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Terry Turner loves to be around the people who love baseball.

That’s what draws him to the sport and to coaching — the last two seasons as head coach at Daleville High School after 29 at Anderson High School (25 as head coach).

“It’s that camaraderie that I love about the game,” says Turner. “At Daleville, the kids believe what the coaching staff is teaching. They eat it up. They have a passion for the game also.

“I just have fun with the kids.”

In his two springs leading the Broncos, those receptive young athletes have won two IHSAA sectionals (2016 at Daleville and 2017 at Anderson Prep) and the program’s first regional (at Carroll of Flora), semistate (at Plymouth) and state championship in 2016.

The Broncos carted home the 2016 1A state trophy after topping Lanesville 4-0.

In 2017, Daleville lost to eventual 1A state runner-up Rossville in the semifinals of the Carroll (Flora) Regional.

Anderson has won seven baseball sectionals — four came on Turner’s watch (1987, 1988, 1992, 2012). His Indians took a regional crown in 1995 with North Central Conference titles in 1999, 2000 and 2004.

After serving as an all-star assistant coach in 2009 when Anderson player Nolan Earley was on the roster, Turner has been named North head coach for the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series, which will stage its practice, junior showcase at banquet Friday, July 14, two games Saturday, July 15, and one game Sunday, July 16, at Ball State University in Muncie.

Turner will be joined at his alma mater (he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at BSU) by Daleville assistant Wally Winans.

“You’re never going to find a better teacher of the game of baseball than that guy,” says Turner. “I turn my infield over to him with one drill after the other. I just get out of his way.”

Fundamentals are the foundation of Turner’s coaching.

Turner and his Daleville assistants, including Winans, Tom Lyday and Terry Scheetz talk constantly to their players about every scenario they can conjure. If a weakness is found in a game, the Broncos will concentrate on that at their next practice.

Daleville, which is a member of the Mid-East Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del), tests itself by playing mostly larger schools.

Turner’s all-star staff will also include Todd Farr (Eastbrook) and John Steinhilber (Hebron).

Broncos outfielder Corbin Maddox is on the North team. Daleville’s Elliott Jackson was an all-star in 2016.

While at Anderson, Turner also sent Rod Mills (1987), Jeremy Quire (1993), Jordan Czarniecki (1999), Kurt Minnick (2000), Roy Erle (2001), Mike Earley (2006) and Zach Bucci (2011) to the all-star series.

One big difference between coaching at Anderson and Daleville is the size of the schools. Enrollment for 2016-17 was reported at 281.

As a smaller school, Daleville also shares athletes among its team. Turner says it’s not unusual for a wrestler to come from practice and take a few swings with the bat.

“The challenge is the numbers,” says Turner. “We don’t have as many pitchers as the larger schools would. The 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) has hurt the small school.”

In 2016, Lanesville’s Brenden Bube tossed 137 pitches in the semistate championship game. That would not have been allowed in 2017.

Turner, who graduated from Laurel High School (now part of the Franklin County consolidation) in 1975 and played baseball for Lynn Sheets.

After college, Turner was a junior high basketball and assistant baseball coach to Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Basil Mawbey and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Tom Gable at Connersville High School. He remembers a piece of advice early in his days at Anderson, which began in 1986-87.

“I had no pitchers,” says Turner. “(Gable) told me, ‘everybody is a pitcher.’ He would say to his players, ‘you are a pitcher until you prove to me you can’t.’”

Turner had adopted similar approach.

“You can never have too many pitchers,” says Turner. “At the high school level — really, at all levels — it’s all about throwing strikes. If you don’t throw strikes, you’re in trouble.”

Throwing too many outside the zone also tends to have a negative effect on defenders.

“Infielders get back on their heels,” says Turner. “You put runners on and it puts all this pressure on your defense. Now they have to make the play.”

With a limited number of pitches to work with, Turner is not as quick to have his pitchers work around the zone when they get an 0-2 count.

“The pitch count changes the whole way you’re going to coach the game,” says Turner.

When it really comes into play is the sectional when single-elimination games are played in a short period of time and coaches may not have pitchers available for long — or at all — if those hurlers have thrown too many pitches prior to the next game.

“The (National) Federation is trying to protect young kids and their arms and I get that,” says Turner. “We’re all in the same boat. At tournament time, it’s not a fair situation. I don’t know what the answer is.”

After Connersville, Turner spent 1985-86 at Jasper, where he coached junior high basketball and was a baseball assistant to IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ray Howard.

At Anderson, Turner also was a boys basketball assistant for 14 seasons under Hall of Famer Norm Held and then Ron Heclinski.

Turner is still a teacher at Anderson. Formerly a physical science instructor, he now instructs on health and physical education.

Terry and Debbie Turner have three children — Derrick (32), Christa (27) and Jackie (23). All three were athletes at Pendleton Heights High School.

unnamed

Terry Turner just completed his second season as head baseball coach at Daleville High School after 29 seasons (25 as head coach) at Anderson High School. He is head coach for the North in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series July 14-16 in Muncie.

 

IHSBCA South All-Stars head coach McKeon sports diamond pedigree

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

B-A-S-E-B-A-L-L demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

So says Jeff McKeon, who has been chosen as South head coach for this weekend’s 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series. Practices, junior showcase and banquet are slated for Friday, July 14, with two games Saturday, July 15, and one game Sunday, July 16, at Ball State University in Muncie.

“I believe you must respect the game,” says McKeon, who resigned as head coach at Plainfield High School after the 2017 season (Shane Abrell has been named as his successor). “Once you cross that line, you have to give 100 percent every single time. The game will humble you in a second. If you ever think you are bigger than the game, it will strike back at you in a second.”

McKeon, who led the Quakers to a 94-75 record in his six seasons, was an assistant at three schools prior to Plainfield — one season for Jason Engelbrecht at Evansville Central, two for Steve Johnston at Evansville Reitz and six for Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg.

At Plainfield, McKeon got to be the host coach for the IHSAA’s South semistate games. The field has two berms for spectators and a scoreboard in center field.

Coming from Evansville, where iconic Bosse Field and other parks all have unique features, McKeon likes that the facility is not a “cookie-cutter.”

“I’m a big baseball purist,” says McKeon. “The ballpark should be part of the experience.

“Plainfield has some uniqueness to it.”

A 1993 Evansville North High School graduate, his high school coach was Dan Sparrow. He was a catcher and then a middle infielder at Ashford University in Iowa, graduating in 1997. He also worked two years for the Clinton LumberKings as an intern, grounds crew worker and clubhouse assistant and one for the Birmingham Barons as assistant GM for concessions and in sales.

Jeff comes from a baseball family. He is the son of former minor league catcher and scout and current Evansville Otters radio analyst Bill McKeon. In 2010, Bill was briefly the Otters manager with Jeff as a coach.

Bill McKeon and Joe Unfried, Jeff’s uncle, were teammates on the 1956 Evansville Braves of the Class B Three-I League and founded the non-profit Tri-State Hot Stove League in 1993.

The ’55 Evansville Braves were owned and managed by Bob Coleman. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inducted Coleman in 1980.

Coleman, Engelbrecht, Johnston, Sparrow and Unfried, are all members of the Greater Evansville Baseball Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class in 2016.

Bill’s older brother and Jeff’s uncle is Jack McKeon, the manager for the 2003 World Series champion Florida Marlins. Jack also served as skipper for the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds.

In his first off-season as general manager of the Padres, he began to rebuild the club with a series of deals and became known as “Trader Jack.”

Jack’s sons have also been involved in professional baseball. Kasey McKeon was a catcher in the Detroit Tigers system and is now director of player procurement for the Washington Nationals.

Kelly McKeon has scouted for the Padres, where he signed Greg Booker, son-in-law to Jack, brother-in-law to Kasey and Kelly father of former Baltimore Orioles minor leaguer Zach Booker. Greg Booker is now a pro scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I’ve had some good mentors,” says McKeon, who is a business teacher at Plainfield and IHSBCA vice president on a leadership team that has included Brian Abbott as executive director, Shane Edwards (Oak Hill), Kevin Hannon (Knox), Scott Hughes (Shelbyville), Ben McDaniel (Columbus North), Phil McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central) and Ricky Romans (Charlestown).

“Those are awesome guys,” says McKeon. “They are great coaches and even better men. Being with those guys has been life-altering for me.”

Fundamentals and instruction are important to McKeon, who has thrown countless hours of batting practice trying to turn weaknesses into strengths.

“I’ve worked with a lot of very good players,” says McKeon. “But you win not with best players, you win with the role player that has to step up.”

McKeon, who is in charge of vendors at the IHSBCA State Clinic in January, will serve as a vice president in 2017-18 and is due to be president the following year.

This year marked his third as South representative and coach for the Crossroads Series, held the past two season at Ball State.

With Rich Andriole as head coach, the South swept the North in three games at Whiting in 2016.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” says McKeon, who will be assisted by Brad Catey (Hagerstown), Justin Tucker (Batesville), John Major (Columbus East) and have a Plainfield Quaker on the roster for the third straight year. It’s first baseman Daylan Nanny (bound for Arizona Western College) in 2017. Outfielder/first baseman Jackson Blevins was selected in 2016 and went on to Saint Joseph’s College. He is playing for the Dubois County Bombers this summer. After the closing of SJC, Blevins is slated to play at Wabash College in 2017-18.

Pitcher Antonio Lucciola represented Plainfield in the North/South series in 2015.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to be recognized for their accomplishments,” says McKeon.

Jeff and wife Liz have a son and a daughter — Gavin (9) and Katie (5).

JEFFMCKEON1

JEFFMCKEON2

Jeff McKeon, head baseball coach at Plainfield High School 2012-17, will be head coach for the South in the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.

Fans keep turning out to see Fort Wayne TinCaps

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Downtown Fort Wayne has become a destination and TinCaps baseball is a big reason.

The minor league team welcomed a franchise-record 413,701 fans to Parkview Field for 68 dates in 2016 and was only slightly behind that pace in 2017 — the ninth at the ballpark on Ewing Street.

Fort Wayne, a San Diego Padres affiliate, drew 252,305 for its first 45 dates, including a single-game record 9,266 on July 4.

“The city has embraced us,” says TinCaps president Mike Nutter. “The people keep coming. It’s been an unbelievable 8 1/2 years and we just want to keep it going.”

A combination of exciting, young talent and ballpark amenities attracts fans from around the region.

“It’s an incredible sports market,” says Nutter, who notes that folks who who root for the Cubs, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Reds and Cardinals agree that the TinCaps are their local team.

Before the streak was stopped in 2016, Fort Wayne had made the playoff seven straight seasons — a mark not matched in the minors or the majors.

Some people come to the park for the food and the promotions, but others want to see a winner and fondly recall the first season at Parkview when Fort Wayne, managed by Doug Dascenzo, won the 2009 Midwest League championship. Led by right-hander Mat Latos, 19 of those players landed in the big leagues.

Nutter has been with the franchise since the fall of 1999. The Fort Wayne Wizards played at the former Memorial Stadium from 1993-2008 and were affiliated with the Minnesota Twins through 1998.

“We were doing that and thought it was great,” says Nutter of the Memorial Stadium days. “We had a hard-working group.”

Current vice presidents David Lorenz, Brian Schackow and Michael Limmer were with the club in those days.

Before coming to the Summit City, Nutter had been in Nashville and watched that ownership have trouble getting a new ballpark (which eventually happened in 2015) so he knew new digs in Fort Wayne were not a sure thing.

“We didn’t know how realistic it was,” says Nutter. “Then it started to get legs and it started to move.”

The TinCaps are run by Hardball Capital. Jason Freier is chairman and CEO of that group, which also runs the Chattanooga Lookouts and Columbia Fireflies.

One idea TinCaps management had when they moved across town is still in place.

“When we came downtown we said lawn seats would be 5 bucks. We liked the way that sounded,” says Nutter. “At the old ballpark — again, not being criticial of it — the cheapest ticket was $6.50. Here was are in Year 9 and they’re still 5 bucks.”

Whether paying $5 or for more-expensive seats, patrons can see a TinCaps team that features three 18-year-olds in the starting infield, including Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop, Hudson Potts at third base and Reinaldo Ilarraza at second base.

Tatis, son of former MLB player Fernando Tatis Sr., has already been MWL Player of the Week twice in 2017 — the first Fort Wayne player to do that since Rymer Liriano in 2011. Baseball Prospectus ranks the young Tatis No. 22 among its Midseason Top 50 prospects.

“On a nightly basis, he stands out as the most-exciting player on the field,” says Sam Geaney, Padres director of player development. “From his raw ability and a lot of his performances, there’s a lot of positives.

“I love the way he plays. It seems like he enjoys playing the game.”

The Padres organization has definitely turned to teens to turn things around and that includes Fort Wayne.

“We are one of the youngest teams in the league,” says Geaney. “We understand there are going to be some growing pains.

“We had a lot of international signings. We have two 17-year-olds (Luis Almanzar and Justin Lopez) and an 18-year-old (Kelvin Melean) at (rookie-level) Tri-City playing on a nightly basis.

“When you sign guys from Latin America, for the most part those guys will be younger — 16 or 17 years old. It’s very clear with our staff that we’re trying to find the best players.”

Slugging first baseman Brad Zunica is a returnee from 2016.

“He’s just continuing to mature,” says Geaney of Zunica. “He had his first full professional season last year. There’s a maturing process that comes with that. He continues to tighten up his swing.

“With the combination of mechanical things and professional development, we’re going to see some results this year.”

With a re-worked pitching staff nurtured by veteran coach Burt Hooton, Fort Wayne manager Anthony Contreras had his team off to a 12-7 start in the second half after a league-worst 26-44 performance in the first half.

Michel Baez, a 6-foot-8 Cuban right-hander, made his first start in front of a paying crowd on American soil in the July 4 game and impressed by pitching five innings of two-hit shutout baseball with nine strikeouts

“The future is bright I think for the TinCaps in the second half and I know for the Padres in the future,” says Nutter.

FORTWAYNETINCAPS

Sidearm Nation helps hurlers get hitters out by changing arm angles

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

So you pitch and you come over the top or at three-quarter overhand and you’re not getting the results you want. How about changing arm angles and tossing the baseball as a sidearmer or submariner?

Geoff Freeborn, who pitched from the left side at Northern Kentucky University, North Idaho College as well as independent professional baseball and for Team Canada, has created Sidearm Nation to help hurlers with dropping down.

An Illinois Sidearm Nation Camp open to all ages and featuring former pro sidearmers/submariners Peter Sikaras, Kenny Long and Ken Raines is scheduled for noon to 5 p.m. CST Aug. 19-20 at Pro Player Consultants, 5112 Prime Parkway, McHenry, Ill. All pitchers are welcome. Specialized coaching will be provided for sidearmers and submariners. Cost is $290 for both days and $150 for one. The camp will be limited to 40 participants.

For more information, email info@sidearmnation or visit http://www.sidearmnation.com.

Recently, Freeborn participated in an IndianaRBI Q&A session.

Q: Why do pitchers change their arm angle?

A: I guess most pitchers change their arm angle out of necessity. Either struggling with current arm angle and something needs to change or down on the depth chart, not pitching that much. Dropping down isn’t for everyone, if you’re pitching well, why change what’s working? But if you’re getting hit around pretty consistently then why not? You have nothing to lose. If you do drop down or are asked to drop down, you have to fully commit to it for it to work.

Q: What are the advantages of an arm angle change?

A: Overall it’s about deception from a lower angle. For the most part it’s not going to be about lighting up the radar gun. Movement is going to be the key from there.

Q: Is it about changing eye levels?

A: Hitters overall get used to seeing the same angle all the time from coaches in batting practice etc. Sidearm/submarine pitchers can mess that up.

Q: What are the disadvantages?

A: I think one of the disadvantages is that you can get pigeon-holed a little bit, that you can only get same-side hitters out. In pro ball for example I tended to just be a lefty-specialist. Would have been a fun job in the MLB but not necessarily for Indy ball. Guess you also tend to just be a reliever, but at same time that can be a pretty good change for some.

Q: Can anyone change their arm angle?

A: I think overall anyone can change their arm angle or at least give it a shot. It tends to be the pitchers that are tall and lanky that pick up on it quicker. Multi-sport athletes or multi-position players tend to pick up on it quicker than say someone that is just a pitcher only.

Q: Do you have favorite sidearmers?

A: I’d have to say current Blue Jays RHP Joe Smith. Also being a LHP I’d have to say Randy Johnson. I used to love watching him.

Q: What about favorite submariners?

A: I never really got to see him pitch but love watching highlights of Dan Quisenberry. Also enjoyed watching Japanese pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe.

Q: How many sidearmers/submariners would you say are in pro ball?

A: That’s a good question. I’d say pretty much at least every time in each level in the minors usually has 1-2 in their bullpen. I think more and more sidewinders are getting drafted now and MLB teams are realizing how important they are.

Q: What about in college baseball?

A: College baseball-wise almost every program probably has 1-2 also in their pen. More colleges are recruiting high school sidewinders instead of having to drop someone down that’s struggling in college.

Q: Do these players tend to be starters or relievers?

A: Most sidewinders do tend to be relievers, do tend to be more successful one time through the order.

Q: I’m guessing there aren’t that many coaches that are familiar with the mechanics of a submariner?

A: I think were there can be some problems is when a pitching coach suggest to a pitcher to drop down but then doesn’t know what to do. Sometimes they get left in the corner to figure it out on their own, which I guess can be a good and bad thing. That’s where hopefully Sidearm Nation can be of help. We have over 200 interviews with current/former pros, basically a free e-book and then we run 5-6 camps per year.

Q: Are the number of sidearmers/submariners on the rise, the decline or steady?

A: Like I mentioned previously I think they are definitely on the rise. More pitchers are realizing by dropping down that can be there ticket to say playing college baseball. Majority of the pitchers I’ve interviewed if didn’t drop down the weren’t going to make their high school or college team then after dropping down, ended up making it to AAA/MLB.

PETERSIKARAS

Peter Sikaras, who pitched with the South Bend Silver Hawks, Gary SouthShore RailCats, Team Greece and others, is to be an instructor at a SidearmNation camp Aug. 19-20 in McHenry, Ill.

 

Contact Steve Krah at stvkrh905@gmail.com