Category Archives: Instruction

Fort Wayne’s Wildcat League going strong in 59th year

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Instilling a love for and the fundamentals of the game.

That’s what the Wildcat Baseball League has been doing in the Fort Wayne area for decades.

In its 59th year in 2019, the youth league founded by Dale McMillen Sr. aka “Mr. Mac” where “everybody makes the team” has instruction and competition going on at 10 sites: Aboite (Summit Middle School), Arlington (Arlington Elementary School), Blackhawk (Blackhawk Middle School), Foster (Foster Park), Hamilton (Hamilton Park), Leo (Leo Junior/Senior High School), New Haven (Havenhurst Park), Northside (Northside Park), St. Joe (St. Joe Baseball Complex) and Wallen (Wallen Baseball Complex).

While the season is already underway with about 1,400 participants, players can still sign up at area sites. There is no cost to play Wildcat. Players provide their own glove. The rest is covered by the league.

Divisions are Kitten (6-8), Kitty (9-11), Kat (11-14) and Tiger (14-15).

“We’re flexible,” says Wildcat League president Bill Derbyshire of the age divisions. “We try to make it comfortable for the kids.”

That’s in keeping with the spirit of Wildcat.

“The fundamental principle is that we give all the kids a chance to play. They get to play without the fear of being intimidated or embarrassed.

“We teach baseball skills in an atmosphere of ‘you can do this.’”

Derbyshire, who first became involved with the Wildcat League as a director at Kekionga in 1969 and went on to coach baseball for 17 seasons at Fort Wayne Elmhurst High School (the field at that site bears his name) and has been league president since 2004, says a common memory for coaches is that of seeing youngsters get their first hit or catch their first fly ball.

The annual “Mr. Mac Day” brings together Wildcat Leaguers for fun and competition. This year it is scheduled for July 12 at Kreager Park. There are all-star games, relays and contests like hitting off a tee, accuracy throw, distance throw and baserunning.

Weekly clinics cover pitching, hitting, infield and outfield play, baserunning, “Mr. Mac Day” fundamentals and sportsmanship.

This year, there are 45 on-site staffers and five in the office at 1302 E. Creighton Ave.

Jack Massucci has served Wildcat baseball for more than 50 years and is currently vice president. He coached 37 seasons at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School and is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Gerry Tilker also has a Wildcat tenure nearing a half century and now serves as commissioner. He was also head coach at Elmhurst.

Gary Rogers is assistant commissioner and league fundamentalist. He is a former Wildcat site director. He coached 32 seasons at Fort Wayne Luers High School and just completed his second at Leo.

Derbyshire, Massucci, Tilker and Rogers are all in the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame.

To register or for more information, contact Wildcat Baseball at 260-456-5821.

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Fort Wayne’s Wildcat Baseball League, where “everyone makes the team,” is in its 59th year in 2019.

 

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Setting the bar high, The BASE launches in Indianapolis

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the objective of serving under-appreciated youth, The BASE was officially launched Wednesday, April 24 in Indianapolis.

At a gathering of leaders and supporters at the downtown Strada Education Network, the game plan was presented for The BASE Indy.

Founded in 2013 by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE was started in Boston as a outgrowth of that city’s Astros youth baseball program.

Lewis began coaching the Astros in Boston’s Villa Victoria public housing develop in the 1970s and the president was in Indiana’s capitol to talk about the organization that has now expanded to Chicago, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

Rob Barber, president of The BASE Indy, spoke about the need and the vision of the group.

Tysha Sellers, executive director of the Edna Martin Christian Center, explained a community partnership.

Milt Thompson, attorney and a familiar voice on Indianapolis TV and radio, told the folks how they can lend financial support.

Indiana native Chuck Harmon, the first black man to play for the Cincinnati Reds and a long-time leader in the sports world who died March 19 at 94, was remembered and honored.

Videos were shown that showed how The BASE operates in Boston and how Pete Rose is on board as a supporter.

Another featuring players from Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis pointed out the need.

Lewis rallied the troops Wednesday.

“We’re going to be where our young folks need us most,” said Lewis. “We have to be here.

“Is it about the money? Yes. But engagement is what it’s all about. We are who we’ve been waiting for. Superman and Superwoman are not walking through that door.

“We’re not going to take a day off. We’re not going to take an hour off. We’re going to be right in the grind.”

Lewis talked about empowering the community and that parks and playgrounds that build communities.

“Folks, we have an opportunity to do something special,” said Lewis. “We can change and uplift communities. We have to stand for something bigger than ourselves. Indy, let’s do this.”

From those parks and playgrounds, those young people can be educated and enter the workforce, be productive citizens and provide for their families.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s about the jobs,” said Lewis.

Chuck Harmon’s daughter and caregiver, Cheryl, traveled from Cincinnati to receive a mementos, including a proclamation from Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett declaring Chuck Harmon Day in the city. Harmon was a native of Washington, Ind.

“It’s Cheryl’s cousins that I grew up with and had a tremendous impact on our family,” said Barber, who grew up in southern Indiana and played baseball at Indiana University. “It’s probably a big reason why I’m here today.”

Barber talked about walking about from his former long-time occupation and that The BASE is where he’s supposed to be.

Last summer and fall, Barber visited kids around the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood.

“There is a movement happening on the near northeast side of Indianapolis,” said Sellers. “There’s 12,000 people within Martindale-Brightwood. There are a number of people within this community that believe there is a vision to be a thriving community.

“We can come together and make things happen with partnerships. (Young people) are only looking for opportunities to succeed. And they sometimes need people to help connect the dots. We don’t do it alone.”

Sellers, who was born and raised in Martindale-Brightwood, said the Edna Martin Christian Center focuses on education, financial stability for families and community health.

“We want them to move on to college and career and be successful so that they can come back and invest in a community at a higher level in order for us to break the poverty cycle,” said Sellers. “This is about us empowering this community. This is about us working with the community.

“They’re not only going to rebuild this community, but others as well. They’ll come back to wherever they came from to give back to that area.”

There are many other partners, including Play Ball Indiana (part of Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) and universities around Indianapolis.

Barber, who coached Jeff Mercer (the current Indiana University head coach) when he was younger, took some players from The BASE Indy to their first collegiate baseball game in Bloomington in March.

“I cannot believe how well those young men handled themselves and how polite they were,” said Barber.

One of those youngsters — a player at Arsenal Tech coached by Bob Haney named Josh Morrow — has dreams of being an astrophysicist. Some of the debate at the ball game was about gravity on MIrars.

Barber believes that such high aspirations can be obtained through The BASE Indy and its partners.

He spoke about most people being born on second base with their children coming into the world on third base.

Many of those who The BASE Indy will serve have not even gotten up to the plate.

“One of the things that The BASE is extraordinary at doing is equipping and strengthening the legs of the kids so as they get to first base, they have the resources they need in life to begin to be successful and knock down some of those barriers,” said Barber.

Relating a conversation that he had with Irvington Preparatory Academy coach Davon Hardy, Barber heard about the struggles some of the players have to go through just to get to school and the baseball diamond.

One has no electricity at home.

Another is without food.

A third has a father who is incarcerated.

“What priority would baseball be in there life?,” said Barber, echoing Hardy. “At The BASE — before we can get to the part of teaching the baseball skills (former big leaguer Justin Masterson and scout Mike Farrell are among those who will lend their expertise while Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski is also involved) — it’s about giving them an incentive to do something.

“There are some walls we’re going to have to run through to create some opportunities and I’m OK with that. I’m a baseball person. But I’m also passionate about doing the right thing.”

Barber said the The BASE has a proven methodology. But it’s a four-letter word that drives it.

“The thing that drives it is love,” said Barber. “It’s that simple.”

That love in Indy is going to headquartered in Martindale-Brightwood.

“We want to raise their expectations,” said Barber. “I was the first person in my family to go to college.”

A passionate advocate of the baseball community, Thompson also talked about raising the bar.

“Expectations are set so low sometimes we don’t know how low we set them,” said Thompson. “How can we achieve anything unless we’re lifted up?”

Thompson, who has represented several professional athletes, recalled a conversation he had with Indiana basketball legend Oscar Robertson.

He asked the Big O, what he would do against Magic Johnson.

“Milt, what would Magic Johnson do against me?,” said Thompson of Robertson’s reply. “It’s mentality. It’s how you think. You set your expectations higher.”

Thompson talked about how one of his school counselors told him that he was best-suited to work with his hands.

“I didn’t get bitter. I got better,” said Thompson. “That was the best advice I ever heard. My first 10 jury trials, during closing arguments, I was using my hands.

“You set the bar higher, you can go get it.”

Thompson said it is necessary to be honest with yourself in all adversity.

“It’s not always easy,” said Thompson. “You’ve got to take a chance.

“We’re going to fill in the gap. We’re going to do unnecessary things because they are necessary.”

Thompson said the dialogue is being changed in inner cities.

“We don’t have underprivileged kids anymore we have under-appreciated kids,” said Thompson. “That’s the people we’re talking about. They have every have every possibility of greatness. They’re going to use their hands when they talk.

“Want to play the game? Want to pitch in? There are several things we can do.”

Among those things are hosting a fundraiser for the Urban Classic (which will be staged in Indianapolis for the first time in July), sponsor a college tour or career day, serve on an advisory board (education, baseball/softball or life skills/career), connect your personal contacts to The BASE Indy and make a donation to the cause.

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Blasko sees positive attitude as essential for athletics, life

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chadd Blasko found out as an an athlete how far a positive attitude could carry him and he’s carried that into his roles as coach, educator, husband, father and citizen.

Blasko, who recently became a baseball instructor at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center in South Bend, graduated from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School where he was a standout in basketball and baseball. He went on to pitch for Purdue University when Doug Schreiber was the Boilermakers head baseball coach.

“He’s probably one of the most influential people ever in my life,” says Blasko of Schreiber (who is now head coach at McCutcheon High School). “I heard as an immature high school kid about attitude and things like that. I didn’t understand what attitude meant until I went to Purdue and was around Coach Schreiber. He drilled attitude, attitude, attitude, attitude.

“When I coach, I carry that piece from him. A good attitude can relate to every single thing you do — how you carry yourself, how your react to people, how you come to practice. It’s the attitude you bring to the table in sports and in life.”

Blasko, who likes to use analogies in his coaching and teaching, sees attitude as the glue that keeps the pieces of the puzzle together.

“If you keep that attitude sound, it takes care of everything else,” says Blasko.

The 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher was selected in the 47th round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star did not sign and three seasons at Purdue and was taken in the first round (36th overall as a “sandwich” pick) in the 2002 draft by the Chicago Cubs.

Mishawaka teammate Eric Good was drafted as a pitcher in 1998 and played in the Montreal Expos organization. Purdue mates David Gassner (Toronto Blue Jays) and Andy Helmer (Cleveland Indians) were also drafted as pitchers.

Blasko wound up his professional career in the Baltimore Orioles organization in 2007.

He has had two stints as a varsity baseball assistant at Mishawaka, where he has been an assistant boys basketball coach for a decade.

“I’ve always had a passion for playing sports,” says Blasko, 38. “(Coaching) allows me to still be young and be a competitor. This allows me to still connect to it.”

Blasko is also a physical education and health teacher at MHS. Chadd and wife Samantha have two sons — Baylen (5) and Brooks (3).

When he became a father, Blasko backed off his baseball coaching duties to spend more time with his wife and sons.

“I sit back a lot of times and realize how valuable my times is with my boys,” says Blasko. “The time people put in with me, especially my dad and mom (Ed and Sandy Blasko). Those things are so important.

“It’s nice to coach kids, but it’s very important to be there for your kids as a father. Before you know it, they’re going to be 7 years old, 10 years old then they’ll be a teenager and won’t want to talk to you because they know everything.”

Blasko, who has a younger brother named Phil (who played basketball at Defiance College in Ohio and is now Mishawaka Parks & Recreation Department director), played baseball at Mishawaka for head coach Gregg Minegar and basketball for Jerome Calderone.

“(Minegar) was more laid-back,” says Blasko. “He had a mellow way of reaching a kid.”

Calderone was more demonstrative as is current Caveman head boys basketball coach Ron Heclinski.

“I remember his tough love,” says Blasko of Calderone (who is now principal at MHS). “I thanked him when I was inducted into the Mishawaka Hall of Fame.

“He was old school. He’s going to let out a bark. He’s not going to let you just go through the motions. He had passion. You have to have a passion for what you’re doing.”

Blasko appreciates how Heclinski finds a way to get though to his young athletes and their many personalities.

“I relate to him a lot,” says Blasko. “If you don’t relate to the kids, it’s hard to get to them. I’ve learned that from him.

“Sometimes you have to give that tough love and get after a kid. You have to hold him accountable.

“Some folks betray that as being too harsh. It’s about knowing that line and not crossing the line to disrespect. You’re showing them your passion. I’m trying to help you out.”

Blasko has also learned from Heclinski that some players respond to the proverbial kick in the hindquarters while other wilt when you do that.

“You should learn your players,” says Blasko. “You can’t just be a cookie-cut coach.

“There’s a common goal there it’s finding a way of how to unlock the kid’s lock.”

Blasko’s bottom line: If you’re in the classroom, on the court or on the field, if you can’t connect with that kid, it’s going to be very hard to teach them.

“I don’t care if I’m trying to teach you to have self esteem and be nice to people or how to pitch,” says Blasko. “It’s going to be very hard for me to get in your brain and for you to trust me.

“If you trust me, I’ve got you. They’ve got to know they can trust you and know what you’re about.”

In his early Performance Center sessions, Blasko has been showing young pitchers how to load up and use their whole body rather than just their arms.

He told them that if you’re going to throw a punch, you want to bring it back before you take it forward for maximum power and the same is true with pitching.

Once again, Blasko is not using a cookie-cut approach.

“They’re all different,” says Blasko. “We have a main goal, but if something works for you, I’m not going to change it all that much. I’m not going to make everybody a robot . We’re not all going to look identical.”

He wants them all to have the same foundation and be able to balance during their motion.

“You’re not stopping but you’re gathering yourself to make that powerful movement toward the plate,” says Blasko. “We want to be equal and opposite (creating a rhythmic and synchronized arm swing; extending the arms at the same tine, in the same motion, with the elbows matching up int he exact identical position and foot strike), stay on top of the ball and follow through.

“You’ve got to have a base and build your way up to get to the power position.”

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Chadd Blasko recently became a baseball instructor at the First Source Bank Performance Center in South Bend, Ind. He is a coach and teacher at Mishawaka (Ind.) High School. He played baseball at Purdue University and in the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles systems.

 

IUSB’s Buysse stresses importance of receiving to baseball catching

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Catchers catch the baseball. It is in the title of the position.

And yet Doug Buysse often sees an emphasis placed elsewhere when it comes to the player who wears the mask, chester protector and shinguards.

“A lot of people want to talk about the sexy stuff — blocking and throwing,” said Buysse, the Indiana University South Bend head baseball coach and a former Saint Joseph’s College catcher. “That part’s awesome. But far more important — the day-to-day stuff — is receiving and the true catching part.”

Buysse and IUSB junior catcher Jordan Moore gave a demonstration on catching Tuesday, March 5 for the South Bend Cubs Foundation’s Cubbies Coaches Club at Four Winds Field.

“In a game, we may have 130 pitches and Jordan may block it 10 times,” said Buysse. “He maybe throws a guy out at second three or four times. He catches the ball 130 times.

“That’s what we’re going to spend the majority of our time on. Receiving is the most-important part.”

Buysse has a simple goal for his catchers: Keep strikes strikes, turns three balls a game into strikes and balls out of the strike zone are kept there.

“If you can’t receive and keep strikes strikes, you need to go play first base,” said Buysse. “We spend more time doing this than anything else.”

The coach noted that there are umpires who call he pitch where it is caught and not where it crosses the plate.

“Nothing’s worse than watching a kid throw a really good pitch and our catchers catches it and because of the way he caught it, it’s (called) a ball,” said Buysse.

IUSB pitchers generally do not have swing-and-miss stuff.

“Our staff has got to pound the zone, work down and work ahead (in the count),” said Buysse.

That makes it important to have a catcher that can accommodate their needs and strengths.

When he is recruiting receivers, the first Buysse looks at is the player’s hips.

“Some kids are genuinely blessed with good hips,” said Buysse. “But it’s one of the things we can work on.”

Buysse has his catchers go through a position-specific daily stretching routine that takes 10 minutes or less.

“You can’t expect your catchers to use the exact same stretches that outfielders do because they’re using different muscles,” said Buysse.

The routine helps with the flexibility in the ball and socket joint and get hips used to moving in the desired direction.

The coach said catchers who are doing squats and cleans in the weight room need this daily stretching or else they will be too tight in the hips to be an effective receiver.

“Jordan’s probably going to catch 40 to 45 games for us so he’s got to keep himself really loose,” said Buysse. “The looser he is, the quicker he’s going to recover.”

Buysse noted that since the chair came along people don’t squat like they once did. He has noticed many young catchers who are not comfortable in their stance.

“One way we eliminate that is to put the left knee down (with no runners on base),” said Buysse.

Moore does this more than half the time when catching for IUSB.

Buysse said the benefits are twofold — it saves his legs and he can work a little bit lower.

“It took a long time for me to be OK with this,” said Buysse. “I’ve accepted it. It helps and he can give a lower target.”

On pitches with a lot of run, it helps having the knee out of the way with the zone opened up.

“We’re looking to give our catchers freedom to move and give our guys the best possible scenario to keep a strike a strike,” said Buysse.

Buysse went through receiving drills using tennis and plyo balls. He fed the ball to Moore, who received it with the idea of being quiet and efficient.

After listening to Tim Cossins (former minor league catching coordinator with the Florida/Miami Marlins, field coordinator with the Chicago Cubs and now major league field coordinator/catching instructor with the Baltimore Orioles) speak a few years ago at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, Buysse has been having his catchers start with their glove hand on the ground.

“We want our catchers to work up to catch the ball and stick the pitch instead of chasing it out of the zone,” said Buysse. “There’s less movement.

“For for a long time, I was a ‘drive the wheel’ guy. Now we start down and we work up.”

Buysse insists that his catcher’s head and eyes follow the ball as if a string was tied from their mask to the their middle finger.

On high pitches, the instinct for many younger guesses is for their head to go down and hand to go up.

“Now I’m guessing,” said Buysse. “It’s sounds simple and it sounds easy. But you’d be surprised how many kids don’t watch a ball all the way into their gloves.”

Buysse said the wrist — not the arm — is to be kept soft when receiving a pitch. The throwing hand should be kept out of harm’s way.

Buysse called Twitter a great resource for baseball drills. He found a reaction drill where one person stands behind the catcher and throws tennis balls off the wall which a catcher must receive with the proper technique.

Buysse said one way to build confidence for catchers is to receive balls from a pitching machine (or a coach) from shorter and short distances. One example might be 75 mph at 45 feet.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment with things and try to make them better,” said Buysse.

When it comes to throwing, Buysse said catchers should use the time when they’re playing catch to work on things like transfers and footwork for throwing to bases.

“It’s right to left, left to target and throw,” said Buysse. “When you make a bad throw, it starts with your feet.

“Catchers can do this every single day.”

At the college level, Buysse has his catchers do a lot of throwing during fall practice. During the season, he does not want too much extra throwing, considering all the times the catcher must throw the ball back to the pitcher, down to second after warm-up pitches and around the horn after strikeouts etc.

When it comes to throwing, Buysse said catchers should use the time when they’re playing catch to work on things like transfers and footwork for throwing to bases.

“It’s right to left, left to target and throw,” said Buysse. “When you make a bad throw, it starts with your feet.

“Catchers can do this every single day.”

Buysse wants his catchers to block balls to the field and not to the plate. The former keeps the ball in front of them with their momentum going into the direction they’re throwing.

He also insists that “the chin has to dig into my chest protector.”

“Protect your neck,” said Buysse.

The Cubbies Coaches Club is done meeting for the off-season but 1st Source Bank Performance Center director and South Bend Cubs travel team coach Mark Haley encourages area coaches to continue to call on the baseball community centered in South Bend if they have questions.

The Performance Center is at 525 S. Lafayette Blvd., South Bend. The phone number is 574-404-3636.

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Doug Buysse is the head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend. He was a catcher at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind.

 

Baseball Academics Midwest emphasizes the six-tool player

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing the six-tool player is the focus for Baseball Academics Midwest, an Indianapolis-based travel organization which will field 19 baseball and softball teams in 2019.

“We have the five physical skills of baseball (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average, hitting for power), but the most overlooked part is the mental skill,” says BAM president and co-founder Jake Banwart. “We maximize physical performance through mental training.

“We do classwork as well as visualization. We take what they learn mentally and implement that into physical performance (through drills, done at the Extra Innings Indy South indoor training facility).”

Off-season training is broken into two semesters — positional training (middles, corners, outfielders, pitchers, catchers and base running) and team training.

“We do it in a way that keeps their attention, keeps it interesting and keeps them engaged,” says BAM vice president and co-founder Adam Gouker. “Practice plans are designed to take what we learn in the classroom and immediately take it out in the indoor facility.

“We’re still teaching the physical and making sure they’re getting all the training they need there,” says Banwart. “We’re just adding that sixth element to it to make sure they understand.

“We’re teaching physically how to do it, but also mentally how to approach it.”

BAM players are taught the concepts of baseball philosophy, how to be a good teammate, positive body language and self talk, offensive approach to hitting defensive relays and cut-offs, pitching and pitch calling and base running.

All those areas span six or seven weeks and build on each other throughout that winter.

BAM coaches have been trained so it’s consistent language from the time they’re 8 through 17.

“When we talk hitting approach, I can talk to anyone in our organization with that same language,” says Banwart.

There’s no need to re-start each season.

“We teach each age group one year ahead of where we should be teaching them,” says Banwart. “If our expectations are higher, their expectations for themselves will match that. We teach our 9’s like 10’s and so on.

“We’ve seen good results from that.”

Gouker sees players grasping more about baseball earlier in life.

“They’re learning at a lot younger age there’s a lot going on in the game,” says Gouker. “They’re focused on where they’re supposed to be without the baseball, where they’re supposed to back up, where they go with the ball in certain situations.”

Banwart is a graduate of McHenry High School in the Chicago suburbs. He played baseball through his junior year.

“I had decent (college) offers,” says Banwart. “But I was so fed up with travel ball and coaching, I hated baseball for about five years of my life and I stopped playing.”

Banwart attended Anderson (Ind.) University and played tennis for a few seasons. That’s where he met Gouker, who went to Alexandra-Monroe High School and then played one season of baseball at AU.

The two later found themselves coaching together in travel ball. They eventually decided to start their own organization and do things their way.

After a stint as assistant to Terry Turner at Daleville (Ind.) High School (the Broncos won an IHSAA Class 1A title in 2016) and head coach at Liberty Christian School in Anderson, Ind., Banwart is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis in 2019 with a staff of Gouker, Nathan Latimer and Cortez Hague (all of whom are also BAM coaches and utilize BAM concepts with the Falcons).

“It’s a culmination of what we’ve learned from other coaches, research and data collection,” says Gouker, who have talked about mental skills training with Diamyn Hall and hitting with Ryan Fuller among others. “We’re teaching kids a language.

“We’re pushing the academic portion a lot. We feel like we know the physical side as well as anybody.”

The idea is for players to understand the game. This is especially valuable for players who are being recruited by colleges. BAM had its first season in 2015 and has had 23 college commitments in two groups of graduating classes, including 2019.

“Coaches will get your 60 time, exit veto, throwing velocity and all those pieces but the one thing they don’t get to see very often is your baseball smarts or I.Q,” says Banwart. “If they’re there for one game, they might not see you make a play.

“If we’re able to win the 50/50 recruiting by providing opportunities for players to actually show off their mental skills and training, we’re giving those players an opportunity to be more successful or get to the highest level they’re capable of (attaining).”

There’s another piece to the puzzle.

“If you’re in a game and you’re over-prepared mentally then you’re able to transition what you’re doing to subconscious thought versus conscious action,” says Banwart. “We want players to know something well enough to feel like they’re just reacting.

“They’re not having to process and consciously think through those actions. It’s subconscious action that takes over.”

BAM, which operates with the help of several key partners, uses many of the same drills as high-level coaches.

“When we go into those we make sure players are aware of what the intent of that drill is,” says Banwart. “We’re not focused solely on result training. We break it down with intent so the mind can connect to the body.”

Banwart notes that professional athletes seem to rise to the occasion late in a game while some players sink to the level of their training.

“The better trained they are, the better they’re going to perform late in games or in tough situations which will give that visual appearance that they’re rising when, in reality, they’re playing with the same level they were earlier in the game,” says Banwart.

High school level players take into consideration things like the score, inning, number of outs, speed and direction of the ball and speed and position of the runners.

Banwart notes that the average time between pitches in Major League Baseball is 21.5 seconds.

“In those 21 1/2 seconds players are going to be thinking no matter what,” says Banwart. “They’re going to be thinking something. We just want to change their thinking and point it to what they should be thinking about.

“When they step in the (batter’s) box, they’re proactive with a plan instead reactive to a pitcher. We want to give our guys the feeling they’re in control of that at-bat versus they’re at the mercy of what the pitcher does.”

BAM players are encouraged to win the games within the game and things like swing count, average distance in the zone, max hand speed, max barrel speed and more are tracked on single-season and career leaderboards. Hits, stolen bases, saves etc. are also tracked.

BAM coaches are in the process of gathering baseline data and developing a Baseball Academics Rating (BAR) that can be used to show a player’s knowledge.

“It’s not catered to our program,” says Gouker. “It’s things anyone playing baseball or softball anywhere should know if  they want to be as successful as possible.

“We’re finding some pro guys are missing some things they should know.”

They have also developed a metric — WIN (Worth In Numbers) — to valuate players.

WIN takes out everything out of a players control and counts how many runs they create total or average per game. Each base is treated like a quarter of a run.

“Players with a third of a run per game or more are typically high level players,” says Banwart.

By running the numbers for the last three seasons, the MVP winners and Cy Young Award winners in the American League and National League were the ones that should have won based on WIN.

BAM coaches talk about metrics and more on their YouTube Channel.

Latimer, who played at Perry Meridian and one season at the University of Indianapolis and coached with Andy Gossel at Covenant Christian before joining the staff at his alma mater, has totally bought into the BAM way.

“We can’t have academic in our name if we don’t teach it,” says Latimer. “We want you to be baseball smart.

“If you have the sixth tool that makes you a more complete player.”

Banwart and Gouker says BAM teachings have spread across the Indianapolis area and the organization is exploring expansion possibilities.

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Representing Baseball Academic Midwest are (from left): vice president and co-founder Adam Gouker, president and co-founder Jake Banwart and Nathan Latimer. Banwart is also head coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis and Gouker and Latimer are among his assistants. (Steve Krah Photo)

Haley sees importance of building culture, knowing how players learn

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Every head coach or manager has to find a coaching style and a way he is going to run his baseball team.

Mark Haley, who coached and managed in professional baseball for more than two decades including 10 years as manager of the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks (2005-14), shared his ideas on team management at the monthly meeting of the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Four Winds Field.

Haley, who has talked about the presentation with friend and San Diego Padres manager Andy Green, emphasized the importance of building relationships and communicating with young athletes.

It is helpful to know the background of players.

What’s their family life like?.

What makes a kid the way he is?.

Because of the commitment of money and time, this is critical in professional baseball.

“It’s surprising how mentally fragile and insecure some of the best big leaguers are,” said Haley.

There are many differences in any given locker room.

These include cultural, social, economic, religious and in motor development.

“It’s a melting pot,” said Haley. “We (as coaches) have to dig deep. Give everything to your players and expect nothing in return.

“We’re here to help them. We’re here to develop.”

Haley outlined three primary learning styles (ways of processing information) — Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic.

Once the coach sees how an individual learns, he can find ways to get a message across the way that player will best receive it. The coach’s way is not always the only way.

“We pass judgement on kids because it’s not how we learn,” said Haley.

From working with him in the Chicago White Sox system, Haley knows that Hall of Famer Frank Thomas was a visual learner.

“He’s got to see it,” said Haley of The Big Hurt.

Visual learners want to see a picture and video. They notice things around them. They want information in writing.

A tip for this kind of learner is to use video to exaggerate the area that’s being worked on. Video can be used to anchor something visual and fix it in the player’s mind.

Auditory learners tend to use their voice and their ears. They remember what they hear and say. They want to know the “Why.”

They want no outside distractions.

Instructors need to repeat the information in “their words.”

It is also helpful to give the same instruction but in a different context.

Coaches are encouraged to make these auditory learners talk about the subject with a teammate.

Former White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko was auditory.

“You have to talk his language,” said Haley, noting that Konerko would use lingo that would have most running for a kinesiology book.

Aaron Rowand, a former White Sox outfielder, was kinesthetic. He learned by doing.

“He just wants to do drills,” said Haley.

Kinesthetic learners want to move, touch, create and physically interact.

They will be facially expressive and move around when they are interacting.

They want to know “How” to do something.

“They are the workers,” said Haley of kinesthetic learners. “They are the cage rats.”

With this kind of learner, coaches are advised to go over the area they are teaching with a step-by-step approach.

Haley talked about building a team culture. He defined it as “the formal or informal organizational systems the coach establishes to move the team towards its goal.”

Part of building a productive locker room is having a common goal.

“We have to have a commitment,” said Haley.

Roles include starter, key backup player or reserve/role player.

“Know your role and perform it well,” said Haley. “Clearly understand your role for team success.”

Players should understand complimentary roles.

“It gives them direction so they’ll know exactly where they’re at,” said Haley. “Never evaluate another kid to a player. You’re just creating animosity. Don’t humiliate them by saying ‘you’re not as good as him.’”

Haley accentuated the fact that it’s a performance culture that’s being built.

“Everything is done on how well we do, how well you coach etc.,” said Haley. “Feedback about performance has to be clear.

“It’s got to be productive. Don’t let them float off. Maintain communication.”

It’s important to find inspirational leadership.

Not a believer in naming team captains, Haley said the leader will naturally emerge.

If that leader is also bringing the team down with their attitude, Haley said the coach needs to override them or, perhaps, find another leader.

At the pro level, leaders who are negative need to be weeded out.

Haley wants to build an empowering climate where every player has a say in the fortunes and direction of the team.

There should be a compelling vision.

“We as coaches can keep that to ourselves,” said Haley. “Let the vision be known. Kids like that.”

Haley also believes in shared values. His are Honesty, Trust and Respect.

“Those are the three I preach,” said Haley. “You need to do that non-stop.”

Goal orientation is also a part of the plan.

“We’ve got to accomplish this as a team,” said Haley.

A “Can Do” attitude is a must.

“It radiates through the dugout and the locker room,” said Haley. “Young kids battle the fear of failure. As a coach, I’m never going to do that. Never be afraid to fail.”

For Haley, it’s about baseball development. But it’s also about making better people. That goal needs to be remembered.

Haley said coaches should take advantage of innovation that is constantly being developed in baseball.

“Find new ways of doing things,” said Haley, noting all the new metrics and devices available to coaches these days.

“Kids want instant feedback on everything,” said Haley. “We have to adapt to them. They are not going to adapt to us. We can influence them.”

Haley identifies three types of players on a team. There’s those who are seeking to get to the next level (No. 1’s). There are those who are satisfied with where they’re at (No. 2’s). Lastly, there are the players who are not even sure they want to be there (No. 3’s).

Haley, who is director of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and a South Bend Cubs travel baseball coach, will see the No. 1’s all the time at the Performance Center. The No. 2’s come less often. The No. 3’s are a rare sight.

Having a team of 1’s and 3’s is a recipe for major conflict.

Haley said there are areas that help create cultural identity on a team. Besides common values, symbols will help build the cohesiveness and he likes to see these originate with the players.

Common heroes can also bring teammates together. Maybe they all root for the same big leaguer. That’s something else they have in common.

Rituals — chants, team meals, championship belts — also tell players they are a part of a group.

Coaches should show an interest in each athlete’s achievements and show pride in the team’s accomplishments.

With all of it, there has to be consistency.

“You have to practice it all religiously,” said Haley. “Good coaches don’t just talk. Everything that comes out of their mouth is for a reason.”

Haley said there is no absolute one right way to coach and finding a coaching style comes through trial and error.

Having a mentor helps. Haley’s was Jim Snyder, who spent a lifetime in the game including stints as a coordinator of instruction in the White Sox organization.

The final Cubbies Coaches Club meeting of the off-season is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5. For more information, call (574) 404-3636 or email performancecenter@southbendcubs.com.

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Mark Haley, director of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and a South Bend Cubs travel baseball coach, talked at the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club meeting Tuesday, Feb. 5 about team management. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

ABCA smashes convention, membership records, keeps growing baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Imagine if you will 6,650 folks all in the same place for the purpose of learning, improving and networking.

If you were in Dallas Jan. 3-6 for the 75th annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, you don’t have to imagine. You experienced it.

The largest number of registrants ever gathered for the annual event Jan. 3-6, 2019 at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center to listen to speakers, attend the ABCA Trade Show (with about 300 vendors) and participate in award celebrations, committee meetings, hotel stove panel discussions while also catching up with old friends and making new ones.

The worlds of professional, college, high school and youth baseball all collided for the advancement of the game.

It was the third time in four years convention attendance has gone up.

The ABCA, which was founded in 1945, continues to grow. The organization estimates it will have more than 12,000 members by the end of 2019.

By comparison, the highest convention attendance four years ago was about 4,500 with membership around 6,000.

Can the organization keep growing?

“I’d say the sky’s the limit,” says Jeremy Sheetinger, ABCA’s College Division Liaison. “But it is about the experience of the coaches in attendance.

“We want to make sure we’re doing right by them.”

It’s a matter of logistics when putting on the world’s biggest baseball convention. There are countless consideration. Some of those are size of the venue and available seating and who will speak and when.

Sheetinger, a former assistant at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and the host of the ABCA Calls from the Clubhouse Podcast, says the addition to the full-time staff of Youth Liaison Andrew Bartman has helped at the grass roots level of the game.

“From our board on down, we’ve taken a more focused approach to serve our youth coaches,” says Sheetinger. “We’re very excited to see the influx of youth coaches. A second day of youth clinics (in Dallas) was well-received.”

Bartman is scheduled to be a speaker at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic, which is scheduled for Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 17-19 at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis.

Indiana was well-presented from outgoing ABCA President and Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney to several coaches at various levels, Indianapolis Scecina High School coach Dave Gandolph has been an association member for four decades and attended many conventions.

Matt Talarico, a former Fort Wayne Dwenger High School and Manchester University player and now assistant coach/director or player development at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, presented on the big stage about base stealing.

An announcement is slated in the spring about the dates and locations of the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics, which run from September through December.

The 2020 ABCA Convention will be held Jan. 2-5, 2020 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. The event returns to the Music City for the seventh time. Registration opens Sept. 1. Room blocks will also open on that date for official ABCA Convention hotels.

The convention is slated for Washington, D.C., in 2021, Chicago in 2022, Nashville in 2023, Dallas in 2024, Washington, D.C. in 2025, Las Vegas in 2026 and Chicago in 2027.

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Indiana native Lance Lynn was represented at the trade show of the 2019 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Dallas. (Steve Krah Photo)

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This is one of the many panel discussions held during the 2019 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Dallas. (Steve Krah Photo)