Pirates approach attracts Hickerson back to coaching

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is about pitching, hitting and fielding.

But it goes deeper than that for Bryan Hickerson.

When Hickerson finished his last assignment in an 18-year stint in baseball-related ministry, he went looking for a job in professional or college baseball.

Through his work with Unlimited Potential Inc. — based in Winona Lake, Ind. — Hickerson had gotten to know folks in the Pirates organization through former Personal Development Coordinator Anthony Telford and spent as much time as he could the Bucs at various levels.

Hickerson, a former University of Minnesota left-hander who pitched for nine pro seasons and went 21-21 with the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies from 1991-95, and moved to the Warsaw area in 2001 to begin his work with UPI, helped coach during the 2015 season at Winona Lake-based Grace College.

He last coached professionals in 1997 with Bakersfield and 1998 with San Jose in the Giants system.

“There are more analytics now then when I coached then,” says Hickerson, 54. “But the biggest difference is in me and not the game itself. In my perspective, it’s about people and developing trust and relationships with the people you work with. The Pirates are big on that. That’s what attracted me to the organization.

“Baseball is baseball. Who you get to do it with makes all the difference.”

Hickerson served the Pirates in 2017 as the pitching coach with the Double-A Eastern League champion Altoona (Pa.) Curve.

After the EL season, he spent time with players in the Florida Instructional League and Arizona Fall League. Three pitchers who were with Altoona — Mitch Keller, Brandon Waddell and J.T. Brubaker — were sent to the AFL’s Glendale Desert Dogs.

“I went there to touch base,” says Hickerson. “I went to see how they were doing mentally (after a season which began with spring training in Bradenton, Fla., in February) and to see if they were growing or just going through the motions.”

The Pirates’ purpose statement — Changing the world through baseball — appeals to Hickerson.

“It’s a process of developing men — the staff and the players,” says Hickerson. “We invest all this time. Are they going to be difference makers?”

That goes for those on a path toward the big leagues and those that will fall short — which is the vast majority.

“It’s not just about developing a baseball player,” says Hickerson. “It’s the heart, mind, soul and body. It’s refreshing to see in professional athletics.”

Players in the Pirates system are asked to take stock of themselves.

“We make them understand who they are,” says Hickerson. “We get them to answer the question: ‘Why do you play professional baseball?’ The answer is what motivates you day in and day out.

“We peel back the layers until they come to grips with why they’re there.”

For some it might be about being rich and famous. For others, the goal may be very different. Players fill out a comprehensive “blueprint.” The plan is likely to change as the player grows and matures.

“You have to commit to a process of growth and understand your strengths and weaknesses,” says Hickerson.

It is the duty of coaches to help players through the process toward reaching their maximum potential while also buying into the team culture. The latter is not always easy in a game where individual statistics are valued so highly.

“It’s easy for a player to care about their own stats and not the team,” says Hickerson. “We want them to care about the whole.

“Once sports becomes a business how do you compel men to pull together and do something special?”

Double-A baseball is unique.

By that point, many players have achieved a high level of on-field skill. While the 30 Major League Baseball organizations have multiple rookie level and Class-A teams, there is just one Double-A team for each. That means it is very competitive.

“Competing in baseball is non-stop,” says Hickerson. In each organization, there are 150 players competing for 25 big league jobs. The Indianapolis Indians are the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate.

Even though the competition can be cut throat, it does no good to root for a teammates’ downfall.

“You still have to get better,” says Hickerson. “Hoping for someone else fails never makes you a better baseball player.”

By the time they reach Double-A, many players have wives or are engaged.

“We don’t disregard that,” says Hickerson. “We help them in that area. I could have the attitude that as long as you can compete on the field, I don’t care what your life is like. I don’t think that ever builds a team.”

It’s the idea of “people and process over program and product.”

This kind of people-first approach will only work if all adhere to it.

“I have to be all-in,” says Hickerson. “(Players) know if I’m just giving lip service. You have to get to know the person. What kind of man is he? That takes time.”

Hickerson expects to find out where the Pirates will send him 2018 sometime in December and then will start getting ready for spring training.

A native of Bemidji, Minn., Hickerson was drafted in the seventh round of the 1986 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Minnesota.

After his first full season (1987), he hurt his arm while lifting weights and underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery and missed the entire 1988 campaign.

“I went from the prospect to a suspect real fast,” says Hickerson.

While at Minnesota, he met future wife Jo (a member of the Gophers track and field program). With her support, he and “shear stubborness” he kept working and got back on the field.

“I was not willing to give up when things got tough,” says Hickerson. “It seemed like it was a really, really long shot for me to make it at all.”

He stuck with it, made his MLB debut with San Francisco in the miiddle of the 1991 season and played for as long as he could.

Bryan and Jo have four children — Emily, Joey, Claire and Tommy. The youngest is a college sophomore. Essentially empty nesters, this gave him a push to re-join the world of baseball coaching.

And he is enjoying it — one relationship at a time.

BRYANJOHICKERSON17-2

Bryan Hickerson (left) and wife Jo share a moment during a break in his duties as a minor league coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After 18 years in ministry with Unlimited Potential Inc., former big leaguer Hickerson went back into coaching with the Pirates because he likes their relationship-based approach.

BRYANJOHICKERSON17-1

Bryan and Jo Hickerson on the field at an Altoona (Pa.) Curve game. Bryan served as pitching coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double-A affiliate in 2017.

 

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Kosinski sees continuity lead to success for River Forest baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With a new sense of stability and direction, the baseball program at River Forest High School in Hobart has turned things around.

With head coach Michael Kosinski and assistant Mark Zimmerle providing the guidance, the Ingots have been molded into a competitive squad.

Kosinski played four varsity seasons at River Forest before graduating in 2009. With four different head coaches, the Ingots won a total of 15 games.

Good enough as a right-handed pitcher to be recruited by Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Kosinski joined the Pumas. Because of financial issues, he only stayed a half year. But he soaked up all the baseball he could from head coach Rick O’Dette (now at Saint Leo University in Florida since the closing of SJC following the 2017 season) and the rest of the squad.

“I would watch everything that went on,” says Kosinski.

He put the knowledge to good use when he returned home.

“I always wanted to coach, but I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity at such a young age,” says Kosinski. “I took the opportunity and ran with it.”

The 2018 season marks Zimmerle’s 10th with River Forest and eighth with Kosinski. Zimmerle was head coach when Kosinski came back and the two traded roles before the 2015 campaign.

“We’ve built up a great relationship and we are where we are now,” says Kosinski. “We’ve done as good a job as we can with the talent’s that’s presented to us. We’ve taken less and gotten more out of it.

“A lot of our guys have bought into the program and that’s a big thing.”

During the school day, Zimmerle is head of buildings and grounds and Kosinski is head custodian.

As baseball coaches, the two have stressed repetition, fundamentals and trust and watched the Ingots set single-season school records for wins in both 2015 and 2016, going 15-14 in each of those springs. The 2017 squad posted a 14-13 mark.

“Repetition and fundamentals — that’s what we preach,” says Kosinski. “We want it to become muscle memory.”

When college players come around Ingot practices, they see the same kinds of things being done that they do at their schools.

“Nothing is better there,” says Kosinski. “It’s just said differently.”

Kosinski tends to work with pitchers and catchers and Zimmerle directs the offensive side of things.

“He explains it better,” says Kosinski.

River Forest is an IHSAA Class 2A school that has been competing in the Whiting Sectional. The Ingots are still looking for their first sectional hardware.

The eight baseball-playing schools in the Greater South Shore Conference are River Forest, Calumet, Griffith, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, Wheeler and Whiting. For 2018, league teams will play home-and-home two-game series on Mondays and Tuesdays.

With this set-up, GSSC teams will have to use more than one starting pitcher against any given conference opponent.

Last season, the IHSAA adopted a new 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).

“It’s kind of what we’ve been doing,” says Kosinski. “Our (starters) get four or five days rest. (The new rule) also creates a whole different dynamic. Boone Grove pitched (their ace) a lot before the rule. They were a different team when he wasn’t on the mound. That’s what I like about it.”

Kosinski also has a different take on collecting a game’s 21 outs.

“I used to throw everything hard and try to strike everyone out,” says Kosinski. “(Right-hander) Ryan Slavey (who now plays at nearby Calumet College of St. Joseph) led the state and set a school record for us with 155 strikeouts (in 91 1/3 innings) in 2015. Now, I’d rather you get 18 ground balls and a couple pop-ups and get us through the week.”

Kosinski notes that River Forest right-hander Anthony Rodriguez had never earned a varsity letter in any sport before tossing 45 2/3 innings for the Ingots as a junior last spring.

“He was phenomenal,” says Kosinski. Right-handers Josiah Zambrana (51 innings) and Milan Wendrickx (40) are both expected back for the their senior and junior years, respectively.

“We will base our pitching rotation off what wins we can get,” says Kosinski.

The Ingots recently began fall workouts and had around 30 players come out on the first day. River Forest has only a varsity squad and Kosinski and Zimmerle generally keep 15 to 18 players. The school’s on-campus field got its first electronic scoreboard in 2017.

While there is no formal feeder system for the Ingots, players do come from Lake Station Little League. Once junior high basketball is complete, Kosinski expects to get around 10 seventh and eighth graders — future Ingots — to come out and help with the varsity team.

“The seventh grade class is what we’re really banking on,” says Kosinski of a group that was coached at Lake Station Little League as fifth graders by Scott Galligan.

MICHAELKOSINSKI

Michael Kosinski, a 2009 River Forest High School graduate, heads into his fourth season as head coach at his alma mater in 2018. He was an Ingots assistant for four seasons before taking over the program in 2015.

David Ledbetter talks about baseball and life so far

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

David Ledbetter is coming off a 2017 baseball season — his fifth in pro ball —  another in which he continues to rack up experiences on and off the diamond, something he has been doing since he and twin brother Ryan roamed diamonds around central Indiana. The Ledbetters first attended Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers then transferred to Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis and helped the Eagles win IHSAA Class 2A state championships in football in 2008 and in baseball in 2009 and 2010, attended the same college (Cedarville University in Ohio) and were both selected in the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers (David in the third round and Ryan in the 19th).

Both are married — David to Elizabeth Dec. 28, 2012 and Ryan to Maddie Dec. 28, 2013 — and are right-handed pitchers. The sons of Ron and Sherrie Ledbetter are set to turn 26 on Feb. 13.

Recently, David agreed to an IndianaRBI Q&A session.

Q: Did you and your brother grow up in Hamilton County?

A: We grew up in Lawrence for quite a few years and then moved to Hamilton County during middle school and into high school. Gotta love the Indianapolis area!

Q: What Little League or travel teams did you play on before you turned pro?

A: Haha! We usually played on teams that weren’t exactly national powerhouses, but where we valued the relationships and could actually have a lot of fun playing a game. I may leave a couple names out on this list, but I can remember playing for the Carmel Stix, Indiana Wolverines, Indiana Cubs (B-team mind you. Always chase your dreams), the Fishers Mudsox, and then the Indiana Mustangs for a couple years.

Most importantly, we played with the Fall Creek Little League All-Stars when we were 11 and 12 – the greatest little league team ever!!

Q: I know your high school coach Dan Ambrose went to Cedarville. Is that how you ended up there? Is there another reason?

A: No, we went to Cedarville because it was an opportunity to be educated on our faith, make impact as freshmen on the team, play both ways, and receive a little discount to help out our parents on tuition. We went on a visit sometime during our junior senior year and I literally just knew that was where I was supposed to go. The Holy Spirit was prodding me!

Q: What did you learn from Coach Ambrose which has stuck with you?

A: The little things matter! He said this all. The. Time. I’m not lying! He may have said this like at least once every practice. And I hope he still talks about it like he did back then because it holds true no matter what’s going on. Baseball, basketball, relationships, marriage, whatever! The little things always matter.

Q: Why did you choose Heritage Christian?

A: We went on a missions trip with many of the guys from that team our sophomore year in high school. Through that, we got to meet D.A and some of our future teammates and we LOVED them. It wasn’t like (Hamilton Southeastern) was rough, we absolutely loved HSE too! But it came down to being around people of faith and growing ourselves in a culture that focused activities (like baseball) around Christ first.

Q: What did you get from Cedarville coach Mike Manes that carries on?

A: Manes was a great baseball coach, but a better life coach. He has a lot of wisdom that transcends the baseball field and I believe what I most learned from him was the importance of staying consistent in your work. Don’t miss workouts, don’t be late.

Everyone says that kind of stuff. But Manes stressed the importance of bringing consistency into everything you do. If you’re going to bring the energy, you’d better be bringing it all the time. Every piece of practice is an opportunity to get better, so don’t waste those moments. Bring the same conviction and focus every time. Be someone that your team can depend on no matter the situation.

Q: What are your best memories of your time at HC?

A: Best memories. Whoof … There’s a lot of those. But I’ll try and just keep it to baseball. Winning back-to- back state championships with a team of brothers is definitely up there. Becoming part of a senior core that you could truly believe in is probably the coolest thing I can remember … Let me explain. I can remember our junior year that we had a senior core of incredible men. They brought fun to the field every single day.

But you know you were going to GET AFTER IT just the same. And that made us very hard to beat. It’s hard to beat teams that just plain have a lot of fun (because having fun does require some success too). Being apart of that culture and seeing what it took to be the best, then putting that on our backs as seniors was incredible.

Because that’s more than just a single game or moment, that’s a year of decisions that led to a fruitful year. Cam McWilliams, Scott Kreeger, Sterling Harpst, and my brother Ryan were can’t-miss players who cared more about being great men than we cared about winning a few games. But you could bet your butt we’d be bringing everything we had to every game.

Q: What do you consider your strengths as an athlete?

A: I am consistent in my work. I bring positive energy and do my best to show my teammates that I value them for being them, not just for what they can do on the field. I try to be as genuine as possible with everyone, having an interest in why they are the way they are and why they do what they do. I also like to work, I don’t want to leave myself a doubt that I gave it everything I had when my time is done.

Q: Can you describe your pitch repertoire? How often do you throw a fastball vs. a breaking pitch?

A: I try to throw strikes and then balls that look like strikes. Simple as that. And throwing one versus the other is largely dependent on what hitter I’m facing. It’s like reading a book. The hitter will tell you their story in each swing. My job is to read that short story and go from there.

Q: How competitive are you and your twin?

A: Very. But there is a lot of self-control developed from years and years of competing together. We bring our compete no matter what, but you leave satisfied that you’ve done absolutely everything you could to prepare. When you just have a lot of competitiveness, but no discipline it can lead to a number of problems.

Q: Isn’t it funny you both landed in the Rangers organization? Were you signed by the same scout?

A: It’s truly unbelievable – an act of God, I do not doubt. Roger Coryell signed us both!

Q: What did you learn in the 2017 Arizona Fall League (playing for the Surprise Saguaros), which included Lawrence Central High School graduate and Kansas City Royals minor leaguer Jared Ruxer)?

A: I learned about my teammates, how to throw a better change-up, that hitters hit ball sometimes and others they don’t, and that you can make a living pitching if you throw strikes consistently where you want.

Q: Generally, what does your off-season look like from now until you go to spring training?

A: Each year has brought new experiences and memories. The first few years I was able to stay around Cedarville, get a couple jobs and do my preparation there because my wife was still in school pursuing a pharmacy degree. This year we are in Columbus (Ohio) as she is fulfilling a PGY-1 at Riverside Methodist Hospital, and I’m working to complete a Master’s degree in Business Administration as well as continuing to do workouts.

Side note from David … If you are reading this and you know any pharmacists – Reach out to them and tell them you love them and you appreciate the work they do. #pharmsohard

DAVIDLEDBETTER2017

David Ledbetter, a product of Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis and Cedarville (Ohio) University, pitched in his fifth professional baseball season with the Texas Rangers organization in 2017. (Round Rock Express Photo)

 

Phegley finding his way in baseball with Athletics

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Much was expected from baseball-playing Josh Phegley at an early age.

Sharing the same diamond with older brother John and his classmates, Josh was challenged.

Helping give that extra push was the boys’ father and coach — John.

“My dad was one of my biggest influences,” says Phegley, a Terre Haute native and catcher with the Oakland Athletics. “He wasn’t going to be the coach who just played his son. He was super hard on me and my brother. He expected you to be the leader and cornerstone of the field every time we were on the field.

“That’s what molded my brother and I into really good players.”

Josh’s early diamond path was supported by parents John and Joan and took him from Terre Haute North Little League to Terre Haute Babe Ruth League All-StarsT and travel baseball stints with the Terre Haute Indians (organized by his father) and the Indy Bulldogs.

Following in his brother’s footsteps, he was one of the few freshmen to play varsity baseball for coach Shawn Turner at Terre Haute North Vigo High School. In order to make that happen, Josh had to change positions.

While he had done some catching as a young player, he was a shortstop, center fielder and pitcher as he approached high school.

The Patriots had a need behind the plate and Turner led Josh know that was his ticket to varsity playing time as a frosh.

“It almost suited me perfectly. I stopped growing up and started getting wider,” says Phegley. “I have that build to be a catcher and I just wanted to be a varsity high school player.”

That’s when they went to a friend of the family. Brian Dorsett was a star at Terre Haute North Vigo and Indiana State University who went on to be a catcher in the majors for eight seasons. He still lived in town.

Dorsett had helped a young Josh with hitting lessons and Dorsett’s oldest daughter, Abby, was in Josh’s class. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer agreed to help young Phegley with his catching skills.

“We tried to utilize all the resources we could find,” says Phegley. “Having an ex-major leaguer catcher in the same town was pretty beneficial for me.”

That spring he played in a lineup that included nine players who would go on to play NCAA Division I baseball. Besides the Phegley boys — Josh (Indiana) and John (Purdue) —  some of those include Blake Holler (Stanford), Max Hutson (Wichita State), John Cummins (Purdue) and Chris Macke (Ohio State).

Left-hander Holler was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels and pitched two seasons of minor league baseball.

Phegley played four seasons for Turner (who moved on to Richmond) and spent three high school summers with Terre Haute American Legion Post 346, managed by John Hayes.

Post 346 brought together the best players from Terre Haute North Vigo and their three closest rivals — Terre Haute South Vigo, West Vigo and Northview.

“(Hayes) was all about having fun and enjoy the guys around you,” says Phegley. “Playing unselfishly and having fun — that’s how you can become successful. American Legion baseball is the most fun I’ve had in the summertime.”

The summer after high school graduation in 2006, Phegley and Post 346 finished second to Metairie, La., in the American Legion World Series. The young backstop also earned MVP honors at the IHSBCA All-Star Series and was named as Indiana’s Mr. Baseball.

Phegley’s last season at Terre Haute North was the first for Tracy Smith as head baseball coach at Indiana University and Phegley became the first player he signed to play for the Hoosiers.

Smith (who is now head baseball coach at Arizona State University) also liked to have fun, but insisted that his players know about accountability and responsibility.

“College baseball is a different animal,” says Phegley. “There’s a lot of work and you have to take care of things (academically) so you can play. Going to school and a heavy (NCAA) D-I schedule is hard to handle.”

Smith emphasized the importance of doing it all.”

“Being a leader on the team means taking care of everything,” says Phegley. “It’s being organized and put together and being a good example for the other guys. Causing us to run extra sprints after practice because I turned an assignment in late is nothing to be proud of.”

As an IU freshman, Phegley started 42 times as the team’s primary catcher. As a sophomore, the right-handed hitter finished second in the nation with a .438 average and was a second-team All-American and Johnny Bench Award finalist. As a junior, he was named Big Ten Player of the Year by Rivals.com and was a Johnny Bench Award and Golden Spikes Award semifinalist. He was selected as a supplemental pick in the first round of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox.

That’s when he began to see what a challenge baseball can really present.

“It doesn’t hurt to be drafted kind of high (38th overall) and knowing (the White Sox) were going to take the time and give you opportunities,” says Phegley. “They expect some ups and downs. That’s just baseball. You need to learn how to control the downs as well as the ups. You want to stay even keel and respect the process of the development.”

It’s easier said than done.

“You see a lot of guys getting lost in the minor leagues,” says Phegley. “It takes some years to get through it. I got drafted in 2009 and made my major league debut in 2013. You can get lost and forget what the final goal is

“Baseball is a game surrounded by failure. You can get consumed in day-to-day stats. It’s such a mental grind (especially in the ow minors). It can beat you up pretty good. It seems so far away. There are so many guys in front of you. How do I beat the masses that get drafted every year and get to the big leagues?”

Phegley got a serious surprise in his second pro season. In 2010, he was limited to just 48 games due to Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), a rare autoimmune disorder that lowers platelet count.

“Out of nowhere my body started killing my own platelets,” says Phegley. “We battled through that 2010 season, doing different treatments to try to get back on the field. They took out my spleen in November 2010 and it totally flipped it back. It’s always in the back of my head. It can come back.”

When Phegley came back, he began to rise through the White Sox system, finishing at Triple-A in 2011, playing the whole 2012 campaign there and then seeing his first MLB action July 5, 2013. He made 65 appearances with Chicago in 2013 and and spent most of 2014 at Triple-A Charlotte.

Two weeks before Christmas in 2014, Phegley was traded along with Chris Bassitt, Marcus Semien and Rangel Ravelo to the Athletics for Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa. Phegley was in 73 games with Oakland in 2015, 25 in 2016 and 57 in 2017.

Phegley hit .256 with a home run and 10 RBI in 2016, a season shortened due to two stints on the disabled list with a strained right knee.

He spent two stints on the disabled list and one one the paternity list in 2017. Josh and Jessica Phegley, who married in 2012, have a daughter and son — Stella (2 1/2) and Calvin (4 months). They have resided in Noblesville since April 2015. The couple met while Josh was living with Smith and training in Bloomington and Jessica was finishing graduate school at IU. She has three degrees (psychology, nursing and a masters in health promotion).

Josh’s older sister, Jennifer, also lives in the Indianapolis area. As a college softball player at St. Mary-of-the-Woods 2003-06, she stole 58 bases (26 her senior season for the Pomeroys).

One of Phegley’s Oakland teammates is Valparaiso-born Sean Manaea.

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Josh Phegley, a 2006 Terre Haute North Vigo High School and former Indiana University standout, is now a catcher with the Oakland Athletics. He made his Major League Baseball debut with the Chicago White Sox in 2013. (Oakland Athletics Photo)

 

Manaea continues to make adjustments as part of Oakland rotation

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Succeeding in baseball involves a series of adjustments.

Sean Manaea knows this to be true from experience.

A starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, Manaea (pronounced muh-NYE-uh) has made — and will continue to make — the necessary changes to be effective on a Major League Baseball mound.

“It’s been a winding road,” says Manaea, a northwest Indiana native who was selected in the first round of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Indiana State University by the Kansas City Royals and made his big-league debut with Oakland in 2016. “When I first got to pro ball I was trying to strike out the world and go max effort. But I found that I can’t sustain that so I toned it down.

“But I toned it down too much and was getting lit up. I’m still trying to find that happy medium and have some gas left at the end of the game.”

The 6-foot-5 left-hander who played three seasons at South Central (Union Mills) High School and his senior year at Andrean High School (helping the 59ers win the 2010 IHSAA Class 3A state championship) has been known to reach 97 mph on the radar gun, but strives to mix velocity and deception to get hitters out.

“I threw a four-seam fastball about 75 percent of the time (in 2017),” says Manaea, who turns 26 on Feb. 1. “At the end of 2016, I started messing with two-seamer.”

What better — velocity or movement?

“A combination of both is the best,” says Manaea. “You don’t have to throw 97 to 100 mph every pitch to get guys out. The main thing is to be able to throw strikes no matter what kind of movement you have.”

When Manaea’s slider is biting down it provides plenty of swings and misses and groundball outs.

“That’s the pitch I need to get down and throw for a strike,” says Manaea. “That’s one of my main focuses this off-season.”

Taking advantage of the weather and the ability to work out with Athletics trainers at the team’s spring training complex, Manaea spends his winters in Arizona.

“Being physically fit throughout the season is going to help me,” says Manaea. “I played all of 2016 at 255 pounds and felt sluggish and had trouble recovering between starts. Last year, I was at 230 to 235 (after losing appetite while dialing in the proper dose for attention-deficit disorder medication) and I lost muscle and had trouble with recovery. I feel that if I’m at 240 to 245, that’s about right.”

Manaea says his twisting delivery has looked the same most of his life with one exception.

While in the Royals system in 2014, he was asked to pitch more over the top and more direct to the plate.

“It worked out for a little bit,” says Manaea. “But I was thinking about it way to too much. I went back to what was natural to me.

“Everything is a learning process. I feel like I’m on the right track. I’m trying to find it again and be more consistent. I do not want to be not be overly rotational or over the top.”

Making 29 appearances (all starts), the tall southpaw went 12-10 with a 4.37 earned run average. In 158 2/3 innings, he struck out 140 and walked 55. In 2016, all but one of his 25 appearances were starts. He was 7-9 with a 3.86 ERA. He fanned 124 and walked 37 in 144 2/3 innings.

As of this writing, MLB.com lists Manaea No. 1 on the Oakland depth chart among starting pitchers.

“It doesn’t mean anything to me,” says Manaea. “At the end of the day, all I want to do is win b all games and get to the World Series and win that. It doesn’t matter if I’m the No. 5 guy or the No. 1 guy. It’s all the same to me. If we all pull together this is a team that can do something special.”

The 2017 Athletics finished in the basement of the American League West (the same division occupied by the world-champion Houston Astros). It was the sixth full season as Oakland manager for Bob Melvin.

While Manaea has picked up in-game advice from the manager and other pointers from his pitching coach (currently Scott Emerson) or bullpen coaches (currently Philip Pohl and Jeremy Dowdy), the ultimate responsibility for his performance falls on him.

“At big league level, you’ve got to have your own routines,” says Manaea. “The pitching coach is there to have you. But you have to make adjustments on your own. You self-diagnose problems along the way. At the end of the day, you’re the one making those pitches.”

Manaea, who is of American Samoa heritage, was born in Valparaiso to Faaloloi and Opal Manaea and grew up in Wanatah. He played for Kevin Hannon and Ron King at South Central. He took part in the first All-Indiana Crossroads Showcase Series after his junior year before transferring and joining coach Dave Pishkur at Andrean.

Sean draws comparisons from Melvin to Pishkur.

“They are both into stats and doing things the right way,” says Manaea, who was 4-0 with a 1.73 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 16 walks in 24 1/3 innings in 2010. “(Pishkur) is one of the favorite coaches of all-time. He taught us to be on-time and polite to other people. It goes outside of baseball. He was a very much professional coach. He is considered one of the best in Indiana and you can see why.

“He loves the game of baseball and wants to pass it on to the younger generation. He’s definitely a student of the game.”

Pishkur has amassed more than 900 victories at Andrean since 1980. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer has led five Class 3A state champions (2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015) and one 3A state runner-up (2004).

“He knows how he wants done in the classroom and on the baseball field,” says Manaea of Pishkur. “He wants things done the best way possible. You must give it your best every single practice and every time you are on the mound.

“Andrean helped me out with my academics. They got on me about being more productive. Baseball definitely came second at the time.”

Manaea played for head coach Rick Heller and assistants Tyler Herbst and Brian Smiley at Indiana State University.

“I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at today without those coaches,” says Manaea. “PFP’s (pitchers’ fielding practice) was the bane of my existence. I just couldn’t do it. (Heller) just wanted the best for me.”

There was adjusting to be done in college after his stellar high school career.

“The fall of my freshmen year (2010), I was only throwing 82 to 85 mph, but I was getting hitters out,” says Manaea. “Then in the winter, after working out for the first time on a structured program I saw my velocity jump. I hit 90 mph for the first time. It was one of those milestones.

“My freshmen season wasn’t that great (5-5, 4.32 ERA, 82 K’s, 48 walks, 83 1/3 innings), but I was maturing as a pitcher.”

In the summer of 2010, Manaea played for the Dubois County Bombers when that Huntingburg, Indiana-based team was in the Prospect League. He drew the attention of pro scouts at the all-star game with his 93 mph stuff and was named league MVP.

“My sophomore year (at ISU) was a little better (5-3, 3.34 ERA, 115 K’s, 37 walks, 115 innings),” says Manaea. “Then I had a really good summer on Cad Cod (5-1, 1.22 ERA, 85 K’s, seven walks in 51 2/3 innings with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks). That was when I realized I could play professional baseball.”

In his last season with the Sycamores, the lefty went 5-4 with a 1.47 ERA. He whiffed 93 and walked 27 in 73 1/3 innings and was drafted in the first round by the Royals.

He was with the KC organization until being traded to the Athletics in July 2015 with Aaron Brooks for Ben Zobrist.

2017 Oakland Athletics Photo Day

Sean Manaea is a left-handed starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics. The former South Central (Union Mills) High School, Andrean High School and Indiana State University player made his Major League Baseball debut with Oakland in 2016. (Oakland Athletics Photo)

Fenimore experiences baseball and more in Germany, Australia

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball helped Caleb Fenimore get a college education.

It is also allowing the player from east central Indiana see other parts of the world.

A 2010 Rushville Consolidated High School graduate who played 2011-14 at Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne, Fenimore step between the white lines in Germany in the summer and Australia in the winter and he has thoroughly enjoyed three German seasons with the Dohren Wild Farmers and two Australian campaigns with the Macarthur Orioles.

“Overall, this experience has been the best in my life,” says Fenimore, 26. “There is nothing I would change about the last couple of years and I would recommend it to any ballplayer.

“It’s not just about traveling the world and playing a game. It’s about living in a country for six months and becoming a part of the culture and it becoming a part of you. I have many memories on the field that I will remember. But I have so many more memories off the field that I will never forget with people that I’ll never forget.”

Primarily a catcher, Fenimore was named the No. 1 batter by the International Baseball Community (BaseballJobsOverseas.com) and best batter in the Bundesliga Nord (North) with a league-leading 1.471 OPS (.608 on-base percentage plus .864 slugging percentage), eight home run and drove in 24 runs batted in for a team that went 15-9 in the regular season. He hit .424.

The Wild Farmers, which had twice placed first in the second league going 24-4 in 2015 and 22-6 in 2016, moved up to the first league in 2017.

The Wild Farmers practiced three times a week and played games on the weekends. The smallness of Dohren allowed Fenimore to bond with his teammates.

“It is a great big family and we, as a team, are able to walk 10 minutes or less (or bike 3 minutes or less) to anyone’s house in the village to do something,” says Fenimore. Entertainment could also be found by leaving his host family and taking the train to Hamburg. An occasional off weekend would allow the American to explore other countries in tightly-packed Europe.

Fenimore, whose family roots are in Germany and Austria, got the chance to play there through Evan Porter.

A veteran of many European baseball seasons, including one with the Solingen Alligators in Germany, Porter was an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (a Summit League member just like IPFW aka Fort Wayne) and connected Fenimore with Johst Dallmann of the Dohren Wild Farmers.

After his first season in Germany, Fenimore was contacted by Kye Hislop of the Macarthur Orioles in Sydney and eventually signed there for an opportunity to play baseball in the winter and also experience another culture.

Macarthur went 19-6 (with plenty of rainouts) and won the regular-season title in Fenimore’s first season. The Orioles won a best-of-three series and went to the Grand Final, where they were swept and finished the season at 21-9.

The next winter, Macarthur went 26-4 in winning the regular season and also took the Grand Final title, finishing 30-6 overall.

The great thing about this season is that we also won the Club Championship which takes points from all the teams from your club and how they do in their respective levels in the league,” says Fenimore. “I was very fortunate to receive the Gold Glove Award from my club both seasons.”

The Orioles trained twice a week and played games on Wednesdays and either Saturdays or Sundays. When he could, Fenimore would travel to look around Sydney or places like Wollongong.

“I think it’s one of the greatest places in the world,” says Fenimore. “I would often down down there with my teammates Bobby Twedt and hang out during the week as we would hike mountains, go to the beach, hike a waterfall or just go and fund something cool that we hadn’t seen before.”

The last few years, Fenimore had been coming back to the U.S. for just a few days before heading off to the next country for another season. He is taking this winter off and not going to Australia, but he plans to re-join the Wild Farmers in March for his fourth season in Germany.

Fenimore says will assess his future after that. All the while, he plans to really savor his time.

“As much as I love playing ball, I know that eventually my career will be over,” says Fenimore. “I can see myself living in both Germany and Australia (and America of course too), so it will be a tough decision when that time comes.

“I hope to always be involved closely with baseball. This game has been my life for as long as I can remember and I have learned so much in this game. I also know that there is also still so much for me to learn and I think that is the best part about baseball. There is always something new you can learn. While the game itself will never change (hopefully), the way we do things and adjust and execute are changing with every pitch and we can always learn that way.”

Caleb, the son of Bruce and Joni Fenimore, grew up around baseball, playing in the Rushville Little League until age 8. At 9, he joined the Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits travel ball organization and was with it two summers into his college career.

His 18U season, Caleb played with the Summit City Sluggers. Bruce Fenimore was there as a coach with the teams and was at camps following his son from station and station and taking notes.

“My biggest influence to this day is still my dad,” says Fenimore. “He has taught me so much in this game and he is still learning as well. I still consider him my coach as he still throws me batting practice and throws out a suggestion here and there of he thinks he sees something.

“He’s also good at getting in some hit by pitch practice while I’m in the cage too. I can’t thank him enough for all that he has done for me in this game.

“He bred me to be a catcher. He knew the importance of the position as it was the same one he played and knows that a great catcher can change and help a team in many ways.”

Bruce Fenimore coached the Indiana Bandits 16U/18U and college teams in 2017.

Jake Fox, who was a catcher in the big leagues with the Cubs, Athletics and Orioles, is Caleb’s godfather. The former Indianapolis Cathedral High School and University of Michigan receiver gave Fenimore plenty of helpful pointers.

Last summer, Fox was the guest speaker at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet in Muncie.

Fenimore wound up his prep career at Rushville Consolidated as an IHSBCA all-star. Playing for coach Keith Perin, he collected 97 hits and drove in 76 runs during his Lions days — both school records. He bashed 10 home runs, including six in 2010. As a pitcher, he posted a 2.01 career earned run average (1.34 in 2010).

Second cousin Kyle Harpring is now head baseball coach at Rushville.

At IPFW, Fenimore found a combination that he like — a small campus, a major he wanted to pursue (chemistry/pre-med), a chance to play NCAA Division I baseball and knowledgeable coaching staff, including head coach Bobby Pierce and assistant Grant Birely. After committing, he received a Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship which pays full in-state tuition.

“Coach Pierce and Coach Birely are great men and great coaches in my opinion,” says Fenimore. “I have learned many things from many different coaches during my career from my dad teaching me since I was a little kid to all the college coaches that we both took things from as I was growing up and going to different camps and clinics. “But, being with Coach Pierce and Coach Birely for four years, I have picked up a lot from them. The things that stick with me the most are bat control, early and late count rhythm, plate discipline, pitch calling and sequencing, situations and just how every ballplayer is different and some players need to do things different ways.

“I have nothing but respect for both of them and still enjoy leanring from them whenever I can be around them up there in Fort Wayne.”

Bruce Fenimore, a 1983 Rushville Consolidated graduate, played football and baseball at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute and is a civil engineer. Joni Fenimore, a 1984 Rushville Consolidated graduate played basketball for the school’s 1981 state runners-up and is a math teacher at RCHS.

Caleb is the oldest of four children. His sisters are Mariah (22), Hallie (16) and Alexis (15). Mariah is a former college soccer player now studying civil engineering as a Trine University senior. Junior Hallie and freshman Alexis attend Rushville Consolidated.

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Caleb Fenimore, a product of Rushville Consolidated High School and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne, has played three baseball seasons in Germany with the Dohren Wild Farmers. This past summer, he was the No. 1 batter in Bundesliga Nord and International Baseball Community.  He has also played two winters with the Macarthur Orioles in Australia. (Georg Hoff Photos)

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West Vigo baseball’s DeGroote wants to be role model to his players

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the son of coach and middle of three athletic brothers, Culley DeGroote soaked in plenty of knowledge on his way to becoming head baseball coach at West Vigo High School. He has led the West Terre Haute-based Vikings since the 2014 season after eight seasons serving under father Steve DeGroote.

The elder DeGroote was an assistant at Indiana State University to American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Warn 1980-85 joined the coaching staff at West Vigo and led the program from 1993-2013. His teams went 441-118 with 11 Western Indiana Conference titles, 10 sectional champions, five regionals, one semistate and one state runner-up finish (2009). In 2017, he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

“Ninety-five percent of what I do I learned from (my father),” says Culley. “I learned how you treat players. Dad was a master motivator. He got them to buy into something bigger than themselves.”

While the rules were the same for all players, Steve DeGroote knew how to relate to each one as an individual, something he picked up from his athletic career and his days as an ISU recruiter.

“They say that coaching is not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes and dad got the most out of those Jimmys and Joes,” says Culley. “He was genius at reading talent. He was one of those who could see a kid come in as freshmen and see the finished product. He could see potential in a kid that very few people could see.”

Culley saw his dad attracted to the student and the athlete who was on a straight path.

“He had that ability to read people,” says Culley. “He could pick up on people’s habits and their priority in life. He navigated toward kids who had their priorities straight like him. Dad doesn’t drink, smoke or party. His faith is important to him. He was the (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) director at West Vigo. He lived a clean life and lived by example.

“I’ve tried to role model that with my players. I know you’re not going to be perfect, but you need to be striving for perfection.”

Steve DeGroote’s boys — Cory (West Vigo Class of 1991), Culley (1995) and Casey (1998) — were all three-sport athletes for the Vikings. Cory and Culley are both in the West Vigo Athletic Hall of Fame.

Cory DeGroote went to The Citadel to play basketball and baseball and then transferred to Indiana State, where he played baseball for three seasons. He coached multiple sports at North White High School and then served 12 seasons as head baseball coach at Mattawan (Mich.) High School. He is now president of Peak Performance, a travel sports organization based in Mattawan.

Casey DeGroote was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched as a professional until 2004. He served as general manager of the Terre Haute Rex in the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League and is now a train engineer.

Culley DeGroote earned the McMillan Award as the top male athlete in Vigo County and was an IHSBCA All-Star as a senior. He was a three-year starter in football, basketball and baseball and went on to be a three-year starter on both the hardwood and diamond at Franklin College.

His last baseball season was his junior year (he transferred to Indiana State to finish his degree). It was also the first as head coach for Lance Marshall, who still guides the Grizzlies.

“He cared about us as people,” says Culley. “He wanted to know your story and your background. I told myself that when I become a head coach, I hope my players in some way feel about me the way they felt about Coach Marshall.

“He was quiet and no-nonsense, but a super positive guy. You felt good about yourself after talking to Coach Marshall.”

Culley began his coaching career with a four-year stint on the staff of Scott Spada at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School. Before Spada, Derek Jeter played baseball for the Maroon Giants and went on to be captain of the New York Yankees. Future Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings did play for Spada.

Also the school’s head boys soccer coach, Culley heads in the 2018 baseball season with Zack Kent (varsity) and Kyle Stewart (junior varsity) as assistant coaches.

Steve DeGroote is still helping the Vikings baseball program as middle school director. The feeder program fielded two squads last spring — sixth and seventh graders combined and eighth graders. Playing 15 to 20 five-inning doubleheaders, the middle schoolers are heading into their third season in 2018.

“It’s an awesome thing,” says Culley. “It gives you a lot of flexibility and unity. It’s closed the gap between middle school and high school ball. We teach the same things. Getting coached in a lot of the little things that can win you a championship at a younger level.

“(Middle schoolers) get to play on the high school field and they love that.”

At a cost of more than $10,000, that field was upgraded in the fall of 2016 with more than 100 tons of infield dirt and artificial turf around the mound and home plate areas.

“That was the best idea I ever had,” says Culley. “We were getting in games (in 2017) we never got in before.”

Culley teaches physical education at the middle school and gets a chance to have a relationship with athletes as sixth graders.

West Terre Haute Little League, where Steve Shaffer is president, has three fields and four leagues (T-ball, minor and major).

“They are the lifeline of our program,” says Culley.

All of it has gone to help numbers at the high school. There were 15 freshmen baseball players at West Vigo in 2017 and 19 the year before that.

The varsity Vikings went 17-9 and lost to Edgewood in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 3A Northview Sectional.

West Vigo is in the West Division of the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam and Sullivan. Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley comprise the WIC East Division.

With about 1,023 students, Northview is the biggest school in the 2A/3A league with Cloverdale (370) as the smallest. West Vigo (581) is in-between.

Conference games are played five straight Tuesdays with a crossover game on the sixth Tuesday.

Since 1998, the Vikings have sent eight players on to NCAA Division I baseball and had three players drafted out of high school (Casey DeGroote by the Yankees in 1998, infielder Lenny Leclercq by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round in 2005 and Jeremy Lucas by the Cleveland Indians in the 12th round in 2009).

Right-hander Morgan Coombs, a 2006 graduate, played at Lincoln Trail College and Ball State University and went un-drafted before three seasons with the independent Gary SouthShore RailCats. He was the Australian Baseball League’s Pitcher of the Year in 2015 with the Adelaide Bite.

Middle infielder Tyler Wampler, a 2010 graduate, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Indiana State in the 17th round in 2014. He was head coach for the Terre Haute Rex in 2016-17.

Three of Culley’s players are currently at the D-I level — pitcher Davie Inman (West Vigo Class of 2015) at Coastal Carolina University, middle infielder Jordan Schafer (2016) at Indiana State and first baseman/pitcher Ty Lautenschlager (2017) at Northern Illinois University.

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Culley DeGroote, a 1995 West Vigo High School graduate, is entering his fifth season as Vikings head baseball coach in 2018. Before that, he was an assistant to father Steve DeGroote, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

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Contact Steve Krah at stvkrh905@gmail.com