Former Notre Dame two-sporter Sharpley trains all kinds of athletes

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Evan Sharpley played baseball and football at an elite level.

The Marshall, Mich., native represented Notre Dame on both the diamond and gridiron. The lefty-hitting corner infielder was good enough as a baseball player to be drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2009 and logged two seasons in M’s system and one more in independent pro baseball.

Before that, Sharpley was briefly a quarterback for the Fighting Irish, going under center for two games as the starter in 2007.

“I fell in love with the off-season,” says Sharpley. “I was the guy who was not doing to be outworked. I’m going to do one more rep than the guy I’m going up against. I always wanted to do more (than other ND quarterbacks).”

Along the way, he learned lessons about strength and conditioning and now he is passing that knowledge along to athletes and those interested in general fitness.

“I’ve been very blessed to see a large variety of training systems,” says Sharpley, who runs Sharpley Training in Elkhart with wife Jackie, the 2011 Miss Indiana. “I will pick and choose the facets that I really think are beneficial.”

Evan Sharpley, 30, pulls from his football and baseball backgrounds and morphs aspects of training for both. As a football player, he focused on pure strength with deadlifts, squats, bench presses and power cleans. On the baseball side, there was plenty of movement with plyometrics, box jumps, medicine balls, single-arm stability exercises and dumbbells in the mix.

Athletes — in either private or small group settings — are put through performance-based workouts that are customized to their needs. They do things to improve speed and agility, vertical leap and hand-eye coordination as well as conditioning and nutrition. All plans are tracked through a software system and modifications are made when necessary.

It also becomes very competitive and they’re always trying to do better than others in their group.

Athletes and general fitness clients alike get to use sleds, squat, deadlift, jump and throw.

“We use a lot of different methods,” says Sharpley. “There’s just a lot of movement. That’s what we were made to do. We were made to move. That we try to do here is build proper movement systems and then add speed and strength. It’s about creating that explosive strength.”

Sharpley coaches many high school quarterbacks in the Michiana area and had at least one head-to-head match-up every Friday night last fall.

In training baseball players of all ages, he starts with a base level evaluation across the board with hitting, fielding and throwing.

Sharpley knows that today’s athletes are very visual so hitters are gauged with slow motion video analysis.

“Once the athlete knows what it looks like and how they’re suppose to move, we can come up with the verbal cues to make those adjustments,” says Sharpley.  “I’m not at every game or practice, but they can hear those cues in their head.

“The self-coaching part is extremely important. They’re getting the work in here and that’s great. But that’s only a small portion of how they get better. They need to do things on their own. They need to be able to replicate when there’s is not someone watching their swing.”

Hitters are taught to swing hard and with a slight upper cut while applying the proper techniques.

“Gone are the days of hitting down and through the ball,” says Sharpley, noting that Hall of Famer Ted Williams cites the same philosophy in his book on hitting.

When Sharpley was 9 and growing up in Marshall (near Battle Creek), father Tom (who is now in his second season as head baseball coach at Marshall High School) started a travel baseball team called the Marshall BattleKids (later known as the Mid-Michigan Tigers). When Evan was older, he played a few travel seasons and got major college exposure with the Detroit area-based Concealed Security Dodgers.

One of Tom Sharpley’s travel players was Josh Collmenter, who went on to pitch for the South Bend Silver Hawks and is now in the majors.

Sharpley’s recruitment to Notre Dame actually started in baseball. Paul Mainieri, the head baseball coach at ND for his freshmen season before leaving for Louisiana State University, alerted the football program about Evan and the possibility of playing both sports.

Evan pulled off the double (something younger brother Ryan would also do with the Irish), but it was not easy.

Sharpley calls is a “juggling act.”

“It’s not like I stepped on campus and knew what I was doing,” says Sharpley of balancing academics, baseball and football as well as his social and spiritual lives. “There were certainly some growing pains. It took two years to find a structure that worked for me.

“Whether you are the starter of the back-up (quarterback), if you are in competition to play, you are expected to be at every workout (for spring practice). You are the leader of the team. I took that very serious, especially in the spring.”

Sharpley says Notre Dame football-baseball athletes Jeff Samardzija and Eric Maust were able to adapt a little easier since Samardzija was pitcher and knew when he would be playing and Maust was a punter. By the time wide receiver-outfielder Golden Tate played for Charlie Weis (football) and Dave Schrage (baseball), the spring-time demands had been slightly lessened.

What has also lessened for Sharpley since opening his business is the push-back he might have gotten from some high school coaches.

“I’ve never wanted to step on anyone’s toes,” says Sharpley.  “At the end of the day, I really don’t care if Penn wins or Concord wins. I want the kids I’m working with to be successful. I’m not trying to take away from what you’re doing. I’m trying to complement what you’re doing. A lot of kids want to do something extra, they just don’t know what to do. This place provides that.”

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Former Notre Dame baseball and football player runs Sharpley Training in Elkhart, Ind., with wife Jackie.

Elkhart’s Strausborger getting fresh start with Twins

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Spring brings with it a chance for a fresh start.

The sense of newness rings especially true for Elkhart native Ryan Strausborger as he heads into his eighth season of professional baseball.

Strausborger, a 2006 Elkhart Memorial High School graduate who hitting a program-record .500 as a senior first-team all-state shortstop honoree by the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, recently signed with the Minnesota Twins organization. He will spend his first spring training in Florida’s Grapefruit League after knowing nothing but Arizona’s Cactus League.

“I’m excited about it,” Strausborger said. “It’s a big relief knowing I have a chance with a team. That’s all I can ask for.

“I’ll hopefully start in Triple-A (at Rochester, N.Y.).”

The right-handed-hitting outfielder who turns 29 March 4 plans to take the option of getting to Twins camp in Fort Myers early on Feb. 20. That’s well ahead of the March 7 official reporting date for position players (pitchers and catchers get there first).

“I’m anxious to get into the swing of things,” Strausborger said.

The versatile speedster was selected in the 16th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers organization after a stellar collegiate career at Indiana State University (he was a three-time all-Missouri Valley Conference performer as a second baseman in 2008, utility player in 2009 and outfielder in 2010).

Strausborger worked his way up the Rangers ladder and made his MLB debut with Texas Aug. 5, 2015 and socked his lone big league home run Aug. 16 of that year.

He spent all of 2016 in the minor leagues and was traded to the Seattle Mariners organization near the end of 2016 and hit .153 with two homers, 11 RBI and six stolen bases in 40 games at Triple-A Tacoma.

Strausborger chooses to see the positives.

“I’m thankful to the Mariners for the opportunity,” Strausborger said. “I met a lot of awesome people and took away a lot of good things.

“I just didn’t show what I bring to the table. I have nobody to blame but myself.”

Having moved from the Rangers to the Mariners, he had already experienced one transition and now he’s getting ready for another after the Twins reached out to Bob Garber, Strausborger’s agent, and showed interest.

The Twins are bringing Strausborger in as an outfielder, but he plans to let the right people know about his utility abilities and hopes to get in some infield reps.

When Strausborger was with the Rangers, former minor league manager and big league coach Steve Buechele took note of his talents.

“He has that one tool that’s unique to the game and it’s valuable,” Buechele said. “It’s speed and he uses that to play good, solid defense and it helps him offensively. It’s a big part of his game.”

Casey Candaele, who was then minor league field coordinator, also praised Strausborger.

“He plays the game right,” Candaele said. “He’s a hard-nosed guy. He has tools that play.”

While he won’t know too many faces, a couple of Strausborger’s former teammates in the Rangers organization — catcher Chris Gimenez and relief pitcher Nick Tepesch and — are now with the Twins.

Since the end of the 2016 season, Strausborger has gotten to play rounds of golf with his dad, Mike, and to practice the acoustic guitar (picking up pointers on YouTube), while splitting his time between Indiana and Texas.

Off-season training has been devoted to strength and conditioning.

“You want to get as strong as you can and go into the season strong and injury free,” Strausborger said.

Winter months have also been consumed with plenty of batting practice. He even got a chance to share his hitting knowledge in a camp put on by the South Bend Cubs Performance Center. His career has had him traveling too much to give lessons on a regular basis, but he can see himself giving back to the game more in that way after he retires.

During his rise through the baseball ranks, he’s noticed the difference in levels comes down to three things — speed of the game, experience and talent.

“Everybody’s good at this level,” Strausborger said. “Everybody’s here for a reason.”

Right now, he’s enjoying the pro baseball experience.

“I’m happy and I’m blessed,” Strausborger said. “Looking back on it, there’s nothing I would change. I love what I get to do for a living and a job and you can’t ask for more than that.”

Once in awhile, Strausborger might find himself glancing back to his high school days or even to the summers on Elkhart’s Cleveland Little League diamonds.

“It helps you clear your head a little bit,” Strausborger said. “You remember that this game has to be fun.”

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Ryan Strausborger, seen running the bases for the Texas Rangers, is now in the Minnesota Twins organization. (Getty Images)

Monument in Fort Wayne to memorialize baseball’s first pro league game

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Five years ago, Elkhart saluted one its best from baseball’s past. Lou Criger, a 16-year big league veteran and Cy Young’s favorite catcher, had a monument placed in the honor of himself and his family in Riverview Park.

David Stalker’s Baseball Memorial Series put that historical marker in place and now Indiana is due to get another.

The Kekiongas of Fort Wayne hosted the first professional baseball league game against the Forest Citys of Cleveland in 1871 and through the efforts of Stalker, Archie Monuments (both in Watertown, Wisc.), Kekionga chapter of Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) members Bill Griggs and Mark Souder as well as Don Graham, Geoffrey Paddock and others, that moment will be memorialized in the Summit City.

Griggs, who is now the Fort Wayne SABR chapter chairman, did research that helped locate the site. Chapter vice-chairman Souder is a former congressman and author of the book “Politics and Baseball.” Graham is the secretary of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association. Paddock is a 5th district councilman in Fort Wayne.

Griggs says the generous donations have come from the Fort Wayne TinCaps and the Champion Hill Toppers Base Ball Club of Huntington, Ind.

The monument will also serve as a tribute to the late Bob Gregory, a baseball historian and founder of the Fort Wayne SABR chapter who died of cancer in 2016.

Bobby Matthews, 5-foot-5, 140-pound right-handed pitcher who went on to win 297 games in 15-year career in various major leagues, played for the Kekiongas in 1871.

Specifications and other details are being worked out, but it looks like the monument will be placed at the site of the Kekionga Ball Grounds.

Stalker (whom this author worked with on the Criger monument and put together with the Fort Wayne folks) was kind enough to share a rough draft of the inscription:

KEKIONGA BALL GROUNDS 1869- 1871

The 1st major league baseball game, now called the 1st game in a professional league, was played here May 4, 1871. Kekionga whitewashed Cleveland 2-0 in what was then acclaimed the greatest game ever played. It remained the lowest score in the 5 year history of the National Association. The grounds were located between Elm, Mechanics, Fair and Bluff Streets. Kekionga moved here in 1869 from its former grounds east of Calhoun between present-day Wallace and Williams Streets. In May 1870, the team improved the grounds with a fence and grandstands. The central grandstand, the Grand Duchess, was modeled after its namesake in Cincinnati. On November 5, 1871, all structures were destroyed by fire and never rebuilt.

Stalker, also SABR member, said he plans to keep working toward placing monuments in his series. Who knows? There could be more coming to Indiana in the future?

Speaking of SABR, the organization also has chapters in the South Bend area (Lou Criger) and Indianapolis (Oscar Charleston).

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David Stalker’s Baseball Memorial Series placed a memorial monument to Lou Criger in Elkhart, Ind., in 2012. Now, Stalker and Archie Monuments of Watertown, Wis., will help memorialize the site of the Kekionga Ball Grounds in Fort Wayne, site of the first professional league baseball game in 1871.

Jackowiak devoted to teaching baseball fundamentals

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Jackowiak has dedicated his life to teaching the fundamentals of baseball.

The former Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-stater and 31st overall pick by the Detroit Tigers in the 1977 Major League Baseball draft pick does not do his teaching on a field.

Jackowiak offers indoor lessons year-round. He currently rents space across the state line at the School of Hard Knocks facility in Niles, Mich.

Jackowiak grew up on the west side of South Bend, played for coach Dan Cunningham at St. Joseph’s High School (the Indians lost 2-0 to LaPorte in Jeff’s senior year of 1977) and in the summer for American Legion Post 357.

In 1978, the right-hander pitched for the Lakeland (Fla.) Tigers managed by Jim Leyland.

Since 1993, he’s been passing along his knowledge as an independent instructor.

“We must teach the fundamentals,” says Jackowiak. “They are the things in sports that allow you do things correctly more times than not.”

Recently, Jackowiak sat down for an IndianaRBI Q&A session.

Q: What is “old school”?

A: “I consider myself a dinosaur. Even though I’m only 57, I’ve been through a lot of guys who played a lot of baseball without a lot of gimmicks. They just played hard, play with a lot of heart and figured out their game at the park in competition with their neighbors. They kept playing everyday during the summer. That’s where you really were made as a youngster … You can’t chance progress, but ‘old school’ is people who made it by playing everyday.”

Q: Can you throw too much?

A: “I don’t think you can throw too much from a certain distance. You have to look at how hard and what pitches you’re throwing. How many curve balls are you throwing? … Growing up, I threw a lot of baseballs and it didn’t hurt me one bit. It strengthened me. But I wasn’t infatuated with a lot of things that could have hurt my arm …There are all kinds of ways to throw a baseball. First of all, you have to have elasticity and be loose when you throw a baseball. You can’t be weight-bound.”

Q: Why is baseball such a great game?

A: “Because of failure. As a batter, you fail and you have to wait eight more guys to hit again. You miss a ground ball and you don’t know when the next one’s coming to you. As a pitcher, you can have a great game and the next game you can get shelled or walk a lot of guys and get pulled early … It helps in life. Life is ups and downs. That’s what baseball is.”

Q: What would you change about baseball?

A: “We have to understand that baseball is not instant gratification. Kids need to know that you must play a lot, play catch a lot , play sand lot a lot and do a lot of things. That’s the key to it … They know themselves if they’re getting better.”

Q: What gives you the most satisfaction about teaching the game?

A: “The satisfaction comes from seeing a kid that isn’t very good who improves and does what you ask him to do … Teaching is a process. If the process continues and the parent allows the process to continue and the kid says I like this guy, the process will continue and that’s how teaching evolves. It doesn’t happen in a week’s or half hour’s time … Teaching is about information … You have to prepare for a lesson. You have to impress me. In impressing me, you’re going impress yourself. I’m not easy on kids. Sports is about performance. Guys who don’t perform, don’t play. They sit the bench … Keep at it or you’ll regress. Use it or lose it.”

Q: Here’s a two-parter: Can you work too much at baseball and do you believe in burnout?

A: “Burnout occurs when there is so much going on and you have to pick and choose where you spend your time. Life presents a lot of things that kids want to do … You can get burned out if there’s not a balance in your life. You have to work a lot, but there has to be a balance in time management … I ask the kids to work out 5 minutes a day because that’s achievable. I don’t think you can get burned out by doing that. Make it a priority.”

Q: Did you ever imagine there would be so many training facilities?

A: “I owned Grand Slam USA (in Elkhart) from 1993-99 and that was a training facility. It was really neat. Kids really took to it. We had hitting leagues and a lot of things that promoted repetition. But it wasn’t like today … We need to allow kids to learn and not think they’re pros. They’ve got to learn fundamental, easy ways to start the process … There are so many training facilities because of travel baseball.”

Q: What did you learn while playing for Jim Leyland?

A: “Jim Leyland was a very cognitive manager. He was thinking all the time. That’s what he wanted you to do. I learned from him that you go out and give it your best because that’s why you’re here … Jim Leyland did not teach me how to pitch, he gave me the confidence to go out and pitch … Jim Leyland gives people the opportunity to go out and spread their wings … He’ll sit on you if you go beyond what he thinks is right … He was the kind of guy that was hard on you, but you knew he had your back.”

Q: What’s the current state of Indiana baseball?

A: “Being in a cage for 24 years, I don’t see a lot of games and I teach all ages … But I know the coaches that want to win state championships, those are the ones who are successful. Don’t say sectionals, regionals and semistates. If you have state championships in mind, you’re going to do something better. Why lower your expectations? High schools have to understand that it’s hard game, a dedication game … How do you put all players on the same page? … And the talent starts in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade, not high school.”

Q: Can you tell me about American baseball the way it was when you played for South Bend Post 357?

A: “When you were picked for American Legion Baseball, you were considered an all-star … The coaches were not parents … American Legion is great baseball and I hope it takes off again.”

Q: How fierce was baseball competition when you were growing up?

A: “It was real fierce. Everybody loved baseball and that was their ego …. We wanted to win, no matter what we did growing up … It was about coaches like Lenny Buczkowski, Jim Reinebold, Ric Tomaszewski and Ken Schreiber. They brought that to high school baseball. They were pretty tough guys … There was that edge.”

Q: Can you tell me about your HotZones throwing system?

A: “In 2008, I developed what I thought was the best target for kids to throw to and better their technique. They can throw the ball high, low, inside or outside within the strike zone … I also developed it for (non-pitchers) because if you can’t throw a baseball, you can’t play this game. Defense comes first before hitting and all good coaches know that.”

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Jeff Jackowiak with his HotZones target throwing system.

South Bend Washington’s Buysse stresses details, routines

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Discipline.

Structure.

Attention to detail.

These are the building blocks of Doug Buysse’s South Bend Washington High School baseball program.

Entering his third season as Panthers head coach in 2017, Buysse wants his players to do things a certain way.

“We talk a lot about details and routines,” Buysse said. “Baseball is a very routine-oriented sport.

“We talk about how to wear pants, stirrups, how to wear the jersey right so it doesn’t come untucked. It’s all or nothing. We all have to look the same.”

On game days, Buysse insists that shoes are clean and old-school stirrups are worn just so.

When Washington takes the foul line for the National Anthem, the coach wants them to sport a uniform look.

“Not only does that give us a sense of community,” Buysse said. “It also says that if a team spends that much attention on the anthem then everything we do is important. How we conduct ourselves is important. That’s lost on kids today.”

Buysse took his team to a two-day tournament in central Indiana and when it was time to go for a meal, he saw his players come the lobby wearing sweatpants and flip flops.

“I said, ‘No!,’” Buysse said. “We’re representing Washington High School so you should look like someone who got dressed with a purpose. It’s not, I had 5 minutes so I just threw this on.”

Buysse posts a daily practice schedule so his players know that day’s drills and routine.

“Without the schedule, they’d lose their minds,” Buysse. “They need structure.”

Buysse grew up around the Washington program when his father, Jeff, was an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski. “T-6” insisted on doing things the right way.

A 2005 John Glenn High School graduate, Doug Buysse was a catcher for John Nadolny and helped the Falcons take four conference, three sectional and two regional titles. Glenn made two semistate appearances during that span with a State Finals appearance in 2002, Buysse’s sophomore season.

Buysse said he picked up his many of the routines he uses as a coach from his coach at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer — Rick O’Dette. Buysse hit .351 as a back-up catcher for the Pumas.

After his playing days at St. Joe, Buysse was on O’Dette’s staff for two seasons then was junior varsity and pitching coach at South Bend Riley High School for two seasons and JV coach at Glenn for one. His first season in charge at Washington was 2015.

Coming from a family of educators, Buysse was in the class room until a recent career change. But even though he is no longer in the school building during the day, he is able to log in and checks grades twice a week.

“If a kid’s struggling, I’ll highlight it and bring it to practice,” Buysse. “I say, ‘bring the grades up first and then we’ll worry about baseball.’”

The Panthers play in the traditionally strong Northern Indiana Conference.

“It’s become very, very competitive,” Buysse said. “There’s not a fluff game.

“We’re going to be young (this spring). We’re going to have a lot of sophomores and it’s going to be a learning curve for them.”

A new wrinkle for all Indiana high school teams is the new pitch-count rules, regulating the number of deliveries and dictating a certain amount of rest.

“The last two years, we’ve only had a couple kids approaching the (what is now the) limit,” Buysse said. “If a kid gets close to 75, we start looking to get somebody up in the bullpen.

“I’m not worried about it. It’s been my rule that if you threw 100 pitches, you’re not going to throw until next week anyway. I try to give them at least five days off.”

In the high school off-season, Buysse has served as an instructor at the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and has traveled throughout the Midwest to work at Silver Spikes, Top 96, and College Coaches Skills Camps.

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South Bend Washington coach Doug Buysse

Kokomo’s Thatcher on next diamond adventure

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Thatcher didn’t see himself pitching in Major League Baseball.

But he did it.

He didn’t see himself coaching college baseball in his hometown.

But he’s doing it.

Thatcher grew up playing the game in Kokomo. There was UCT Little League and stints with Kokomo American Legion Post 6, Russiaville Cubs and Indiana Bulls in the summer and Kokomo High School in the spring.

Many games were played at Kokomo’s historic Highland Park, which was once home to Kokomo Giants, Kokomo Dodgers and Kokomo Highlanders.

“The short porch in right is what I remember most,” Thatcher said. “It was a cool place to play. There were a lot of stands and so it felt big at the time.”

After graduating from KHS in 2000, Thatcher became a legacy at Indiana State University. His father — Phil — played for the Bob Warn-coached Sycamores and so did Joe.

The Warns were family friends and the Thatchers spent many alumni weekends in Terre Haute. It was an easy decision for Joe to go to ISU and be a teammate of Barry Warn, son of Bob the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

“(Coach Warn) was great,” Thatcher said. “He really cared about his players. You felt you were part of a family.”

A 6-foot-2 left-hander, Joe started as a freshman then served as ISU’s closer as a sophomore and junior. When the Sycamores got off to a tough start in his senior year and there was not much call for someone to get the last few outs, he went back into the starting rotation.

When the 2004 MLB Draft came at the end of final college campaign, Thatcher’s named wasn’t called. Instead, the southpaw played part of two seasons in the independent Frontier League.

Thatcher joined the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2005 and made his MLB debut came with the San Diego Padres in 2007.

By this point, he knew he was exclusively a reliever.

“In organized pro ball, hard-throwing guys are usually projected as closers,” Thatcher said. “I knew I was going to be a left-handed match-up guy (lefty on lefty). That’s what I tried to focus on.”

Sometimes called a LOOGY (Left-handed One-Out Guy charged with getting out the opponent’s big left-handed batters lat in games), Thatcher was also called upon to pitch full innings, worked with his low three-quarter delivery against left-hander and right-handers.

“I always had confidence in myself that I could get anybody out,” Thatcher said. “I ended up having pretty good numbers against righties in my career.

He also kept himself in shape and shared his off-season regiment along with Dr. Jamey Gordon of St. Vincent Sports Performance and USA Baseball at the recent IHSBCA State Clinic.

“I was around some of the best conditioning staffs in the world (in pro baseball),” Thatcher said. “I saw all the innovative stuff.”

Thatcher was with the Padres organization until being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013. He pitched for the D-backs and Los Angeles Angels in 2014 and the Houston Astros in 2015. His 2016 was spent with Triple-A clubs in the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs organizations, but was not on the postseason roster during the World Series run. He decided to retire at the end of the season at age 35.

“I’m most proud of how long I was able to play,” Thatcher said. “It takes a lot to stay there and build up that trust with the coaches and front office people. To go from being un-drafted to someone who spent nine years in the big leagues, I’m pretty proud of that.”

Thatcher had studied insurance and risk management in college and planned to follow his father into that business (Phil works for Regions Bank Insurance) and even got his license and spent some off-seasons as an agent.

“I wasn’t planning on having a big league career,” Thatcher said.

Now, he is staying in baseball as associate head coach for a brand new program at Indiana University Kokomo (the IUK Cougars are scheduled to debut in 2017-18). He has been on the recruiting for about a month.

“We have a lot to offer — an IU degree, good coaching staff (including head coach Matt Howard and assistant coach Zach Hall) and (Kokomo Municipal Stadium) is a huge draw,” Thatcher said. “It gives us a leg up on the competition.

“(The school) wanted to make sure they did it right before they started the program so it wasn’t just thrown together. They do everything top level, first class. The only thing small school about what we’re doing is the actual school size (around 4,100 enrolled students, according to the IUK website).”

IU Kokomo has centrally-located campus and is up to nine sports in its athletic department. The Cougars are an NAIA program and member of the River States Conference.

Thatcher will share his experiences with his student-athletes.

“I played with a lot of good veterans and learned how to be a pro,” Thatcher said. “That meant being disciplined enough to take care of your business without being told to do it.”

And he almost didn’t do it at all.

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Kokomo’s Joe Thatcher as a pitcher with the San Diego Padres.

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.

Renowned ‘Defiance Way’ helps arms add velocity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“I think there’s a 90 mph arm in every school in the country. I’m not sure there’s not one in every class.” — Tom Held, head baseball coach, Defiance (Ohio) High School

In the northwest corner of Ohio, they are developing hard throwers and a Buckeye (Held) and a native Hoosier (Kevin “Scoop” Miller) are playing a big part.

Sometimes known as the “Defiance Way,” a system of throwing progressions and long toss has added 17 members to the 90 mph club since 1999.

Among DHS products are big leaguers Jon Niese (now with the Mets) and Chad Billingsley (most recently with the Phillies). A four-county area (Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Williams) of small schools typically has eight to 12 pro pitchers active each year.

“We throw a lot — more than most people throw,” Held, who has spoken at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic and many other seminars and camps in his Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame career. “We don’t baby the arms. We throw three days a week all winter.”

That off-season program has players throw into a net with tennis balls, softballs and baseballs. They go two sets with each and throw as hard as they can for 72 pitches.

“It seems to have a big impact,” Miller, who is entering his ninth season as pitching coach at Defiance College after a successful baseball and basketball coaching career at Archbold (Ohio) High School (leading the Blue Streaks to the Division 2 state baseball crown in 2005), said. “If guys will invest the time and effort and use the proper mechanics, the sky’s the limit.

“It motivates the kids when they see their (velocity) numbers go up. We also teach them a great 12-6 curve ball, too. That’s the safest pitch you can throw if you do it correctly and it reduces injuries.”

Athleticism has a lot to do with throwing hard, but proper technique and putting in the work is also key.

Much of the program does not involve getting on a mound.

“You must learn how to throw before you learn how to pitch,” Held said. “Throwing is a science and pitching is an art.

Held, whose teams have won 670 games and three Ohio High School Athletic Association Division 2 state titles (2013, 2015 and 2016) in 29 seasons, said a player must spend 4-6 weeks throwing everyday to get their arm into great shape.

“That does not mean you can pitch everyday,” Held said. “Kids don’t throw enough and they pitch too much.”

Held and Miller teach private lessons and run camps in the fall, Christmas break and on Sundays in January and February.

“We don’t label it as a pitching camp, but a throwing camp,” Miller said.

The desire is to get players at the younger ages before they get a chance to develop bad habits.

Held said that throwing — when done properly — does not hurt the arm.

A pitcher from 1983-86 in the Detroit Tigers system, Tom Held learned much of his baseball wisdom from father Mel “Country” Held, a veteran of 13 pro seasons with a “cup of coffee” for the 1956 Baltimore Orioles.

“All they did back then was throw,” Tom Held said.

The younger Held said his Bulldogs — pitchers and position players — will do long toss after a throwing progression every single day once the team gets outdoors.

Miller, a 1980 Jimtown High School and 1984 Goshen College graduate, stresses that conditioning is big for anyone wishing to be good at pitching or throwing.

“We want them in the best shape possible,” Miller said. “We do proper warm-up (of at least 20 minutes) with dynamic and static stretching. We make sure all core muscles are warmed up before we ever pick up baseball.”

Then were are towel drills and throwing progressions, isolating upper and lower body. There are specific drills to isolate every movement.

Long toss is emphasized for Defiance College pitchers, who work their way up throwing the length of a football field (300 feet). These Yellow Jackets will long toss the day before and after they pitch.

And their arms are stronger for it.

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Tom Held (Defiance High School)

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Scoop Miller (Defiance College)

Hannon looks to develop winning team, good citizens at Knox

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Hannon has a simple rule for his Knox High School baseball players.

Don’t do anything that would embarrass mom or grandma.

That’s the standard he went by as a student-athlete and then head coach and athletic director at Morgan Township and its the one he insists on as he heads into his eighth season as head coach of the Knox Redskins.

“You want to always think you’re parents are watching,” Hannon, a veteran of 17 head coaching seasons, said. “You don’t want to disgrace them. That really rings true for me.”

It’s about always doing the right thing.

So as Hannon looks to win games — Knox placed second in the first season of the Hoosier North Athletic Conference in 2016.

“I’m still a big believer in pitching and defense,” Hannon said.

But he is looking to accomplish more than that.

Hannon, who is second vice president in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association in 2016-17, has built his program on the foundation of discipline and hard work.

“We want to develop good people while getting life lessons across,” Hannon said. “I credit Matt Bush for discipline. He was my basketball coach at Morgan Township. He made sure we were trying to be good people when we were at school and in the community.”

While he misses the rivalries from the old Northern State Conference (Bremen, Jimtown, John Glenn and New Prairie went to the Northern Indiana Conference with Knox, Culver, LaVille and Triton going to the Hoosier North), Hannon is excited about Redskins’ opportunities in the new loop, which includes five Class 1A schools and four from 2A, including Knox.

“These are teams we compete a little better with,” Hannon said. “We have more natural rivals like North Judson, Winamac, Culver.”

A challenge Knox still faces is the time change. Knox and North Judson are the only conference members on Central Time. Knox gets out of school at 3:05 p.m., making it tough when road games are scheduled for 4:30.

Hannon, a Purdue University graduate, teaches at Knox Elementary, which dismisses at 2:30 and does his best to get the Redskins on the road in a timely manner.

Another wrinkle that is unique to Knox is a school calendar with two weeks for spring break — the last week of March and first week of April. Once the IHSAA allows full workouts, the Redskins go for two weeks, Hannon gives them the first full spring break week off and then they practice for a week before the first near the middle of April.

“Most schools have already played six games,” Hannon said. “We play five games a week. That’s just the way it is.”

Hannon got active in IHSBCA leadership after seeing what the older ones were doing when he was a young coach. He enjoys the camaraderie in the coaching fraternity and sharing of ideas.

“This has been an awesome experience,” Hannon said of being an association officer and getting a chance to help run the annual State Clinic in January in Indianapolis and the North/South All-Star Series and Junior Showcase in July (this year it’s July 14-16 at Ball State University in Muncie and in 2018 comes to South Bend). “Indiana is loaded with baseball talent. It’s unbelievable.”

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Scott mentoring at Martinsville

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A year away from baseball coaching made Jeff Scott take a look at his world.

The former middle infielder at Decatur Central and Purdue University was seeing a younger generation that was in need of positive role models and guidance.

“I started complaining to my wife about how different kids are — some aren’t respectful; some don’t work hard,” Scott said. “She finally said, ‘instead of complaining about it, why don’t you try to do something about it?”

Jeff knew Lindy (mother to boys Jake and Rayder and girls Gracie and A.J.) was right so he went back in the dugout at Martinsville High School (2017 will be his second season leading the Artesians).

“I decided I need to get back into coaching so I can impact these kids, maybe make a difference in their life so they can become productive citizens, good husbands and fathers,” Scott said. “That’s our goal as a (coaching) staff. That’s separate from baseball and yet it’s not.”

Teaching the game is important for Scott and assistants, but so is giving advice to young people.

While never a classroom teacher — he runs Adrenaline Fundraising — Scott always taught lessons during stints as a Mooresville assistant and Brebeuf Jesuit Prep head coach.

But this time around, his methods are different.

Scott played for Phil Webster at Decatur Central — a good enough athlete to be inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame — and earned four letters at Purdue for coach Dave Alexander.

Both Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers were hard-nosed and Scott recalls a fair amount of yelling around the diamond.

“I grew up in an era of rough-and-tough,” Scott said. “That’s just the way it was. I played for two coaches who were real hard on us. It didn’t hurt me. I had to change my coaching style as a lot of coaches have.

“But I don’t think you can do that with kids today. As coaches, you’ve really got to evolve a little bit and find different ways to motivate and mentor kids.”

Scott and his assistants pride themselves on being approachable.

“You want to build a relationship with your players so they trust you and you trust them,” Scott said. “My guys don’t feel uncomfortable coming to talk to me. That’s very important.”

It’s also powerful when coaches show their players that even they are preaching all these values to the youngsters, they are not infallible.

“We all have some story that can relate to some kind of life lesson,” Scott said. “I think it’s important to share that. I don’t want my guys to think I was perfect. I made my mistakes; I learned from things; and I like to share those stories with our guys so they know they are not the only ones who’ve dealt with it. We turned out just fine. We learned from it and moved on.”

Another lesson that Scott teaches is about dealing with disappointment and difficulty.

“Baseball is one of the few games that can prepare you for what life’s all about just because of the adversity that the game throws your way,” Scott said. “There’s not many things we can do where 1 out of 3 is really good. That’s hard for young kids to understand. They don’t like to fail.

“It’s a game of failure. The success rate is so small and people can’t deal with it.”

Martinsville won just seven games in 2016, but the four seniors never mailed it in.

Believing what Scott had told them, they did not want to let down their teammates and kept playing hard all season.

A unique challenge for baseball and other spring sports is dealing with spring break, prom and the looming end of the school year. Some athletes develop senioritis or even junioritis, sophomoreitis or freshmanitis.

“It’s a about creating a culture,” Scott said. “It’s a tricky thing for spring sports, especially when things aren’t going well.”

Yet, Scott’s players maintained their focus.

Scott also looks for his players to keep up their grades.

“We have a GPA goal — where do we stack up with the rest of the sports at Martinsville?,” Scott said. “Our goal is to climb the ladder. We were at the bottom when I took over last year. Now we’re near the middle of the pack.”

There’s been another change for Scott.

“I never used to think about the mental game,” Scott said. “We talk about it quite a bit in our program.

Scott asks his Artesians to have a “next-pitch mentality.”

“That one’s gone,” Scott said. “You’re not getting it back. Let’s move on. If it wasn’t good, learn from it, but let’s move forward.  We try to get kids to buy into that. If you can do that, you can have a lot of success in the game and have a lot of fun.

“That’s another thing. If you can’t have fun playing baseball, something’s wrong.”

Laughter is encouraged at the ballpark.

“We always had to be serious on the baseball diamond,” Scott said. “Why?”

Scott also tells his players there will be a time when they can play no more.

“I tell them, ‘don’t take your spikes off for the last time and regret it,’” Scott said. “I remember my last football game. I remember my last basketball game. I remember my last baseball game. It hurt. I cried like a baby — especially in football and basketball — because I knew I was never going to get to play competitively with my friends ever again.”

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