Category Archives: College

Purdue Fort Wayne’s Birely helps pitchers navigate a world of knowledge

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Blending various talents into a cohesive unit, helping them navigate a world of knowledge and encouraging a flow of ideas.

This is what Grant Birely gets to do as pitching coach at NCAA Division I Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne).

Birely, 36, has been on the job since the 2009 season. The Mastodons are scheduled to open the 2019 campaign Feb. 15-17 with four games at Alabama A&M.

The Purdue Fort Wayne roster features 14 active pitchers with two who will likely be medical redshirts.

“I make an individual plan with each of them to become the best they can,” says Birely. “As they get older and go through the program, they take a lot of ownership of their own development and I become a consultant for them. With the young guys, it’s about teaching them what it takes to pitch at this level.”

Birely says the cornerstone of Mastodons pitching is throwing and learning to spin pitches.

“In some form or fashion, there is throwing each day,” says Birely. “It might be 60 feet one day just to get loose. It might be 350 feet if they’re going to long toss that day. I don’t put a distance restriction on them. We tell them to listen to their arm and see how it feels each day.”

The point is, collegiate pitchers are asked to throw a lot.

“There’s no better way to learn to throw than to throw,” says Birely. “We’re working on their craft every single day.”

Playing baseball at the college level, especially Division I, is a major commitment between school work and hours spend getting ready for and playing games.

“We spend everyday with them and they spend so much time on it, they have to love baseball and showing up everyday and working on it,” says Birely. “One thing they’ll leave with is time management when they head into the real world.”

Purdue Fort Wayne pitchers do a hybrid training program that includes band work, stretching and some weighted-ball movements.

“We don’t dive straight into a full weight-ball program because these guys are competing the minute they get on-campus,” says Birely. “They never really have that down time to solely focus on velocity or anything like that. We’re always trying to work on command (of the strike zone) and commanding a second pitch.”

When the weather keeps the Mastodons off the frozen tundra, they do their throwing in a spacious fieldhouse large enough to make tosses of up to 250 or 260 feet.

“We’re very lucky to have that,” says Birely. “It’s just high enough so they can get a little bit of air under the baseball.”

The top two pitchers from 2018 in terms of innings pitched and victories are gone. Right-hander Brandon Phelps, a Fort Wayne Snider High School graduate, pitched 83 innings and won five games as a redshirt senior. Left-hander Damian Helm worked 73 1/3 innings with four victories in his senior season.

As the Mastodons head into the only four-game series of 2019, Birely says junior right-hander Chase Phelps (Brandon’s brother and also a Fort Wayne Snider graduate), junior right-hander Cameron Boyd (Fishers) and redshirt senior right-hander Shane Odzark will get the first opportunity to be starting pitchers.

The bullpen is being built with establishing strength in the late innings as a priority.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are excited to try to go and finish games,” says Birely, who counts freshman left-hander Justin Miller (Homestead), sophomore right-hander Sean Ferguson (New Haven) and freshman right-hander Jarrett Miller in the closer mix.

Other right-handers include sophomore Trevor Armstrong (Fort Wayne Snider), sophomore Nathan Hefle, freshman Garrett Hill (University), junior Tyler Kissinger, junior Duane Miller, sophomore Brian Skelton (Westfield) and redshirt freshman Cade Willard (Eastside).

Another lefty is sophomore Spencer Strobel (Avon).

Birely says two freshmen right-hander — Grant Johnston (Hamilton Southeastern) and Drew Pyle (Hagerstown) — have had injuries that will likely make them redshirts.

The pitching coach has learned that he is dealing with players who have different ways of learning. They might be visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.

“We have some guys who like to see themselves on video and they can make adjustments based off that,” says Birely. “Some guys I have to put in a position kind of in a kinesthetic way so they can feel it.

“It’s definitely a challenge to figure out each guy.”

And figuring it out is key.

“Anyone who is teaching might be the smartest person in the world but if they can’t get that information to the players, it doesn’t really work and it doesn’t help,” says Birely. “It’s been fun finding different ways to teach and different ways to convey information that I have to them.”

Birely notes that the current generation — Generation Z — gets a bad rap for asking so many questions.

“They have all this information at their finger tips,” says Birely. “Some of it is good and some of it is not good.

“I’d rather have them ask me a question or to try to figure something out than to just go and do it on their own.”

Group chats are a way that information is exchanged.

A pitcher will see a video in social media and ask, “what do you think of this, Coach?.”

Birely asks his hurlers to identify their favorite major league pitcher.

“That gives me some insight of who they’re going to watch,” says Birely. “My favorite pitcher to watch growing up was Greg Maddux. I was never the big velocity guy. Watching him throw a baseball looked like watching a wiffleball.”

He also followed the fortunes of another future Hall of Famer. Roy Halladay went to high school just a few years before Birely in nearby Denver suburb of Arvada.

Birley is a graduate of Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, Colo. He played for current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Bobby Pierce at Central Arizona College (the Vaqueros won the 2002 National Junior College Division I World Series) then finished his collegiate career at the University of New Orleans. That’s where he met his future wife, Bonnie. The two were living in the Big Easy when Hurricane Katrina hit and they moved closer to Grant’s family in Denver.

Retired as a player after one season of independent baseball with the Mesa Miners, Birley went into the business world when a friend asked him to help with freshmen tryouts at Regis Jesuit High School, figuring it would just be for a few hours on a Saturday.

“From the moment I walked out there, I was hooked,” says Birely, who spent two seasons at Regis Jesuit in Aurora, Colo. When Pierce became head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver, he invited Birely to become Roadrunners pitching coach. When Pierce moved to Indiana to lead the IPFW Mastodons, he asked Birely to come with him.

“I wouldn’t have this opportunity without him,” says Birely of Pierce. “He’s been a mentor and a great person to learn from.

“The best thing about him is that he lets everybody in the organization from players to staff go do their job

he gives them the freedom and creativity to make the program better.”

Pierce promotes a spirit of working together for a common goal.

“He’s very positive,” says Birley. “He’s great to work for. He’s awesome to play for. He allows the players the freedom to exchange ideas.

“Let’s figure it out together.”

Grant and Bonnie Birely have figured out how to balance baseball and family life. The couple has two children — Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School senior Tyler (who is active in theater and show choir) and sixth grader Kaylee.

“Like everyday says you’ve got to have a very understand wife,” says Grant. “She’s on this journey with me. Otherwise, I couldn’t do this.

“She keeps the fort going at home.”

Purdue Fort Wayne plays in the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). That makes for a good deal of travel. When the Mastodons go to the Dakotas, they often leave campus on Wednesday night and return at noon Monday.

“(Players) do a great job of doing their schoolwork on the road,” says Birely. “It’s not uncommon to walk through a hotel lobby and there’s 25 or 30 guys doing their homework.

It’s not uncommon for players to ask for the movies to be turned off on the bus to study for an upcoming test.

“We’ve had guys who understand what it means to be a true student-athlete,” says Birely. “It goes back to time management. They have to rely on themselves a lot to make sure they’re getting their work done.”

Coaches will proctor tests for professors, who email the exam and set the time limit and have the coaches sent it back. Other take online classes to allow flexibility and no requirement to be in a classroom.

Christine Kuznar is Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics and meets with players each semester to them on-track toward getting their degree as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“She’s the rock star behind the whole thing,” says Birely.

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Purdue Fort Wayne was formerly known as Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. In its new branding, the Mastodons have adopted black and gold as school colors with a hint of blue as homage to the IPFW brand. (Purdue Fort Wayne Image)

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Grant Birely, the baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne, is a native of Colorado who played and coached for Mastodons head coach Bobby Pierce before following him to Indiana. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

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Grant Birely has been baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) since the 2009 season. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

 

 

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UIndy’s Ready talks about offensive approach, pitch framing, defensive shifting

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There are less than two weeks before the University of Indianapolis is scheduled to open its 2019 baseball season (the NCAA Division II Greyhounds host Wisconsin-Parkside at 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15).

UIndy head coach Al Ready took the time to discuss offensive approach, pitch recognition, catcher pitch framing and defensive shifting.

Ready says probability can be applied to anything in baseball. He wants to put his players in the best position to have success and for hitters that translates to their approach.

“I have them watch the pitcher and what he’s throwing in certain counts,” says Ready. “We want guys sitting on the pitches they’re going to get, not the ones they want to hit.”

Pitch recognition — knowing a fastball from a curve, slider or whatever — is a valuable talent for hitters to possess.

“It’s a skill,” says Ready. “It can be improved on.”

Ready, who was a switch-hitting catcher for Indianapolis and still holds school records for most walks in a career and in a season and played in independent professional baseball, notes that most pro hitters adjust off the fastball because of the high velocity at that level.

He says that most high school hitters are timed for 80 mph with those in college for 85 to 90 mph and pros for 90 mph-plus.

“If you’re not ready for it, you’re not going to hit it,” says Ready. “If you don’t have pitch recognition, you have to be a fastball adjust hitter. You sit on pitches.”

In other words, you wait for a particular pitch to swing at.

Ready talks daily with his UIndy hitters about approach.

“I used to be a cookie-cutter approach guy and teach the same approach to everybody,” says Ready. “That simply doesn’t work.”

The Greyhounds employ an approach spectrum. For some, it as simple as “see ball; hit ball.”

“If that’s what’s going give that kid the best success rate,” says Ready. “I’m going to get behind that 100 percent.”

Others will sit on a pitch based on count, read pitcher tendencies in certain counts, look for grips, tipped pitches and take into consideration the game situation. How many outs? How many on base? What’s the score? Is it the first inning or the ninth?

While some hitters can rely on their physical skills for success, they are in the minority.

“The majority of us at this level have to be a smart hitter,” says Ready. “The best place to be on the approach spectrum is in the middle.

“If the (pitcher’s) throwing hard and you’re indecisive, you should be fastball adjust.”

To improve on this process, UIndy hitters do a lot of vision training and things of that nature.

They learn to recognize pitches thrown in pitcher-friendly and hitter-friendly counts.

“If it’s 1-2 and you have a fastball/slider pitcher, there’s a good probably you’re going to see a slider,” says Ready.

The coach would like his hitters to swing at pitches they can handle and hit with authority.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of kids at this level if they’re fooled on a pitch, they don’t swing through it,” says Ready. “They still try to make contact and hit in weakly.

“Swing through and go to the next pitch.”

Vision is of utmost importance to a hitter.

“You can work on your swing all you want,” says Ready. “If you’re not seeing the ball, you’re not going to hit it.”

One way, UIndy hitters work on their eye strength is with a concentration grid test.

On a laminated 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper, 100 squares contain numbers 00 to 99 placed randomly.

With a dry erase marker, players are asked to find each number in order for time.

A quick time would be 3 to 4 minutes. For others, it might take 6 to 10 minutes.

“At the end of that 6 to 10 minutes, their eyes are extremely tired,” says Ready, who notes that there are two basic kinds of eye focus — soft and hard. “You can only stay at hard focus for a split second before you blur up.”

These concentration grid tests done in different ways — sometimes counting by threes and getting as far as you can in five minutes — are done each week and posted for team competition.

The Hounds also do this with some distraction training.

Players will have a partner who will stand next to their partner say random numbers during the test.

“The main point is to improve the strength of your eyes,” says Ready.

UIndy also uses the colored ball drill.

While throwing regular batting practice, balls with red and green squares on them are thrown.

It used to be that players were supposed to swing at green and take on red.

“But with a good four-seam fastball with a high spin rate, you’re going to see red,” says Ready. “So green is take and red is swing.”

The pitching machine the Hounds use goes up to 100 mph.

“We train at a high rate of speed,” says Ready. “For our guys 88 is the new 82.”

Ready is more interested in quality at-bats and hitting the ball hard than what he calls the “internet statistics.”

“I don’t judge success by batting average,” says Ready. “I judge them by contact. Are you hitting the ball hard?”

It often comes down to pitch recognition/selection by the batter.

“I laugh when one of our young hitters have a great at-bat (hit a ball hard) and next time they come up and they fly out or strike out and say, ‘coach, what’s wrong with my swing?,’” says Ready. “It’s the same swing. You may have swung at the wrong pitch or didn’t see the ball as well. The first question you should ask: Are you seeing the ball?

“If they say they’re seeing the ball well: Are you swinging at pitches you should be swinging at or swinging at the pitcher’s pitches?.

“As coaches, we get a little to quick to fix problems that aren’t really there.”

Another way some teams help identify pitches is with occlusion training (GameSense is a company that offers tools for this visual reaction training).

Hitters watch videos of pitchers. They may be allowed to see half or three-quarters of the pitch and cut it off or when the pitcher is about to let go of the ball. This allows hitters to look for the release point, see the grip or spin or how it pops out of the hand.

“If it’s a slider, you’ll be seeing a dot at the halfway point,” says Ready.

With a senior-laden roster, Ready says pitch recognition is no necessarily something he is worried with his current team.

As a former catcher, Ready knows about framing pitches.

“Pitch framing’s important,” says Ready. “But you don’t frame everything — only borderline pitches.”

Catchers who try to jerk pitchers several inches outside back into the strike zone will quickly lose credibility with the plate umpire.

Ready says some catchers apply the “skinny and sway” method. But umpires are starting to recognize that and calling balls when they sway outside to catch the baseball.

Other catchers stand wide and only move their glove.

The Molina brothers — Bengie, Jose and Yadier — played behind the plate in the big leagues and it was Jose who was especially good at framing.

An overlooked aspect of catching is how far back they squat from the plate.

Ready contends that most are too far back. He understands that in pro ball, there a good reason because many hitters have a big back swing and catchers are at risk of getting hit by the bat so they get out of the way. But that does not happen as much at the college or high school level.

“The closer you can get to the pitcher the better,” says Ready. “That’s less distance the pitch has to travel.

“You’re going to get more calls. You’re in a position to stick that low pitch.”

By being too far back, catchers can miss out on some opportunities to frame some pitches and it’s a longer throw to a base when a runner is attempting to steal.

Ready says being up on the dish can make the difference in turning a 1-1 pitch into a 1-2 pitcher-friendly count or 2-1 hitter-friendly count.

He kept track in a fall game and noticed that his catcher was up where he needed to be and the opponent’s was too far back. There were a dozen 1-1 counts — six for each team — the next pitch was low and UIndy got all of them called for strikes and the other side got them all called as balls.

Spray charts like those produced by Indiana-based Diamond Charts are helpful for teams in placing their defenders. Taking published play-by-play accounts from NCAA Division I and II games and data gathered from televised contests, opponents’ tendencies can be traced.

Ready says most coaches place their fielders where the majority of the balls are hit.

“I like to take it a step further,” says Ready. “I want to know how the ball was hit (fly ball, line drive, in front of the fielder or over his head).

“I like to place my fielders to take away the hits, not where the likely fly-ball outs are. That’s the logic I use when looking at a spray chart.”

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University of Indianapolis head baseball coach Al Ready pays attention to probability in many areas of the game. (University of Indianapolis Photo)

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Al Ready is the head baseball coach at the University of Indianapolis. He played for the Greyhounds and was a longtime assistant before taking over as leader of the program. (University of Indianapolis Photo)

Tiegs getting Indiana State pitchers ready for rigors of 2019 season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana State University opens its 2019 baseball season with a three-game series Feb. 15-17 at Jacksonville (Fla.) University.

Fifth-year Sycamores pitching coach Jordan Tiegs is getting ISU arms ready for the opener and beyond.

“We’re full-go,” says Tiegs. “We’re building guys now. Some are up to four innings. We’d like our starters to be able to go six innings that first weekend.”

The process has been happening with both both scrimmages and bullpen sessions. They train with overload and underload throwing balls.

“We want to get it as close to what it’s like during the season as possible,” says Tiegs. Pitchers generally pitch live in intrasquad games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday while there is more bullpen work on Monday through Thursday.

ISU’s online roster lists 17 pitchers. All three of the team’s weekend starters from 2018 when the Sycamores went 31-24 overall and 11-10 in the Missouri Valley Conference — senior left-hander Triston Polley (Brownsburg High School graduate), senior right-hander Tyler Ward (Heritage Hills) and junior left-hander Tristan Weaver — return.

Polley went 7-2, Ward 6-3 and Weaver 3-5 in 2018.

Redshirt junior right-hander Colin Liberatore, who pitched at the University of Pittsburgh in 2016, is in the starting mix. Weekday starter Weston Rivers is not back.

While primary closer Ethan Larrison (25 appearances with nine saves) has moved on to professional baseball, 6-foot-5 junior left-hander Tyler Grauer (21 appearances with three saves) did some closing in 2018 and he’s back.

“We lost a lot of leads in sixth and seventh innings last year,” says Tiegs. “That will be a big emphasis this year.”

New pieces in the bullpen include right-handers Austin Cross, Zach Frey, Ross Kramer and Jake Ridgway and lefty Geremy Guerrero.

Cross, a 6-7 junior, is one of seven pitchers on the staff who were in junior college last season.

Tiegs calls junior Frey, also a JC transfer, a “competitive bulldog” who throws strikes.

Coming to Indiana State as a two-way player as a JC transfer, the Sycamores have decided to let junior Kramer focus on pitching.

“He may have the best arm on the staff,” says Tiegs.

Sophomore Ridgway impressed ISU coaches during a showcase camp and was made a full-time pitcher as a freshman.

Junior Guerrero is considered a “swing” man who could be used as a starter or in long or short relief.

Being tall with long limbs is helpful for a pitcher.

But size is not always the determining factor in success.

“In a perfect world, they could all be 6-3 and 215 (the average size of a big league starter),” says Tiegs. “But what about the 5-9 guy who throws in the low to mid 90’s and can really spin it and is really competitive?.

“We have a bit of a mix here,” says Tiegs, who has 6-9 junior left-hander Will Buraconak and 5-9 freshman righty Paul Wendling in the pitching corps. “Both are going to help us a lot.”

Of course the plan on paper in February is not always what unfolds by May.

But one thing is constant.

“We want guys who are going to compete for the right reasons and execute their game plan,” says Tiegs of his pitchers. “We want to generate as much weak contact as we can.

“For some guys play book is simple. For some, it’s more complicated. It’s what they can handle.”

When recruiting, Tiegs wants pitchers who have a feel for the game around them and not ones who “can win the 60-foot, 6-inch battle” only.

“These are the ones who can’t hold runners and can’t field their positions,” says Tiegs. “Guys don’t work on these days as much as they used to.

“You can forget that a whole game is being played.”

Tiegs works for Sycamores head coach Mitch Hannahs.

“He’s a very smart baseball guy,” says Tiegs of Hannahs. “He knows what pitching means to a team. It can make or break your entire season.”

Hannahs gives his perspective while giving Tiegs the freedom to develop his staff his way.

“As a former infielder, he has a pretty good feel for what pitchers go through on the mental side,” says Tiegs.

The mental side of the game is something that is addressed daily by Tiegs in practice.

“We get them in the right frame of mind on the mind,” says Tiegs. “We want them to be in control of their thoughts and in the moment.

“They should keep things as simple as possible and not get the wheels spinning too much.”

Speaking of spinning, Indiana State does keep tabs on spin rate, spin axis and rotation using Rapsodo technology.

Tiegs notes that the use of TrackMan is another way of getting analytic feedback.

This can help players “develop a better version of themselves.”

“We don’t want to overkill with it,” says Tiegs. “It’s just another tool.”

Tiegs is a 2005 graduate of Huron Park Secondary School in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada.

There was no high school baseball in his district. But he played on an elite travel team. The London Badgers played about 80 games a year from April to September with three or four tournaments in the U.S.

Tiegs also participated in volleyball, basketball, hockey and tennis and is definitely a believer in the concept of the multi-sport athlete.

“It can hurt your athletic growth if you eliminate things at a younger age,” says Tiegs. “Using different movements, it’s only going to help in baseball with agility and coordination.

“The more you can be exposed to that stuff is only going to benefit you. You’re going to get enough isolated work when you get to college.”

Tiegs wants his pitchers to be as athletic as possible.

“Pitchers can get a bad rap at being the non-athletes on the field,” says Tiegs, who has his ISU hurlers go through circuit training — strength and mobility — each day before they ever throw a baseball.

Tiegs was a pitcher and was selected selected in the 46th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft by the Cincinnati Reds, but played opted instead for college baseball. He played at Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, Ill., the College of Charleston in South Carolina and wound up at the University of Indianapolis.

The head coach at Sauk Valley was Al Ready, who is now head coach at UIndy.

Keith Hatfield, now head coach at Center Grove High School, was his pitching coach at UIndy.

“In 2009, we had a lot of talent on the mound,” says Tiegs. “We had to make sure guys were in the zone with their stuff. The only way we were going to get beat was with free bases.”

Tiegs delivers the same message to the Sycamores.

“We want our guys to constantly apply pressure and the pressure will be on them,” says Tiegs.

Before coming to ISU, Tiegs was the U of I Greyhounds pitching coach for three seasons on the staff of head coach Gary Vaught.

Having played and coached at the two levels, what is the main difference in NCAA Division I and II from a pitching perspective?

“It’s in the depth of lineups you see day in and day out,” says Tiegs. “You can get away with more mistakes (in D-II). With the better D-I teams, you need to be sharp for 7, 8, 9 guys in lineup. When they hit your mistakes, it’s usually louder.”

Jordan and wife Chelsea Tiegs are expecting their first child in late March.

In its preseason poll, Missouri Valley Conference head coaches have picked Indiana State to finish third behind Missouri State and Dallas Baptist and ahead of Bradley, Southern Illinois, Illinois State, Valparaiso and Evansville.

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Jordan Tiegs was a player and pitching coach at the University of Indianapolis before going to Indiana State University as pitching coach. (University of Indianapolis Photo)

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Jordan Tiegs is the baseball pitching coach at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Ind. (Indiana State University Photo)

 

Purdue pitching coach Cribby builds relationships with Generation Z

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Elliott Cribby has knowledge to share about throwing a baseball.

But the main reason the Redmond, Wash., native became a coach was to build relationships and have a lasting impact on young men.

“I want to help them achieve their dreams,” says Cribby, the first-year pitching coach at Purdue University. “I get more joy doing that than I ever did when I was playing.”

The former University of Washington closer has learned how to communicate with Generation Z.

“They have a lot of questions,” says Cribby, 33. “They want to know why on a lot of things.”

Teaching methods have changed since Cribby was pitching for Lake Washington High School, Columbia Basin College, Washington and the independent professional Rockford (Ill.) RiverHawks.

“It can’t be all tough love or you’ll lose them,” says Cribby. “You have to be able to communicate the way they communicate today.”

The current generation is more visual and they take in information by doing rather than listening to a long lecture.

Cribby gets players to understand concepts like mechanics, mentality and strategy by sharing videos he’s seen on social media and by letting them see what they can do with the baseball in their hand.

A presenter at the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis, Cribby emphasizes communication and scheduling, maximizing time efficiency, bullpen work, simulating a game-like environment, “turning up the heat,” setting expectations, sticking with a plan, consistency and training the arm for strength and health as he gets the Boilermakers ready for the 2019 season opener on Feb. 15 at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Cribby insists that his athletes know what they’re going to be throwing in advance and posts a weekly schedule.

He cautions high school coaches about time.

“Understand your time is precious,” says Cribby. “March to May is three months.

“You must get creative to maximize the limited hours you have to get your pitchers the work that you need.”

Cribby says pitchers need their work everyday. They can build “feel” and confidence with 15 pitches per day in practice. They should work basic locations first. Down and away is thrown most at the high school level.

“Flat grounds are the best way to get the most reps in with the limited practice hours,” says Cribby. “However, they must be intentfull! You as coaches must control that. A miss up in the zone is not OK!”

If weather dictates, game-like conditions can be simulated in the cage with a mobile mound.

“Pitchers need to have hitters in the box as much as possible when they are throwing live or in a flat ground,” says Cribby.

Coaches should make their voices heard to create pressure.

“Don’t be afraid to get vocal!,” says Cribby. “Pitchers need to practice being ‘under fire.’ These environments in practice should be difficult.”

It’s key to teach them what creates success on the mound. That’s how to pitch.

Cribby insists that coaches do not deviate from the plan.

“Stay consistent with your mission,” says Cribby.

At Purdue, pitchers do a lot of throwing.

“The arm must be conditioned to the point where it can withstand the violence of throwing explosively through each start/appearance,” says Cribby.

For about 10 weeks since November, the Boilers have been ramping up and throwing long toss to build arm strength.

“Our guys throw twice a week and get after it,” says Cribby. “We want them to get adequate rest between throwing days. The number of throws is managed.

“The goal is to throw a little father each time out.”

Cribby has seen velocity increase as players are able to increase the distance of their long toss.

After long toss come two max-effort pull down throws.

They throw it on a line as hard they can,” says Cribby.

Then comes several arm care exercises. There are explosive movements with medicine balls along with core, forearm and shoulder work.

“We want to build up the whole arm and not just the shoulder,” says Cribby.

He has been on the job since July and Purdue pitchers have been competing since the fall. The first scrimmage of the preseason phase of practice was last Sunday. Cribby expects mound roles for the season to be defined in the next 10 days or so.

“The strength of the pitching staff is we have a lot of options,” says Cribby. “1 to 16, I’m pretty comfortable with the group we have.”

Among the arms is right-handers Andrew Bohm, Trevor Cheaney, Bo Hofstra, Trent Johnson, Dalton Parker and Drew Peterson and left-handers Ryan Beard and Hayden Wynja.

Redshirt sophomore Bohm started the Big Ten Tournament championship game against Minnesota and an NCAA Regional game against Houston in 2018. Purdue went 38-21 overall and 17-6 in the Big Ten.

Junior Cheaney made 29 appearances for the ’18 Boilers. Sophomore Hofstra got into 28 games (27 in relief). Sophomore Johnson, a Crawfordsville High School graduate, started half of his 18 appearances. Junior Parker was in the bullpen for all 18 of his contests, but he could find himself starting this spring.

Freshman Peterson (Chesterton) reminds Cribby of former teammate Tim Lincecum (he played with the future big leaguer during summer ball in high school and at Washington).

But not because of stature — Peterson is 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds and Lincecum 5-11, 170.

“They’e both happy-go-lucky,” says Cribby. “When they get on the mound, they are bulldogs. Play time is over. When the outing is over, they go back to their fun-loving selves.”

When Cribby met Lincecum, the latter was about 5-5. But he made the summer team and went on to have that dominating stretch for the San Francisco Giants (he went 61-26 with a 2.80 earned run average and 977 strikeouts in 881 innings from 2008-11).

“He always had an unorthodox approach with torque from the lower hips to the upper half,” says Cribby of Lincecum. “He loads up and (the pitch is) like a bullet coming out of a gun.”

Senior Beard started 11 times in 15 games last spring. Redshirt freshman Wynja (Heritage Christian) sat out the season and got stronger. the 6-8 southpaw was drafted out of high school by the Atlanta Braves but did not sign.

Cribby notes that Purdue’s 2018 closer, Ross Learnard, threw his fastball around 82 mph but came at the batter from the left side with a “funky” slot.

Seattle lefty submariner Will Dennis led the country in ground ball ratio and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 2015. He was still in pro ball in 2018.

“(Dennis) got outs,” says Cribby. “And that’s what it’s all about.”

Cribby likes his pitchers to have clean, repeatable motions and have mastery of a fastball, breaking ball and change-up to both sides of the plate. They must also have the ability to hold runners and understand counts.

While it seems that every reliever in the bullpen throws 95 mph-plus, college pitchers can excel with the right arm angle and a change of speeds.

Pitchers should be their own best coaches.

“We can’t be with our guys when they get to professional baseball where they’ll be competing with elite talent from all over the world,” says Cribby. “They need to know their mechanics better than anybody else.

“Do you want to be taken seriously? Be consistent everyday.”

At Purdue, that means in the classroom and on the field.

Cribby uses the stock market as a metaphor with his pitchers.

“I want to invest in you,” says Cribby. “With 18- and 19-year olds, it takes time

“Success creates confidence which creates a career.”

Cribby was brought to West Lafayette by Boilermakers head coach Mark Wasikowski, who played at the University of Hawaii and Pepperdine University in California and was an assistant at Southeast Missouri State, Florida, Arizona and Oregon before taking over at Purdue prior to the 2017 season.

“Coach Wasikowski is one of the best and brightest baseball minds I’ve been around,” says Cribby, who pitched against his Arizona teams and got to know ‘Waz’ when he was coaching at Oregon. “The detail is tremendous. He sees it in different ways.”

Wasikowski learned much about baseball on the staffs of Arizona’s Andy Lopez (a American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) and Oregon’s George Horton.

Cribby, who made 36 appearances with 10 wins and 13 saves in three seasons as a righty reliever at Washington, earned a sociology degree then a masters in intercollegiate athletic leadership from the Pac-12 Conference school. His father, Ed, was a four-year letterman for the Huskies (1974-77) and retired last year after 38 years at Boeing. His mother, Pam, also retired from the Aerospace and defense manufacturer.

Done as a player and working in a Trader Joe’s, Cribby coached with Baseball Northwest and at Columbia Basin and was asked by a friend to coach the junior varsity squad at Eastside Catholic High School near Seattle.

Former Seattle Mariners slugger Jay Buhner recommended Cribby for the head coaching job at Mount Si High in Snoqualmie, Wash., 30 miles east of Seattle. The Wildcats won a Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Class 3A state championship in his first season (2011) and were successful the second year.

Cribby went to Abilene (Texas) Christian University for the one season (2013) on the coaching staff of Ken Knutson, helping to lower the Wildcats’ team ERA from 6.35 the previous year to 4.38, then returned to the Pacific Northwest and was pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Seattle University (2014-18) on a staff led by Donny Harrel. He helped lead the Redhawks to 30-plus wins in 2015, 2016 and 2018. Seattle won a program-record 37 games and the Western Athletic Conference title in 2016.

Elliott and Shannon Cribby have been married six years and have two dogs.

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Elliott Cribby, a native of Redmond, Wash., who pitched at the University of Washington, enters his first season as baseball pitching coach at Purdue University in 2019. (Purdue University Photo)

 

Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper gets bigger

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame has expanded.

Additional display space has been added at the museum on the Vincennes University campus in Jasper, Ind. A dedication was held Saturday, Jan. 26 inside the Ruxer Student Center.

With an expansion of 1,333 square feet, there is now about 3,600 feet of display space for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame plaques and other baseball artifacts.

Made possible through a substantial donation by the Buehler family, the expansion includes the last two Hall of Fame induction classes — 2018 and 2019 — and room to grow.

“We have plenty of wall space for plaques and other items,” said Hall of Fame executive director Ray Howard.

Saturday’s festivities were attended by Hall of Famers Howard, Terry Gobert, Paul Gries, Tim Nonte, Joe Rademacher and Jim Reid.

Jeff McKeon, who is head coach at South Putnam High School, represented the IHSBCA executive council.

“It was an amazing experience seeing the history of Indiana baseball,” said McKeon, who was excited to see the photo of the 2017 IHSBCA South All-Stars. He was the head coach of that team in Muncie.

The rest of the council includes executive director Brian Abbott, assistant executive director Phil McIntyre, president Kevin Hannon, second vice president Ben McDaniel, third vice president Jeremy Richey and past president Ricky Romans. Hannon’s official duties will end with the IHSAA State Finals, which are scheduled this year on Monday and Tuesday, June 17-18 at Victory Field in Indianapolis (followed by the IHSBCA Futures Game June 19 and North/South All-Star Series June 20-22 in Madison.

The Hall of Fame expansion has a curved wall and resembles an outfield.

The old section has an infield layout with Hall of Famer Don Mattingly at first base, Hall of Famer and Jasper High School graduate Scott Rolen at third base and all Indiana members enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., at second base.

The Hall in Jasper is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern Time Thursday through Sunday when Vincennes-Jasper is in session (August to May) and 11 to 3 daily when school is out (May to August). Admission is $4 for ages 13-and-older, $3 for ages 5-12, $2 for ages 60-and-older and free for ages below 5. Group rates are available. Special showings can be arranged by calling 812-482-2262.

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Hall of Famers attending the expansion dedication of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019 are (from left) Terry Gobert, Tim Nonte, Ray Howard, Joe Rademacher, Jim Reid and Paul Gries. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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A crowd gathers for the expansion dedication of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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Executive director and Hall of Famer Ray Howard shows some items at the expansion dedication of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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History is preserved at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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The induction classes of 2018 and 2019 are show in their space at the expansion dedication of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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One view of the displays at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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A collection of bats at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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The new outfield area at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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A photo of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association South All-Stars with Jeff McKeon as head coach is on display at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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Some uniforms on display at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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Another view of the displays at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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A tribute to Hall of Famer Don Mattingly at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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A salute to Hall of Famer and Jasper High School graduate Scott Jasper at the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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The Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame is located in the Ruxer Student Center on the Vincennes University campus in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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Architect drawings for the expansion of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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The expansion of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper was made possible through a substantial donation by the Buehler family. The new space was dedicated on Jan. 26, 2019. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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The Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Jasper — home to the five-time state champion Jasper High School Wildcats. (Jeff McKeon Photo)

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The ribbon cutting for expansion of the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper on Jan. 26, 2019.  (Picture Perfect Photo)

 

Indiana’s Mercer talks about offensive progression

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer spoke at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis for the first time as head coach at Indiana University.

His presentation was “An 8-Week Offensive Progression.”

Mercer, a Franklin (Ind.) Community High School graduate, addressed the group a few times when he was coaching at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

“I was raised by many of the people in this room,” said Mercer. “We are in essence as young people as we grow, we are the product of our environment. We truly are. I’m the product of this environment.”

The coach emphasizes individual development at IU and does not attack anything without a plan.

“I’m a firm believer in systems and processes,” said Mercer. “When we got to Wright State we implemented a system on everything.

“From an offensive standpoint, there has to be an identity in the way we develop and coach our players.”

Mercer was proud to announce that 10 of the 14 everyday position players at Wright State the past three seasons are either in professional baseball or will be at the end of the coming season.

In his system, baseline testing is done at the beginning.

“I let a guy show me what he can do,” said Mercer. “We start start at the most basic concepts. We don’t want to leave guys behind.”

Mercer called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle the “most important book I’ve ever read.”

One of the concepts in the book: Whatever you’re practicing, chunk it up into the smallest, possible units.

“We’re going chunk it, repeat it and understand what we’re learning,” said Mercer. “We’re going chunk it and repeat it over and over.

“We need to chunk it and blend it and take it into the next phase very slowly.”

In Week 1, Mercer introduces drills for players to feel tempo, pace and sequence of their swing.

“I want to work up from the ground,” said Mercer. “I want the legs to work first, the hands to work second and the lower half to turn the barrel (of the bat).

“I don’t want the hands to pull the barrel across the body. I don’t want that disconnection.”

The base stealing system will be implemented in Week 1.

“We’ll be very uptempo, very aggressive,” says Mercer.

IU volunteer coach Casey Dykes comes from Virginia Military Institute, a program that was among the nation’s leaders in stolen bases (The Keydets swiped 95 in 117 attempts in 2018).

“We will run a lot of bases,” said Mercer. “From the very beginning, we don’t necessarily do conditioning, we do base running.

“If you want to run bases, you’ve got to run bases. If you want to run fast, you’ve got to sprint.”

Mercer wants his hitters to have a feel for the entire strike zone, including depth and width. To do this, they need to have constant feedback. This is done in Week 2 by using numbered plates (going from 1-6).

Movement and flexibility assessments are done.

“If guys are rigid in their hips, it’s going to be difficult for those guys to drive the ball the other way,” said Mercer. “It’s the way God made them. We have to work that into their approaches.”

Mercer said it is important for players to begin seeing fastballs of 90 mph off the machine in Week 2. He doesn’t want the first time they see them be at game time.

“The machine punishes guys who are long and steep,” said Mercer. “I’m not a big believer in abusing guys. I don’t want to hurt their ego. I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I want them to punish the machine unless they’re doing something really wrong and the machine gets them.

“Find a velocity that works for you.”

Week 3 brings the team offense.

“It’s really important how we handle a stolen base during an at-bat if we’re going to be a team that steals bases,” said Mercer. “If you get a good jump and your batter is swinging every time you get a 1-0 count off a breaking ball, you’ve got a problem.

“We’re one offensive unit. We have to work together as such. Are identity has to come together.”

Mercer wants his players to know what to do in given situations and how to adjust if there is a chance in game plan.

Game approaches are emphasized in Week 4.

It’s all about getting an advantage on the man delivering the baseball.

“If Plan B was as good as Plan A, it would be Plan A. Every pitcher has a Plan A, even if it’s no good,” said Mercer. “Our job (as the offense) is to put together an approach and a system as a offensive unit that’s a virus that attacks  that guy and gets him off Plan A and on to Plan B. Nobody has Plan C.”

Mercer said if his team wants to put up a “crooked number” — two our more runs in an inning, it takes five quality at-bats in a row unless there is a two-run home run in the mix.

In Mercer’s system, ways to beat a pitcher include elevating the pitch count and “beat his brains in.”

“We’re going to hunt pitches early and knock him out in the first couple of innings,” said Mercer.

How about timing pitches?

“I always want to be on fastball timing and adjust down to breaking ball,” said Mercer. “Know the height of the pitch you’re going to face. Is it going to be a 12-to-6 curveball? We have to do our scouting reports and do our due diligence.

“If I’m on fastball timing, it has to cross the middle 8 to 10 inches of the plate. It’s a pitch I think I can drive (right on right or left on left). I’m going to chase the inside bottom of the ball with my eyes. I’m not going to change my swing.”

Mercer said repetition is the key in recognizing and hitting breaking balls. This can be done off the machines or live.

Running a program based on development, Mercer has always gone with weeks of individual work first then adds the team element in his time as a head coach.

In the progression, team practice begins in Week 5.

“We’re going to have a defensive emphasis,” said Mercer. “As good as you want to be offensively, it comes and it goes. If we can’t play defensively, we’re going to lose anyway.”

Mercer will begin increasing the degree of difficulty with pitch distances, speeds and locations.

“The hardest part for young hitters is they don’t have a sense of timing,” said Mercer. “They don’t know when to start. They don’t know how to be malleable in that regard.”

Mercer said knowing how to take batting practice is incredibly important. There is drill work followed by four or five rounds in the cage.

“We have to ramp up to be able to compete everyday,” said Mercer. “We structure it everyday so they get the same routine.”

Full-game setting with scouting reports and live scrimmages come in Week 6 of the progression.

Coach-pitch scrimmages help address weaknesses.

“All teams struggle with first and second and less than two outs,” said Mercer. “We’re going to get used to it.”

Wright State (3.12) was the No. 1 offense in the country scoring in the first three innings in 2018. The Raiders did this through buying into an approach based on a scouting report on the starting pitcher.

Tempo/rhythm drills are incorporated in Week 7.

Mercer said hitting needs to go at a quick pace.

“It’s unfair to ask a group of guys to do something they have not been explicitly prepared to do,” said Mercer. “We’re always growing and trying learn (as coaches). At the end of the day, these guys only get one career.”

In Week 8, coaches set game situations to practice weaknesses. Videotaping will reveal these things.

“It’s not about trying to show guys up, it’s about trying to get guys better,” said Mercer. “Our criticisms matter. We have to build them up.”

Mercer wants to be sure he prepares his players. So it goes back to repeating the message.

“I’m going to beat a dead horse,” said Mercer. “I’m going to be super redundant. You’re going to look at me and go, ‘would you please stop talking about that?’ I don’t care.

“My greatest fear as a coach is a guy looks at me from the batter’s box and they give me a look that tells me ‘you didn’t get me ready for this.’ That’s a terrible feeling as a coach.”

Mercer said that if his team is going to be able to consistently put up crooked numbers, hitters have to be able to hit with men on base.

“We have to be able to apply approaches and data and streamline,” said Mercer. “I’m an analytics guy. But only in the way it applies to winning baseball games. If we can’t be builders and confidence growers, we’re missing the boat in my opinion.”

Fall practice at the NCAA D-I level typically takes 12 to 13 weeks. After the eight-week progression, Mercer’s team will chunk it, repeat and learn it.

AN 8-WEEK OFFENSIVE PROGRESSION

Jeff Mercer, Indiana University

Week 1: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Video initial swings, swing measurements.

• Discuss basic movement patterns.

— Feet Crossover drill series, short bat hand load series.

• Base stealing system begins.

Week 2: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Introduce numbered plate.

— Short bat with numbered plate front toss.

• Outline specific drill work for personal swing issues.

• Introduce pitching matches.

— 78-80 mph from 52 feet, use as BP.

• Introduce small ball: bunt technique, hit/run, slash.

Week 3: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Role of team offense – handle stolen base during AB.

• Introduce 3 approaches and 2-strike approach.

• Breaking ball breakdown – off machines.

Week 4: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Game approaches – how they apply to situations and role in team offense.

• Breaking ball variances.

— Begin changing velo and variations.

• Introduce offensive signs.

Week 5: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Team practice begins.

— Early work offensive routines, team practice = defense.

• Increase difficulty as identity takes shape – machines 82-85 from 52 feet.

• How to take BP, rounds etc.

Week 6: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Live game scrimmages begin, still use coach pitch scrimmage to address weaknesses.

— Short scrimmages during week daily, long on weekends.

• Introduce scouting reports and how to use information.

Week 7: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Tempo/rhythm short drills.

— Drills focused on movement feel more than mechanical breakdown.

• Machine work variations.

– 3 plate fastballs, 2 plate breaking balls, off set machines, extended legs etc.

Week 8: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Set game situations to practice weaknesses.

— Base stealing emphasized; start every inning with runner on base.

• RBI situations are priority; preset situations often and emphasize approach.

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Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer talks about “An 8-Week Offensive Progression” at the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Jeff Mercer is entering his first season as head baseball coach at Indiana University in 2019 after achieving success at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. (Indiana University Photo)

 

 

Norton looks for Butler Bulldogs pitchers to be aggressive

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Norton wants his Butler University arms to go after hitters.

The third-year baseball pitching coach is not interested in nibbling at the corners of the plate.

“The whole staff has to buy into throwing strikes,” says Norton. “We want to to get (hitters) out in four pitches or less, always be aggressive and have the utmost confidence in yourself.

“If you don’t think you’re better than the hitter, you might as well get off the mound.”

As the NCAA Division I Bulldogs get ready to open the 2019 season Feb. 15 against Rider in Lexington, S.C., there are 17 pitchers on the roster. That number includes right-handers Ryan Pepiot (who went 6-0 with 12 starts in 2018 and is a preseason all-Big East Conference honoree in 2019), Jack Pilcher (10 saves and 20 relief appearances), Sam Hubbe (15 games, including eight starts) and Connor Schultz (16 games with three wins and one start) and left-hander Joe Graziano (13 games with three wins and four starts).

With Norton in charge, Butler had 405 strikeouts and 209 walks in 451 2/3 innings 2017. There were 454 K’s and 211 free passes in 481 innings in 2018.

Ideally, Norton would like to see his starters go deep into games and have one or two relievers finish it off.

“I want the best pitcher on the mound,” says Norton. “We have to be creative with match-ups. Sometimes we might us a right-hander who has a great change-up vs. a lefty.”

Pitchers at the bottom of the depth chart may not rack up a lot of innings, but they are given a chance of developing so they can help the team in the future.

When Norton greeted his pitchers during fall workouts, the emphasis the first three or four weeks was getting arms in shape with consideration about how much they might have been used in the summer.

“It’s always good to have the blood flowing to the muscles and ligaments so they don’t tighten up,” says Norton. “It’s getting everything to fire.”

After early weeks of the fall came intrasquad games plus two contests against outside competition now allowed by the NCAA at the D-I level (Butler played the Great Lakes Canadians and Indiana University Kokomo).

“We were competing for jobs,” says Norton. “After the fall, we went into individual work.”

Some pitchers looked to add a third or fourth pitch to their repertoire.

Players were away for five weeks during the holiday break and were scheduled to pitch their first pre-season bullpen sessions Tuesday, Jan. 15.

“Right now I want them to be healthy — first and foremost,” says Norton. “We don’t want to pitch them too much too early.

“It is a long season.”

The goal is to build up arm strength so that starters can pitch 60 to 70 pitches live the weekend before the opener and be able to go five or six innings in a game. Relievers are trying to progress so they can recover and pitch every other day.

Norton expects his pitchers to throw five times a week this week and next and then five or six times a week depending on who they are.

“Older guys have more freedom to not do as much throwing,” says Norton. “They understand their body a little bit better.”

Norton wants all pitchers to have an understanding of how they move as the deliver the baseball.

“You don’t have to know biomechanics, you need to know how your body works,” says Norton. “I ask a lot of questions about how they feel.

“I want them to make adjustments as they go instead of overhauling.”

Besides guiding the pitchers, Norton participates in recruiting. Those duties are shared by head coach Dave Schrage, assistant Andy Pascoe and Norton (Brian Meyer is a volunteer assistant).

“I recruit all positions,” says Norton. “I try to see every pitcher we recruit — on film or live games. I evaluate how they fit into the program and also what their potential could be.”

Norton says Butler’s recruiting philosophy is to start local and work their way out, meaning go for Indiana players if possible but go where there are players who fit the program.

Besides the Bulldogs, the Big East’s baseball-playing members are Creighton, Georgetown, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Villanova and Xavier.

A former right-handed pitcher, Norton played for coach Larry Windmiller at Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, graduating in 2003. His older brother David Norton (Dwenger Class of 1999) also played for Windmiller.

“He was a great coach,” says Norton. “He built that field (at Shoaff Park). He was well-rounded in the game of baseball.”

He played at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., for coach Rob Fournier then at the University of Evansville for Schrage. He won nine games each in 2006 and 2007 and was selected in the 24th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He pitched one season in the Royals system before suffering a career-ending shoulder injury.

“I enjoyed playing for (Fournier),” says Norton. “He’s high intensity. He wants the best for everybody and pushes them hard. He has connections throughout the baseball community.”

His career has intersected several times with current Butler head coach Schrage. Norton played for and later coached for Schrage at Evansville and was on his staff at South Dakota State University.

Playing for him was great,” says Norton of Schrage. “He always cared about you on and off the field. Coaching for him, I have a lot of freedom with the pitching staff

“He’s been a mentor. He’s taught me to keep positive throughout the year as the season goes up and down.”

It was Schrage and Jackrabbits bus driver Rod Josephsen that introduced Norton to the woman that is now his wife. Nicole Norton is Josephsen’s daughter.

Norton began his coaching career at Evansville, spending the fall of 2008 as an assistant with the Purple Aces. He was an assistant at Indiana Tech in the spring of 2009. He moved on to the University of Illinois-Springfield for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, serving as an assistant the first spring and interim head coach for the second. He moved on to Lincoln (Ill.) College as an assistant for 2012 then went to South Dakota State as an assistant for four seasons (2013-16).

Norton was on the staffs of Kip McWilliams at Indiana Tech, former South Dakota State assistant Brian Grunzke at Illinois-Springfield and Tony Thomas at Lincoln.

“(McWilliams) is knowledgable about every position,” says Norton. “He allowed me to take over the pitching staff. He’s always on the phone trying to get players and get better.

“(Grunzke) is a high-energy guy. He’s always willing to work with guys and very personable. With recruiting, he does his dilligence on the phone and scouting on the road. It was good for me to learn from him as a young coach.

“(Thomas) does a good job of coaching guys up. It was a unique situation (when I went to Lincoln). I was was looking for a place to coach. I came in the middle of the season and took over the pitching staff.”

Fort Wayne’s Jim and Joan Norton have three children — David, Kyle and Ben.

Butler University baseball versus Valparaiso University March 23, 2017.

Ben Norton is the pitching coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Butler University Photo)

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Ben Norton, the pitching coach at Butler University in Indianapolis, played at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School, Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., the University of Evansville and in the Kansas City Royals organization. (Butler University Photo)