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Kelly building relationships in baseball broadcasting

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Benjamin Kelly knows that it’s not easy to get into professional baseball.

Entering his fourth season as the radio play-by-play voice of the Northwest Arkansas Royals (Double-A Texas League), graduate of Lakeland High School (2009) and Goshen College (2013) is enjoying the ride.

“I really do enjoy the grind of it,” says Kelly, who works for a club that plays its 140 games in 152 days with several off days consumed with travel. “I get to watch a baseball game every night.”

Kelly gets to hear stories from managers, coaches and players and relate that to his listeners. He gets to build relationships is he tries to climb the ladder of affiliated baseball just like the men who pitch, hit and catch for pay.

“We’re on the same path to the big leagues, we’re just in different lanes,” says Kelly. “I’m striving everyday to reach out and meet somebody else — somebody who might give you a chance.

“You have to keep those relationships throughout the course of your career.”

Kelly, who played four seasons at Goshen, relates to the game in ways that not all play-by-play broadcaster can.

“I know what it’s like to field a ground ball, make a throw from behind the plate, stand in against a 90 mph fastball,” says Kelly. “I can bring the small nuances the Average Joe can’t. That sets me apart.”

Kelly spends most of his off-season in Arkansas, but he was at his alma mater recently for a preseason banquet. He offered words of advice to the current crop of Maple Leafs.

“Don’t take the four years for granted,” says Kelly in repeating some of his remarks. “Don’t take a pitch off. Don’t take an at-bat off. You’ll regret the one’s you do.”

Kelly also offered to be a contact for anyone wishing to get their foot in the door in pro baseball.

“I’ll do anything I can to help them out,” says Kelly.

After doing plenty of play-by-play in other sports for the award-winning WGCS 91.1 The Globe (run by professor and veteran broadcaster Jason Samuel) and for Paul Condry at the Regional Radio Sports Network, Kelly began getting his chops as a baseball play-by-play man with the independent Schaumburg Boomers in the suburbs of Chicago. There, he built his resume and his relationships and wound up in Springdale, Ark., with the Naturals, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.

“We’re three hours from Kansas City — straight shot up interstate,” says Kelly. “With all the success the Royals have had since I go here in 2014, it’s grown to be more of a Royals area.”

Kelly grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but you won’t notice his Redbird leanings in the way he does his job.

“Whatever organization takes me on, I’ll root for that affiliate,” says Kelly, who does call 32 games a year between the Naturals and the Springfield (Mo.) Cardinals. “I think I’m going to keep that mindset no matter where I go. You rooting interest lies with your employer. That’s the only way to do it.”

The Texas League is a bus league. The miles start to pile up for the Naturals when they cross over from the North Division with teams in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma to the four Texas-based clubs in the South Division. Northwest Arkansas visits that side a few times in each half of the split season, making a ride that can last 12 hours to Corpus Christi and Midland on one swing and Frisco and Midland on the other.

While the clock is ticking down to Opening Night (April 6), Kelly has been busy working on his team’s 150-page media guide (culling through box scores to come up with all-time lists etc.) and also working broadcasts of University of Arkansas events for Razorback Sports Network — either TV or online.

“I had never really done TV play-by-play until this (winter),” says Kelly. “It’s opened my eyes. In radio, the play-by-play man is like the star of the show and he must create a picture. In TV, he’s the driver for the color commentator. The play-by-play guy is secondary.”

To catch Kelly with during the Naturals season, visit http://www.nwanaturals.com and click the “Listen Live” tab or find the broadcast on the MiLB.com First Pitch app.

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Development is Job 1 for Indiana Chargers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

By exposing players to the latest training methods, the Indiana Chargers are getting them ready for the next level.

Doing indoor work at the Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen, young athletes learn what it’s like at the collegiate level.

Founded by Joel Mishler, George Hofsommer and Ben Bailey in 2008 and now led by general manager Mishler, director of operations Justin Barber and strength and conditioning coach Evan Jurjevic, the Indiana Chargers has sent more than 135 players on to college baseball, several at the NCAA Division I level.

“It’s all about development,” Mishler said. “That’s why we exist.”

A former head coach at Glen Oaks Community College and Westview High School and a longtime professional scout, Mishler wants to give his players a clear picture of what it takes to the play college game through tools as well as physical and mental development.

The acronym C.H.A.R.G.E.R.S. stands for Commitment, Heart, Attitude, Respect, Grateful, Energy, Relentless, Servant Leaders and those core values are expressed at practices.

With the experience of the staff, players are also helped through the college recruiting process, finding the best fit for them based on their needs and talents.

“There’s never any guarantees (of high school playing time or a college scholarship),” Mishler said. “It’s something you have to earn. But we will give them the information of what it takes.

“It’s a culture of getting better and working hard.”

During the off-season (November to March), high school players have been attending optional three-a-day workouts (three hours on Sunday afternoons and up to 2 1/2 hours on Tuesdays and Fridays).

Jurjevic, who excelled on the diamond at LaPorte High School and Carson-Newman University, takes the Chargers through the warm-ups and exercises that get them ready to play the game.

The use of bands and weighted Drive Line plyo balls is prevalent for building up muscles and recovery.

One way to build arm strength is through a program the Chargers adopted two years ago — a pulldown drill which has players take a running start a throw into a net with a radar gun clocking the velocity.

“We call it the ‘run-and-gun,’” Barber said. “It’s like a crow-hop on steroids. You won’t see anything like that during a game, but it allows more momentum and bigger effort level.”

After getting warmed up, players will do the “run-and-gun” once a week to see if they can top their personal best.

On Sunday, Jan. 29, the facility high school record of 99.2 was set by Plymouth High School junior and Valparaiso University verbal commit Jeremy Drudge. The previous mark was held by Marian High School senior/University of Dayton-bound Riley Tirotta. Three dozen have joined the 90/95/100-plus club since November 2014.

There were several BP stations, including one where Jurjevic bounced the ball to the plate. The idea was the stay back with the hands and be ready for a curve or off-speed pitch.

Mishler and his staff are continually consulting with high level college and professional baseball people to stay at the forefront of technology. Mishler has attended 23 of the past 25 American Baseball Coaches Association national conventions (it will be in Indianapolis in 2018) and goes annually to the Pitch-a-Palooza in Nashville.

“We’ve always been of the mindset that we have to get better as coaches,” Mishler said. “These kids are getting a lot of information that they are going to get at the college level.”

Barber was a star left-handed pitcher at Inter-City Baptist High School and Spring Arbor University — both in Michigan. He notes that the Chargers will field nine teams 11U through 18U in 2017 (tryouts were in August 2016). The younger teams will play from late April to early July with high schoolers taking the field in June and July with the possibility of fall ball in September and early October.

While the Chargers do take part in travel events, including those organized by Bullpen Tournaments and Pastime Tournaments — many at Grand Park in Westfield — it’s not always about the games.

“We’re more focused on the developmental side,” Barber said. “We started a league with like-minded travel organizations and play three-game series (on a weekend with a single game one day and a doubleheader on the other) with pregame infield and batting practice. You don’t get that in most travel tournaments.

“It’s just games, games, games.”

Coaches 13U and above have college playing or many years of coaching experience.

“All of them are getting the same information and most recent and best available,” Mishler said.

It’s all about develop and getting better.

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(from left): Justin Barber, Joel Mishler and Evan Jurjevic of the Indiana Chargers.