Talent, character key for Trine baseball’s Perschke

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A coach assembles a team and he expects that all of his athletes will be there for practice.

At Trine University in Angola where Greg Perschke is entering his 16th season as head baseball coach, it’s rare indeed when all of his players are in one place.

Class and laboratory schedules are bound to keep someone away at a school renowned for math, science and engineering.

“That’s just the way it is,” says Perschke. “As long as I can get the majority of them out there, we can be productive and get a lot of stuff done.”

Thunder baseball players get things done both on the diamond and in an academic setting.

“Forty percent of the kids that join my team are in engineering and they are graduating in four years,” says Perschke. “That’s very impressive.”

Since Trine (known as Tri-State through 2008) transitioned from NAIA to NCAA Division III (no athletic scholarships) prior for 2005 season, Perschke has had 25 players on the all-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association team with 11 first-teamers. His 2012 squad tied for second in the MIAA and the 2013 team won a school-record 25 games.

On Perschke’s watch, the Thunder have appeared in the MIAA tournament three times.

With two wins, Perschke will reach the 250 mark for his Trine coaching career.

Perschke, who counts Jeremy Campbell and Jon Lies as assistant coaches, handles pitchers, catchers and recruiting for the Thunder. The base is a radius of 2 1/3 to 3 hours from campus.

Like the general student body, many players come from Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. All but four on the 51-man roster for 2017 (33 varsity, 28 junior varsity) are from the Hoosier, Wolverine or Buckeye states. There’s two from Illinois and one each from Wisconsin and Connecticut.

Campbell and Lies do some scouting. Perschke, who is also an assistant athletic director, makes the final call on players.

“Recruiting is the biggest part of the program,” says Perschke. “Hit that hard and early or you’re going to struggle.”

When building his team, Perschke seeks baseball talent.

But that’s not all.

“Character is a big one,” says Perschke. “I get to know that recruit throughout the year. Family also goes a long way.

“Baseball is kind of the easy part. If that clicks, you can move forward.”

Of course, getting players who are an academic fit is essential. With Trine’s focus, most athletes come to the school certain of their scholastic path.

Perschke does find it challenging to keep so many players heading in the right direction. Not an issue when he played or when he began his coaching career, he now must account for how his athletes use social media.

“It’s how they represent themselves, the school and the program. That’s the big thing,” says Perschke. “It’s not a problem. A lot of it’s common sense. But you do have to talk about it more.”

Every other year, Trine players attend a session on the use of Twitter, Instagram etc.

“He’ll talk with them and wake them up,” says Perschke of the speaker’s message. “It’s not just friends, everybody can find (social media posts).”

Perschke is a 1985 graduate of LaPorte High School, where he pitched for coaching legend Ken Schreiber.

“You have to let a lot of stuff roll off your back, that’s for sure,” says Perschke in the book, A Cut Above: The history of LaPorte baseball (published in 2016 by Prime Time Publications LLC, dba Indiana Football Digest). “It made you stronger and a better player. The game’s a mental game and you’ve got to fight through that.”

After LaPorte, Perschke pitched for Southwestern Michigan College, a two-year school in Dowagiac, Mich.

In 1989, Perschke was selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft for the third straight year. After being chosen by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 32nd round in 1987 and the Atlanta Braves in the 23rd round in 1988 and not signing either time, the 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher was picked by the Chicago White Sox in the 24th round out of the University of New Orleans, where he had played for Tom Schwaner, and did sign a professional contract.

He went 45-35 in eight minor league seasons with the White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians organizations, including five at Triple-A.

“Schreib, all the managers and  coaches I’ve played for set the tone for everything I’ve done in baseball,” says Perschke. “It’s the foundation of what I’m doing now.”

Perschke received a bachelor’s degree in communications from UNO in 1998.

TRINETHUNDER

GREGPERSCHKE

Greg Perschke is entering his 16th season as head baseball coach at Trine University in 2017.

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Childers teaching lessons about adjustment, baseball concepts at Goshen College

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pulling together a Goshen College roster with players from 10 different states and one Canadian province, Alex Childers is going about teaching lessons on and off the baseball diamond.

Childers, who in his fifth season as head coach for the Maple Leafs, wants his athletes to be adaptable, students of the game and above all else — students. After all, GC is a highly-ranked institution of higher learning.

“At the college level, you have got to be good at development,” says Childers, who played his college baseball at Goshen College and Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. “You want to recruit good players, but you’ve got to develop the talent as well.

“When you let then be athletes and players, you can maximize potential. That’s what we try to do.”

Making the most of the fall and winter and the rare spring practices, Childers and his coaching staff of Justin Grubbs, Jackson Callahan and Doug Wellenreiter do their best to create intelligent baseball players.

“I try to teach the game and concepts,” says Childers. “When you micro-manage too much, you’re not teaching the concepts of the game.

“I want guys to understand when it’s a good time to run vs. I’m going to give you the steal sign so you’re going to run. I want players to understand the game. When is it a good time to be aggressive on a ball in the dirt? When is it a good time being aggressive going first to third? As opposed to me just moving the chess pieces around.”

Childers also expects players to be willing to move around on the diamond, which sometimes involves some candid conversations.

“Most guys on our team had a position change,” says Childers. “In the fall, we try to move every single one of our guys around.”

The thought is that knowing a different position never hurts and it gives a player more of a chance to crack the lineup.

“If you think you’re just a second baseman and that’s where you think you’re going to play, that’s great,” says Childers. “But you have to make our team the best when you’re at second base.

“Sometimes that’s a tough concept for guys to get.”

Citing a couple of examples of getting Leafs to buy into a switch, Childers points to current senior Preston Carr and former player Arick Armington.

Carr, who hails from Ontario, came to GC as a pitcher-second baseman. He was turned into an honorable mention all-conference selection and two-time Gold Glove winner in center field.

Armington, who played high school baseball at Elkhart Christian Academy, was convinced to make an adjustment, moving from the middle infield.

“I told him, ‘Aric, we’re better when you’re in center field,’” says Childers. “You have to get guys to buy in.”

And confidence is key.

“It’s a tough thing,” says Childers. “You know how baseball is, if you don’t have an ego you don’t last very long because of how much failure is involved.

“You’ve got to believe that you belong. You’ve got to respect decisions I make as the coach. But if you don’t believe you can do it, you’re in the wrong sport.”

Childers wants his players, especially freshmen, to know what to expect.

“Let’s be honest, here in the north you play on good weather days,” says Childers. “On poor weather days, you’re not playing and you’re back in the (batting) cage. We play 55 games in essentially 2 1/2 months. It is a sprint.”

GC coaches talk about players having the ability to be present.

“We talk say ‘be where your feet are,’” says Childers. “That basically means stats are a reflection of what’s happened in the past, you need to be present right now. If you don’t have that concept, the season can get on you quick. Before you know it, you’re throwing away at-bats or throwing away games and you don’t want to do that in a career that’s so short.”

Some Leafs don’t have a short trip to campus. Besides Indiana and Ontario, the 2017 roster features players from California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

“We have students from all over, why can’t we have baseball players from all over?,” says Childers. “I’d love to have local guys, but we can’t limit ourselves to just that. We have to think outside the box (in recruiting).”

When recruiting, Childers and his staff are looking for players who are academically strong. The NAIA allows 12 scholarships for baseball, but the Crossroads League has a limit of 7.6, so things like institutional aid come into play.

“If the kid has a high GPA, it just increases his scholarship level for the school which I can add onto from a baseball standpoint,” says Childers. “It’s a little bit of a matrix trying to figure out how to package guys the best.”

Childers said players have gone on to professional baseball out of the Crossroads League, but that’s not the focus at GC.

“At the end of the day, college baseball is a means for you to get an education.” says Childers. “If you can keep playing for four more years, that’s just icing on the cake. We treat it that way. I tell parents all the time, we don’t apologize for the academic portion of what we do. You want to keep in perspective what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Childers, who graduated from New Haven High School in 2003, said he owes much of what he knows about baseball to Bulldogs head coach Dave Bischoff.

“You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who practices harder and is more passionate about the game,” says Childers of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He’s somebody who cares deeply.”

Bischoff instilled in Childers, who was also a New Haven assistant for two years after his college playing days, the importance of mental toughness and getting the most out of players.

“My senior year in high school was a pretty senior-laden group but not the most talented group,” says Childers. “Coach Bischoff got the most out of us. We were a 20-win team and won a sectional title. He fit guys into roles and maximized the potential he had.

“I’m pretty fortunate in having him as a mentor.”

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Alex Childers is in his fifth season as head baseball coach at Goshen College in 2017. (Goshen College Photo)

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Alex Childers (left) coaches third base during the 2014 season. (Goshen College Photo)

Mishawaka’s Huemmer keeps it positive, reaps rewards

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Affirmation from the top and leaders choosing not to listen to the naysayers can lead to memorable accomplishments.

Just ask John Huemmer.

Keeping upbeat thanks to their head coach and led by a senior class intent on “proving ‘em wrong,” the 2016 Mishawaka High School baseball team took the program’s first IHSAA sectional championship since Huemmer took over the program in 2005.

The Cavemen beat South Bend Clay 3-2 (nine innings), LaPorte 10-9 and Plymouth 5-1 to reign at the Class 4A South Bend Clay Sectional. It was Mishawaka’s first title since 1997.

“The most important thing is to stay positive,” says Huemmer, who enters his 13th season at the Northern Indiana Conference school in 2017. “It’s not good to beat down a kid. You want to raise them up. That makes a big difference. If you keep encouraging, you’re going to get the most out of a kid.

“That kid’s going to buy into what you’re saying and they’re going to give everything they’ve got — not just for the head coach but, more importantly, for their teammates. If the kid is giving effort, then you have nothing to complain about. Mistakes are going to happen.”

If a player is striving to the best of his abilities, Huemmer tries not to dwell on a mistake. He just works to correct it and moves on.

The Cavemen were able to turn a negative in 2015 to a positive in 2016.

When Mishawaka bowed 9-8 to Plymouth in the semifinals of the ’15 Plymouth Sectional after letting momentum get away, Huemmer assembled his seniors-to-be and challenged them.

“What do you want for next year?,” says Huemmer in repeating a question he addressed to ballplayers in the Class of ’16. “I think that really set the tone for what we wanted to accomplish.

“Our record wasn’t what we wanted, but the pursuit of success and trying to win every game was there. The kids wholeheartedly wanted to do well last season. We came together at the right time and won the sectional.”

With his seniors leading the way, Huemmer hopes 2016 will feed 2017.

“We’re going to try to build on the momentum from last season,” says Huemmer, whose coaching staff includes Jim Shively as varsity assistant, Mark Bell and Andy Namisnak at the junior varsity level and Matt Went and Neal Hickle guiding the freshmen. “I wanted the guys to get a taste of what it’s like to win sectional. I knew if they got that taste, they’re going to want more.

“After we lost in the regional to Penn (4-3 in the semifinals), I heard ‘I want to do this again.’ That makes me feel great that they want to do it. Every year, I put the challenge on the seniors to do better than the previous year.”

Huemmer expects his seniors to be leaders, playing on their sense of urgency and reminding them that it is their final prep season.

“They’re the older kids,” says Huemmer. “They’re the ones that set the example. It goes with the thought: How do you want to be remembered at Mishawaka High School?”

The idea is that when seniors take ownership of the team, they want it more than being dictated to by the coaching staff.

“(The seniors of 2016) were just bound and determined to succeed,” says Huemmer. “To them, winning sectional proved everybody wrong.”

Huemmer enjoyed a long playing career. A right-handed pitcher, he graduated from Marian High School in Mishawaka in 1991 and played at Indiana State University for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Warn through 1996 then spent the summer of 1997 with the Lafayette Leopards of the independent Heartland League. He also pitched for 17 or 18 seasons in amateur leagues around South Bend with two summers in Grand Rapids, Mich.

At the same time, Huemmer had gone into the business world. He was lured into coaching by then-South Bend Adams High School head coach Joel Reinebold (now head coach at South Bend Clay).

The pitcher had been recruited as a high schooler by Reinebold when the latter was assistant to Brian Buckley at Hillsdale (Mich.) College.

Huemmer and Reinebold spent three seasons together at Adams then both moved over to be on the staff of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos at Penn. Huemmer coached Kingsmen pitchers for four seasons (2001-04; the first was a Class 4A state championship year for Penn).

When Gregg Minegar resigned at Mishawaka, Huemmer interviewed for the head coach position and was hired.

He welcomed the opportunity to make final decisions and implement the program he wanted to run.

“The biggest challenge is to get everybody to buy in to what I as a head coach want to instill as values, what I believe is correct for behavior,” says Huemmer. “It’s important for us as coaches to communicate those expectations. Then you have to act on it.”

Huemmer is careful to send a consistent message and not play favorites. If any player — starter or reserve — is not hustling, he needs to check that behavior.

“If a kid comes to me asking why I haven’t addressed that with someone who’s doing the same thing (as them), that ruins my credibility,” says Huemmer.

Part of Huemmer’s coaching philosophy was also shaped by his coach at Marian — Ray Lentych.

“One of the main points of emphasis for Coach Lentych was do the little things,” says Huemmer. “The little things add up to big things. It’s not just the one big thing that happens but everything that goes on throughout the game.”

Simply hustling and putting the ball in play can make the difference between winning and losing.

Following the National Federation of High School Associations’ edict, the IHSAA is putting a pitch count rule in place for 2017.

Huemmer welcomes it.

“Proper pitching mechanics are important in preventing arm injuries,” says Huemmer. “Also, having the pitch count rule is important to allow pitchers the proper amount of time to recover after pitching. Some programs will struggle with the new rule because they will not have pitching depth.”

Teams will be required to record pitch count totals on MaxPreps.com so the IHSAA will have a record.

Huemmer notes that communicating with a pitcher about how they’re feeling during an outing is key. It’s also important to note that pitchers might be able to go deeper into games later in the season and that factors like adrenaline in tournament situations can’t be discounted.

Mishawaka has been tracking pitches all along, using a tendency chart for opposing batters and a feedback chart for pitchers that shows ball-strike percentage on each ball-strike count (ie. 65 percent of strikes on 0-2 count).

MISHAWAKACAVEMEN

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John Huemmer enters his 13th season as head baseball coach at Mishawaka High School in 2017.

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Noblesville baseball culture foundation is program-first

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Keever didn’t start the baseball culture at Noblesville High School.

Millers baseball has a storied tradition. Men like Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Don Dunker and Dennis Kas had the ball rolling before Keever arrived on campus.

The former Twin Lakes High School and Butler University player left coaching and teaching jobs at Avon High School to become Noblesville head coach in the summer of 2004 and logged his first season in 2005.

In 2014, the Millers hoisted an IHSAA Class 4A state championship trophy. In Keever’s first 12 seasons, Noblesville has won four sectionals, three regionals and three titles in the “meat grinder” Hoosier Crossroads Conference.

With baseball assistants Kevin Fitzgerald, Caleb Small, Quinton Miller, Ben Yoder, Eric Slager and Gene Marinacci plus strength and conditioning coach Brian Clarke enforcing the same message, Keever has kept Noblesville among the best big-school programs in Indiana with a set of core values.

“We have really good staff,” says Keever. “They love kids and hold them accountable.

“It’s about being part of something bigger than yourself. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts.”

Members of the program — coaches and players — talk about investing in each other and the good of the whole.

“When you can create that ownership in the program, you have something special,” says Keever. “When you have authentically invested in your teammate, they will be more receptive … they know you care.”

It can be expressed in a straight-forward equation — fitting in that Keever’s classroom job is math teacher — Program > Team > Individual.

Adopted from the Butler Way (Keever hit for a school-record average of .426 as a junior for the Steve Farley-coached Bulldogs in 1999), The Miller Way “demands commitment, denies selfishness and accepts reality, yet seeks constant improvement while promoting the good of the team above self.”

Noblesville follows the S.T.U.P.H. method.

Servanthood — makes teammates better, lead by giving.

Thankfulness — learn from every circumstance.

Unity — do not divide our house, team first.

Passion — do not be lukewarm, commit to excellence.

Humility — know who we are, strengths and weaknesses.

Keever said its the team-first philosophy that drives all three squads for the Millers — varsity, junior varsity black and junior varsity gold.

Is it a perfect system?

No.

“You’re dealing with teenagers,” says Keever. “There will always be push-back. We’re dealing with human beings here — coaches included.”

But with older players modeling behavior for their younger teammates, it becomes self-policing program and rules violators generally step back in line in short order.

“You learn the most from your peers and teammates,” says Keever. “They speak your same language.”

Keever expects a total buy-in and players striving for the high side of the “C” scale.

“If you’re resistant or reluctant, you are not going to be part of our program,” says Keever. “You can be compliant (do the minimum), committed (go above and beyond) or compelled (go above and beyond and bring people with you).”

To make the Millers better and allow for team bonding, Noblesville has been going on a southern trip (Kentucky in 2008 and Tennessee since 2009). This year means an appearance March 30-April 1 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Conference games will again for played as three-game series.

“It’s a blast,” says Keever of the format. “It’s the college model, how baseball should be played. Our league is able to do something like that. We finding out who has the best team, not just who has the best pitcher. (Indiana high school) baseball needs to get off the basketball model and onto the baseball model, especially in the state tournament.”

Keever notes that in basketball you are pretty much the same team each time out. In baseball, it makes a big difference who is on the mound.

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Noblesville High School head baseball coach Justin Keever is a 1996 Twin Lakes High School and 2001 Butler University graduate. The 2017 season marks his 13th of leading the Millers.

New Haven baseball top dog Bischoff paying it forward

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Bischoff first barked out baseball commands for the Bulldogs of New Haven High School as an assistant coach in the early 1980’s.

Since the 1985 season, Bischoff has been the top diamond dog.

Taking lessons learned from some of Indiana’s top high school baseball minds, Bischoff has been successful enough at this East Allen County institution that he has been directing those commands at a facility renamed in 2009 as Bischoff Field.

“It should probably be named for my wife for putting up with us all these years,” says Dave, referring to Kristen, whom he married in the fall of 1984, himself and the two sons who played for him — Matt and Kyle (both who went on to play at Purdue University for Doug Schreiber). Matt is now his father’s pitching coach. “Matt says he’s my consultant. With that title, he can offer free advice at all times. He chose the job description.”

The current New Haven coaching staff also features former Bulldog players Mike Snyder and Brandon Pease and former Fort Wayne Concordia High School head coach Beach Harmon. The New Haven pitching record book is full of entries with Brandon Pease and Matt Bischoff.

It was also Matt who sent out a survey a few years ago to 100 of his father’s former New Haven players. The response was tremendous and some of them even focused on baseball.

The 2017 season will be Dave Bischoff’s 33rd season at New Haven. In the previous 32, the Bulldogs have won 586 games, 10 sectionals and three regionals while making three IHSAA Final Four appearances and taking four titles in a traditionally baseball-rich conference, which has morphed from the Northeastern Indiana Athletic Conference to the Northeast Eight Conference.

Bischoff Field, which will be sectional host site in ’17, has been upgraded over the years with a covered grandstand behind home plate, wooden walls in the power alleys and a wind screen in center field.

The veteran coach, inducted by his peers in 2014 to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, is proud that he has sent more than 50 players on to college and two — son Matt as well as Dave Doster (who played two seasons in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies) — went on to professional ball. Around two dozen have gone on to coach at the high school level with a few coaching in college.

Dave Bischoff gets even more satisfaction knowing that the life lessons he was passing along as a leader and mentor — be on time, bring your best, show up — were absorbed by young men who went on to be successful husbands, fathers and business owners. There’s even been an FBI agent or two.

Baseball began for Bischoff in Adams County. Back in the 1960’s, Little League baseball meant a city league in Decatur and a country league in Monmouth. Young Dave played in the latter.

He also played in a plenty of non-organized games while making his way up through Pony League (teams were based in Decatur, Burns, Geneva and Monroe) with hopes of playing or Bellmont High School on the corner of Adams and 13th at Worthman Field.

“It’s probably over-stated, but we played a lot and were coached little,” says Bischoff of his formative baseball days. “We played a lot of pick-up games. We learned by trial and error. To get better, you had to make adjustments.”

By the time Bischoff reached high school, there were 30 freshmen — or about 20 percent of the boys in the class — trying out for baseball.

Dave was cut that first year.

Determined, he played baseball in Convoy, Ohio and fast pitch softball in a local church league.

“Playing fast pitch softball against men, you learn a lot that way,” says Dave. Bischoff’s reputation for bunting and slashing teams at New Haven stem from all the fast-pitch softball he pitched in high school and college.

As a sophomore, Bischoff made the baseball team at Bellmont, where he graduated in 1975.

After that, he got a chance to play college baseball at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne, then an NCAA Division III program. He chose the school because it was close, the price was right, it afforded him a chance to play.

A history buff, Bischoff gravitated toward becoming a social studies teacher (he’s taught history and English since the fall of 1982) and he’d decided coaching was also for him.

While still in college, Bischoff began coaching Little Leaguers and was given a chance to coach Bellmont’s summer program by new Braves head coach John Cate.

“In a sense, he gave me my first shot,” says Bischoff of Cate. “John impressed upon me the organizational skills to put together a program. He did things first class. It was evident kids bought into what he was doing.

“I understood real quick those are the things you have to do if you’re going to be successful.”

Cate took Bischoff to his first IHSBCA State Clinic in 1980 and that’s where he first met Purdue University coach Dave Alexander, who is also an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. The clinic would become an annual ritual and Bischoff would get to travel to and from Indianapolis with Hall of Famers like Bill Jones (DeKalb), Don Sherman (Huntington North) and Chris Stavreti (Fort Wayne Northrop).

“It was like a got three clinics,” says Bischoff of his northeast Indiana-based travel companions. “They were great coaches and mentors. They would share anything with you.”

For two years after college, Bischoff served as a substitute teacher in East Allen County Schools and a baseball assistant to New Haven head coach and IHSBCA charter member Don Hummel before taking a full-time teaching position and baseball assistant job for two more years at Norwell Hugh School.

When Bischoff was established at New Haven and Jones stopped hosting his own coaches clinic at DeKalb, he encouraged the young coach to start one of his own. Jones hooked him up with Hall of Famers Ken Schreiber (LaPorte) and Jim Reinebold (South Bend Clay) as clinicians.

“I got to know those guys right away,” says Bischoff. “I feel fortunate that from a very early age I was being mentored by the founding fathers of the association. Those guys are professionals, organizers and icons. There are real good guys when it came to helping out a young coach.”

Bischoff was an IHSBCA district representative for 10 years and was the organization’s president in 2005-06.

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The Bischoffs (from left): Dave, Kristen, Matt, Casey (Kyle’s wife) and Kyle. (Family Photo Supplied)

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Former big leaguer Stults explains importance of mental game to campers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

To pitch at high levels — college or pro — the space between the ears becomes even more important than the arm.

That’s one of the big lessons Eric Stults absorbed in his 14 seasons of professional baseball (2002-2015).

“It’s the mental part of the game,” Stults said after leading a pitching camp for youngsters Saturday, Feb. 25 at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen. “A lot of guys can physically throw a baseball and throw it hard and well. But what separates the guys who excel or do so at the next level is their ability to mentally make adjustments and stay focused.

“It’s somebody I probably didn’t learn until college. More than physically, I needed to be mentally sharp. (After learning that,) I was practicing that as much as I was throwing the baseball.

“The earlier some of these players can get that, it’s only going to help them along the way.”

Stults played at Argos High School and Bethel College before being  drafted in 2002. The left-hander’s pro baseball odyssey took him through experiences with five different Major League Baseball clubs (Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves) as well as several minor league teams and in Japan (Hiroshima Toyo Carp).

While working toward the big leagues (he made his debut in 2006), Stults was introduced to the importance of the mental side.

“I got in a rut and was searching for something,” Stults said. “Someone said, ‘have you ever thought of the mental side of the game?’ I said, ’Not really. I just go out there and throw the baseball and hope for the best.’”

Stults started his Indiana Chargers camp remarks by focusing on enjoyment of the game.

“This is a game,” Stults said to 45 pitchers of varying ages and their parents. “We want to have fun.”

Then comes learning how to pitch — not just throw.

Even the hardest throwers can’t rely on velocity alone.

Stults, who resides in Middlebury, enjoyed longevity in the game not from gas but his ability to focus on the game within the game — pitcher vs. hitter. He was able to change speeds and the eye levels of hitters by moving the ball around.

After a Tommy John surgery early in his career — before he really knew the importance of arm care — he stayed relatively healthy.

While campers went from station to station for Crossover Symmetry Band work for rotator cuff and scapular strengthening, throwing and recovery drills with the help of ECBSA’s Joel Mishler, Justin Barber and George Hofsommer, Stults also took time to tell them about concepts like routine.

Stults, who worked with many coaches and sports psychologists throughout his diamond days, said his routine changed throughout his career, but having one helped with the mental side of the game.

One pre-pitch routine that he had was taking a deep breath and letting it go along with all of the tension.

“It can be that simple,” Stults said. “I also had a key word — FOCUS. It let me focus on the catcher’s glove and take the distractions out of my head. That allows you to get back into a good mind frame.”

Learning the mental side also helped Stults to keep from dwelling on the negative things and focus on his next pitch or next outing.

“The mindset is you’ve got to forget about it,” Stults said. “It’s easier said than done. But that comes through practice and mental part of the game. Let’s move forward.”

In discussing mechanics, Stults noted that not everyone delivers the ball in the same way or has the same arm slot.

“As an individual, you have to figure out what works for you,” Stults said. “When I talk about different grips and throwing different pitches, it’s trial and error.

“You have to be willing to try new things and be coachable.”

Stults encouraged players to learn how to “self-coach” and diagnose their own problems and find solutions.

He emphasized always having a purpose even when playing catch (throw to a target) and developing tempo and rhythm while using nice loose grip on the baseball.

As Stults, 37, looks back on his lengthy career, it’s the relationships that stand out.

“What was gratifying was the people I met,” Stults said. “You can sit there and talk about victories and this and that. But it’s the people I met along the way. It’s that clubhouse camaraderie I was able to have in baseball.”

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Former big leaguer Eric Stults demonstrates a grip during a camp at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen. (Photo By John Sadowey)

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Eric Stults throws at a camp at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen. He was helped by ECBSA’s Justin Barber (from left on right side of photo), George Hofsommer and Joel Mishler. (Photo By John Sadowey)

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A pitching camp by former big leaguer and Middlebury resident Eric Stults brought out several youngsters to Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen. (Photo By John Sadowey)

Positivity, energy, versatility explored at Cubbies Coaches Club

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Don’t focus on what they’re doing wrong.

Figure out a way to do it the right way.

That was one of the messages at the monthly Cubbies Coaches Club hosted by the South Bend Cubs Performance Center.

When the shortstop boots a grounder or a catcher throws a ball a mile over the second baseman’s head, it’s easy to see that was a mistake.

“Everybody understands what you’re doing wrong,” Performance Center director Mark Haley said. “The hard part is getting it right.”

The key question for the player is: What should I have done?

Getting to players at the youth and high school levels to understand that is important.

Having that message delivered in a civil manner is also very helpful.

Veteran coach Jeff Buysse, father of Performance Center hitting and catching instructor and South Bend Washington High School head coach Doug Buysse, tells a story about former Washington coach Ric Tomaszewski to prove the point.

“T-6” was appearing at a coaches clinic in Illinois that had the coaches attempting to hit balls off the tee.

“They’re knocking the tees over,” Jeff Buysse said of a session led by the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “All of a sudden I hear that voice that I’ve heard so much: ‘STOP! Did you guys not listen to a word I said?’ His veins are popping out. He’s pacing and saying things like ‘Did you guys not listen?’ Then he stopped and asked, ‘Did that feel good? Is that going to make you better at hitting the ball off the tee?’”

So instead of yelling at the 10-year-old that is having trouble doing the same thing or some other baseball activity, calmly point out the correct way of doing it and don’t leave them cowering in fear.

If the kid can play loose, he’s more likely to play with a spring in his step.

It’s energy that coaches want to see from players.

Haley and Doug Buysse were catchers as players and see that energy is especially critical behind the dish, where you can’t take a pitch off or it becomes costly to the whole team.

“The guy that has the high energy and takes change are the guys who will get a chance (at the pro level),” Haley said. “Everybody watches them and they create energy.”

Hyper guys can good catchers.

“It’s amazing how that just plays into the cards for him,” Haley said. “He’s got everything covered. He never gets bored.”

Buysse, who was a receiver at Washington and Saint Joseph’s College, wants a spark plug for a catcher.

“The kid that’s the loudest, that’s the one I want behind the plate,” Doug Buysse said.

At Washington, Buysse expects his players to be selfless, selling out for their teammates, and to bring energy.

“That’s what you are supposed to bring everyday and we have an energy target,” Doug Buysse said. “Most days we lose.”

Haley, who spent 23 seasons as a coach or manager on the player development side of professional baseball including 10 as manager of the South Bend Silver Hawks (2015-14), now coaches travel teams in the I-94 League. He wants to win, but the emphasis is placed elsewhere.

“It’s about teammates, relationships, responsibility,” Haley said.

The goal for Haley and company is lifting the level of baseball in the area and will lend a hand to any player or coach trying to do things the right way. Attending CCC sessions or having days with leagues or teams are a few ways to make this happen.

“We’ll help as much as we can,” Haley said.

Making relationships at the next level is helpful and Doug Buysse takes his Washington players to a Notre Dame game every year. The players and parents get to see the difference between high school and NCAA Division I talent.

One question was posed by a Little League coach about playing multiple positions.

The consensus: Don’t lock yourself in so early when they are still learning the game. Even well-established players will change positions. Haley pointed out that Buster Posey transitioned from shortstop to catcher.

Doug Buysse remembers that when he coached JV baseball and asked each player their position. Pitcher and shortstop was the response each time.

“They can’t all be that,” Doug Buysse said. “Pick something else.”

Even though that team didn’t win too many games, players bought into the always-hustling mentality and sprinted out to the foul line after each game and awaited Buysse’s post-game remarks.

The next Cubbies Coaches Club meeting is slated for Tuesday, March 21. RSVP at least a week in advance to Doug Buysee at michianacoachesclub@gmail.com.

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Doug Buysse