Jake Banwart, the head baseball coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis since 2018, looks to the 2023 campaign with a mix of returnees and newcomers possession physical tools. But that’s not been the focus for the Falcons in the months leading up to the season. “It’s mindset,” says Banwart. “We definitely have some talent to work with in this group. The off-season can get pretty long and monotonous. We have established the mentality of not worrying about playing time and challenging themselves to get better on a day-to-day basis not only on the physical side but on their daily habits and mindset. “We’ve dove in quite a bit on the mental side.” Banwart is president and co-founder of Baseball Academics/Fastpitch Academics Midwest (BAM/FAM) — an organization he started in 2015 with Adam Gouker (the former Indianapolis Lutheran High School head coach who serves as vice president) that emphasizes the six-tool player (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average and hitting for power plus the mental skill). BAM and FAM has around 450 athletes on 36 travel teams — 18 baseball and 18 softball — that train at Extra Innings Indy South. With the growth of all three and the addition of Dugout Coalition (which offers online mental training for coaches and players) and his one-one mindset and small group routine mindset training, Banwart wrapped an eight-year stretch as a classroom teacher about two years ago. Perry Meridian (enrollment around 2,300) is a member of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland Community). MSC teams play home-and-home weekday series. The Falcons are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with Franklin Central, Arsenal Tech, Roncalli, Southport and Warren Central. Perry Meridian has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2007. Roncalli, Southport and Warren Central are also on the Falcons’ regular-season schedule. Michael Carter (Class of 2023) is committed to Franklin (Ind.) College and two or three others are expected to announce where they will play college baseball by the start of the season. Recent graduates moving on the college diamond include Class of 2018’s Jesse Wainscott (who has transferred from Eastern Illinois University to Arizona State University), Class of 2019’s Charlie Joyce (Hanover, Ind., College) and Sean Thomas (Franklin College), Class of 2021’s Luke Genier (Olney, Ill., Central College) and John Joyce (Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.) and Class of 2022’s Kellen Reed (Franklin College) and Mason Rohlman (Franklin College). There are typically 40 players to fill varsity and junior varsity roles for the Falcons. Perry Meridian is part of Perry Township Schools along with Southport High School and shares lighted Holder Field with Cardinals. The Falcons play JV games and run many practices on-campus. Banwart’s varsity assistants are Robbie Strader, Cortez Hague, P.J. Miles and Ryan Parrot. Sam Ahrens is the JV head coach. He is assisted by Joe Garmon. Southport Little League and Edgewood Athletic Association feed into Perry Meridian. Many players come from travel programs BAM, Top Tier Indiana (formerly Indiana Elite), Midwest Astros and Indy Clutch. Banwart, who met Gouker while both were attending Anderson (Ind.) University, began assisting in baseball and teaching at Daleville (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School and helped the Broncos to the 2016 IHSAA Class 1A state championship. He taught online while guiding Liberty Christian School in Anderson to a conference championship then moved to Perry Meridian, where he taught for three years. Perry Meridian has a large population that traces its roots to Burma. There is a Burmese American Community Institute in Indianapolis. Over the years, some have served as baseball student managers or athletic trainers. Baseball does not enjoy the same level popularity in Burma as soccer and volleyball.
Phil Britton was attending the Culture & Leadership Hot Stove at the 2023 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Nashville when Jerry Weinstein began talking about body language. As the ABCA Hall of Famer spoke, a slide went up which read: Body Language Is The #1 Form Of Communication. “What You Do Speaks So Loudly I Can’t Hear What You Say.” Immediate Attention Away From The Group.” “When you’re trying to be competitive and put together a good ball club it starts with your values and what you’re trying to achieve,” says Britton, who played college and professional baseball, runs a training business in southern Illinois and southern Indiana and coaches travel ball. “It’s a lot easier to achieve those things when you don’t have to coach body language. “Don’t get me wrong. The game’s hard and everybody gets down. But if you’re recruiting Player A and Player B and they’re both really talented and have the same skill set but one has body language that communicates that they can handle defeat and the other one has the shrugged shoulders, eye rolls and the stuff that really projects bad energy you’re going to select the player that doesn’t have that. “If you’ve got those guys on your team it’s going to be a long year. It comes down to what kind of player am I — the one who pouts or the one who says ‘I’m going to get the next one.’” Britton graduated from 2003 graduate of East Richland High School in Olney, Ill. (now consolidated into Richland County High School), where he played for Andy Julian of Newburgh, Ind., spent two seasons under National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Famer Dennis Conley at Olney Central College and turned down an offer from the University of Kentucky to go pro. The catcher was in the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles organizations and with the independent league Fargo (N.D.)-Moorhead (Minn.) Red Hawks and Evansville (Ind.) Otters. He has been on the Otters coaching staff of manager Andy McCauley since 2012. As his playing career was winding down, he started Britton’s Bullpen in Olney and has expanded to Indiana locations in Boonville and Fort Branch. “I’m always watching body language,” says Britton. “I try to see what my body language is. If somebody strikes out in a big spot, how am I handling myself? Am I moping in the dugout or the third base coach’s box?” As a manager, Britton wants to project a confident, stoic approach. “I’m not sure how many kids understand (body language),” says Britton. “Everybody’s got body language. Your body speaks way bigger than your words. You can tell when somebody’s up. You can tell when somebody’s down. “It’s difficult for a team to continually progress if you’ve got guys with bad body language. It’s a sign that they don’t want to be there. Why would you want somebody that doesn’t want to be there?” Britton says players can’t project poor body language and be ready for the next play. “If you’re putting yourself in position to make a play and you don’t make the play that’s not a bad inning that’s just not making a play. There’s a humungous difference. “I can handle guys not making plays. That will never bother me. Not being in position will.” Southern Smoke Baseball will field 8U, 11U and 13U teams out of Fort Branch and 12U, 14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and 18U out of Olney in 2023. Britton facilitates off-season workouts for Illinois teams, pops in with the younger teams and is a manager for the older squads. He has an understanding with his players. “Don’t mistake my intensity for getting after you,” says Britton. “The only time I’ll (do that) is if you’ve got it coming. By that I mean you’re a poor sport and showing up your teammates. “I’m not going chew somebody’s tail just because they didn’t make a play.” Britton expects his players to learn the game. “We play half the season without base coaches and we do that to force kids to run with their heads up and make their own decisions,” says Britton. “There are some parents that are rubbed the wrong way. They want their kids to be coached every single play and they’re not learning anything. They’d be learning less with us controlling them. “When you’ve got a kid crossing the road you want them to just put their head down and tell them it’s OK. Eventually they have to cross the road on their own with no one telling them.” Britton, 38, was raised “old school” and spent a lot of time helping his grandfather. When he set his grandson for a tool, he didn’t ask where it was he just found it. “You figured it out,” says Britton. “That’s how I grew up.” It was this approach that Britton took into high school baseball. “Coach Julian challenged me,” says Britton. “I was that player who needed someone to get up into my personal space and challenge me and Andy did a real good job of that. “I wanted to be the best player everywhere I went.” Jim Baker, who was from nearby Sumner, Ill., and pitched at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., and in Triple-A in the Toronto Blue Jays system, was an encouragement to Britton. “I respected him because he was where I wanted to be,” says Britton. “He said to me, ‘you’ve got some tools. Keep working your tail off.’” Growing up poor and rural, Britton did not have brand new equipment. He got the old gear left over when the youth league was cleaning out the closet. When he was a high school freshman, he and a friend entered a radio contest. The 95th caller won Bruce Springsteen tickets. Britton won the contest, sold the seats to a teacher who was a fan of “The Boss” and took the money to buy his first set of new catcher’s gear. In his two seasons at Olney Central, Britton hit .426 with 15 home runs and a nation-leading 89 runs batted in and .430 with 10 homers and earned NJCAA All-American honors while playing for veteran coach Conley. “People who know baseball understand just how valuable the guy is,” says Britton of Conley, who has led the Blue Knights for more than 40 years. “I can’t thank Coach Conley enough for holding me accountable.” Britton came to campus not recruited by other places and 160 pounds, won the starting catching job and caught all games in the spring, including doubleheaders on Saturdays and bullpens between games. “You’ll find out what you’re made of in a heart beat. That’s why Coach Conley’s the best. He is going to challenge you.” He was going to be a Conley assistant when he turned his attention to building his own business, which now has Josh Wetzel and (former Castle High School player) Conner Porter leading things at Boonville and (former Indianapolis North Central High School and Indiana University catcher and current Otters hitting coach) Bobby Segal and Matt Racinowski at Fort Branch. Britton’s Bullpen also trains softball players. “The end goal has been to help as many players as we can,” says Britton. McCauley was in his first season as Otters manager when Britton came in at the all-star break in 2011. Bill Bussing has been the team’s owner since 2001. “There’s nobody better than Mr. Bussing when it comes to independent baseball,” says Britton. “He cares about his people. “That guy is there to help anybody he can help. He’s there to set a good example. We have got an extremely short leash in Evansville. We’ve got to bring in high-character dudes. If we swing and miss, you move on down the road. “The guy at the top sets the standard. That’s true anywhere you go. Mr. Bussing is our standard.” Britton credits the ABCA — the largest organization dedicated to baseball coaches in the world — to saving his coaching career. “Getting a change to hear Patrick Murphy, Augie Garrido, Ken Ravizza and Matt Deggs — you talk about some very humbling individuals,” says Britton. “There is so much to learn than what I know.” Britton’s Bullpen is on Facebook and Instagram and has a YouTube channel.
Development as ballplayers and beyond the diamond. That’s the aim for the Indiana Expos and Indiana Angels travel organization and Samp’s Hack Shack baseball/softball training facilities in Brownsburg and Plainfield. Isaac Sampen, 29, is co-owner of the Expos and Angels travel baseball organizations with his father — former big league pitcher Bill Sampen (Montreal Expos, Kansas City Royals and California Angels) — and Samp’s Hack Shack director of operations. “We try to push the needle in the positive direction,” says Isaac. “We’ve had success and we’re going to keep doing it.” Doing things the right way as Sampen defines it includes getting players to approach the game with respect. “We’re doing everything we can to help players reach their maximum potential and be part of a family,” says Sampen. “They do not just share a logo. “We’re all in on our players. What matters most that our players develop and get better. That’s the end-all, be-all for us. If our guys are getting better we’ll win games.” It starts with teaching baseball skills. But players are also challenged to excel in life. That may be the classroom, weight room or community. “We want to help them be good people,” says Sampen. “When kids know you legitimately care about them you can get more out of them on the field.” The Indiana Expos played their first games in 2016 with 15U being the oldest age division. The Sampens saw a need to have an organization led by coaches who did not have sons in the program. After meeting people who wanted the option to coach their sons with training and guidance from knowledgeable baseball people, the Indiana Angels debuted in 2022-23. The 2022-23 Expos have 14 teams 13U to 17U. The Angels have 17 squads 8U to 15U. The age divisions tend to vary year by year. Between travel teams and the training facilities, there are more than 60 coaches/instructors. Sampen’s 13U Expos played around 50 games over a dozen weekends April through July in 2022 and is expected to do the same at the 14U level in 2023. As he sees it, the biggest difference between high school players and the younger ones is communication. “At 14, they’ve had less time on Earth,” says Sampen. “Maybe it’s more elementary. They don’t have the same experience (as older players). “But I don’t like cookie-cutting things. I teach and challenge on a per-player basis.” Sampen is not loud with his communication. “I’m not a screamer or yeller — none of our guys are,” says Sampen. “I don’t think it’s effective. Sometimes it causes chaos.”. While 14-year-olds tend to be less mature, some are more advanced and similar to those a few years older. Expos/Angels players are expected to earn their role on the team and equal playing time is not the rule. They are given the freedom to fail. “We don’t want them to be robotic,” says Sampen. “We don’t want guys to feel stress to play. “We let them fail and then teach. We want them to win.” Sampen says most players — especially on the Expos side — have college baseball aspirations at minimum. The organization’s first three graduating classes (2020-22) saw 73 move on to college ball. Over the years, players have developed on the field but they’ve also done things like sending notes to people having a tough time. “It’s about thinking outside themselves,” says Sampen. “You’re getting outside your bubble.” In paying it forward, athletes have helped with camps during and after their time playing for the organization. “(Younger) kids look up to those guys,” says Sampen, who is now attached to a 14U Expos team. “They think it’s cool for us, it’s good to witness that. “(Older players) are thankful for the opportunities they’ve had.” Sampen, who has also been involved with Avon Baseball Club, is a 2012 graduate of Brownsburg High School. He led Indiana in home runs and was a Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A All-State first-teamer as a senior outfielder. He committed to play at West Virginia University then decided for Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., where he was a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American and national leader in slugging percentage. Sampen transferred to Eastern Illinois University (Charleston, Ill.) as a two-way player. Injuries ended his playing career. He shares his college experiences youngers players and he keeps it real. “I let them know about mistakes that I made,” says Sampen. “I warn guys. College baseball seems like its always roses. It’s not. It’s hard. I want to prepare them for the grind it is.” Sampen notes that parents are no longer there to lend daily support. In a game of failure, players must learn to cope — often on their own. There is new-found freedom at college, but also the choice of getting in trouble or keeping their nose clean. Isaac’s wife — Stacy Sampen — is a personal trainer and nutritionist based in Brownsburg. The couple has no children of their own. “But there’s about 400 of them on our 31 teams,” says Sampen. Isaac’s top baseball mentors are Bill Sampen and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil (his Brownsburg coach as a freshman and sophomore). “I’ve learned a ton from my dad,” says Isaac, the oldest of Bill and Amy Sampen’s three sons ahead of Sam and Caleb (a pitcher in the Tampa Bay Rays system). “I’m blessed to have grown up with a guy who played at the highest level. “(Coach O’Neil) has been around the game for a long time and been around so many good players.” The original Samp’s Hack Shack opened in November 2009 at 17 North Adams St., Brownsburg. The Plainfield facility is at 1915 Gladden Road. Baseball and softball training is offered year-round for individuals and teams (even those outside the Expos and Angels).
Mark Walther helps run a business dedicated to the improvement of those who move and compete, particularly those in baseball, softball, football and golf. He is the Director of Operations at Pro X Athlete Development, which is at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind. “I wear a lot of hats here,” says Walther, a former collegiate and professional pitcher. “There isn’t much that I don’t do here.” Walther, 33, started as a lead instructor and taught velocity programs for pitchers and position players and gave pitching lessons. As Director of Operations, he is charged with everything from scheduling cages and turf time to making sure machines are in order to the cleanliness of the facility. He makes sure financials and daily reporting lines up with what’s coming into Pro X. After coaching at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and the University of Indianapolis, Walther worked briefly for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park and still helps with that company while also serving as the commissioner of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which had its third season in 2022. The CSL came about out of players needing a place to compete and train (at Pro X) with many leagues being shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of athletes had spring seasons that were cut short or didn’t start at all. “We had a lot of time on our hands,” says Walther. “Both of our businesses were shut down about the time (Indiana) opened up (from the lockdown) is when we were able to open up the league.” Walther says he was one of six people who created the CSL and other people were brought in to make it a reality. “To start up a league like that you want high-profile players,” says Walther. “It’s tough to get high-profile players if they’ve never heard of your league before. “Right way we wanted to be able to compete with the Northwoods, the Prospect and the Coastal Plain. I don’t know if anybody’s ever going to compete with the Cape, but we wanted to be up there.” Walther says getting the amount of players and talent that the CSL did (in 2020) is the whole reason it still exists. “We just want to make sure that the product we’re putting out there is good for college players as a whole,” says Walther. “It’s good for their development in games and while they’re training (at Pro X) and getting better. “We want to meet every ask of a college coach. If they have a redshirt and they need them ready for sophomore year when they return to school then we can get them 30, 40, 50 innings. If they want them to throw 20 innings and two innings a week in relief, we’ll follow that, too. “That’s really what’s set the College Summer League apart.” Over the past two years, Walther’s commissioner responsibilities have included finding and getting commitments from coaches, recruiting and placing players and taking care of everything from payments to jersey sizes to host families. He coordinates gameday operations and hires sports information interns for the eight-team league. Those positions are posted in November and December with interviews coming in January and February. Walther grew up on a farm on the west side of Kankakee, Ill., and is a 2007 graduate of Herscher (Ill.) High School, where his head coach was Eric Regez. His junior year, Walther was the last one to make cuts for the Tigers varsity and helped his team as a right-handed reliever. As a senior, he was a starter. “I played the underdog throughout my entire college career,” says Walther, who worked hard to grow his knowledge base while improving his athletic skill set. “I was a P.O. (Pitcher Only) before P.O. was even a thing. I think I had seven career varsity at-bats. “I just kept working at it.” Mark is the son of Eugene and Beth Walther and is about six years younger than brother Todd Walther. Eugene Walther died of brain cancer when Mark was 18. “Going into college that pushed me forward,” says Walther. “It always gave me something to work for: Trying to make him proud.” Walther showed up at walk-on tryouts at Parkland. “I wasn’t a preferred walk-on or anything,” says Walther. “I found a way to earn a spot.” The Cobras coaching staff changed Walther’s arm slot from overhand to sidearm/submarine. “That gave me a whole new life in college baseball,” says Walther, who was frequently used as a freshman and was on scholarship as a sophomore. The latter team won the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national championship. After two years at Parkland playing for Mitch Rosenthal and Matt Kennedy, Walther transferred to NCAA Division II University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. He came out of the bullpen for Tracy Archuleta’s Screaming Eagles (which won an NCAA Division II national crown in 2010). “I tried to just extend the game and get us to the next guy,” says Walther. “My job was to get us out of jams. There’s not better feeling in the world than coming into the game with the bases loaded and one out and you’re trying to get a ground ball. I lived for those moments. “Being out there when the adrenaline’s pumping, I’ve yet to find anything to match it.” After pitching at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., Todd Walther wound up on the baseball operations side with the Texas Rangers. Mark used the connection to his advantage. “I was able to bounce ideas off of him when thing weren’t going my way in bullpens or games,” says Walther. He got to see video of major league pitchers like Cody Bradford, Darren O’Day and Pat Neshek and could study their mechanics, grips and release points. Walther was on a path to become a Physical Education teacher and high school coach when a curriculum change at USI that would have taken him longer to get his degree caused him to change his major to Sport Management. “I started learning more about facility management and running a sports business,” says Walther, who took classes on sports marketing and sports law — things that help him in his position at Pro X. But Walther did pursue coaching out of college. He was an assistant at Parkland for a year and helped Kennedy with outfielders, operations and recruiting. He started what turned out to be a four-year stint at the UIndy as a volunteer learning from Greyhounds pitching coach Jordan Tiegs and serving for head coaches Gary Vaught and Al Ready. When Tiegs left for Indiana State University, Walther took became pitching coach and recruiting coordinator. Tiegs is now Drector of Pitching Research and Development for the Rangers — Todd Walther’s former job “I loved college baseball,” says Mark Walther. “I loved coaching it. “I really loved the recruiting aspect of college. (Players) need to come to us because we’re going to do a better job of developing them as a player. “I’m very appreciate of Coach Vaught and Coach Ready for everything they did for me.” Walther then went into tech recruiting for three months and decided he wanted to get back into baseball. Pro X has just launched into the travel world with its Phoenix softball teams. While travel baseball organizations, including the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro and Indiana Prospects, partner with Pro X, there is currently no plans to field travel baseball teams under the Pro X banner. “Travel baseball really wasn’t a thing when I grew up,” says Walther. “I played community baseball until I was 16 years old. Shortly after that it began to grow a little more.” His first experience came when the Indiana Bulls and others brought teams to play fall exhibition games his first year at Parkland. Walther notes that he was lucky enough to be on a winning team from age 10 on. But that was not the case in his early community baseball days. “I got put on a terrible team,” says Walther. “I had to find a way to try to help the team win and to help players develop themselves and rely on our coaches to do the same. “Depending on where your talent is you can be put on an elite team and rarely ever have to deal with failure, losing or any kind of adversity and learn to overcome that. “Being on winning teams is also a positive because you learn what it takes to win. Whether you’re on the field or not you can find ways to help the team win.” Walther says travel ball is all about finding the right fit for you as a player. “You want to go where you have a chance to play or have a chance to compete for playing time,” says Walther. “You should never shy away from competing and trying to beat someone out to earn playing time. “In the game of baseball you’re going to have guys on the bench no matter what. It’s what type of bench guys you have. Do you have guys who are going to work and push themselves and the people that are technically in front of them? Or are they going to just roll over and complain until they move on or join another team?” Players should make sure the team will be doing what they want to do. Will it be mostly local tournaments are really hitting the road? Is the coaching staff going to help develop them as a player? Among the things coming up at Pro X are “Hard 90” classes with about 30 minutes each of hitting, defense and speed and agility. In September, the pitching academy and elite training academy for offense and defense cranks up. Pro X — with its staff of instructors including Jay Lehr, trainers and medical professionals and former big leaguer Joe Thatcher as president — is also an off-season place to train for professionals, including major leaguers Tucker Barnhart, Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon and minor leaguers Parker Dunshee and Collin Ledbetter. Rodon came to Pro X while doing rehab from Tommy John surgery. “He learned a lot about the body and how it moves and how to become efficient on the mound and use his lower half to try to stay as healthy as possible,” says Walther. “We just do whatever we can to service them whether that’s completely help them with their program or stay out of their way and let them use the weight room.”
Through her own journey and study of bioenergetics, Amanda Alwine has found the connection of psychology and physiology and she shares those as a mind-body-movement specialist, athlete development specialist and strength and flexibility coach at 1st Source Bank Performance Center in downtown South Bend, Ind., and with her clients across the globe as a part of Gracious Heart Healing Center. The Performance Center is located at Four Winds Field — home of the Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs. “As a parent, it’s hard to watch a kid who’s trained hard and has the mechanics down,” says Alwine. “They’ve had 1,000 batting practices. They’ve worked with all of the teachers. Then all of a sudden we see them hit a mental slump. “The mechanics can be on. The desire can be on. But what’s not connecting? I’m here at this facility for kids and parents who might be confused.” The longtime yoga instructor also works with people at other locales and via Skype. “I work on developing athletes as a whole,” says Alwine, a 1996 Mishawaka (Ind.) High School graduate and mother of four — three sons and one daughter. “This includes their mental, emotional and physical aspects. “I integrate practices that help them achieve kind of their maximum flexibility and mobility. I use yoga as one tool in what I have coined as the unified athlete practice.” Alwine says it’s bringing together the things she’s learned about physical, mental and emotional self-regulation. Alwine has many affections. “I feel passionate as a mother,” says Alwine. “I feel passionate about baseball. I feel passionate about human development. I feel passionate about bioenergetics and looking at ourselves differently. “My passion goes into the studying the whole human, the unified self. We can’t separate the athlete from the son. We can’t separate the athlete from anything else he is in this world.” One definition of bioenergetics is a system of alternative psychotherapy based on the belief that emotional healing can be aided through resolution of bodily tension. Offering her knowledge on the subject to the public, Alwine gives back. “Once you find something that has profoundly changed your life and healed you as a person there is an instinct to want to give this away,” says Alwine. “We all want to feel like were are happy and safe and unified in who we are, how we express ourselves and what we do. All of those things together feel congruent (consistent).” Alwine says yoga is a practice that allows people to remain mentally-focused and connect with their bodies. “It’s definitely a discipline in being in that ‘now’ moment with yourself,” says Alwine. Since she works with children and adults, she keeps her teaching appropriate to her audience and their level of development. “When we’re talking with little kids we’re just asking them to settle down and maybe be with their self for a minute and asking them ‘how does this really feel?,'” says Alwine. “We have these little kids who are just learning about what disappointment means. What does it feel like when I get to the plate and I’m really anxious or how do I feel when I have failed? “We’re introducing the idea of letting them experience those feelings fully out, name them and then be with their bodies as they feel this and this is a way for them to be less afraid of those intense emotions. “Because it never really goes away. Whether you’re 5 or 25 there’s this anticipation of always wanting to execute your best. We always want to be our highest performance. “It’s just you and your bat at the plate, and how do you create an inner coherence where you can be in that moment and be clear and focus for every single pitch? “Once this barrier of fear of being human kind of comes down — believe it or not — we have more access to our energy and our potential.” Alwine often talks to teams, especially at the younger levels. “It’s very easy to get little children to talk about how they feel if the feel supported by their peers,” says Alwine. “That kid feels nervous or like he’s not good enough. His biggest fear is that he’s the only one who feels that way on the team. “Sometimes alleviating or dissipating (lessening) the fearful energy is just letting them experience where they’re not alone. Your buddy is not mad at you because you struck out. You remind them that adults fail and repeat and fail and repeat and they’re not expected to be the best when they’re 10.” Baseball is performance and execution-driven. “There’s this idea that if you aren’t doing excellent performance all the time then you have failed,” says Alwine. “We help them build resilience in their failures because life it going to be full of them.” Alwine notes that people have an autonomic nervous system that “hard wires physical sensations that you have a fraction of a second before it is through your body and you are experiencing everything. “Once that has happened, that’s a hard train to back up.” It’s a matter of recognizing that feeling — rather than fighting it. “Once it’s named, the emotion has about 30 seconds before it can go,” says Alwine. “You can tell yourself ‘I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.’ But your body is having a physiological response of the opposite thing. “This is where you know my study of bioenergetics comes in because we have many different energies working together. We have our mental, which is an energy field in of itself. We have our nervous system. We have our body. We have our heartbeat. We have all of these things that make up the human. “This is why yoga is a good thing to implement with this because this teaches us how to get our thoughts in rhythm with our breath, in rhythm with a heartbeat and in rhythm with how our feet feel on the ground. “If I can regulate my heart rate, I can get my emotions to dissipate a little bit.” Alwine says sometimes the energy shoots through the body almost before the person can have the thought. “If your mind’s doing one thing, saying ‘I’ve got this; I’m great; I’m calm’ and your heartbeat is telling your something completely different,” says Alwine. “We talk about simple techniques like our breath, the grounding to bringing these things back into where we need them to be. Sometimes it can be words we say. It also can be just a feeling. It can be a focal point. “But — ultimately — not everything is going to bring everything right back into that focus without a little bit of training. “It really is a training process just like anything else you want to do,” says Alwine. “You don’t take a guitar lesson, go and learn one chord and then you’re a rock star. I’m a ‘wax off, wax on’ girl. We have to really start with fundamental things. “These techniques work for everybody. We’re all human.” Alwine wants to help people tap into the locked-up energy. “We’re just opening the door into the bioenergetics of what it means to be human,” says Alwine. “We understand that our heart emit an electromagnetic field. We understand that our brains do the same. We can see at some point when those things are in coherence (working together).” While Alwine — who calls herself a “collector of certifications” — says there is not yet a PhD. in bioenergetics, its study has become less fringe as Major League Baseball has brought into mind-body-movement specialists like herself. “This is not secret anymore,” says Alwine. “We have major league athletes talking about how this changed their performance.” Alwine sees the practice of self-regulation as helpful in many aspects of life. “One thing I love about this is the true self-telling in that moment,” says Alwine. “We always like to pretend we’re not who we are. There’s this instinct to not claim what it is right now. “I love having this vocabulary where my kids can say this is how I’m feeling right now. This is exactly what I need right now.” “It takes so much less misunderstanding or quarreling when we’re free to say exactly what the moment is.” Self-regulation means to “know thyself.” “Nobody else can make you feel better in that moment,” says Alwine. “Nobody can bring you back to your most centered self but you.” Alwine helps this process by investing in human development. Reach her at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center (574-404-3636 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or through the Gracious Heart Healing Center Facebook page.
Tapping into potential is what Kelli Zeese does as director of operations and a mental performance coach for Selking Performance Group. Coming straight from helping the University of Notre Dame softball team, the South Bend, Ind., native shared ideas on the mental game and championship mindset Tuesday, March 29 at the final South Bend Cubs Foundation Coaches Club meeting of 2021-22 at Four Winds Field. A graduate of Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Zeese has a Psychology degree from Saint Mary’s College, a Masters of Business Administration/Masters of Sports Administration from Ohio University and is pursuing a Masters of Performance/Sport Psychology from National University. She went to work for Selking Performance Group in 2020 after serving as assistant director of Athletics Facilities and Operations at Boston College. Among many other experiences, Zeese has been Director of Baseball Operations at Notre Dame, where she had been head baseball student manager and also a football student manager. Kelli grew up playing sports — her favorite was softball — as the oldest child of Mark and Linda Zeese. She has two younger brothers — Aaron and Kerry. The latter was the starting third baseman on Saint Joseph’s 2017 IHSAA Class 3A baseball state champions and is now a junior infielder/pitcher at Roosevelt University in Chicago. J.R. Haley, son of South Bend Cubs Foundation executive director Mark Haley, was a senior on that John Gumpf-coached Saint Joe squad. Zeese (pronounced Zay-zee) said that the purpose of mental performance training is to answer the question: How can I deliver my best, consistently, when it matters most? “Recognize that (delivering) very best is going to be different from your very best,” said Zeese. “How can I do so consistently whether it’s the first or last pitch of the game, we’re up by 10 or down by 10? We want our mindset to be the same. “We don’t want to have these (Instagram-like) filters like this is my mindset when we’re up by three, but when we’re down by three this is my mindset. “How do I respond in pressure situations?” While her talk was in the context of sport and specifically baseball, she said these concepts have helped in academic, business and life situations, including preparing for a test, presentation, job interview and or difficult conversation. Zeese talked about brain science and presented tangible training tips, including positive/productive language, perfection vs. excellence and being in the present moment. Achieving optimum mental performance means to “Know you why.” “Why do you do what you do?,” said Zeese. “What type of important or legacy do you want to leave? What do I do today to make that happen? Why do you coach? Why are you part of this organization? “We talk with our athletes about different forms of motivation. Who’s the source of your motivation? What types of rewards are there?” Zeese gave advice to the coaches/instructors in the room. “Part of your objective is to create that environment in which they can grow and thrive,” said Zeese. “What a great vehicle sports and baseball is to be able to do that.” Selking Performance Group — led by Dr. Amber Selking, whose new book is “Winning the Mental Game: The Playbook for Building Championship Mindsets” and is host of the “Building Championship Mindsets” podcast — likes to set itself apart by helping people understand who the brain works. “It allows people to be more intentional about the training itself,” said Zeese. She showed this with a hex nut dangling from a string — an activity former Notre Dame soccer player Selking shows in her “Dare to Think Like A Champion Today” TEDx Talk. The activity demonstrates the brain-body connection and psycho-neuromuscular theory at work. Participants are asked to hold the string out with the nut dangling and stationary and using only their thoughts they are to think about it going forward and backward then side to side then in a circle and then stopping. “Our thoughts are sending these electrical signals through our brain to the neurons in the muscles and nerve endings throughout the body,” said Zeese. “That’s how truly powerful our thoughts are. “The brain-body connection says thoughts affect our emotions which affect our physiological responses which is going to dictate our performance. “When we were are thinking we don’t want to strike out our emotions are often fear or anxiety. Our physiological response is that our bodies and our muscles are tense and our visions constricts and narrows. Our performance is going to show.” Zeese said that science shows that 70,000 to 80,000 thoughts enter the mind each day. “We can’t control that these thoughts are going to enter our brain,” said Zeese. “However, we can control which ones stay. “We identify whether (a thought is) productive or unproductive. Does it serve us or not. We’re going to release it if it doesn’t.” The objective is to change a negative into a positive. It’s a mindset (a patterned way of thinking about anything). Alex Smith was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 National Football League Draft by the San Francisco 49ers and struggled as a rookie quarterback. “I felt I just had to be perfect to justify by draft status,” said Smith in a video clip presented by Zeese. “I became my own worst enemy. I constantly strove for others’ approval and and worried about what they were thinking. “I felt like I couldn’t even make the smallest of mistakes. This became a paralyzing cycle.” Smith changed his mindset and went to three Pro Bowls with the Kansas City Chiefs and was the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year with the Washington Redskins/Football Team. “Accept what you cannot control,” said Smith. “We grow through failure,” said Zeese. “Identify your weaknesses and turned them into strengths” Zeese interjected the acronym F.A.I.L., which stands for First Attempt In Learning. “It’s OK to fail, but let’s get better from it,” said Zeese. She said that most people think you either win or fail and that successful people know you may fail multiple times before winning. There’s a difference between perfection and excellence. Society tells us we need to be perfect. Failure is part of the process. It’s OK to fail. But it’s how you respond and how quickly you recover.” Zeese said being in the present moment and setting ourselves up for success means our mind needs to be where at the same pace as our feet. The body is always present and we want to be strategic about the use of the past and future. “We’re going to think about past performances and if it was a poor performance, we’re going to learn from it,” said Zeese. “You can create a highlight reel in your head of positive past performances to build up your confidence.” After showing clip from the ESPN E:60 special on Evan Longoria and his mental approach, Zeese talked about how the major leaguer approaches the game “one pitch at a time” and uses the visual cue of looking at the top of the left-field foul pole to release and re-focus. These cues or triggers can be visual, physical or verbal. There is an acronym used by Zeese and her colleagues — W.I.N., which stands for What’s Important Now? “What’s important THIS pitch?,” said Zeese. “Just it matter that you just swung at a ball in the dirt? Does it matter that you just overthrew a ball or that you just walked a batter? “When we talk about winning games we break it down. We win innings — both offensively and defensively. We win at-bats by winning one pitch at a time.”
Anthony Gomez is full of gratitude for a career in baseball. The Director of Player Development for Pitching at PRP Baseball (Passion Resilience Process) housed at Mojo Up Sports Complex (formerly known as Finch Creek Fieldhouse) in Noblesville, Ind., joined the company in August 2020. He recently gained more daily operations responsibilities with PRP Baseball Founder and Director Greg Vogt becoming the Rehab Pitching Coach for the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla. Before coming to PRP Baseball, Gomez spent four years as a coach/instructor at Morris Baseball (now 5 Star Great Lakes) in northwest Indiana, working with Bobby Morris and Dave Sutkowski. In the summers, he coached for Morris Baseball (2017-19) and Chicago-based and Al Oremus-led Prairie Gravel (2020). “I have thankfulness for Bobby Morris allowing me to work at his facility and the things that he taught me,” says Gomez. “That’s another another part that’s allowed me to be where I today.” Gomez called his training group of 150-plus players raining from middle school to collegiate to professional levels the Region Jabronis. “That was 22-year-old me being funny,” says Gomez of the satiric name. “A Jabroni is a term is to describe someone is all talk. “We don’t want to be all talk. Let’s put in the work. I don’t want to hear you talking about it. “Results always speak.” Gomez, who has various certifications including OnBaseU pitching evaluation and Driveline Baseball and studied with Randy Sullivan at Florida Baseball Armory and taken the Brian Cain mental performance class. “All coaches should be equipped to handle the psychological end,” says Gomez. “They can be mentors to them to handle stresses when they’re treading water. “Ultimately, we’re trying to help people.” Gomez, who has read “Old School vs. New School: The Application Of Data & Technology Into Baseball” by Eugene Bleecker is always growing his baseball knowledge. He shares his insight on the biomechanics of throwing, intertwining weight room work to benefit throwers and understanding human movement to help PRP Baseball athletes become more efficient movers on the field. The man who turns 28 on March 4 is all-in for baseball and the development of players, particularly pitchers. There was a time when Gomez lost his zeal for the diamond. A left-handed pitcher, Gomez was not planning to play baseball in college and was going to focus his attention on his studies. Then just as his senior year at Munster (Ind.) High School was ending in 2012, Gomez received an offer from Vincennes (Ind.) University coach Chris Barney and a scholarship to play for the junior college Trailblazers. Gomez saw a liveliness in Barney. “He was filled with fire and passion for his coaching,” says Gomez of Barney. “He’s an energetic dude. He was ready to get after it each day. He would hold you accountable. That’s what you want from a coach.” At Munster, Gomez played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan. “That guy’s got a huge heart,” says Gomez of Shinkan. “He cares about his players down deep.” After Gomez finished college, Shinkan allowed him to help coach at his alma mater. “I have a lot of gratitude for him,” says Gomez of Shinkan. “He allowed me to help on staff and run workouts. “I thought I’d be an actuary, but he helped put me on my current path.” Looking back to Vincennes, Gomez was throwing a bullpen during his freshman year when his back lock up on him. It turned out to be a bulging disk and kept him from playing. “I lost my passion for the game,” says Gomez, who decided to follow his original plan and told Barney he was transferring to Ball State University to be a student only and begin working toward an Actuarial Science degree and Computer Science minor. Then George Bizoukas — longtime Highland American Legion Post 180 manager — let Gomez know that he was still age-eligible to play for his team that summer. Gomez, who split his last two high school summers between Post 180 between the Downers Grove, Ill.-based Longshots Baseball, decided to give playing another try. “George allowed me to have fun with the game,” says Gomez. “Without him I don’t know if I’m in the position I am now. “It went phenomenal. I decided ‘I’m back.’ I’m going to work as hard as I can the rest of the summer and go to (Ball State) walk-on trials. After seeing Gomez throw about 10 pitches in the bullpen, Cardinals coach Rich Maloney called the lefty that night letting him know he had made the team. Gomez redshirted in the spring of 2014 and made one mound appearance in 2015 before being cut. “Coach Maloney is someone I really respect,” says Gomez. “He’s a straight shooter. I was not meeting the expectations. I could be considered as a waste of a roster spot. “(Maloney) is a phenomenal culture coach. We had an awesome tight-knit group (as 2014 Mid-American Conference champions). I still keep in-touch with those guys.” Gomez grew up in northwest Indiana with a talent for baseball. His 15U summer (between freshmen and sophomore year), he played with the 17U Indiana Breakers. “I made varsity the next year,” says Gomez. “I credit that to playing 17U ball as a freshman.” In the summer of 2010, Gomez was on the Ed Woolwine-coached 16U Indiana Prospects. Then came the two summers with the Rob Rooney-coached Longshots and Highland Post 180. At PRP Baseball, Gomez spends the bulk of his time on the throwing floor. He estimates that there are close to 300 athletes just in the youth and high school groups. Gomez is also in charge of running a remote service that currently has about 25 players. They send him weekly videos of them throwing, lifting etc., and they talk on Zoom and phone calls. “It’s all about communication,” says Gomez. “I can’t coach what I can’t see.” Anthony is the son of Edward Gomez and Karyn Condes and has two sisters and two brothers. His father played soccer at Indiana University. His stepfather is Michael Condes.
Always looking for ways to develop his players, Guthrie added Virtual Reality to the Panthers’ practice regimen by bringing in a WIN Reality system which helps hitters with things like pitch recognition. Athletes don a headset and get a fully-immersive experience, seeing realistic pitches in what looks like a professional stadium. “I’m constantly scouring the Internet and social media to see what is out there to better our kids,” says Guthrie, who introduced WIN Reality when players returned from winter break in January. “I like to mix up our training routines. “Some days we don’t get the gym with the batting cage and we can still get in live work. We’re getting that cognitive intuition we need on a much better scale.” With the WIN Reality, players go through graduated sequence of eight drills. The first is basic, recognizing fastball, curveball and change-up. They are also tracking the pitch. This is done by asking the hitter to point the controller to where the ball ended up in the strike zone. Later comes the “disappearing pitch” drill where the pitch might go away at 50 feet or less and hitters are still asked to recognize it. “It really starts to challenge guys,” says Guthrie. “They see their averages at the end (of drills) and the begin competing against each other.” Guthrie notes that the technology is not new and is used by numerous pro and college teams. Now it has come to Brushy Prairie, Ind. Using the VR trainer offers an efficient way to see more pitches in less time than would be possible with the traditional methods alone. “We’re certainly not taking away from the live BP,” says Guthrie. “We’re adding to it in a risk-free environment.” While identifying these WIN Reality pitches, no swings are taken. Hitters pull the trigger on the controller. The system tells them when they made that decision and if it was in the optimum window of when they could hit the pitch. “You’re not training your body,” says Guthrie of the VR work. “We’re using this to train the brain. “We’re using cage to train the body on the proper fundamentals.” WIN Reality does include an optional bat attachment and collects data on swings. Guthrie, a 2011 Fremont (Ind.) High School graduate who had his college career ended by injury, embraces tech. He uses smart baseballs that track spin rates, velocity and movement. There are Blast Motion sensors on his players’ bats to give feedback. “We’re getting video of guys all the time,” says Guthrie, who likes to shoot 4K at 60 frames-per-second. “We go frame-by-frame and make sure we’re not missing anything.” A phone app called Coach’s Eye allows for comparative side-by-side videos. It’s helpful for pitchers trying to make all their pitches look the same coming out of their hand. Guthrie says that pitch recognition training when he was a player involved a VCR. “We’d see a one-second clip of a ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand,” says Guthrie. “But it did not mix it up like the real pitcher does.” Guthrie has used YouTube videos for this purpose. There is also a phone app called GameSense Pitch-IQ. With Guthrie and varsity assistants Mike Gustin (pitching coach), Tyler Christman and Ryan Fulton, junior varsity coaches Gene Smith (head coach), Dave Priestley (pitching coach), Shane Richards and JV statistician Reese Smith, Prairie Heights is preparing to compete in the Northeast Corner Conference (which also includes Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, West Noble and Westview) and IHSAA Class 2A in 2022. “The NECC seems to be going in a high-velocity direction,” says Guthrie. “We’ve got a lot of great pitchers in this conference. It was bound to happen because of the push for travel ball. The kids want to get better day in and day out. “We need to know how we improve at the plate. You’ve got to score runs to win games. The velocity is one thing. It’s the curve balls, sliders and change-ups that are beating us. “Recognizing the pitch is half the battle.”
Three buddies who trained together as they were rising through the ranks of Indiana baseball are now sharing their knowledge as part of a new business. Plainfield (Ind.) High School graduates Kalib Clark (24) and Daylan Nanny (22) and Columbus (Ind.) North High School alum Cooper Trinkle (23) have formed HitClub Player Development Services. “I want people to know how passionate we are about the game of baseball and helping out that next level of baseball player in Indiana,” says Trinkle, who played for Ben McDaniel at Columbus North, graduating in 2017 and going on to play infield at the University of Evansville, John A. Logan College, Indiana University and Saint Leo (Fla.) University. After playing for Jeff McKeon at Plainfield and high school commencement in 2017, lefty-swinging outfielder Nanny took the diamond at Arizona Western College and Western Carolina University. He transferred to Indiana State University for a fifth year of eligibility granted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. An injury in the fall of 2021 caused him to have spinal fusion surgery a little over a month ago. While Trinkle and Nanny are done as players, Clark is still pursuing a playing career at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., where former Bethel University (Mishawaka, Ind.) pitcher and coach Ryan Thompson is Pioneers head coach, former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University assistant Colton Punches and Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan Univdesity graduate and former Grace College head coach Cam Screeton are on the coaching staff, former Bethel player Chad Jenkins in the sports information director and Jake Bisland (Zionsville) and Brycen Sherwood (Elkhart Central) are on the roster. Right-handed pitcher Clark has also played at Indiana University Kokomo and Post University in Waterbury, Ct., and studied Data Analytics and Applied Mathematics. At present, Clark is doing research and development for HitClub while Nanny and Trinkle — who tied for the most career hits in Plainfield High history with 100 — are conducting group lessons. Nanny is working with hitters and Trinkle with infielders. Following three months of lead-up time, the first HitClub training sessions were conducted Jan. 17. Lessons are for ages 13U and up and generally last 60 to 90 minutes. Training sites are Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (7 to 10 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays), Hit Factory in Columbus (Thursday nights) and Powerhouse Athletics in Franklin, Ind. (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays). “Our goal is to help prepare players for their upcoming high school seasons and show them things they are going to see in college,” says Nanny. “We want to have Indiana hitters be more prepared for the next level. “We want to close that gap in preparedness time. Young players have to show up more prepared than we did. (College) rosters are more flooded (with talent). That’s what we want to accomplish through our training.” Nanny and Trinkle began training together while they were in high school and envisioned someday training players in Indiana, where winter weather is a reality. “Cooper and I both played college baseball in the southern part of the country and saw how many more at-bats and game reps southern players get,” says Nanny. “Northern hitters have to put themselves in more (game-like) scenarios. “Indiana is a very blue-collar state. People know how to work hard. That’s what we want to add to. It’s important that standard is upheld moving forward.” Nanny and Trinkle were at the 2022 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic Jan. 14-16. “The coaches association gave us a great opportunity to come and meet all the coaches,” says Nanny. “We’re very thankful for that opportunity.” Nanny and Trinkle were both two-time all-stars in the College Summer League at Grand Park and both work for Prep Baseball Report Indiana. They have been invited to be a part of training in CSL in 2022, utilizing Pro X and on-field workouts. To contact HitClub, email Hitclub2022@gmail.com or call 317-908-8606.
Shawn Jenkins played baseball in South Bend, Ind., as a boy. Now he helps boys and girls get better with bat, ball and glove as owner of Teddy BallGames, a training facility of the city’s northwest side. Jenkins, who had been taking his South Bend River Bandits Softball teams to Teddy BallGames and helped set up 24-hour access and an alarm system as an ADT employee, took ownership from retiring Mike Branch on Feb. 1, 2021. The father of three daughters (freshman Lexington, 14, and sixth grader Dellancey, 11, are ballplayers), Jenkins switched from coaching baseball to softball and is now also the head coach of that sport at South Bend Riley High School as well as overseeing the TB Tigers Baseball & Softball Travel Organization. Softball teams played several games in the fall while baseball — with many in football and other fall sports — took the time off. The 11U TB Tigers went 50-2, won eight tournaments and ended up ranked No. 1 in the county by Baseball Players Association in 2021. Teddy BallGames, located just off Cleveland Road at 4085 Meghan Beehler Court, has batting cages and training space for individuals and teams and is outfitted with Rapsodo, HitTrax and
equipment. There are currently about 75 members and Jenkins says there is room for 120. Jenkins went from South Bend to Chicagoland and attended Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights then came back to Indiana as a junior and graduated from the former South Bend LaSalle High School in 1991. His head coach was Scott Sill. “Scott Sill gave me a good foundation,” says Jenkins. After a junior college stint in California, Jenkins ended up playing baseball and basketball at Waubonsee Community College in Aurora, Ill. The baseball coach was Hall of Famer Dave Randall. “It was just a great program,” says Jenkins, who was a second baseman. “I was able to play for him and I really leaned a lot. I parlayed that into playing (NCAA) Division II baseball at Lincoln University (in Jefferson City, Mo.). The Blue Tigers were coached by Sergio Espinal, who grew up with Shawon Dunston and a teammate of Pete Incaviglia, Robin Ventura and Doug Dascenzo on a College World Series team at Oklahoma State University, was was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs (1985 and 1986). Jenkins coached high school basketball in Louisiana and high school and college basketball in California then moved back to Indiana and was an assistant baseball coach at South Bend Washington High School for 12 years. He worked with former Maurice Matthys Little League teammate and best friend John Kehoe. Jenkins was 11 when Matthys won a district title a lost to Concord in sectional play. For more information on Teddy BallGames, call 574-329-1264.