After elbow procedure, Penn graduate Szynski working his way back in Athletics system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Skylar Szynski has not delivered a pitch in a regular-season baseball game for more than a year.

A tear in his right elbow — the first major injury of his diamond life — cropped up near the end of preseason camp.

“I was feeling good all through spring training,” says Szynski, the former Penn High School standout and Oakland Athletics minor leaguer. “I threw my (simulated) game (and the arm began to hurt).

“I’ve been sore. But that’s regular soreness.”

An examination revealed the damage.

As a high schooler, he had originally accepted a scholarship offer to play at Indiana University or the $1 million signing bonus that came with being taken in the fourth round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Athletics.

At Penn, he won 27 career games (20 as a junior and senior), including the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A state championship (a 3-2 win for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos and the Kingsmen against Terre Haute North).

The hard-throwing righty opted to go pro and saw limited action the summer in the rookie-level Arizona League.

On an innings restriction limit coming off his senior high school season, Szynski appeared in seven games (all starts) in a month with the Arizona League Athletics. His professional debut came was June 29. He gave up three hits and four runs in 1/3 of an inning. He went on to log 13 1/3 innings, going 0-3 with an 8.10 earned run average, eight strikeouts and four walks.

After a short break, he went back to Arizona to throw bullpen sessions in the fall instructional league.

It had been hoped that rest would allow him to continue without surgery. But that was not possible.

Now, Szynski had another decision to make.

Would he have right-arm ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) or repair?

Szynski chose UCL repair — which generally has a recovery time half as long a reconstruction.

Decoding against a stem-cell shot, collagen tape was wrapped around the repaired elbow and then the pitcher started on his journey to get back in the game.

The last few months, Szynski has been at Oakland’s spring training complex in Arizona for five-days-a-week rehabilitation program.

“It’s going pretty good,” says Szynski. “I work on shoulder strength and have soft tissue massage on my elbow and forearm.”

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Szynski and a half dozen others are led by Athletics pitching rehab coordinator Craig Lefferts, a former big league pitcher. This week, they moved from 60 to 75 feet to play catch.

Lefferts watches Szynski and company to make sure they are using the proper mechanics and not overdoing it.

“We’re throwing around 65 mph,” says Szynski, who goes through arm care protocol with shoulder and elbow movement after these sessions. That is followed by working out, 10 minutes in the cold tub and a consultation with trainers.

When Szynski is in Indiana (he lives in Granger with parents Brent and Robin and little brothers — sophomore Camryn and eighth grader Bradyn), he is a regular at Sharpley Training in Elkhart.

Former Notre Dame baseball and football player Evan Sharpley pushes Skylar to the limit.

“Everyday is brutal,” says Szynski. “There’s no easy days at Sharpley’s.”

At 6-foot-2, Szynski has been looking to put more weight on his frame and get to around 215 or 220.

“That should help with my durability,” says Szynski, who was at 207 as a Penn senior.

Szynski throws both a four- and two-seam fastball, circle change-up and curve.

“The change is the pitch I need to work on the most,” says Szynski, who turned 20 on July 14. “I need to throw more strikes with that. In high school, I really didn’t need it. Here, you need three pitchers or better to succeed.”

Szynski says the Athletics sees his breaker as more of a slider. He is trying to fine tune the pitch and get more break downward and less sweeping action.

Plans call for Szynski to come back to Indiana for Christmas and New Year before he heads back to Arizona and resumes getting ready for spring training and the 2018 season.

“I should be game ready toward the end of spring training if everything works out,” says Szynski. “I’ll probably be in extended spring training to get some innings in.”

From there, he hopes to be once again standing on a mound in a regular-season game. It could happen close to home. The Athletics’ Low Class-A team is the Beloit (Wis.) Snappers. Beloit is slated to visit the South Bend Cubs July 11-13.

SKYLARSZYNSKI

Skylar Szynski delivers a pitch for the Arizona League Athletics during the summer of 2016. The 2016 Penn High School graduate had elbow surgery and missed the entire 2017 season. He is working his way back for 2018. (Robin Szynski Photo)

 

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Conwell stays positive with his Cowan Blackhawks baseballers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a game filled with moments of failure.

Even the very best players and teams will inevitably have plays or games that don’t go their way.

Ryan Conwell chooses not to dwell on the negatives.

The Cowan High School head baseball coach always looks for the silver lining.

“I’m constantly trying to stay positive — no matter what,” says Conwell, who was hired in the fall of 2014 and heads into his fourth season of leading the Blackhawks program in 2018. “Baseball is such a mental sport. Kids get down on themselves enough. They don’t need me mashing it into their heads as well.

“If you fail 7 out of 10 times at the plate, you’re doing well. We have to find something good out of every at-bat and find what we can do better the next time.”

Conwell is a 2002 graduate of Wapahani High School, where he played four baseball seasons — three on varsity — for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley. After graduation, Conwell coached junior high baseball for the Raiders for seven years.

By observing Dudley, Conwell saw the importance of fundamentals and mental toughness.

“We did a lot of reps of everything,” says Conwell. “Almost every practice there was a drill that focused on the mental part of the game, not just the physical part.”

One drill called for nine players to start in the dugout and sprint to nine different positions on the field then spring back to the dugout. Then players had to quickly figure out the next position they would take and then run there. The object was for everyone eventually being at all nine positions.

If two players ever landed at the same place, the mental toughness/communication drill would start over from the beginning.

There was always a lot of work on defensive situations.

What might happen next?

Where does the throw go if the ball is hit to me?

“(Dudley) also insisted that every player on the field needed to be moving on every play,” says Conwell.

After his time with Wapahani, Conwell moved across Delaware County to Delta High School for four seasons — two as a junior varsity coach and two as a varsity assistant on the staff of Terry Summers.

“He went a lot more into the details of the game,” says Conwell of Summers. “He wanted to make sure things were covered. It could be something as small as the wheel play or certain pick-off moves. We worked a lot on situational hitting.”

Conwell has taken what he’s learned about the game and molded it into his own style, which focuses on positivity and fundamentals.

“We do some team building exercises early in the year,” says Conwell. “We frequently stop during a practice to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“Several players play multiple positions. My whole infield can be different depending on who’s pitching that day.”

At a Class 1A school with an enrollment around 230, the Blackhawks have not fielded a JV team since Conwell has been in charge. He is hoping that might change this spring and get his younger players some more playing experience.

“I have a really good incoming freshmen class,” says Conwell. “I think I’ll have eight or nine freshmen. We could have 20-22 kids total.”

The Blackhawks had 18 players in 2015 (including Luke Miller, who is now on the Indiana University team) and 16 in both 2016 and 2017.

Feeding the program is the emergence of a junior high team in 2017. Playing on the varsity field from late May to early July, a combined squad of seventh and eighth graders is expected to play again in 2018 in the Eastern Central Indiana Junior High Baseball League. It’s a circuit that has been headed up by Wapahani’s Jason Dudley.

Cowan plays its games on-campus.

“Every year, we try to do something (to the facility),” says Conwell. “Money is always an issue.”

In Conwell’s second season, a four-foot fence was put up in front of the dugouts. It enlarges the bench area and brings players a little closer to the action.

Re-surfacing of the infield is on the wish list for after the 2018 season.

The Blackhawks play in the 10-team Mid-Eastern Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del). Eastern Hancock and Shenandoah joined the MEC in 2017-18.

Conwell also likes to get many of the traditionally-competitive 1A and 2A teams in the area on his non-conference schedule, including Seton Catholic and Union City in 1A, Burris, Centerville, Eastbrook, Hagerstown, Lapel, Northeastern and Winchester in 2A. Cowan is also slated to play 3A schools Delta and Mississinewa.

The Blackhawks are grouped in a 1A sectional with Anderson Prep Academy, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. In the future, Conwell would like to get more sectional opponents on Cowan’s regular-season schedule.

Not currently in the classroom, Conwell is taking online classes from Western Governors University toward a teaching certificate. Away from coaching, he works I work LifeTouch, a senior portraits lab in Muncie. Ryan and Katlyn Conwell have a daughter named Kinley. She was born in April of 2016 — in the midst of her daddy’s second season at Cowan.

Former Blackhawks baseball player Justin O’Conner is a minor league free agent who began his pro career right after the catcher was selected in the first round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

RYANCONWELL

Ryan Conwell, who heads into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Cowan High School in 2018, shares a moment with wife Katlyn and daughter Kinley (born in April 2016).

McIntyre guiding baseball program at tradition-rich New Albany

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Albany High School is proud of its past and looking forward to its future.

Founded in 1853, New Albany is oldest public high school in Indiana and one of the oldest west of the Alleghenies.

There are many proud alums sending their children to the school where they attended.

It’s at this place that Chris McIntyre heads into his 24th season as head baseball coach in 2018.

“We have a lot of tradition,” says McIntyre, who has led the Bulldogs to a 487-206 mark with 10 sectional championships — the most-recent in 2016 — and five Hoosier Hills Conference titles and 12 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participants in his first 23 seasons. “Our kids take a lot of pride in wearing the uniform. They really put New Albany first as to where their priorities lie.”

While some of his top players go with travel baseball organizations, McIntyre, the former IHSBCA president and an all-star series coach in 2000 and 2016, still coaches a summer high school team through a schedule of about 25 games in an urban school district that has 50 percent of its students on a free-or-reduced-lunch program.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to find high school teams to schedule games,” says McIntyre. “But there are some players who would never get a chance to play the next season without it. It’s an important part of our program. If we ever lose that, it’s going to hurt us.”

While the Bulldogs don’t have an indoor hitting facility, they do have Mt. Tabor Field.

Located on the Mt. Tabor Elementary School grounds about four miles from the high school campus, the field sports a Bermuda grass playing surface that was recently laser-graded. To save on maintenance, there is turf around home plate and baselines have been sodded.

Since the facility is land-locked by a road and a drainage ditch, high fences — 12 feet in right and left fields and 18 feet from gap to gap — were installed a few years ago.

“We’ve taken away some of the cheap home runs,” says McIntyre.

More improvements are on the way following the 2018 season, including new dugouts, bleachers, press box and concession stand.

The land adjacent to the field has been the home of New Albany Little League. That organization has moved and the school corporation-owned land will go to the construction of the junior varsity field.

“It’s going to look a whole lot different than it does now,” says McIntyre. “We’re really spoiled.”

While there are bound to be exceptions, McIntyre does not expect the scoreboard to get a workout.

“We pride ourselves in always having good defensive teams and pitchers who throw strikes,” says McIntyre. “If the other team doesn’t score any runs, you have a pretty good record.

“We don’t tend to have too many high-scoring games. We don’t beat too many people 10-9.”

McIntyre says the ability to run can play a major role in a high school baseball team’s strategy.

“You can change the game with your overall team speed,” says McIntyre. “But that comes and goes. Sometimes you have those guys and sometimes you don’t. It’s the luck of the draw.

“At the 4A level, you face such good pitching, you’re not going to score a lot of runs.”

That’s where it comes back to making the plays on defense and pitchers holding the other team in-check.

McIntyre talks to his players about being mentally strong and disciplined and controlling the controlable.

“You can’t control the umpire or the other team’s pitching,” says McIntyre. “You can control where you are on defense, where you throw the ball, how you running bases, getting signals correct and all those things.”

Besides New Albany, the Hoosier Hills Conference (along with Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated and Seymour).

The HHC does not play a regular-season conference schedule. The conference champion is determined during a tournament in early May. Games are pre-drawn and played Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

HCC teams are spread out. New Albany is about 75 miles from Bedford North Lawrence and 55 from Columbus East and does not see the Stars or Olympians unless it’s in the tournament.

The weekends are when the Bulldogs may travel to or host teams in Evansville like Mater Dei, North or Reitz. Jasper and South Dearborn are regulars on the schedule as is Fort Wayne Carroll, which comes to New Albany early in the season.

Lowell (Mich.) stops in town for a split doubleheader involving Seymour on the Red Arrows’ way back from spring break in Pensacola, Fla.

The Bulldogs are scheduled to play games in northern Kentucky near Cincinnati.

IHSAA travel rules restrict teams from going more than 300 miles from the state line.

“We try to play a couple teams every year we’ve never played,” says McIntyre. “We can get into northern Alabama and the northern tip of Mississippi. Nashville (Tenn.) is as far as we’ve gone.”

New Albany, an IHSAA Class 4A school, is coming off a 17-10 season in 2017. The Bulldogs played six freshman and sophomores at various times.

First-team all-state first baseman Ryan Robison (who has not yet made a college commitment) and Chase Rudy (a Purdue commit) are already three-year varsity players expected back for their senior seasons in New Albany colors.

Graduates currently with college programs include Austin Dickey at the University of Louisville, Timmie Redford at Kaskaskia College in Illinois and Jack Shine at Hanover College.

Josh Rogers pitched for Louisville and is now in the New York Yankees organization. The 6-foot-3 left-hander appeared in seven games at Double-A in 2017. In three pro seasons, he is a combined 22-11.

McIntyre is a 1986 graduate of Jeffersonville, where he played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Poole.

“He was a super guy,” says McIntyre of Poole. “You don’t realize it at the time, but look back on it and realize how little he ever raised his voice. You just respected him. When he raised his voice, he meant business. He wanted it done and he wanted it done now.”

Even years after his retirement, Poole amazes McIntyre with his baseball mind.

“He remembers every pitch from every game,” says McIntyre. “He knows the game inside and out.”

McIntyre did not play at but did study at Indiana University Southeast. He spent one season as an assistant to IHSBCA Hall of Famer Wayne Stock at Clarksville and three as an Evansville North assistant before taking the reigns at New Albany.

McIntyre recalls Stock’s prowess as an offensive instructor.

“He was an old school baseball guy and he was awesome at teaching hitting,” says McIntyre. “He never bunted. He was a true ‘Earl Weaver’ kind of manager, playing for the three-run home run.”

He also remembers Stock as a generous man that often went into his own pocket to help where he saw a need.

“There wasn’t a thing he wouldn’t do for a kid,” says McIntyre.

Looking to coach his own personality, McIntyre wants his players enjoy the time spend with him.

“You just hope you leave a good impression with your players,” says McIntyre.

A math teacher at New Albany, McIntyre is married to biology teacher Shannon. The couple have two boys. Tyler (15) is a sophomore baseball player. Kevin (11) is a competitive swimmer.

CHRISMCINTYRE

Chris McIntyre is going into his 24th season as head baseball coach at New Albany High School in 2018. The 1986 Jeffersonville High School graduate is 13 wins shy of 500 for his career. (Tom Little Photo)

 

Barnes taking on first head-coaching challenge at Boonville

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Eric Barnes is getting his first opportunity to coach high school baseball players at the varsity level.

The 28-year-old is excited for the challenge and the chance to teach the game and impact young lives at Boonville High School.

Barnes played at Evansville Bosse High School, graduating in 2007 Evansville Courier & Press All-Metro Player of the Year with a .429 and 40 runs batted in that senior season.

Bosse coach Jeremy Jones (who later moved on to Evansville North) imparted a sense of excitement and selflessness.

“Nothing is done without enthusiasm,” says Barnes in echoing Jones’ message. “Putting team first should always be the goal no matter what the sport is and what happens. What is best for the team is not always what is best for yourself.”

“I took that with me as a player and as a coach.”

Barnes was at the University of Southern Indiana briefly and played his final collegiate seasons as a utility infielder at Oakland City University. He hit .365 with six home runs and 33 RBIs as a junior in 2011 and .326 with four homers as a senior 2012 for the Mighty Oaks and coach T-Ray Fletcher.

“One of the main things I learned from (Fletcher) is every player is different,” says Barnes, who was also an assistant at OCU after his playing days. “What is going to work for one player is not going to work for the other.

“I also learned to be patient and the importance of relationships.

I’m not just a coach. I’m someone that can help (my players) in life. I want to be more than the person giving the signs down at third.”

When Barnes completed his schooling, he started teaching fifth grade at Castle Elementary School and is still in that position. He was an assistant baseball coach at Castle High School in 2016 and 2017 and was named as Cory Julian’s successor at Boonville in September when Julian left to become assistant principal and athletic director at Loogootee High School.

“I know the city of Boonville is very passionate about its sports and wants to get a baseball tradition back,” says Barnes, who met with players, coaches and parents soon after his hiring for a field clean-up day following the Boonville American Legion Post 200 season and to lay out his expectations — athletically and acacdemically.

The plate and mound on the Pioneers’ on-campus diamond has been re-done. The field has been seeded and sod has been cut. There has been power washing and dugout painting.

“In the spring, look forward to edging the field, spraying for weeds a final time and painting the back stop,” says Barnes. “There’s a certain pride factor to have your field looking pristine and having people make nice comments. You want to make sure your field is top notch.”

Early indications have Barnes expecting around 35 to try out in the spring. He plans to keep somewhere around 30 for varsity and junior varsity squads.

Center fielder Evan Garrison is the line senior returnees.

“We have a wealth of youth and first-time varsity players,” says Barnes.

Fall open barn workouts have been focused on conditioning and fundamentals.

Barnes has a the Cub feeder program of seventh and eighth graders doing the same things as high school players.

“We’ve got a little momentum going toward the spring,” says Barnes. “It’s been exiting.”

Boonville assistants for 2018 are to include Chad Overton, Matt Fuhs, Jay Hachmiester at the varsity level with Trent Creek helping the JV. Barnes expects a few more additions.

The Pioneers play in the Big Eight Conference (along with Jasper, Mount Carmel, Ill., Mount Vernon of Posey, Princeton Community, Vincennes Lincoln and Washington).

Most of the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference is on the Pioneers’ schedule with dates against Castle, Evansville Bosse, Evansville Central, Evansville Harrison, Evansville Memorial, Evansville North and Evansville Reitz.

There’s also clashes with Forest Park, Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, Loogootee, North Posey, Perry Central, Pike Central, Southridge, South Spencer, Tecumseh, Tell City and Wood Memorial.

“It’s a pretty intense 3A schedule,” says Barnes. “(In 2019), I look forward to upping the ante a little bit and scheduling some potential regional opponents.”

Boonville reigned as sectional champions for the first time in 18 years in 2017. The Pioneers beat Gibson Southern in the championship of the 3A Bosse Sectional then lost to Lawrenceburg in the semifinals of the North Harrison Regional.

Barnes’ early baseball days were spent at Evansville South Little League, Evansville East Pony League and West Side Nut Club. After college, he had a short professional stint with the Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers of the independent Frontier League.

“It was a fantastic experience,” says Barnes. “My favorite team is Chicago Cubs. It was a train ride away from the city.

“I learned so many tips from guys who have been at Double-A and Triple-A. There were a lot of those guys were D-I players and high draft picks falling back to the Frontier League. At Oakland City, you don’t see talent like that very often.”

Eric is the youngest of George and Mary Barnes’s two sons. Mario is the oldest. Like his parents, Eric and wife Katy reside in Evansville.

ERICBARNES

Eric Barnes, a 2007 Evansville Bosse High School graduate, is now the head baseball coach at Boonville High School. The 28-year-old was mostly recently an assistant at Castle High School.

 

Crown Point’s Plesac in Indians system making up for lost time

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Plesac’s true introduction to professional baseball was delayed.

The Crown Point native spent the spring and summer of 2017 making up for time lost.

Plesac, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher, was selected out of Ball State University in the 12th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Two months before that life-altering June event, he underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his pitching arm, ending his college mound days and making the rest of the year about rehabilitation rather than facing batters.

At Ball State, Plesac had been splitting his time between pitcher, outfielder and designated hitter as a junior.

Head coach Rich Maloney brought Plesac to Muncie.

“He believed in me,” says Plesac. “I thought I was going to play a position and maybe pitch a little.”

When Plesac set a school single-season record for victories while going 12-2 with a 2.11 earned run average, 67 strikeouts and 33 walks in 85 1/3 innings and 25 appearances (six starts) as a freshman in 2014, his mound profile increased.

In 2015, he went 5-5 with 3.27 ERA, 77 strikeouts and 38 walks in 107 1/3 innings and 16 appearances (all starts). Since he could swing the bat, he was also used as an outfielder, DH and first baseman.

The came his junior season in 2016.

Mostly from the No. 5 hole in the order, he hit .304 with 15 runs batted in. As the Cardinals’ Friday night starter, he pitched in 11 games (eight as a starter) and was 3-2 with a 4.25 ERA and a nine-inning shutout against Miami University of Ohio.

“The next morning, I could not throw a baseball,” says Plesac. “I knew something was wrong.”

His next start came against Central Michigan and Plesac was still not feeling normal. A check of his arm revealed a partial tear.

Now he was faced with the decision of getting the surgery right away or staying in the lineup as a hitter.

“As much as I wanted to play, I didn’t want to be hurt,” says Plesac. “I had to do what was best for my career.”

While he was working his way back post-surgery in Arizona, he began taking online classes. He kept it up all season and has earned a general studies major with three minors (communication, psychology of human development and sociology).

“Now I can go into 2018 season and  focus on playing ball with no nervousness (about school),” says Plesac, who is scheduled to walk in BSU winter commencement ceremonies Dec. 16.

Plesac finally walked up on a pro mound in game action in 2017 extended spring training action against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A witness to the event was Chris Fetter. He had been Ball State’s pitching coach and had become a pitching coordinator for the Dodgers.

“That’s my boy. He’s the man to me. He’s a mentor,” says Plesac of Fetter, who is now pitching coach at the University of Michigan. “He was there on the last pitch of my college career and first pitch of my professional career.”

Plesac was first assigned to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the short-season New York-Penn League. He went 0-1 with a 1.38 ERA for the Niles, Ohio-based club and made eight appearances (seven as a starter), starting with limitation of three innings.

After Mahoning Valley came a stint with six starts for the Low Class-A Midwest League with the Lake County Captains. He went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA for the team in Eastlake, Ohio. By season’s end, he was up to five innings or 60 pitches. He wound up the season with 50 strikeouts and 14 walks in 51 total innings.

“Finding the (strike) zone was a big key for me,” says Plesac. “That’s what I wanted to work on. If I can find the zone, it doesn’t matter how hard I’m throwing. I could be effective.”

Plesac used his fastball most in 2017, followed by his change-up (which became his most-effective pitch), slider and curve. He saw his velocity return and he was regularly hitting the gun at 91 to 94 mph with his fast one.

“I had so much confidence,” says Plesac. “I felt ready. I didn’t feel like I was a year behind.

“I’m coming out max effort. You have to be smart with how you pitch. Max effort doesn’t mean you lose control. I’m so comfortable. I’m just trusting in God.”

The righty is happy to say he goes into 2018 with no innings restrictions.

“I’ve put in the work,” says Plesac. “I’ve got good routine to help me keep moving forward.

“Daily, I’m growing and becoming wiser about the game.”

Plesac views his time since starting in pro ball as a period of personal growth.

In college, he was on a schedule based on practices and what the coaches dictated. As a pro, he has been able to take the reigns of his schedule.

“It’s really fun,” says Plesac. “The people I’ve met have changed my life.”

He is pleased to be going through the journey with the Indians.

“I fell into best organization,” says Plesac. “They know how to treat people. This (delayed start) has been a blessing — to be honest.”

Plesac is in the same organization with Elkhart Central High School graduate and left-handed hurler Tanner Tully. The two were roommates for the 2013 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and both play in the Area Code Games.

Since the 2017 season wrapped, Plesac has been able to spend time in Los Angeles where girlfriend and former BSU diver Quinn Bixler is in graduate school at Loyola Marymount University and working out with Jordan Smolar at NWI Performance in Crown Point.

A a Crown Point High School athlete, Plesac earned three letters in baseball and helped the Steve Strayer-coached Bulldogs to a 27-4 record in his senior season of 2013 and to sectional and regional titles in 2011. He also claimed two letters each in football and basketball.

Strayer made an impact on Plesac then and still does.

“He groomed me into who I am as a baseball player and a man,” says Plesac. “I can remember when I was freshman practicing with the other kids. I was at third base. I made a bad throw to first and I said, ‘it slipped.’ He told me, ‘don’t make excuses ever.’

“Now I don’t make excuses for anything happens. You can’t get caught up in that. I’ve been able to go to Coach Strayer for all types of things. He’s been a good person in my life. He’s always helped me out.”

Plesac who turns 23 Jan. 21, is also taking the time to catch up with family.

Ron and Jeannie Plesac have three children — twins Zach and Ronnie (Zach is 10 minutes older) and Frankie (15).

Ronnie Plesac pitched at Parkland College in Illinois and State College of Florida. Frankie Plesac is a Crown Point sophomore ballplayer.

Uncle Dan Plesac pitched 18 years in the majors and is now an on-air regular with MLB Network.

“He’s there for me whenever I need him,” says Zach of man who in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and won 65 games and saved 158 for the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies.

The pitcher plans to attend a strength camp in January before heading back to Arizona for spring training.

“I’ve caught myself up ability-wise,” says Plesac. “I’m ready to rock.”

ZACHPLEASCINDIANS17

Zach Plesac, a 2013 Crown Point High School graduate, made his pro baseball debut in 2017 with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The right-handed pitcher was drafted in 2016 by the Cleveland Indians and spent the season rehabbing from Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He pitched three seasons at Ball State University (2014-16). (Mahoning Valley Scrappers Photo)

 

South Bend’s Bond looking to add muscle prior to second season in Giants organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Bond has watched his baseball career bloom the past couple of years.

Heading into his senior season at South Bend Clay High School in the spring of 2015, the left-handed swinger barely knew the feeling of hitting the ball over the fence.

“My whole life I had like two home runs,” says Bond, who used a combination of strength and bat speed to triple that number that season with encouragement from Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold. “He always pushed me to try to do a little better each time.”

In the fall of 2014, Bond went to Texas with his Prairie Gravel Baseball travel team to play in a tournament that included San Jacinto College North.

Bond came away with a scholarship offer from the elite junior college program in Houston.

After four varsity seasons at Clay, he played the outfield for the San Jac Coyotes in 2016 and 2017.

The first year Bond was selected in the 39th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals and did not sign, opting to go back to San Jacinto for his sophomore season.

Tom Arrington is the Coyotes head coach.

“He was strict but he always kept us relaxed,” says Bond of Arrington. “He told jokes. It was good playing for him.”

When the 2017 MLB draft rolled around, the San Francisco Giants chose Bond in the 12th round as one of six San Jacinto players selected.

“We’d come to practice everyday looking to get better,” says Bond. “We’d challenge each other. (San Jac) should be really good (in 2018).”

Center Grove High School graduate Jacob Cantleberry, a left-handed pitcher, went to San Jac and recently committed to the University of Missouri.

After his two junior college seasons, Bond signed and went to play in the rookie-level Arizona League. In 41 games and 147 at-bats, he hit .306 with eight homers, 31 runs batted in and 50 strikeouts.

“I learned a lot,” says Bond. “If you have a bad day, look to the next day. There are a lot opportunities. You clear your head and play again.

“It’s a work in progress. I still have a lot to learn.”

Most of his defensive time in the AZL was spent in left field, where he got to show off his arm and athleticism.

Bond, 20, has been back in South Bend for a little over a month after attending instructional league in the fall.

He will gain more knowledge about the Giants organization when he travels to San Francisco Saturday, Dec. 9, to start a five-day rookie camp.

When he gets back he will resume sessions four or five days a week in Elkhart  with former Notre Dame baseball and football player Evan Sharpley at Sharpley Training.

“I’ve been been working out so I can gain a little weight, some bat speed and get a little faster,” says Bond. “He’s kicking my butt so far.”

At 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, Bond says he would like to be at 205 by the time he goes to Arizona for spring training in March.

“I need to eat more,” says Bond. “I need to get more protein.”

Bond was 5-of-8 in stolen base attempts for the AZL Giants.

“That’s something I’ve got to get better at,” says Bond. “I need to get a better jump. I was a good baserunner — going first to third on a base hit.”

Bond began playing for Chicago-based Prairie Gravel and coach Al Oremus toward the end of the summer after his junior year at Clay.

His high school summers up to that point were spent with the Indiana Land Sharks.

Before that, he played one season with the Niles (Mich.) Sluggers following two with the Raptors travel team. He got his start as a player at Chet Waggoner Little League in South Bend.

Aaron got interested in bat-and-ball sports by watching his father play fast pitch softball. Charles and Angela Bond have three sons. Alex (25) and U.S. Marines veteran Alonzo (22) both attend Ivy Tech in South Bend. Aaron is two online classes short of a general studies degree at San Jac.

AARONBONDGIANTS17

Aaron Bond, a 2015 South Bend Clay High School graduate, played two seasons at San Jacinto College North in Texas and signed in 2017 with the San Francisco Giants organization. He is a left-swinging outfielder. (San Francisco Giants Photo)

 

Schellinger looks for his New Prairie team to attack in every phase of the game

rbilogosmall

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Schellinger has set a standard since taking over as head baseball coach at New Prairie High School prior to the 2016 season.

“Most kids in the program know what we expect,” says Schellinger as he gets his players ready for 2018. “We get a lot of buy-in.”

Whether in a game, a practice drill or the weight room, Schellinger wants his Cougars to be in attack mode.

“We talk about attacking in every phase of the game,” says Schellinger. “We talk about attacking in every rep. We have that mindset. Even on defense, we want to be on the offensive.”

At game time, that aggressiveness leads to pressure on the other team.

“We want to take the game to our opponents,” says Schellinger. “In high school baseball, if you can create pressure, you can get a lot of good things to happen.

“You can put pressure on the defense in a lot of ways — either with the bat in our hands or on the base paths.”

Schellinger implores his pitchers to attack the strike zone.

“We want the at-bat over early,” says Schellinger. “We don’t want (opponents to have) five-, six-, seven-pitch at-bats.”

After at fall of open field and weight training, players who are not in winter sport are hitting the weight room.

The baseball program is full of mult-sport athletes. Only seven of 24 expected returnees from 2017 do not play more than one sport.

“It’s very important to play another sport,” says Schellinger, a 2002 LaPorte High School graduate who went on to play four seasons of football and two springs of baseball at Franklin College. “We push our guys to do that. It’s great from a competitive standpoint.”

“Guys not in-season are expected to be with us (in off-season conditioning).”

Since his playing days, Schellinger has witnessed an increased emphasis on strength and conditioning for baseball players.

“You can tell the difference,” says Schellinger. “Kids are bigger and stronger now. They are throwing harder and hitting the ball farther like they do at the big league level. It’s scaled down, but it’s trickled down to our level as well.

“We don’t want bodybuilders. We want guys with muscle. We do a stretching routine on a daily basis and help guys with that flexibility.”

New Prairie is coming off a 16-13 season in 2017. The Cougars were young with just three seniors. One — Kadin Abegg — is now on the baseball roster at Marian University in Indianapolis.

At various times, NP started seven sophomores and two freshmen last spring.

Schellinger looks for leadership in 2018 from seniors Bryce Bloode, Evan Knowlton, Parker Byard and Hunter Houser and junior Hunter Robinson. Bloode is a pitcher, outfielder and third baseman. Knowlton is an infielder, Byard an infielder/pitcher, Houser an outfielder/pitcher and Robinson a third baseman. All are right-handers.

New Prairie typically keeps around 30 and 34 for its varsity and junior varsity squads. Feeder programs include New Prairie Little League in New Carlisle and Rolling Prairie Baseball Association as well as various travel baseball organizations.

“I like carrying 16 at the varsity level (during the regular season) and dressing the full 20 at tournament time,” says Schellinger. “Sixteen works well for what I like to do. There’s a lot of competition in practice and we can have 8 on 8 or four groups of four.”

On game days, Schellinger and his assistants go in with a game plan that revolves around who is pitching and also takes into account who will be used as a courtesy or pinch-runner and who is able to handle the bat in certain pinch-hit situations.

“It’s a big puzzle that all fits together,” says Schellinger. “You maximize what you have personnel-wise on a certain day.”

In 2017, the IHSAA adopted new pitch count rules (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).

“I think it’s needed,” says Schellinger. “Mandated rest is important.

“In 10 innings, you can throw a lot of pitches. For the most part, it’s been a positive for Indiana high school baseball.”

Schellinger says the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association has been discussing the idea of making the limits for varsity and JV the same. As it stands now, JV count maximums are lower.

“Varsity takes priority. It’s double-edge sword for the JV. They run out pitching quicker at JV level. There has been worry about games getting canceled because of lack of pitching.

“The association knew going in it was going to be a trial-and-error thing.”

Schellinger’s assistants for 2018 are Neil Hackett (pitching coach) and Dave Ryans with the varsity and Al Williamson and John Ryans with the JV.

New Prairie (enrollment around 980) plays in the Northern Indiana Conference (along with 4A schools Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay and South Bend Riley, 3A teams New Prairie, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington and 2A member Bremen).

The NIC is divided into two divisions — New Prairie, Bremen, Jimtown, Glenn, Marian and Riley in the South and Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, Adams, Clay, St. Joseph and Washington in the North. Each team plays the other once in conference play and there are titles for overall and games won within the division.

“It’s a great conference,” says Schellinger, whose first season leading the Cougars was also the first of the new-look NIC with New Prairie, Bremen, Glenn and Jimtown joining and the old Northern State Conference dissolving. “Last year, we had two teams in the State Finals (St. Joseph reigned in 3A and Penn was runner-up in 4A).  There’s quality across the board. It’s very good baseball and very good athletic programs. It’s been a good move for us.”

Schellinger made his move to New Prairie after nine seasons at Merrillville High School — the last six of those years as head coach.

Before that, he was at Franklin College. His Grizzlies head coaches were Lance Marshall (baseball) and Mike Leonard (football). He played baseball for Scott Upp and football and his father, Bob Schellinger, at LaPorte.

“I’ve been very blessed in my life to be around a lot of good coaches,” says Schellinger. “I’ve taken a lot from each one.”

“(Marshall) taught me to play the game the right way, focus on fundamentals and the importance of building relationships.

“(Leonard) came to Franklin my sophomore year. He is one of the nicest guys off the field you’d ever want to meet. He treats his players with respect.”

“I’ve gotten to know (Upp) as a player and as an opposing coach. I’ve seen his ability to adapt. He does what needs to be done. It’s what is the best thing at the time for the team. He wants to find a better way. Some coaches are stuck in their ways. It’s a huge credit to him that he doesn’t do that.”

Bob and Lorri Schellinger have five children — Tricia, Rob, Mark, Kevin and Danny. The four boys all played football for their father.

Rob Schellinger is now a baseball assistant at LaPorte. Mark Schellinger is a member of the Slicer Football Hall of Fame.

Bob Schellinger, who coached high school baseball at South Central (Union Mills) and LaPorte, was honored at the State Finals as the 2017 IHSAA Baseball Umpire of the Year.

“It’s hard to hard to separate the two (father from coach),” says Mark. “I saw the relationship he had with his players from the time I was a little kid. I was my dad’s shadow. I could see the joy he took in job. We spend too much time out here for it to be dreadful.

“It’s a sport. It’s a game. It’s meant to be fun. When you enjoy it, it’s not work. I enjoy every second of it — planning for practice, going into the weight room or field work.

“We’re ultimately in the kids business and we want to make them better people.”

The people who greet Mark Schellinger at home and at the diamond are wife Heidi and four sons — Colton (5), Boyd (3), Titus (2) and Ripley (4 months).

Like he and his siblings did with his father, Mark has his boys hanging around with him and his team.

“They are around as much as they can be,” says Mark, who turns 32 Dec. 8 — two days before Boyd’s fourth birthday. “These are father-son moments a lot of people don’t get.”

MARKSCHELLINGER

Mark and Heidi Schellinger stand on the baseball field with the oldest three of their four sons —  Colton (in grey), Boyd (in blue) and Titus (in his father’s arms). Ripley was not yet born at the time the photo was taken.

 

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Contact Steve Krah at stvkrh905@gmail.com