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Cubs appreciate what dietitians can do for their performance

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What athletes put into their bodies can go along way in what they can accomplish.

The field of sports nutrition just keeps growing every year.

The Chicago Cubs have led the way in professional baseball circles, where each team is looking to require dietetic staffers at the big league level.

In 2016, the Cubs fulfilled Dawn Blatner’s goal when they became the first Major League Baseball organization to place these licensed nutrition experts with all of its minor league affiliates. Blatner is assisted in Chicago by Jenny Westerkamp.

Marta Scechura, who is now a Sports Nutrition Associate at the University of Notre Dame, led the dietary needs of the Low Class-A South Bend Cubs the first season. It’s been Emily Kaley in 2017.

Kaley is part of a little community that also includes the two dietitians in Chicago and four at other Cubs minor league stops.

Following the plan set up by Blatner and giving it her own flavor, Kaley keeps South Bend players on a beneficial nutritional path.

“I make sure they have access to well-balanced meals every single day,” says Kaley. “I meal plan for two meals everyday of the season (pregame and postgame).

“Nutrition is important for your performance,” says Kaley. “It can make a big difference.”

With a “plate check” chart on the clubhouse wall, the team has a chance to take in well-balanced portions of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.

With about 40 mouths to feed and tastes coming from all over the U.S. and Latin America, Kaley works with a local caterer (as well as those at out-of-town destinations in the Midwest League) to mix up the menu.

“I need to make a variety of all different kinds of foods to help them stay interested in eating healthy foods and not get bored with what they’re eating,” says Kaley. “We can’t have chicken every single time.”

Kaley takes requests and provides healthy smoothies packed with nutrient-dense foods. The ingredients depend on the player’s goals — gaining, losing or maintaining weight.

“I’m right in the clubhouse doing it,” says Kaley. “They see it and smell it. Sometimes they want to help. Sometimes they want to taste test.”

If players don’t like what’s being presented to them, peanut butter and jelly is an alternative.

With clubhouse/equipment manager Terry Fellows doing the shopping with a “Costco haul” at the beginning of a homestand, Kaley makes sure her hungry crew can have healthy snacks like fruits, homemade popcorn or banana bread.

There is also access to superfood shots — Matcha for energy, beet for endurance, pickle juice as a cramp stopper, ginger for immunity, collagen for protection and tart cherry for recovery.

She is also there to answer all the nutrition questions thrown her way and troubleshooting.

Kaley went on one road trip and might go on another before the 2017 season closes. When she’s not with the squad, she has strength and conditioning coach Ryan Nordtvedt providing the snacks while she is in South Bend catching up on planning, notes and filing assessments sheets for the Cubs organization.

As a fifth-year veteran of professional baseball, Nordtvedt has also been a resource to show Kaley how things function. He also provides her with player weights so she is able to use food to help them gain, lose or maintain.

“I’m glad the strength and conditioning coach is here and locked into nutrition being an important part of professional baseball,” says Kaley, who also works with athletic trainer Logan Severson in South Bend.

Kaley, who plans to become a board-certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) this February, has a Masters degree in Sport Nutrition from University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Simmons College in Boston, where she also played lacrosse.

She grew up in Bangor and Manchester, Maine, and earned her karate black belt and played lacrosse and soccer at Maranacook Community School.

“I was raised in a healthy environment,” says Kaley, the daughter of a dietitian mother (Lori) and diabetic father (Bruce) with sisters (Lindsey and twin Zoie). “I brought lunches to school everyday. I fueled well for soccer practice. I knew how food effected me.”We didn’t got out to eat a lot and in-moderation. We didn’t have soda in the house. We had ice cream once in awhile.”

Kaley went from Simmons into a Morrison Chartwells Distance Dietetic Internship in Charlotte, N.C. While there, she got to work with elite swimmer Ryan Lochte, who was training at Queens University. She was invited to go to Colorado Springs see to the nutrition needs of Team USA Swimming and Team USA Track and Field athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in the year leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I was in the presence of Michael Phelps and gave him a smoothie one time,” says Kaley.

Those kinds of athletes are very much in-tune with their nutrition and how their bodies respond to food.

At the low levels of pro baseball, it varies from person to person and not all metabolisms are the same.

“It’s super fun to work with the 18- to 24-year-olds,” says Kaley. “They’re just starting to get it.”

EMILYKATEY1

Emily Kaley is the dietitian for the 2017 South Bend Cubs. The Chicago Cubs organization was the first to have registered dietitians for all of its minor league affiliates. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Alum Catey keeps success going at Hagerstown

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Respect for all the little things have led to big things at a little school.

Hagerstown was ranked No. 1 much of the season in IHSAA Class 1A baseball in 2017.

The Tigers lost in the Carroll (Flora) Regional championship game to eventual state runner-up Rossville and finished 28-5 in Brad Catey’s sixth season as Hagerstown head coach.

Hagerstown reigned at the Seton Catholic Sectional.

Catey spent his whole pre-college school career in Hagerstown (K-12) and graduated in 2000 before studying and playing basketball at Indiana University East in Richmond. He played several positions for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Lloyd Michael — shortstop as a freshman, second base as a sophomore, left field as a junior and catcher as a junior.

“I moved wherever Lloyd needed me to move,” says Catey, who was part of 1999 squad that lost to eventual state champion Evansville Mater Dei in the 2A Indianapolis North Central Semistate and also played football and basketball for the Tigers.

Third baseman Cory Childs was a 2A first-team all-state selection for Hagerstown in 1999 while pitcher Jesse Johnson earned that distinction in 2000.

Catey spent four seasons as a Hagerstown assistant before taking over for Michael with the 2012 season.

“He taught me to respect the game,” says Catey of mentor Michael. “We made sure we do the little things right. We always ran on and off the field. We backed up the plate. You give yourself a chance to win.”

Hagerstown has won three sectionals (2013, 2016, 2017) and six crowns in the Tri-Eastern Conference (which also includes Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester) with Catey in charge.

At the same time, the Tigers have produced three first-all-staters — pitcher Cole Bartlett (2A) in 2013, outfielder Owen Golliher (1A) in 2016 and pitcher Drew Pyle (1A) in 2017.

Right-hander Bartlett pitched at the University of Missouri and was taken in the 25th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is with the Missoula (Mont.) Osprey.

Hagerstown’s success got Catey a spot on the North coaching staff for the 2017 IHSBCA All-Star Series in Muncie, where he got to coach TEC Player of the Year Trey Kelley one more time before he headed off to Earlham College.

“That was an awesome experience,” says Catey, who served on a South staff led by Plainfield’s Jeff McKeon and also featuring Batesville’s Justin Tucker and Columbus East’s John Major. “I got to coach a lot of (NCAA) Division I talent.”

H-town goes back to 2A for the 2018 season — and likely the Cambridge City Lincoln Sectional field — with plenty of optimism.

The junior varsity squad, coached by Bruce Charles, went 22-0 last spring.

“We don’t like to rebuild; we reload,” says Catey. “It makes my job a little easier.”

Hagerstown graduates Charles, pitching coach Dan Davis Jr. and outfielders coach Jay Hale (outfielders) are all expected to be part of the staff in 2017-18.

Hagerstown Little League has served as a high school feeder program for years. Many current juniors and seniors represented Indiana at the Great Lakes Regional when they were that age.

To help maintain the relationship with HLL, each high school player is required to umpire two games a year.

“That’s one of the reason we keep our numbers so high,” says Catey. who had 38 players on varsity, junior varsity and C-team squads in 2017. “For a 1A school, that’s really good.

“Most our guys have found a good travel team. We encourage our guys to find a little better competition.”

Among those travel organizations are the Hagerstown Heat, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Nitro.

Across Indiana, the 2017 season brought with it the new IHSAA 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).

Hagerstown had a number of quality arms to get through its schedule, including Kelley (Class of ’17) and Pyle (Class of ’18).

“It didn’t seem to effect us that much,” says Catey. “We had a lot of people we could use. Some other teams had to drop JV games because they had to use guys in varsity games.

“The biggest equation is the JV and varsity pitches they can pitch in a week.”

Catey leads students through simple equations as a math teacher at Hagerstown Elementary.

Recently, he has been teaching young girls how to slide. Oldest daughter Lilly (7) is an 8U softball player. Brad and Darcy Catey’s youngest daughter is Peyton (5).

BRADCATEY

Hagerstown High School baseball head coach Brad Catey celebrates a 2017 sectional championship with daughters Peyton (left) and Lilly (right).

Buysse busy building baseball program at IUSB

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Buysse has hit the ground running as the first full-time baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend.

Buysse, who was hired July 25 after serving three seasons as head baseball coach at South Bend Washington High School, has been assembling his coaching staff and preparing for the arrival of his players (fall semester begins Monday, Aug. 21.).

That’s when implementation of the program’s culture can begin in earnest.

After talking with seniors and other returnees, Buysse has found that the players want a brotherhood.

“A big part of our fall will be building a hard-working, positive, all-in-the-same-boat culture,” says Buysse. “They are very excited. They really want that bond as a team.”

The idea is to be selfless and care more about teammates than themselves.

There will be practices and intra-squad games in the fall as Buysse and his players become familiar with one another.

“It’s going to be a learning experience all the way around,” says Buysse. “We’ll see what Titan baseball looks like moving forward.”

A three-week break in October will allow players to get a break from daily baseball activities while they continue to lift weights, condition and go to class.

Buysse ticked off the program’s priorities.

“They start off the field,” says Buysse. “We want to develop men; everyone graduates. After that comes the classroom. Wins and losses are down the list.”

Daily class checks are likely with Buysse and his staff. All newcomers will be required to spent a minimum of four hours per week in study table. All players will be expected to use these resources until they have a 3.0 grade-point average or better.

Buysse has set a goal of a 3.4 accumulative team GPA. That’s for the fall and the spring.

“I’m not a big believer in relaxing expectations during the season,” says Buysse.

The grade rule is not meant to be punitive but to show them what is available to them.

“We’re trying to show these guys all the tools they need to be successful (on the field and off) and showing them how to use those tools,” says Buysse. “If they graduate, they’ll graduate with an IU degree and that will open more doors than playing college baseball will.

“The resources they have here are just unbelievable. I have are just unbelievable. I have the backing of the administration. They want to see this be a success.”

The John Glenn High School and Saint Joseph’s College graduate has hired Trace Myers as a part-time assistant. Chris Mangus, Luke Gaboury and Kyle Liedtky will be volunteer student assistants while Kyle Heeter is the strength and conditioning coach.

Myers comes from the University of Notre Dame, where he was director of operations for the rowing program. Mangus was the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the year last spring and is working to finish his degree.

The Titans, a member of the NAIA and CCAC, go into the fall with a roster of 31 players. That includes about a half dozen recruits and transfers.

Buysse played at SJC for Rick O’Dette (now at St. Leo University in Florida) and the coach told his players “baseball is 10 percent of what we do.”

Saint Joseph’s shut its doors in May, taking the baseball program with it. With Buysse at IUSB and the Titans playing many of their games in Chicago, he expects to see many SJC alums to back his program next spring.

Buysse will have his assistants out on the recruiting trail this fall, attending showcases and working at camps.

IUSB is looking to fill its schedule, which is capped at 55 games.

Newton Park in Lakeville, about 11 miles southwest of campus, will be the Titans’ home facility.

As a joint effort between the school and Newton Park, the baseball team will provide a labor force to get things done at the complex and the owners will supply materials.

IUSB will have priority at the field.

“They want us there and are willing to work with us,” says Buysse.

The Titans will work to be very visible in the community, appearing at local schools and participating in service projects.

Buysse has been active with the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and the new South Bend Cubs Foundation and expects to continue in some capacity.

DOUGBUYSSEIUSB

Doug Buysse is the new head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend. (IUSB Photo)

 

Boone Grove gives Antone coaching opportunity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Antone may be young.

But he goes into his first season as a high school baseball head coach having learned a great deal from a pair of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers.

Antone, who turns 27 in November, is now in charge at Boone Grove High School in Valparaiso.

Andrean’s Dave Pishkur was the corner infielder’s coach his first two prep seasons as a player. Chesteron’s Jack Campbell provided his wisdom in Antone’s final two high school campaigns. Antone graduated from CHS in 2009.

“I had a really good experience at both places,” says Antone. “I built real good relationships with coaches, teachers and my friends that I still have today.”

Antone played one season at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., before transferring to Valparaiso University.

Anxious to get his coaching career started, he became an assistant at Valparaiso High School while doing his student teaching in the spring of 2014.

The 2015 season was spent as an assistant for Campbell’s Trojans and 2016 and 2017 for Pishkur’s 59ers. This summer, he was an assistant for the Northwest Indiana Oilmen of the Midwest Collegiate League.

“I’m very, very glad I made the decision I did,” says Antone. “If I didn’t there’s no way I’d be as far along as I am right now.

“I’m at a very good advantage to have played and coached with (Campbell and Pishkur). Dave has learned as he’s gone on. I learned from him to never be satisfied. I try to always improve myself as a coach.”

Antone has done that by accessing Pishkur’s library of baseball books and DVDs and traveling with him to clinics.

“I like talking with other coaches, seeing what they do and picking up anything you can incorporate into my program to make it a little bit better,” says Antone whose Boone Grove staff so far includes Chesterton classmate and teammate Jack Wilson, 2014 Boone Grove graduate Jake Gholsten and Bryan Hill (who was an assistant to Rollie Thill who resigned after 14 seasons, six sectional, two regional and six Porter County Conference round robin and tournament titles with more than 300 wins).

Antone hopes to pick up another assistant or two to lead a program expect to have 30 or more players on varsity and junior varsity squads in the spring of 2018.

“In order to be successful you need to surround yourself with good assistants,” says Antone. “You coach them about the vision for the program and let them know what their responsibilities.”

This fall, Antone is leading Boone Grove seventh and eighth graders in a PCC schedule. He has also gotten a chance to meet some high schoolers and looks forward to working more with them soon.

The Wolves lost to IHSAA Class 2A northern semistate qualifier Hebron in the 2017 Boone Grove Sectional championship game.

Antone looks for his team to “be grinders and play the game one pitch at a time.”

He expects to have a good mix of veterans and newcomers. There are some freshmen who could contribute at the varsity level.

Classes began Monday, Aug. 14 at BG, where Antone is an alternative school teacher. He taught the last two years at Andrean after three years at St. Patrick’s School in Chesterton, where he went from pre-school through eighth grade.

Antone played Little league baseball at Liberty Rec in Chesterton then travel ball with the Duneland Flyers as a junior high schooler and Indiana Breakers while in high school.

PATANTONE

Pat Antone, a graduate of Chesterton High School and Valparaiso University, is the new head baseball coach at Boone Grove High School.

 

‘Trust the process’ approach guides South Bend’s Mitchell

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Major League Baseball’s minor leagues are about development.

With a motto of “trust the process,” South Bend Cubs outfielder Kevonte Mitchell continues to learn the game in his fourth professional season.

Mitchell, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Saturday, Aug. 12 at Four Winds Field by going 2-of-5 at the plate with a double, two runs batted in and one run scored, originally committed to play at Southeast Missouri State University.

When the baseball and basketball standout and honor roll student at Kennett (Mo.) High School was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 13th round of the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Mitchell opted not to put off his pro development.

“The Cubs made an offer that I couldn’t refuse,” says Mitchell. “Coming out of high school and learning from professionals right away, I felt I needed that. I wanted to learn.”

Kevonte’s dad did not play baseball. His mom played a little softball.

Growing up in the Bootheel region of Missouri, the son of Kevin and Darlene Mitchell and younger brother of Brianne took to the diamond at an early age.

“I found out I was kind of good at it so I just kept playing it when I was younger and here I am today,” says Mitchell.

He looks back on his days as a newly-minted pro and remembers that as another learning opportunity.

“I had to grow up really quickly, I’ll tell you that,” says Mitchell. “I’ll never forget my first night out in Arizona. I’d never been that far from home.”

An 18-year-old Kevonte gave himself a pep talk.

“There’s no turning back now,” says Mitchell. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and play the game that I love.”

After stints with the rookie-level Arizona Cubs in 2014 and 2015 and Single-A short-season Eugene Emeralds in 2015 and 2016, Mitchell has spent the whole 2017 season with South Bend in the Low Class-A Midwest League. The Cubs are 61-56 overall; 22-26 in the second half.

Using his swiftness, Mitchell has played mostly right or left field and been a threat to steal or base or go first-to-third. He was a third baseman and shortstop in high school.

“My speed is a big factor to my game,” says Mitchell. “As an outfielder, I’ve learned about routes and how to get to the ball quicker. I still need help with that.

“I’ll play anywhere (manager Jimmy Gonzalez and the Cubs) need me. I’ll be ready to go out there.”

Where trusting the process comes in the most for the 6-foot-4, 185-pounder is in the right-handed batter’s box.

“I’ve made a lot of adjustments since the start of spring training,” says Mitchell, who came through action Saturday hitting .252 with 11 home runs, 53 RBI, 51 runs scored and 18 stolen bases (.270, 1, 8, 8 and 3 in the last 10 games). “I don’t consider myself a power guy. I have the potential to maybe be a power guy one day.

“I’m just trying to be a better hitter. I’m focusing on going the other way, knowing what the pitcher is doing with runners on base. With two strikes, I try to shorten up (my swing) and see the ball.”

Mitchell saw the basketball go through the net on a regular basis during his time with the Kennett Indians. He poured in 1,585 career points. He was all-state as a senior and holds the school record for rebounds.

“I played whatever the coach needed — 1 through 4,” says Mitchell. “Sometimes I’d bring the ball down (the court). Sometimes I’d be posting up.”

The Cubs don’t want Mitchell getting hurt by playing full-out hoops.

“I’ll shoot a couple shots here and there,” says Mitchell.

But mostly he trusts the process while getting better on the diamond.

KEVONTEMITCHELL

Kevonte Mitchell, a South Bend Cubs outfielder, turned 22 Saturday, Aug. 12. He is in his fourth professional baseball season. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Wagner continues to hone his baseball broadcasting craft

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

Relationships must be built with players, coaches and managers.

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

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

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

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

Every player has a different backstory.

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

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

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

It’s all about mutual respect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wagner operates with sensitivity and clarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He puts himself in the listener’s place.

Why are you supposed to be listening to this game?

Why are you still tuning in to this game?

Why is this at-bat important?

Why is this pitch important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BENWAGNER

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

 

Wynegar wants Indianapolis hitters to know the mental side

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Butch Wynegar is not a meteorologist.

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

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

“It’s you and the baseball.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s a big part of hitting.”

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

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

What is Wynegar’s prescription for a slump buster?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUTCHWYNEGAR

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