South Bend’s Haslers doing their part for White Sox pitching efforts

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By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Two generations.
One common purpose.
South Bend’s Curt and Drew Hasler are both in the business of getting hitters out in the Chicago White Sox organization — father Curt as the bullpen coach for the parent club and son Drew as a right-hander in the minors.
Curt Hasler, 52, is in his 30th year with the White Sox in 2017 — the first as a full-timer at the big league level.
Curt was drafted by Chicago in the 21st round of the 1987 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Bradley University and made stop with the South Bend White Sox in 1988. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound right-hander pitched until 1991, making it to Triple-A Vancouver and a became pitching coach in 1992.
A roving coordinator of all White Sox minor league pitchers from the Dominican Republic through Triple-A the past few years, Curt will now serve the needs of manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper (who was Hasler’s coach for two seasons).
“We’re family,” says Curt of the Sox organization, noting that chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, executive vice president Ken Williams and senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn are very loyal people. “You go out and do your business, do the right thing and keep your nose clean and you’ll have a job.”
Curt will be charged with many duties — from getting pitchers ready in the bullpen and creating gameplans to attack opposing hitters. He will let Sox hurlers know things like what pitch they like to swing at in certain counts and what the best put-away pitch is for a certain pitcher against a particular hitter.
“It’s a lot of little things behind the scenes,” says Curt. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to take a little of the load off of Coop.”
Having worked with many of the current big leaguers as they came up through the White Sox system, Hasler can provide insight for his MLB bosses.
“It does help to have a working knowledge of these guys from the start,” says Curt.
Drew Hasler, 23, pitched for Marian High School and Valparaiso University before being taken by the White Sox in the 34th round of the 2015 MLB draft. The 6-6, 240-pounder toed the mound at Great Falls, Mont., in 2015 and then Kannapolis and Winston-Salem in North Carolina in 2016.
“I started out wanting to be a catcher,” says Drew of his early diamond days. “Then I got older and smarter and wanted to pitch. My dad was coaching me all the way through. Recently is when he kind of backed off and let the pitching coach take it.”
Father and son went on several trips around the minors when Drew was younger and he got to meet players like Jon Rauch, Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand.
But being on the road so much, Curt did not see Drew pitch as much in Little League, high school or college as much as people would think.
“When I was there, I cherished it and I enjoyed watching him pitch,” says Curt. “Last year, I got to see him a lot. I saw him every time I was (at Kannapolis, where Brian Drahman was the pitching coach or Winston-Salem, where Jose Bautista was the pitching coach). In five days, everyone is going to pitch at least once.”
Used as both a starter and reliever at Valpo U. by head coach Brian Schmack (a former White Sox minor league pitcher), Drew has made all 55 of his professional appearances out of the bullpen.
He claims comfort in either role.
“To me, the mindset doesn’t change whether I start the game, come in halfway through the game or close the game, I want to get the guy at the plate out,” says Drew. “You might have to bear down a little more straight out of the bullpen to get your team out of a jam.”
Curt, who is planning to leave for spring training in Glendale, Ariz. Monday, Feb. 13 with Drew reporting to minor league camp in early March, says the White Sox don’t use label minor league pitchers as starters, long relievers, short relievers or closers.
“We want them to see different scenarios,” says Curt. “Roles get defined as they move up the ladder into Triple-A and the big leagues.
“You really need to develop to become big leaguers. To define someone as a closer and hold them to one inning all the time, that’s probably not to his best interest. He’s better off going two or three innings. He has to get outs. He has to use all of his pitches. He has to have command.
“Our goal is not to have a kid pitch 40 games and have 40 innings. It’s to pitch 45 games and have 75 innings. That’s better development.”
Roles at the majors are often defined by need as much as the talents of a particular arm.
“It’s constantly evolving for each individual pitcher,” says Curt, noting that Mark Buehrle and Chris Sale were used as relievers when they first came to The Show.
Both Haslers have been teaching lessons at the South Bend Cubs Performance Center, run by former White Sox minor league coach and manager and longtime friend Mark Haley.
The message given to young pitchers is the same that Curt heard from Cooper, Dewey Robinson and Kirk Champion when he was in rookie ball and it’s the same that Drew has heard from his father, college coach and professional coaches.
“Coaching and teaching is a steps process,” says Hasler. “The ABC’s of pitching, in my mind, will always be the ABC’s, whether it’s for Nate Jones or Drew Hasler or for Evan who’s 12 years old that I’m coaching at the Performance Center. Once we take care of the ABC’s, will can move on to the DEF’s.”
Those ABC’s include staying tall over the rubber and throwing first-pitch strikes and getting ahead of hitters in the count by attacking the (strike) zone. The White Sox want their pitchers throwing fastballs, breaking balls and change-ups for strikes at least 65 percent of the time and driving the ball down in the zone.
Drew is pretty good at following these tenants.
“Drew goes from the stretch only because he’s a reliever,” says Curt. “He repeats his delivery very well. He throws a ton of strikes. That’s goal No. 1.”

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South Bend’s Drew (left) and Curt Hasler are both a part of the Chicago White Sox organization.

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Balance important to Manchester baseball’s Espeset

rbilogosmallBy STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Manchester University has enjoyed plenty of on-field success in the two decades since Rick Espeset arrived at the campus in North Manchester, Ind.

Espeset, who came from Minnesota, spent two seasons as an assistant then launched into a head coaching tenure that has yielded an 18-year record of 532-324-2.

In the last 17 years, the Spartans have a combined 10 conference and postseason conference championships.

Manchester, a member of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, has made two trips to the NCAA Division III World Series (2004, 2013) and come very close another time (2012).

What’s the secret sauce?

It’s not really a secret for Espeset, who also serves as Manchester’s athletic director.

“We get great cabinet-level leadership here,” says Espeset. “They are very supportive of athletics.”

It used to be the case at Manchester and many school’s on the Spartans’ schedule that baseball was sort of an afterthought with a football assistant being named baseball coach or the baseball coach coerced into also coaching football.

“Now everybody is just coaching baseball,” says Espeset. Most programs have an assistant or two that is considered full-time.

“You need good assistants who will put that investment into building a program,” says Espeset, whose current coaching staff includes Bryce Worrell, Josh Brock Caleb McAfee and Jordan Nieman. “One person can’t do it. I’ve had a bunch of good ones.”

Many of those men have left Manchester and taken head coaching jobs at other schools.

Another reason for Manchester baseball success as Espeset sees it is balance.

Espeset and his staff recruit motivated student-athletes who understand that athletics, academics and social life are all important to campus life. Baseball should not be the only reason a student wants to come to Manchester (enrollment around 1,300).

“We make it a high priority of not taking too much of (our players’ time) time,” says Espeset. “We don’t even try to organize (workouts) in the off-season. Our culture has produced motivated guys (who will do things to get better on their own).

“To me, it’s the perfect balance,” says Espeset. “Time away is one of the most underrated things.”

Time away from having a coach and his expectations gives players a chance to refresh mentally and physically.

“When you decide it’s important for you to do it, you’ll get something out of it,” says Espeset. “We don’t wear them out. They choose to do it.”

By NCAA D-III rules, teams have just 19 weeks (generally four in the fall and 15 in the spring) to get in practices and games. There are no athletic scholarships at D-III. All scholarships are for academics.

With the same man leading the program for so many years, continuity of leadership and direction have also set the Spartans up for a tradition of high expectations.

“They get passed down,” says Espeset, who just finished an eight-year run of having an alum as an assistant. “They feel pressure to continue success from other alums. They work extremely hard not to disappoint the guys they played with.”

Espeset wants to dispel a myth that D-III or NAIA that these college divisions are recreational where “anybody can play.”

“We’ve got guys who work as hard as anybody at any level,” says Espeset. “It’s really hard to get into our lineup. Once people grasp that, they gain an appreciation of what small school baseball is like.”

Winning is always sweet and that’s true at D-III, D-II, D-I, NAIA or JUCO.

“A dogile’s a dogpile,” says Espeset. “It’s the same no matter what level you’re at.”

When Espeset first came to Manchester, his recruiting base was pretty wide. With the Spartans having such a strong baseball reputation, the focus the past dozen or so years has been players within a 100-mile radius of campus.

“There’s plenty of talent in the northeast corner of Indiana to build a program,” says Espeset. “Outside the area, they have to show an interest in us.”

There certainly is interest. Espeset founds his email account working overtime with player who would like to don the black and gold.

And they just might.

If they are the right fit.

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Hunter Lane swings the bat for Manchester University during the 2016 baseball season. (Manchester U. photo)

Rose-Hulman baseball’s Jenkins embraces ‘D-III life’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

While so many would-be college baseball players chase the athletic scholarship, this is not the case at the NCAA Division III level.

Scholarships at D-III are strictly for academics.

“Athletic ability gets them nothing,” says Jeff Jenkins, head baseball coach for 28 years and athletic director for 15 at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. “(Baseball or other athletic teams) have no say in that whatsoever.

“That’s the D-III life. Kids are doing it for the pure love of the game.”

Jenkins, an Urbana, Ohio, native is well-versed in the culture after playing at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, and coaching at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, and Bethany (W.Va.) College — all D-III institutions — before landing in Terre Haute.

It’s all about the studies at Rose, an elite engineering school. Many classes meet until 5:10 p.m. and all the school’s outdoor facilities — including baseball’s Art Nehf Field — are lighted to accommodate late practices and games.

With breaks, weekend games and weekday night games, Jenkins expects his Fightin’ Engineers to miss only 1 1/2 days of classes the entire 2017 season because of two Heartland College Athletic Conference road games.

By rule, coaches are not allowed to have out-of-season contact with players. Teams have to get fall practices (with one contest date of up to 18 innings) and 40 varsity spring games in 19 total weeks (Rose will also have about 20 “split squad” or junior varsity games this spring).

“Some coaches might be in their office going through withdrawal pains,” says Jenkins, who notes that D-III does not present the off-season requirements that face scholarship-carrying athletes.

“We can suggest things they can do to be better players,” says Jenkins. “But the onus is on them. If they want to win, they’re going to do things in the off-season. Our kids are very smart, but they still want to win.”

RHIT has done so on a regular basis. Since Jenkins’ first Rose team in 1990, the Engineers have played in seven D-III tournaments (making the deepest runs in 2014 and 2016 by reaching the Central Regional championship round), won six conference tournament titles and claimed four regular-season championships. This has been achieved in a division that includes private schools like Rose-Hulman with an enrollment around 2,300 and state colleges with several times the number of students all vying for a chance to play in the eight-team D-III World Series in Appleton, Wis.

With the tough academic standards and no athletic scholarships to offer, RHIT has to throw a wider recruiting net, searching coast to coast for players. Of the 43 players on the current roster, four are from Colorado and three from California. Besides these and the 15 from Indiana, nine other states are represented.

“We’ve found our niche,” says Jenkins, whose assistant coach Sean Bendel is in his 19th season. “We’ve won because we’ve found good players who find the time to be successful. We have very nice facilities.”

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Indiana baseball ‘dinosaur’ Jim Reinebold passes at 87

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

I can still seem him.

Leaning on a fungo bat on a crisp South Bend day and grinning from the ear to ear.

Jim Reinebold was in his element — on a baseball field.

I asked him more than once over the years, how many grounders and fly balls he had launched with his trusty club.

“A million?”

“Two million?”

He didn’t know the answer, but you were sure each was delivered with a purpose.

Reienbold, who died Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 87, insisted on doing things the way he thought was right.

Very quiet most of the time, but very intense when things were being done incorrectly or he thought the game was being disrespected.

J.R. was not going to stand for that.

Players wore their uniforms just so and they didn’t wear their caps backward — not in Reienbold’s dugout.

Reinebold was one of the first inducted into the first Hall of Fame class of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association in 1979, an organization he helped found in 1971.

That makes sense because No. 4 was an original.

Generally credited with starting the tradition of presenting a “dinosaur” T-shirt to 20-year veterans of the IHSBCA, Reinebold did not shy away from the prehistoric description when it was attached to him.

A “dinosaur” in Reinebold’s gleaming eyes meant “you’ve been around a long time.”

But that’s not all.

“They believe in discipline and respect for the game,” Reinebold once said of old-schoolers like himself.

Young men who wore the uniform at Greene Township and South Bend Clay high schools when South Bend native was on the bench knew his passion and his drive.

Those “Hot Dog Classic” classes between Reienbold’s Clay Colonials and Ken Schreiber’s LaPorte Slicers were doozies.

Reinebold’s teams won 646 games — at the time of his retirement from high school baseball the most in state history — with an Indiana High School Athletic Association state title in 1970.

Then came a long stint in professional baseball, which included coaching in the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics organizations.

One the stories he liked to tell was set in 1971 when he working for the A’s and managing at short-season Coos Bay-North Bend — the latter a remote seaside town in Oregon. This club was far down the chain and got hand-me-downs from he parent club in Oakland.

“They’d turn the pants inside-out and re-sew them,” recalled Reinebold.

One day, the team ran out of baseballs so J.R. got on the phone to Oakland and who answers the phone but owner Charles O. Finley himself.

When Reinebold told him about his baseball shortage, there was no shipment on the way from Oakland. Charlie O. just told him to go to the local sporting goods store.

Reinebold was a fixture around Coveleski Stadium (now known as Four Winds Field), a place where son Joel has the distinction of clubbing the first home run and being the groundskeeper for many years. Jim was a long-time coach for the South Bend White Sox and South Bend Silver Hawks.

All that wisdom was shared in a new setting when Jim and Joel (who is now the head coach at Clay) started the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp in 1993. Instruction was — and still is — the hallmark of the annual gathering of players from around northern Indiana and southern Michigan.

Games were often stopped in the middle when J.R. saw something that needed to be addressed on the spot and the there was some yelling involved.

Reinebold was tough. Just ask wife Evelyn and the rest of his family. He was a fighter. Doctors and nurses who attended to him in frequent hospital visits in recent years.

But this is also the guy who could be soft-spoken and talk with you for hours about any subject. Catch him at the ballpark and would insist on getting a hot dog for himself and for you.

Yes, they don’t make them like No. 4 anymore.

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Jim Reinebold works one of his fall baseball camp sessions. The Indiana baseball legend dies Feb. 8 at 87.

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.