‘Stubborn approach’ has Evansville’s Owen at Triple-A level with Pirates

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hunter Owen was playing in his fifth game since being promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis.

The Evansville, Ind., native was facing a knuckleball pitcher for the first time.

After grounding into a fielder’s choice in his first plate appearance on Thursday, July 18, Owen belted the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the third inning from Syracuse right-hander Mickey Jannis for a two-run home run and the Indians went on to beat the Mets 9-1 at Victory Field.

“You can’t prepare for (the knuckleball),” says Owen. “You have to be willing to battle and stick to your stubborn approach.”

Owen, who swings from the right side, says that when he’s going good he looks for a pitch in a particular location and doesn’t miss it.

That kind of pitch recognition comes with repetition.

“The majority is experience — a lot of at-bats at each level,” says Owen. “The higher up you go, the better the stuff is.

“(Experience) allows you to progress as a hitter — visually and physically.”

Owen was selected out of Indiana State University in the 25th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He experienced 187 at-bats for the short-season West Virginia Black Bears in 2016. In 2017, he had 12 AB’s with the Black Bears, 291 with the Low Class-A West Virginia Power and 10 with the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates.

There were 401 at-bats with the Advanced-A Bradenton (Fla.) Marauders in 2018. He opened 2019 with 235 more for the Double-A Altoona (Pa.) Curve.

Owen hit .257 with five homers and 34 runs batted in for 2016, .284 with 13 and 49 in 2017 and .262 with 18 and 60 in 2018.

At Altoona, his numbers were .298, 15 and 44 before his promotion.

The biggest difference between Double-A and Triple-A?

“The pitching,” says Owen. “Guys can throw three to four pitches wherever they want it.

“They have a better plan of how to attack you.”

Owen really learned how to play in attack mode from his head coach at Evansville Mater Dei High School and with Funkhouser American Legion Post 8Jeff Schulz (who played 40 games in the majors with the Pirates and Kansas City Royals).

“What sticks with me is the aggressiveness mentality,” says Owen. “You’re going up to the plate to do damage.

“You also want to be as much of a well-rounded player as a you can be.”

Growing up, Owen was mostly a shortstop. In high school, he was also used at second base and third base (and was also honorable mention all-state on the football field).

Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs told him to embrace versatility and Owen is comfortable in the infield, outfield or behind the plate.

“Any ability to crack the lineup and be versatile for my team,” says Owen. “(Hannahs) made me the ballplayer I am today — for sure.

“More than anything, he helped me grow mentally. He takes pride in having ballplayers with a lot of character that are good people.”

While he’s got 52 minor league homers, Owen does not classify himself as a pure home run hitter.

“I have gap-to-gap power,” says Owen, who is 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds. “I have the ability to drive the baseball over the wall (with a combination of bat speed and strength).”

Owen notes that every hitter has a launch angle — that’s just physics.

He sticks with the approach that’s more conducive to his swing.

“I’m hitting down through (the baseball),” says Owen, who also has 70 doubles and 12 triples in three-plus minor league seasons.

Owen, who resides in Fishers, Ind., in the off-season, began training last winter with Mike Robertson at Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (IFIT) to increase his mobility, overall strength and speed.

“They help you maximize your physical potential,” says Owen.

Now that he’s playing home games in Indianapolis, Owen has had many family and friends in the stands and expects to see more.

“It’s super humbling to have so many people reach out who are interested in my career,” says Owen, who turns 26 Sept. 22. “The big support system behind me makes it super special.”

The youngest of former University of Evansville baseball player Steve and wife Kena Owen’s five children (following Michael, Leslie, Tyler and Mandi), Hunter took advantage of the lessons that position afforded him.

“It was awesome,” says Hunter. “I really took hold to my two brothers.”

Tyler Owen played four years of NCAA Division I baseball at Murray (Ky.) State University.

“He helped me through my high school and college career,” says Hunter of Tyler. “Picking my brother’s brain was super helpful.”

Hunter attended St. Philip Catholic School through the eighth grade and played for the school teams as well as the Southern Indiana Bombers prior to high school. He played a summer with the Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks before heading off to ISU.

As a Sycamore, Owen was redshirted in 2013 then played from 2014-16. He hit .342 with nine homers and 59 RBIs, including .350, six and 47 as an all-Missouri Valley Conference outfielder in 2016.

At the time he began his pro baseball career, Owen was working toward and sport management degree and plans to complete it at some point.

Right now, he’s battling and being stubborn in his approach.

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Hunter Owen, an Evansville (Ind.) Mater Dei High School graduate who played at Indiana State University, is now with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. (Indianapolis Indians Photo)

 

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Power-Pronation — an alternative way for pitchers to throw

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pitching a baseball subjects large (sometimes dangerous) forces on the arm particularly on the elbow; the weakest link in overhand throwing activities as most orthopedic surgeons and sports medical experts will attest.

When a ball player throws, a substantial force is concentrated principally on the inner part of the elbow (as the arm rotates first externally and then internally).

Placing undue stress on the inner elbow often results in injury, which can lead to ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) surgery (aka Tommy John surgery).

A physics professor and former pro baseball player in New York — Don R. Mueller, Ph.D. — who knows something about pitching and the physics behind it along with a successful senior adult baseball leaguer in St. Louis — Randy Tiefenthaler — suggest that there is an alternative way to throw (with less chance for UCL injuries).

It’s called Power-Pronation (first you supinate and then you pronate).

“You supinate the wrist as the arm swings back (in preparation to throw) and then you pronate the wrist “naturally” as the arm moves forward to release the ball,” says Mueller. “This method of throwing is also powerful because supination creates two unique opportunities for power: (1) activating the biceps muscle to contract (storing energy within the throwing motion itself) and (2) engaging the band-like pronator teres muscle by stretching it across the inner part of the forearm, which like a stretched rubber band releases its energy as the wrist pronates to release the ball.

“Power-Pronation can be viewed as an efficient way of pulling something like a rope, for example, over-your-shoulder (as a construction worker does) or pulling your arm from back-to-front as a MLB pitcher does to throw a ball.

“If only more folks realized that throwing a ball is more precisely depicted as the action of pulling the ball from back-to-front before it is released by the thrower, then perhaps they would better understand Power-Pronation.”

Mueller, a left-hander who threw hard, pitched in the independent Empire State League in 1987 (injuring his shoulder in 1986 and then tearing his UCL in 1989; ending his quest to play further) wants to help others avoid arm injuries; however, still adding a few mph to their fastball by using the power-pronation technique.

“The inner elbow is a time bomb for pitchers who throw hard,” says Mueller. “My research is focused on moving the force away from the inner elbow more toward the outer elbow, which may be more resilient for some players.

“Pitching like other sports activities, which require the player to essentially do the same thing over-and-over again, is a proving ground for various repetitive strain injuries (RSI). I suggest that they try power-pronation if for nothing more that to give their arm a rest from RSI.”

Mueller offers ball players what he calls “3-Points on Pitching/Throwing.”

1. Get the throwing arm up quickly (supinate the wrist if you choose to power-pronate) 2. Carry the center of mass forward as the arm moves from back-to-front. 3. Get the arm out in front with a longer delivery (less elbow strain more shoulder power) as the back leg drives the body forward.

On the follow-through don’t drag the back leg. Get the back leg off the rubber and into the air as the center of mass rotates forward: Explosive power from the legs, hips and shoulder; not so much emphasis on the arm and its weakest link the elbow.

“I’m a guy who still throws with power even at age 57, but perhaps more importantly I’m an expert in throwing pain,” says Mueller. “I have hurt myself repeatedly (from head-to-toe) in different ways and have learned by many trial-and-error experiments how to throw with more power and less pain.”

Mueller states emphatically: “Harness the power of your overall body. Be more like an Olympic athlete; an overall body user. They are the best athletes in the world. For example, Jan Zelezny (javelin thrower) who had just won the Gold Medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta showed coaches with the Atlanta Braves (a few days later) that he could throw a ball over 400 feet! Although he never made a go of pro baseball, his ability to harness his overall body into a throw was remarkable.”

Tiefenthaler, a 2019 member of the Greater St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, pitched at Missouri Baptist University. By the 1980 Major League Baseball (First-Year Player Draft) he had torn his UCL, teres minor muscle (posterior rotator cuff) and suffered various other muscle and tendon injuries.

More recently, in using Power-Pronation principles, Tiefenthaler helped his fellow Midwest Pirates win the 53-and-over Roy Hobbs World Series in 2015 and he was named tournament MVP in 2017 as the Pirates came close to winning the title again.

Eric Tiefenthaler (Randy’s son) employed Power-Pronation techniques at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith and he now instructs high school and college pitchers.

“In September I will be 60,” says Randy Tiefenthaler. “And I can legitimately say that I can throw 80 mph with no pain or injury.

“It was (former major league pitcher) Mike Marshall that taught me the value of early forearm turnover and powerful pronation as the keys to getting the most out of your throwing arm. Those two keys help unlock increased velocity. “I am totally convinced that powerful and properly timed actuation of the pronator teres not only produces higher spin-rates on all pitches, but has the added benefit of preventing the olecranon process of the ulna (bony tip of the elbow) from violently colliding with the fossa of the humerus (upper arm bone).

“In other words, you can prevent the violent ‘hitting of the doorstop’ so to speak, on the back of your elbow, which can lead to excess ossification of the back of the elbow and sometimes even fractures.”

Mueller emphasizes the importance of the Power-Pronation as a method for kids to try. “

“If young ball players are willing to learn these techniques from a couple of old guys (who have been there and done that with the associated pain) then perhaps they can avoid such injuries altogether or at least greatly reduce the chance of hurting themselves,” says Mueller. “I also think kids need to extend their arm forward a bit with a longer delivery (like Aroldis Chapman who has a long fluid motion from start to finish) to allow for maximum acceleration of the arm forward, but also improved deceleration (slowing) of the arm once the ball is released.

“I see kids wanting to whip their arm forward, when it is still basically stuck behind them. I want them to carry their center-of-mass slightly forward before they begin to think about releasing the ball. In other words, I want kids to throw more downhill (and further down the hill) as they push themselves off the mound with their back leg. As the physics professor, I refer to this as converting potential energy into kinetic energy with maximum efficiency.”

Mueller also contends that kids don’t get their throwing arm up in time. As a consequence, the arm continues to lag behind the lower body, which begins its motion toward the target; with a dragging arm more likely to become an injured arm in time.

“Get the arm high and throw it lower,” says Mueller.

The professor has analyzed pitchers throughout the history of baseball as he applies his knowledge of physics. He still marvels at the compact and efficient delivery of former Detroit Tigers ace Denny McLain.

“Likely the last 30-game winner I will see in my lifetime,” says Mueller. “Dwight Gooden also had a beautiful delivery with near-perfect timing of the lower and upper body to throw his blazing fastball.”

Furthermore, Mueller observed that with both of these hurlers the arm was the “last thing to happen” as the lower body led the way and he prefers that today’s pitchers go back to this efficient use of the leg kick.

He explains that as the leg first kicks out and then pulls in (with the pitcher turning toward home plate) the big moment of inertia of the extended leg is converted into rotational angular acceleration of the upper body. The arm can then follow through more effectively with greater power and in all probability less chance for injury to the relatively delicate structure of the elbow.

Mueller says, “To maximize your pitching potential you need to use the upper body and lower body in tandem. Too many of the MLB pitchers I see in 21st century baseball are more upper body and not enough lower body.”

Although Mueller views the throwing of the arm forward as a pulling activity as it goes from back-to-front he understands and appreciates the importance of pushing (i.e., pushing off the mound) as a key element to pitching with power.

“I think immediately of Newton’s Third Law of Motion — For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” says Mueller. “You probably can’t throw the ball hard unless you are using this ‘ground force’ effectively.”

While Mueller agrees that you should push hard off the mound, he disagrees with “pitching experts” who advocate the dragging of the back foot (what they commonly refer to as the dragline) as part of this process.

He says, “I suggest that the thrower push forcefully off the pitching rubber and as the upper body rotates fully to the target, get the foot off the ground. If you want to have a 6-inch dragline fine, but I see no “physics-based” reason for a 2-foot dragline as recommended by some pitching coaches.”

Mueller also wants to make it clear that “he is not a pitching coach.”

He is a physics professor who investigates the physics of sports.

Tiefenthaler offers the following advice to anyone who wishes to avoid Tommy John surgery:

1. When breaking the pitching hand from the glove, lead with the

pitching hand in a pendulum swinging fashion that gets the hand up to your driveline position, with the forearm laid back in a supinated fashion ready to throw — this before your front foot plants and the hips and shoulders rotate forward.

2. During and after hip and shoulder rotation while you are driving the ball to the plate, powerfully go from forearm supination to full pronation while attempting to “inwardly” rotate your shoulder in a powerful fashion.

3. Learn to pronate the release of not just the fastball but all off speed/breaking pitches as well.

“Do those three things and you can bullet-proof your arm from UCL injuries,” says Tiefenthaler. “Tim Lincecum comes to mind as a Power-Pronator.

“You can see (in the slow-motion video) how Lincecum outwardly rotates his forearm at the beginning of the final drive home. Then the pronation begins as he drives his fingers through the release such that after release, his pitching hand turns inwardly so much that his palm is facing upward.

“For the novice fan, they would think that this action would injure the arm. However, it actually helps to protect the arm from the elbow to the hand, while at the same time maximizing spin torque on the ball at release.

“As far as the timing of when he gets his arm up and into driveline height; he is late with that, but that is another subject. However, as far as the powerful pronation action is concerned this is a good example.

“There aren’t too many MLB guys who understand how important pronation is to being able to throw the ball with ‘life’. The amount of late, sharp movement on the ball is directly related to the amount of ’powerful pronation’ as it is applied through the release.”

DONMUELLER

Physics professor Don Mueller applies his knowledge on the tennis court, too, and can swing effectively with either hand. Mueller is a proponent of Power-Pronation.

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Randy Tiefenthaler (center) is a 2019 inductee into the Greater St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. Here is pictured with two men with St. Louis Cardinals ties — David Freese (left) and National Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. Tiefenthaler is a proponent of Power-Pronation.

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Former New York Mets pitcher had a delivery which started high and finished low — just like Professor Don Mueller recommends as a part of Power-Pronation.

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Denny McLain, the last 30-game winner in the major leagues, was a Power-Pronation kind of pitcher.

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Tim Lincecum also pronated his way to effectiveness on a Major League Baseball mound.

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The difference between pronation and supination.

 

Indiana Black Caps enter travel baseball world

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a new travel baseball organization in northern Indiana.

The Indiana Black Caps was officially established July 7, 2019 and expects to field 11U, 12U and 13U teams for the 2020 season.

Jesse Zepeda, who played for coach Steve Stutsman on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state champions at Elkhart Central High School then for coach Seth Zartman at Bethel College (now Bethel University), has been with the Indiana Chargers travel organization and wants to bring that kind of focus on development and investment in players.

“We wanted something similar and thus the Black Caps came into motion,” says Zepeda. “We share the same values as the Chargers did and will continue to do so.

“My philosophy is simple: I hope to build a program that is known for tradition and will help develop the kids in to the best version of themselves on and off the field.”

Zepeda considers Chargers founder Joel Mishler and former Chargers assistant coach Wes Bogan among his mentors.

“I’ve only known Joel for about a year and half,” says Zepeda of Mishler. “The man has a great baseball mind and he has taught me a lot about the game in a short period of time of knowing him — things I wish I knew when I was a player.

“I helped him run Charger practices, camps, showcases and tryouts the past year.

“I look to him for advice and tips for coaching. He almost always will have a response to it.”

Zepeda credits Bogan for showing him how to manage the game.

“I learned a lot from him and still continuing to learn,” says Zepeda of Bogan. He has been a big contributor in my young coaching career.”

“I learned so much from the coaches I’ve had throughout the years. One thing that specifically comes to mind was, ‘Don’t think, just have fun’ that one coach told the team.

“This stuck through the hardships and struggles throughout my career.”

Zepeda and Bogan will lead the Black Caps along with Derek Coy and Brant Mast.

The organization plans to do off-season training at Elkhart Sports Center will play and practice around the Elkhart/Goshen area.

Zepeda says the Black Caps will likely play in USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association), Game Day USA, BPA (Baseball Players Association) and Bullpen tournaments around Indiana. There will be approximately eight tournaments from mid-April to mid-July with built-in development weekends.

“In those weekends, we will solely-focus on the players’ development and play one game or a doubleheader against a team,” says Zepeda. “This gives us time to really focus on what we need to improve on.”

Why the Black Caps?

“Coming up with a name was probably one of the hardest parts for us. We kicked around many different names over the course of a couple weeks and the Black Caps just resonated with us,” says Zepeda. “We wanted to try and come up with something unique and that people would remember.”

JESSEZEPEDA

Jesse Zepeda, a graduate of Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College, has helped start a new travel baseball organization — the Indiana Black Caps. (Bethel College Photo)

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Batesville native Miller sees pitching change in half century of pro baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dyar Miller’s 51 years in professional baseball wrapped in 2018 as a pitching coach for the Triple-A Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies, an affiliate of the Houston Astros.

The Indiana native witnessed many changes to the game as a player, manager, coordinator and coach.

When Miller began his career as a unsigned free agent catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies organization out of Utah State University in 1968, there were no pitching coaches in the minors. He did not work with a coach dedicated to the art until he was in the big leagues.

Miller, who was born in Batesville and graduated from tiny New Point High School (there were 14 in his graduating class), was turned into a pitcher by the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. He first toed the rubber in a major league game with the Orioles on June 9, 1975. Earl Weaver was Baltimore’s manager. George Bamberger was the O’s pitching coach.

“The Orioles are the first organization to use a radar gun,” says Miller, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who pitched seven MLB seasons with Baltimore, the California Angels, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. “We used to phone or fax the game report in. Now it’s on a computer.

“When I first signed, (minor league teams) had a manager and a trainers. Trainers took care of injuries.

“(Pitchers) talked among ourselves. Back then you repeated each league two or three times and you watched. We did not have video. We tried to learn from an opponent.”

At the end of his career, Miller was often in video sessions with his hurlers, breaking down TrackMan information.

“Sometimes the pitcher would beat me to my office, looking for the data,” says Miller. “The Astros mandated that we have cell phones or iPads — company-owned — for bullpen sessions. That was the (minor league pitching) coordinator’s call.”

As a coach, Miller encouraged his more-seasoned pitchers to pass information along to other hurlers.

“They’ll listen to their peers,” says Miller. “Just tell me what you’re telling them.

“In the big leagues, they still do it that way.”

From 1995-2012, Miller served in many roles with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, including pitching coach, roving minor league pitching instructor, minor league pitching coordinator and major league bullpen coach.

It was a standard rule for Cardinals starters to watch fellow starters do their side work and chime in with their observations.

Miller insisted that his pitchers always play catch with a purpose.

“I have to remind guys of that every time you throw a ball, throw to a target — maybe the left shoulder, right shoulder or chest,” says Miller. “Long toss was real big there for awhile.”

Each organization is a little bit different. But many have pitchers start at 60 feet and work their way out to 120 or more.

“Some do it up to 20 minutes on a certain day,” says Miller. “It’s more of a recovery thing. They get the lactic acid out of there.

“Moderation is the best thing. Some guys do too much long toss.”

Miller likens the minor leagues to a laboratory and development — rather than winning the pennant — is the focus.

“We experiment with things here and there,” says Miller. “(Players) develop something that suits them. We’re not cloning everybody.”

At the same time, organizations have specific throwing programs.

“It’s pretty strict,” says Miller. “The Astros don’t like you throwing sinkers unless you’re like Charlie Morton and have a real good one. They stress the change-up.

“There are drills and we give them options — things to work on — each day like inside throws and crow hops. It’s pretty hands-on now, but there’s still leeway to be individualistic.”

Miller says that the higher player climbs the minor league ladder, the more they know themselves and what works best.

the higher you go in the minor leagues,

“At the lower levels, they are watched like a hawk,” says Miller.

The diamond veteran has his pitchers look for external cues — visualizing throwing the ball outside the body and going for the outer or inner halves of the strike zone.

“It’s more effective than internal (cues),” says Miller. “Nowadays, the favorite saying is ‘recent studies show.’ We’ve got what been studied and been shown to work.”

Then there’s the matter of rhythm.

“That’s an external thing, too,” says Miller. “You want to find your tempo and rhythm and pound the strike zone.”

The idea is to get the synchronize with the other body parts.

“There should be no stress on the arm,” says Miller. “It’s coming through because your torso is rotating.

“Your arm just comes along for the ride.”

Like winding a spring or a top, the pitcher loads up then it all comes loose at once.

“That’s how you get the extra pop on the ball,” says Miller. “A lot of people have trouble getting the load or it will leak out.

“It takes time to figure all that out.”

It took time for Miller to gather all his pitching knowledge.

“I knew about 1/10th or less when I was pitching than I do now,” says Miller, 73.

He does know that he is busier now away from pro baseball than when he was in it. Miller turned down an offer from the Mets to finish the 2019 season as pitching coach at Triple-A Syracuse.

“It was tempting,” says Miller, who moved from Batesville to Indianapolis in 1997 to be closer to a major airport and now spends his days working around the house, catching up with family and friends or fishing at his place on Lake Monroe.

Dyar and wife Bertha are on their second marriages. Between them, they have six children and 14 grandchildren with one on the way.

His sons look forward to the annual Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame Celebrity Golf Classic Oct. 4 in Jasper.

Miller still follows the game on television and was able to attend a Wright State-Indiana game in Bloomington, where he was able to catch up with IU director of player development Scott Rolen (who played for the Cardinals) and WSU head coach Alex Sogard (who pitched in the Houston system).

Another pupil in the Astros organization — right-hander Cy Sneed — made his major league debut June 27.

Former Houston farmhand Trent Thornton is now in the starting rotation for Toronto.

DYARMILLERCARDINALS

Batesville, Ind., native Dyar Miller served in several capacities in the St. Louis Cardinals organization from 1995-2012. (St. Louis Cardinals Photo)

DYAMILLERASTROS

Dyar Miller, an Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer, was in pro ball for 51 years — the last few as a pitching coach in the Houston Astros system. (Houston Astros Photo)

 

Fort Wayne’s Wedge takes his passion back to Wichita State

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eric Wedge was in his early 30’s when he was already sporting the “dinosaur” mentality of his coaching predecessors in Indiana.

“A team is always going to play off their manager,” said Wedge in this writer’s 2001 self-published book, “Hitting And Hurling In The Heartland: A look at Indiana high school baseball.” “It’s a powerful position and you have to make sure you approach it that way.

“I have a passion for the game. I love kids that love to come out and play. And it’s got to hurt when you lose.

“I’ve got a problem with people who don’t compete every pitch, every out and every game.”

Wedge played at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Chris Stavreti. Stav was a “dinosaur” — a term once attached to 20-year IHSBCA members.

After his playing career, which included four seasons in the big leagues with the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, Wedge managed five seasons in the minors and 10 in the majors — 10 with the Cleveland Indians and three with the Seattle Mariners. Wedge was the American League Manager of the Year in 2007 as the Cleveland lost to Boston in the American League Championship Series.

Now 51, the Fort Wayne native and IHSBCA Hall of Famer has been named head baseball coach at Wichita State University, the school he helped win the College World Series in 1989.

A two-time all-Missouri Valley Conference selection, Wedge is a member of the Wichita State 25-Year Anniversary Team, the WSU Hall of Fame (1996) and is also a member of the league’s All-Centennial Baseball Team.

In his three seasons at WSU, the Shockers reached three NCAA Tournaments and twice played in the CWS (1988, 1989). WSU won three regular-season MVC crowns and two MVC Tournament crowns during his collegiate playing career.

Wedge, a Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer who had a wood bat division named for him at Fort Wayne’s Wallen Little League in June and had been in player development with the Toronto Blue Jays, talked about his new role and about Fort Wayne baseball in a story written by Dean Jackson.

Enjoy that story here.

ERICWEDGEWICHITASTATE

Eric Wedge, a Fort Wayne, Ind., native, is the new head baseball coach at Wichita State University. He helped the Shockers win the College World Series in 1989. (Wichita State Photo)

 

Former Heritage, Indiana lefty Saalfrank now pitching in Diamondbacks system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andrew Saalfrank has the physical tools to pitch a baseball at high levels.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-hander was a standout at Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., where he graduated in 2016 then for three seasons at Indiana University (he was a weekend starter in 2019) and now in his first professional season in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

After making 15 appearances (12 as a starter) and going 8-1 with a 2.84 earned run average, 98 strikeouts and 26 walks in 73 innings for IU this spring, Big Ten Conference Pitcher of the Year Saalfrank was selected in the sixth round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

So far, the southpaw has pitched three of one-inning stints — one for the rookie-level Arizona League Diamondbacks and two for the short-season Class-A Northwest League’s Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops and is 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA, three strikeouts and one walk. Since he pitched so many innings in the spring, the D-backs are limited his load this summer.

As of now, the next steps up the ladder for the Diamondbacks are at Low-A Kane County (Ill.), Advanced-A Visalia (Calif.), Double-A Jackson (Tenn.) and Triple-A Reno (Nev.).

Delivering from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Saalfrank uses a two-seam fastball, curveball and change-up in games. His fastball has been between 89 and 93 mph. His curve is 83 to 84 and usually has more of a vertical plane. His change-up his been especially sharp this summer. In the bullpen, he has been tinkering with a four-seam fastball and working on a slider.

It’s not just his left arm that has gotten Saalfrank to this point.

“A lot of stuff can go wrong in the game and it doesn’t bother me often,” says Saalfrank. “There’s such a large mental aspect to the game.

“Sometimes you don’t have the greatest physical talent. Playing college ball helps you deal with different situations. You’re good enough. You tell yourself that and deal with the situation that’s thrown at you.”

Saalfrank’s training at Indiana was focused on getting ready for pro ball and now he’s here.

With academic and college time restrictions out of the way, he can put his time into baseball.

“I don’t sleep in too late,” says Saalfrank. “I wake up at 8:30 or 9 everyday.”

That gives him time to relax, grab a meal and head to the stadium, where he will spend up to eight hours for a Hillsboro home game. Stretching begins about three hours before first pitch. On many days, there is weightlifting before or after the game.

“The time commitment is the difference,” says Saalfrank. “It’s fun. I’m getting paid to do what I wanted to do for a living.

“I’m lucky enough to do it.”

Saalfrank was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Hoagland, Ind. Father Doug Saalfrank is a supervisor at B.F. Goodrich. Mother Heidi Saalfrank is a sales representative for Heritage Food Services. Older sister Abby Saalfrank was also an NCAA Division I athlete, playing volleyball at Eastern Illinois University.

Heidi Saalfrank’s brother and sister — Jason Richman (baseball) and Tiffany (Richman) Bennett (volleyball) — both played at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and influenced Andrew and Abby.

“We were always spending time with them and playing sports in the back yard,” says Andrew.

His organized baseball days began in the youth leagues in Hoagland and New Haven. He played for a number of travel teams, including the Indiana Outlaws at the end of his high school days.

Saalfrank took pitching instruction from Rich Dunno for about eight years.

“He played a big part,” says Saalfrank of Dunno, the Fort Wayne-based inventor of the King of the Hill ground force trainer.

At Heritage, Saalfrank was an all-stater as a junior and senior and a four-time all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection. His career mark was 26-7 with a 1.67 ERA and school-record 429 strikeouts and 218 1/3 innings. He was 10-1 with a 1.07 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings in 2015 and followed that up with a 2.15 ERA and 87 K’s in 45 2/3 innings in 2016.

Dean Lehrman was Patriots head coach. Saalfrank credits Lehrman for his emphasis on the mental and emotional aspects of baseball.

“Respect the game,” says Saalfrank. “Respect your teammates. Play for the school name on your chest.”

Saalfrank was recruited to IU by Chris Lemonis (now at Mississippi State University) and worked with Lemonis and pitching coach Kyle Bunn (now at Middle Tennessee State University) for his first two collegiate seasons.

“(Bunn) pushes you,” says Saalfrank. “He expects a lot out of every player. He gets the most out of you. He uses tough love sometimes.”

In Saalfrank’s junior year, Jeff Mercer became the head coach and Justin Parker the pitching coach for the Hoosiers.

“It was a really smooth transition for everybody,” says Saalfrank. “They have a pro style to development.

“It was on me to figure out what I like best and establish a routine to transition into pro ball.

“I learned about handling adversity and finding the positives out of failure.”

The minor league regular season goes through Labor Day then comes the playoffs. Saalfrank plans to return to Indiana in the fall to train and finish his sports management degree. He is just nine credits shy.

Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank pitches for Indiana University.

Andrew Saalfrank is a product of Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Indiana and worked for years with pitching instructor Rich Dunno.

ANDREWSAALFRANK

Andrew Saalfrank, a former Heritage Junior/Senior High school and Indiana University left-hander, is now pitching in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

 

Daniel brings 1980 baseball season back with lively “Phinally!”

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J. Daniel was just shy of 13 when the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series for the first time in 1980.

Even though he was in southwestern Ohio, he followed the Phils from “Mike Schmidt to Ramon Aviles.”

Growing up when he did, Daniel appreciates baseball and pop culture in the 1980’s.

He is a big fan of Dan Epstein — author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s — and his style.

So much so that the Brownsburg, Ind., resident decided to write a book about baseball and more in the decade he knows so well.

“I’m a total stat geek,” says Daniel, who recalls devouring the box scores in the Cincinnati Enquirer during his youth. “Everything’s interesting to me.”

With so much material, it became books — plural.

Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t (McFarland & Company) was published in 2019.

It was 1980 that gave us ….

The primetime TV drama “Dallas” and the cliffhanger summer question of “Who Shot J.R.?”

Movie-goers saw comedy in the “The Blue Brothers” and “Airplane!” and horror in “The Shining” and “Friday The 13th.”

In one scene from “The Shining,” Shelley Duvall wields a Carl Yastrzemski model Louisville Slugger.

Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was cast as the co-pilot in “Airplane!” If not for filming during the baseball season, it might have been Pete Rose.

A former weatherman — David Letterman — also read for a part but did not land one.

Roberto Duran topped “Sugar Ray” Leonard in a 15-round bout in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

Free agent Nolan Ryan became the first baseball player to sign for $1 million a season, signing with the Houston Astros.

Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was about to make his clients a lot of money.

The average minimum salary at the time was $20,000.

In the spring of ’80, they went on a mini-strike that wiped out 92 spring training games.

Elias Sports Bureau introduces Game-Winning RBI as a statistic in the spring. The first one credited in a game went to the Cincinnati Reds’ George Foster in the first inning of a 9-0 Opening Day romp against Phil Niekro and the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta would get off to a 1-9 start and owner Ted Turner (who launched CNN in 1980) benched Gary Matthews and sent Bob Horner to the minors.

It was also on Opening Day, that “Kiteman” hang-glided his way onto the field at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium.

Ken Landreaux of the Minnesota Twins enjoyed a 31-game hit streak — the longest in the American League since Dom DiMaggio’s 34 in 1949. A few seasons’s prior to Landreaux’s feat, Aqua Velva gave $1,000 per game to the hitter with the streak. But that changed in 1980. Things were worked out for Landreaux to give the money to charity.

San Diego Padres shortstop Ozzie Smith wasn’t looking for charity, but extra income. He took out a newspaper ad. He had many offers, including one from Joan Kroc, wife of Padres owner Ray Kroc, to assist her gardner. He eventually got supplemental pay from a company on Los Angeles.

There were many bench-clearing brawls and knockdown pitches in 1980.

Fergie Jenkins of the Texas Rangers joined Cy Young, Jim Bunning and Gaylord Perry as pitchers with 100 wins in both leagues.

Freddie Patek of the California Angels hit five home runs on the season and 41 for his career, but he popped three in one game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Left-hander Jerry Reuss did not begin the season in the starting rotation for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but tossed a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants.

On his way to a 25-7 record and the AL Cy Young Award, Baltimore Orioles right-hander Steve Stone started the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium and worked three inning in just 24 pitches.

The game also featured the debut of the massive Diamond Vision video boards.

Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench passed Yogi Berra for the all-time lead in home runs by a catcher.

Houston fireballer J.R. Richard suffered a stroke.

The Chicago Cubs fired manager Preston Gomez and replaced him with Joey Amalfitano.

“Super Joe” Charbonneau became an icon for the Cleveland Indians.

A white-hot George Brett was hitting .401 on Aug. 17 and finished with a .390 average. The Kansas City Royals third baseman’s back side was likely warm during the end of the season and the postseason. He finally had to have surgery for hemorrhoids prior to Game 3 of the World Series.

Maverick owners Charlie Finley (Oakland Athletics) and Bill Veeck (Chicago White Sox) announced the sale of their teams.

The White Sox did the unusual when they used the left-handed Mike Squires as a catcher.

Montreal Expos right-hander Bill Gullickson set a rookie-record with 18 strikeouts against the Cubs.

Oakland’s Rick Langford tossed 28 complete games, including a modern-record 23 straight. The Athletics staff completed 94 starts.

Three of the four division races were not settled until the season’s final week. Kansas City rapped the AL West up early. The Philadelphia Phillies edged out Montreal in the NL East. Houston topped the Dodgers in the NL West. The Yankees bested Baltimore in the AL East.

Games 2-5 in the National League Championship Series went extra innings before the Phillies prevailed over the Astros.

New Jersey’s Army staff sergeant Craig Burns took a three-day pass and flew from Germany to see his Phils play the Royals in the first game of the World Series. With Schmidt and Tug McGraw among the heroes, Philly won its first title.

Daniel is shopping his next volume about the 1982 season. The working title is Suds Series: The Brewers, the Cardinals and the year the ’80s became the ‘80s. He is grateful to author and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis journalism professor Chris Lamb for his help and encouragement.

That era is also kept alive on social media by Daniel with his website (80sbaseball.com), Facebook (Facebook.com/80sbaseball) and Twitter (@80sbaseball) pages.

Daniel, a graduate of Talawanda High School in Oxford, Ohio, and Ohio University, is now employed in communication for IUPUI parking services. More than 20 years of his working life was spent in sports television, including four years as the producer/director of “Rays Magazine” on Fox Sports Florida.

J. and wife Sue were engaged at Clearwater’s Jack Russell Memorial Stadium, a place where he spent two seasons at official scorer for the Clearwater Phillies. The couple has two seasons — Brady (19) and Michael (16). Brady played travel baseball with the Indiana Outlaws and Indiana Hurricanes. Michael played at Brownsburg Little League.

Daniel is an assistant coach this summer for the 17U Indiana Expos with Kevin Barnhart (father of Cincinnati catcher Tucker Barnhart) as head coach and Tim Hampton as another assistant.

JDANIEL

J. Daniel, a Brownsburg, Ind., resident, has written Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t and has other books planned about the 1980s.

PHINALLY!IMAGE

Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t by J. Daniel chronicles not only what happened on the diamond pop culture. The author resides in Brownsburg, Ind. (McFarland & Sons Image)