Laird’s coaching based on development, discipline, accountability

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sean Laird knows about physical adversity.

As a senior at Kokomo (Ind.) High School, he suffered a fracture to his L4 and L5 vertebrae and had torn muscles in his back.

A four-year letterman and all-conference, all-state and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series selection as a senior in 2005, Laird was good enough as a Wildkat (he set several KHS school records, playing for three head coach — Ed Moon in 2002, Jim Jameson in 2003 and 2004 and Steve Edwards in 2005) and a member of the Indiana Bulls (he helped the 17U team to a World Series runner-up finish in 2003 and Final Four appearance in 2004 while working with the Moore family — Craig, Jered, Quinn and Lance — plus Gary Sylvester and Mick Thornton) to play NCAA Division I baseball and showed up at the University of South Alabama hurt.

Playing through injuries, Laird logged four seasons (2006-10) for the Jaguars and hit .319 with 23 home runs, 41 doubles and 110 runs batted in. A 92 mph fastball shattered his right hand during his junior season. He played his entire senior season with tears in his labrum and rotator cuff and took Cortisone injections to get through it. There was nerve damage and bone spurs in his shoulder. Professional organizations still showed interest his last two years in Mobile, Ala.

“Doctors were saying this obviously is going to need surgery and if you want to play catch with your kids one day it’s probably better to rehab and take care of yourself,” says Laird. “That was a decision I made.

“Looking back on it now, it was all for a reason.”

That reason became seeing young men and women get stronger and be recognized for their hard work.

Laird received his bachelor’s degree in Sports Management and a master’s degree in Health with a focus on Exercise Science. 

He spent one season on the Kokomo coaching staff (2012) became a Indiana Bulls 17U coach/strength and conditioning in the summer of 2011 (a role he still fills and is assisted by Zionsville Community High School head coach Jered Moore).

After two years as strength and conditioning specialist at Westfield (Ind.) High School, he began what is now Laird’s Training LLC in 2014. In 2016, he authored “How to Build a Ballplayer.”

“It’s about how I built myself into a D-I ballplayer and all the trials and tribulations,” says Laird of the book. “I wanted to get all that stuff out of my head so I could share it and help other ballplayers conquer the same things I had to conquer.”

His coaching and life is based on three principles.

“It’s 100 percent character development, discipline and accountability,” says Laird. “People talk about what natural talent does somebody have in life. For me, if you can instill the discipline and teach kids how to hustle — whether it’s in the classroom, on the field or just in life in general — no matter what they choose do do, they’re going to be successful.

“How I run my business and how I coach is 100 percent to get them ready for that next level. That might not be professional. It might be college. It’s also the next level in life.

“Everybody’s going to go through problems in life and adversity. But if you can teach yourself how to have that discipline, you can conquer anything.”

Laird conducts speed camps and strongman training at The Bullpen Academy in Russiaville and two days at home in garage gym in Kokomo.

The 33-year-old is constantly learning.

When it comes to certifications, I’m always getting new ones. I’m always going to clinics continuing my education. If you’re not moving forward, if you’re not getting smarter, you’re regressing.

Besides his masters, Laird is a Certified Physical Preparation Specialist (which means knows how to train athletes in the weight room and in speed and agility for all sports). He also a Certified Underground Strength & Conditioning coach through Zach Even-Esh and is certified in Body Tempering (recovery) and Pn1 (Precision Nutrition).

“I try to formulate an eating plan for each athlete,” says Laird. “Most kids that come to see me are trying to gain muscle.”

Laird says the field of strength and conditioning is ever-changing.

When he was in high school, it was about putting on as much mass as possible and the lifts were power clean, bench press and squat.

“Those are great movements,” says Laird. “But it’s like anything else in life. If you’re only staying in one lane, you’re very limited in your potential.

“The main job for a strength coach is to keep athletes healthy. If we can’t keep them healthy, they can’t be on the field.”

The goal is to make sure the athlete moves their bodies correctly and are taught the proper movement patterns — with and without a load.

“We make sure it’s going to help him with his sport and — ultimately — make him a better athlete,” says Laird.

At South Alabama, Laird played for head coach Steve Kittrell and assistant Alan Luckie. Kittrell is now coaching softball at Spring Hill College in Mobile and Luckie is still at USA.

“Coach Kittrell was definitely a blue-collar type guy,” says Laird. “He focused on the little things.

“He was really a big mind in the game. So many guys learned so much from him.”

Among those were former Bulls Quinn Moore and Jeff Cunningham and future big leaguers Adam Lind (Anderson Highland High School graduate) and David Freese.

Laird took all the information gathered as a player and from his schooling and cultivated my own coaching culture and atmosphere.

Sean and Lauren Laird were high school sweethearts. The couple has three children — Scarlett (3), Crash Levi (18 months) and Arya (born Oct. 24). Crash is named for Kevin Costner’s character in the 1988 movie “Bull Durham.”

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Sean Laird is a head coach for the Indiana Bulls 17 Black travel baseball team.

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Sean Laird, coach of the Indiana Bulls 17 Black travel baseball team and owner of Laird’s Training LLC, spends a moment with his two oldest children Scarlett and Crash Levi.

SEANLAURAARYALAIRDSean and Lauren Laird welcomed Arya to their family Oct. 24, 2019.

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The Lairds (from left): Lauren, Crash Levi, Scarlett and Sean. Arya was born Oct. 24, 2019.

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Sean Laird is the founder and owner of Laird’s Training LLC and head coach for the Indiana Bulls 17 Black travel team. He is a graduate of Kokomo (Ind.) High School and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Alabama.

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NECC Home Run Derby promotes baseball, cancer awareness

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As a way of promoting baseball and helping the community, two senior ballplayers at Lakeland Junior/Senior High School in LaGrange, Ind., came up with an idea.

Jayce Riegling and Braden Yoder decided to organize a home run derby and invited other players from the Northeast Corner Conference to participate.

Sixteen hitters representing nine of the conference’s 12 schools — Angola (where Roger Roddy is head coach), Central Noble (Tyler Graybeal), Fairfield (Darin Kauffman), Fremont (Justin Bock), Garrett (Jason Richards), Lakeland (Michael Isaacs), Prairie Heights (T.J. Guthrie), West Noble (Doug Brown), and Westview (Jason Rahn) — are slated to slug it out, beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3 on the Lakeland diamond.

There will be four rounds with batters seeing how many homers they can hit in three minutes.

All proceeds from the event, which has 48 corporate sponsors, will be going to Hello Gorgeous!, a non-profit organization that provides complimentary, professional makeovers and cosmetic education to all women battling all cancers. Organizers says that more than $5,000 has already been raised.

Tickets will be on sale the day of the event for $3. T-shirts will also be sold. To keep spectators fed, the MADD Chef Creationz food truck will be there, too.

Why an NECC Home Run Derby?

“Everyone loves home runs,” says Riegling. “I want to be an agent. I was talking to some (sports) agents. They told me to come up with baseball projects.”

After batting around a few ideas, they settled on bringing in players with the pitcher of their choice for a home run derby.

“It helps the community better,” says Riesling. “It gets us closer.”

Yoder, who is considering a career in engineering, sees his role in the project as the proof reader and aesthetic editor.

“I try to make everything look nice,” says Yoder. “I’m more behind the scenes. I keep things straight.

“This is going to be a fun event. I’m excited. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this. So far it’s turned out perfectly.”

Yoder says permission forms need to be finalized, but they will welcome participation by younger kids to shag balls.

The event was originally scheduled for May 2020, but the IHSAA informed the organizers that players could not participate in-season so the date was changed.

If the weather does not cooperate Sunday, back-up dates are Nov. 9 and 10. Updates will be placed on the project’s Twitter page — @NECC_HRD.

Most of the participants came to a media day sponsored by Shipshewana Trading Place.

Here’s what the many of the hitters had to say:

Felipe Arevalo (Fairfield): “This is a very nice project … We all love baseball. This will be my first home run derby. It’s going to be fun … (Coach Kauffman) talks about hitting the ball hard.”

Brayden Bontrager (Lakeland): “I just love the game. Baseball is a fun sport to play. I always like to hit home runs … Home runs are the best part of the game. It rallies the team … (Coach Isaacs) is more of a contact guy, get guys on-base … The ball travels here in left field. There’s a cornfield out there.”

Nathan Burr (Central Noble): “I’ve never heard about anything else like this in high school. I thought it would be fun to be part of the first one … This is a great cause — cancer awareness. I’m real excited.”

Tyler Curtis (Prairie Heights): “I like hitting dingers. I like the competition … Last year I had one (homer) on varsity … Rotational hitting (which I learned at Hitters Edge in Sturgis, Mich.) is a big thing. A big shoutout to Mike Marks and Robert Riley … Stamina is a big thing we don’t focus on (in a home run contest). You have to control your breathing.”

Camden “Bodhi” Hall (Prairie Heights): “(Bodhi) comes from a movie called Point Break with Patrick Swayze. My dad just wanted to name me that. He still calls me Bodhi … Tyler Curtis and I wanted to represent our school and show them what we’ve got as sophomores … Tyler and I were in a home run derby together while with the Hitter’s Edge. He was first and I second one year … (Hitter’s Edge coach Mike Marks) is great. You go up there, you’ll learn something.”

Camden Harris (Garrett): “I had four (home runs) last spring (behind senior Kobe Lucarelli’s six) … This will be my third (home run contest). I was in seventh grade and we were in Kentucky for nationals (in travel ball) and I got second place. As a freshman or sophomore, I was down in Florida and got first place.”

Connor Kreis (Fremont): “I heard about a slogan like ‘Swinging for Cancer’ or something like that. I figured it was going for a good cause. It’s just cool to get out here and see these other athletes that I’ve played against since I was a freshman.”

Owen Miller (Fairfield): “I hit two home runs last year. One was a grand slam (at Lakeland) … You have to have a good pitcher (Owen’s father, Tim Miller, will pitch to him) and you need to be confident.”

Nick Mortrud (Westview): “I thought it would be fun to do something to bring the schools together … In a way, this helps the school kind of showcase what they’ve got … We’re bringing the community here, too … I was in a home run contest in travel ball at around 10 (in Columbus, Ohio) at ended up winning it … I’m going to be thinking don’t take too many wasted swings. After each swing kind of analyze what you’re doing. Focus on what you’re body’s doing as you take the swing.”

Hunter Saggars (West Noble): “(Jayce) and I go way back. We used to play ball together … I’ve never seen anything like this before so I figured it would be cool to be a part of the first one … I’m not going into this thing thinking I’m going to win it. We’ve got some big boys. I just want to be a part of it … (2019 West Noble graduate) Jorge Villanueva will be throwing to me.”

Takota Sharick (Westview): “My Grandma has cancer so this is really important to me … I’m not necessarily a power hitter, but if I focus on it I can be alright … We use Blast Motion and (Coach Rahn) tells us when we’ve had good launch angle and bat speed.”

Gage Smith (Garrett): “We’ve got three (derby competitors) looking pretty sharp, honestly … I would honestly consider myself a power hitter (with four homers for the Railroaders last spring) … A Garrett cop (Kylan LaMotte) will be throwing to us.”

Evan Snyder (Churubusco): “I was in a home run derby a long time ago in Cooperstown. I hit one … It’s a good thing they’re doing this for, the charity.”

Tristan Taylor (Garrett): “We’re all a tight-knit group (at Garrett). All three of us are chatting and having a competition amongst ourselves. It’ll be fun … It’s a really good opportunity to support this charity. It’s a really good organization … Everything about this is great.”

NECC HR DERBY

At Lakeland

Sunday, Nov. 3, 3:30 p.m.

Bracket 1

First Round

Nick Mortrud (Westview jr.) vs. Brayden Bontrager (Lakeland jr.)

Gage Smith (Garrett jr.) vs. Dylan Eggl (Central Noble jr.)

Camden Harris (Garrett sr.) vs. Camden “Bodhi” Hall (Prairie Heights so.)

Owen Miller (Fairfield so.) vs. Connor Kreis (Fremont sr.)

Bracket 2

First Round

Tyler Curtis (Prairie Heights so.) vs. Evan Snyder (Churubusco jr.)

Nathan Burr (Central Noble sr.) vs. Kolton Taylor (Lakeland sr.)

Tristan Taylor (Garrett sr.) vs. Felipe Arevalo (Fairfield sr.)

Hunter Saggars (West Noble sr.) vs. Takota Sharick (Westview jr.)

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The NECC Home Run Derby brackets for 2019. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The Northeast Corner Conference Home Run Derby with proceeds to benefit Hello Gorgeous! is slated for Sunday, Nov. 3 at Lakeland Junior/Senior High School in LaGrange, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Brownlee jumping into challenge of new role with ABCA

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Brownlee has always enjoyed a challenge.

As a baseball player, he appreciated being pushed.

The new assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association played for hard-nosed coaches. There was Quentin Merkel at Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, Ind., then his father and brother, Jim Brownlee and Tim Brownlee, at the University of Evansville.

“They were not the easiest people in the world to play for,” says Ryan Brownlee, 45. “But they would keep you accountable.

“I’m in a way better position because of the way I was handled in youth sports.”

Memorial lost in the first round of the 1992 IHSAA State Finals to finish 29-1 and sent many players on to college baseball. That was Ryan Brownlee’s junior year.

“I owe (Merkel) a lot,” says Brownlee. “Over the summer, I read a book on the mental aspects of baseball and that changed my playing career.

“I looked at myself in the mirror. Coach Merkel didn’t need to change. I was the one who needed to change.”

In 1993, Memorial went 36-2 and reigned as state champions (Tim Brownlee was part of a state championship team as a Memorial senior in 1989) with team leaders John Ambrose and John Sartore trading duties on the mound and at third base.

“Quentin was very organized (using the same signs at each level from freshmen to varsity),” says Brownlee. “He doesn’t get the credit, but he was very forward-thinking.

“We were doing breathing techniques back then. He saw it as a way to change mentally.”

In 2017, Brownlee wrote a blog post entitled, “Just Breath.”

Playing for Jim and Tim, Ryan was motivated to be a four-year starter for the Purple Aces and twice earned all-conference honors and was an ABCA All-Region selection.

“You just never got a break,” says Brownlee. “I needed someone to push me.

“There’s always things you needed to improve on. I didn’t need to get complacent.”

Brownlee moved to Evansville in 1979 when his dad went from a teacher and coach at Princeton (Ill.) High School and manager for five summers of the Galesburg Pioneers of the old Central Illinois Collegiate League to head coach at UE. Young Ryan got to see the Evansville Triplets, managed by Jim Leyland, and spend lots of time at one of the country’s historic ballparks.

“I fell in love with the game at Bosse Field,” says Brownlee, who played there as Memorial Tiger, Evansville Purple Ace and then for one summer (1997) as a professional with the Greg Taggert-managed Evansville Otters.

“The first half we were terrible,” says Brownlee. “Our bus broke down in Johnstown (Pa.) and we bonded as a team.”

The Otters got hot in the second half and ended up losing in the independent Frontier League finals to the Canton (Ohio) Crocodiles.

Brownlee’s resume includes 22 seasons as college baseball coach — seven as head coach at Western Illinois University (2013-19) plus assistant gigs of nine at the University of Iowa (2004-12), four at James Madison University (2000-03) and two at the University of Evansville (1998-99).

Brownlee worked on the staffs of Jack Dahm at Iowa, Spanky McFarland at James Madison and his father at Evansville.

The UE staff included Tim Brownlee (now owner/president of Diamond Sports Promotions), Jeff Leystra (a student assistant who played with Ryan Brownlee on the Otters) and Ryan Barrett (who played with Ryan from age 9 through college).

After 18 years in the Pocket City, Ryan moved nine hours to Harrisonburg, Va., to join McFarland at James Madison.

“(McFarland) was at complete opposite end of the spectrum (from Quentin Merkel, Jim Brownlee and Tim Brownlee),” says Ryan Brownlee. “He had a low pulse and was very laid-back with a dry sense of humor. You could be yourself.

“Spanky is one of the best pitching minds in the world (he’s coached future big league pitchers Kevin Brown, Dan Meyer, Ryan Reid and Brian Schmack, the current Valparaiso University head coach, among others during his career).”

Brownlee also learned much from James Madison assistant Chuck Bartlett. He had batted No. 4 in a Mississippi State University lineup surrounded by Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro and is now a New York Yankees scout.

Being in a new area also challenged Brownlee to get out of his comfort zone. While at JMU, he earned his masters degree in athletic administration. The Dukes were good enough during Brownlee’s time there (averaging 36 wins per game) that he got his foot in the door at Iowa.

Brownlee helped Dahm stabilize a program that had fallen on hard times. He saw Dahm’s personality somewhere between his father’s and McFarland’s.

“He’s just a really good person,” says Brownlee of Dahm, who later hired Jim Brownlee as Hawkeyes pitching coach after the elder Brownlee was head coach at Illinois State University. “We had to do some heavy lifting in nine years to get that thing built up. I wouldn’t be in the position I am now if not for him.”

In 2012, Brownlee addressed the ABCA Convention in Anaheim, Calif., on the “10 Rules of Recovery.”

It was a time management planner that he continued while at Western Illinois and plans to share his values on personal development during speaking engagements with the ABCA.

“If you can manage yourself away from your working environment that carries into your working environment,” says Brownlee. “Hopefully, that makes you productive. The most successful people can handle a lot more. They can balance things. They don’t seem as rushed.

“I guarantee those people are taking some times for themselves, too. It can’t be all work and it can’t be all free time. You have to have that mix.”

While leading the Western Illinois Leathernecks program presented its challenges because of facilities and school size, Brownlee thoroughly enjoyed his time there because of the people he met.

“For me it was about the relationships with the guys,” says Brownlee, who slept in his office his first year at WIU. “That needed to be our niche. That was an enjoyable experience for me. The coaches were great and the kids were great.

“The opportunity with the ABCA was going to be great.”

Brownlee arrived in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday (Oct. 23) and his first full day at the office was Thursday (Oct. 24).

“It’s similar to coaching,” says Brownlee of his ABCA role. “You wear a lot of different hats.”

This fall, he helped host ABCA Barnstormers Regional Coaches Clinics across the country (he took 10 and Jim Richardson took 10). He also lines up the youth speakers and helps with the hot stoves at the national convention (which is Jan. 2-5, 2020 in Nashville). He assists the ABCA’s youth and travel baseball committees and is a liaison for NCAA Division II. After the New Year, he will be part of the ABCA podcast.

“My dad was an ABCA member. I’ve been an ABCA member for 22 years. This is an opportunity. It’s a great company. It’s been around since 1945. The ABCA has always been there to help coaches. Hopefully, that helps players.”

Ryan has been married to Henderson, Ky., native Aimee for 17 years. The Brownlees have two children — Jackson (16) and Norah (14). Ryan says the plans plan is to have the rest of the family move to North Carolina at the end of the school year.

NORARYANBROWNLEERyan Brownlee (right) shares a moment with daughter Norah. Ryan Brownlee, who played high school, college and pro baseball in Evansville, Ind., and was a college coach for 22 (the last seven at Western Illinois University) has become an assistant executive director for the American Baseball Coaches Association.

 

Lefty Short goes from Southport prep to D-backs pro in 2019

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Avery Short had committed to play baseball at the University of Louisville.

But Short graduated from Southport (Ind.) High School and the left-handed pitcher was selected in the 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Indianapolis native signed his first professional contract for a reported $922,500 and went to the minors, learned a new pitch and was part of a championship team.

Everything lined up perfectly,” says Short of his decision to turn professional. “It was hard opportunity to pass up.”

Short, who participated in the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field in July 2018 and competed for Team USA in the U18 Pan-American Championships in Panama in the fall of that year, was not dominant on the mound in his senior season with the Southport Cardinals. But he counts it as a valuable learning experience.

“I didn’t have the best year, but I learned how to deal with adversity,” says Short, 18 (he turns 19 on March 14, 2020). “That will help me in pro ball a lot. Nobody’s going to throw their best in every outing.”

While Short would work on all parts of his game after each mound appearance, he would focus on the areas that were not working for him.

With teammates looking up to him, he got a chance to be a leader. With an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer — Phil Webster — as his head coach, he developed a mindset of being tough and not giving up.

Short says being away from home for three weeks with Team USA taught him to be a little more independent and responsible.

“High school taught me to be a leader and hold myself accountable,” says Short. “Everybody was watching.”

Drawing on his experiences from high school, Team USA and travel ball (including with the Sean Laird-coached 17U Indiana Bulls and Team Indiana), Short made his pro debut July 26.

The lefty made six mound appearances with the Diamondbacks’ rookie-level Arizona League team where he went 0-0 with a 2.57 earn run average, seven strikeouts and no walks in seven innings.

It was a pretty good short season,” says Short. “I was a little tired during the end (from pitching in the Arizona heat).

“It was awesome to get moved up during my first season.”

Short learned new four-seam change-up grip from AZL D-backs pitching coach and former big leaguer Rich Sauveur.

“I have a really good feel for it,” says short of a pitch that has more downward break as opposed to arm-side run.

From his three-quarter overhand arm slot, Short continued to mix the change-up in with four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a curveball and a slider while with the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops of the short-season Northwest League.

Short got into just one game and threw 17 pitches with two strikeouts and no hits or runs allowed, but soaked up knowledge from pitching coach Barry Enright (also a former major pitcher) and thoroughly enjoyed his time with a team that won the NWL championship.

“It was awesome,” says Short of Hillsboro, part of the Portland metropolitan area. “The fanbase was incredible. There were at least 3,000 to 5,000 fans at every game and they were super-engaged.

“It’s a super nice area to live in.”

Short notes that there was an adjustment going from the higher seems of a high school baseball to the lower seams of the minor league ball and that impacted his breaking pitches. He plans to work a lot on the curve and slider in the off-season.

The past three weeks, Short has been in Arizona for a strength camp. Players lift weight four days a week, plus do yoga and get speed training from some of the world-class track coaches who live in the Valley of the Sun.

Wednesdays are off days. Short and his team do team-building activities like paintball, bowling or a World Series watch party.

In January, he returns to Arizona for instructional league.

Back in central Indiana, Short will train at Indianapolis Fitness And Sports Training (IFAST) in Fishers. Eventually, he will begin throwing again to get ready for instructional league.

Avery is the son of Tom (Cathy) Short and Amanda (Scott) Bryan. His siblings are Amber, Abbey, Alec, Payton, Caroline and Lexi.

“I’m the second youngest,” says Avery. “I was able to watch them grow up. I learn from their mistakes and from the good things.”

What about college?

While he’s not sure what area he would study, Short says he would like to pursue higher education in the future.

Right now, he is seeing where baseball will take him.

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Avery Short of Indianapolis played for the USA Baseball National team. (USA Baseball Image)

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Avery Short, a 2019 Southport (Ind.) High School graduate, pitches for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. (Michael Jacobs All-Star Photos)

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Avery Short, a 2019 Southport (Ind.) High School graduate and USA Baseball alum, was selected in the 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and finished the season with the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops. (Michael Jacobs All-Star Photos)

 

Getting to know players well is key for Rangers area scout Medici

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

How a player can swing a bat or throw a baseball is important to Texas Rangers area scout Mike Medici.

But it goes deeper than that.

“It’s about doing a better job of knowing the person,” says Medici, who lives near Danville and Avon on the west side of Indianapolis. “I appreciate the story. I like to know what drives them, the influences in their lives.

“There’s adversity. It’s not smooth sailing all the time. It’s important knowing anything and everything about them. I go as deep as I have to. I go to the people who don’t have a vested interest.

“It’s anyone who is going to give you a straight answer about that player. If he shows up to camp and he’s a screwball and not putting in the work, that comes back to the signing scout.”

Much can be learned from trainers and strength and conditioning coaches who sometimes spend more time with players than their on-field coaches.

Some players may be found to be a little immature or party too much.

“They may have been coddle a little bit in high school,” says Medici. “We can work with that.

“If so-and-so needs to grow up a little bit, teams will try to pair guys up away from the complex that are going to be good influences on each other.”

Medici says the high school player is the riskiest to draft but offers the most upside because of their age and the time they have to develop.

Major League Baseball organizations are investing in these athletes so they want to know what they’re getting and scouts like Medici are the ones gathering much of that information and forming those relationships.

Medici, who was an area scout in Indiana and Illinois for the Toronto Blue Jays December 2009 to June 2013 before going with the Rangers and scouting Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky since November 2013, sees mid-range prospects getting to and making an impact at the big league level.

He uses Paul DeJong — a fourth-round draft pick in 2015 out of Illinois State University and now the starting shortstop of the St. Louis Cardinals — as an example.

“We want to see how big the make-up component shapes who he is,” says Medici.

Gavin Lux was a 2016 first-round selection by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Wisconsin. He made it to the majors in 2019, but not before experiencing some trials in the minors.

“I could have told you that he will overcome,” says Medici. “That’s the kind of kid he was with a tireless work ethic and dedication to the game.”

Medici notes that some players have never really experienced prolonged failure, begging the question: “Can he handle adversity and overcome?”

“A high school kid may have been the big fish in a small pond for a long, long time,” says Medici. “When they fail and they’re trying to make adjustments at a high level and they don’t know how to handle it.”

Medici relates it to football.

“How many Five Star high school recruits become great NFL players?,” says Medici. “They go to college where there is structure and systems that allow them to succeed.”

It changes when the athlete becomes a professional.

“I tell my guys, ‘it’s your career,’” says Medici. “You have to own your career. We’ll guide you, but you’ve got to put in the work.”

Born in Albany, N.Y., Medici is a former catcher at Shaker High School in Latham, N.Y. (north of Albany) and NCAA Division I Niagra University near Niagra Falls, N.Y., and an assistant coach at The College of Saint Rose in Albany.

Medici says his background as a catcher helped him make the switch to scout.

“It’s amazing the way they see the game,” says Medici of catchers. “They end up learning every position on the field and they know pitching staff.”

When he was hired by the Blue Jays and then general manager Alex Anthopoulos, Medici moved to Chicago. When he went to the Rangers and added Wisconsin and Kentucky to his territory, he settled in the Indianapolis area.

“We absolutely love it here,” says Medici. “The thing I’ve learned about living here is that people are passionate about their sport

“This has been a very productive state for me. Every year, there’s players up here.”

Invited to fall instructional league while with the Blue Jays, Medici was able to be sort of a member of the coaching staff, hitting fungos, pitching batting practice and soaking it all in.

“I would listen, learn and ask questions,” says Medici.

Also while in Chicago, Medici lived near Sal Fasano and learned a lot about baseball from a man who played at the University of Evansville and was a catcher in the big leagues and now a catching coach for the Atlanta Braves.

Former major league infielder and coach Mike Mordecai and hitting coach Anthony Iapocci are also counted among Medici’s baseball mentors.

Medici estimates that he puts in 30,000 miles a year looking for prospects. Whenever possible, he commutes to be home with his wife of seven years, Beth (a southern Illinois native), and their three children, 6-year-old son Miles and 1-year-old twins Beckham (boy) and Raelyn (girl).

With fall games winding down in the Midwest, Medici is transitioning to doing face-to-face meetings with college players. He will do this up until about Thanksgiving then turn to high school players. During the winter, he will invite college players in to work out — often at former major league pitcher Bill Sampen’s Samp’s Hack Shack in Plainfield.

“I can see them work away from campus,” says Medici.

There has been rumors of restructuring and shrinking the minor leagues and the scout has his take.

“If you start taking levels aways, it’s going to hurt the development,” says Medici. “The game’s getting younger.

“There’s a need to have (multiple levels). You can’t rush young kids.”

Medici, who also holds a masters degree in sport management from Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., started a website last winter — ScoutSchool.org — as a way to educate scouts and bring them together as a community.

Medici went on The Baseball Awakening Podcast to talk about scouting in June.

 

The Medici family (from left): Raelyn, Beth, Miles, Mike and Beckham. Mike Medici is an area scout with the Texas Rangers. The family resides near Danville and Avon on the west side of Indianapolis.

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The Medici family (clockwise from upper left): Mike, Beth, Miles, Beckham and Raelyn. Mike Medici is an area scout for the Texas Rangers. The Medicis reside near Danville and Avon west of Indianapolis.

18666The Medici family (from left): Beckham, Beth, Miles, Mike and Raelyn. Mike Medici is an area scout with the Texas Rangers. The Medicis live in central Indiana.

 

Ontiveros places discipline at core of East Chicago Central Cardinals baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s fair to say there will be new Cards at the Block (Stadium) in 2020.

It’s been a trend for East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School Cardinals baseball to have several players in their first year’s of organized baseball or at least since youth leagues.

“Every year we seem to be rebuilding,” says Jorge Ontiveros, ECC head coach since 2009. “We don’t have a big freshmen class coming in.

“This is every year.”

That’s one of the reasons Ontiveros and his coaching staff emphasize discipline. It is also a quality he got from his coaches while he was a Cardinals player.

The 1991 graduate played for Ruben Morris and then his senior year for Bo Reyes.

“We try to keep these kids organized and structured regardless of the score and the result of the game,” says Ontiveros. “They’re expected to be a certain way on and off the field.

“We expect them to be gentlemen. We want them to be productive students in the classroom and on the diamond just so we don’t have any problems.”

Ontiveros says there are usually about 20 players out each year in a school of about 1,200. Many of them are soccer players and wrestlers.

“They come in with that athletic ability,” says Ontiveros. “Our only challenge is hand-eye coordination with the baseball.”

East Chicago Little League introduces local kids to the game, but it is not as big as it once was with one or two teams per division.

Ontiveros says EC mayor Anthony Copeland implemented “Building Baseball Through Community” with participation from Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond and Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting.

“There was good participation of about 50 kids,” says Ontiveros. “We’re looking to continue that process.”

Helping Ontiveros in 2020 will be varsity assistant Frank Rosado (who has been with the program since 1986), junior varsity head coach Carlos Perez, JV assistant Juan Becerra and volunteer/pitching coach Jimmy Flores (who played at Noll).

Ontiveros, Perez and Flores are teammates on the Astros of the 28-and-over Northwest Indiana Adult Baseball League and Rosado used to play.

“I’ll go until my body says I can’t go any more,” says Ontiveros.

Astros manager and NWIABL president Jeramy Ortiz is a former ECC coach.

After some time as an independent, East Chicago Central now competes as a member of the Great Lakes Athletic Conference (with Gary West Side, Hammond, Hammond Clark, Hammond Gavit and Hammond Morton).

In baseball, each GLAC team plays each other twice — home and away. In 2019, non-conference opponents included Boone Grove, Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, Highland, Morgan Township, Munster, 21st Century Charter and Washington Township.

The Cardinals are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Hammond Morton, Highland, Lake Central, Merrillville and Munster. East Chicago Central, which opened in 1986-87 and replaced East Chicago Roosevelt and East Chicago Washington, has yet to win a sectional championship.

Two Washington graduates — pitcher Tim Stoddard and outfielder Kenny Lofton — played in the big leagues. Outfielder Jim Hicks, who played in the majors in 1965-66 and 1969-70, went to Roosevelt.

Kenny Lofton Field is located next to historic Block Stadium, a structure built in 1942 and home to many of the best ballplayers to come through the Region.

Many renovations have been made in recent years to a property owned and operated by the city, including a total revamping of the playing surface, moving in of the fences (it will be about 325 feet down the lines and 380 to center field) and new rest rooms, storage and a concession stand plus locker rooms, community center and a new scoreboard. The place has also gotten a fresh coat of paint.

“It’s night and day to what we used to play on,” says Ontiveros. “We were told it’s going to be ready for opening day.

“We have not played or practiced on that field in over two years.”

Another city facility — Kosciuszko Park — has been home to ECC baseball. Both Block and Kosciuszko are between 1.5 and 3 miles from campus, meaning a shuttle bus comes into play.

“It’s a challenge getting kids there for practice and getting them back,” says Ontiveros.

After high school, Ontiveros earned an associate degree from Ivy Tech and a bachelors degree from Purdue University Northwest. He had intended to go into education, but the Internet was just coming on the time. He is an IT operations manager at ECC, working with computer networks.

The coach maintains a website to keep fans and alumni up to date on Cardinals baseball.

ECC players going on to college programs in recent years include Gilbert Ibarra (Sauk Valley Community College), Erik Romo (Wabash College), Angelo Rosas-Badillo (College of Lake County), Adrian Alvarez (Sauk Valley), D’Angelo Gonzalez (University of Indianapolis), Reyes Maldonado (Sauk Valley and University of Saint Francis), Carlos Flores (South Suburban College) and Darion Edmond (South Suburban).

Jorge and Carmen Ontiveros recently celebrated eight years of marriage. The couple has two children — Jacqueline (6) and Andres (4). Both played T-ball this year. Jacqueline is to move on to softball in 2020.

ANDRESJACQUELINEONTIVEROSAndres and Jacqueline Ontiveros — the children of Jorge and Carmen Ontiveros — enjoy playing in youth baseball and softball. Jorge Ontiveros is head baseball coach at East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School.

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The Ontiveros family — Jorge, Carmen, Andres and Jacqueline. JORGEONTIVEROS2

Jorge Ontiveros plays in an adult baseball league tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He is on the Astros in the Northwest Indiana Adult Baseball League and is the head coach at East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School.

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Jorge Ontiveros has been head baseball coach at his alma mater — East Chicago (Ind.) Central High School — since 2009.

 

IHSBCA sends arm care, other IHSAA by-law proposals on to athletic administrators

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association (IHSBCA) members have been surveyed on five proposals that have been passed on to the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (IIAAA), which will then send them on to be considered to the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) at its November executive committee meeting.

The first two proposals involve arm care, the third lengthening the season, the fourth adding summer baseball activity days and the fifth designating a person to track pitch counts during the state tournament series.

The IHSBCA’s proposed change to by-law 15-2.4 states: “During the School Year Out-of-Season, a student who participates in the Team Sport of baseball may throw a baseball as a part of a conditioning program (beginning M – WK26).”

“We definitely see throwing as part of conditioning,” says IHSBCA executive director Brian Abbott. “It’s hard to simulate throwing in baseball without a baseball.

“Our membership supports our proposals.”

According to the IHSBCA, which has been working with IHSAA assistant commissioner for baseball Robert Faulkens (who says he will have to see the IHSBCA findings before he comments publicly on the proposals), the rationale for the proposal is that “throwing a baseball generally involves a 15 to 20-minute session with a baseball so it is not a huge time commitment. The flexibility of the conditioning program is needed due to the fact a player needs to throw on multiple days.”

The IHSBCA has been a strong advocate for an arm care program since the pitch count limitations (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) were put in place.

In appealing to its members, the IHSBCA says “preferably, this arm care proposal can be started immediately in preparation for the upcoming 2020 season. Track runners train their legs as a part of conditioning, the arm has to be conditioned in a similar fashion. In order to train the arm, just as the legs, a plan of progression and consistency is imperative for overall health of these muscle groups.

“As it currently reads, Indiana high school baseball players are allowed to throw a baseball two times per week preceding the beginning of the season. At which time these players are now allowed, and almost have to be in order to be ready for the season, to throw six times per week. The progression of going from two days to six days without a proper build up in between is not a healthy progression for an arm.

“This stage of arm care will NOT include bullpens. We are looking to train and prepare the arm

as a track runner trains and prepares their legs.

“Bullpens and competitive bullpens will only take place during the participation portion of the Limited Contact sessions currently allowed by the IHSAA.

“By allowing arm care to be a part of conditioning there are no additional times, dates, etc. … to supervise. The only supervision for school administration is during the Limited Contact sessions.”

For by-law 15-2.5, this is the changed being proposed by the IHSBCA: “Beginning on M – WK33 and continuing to M – WK37 (official practice starting date), the Team Sport of baseball will be allowed 1 additional day per week (2-hour max.) for the specific purpose of throwing bullpens … bullpens are defined as a pitcher, catcher, and the use of a pitching mound (s). No other baseball activities will be performed during this additional 1 day/week time period.”

Abbott notes that schools with a large number of pitchers will have difficulty in getting in all the pitches and have any time left over for other training.

“Some schools have 60 to 70 kids trying out,” says Abbott. “It takes a lot of their time.  That’s all you get done for two hours.

“We next extra time. Proposal No. 2 adds another dimension with more opportunities for pre-season bullpens.

“In my mind, (the arm care proposals) are needed, but we’re only one piece of the puzzle.”

In getting pitchers ready for the season, coaches generally like to work up to at least 60 pitches by opening day and this tends to start with about 15 pitches on Week 1, 30 on Week 2 and so on.

Abbott says while the IHSAA will consider proposals in November, action is not expected until it meets in May after the IHSBCA is allowed to formally present its proposals, meaning changes would go into effect in 2020-21.

Though the IHSBCA would like to speed up that timetable for arm care.

“Pitch count was put in immediately because it was agreed upon by all parties,” says Abbott. “We would love arm care to go in place after Christmas, but we have no control over that.”

The IHSBCA requests that the length of the baseball season be extended by one week.

Abbott says that in the fall of 2018, Goshen High School athletic director and IIAAA Proposals chairman Larry Kissinger asked the IHSBCA and Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association (which covers softball) to consider options for length of season and games played.

Kissinger shared that 77 percent of coaches did not want a reduction in games. The IHSBCA has been working with the IIAAA on options. One way to continue to play 28 games of 26 games plus a tournament was by adding another week to the season.

Abbott notes that the softball season is 11 weeks and baseball is shorter. Spring breaks — in some districts two weeks long and some systems imposing mandatory time off — are cutting the compacted season. This does not happen with football in the fall or basketball in the winter.

In discussions with Randy Lewandowski, president and general manager of the Indianapolis Indians, Abbott learned that the minor league team prefers having the tournament off Father’s Day weekend as those are lucrative dates for the club at Victory Field.

The proposed timetable (with length of each season to the start of sectional play:

Current Season Length:

Football (1A-4A): 11 weeks plus 4 days.

Football (5A-6A): 12 weeks plus 4 days.

Boys Basketball: 16 weeks plus 1 day.

Softball: 11 weeks.

Baseball: 10 weeks plus 1 or 2 days (depending on sectional start date).

Proposed Season Length:

Baseball: 11 weeks (sectional tournament starts on Memorial Day and concludes the following Saturday; the 4-week tourney finishes the weekend after Father’s Day).

In 2021, Memorial Day is May 31, Father’s Day June 20 so that would make June 25-26 the dates for the State Finals.

In 2022, Memorial Day is May 30, Father’s Day June 19 and the proposed State Finals dates June 24-25.

For 2023, those dates are May 29, June 18 and June 23-24.

For 2024, they are May 27, June 16 and June 21-22.

IHSBCA’s fourth proposal states: “A School, and players from the School’s baseball program, may participate in Baseball Activities under the following standards:

“a. Schools may sponsor up to Ten (10) Baseball Activity Days (a day when a School’s baseball coaching staff coaches Two (2) or more players from the School’s baseball team engaged in Baseball Activities) during the Summer.

“b. A School’s Baseball Activity Days may include up to Four (4) Baseball Competition Days (a day when a School’s baseball coaching staff takes Two (2) or more players from a School’s baseball team to either Practice with or compete against One (1) or more players from another School or program).

“c. Prior to the first day of Summer, a School’s baseball coaching staff must designate to the School’s athletic director or the principal the specific Baseball Activity Days and the Baseball Competition Days in which the baseball program plans to participate.”

The IHSBCA’s rationale: “The IHSAA is asking all coaches associations to submit guidelines for summer participation.

“In most cases, travel baseball and non-school leagues dominate the summer environment for our sport; however, in the cases where the high school coach(es) is/are still running an in-house summer program these guidelines will serve as a basis for participation.”

In its fifth proposal, the IHSBCA makes this request: “that each tournament host site (sectional through State Finals) have a person designed to track the pitch count for both teams in each scheduled contest.

“This position will keep written or digital records and communicate with the coaches and umpires each inning to confirm pitch counts for both teams.

“This position will also mandate (through the No. 1 umpire/crew chief) the removal of a pitcher once their pitch count limit has been exhausted.

“The head coach will certify the availability of each pitcher prior to the start of each tournament level; records will be kept throughout the tournament to track pitch counts; ensure proper rest is observed; and, at no time, allow an ineligible pitcher to enter the game or remain in the game.

“These records will be available to member school head coaches, athletic directors, principals, and IHSAA personnel upon request.”

Note: Indiana’s American Legion state tournament has had a person assigned to pitch counts for years. The total is posted in the press box window at the end of each inning.

The IHSAA pitch count rule has meant that teams have had to develop more pitchers and share the load.

Steve Stutsman, veteran head coach at Elkhart Central High School, says the Top 10 pitchers in school history have more than 100 innings per season and the leaders 85 was the norm for the leaders a decade ago.

“Weather is also a consideration,” says Stutsman. “It’s long been a rule at Central that pitchers have to wear long sleeves until it’s 70 degrees.”

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Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association (IHSBCA) members have been surveyed on five proposals that have been passed on to the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (IIAAA), which will then send them on to be considered to the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) at its November executive committee meeting. (Steve Krah Photo)