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Rebound season cut short for USC lefty Gursky

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Gursky’s bounce-back baseball season was getting rave reviews when the curtain came down much sooner than expected.

A left-handed pitcher at the University of Southern California, the Indiana native started against visiting Xavier University on Wednesday, March 11.

Gursky recalls the unusual atmosphere when he took the mound at Dedeaux Field.

“Only essential personnel were allowed in the stands,” says Gursky. “It was like a travel ball game. Only parents were there.”

Gursky tossed the first two innings, facing eight batters with three strikeouts and yielding one hit as the first of seven USC pitchers.

“The next day I wake up and my phone is blowing up,” says Gursky of what turned out to be a COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. 

Thinking the situation would blow over, he spent about a week at his uncle’s house in Orange County then came home to Granger, Ind.

“I had not been in Indiana in March in years,” says Gursky. “We were having a great start to the year then comes the sad news. We worked so hard in the fall.”

The Trojans were 10-5 when the 2020 slate was halted. Southpaw Gursky was 1-1 in four appearances (three starts) with a 0.00 earned run average. He fanned 12 and walked three in 12 innings. Opponents hit .105 against him. On March 3, he pitched the first six innings against UC Irvine and held the Anteaters hitless with seven strikeouts.

USC coaches talked about placing Gursky in the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer. But that league canceled its season and with all the uncertainty, Gursky opted to take 15 weeks away from throwing and reported to USC this fall fully-refreshed. 

An online accounting class taken this summer will help Gursky on his path to graduating with a Business Administration degree next spring.

Gursky played three seasons for head coach John Gumpf at South Bend St. Joseph High School (2014-16).

“That was a fun time,” says Gursky of his days with the Indians. “I have a lot of great teammates.”

Some of Gursky’s pals were Danny Torres, Tony Carmola, J.R. Haley and Carlos Matovina.

In his senior year (2017), Gursky played for former major leaguer Chris Sabo at a IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Gursky enjoyed a solid inaugral campaign at USC in 2018, but struggled in 2019.

“I had a good freshmen year and a disaster of a sophomore year,” says Gursky. “I was in a bad place.”

Playing for then-Trojans head coach Dan Hubbs, Gursky made 22 appearances (two starts) as a freshman, going 3-1 with a 4.93 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings.

His second college appearance was at Cal State Long Beach’s Blair Field, where played for the Brewers in the 2015 underclass Area Code Games and was named to the upperclass game in 2016 but did not play because of a forearm injury.

As a sophomore, Gursky got into 12 games (five starts) and was 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA. He struck out 18 in 22 innings.

“I thank (Hubbs) so much for getting to come to the school of my choice,” says Gursky.

In the summer of 2019, the lefty played for the Newport (R.I.) Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, where Kevin Winterrowd was the manager and pitching coach.

“I was kind of inconsistent,” says Gursky. “I working on stuff at the same time I was competing and trying to win games.

“But that was a the beginning of the turnaround. It set up a good fall and spring.”

Back in Los Angeles, Gursky had a new head coach (Jason Gill) and pitching coach (Ted Silva) in the fall of 2019.

“(Gill) has continuous energy,” says Gursky. “We all love playing for him. We feed off that energy.

“(Silva) helped me out. He saw something in me. He’s straight forward like Sabo.”

Gursky appreciates the approach of Sabo, the former Cincinnati Reds third baseman and current University of Akron head coach.

“He never sugar coated anything,” says Gursky. “He was a great guy to talk with in general.”

Another ex-big leaguer — Steve Frey — was the IMG Academy pitching coach.

“He was great communicator,” says Gursky of Frey. “We connected very well. 

“We’re both lefties  so we felt the same way.”

Back in northern Indiana, Gursky has gotten pitching pointers from Curt Hasler, who pitched for the 1988 South Bend White Sox and is now the bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox. Son Drew Hasler has pitched in the White Sox system.

“He’s great with the mental game,” says Gursky of Curt Hasler. “I like that he’s been around guys who’ve pitched at the highest level possible.”

A 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who played basketball through his freshmen year at St. Joseph describes his aggressive athletic mindset.

“I’m an attacker,” says Gursky. “Either I’m attacking the basket or attacking the strike zone.”

Delivering the baseball with a three quarter-plus arm slot, Gursky throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball.

His four-seamer has a high spin rate and occasionally touched 94 mph in the spring.

His two-seamer sinks and run and was usually 88 to 91 mph.

“My change-up is very slow,” says Gursky of a pitch clocked at 76 to 78 mph. “It’s been my main strikeout pitch the last two years. 

“I grip it petty deep and pretty hard. It’s not in my palm.”

His sweeping curve comes in 79 to 82 mph and breaks left to right — away from left-handed batters and into righties.

Born in Bloomington, Ind., Gursky moved to Granger at 5 and attended Saint Pius X Catholic School. His first baseball experience came at 10 or 11 at Harris Township Cal Ripken.

He played for Rob Coffel with the Michiana Scrappers at 12U and for Ray Torres (father of Danny) with the South Bend Rays at 13U.

After that, Gursky was with a number of travel teams around the country.  Locally, he did a couple stints with the South Bend Cubs and manager Mark Haley (father of J.R.). 

“He knows the bigger picture,” says Gursky of Mark Haley, who played at the University of Nebraska, coached at the University of Tennessee and was a manager in professional baseball for 12 years, including 10 with the South Bend Silver Hawks (2005-14) before becoming general manager of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and executive director of the South Bend Cubs Foundation. “He’s big on development.”

Gursky’s grandfather, Will Perry, was a pitcher at the University of Michigan. A broken leg suffered in a car accident kept him from a starting role with the 1953 national champions. He was later sports information director and assistant athletic director for the Wolverines.

Uncle Steve Perry played baseball at Michigan and was selected in the first round of the 1979 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-5 right-hander advanced to Triple-A in 1983 and 1984.

“He taught things when I was younger,” says Gursky. “Now I get what he was saying.

“When you have a growth mentality, you take what other people are saying and apply it to yourself.”

Perry was one of three first-round draft picks for Michigan in 1979. Outfielder/first baseman Rick Leach and left-handed pitcher Steve Howe both went on to play in the majors. 

University of Notre Dame employees Matt and Susan Gursky have three children — Elena (24), Brian (22) and Natalie (18). Westland, Mich., native Matt Gursky is a mathematics professor. Ann Arbor, Mich., native Susan Gursky is a pre-medicine advisor. Elena Gursky played softball at St. Joe. Natalie Gursky is an equestrian.

Brian Gursky pitches for the University of Southern California.
Brian Gursky, an Indiana native who played high school baseball at South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph High School and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., has pitched for three seasons at the University of Southern California. (USC Photo)

Former Notre Dame captain Chase returns to area, will help South Bend Cubs Foundation, 1st Source Bank Performance Center

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tommy Chase knew he wanted to play baseball at the University of Notre Dame since age 5.

He grew up going to Notre Dame camps when Paul Mainieri led the Fighting Irish. Father Mark Chase (Class of 1978) and sister Jacqueline (2009) Notre Dame graduates.

After graduating from Boston College High School in 2008, Cohasset, Mass., native Tommy Chase did take to the diamond and the classroom at ND

Chase started his Irish career with Dave Schrage as head coach, finished with Mik Aoki and served as a team co-captain with Will Hudgins as senior and was on the academic all-district team in 2012. 

Notre Dame degrees were earned by Chase in both Accounting and Psychology.

After graduation, Chase served as video coordinator at the University of California at San Barbara then was an assistant coach at the U.S. Naval Academy (Navy), Southern New Hampshire University, the U.S. Military Academy (Army) and the University of Dayton.

He is now back in northern Indiana to start a new job at Lippert Components in Goshen, Ind., where he will work with former Elkhart Memorial High School and Purdue University catcher and baseball coach at Knightstown, Mount Vernon (Fortville) and Concord high schools Eric Nielsen, and will put his baseball knowledge to use with the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel board and 1st Source Bank Performance Center at Four Winds Field.

In that role, Chase will be working closely with foundation executive director and Performance Center general manager Mark Haley.

“Hales and I connected and, honestly, I just want to help in whatever way that I can,” says Chase. “I’ve had some experiences — both in my playing career and coaching career. 

“(On the) player development side, I think I can add some value. On the recruiting side, I can help some of the older guys — 15- 16-, 17-year-old guys looking to play in college and get them to understand what the recruiting process is like. It can seem very confusing a lot of times, especially to families who haven’t gone through it. I would just love to provide some clarity with that.”

Chase also has many connections in college baseball and knows where the opportunities lie.

“I really like working with young kids,” says Chase. “Baseball is such a great game from the relationships that you have to the friends that you meet and learning lessons from the game itself.”

Throughout all his coaching stops, Chase has worked with hitters, infielders and outfielders. He was an infielder at Notre Dame. He will help with instruction at the Performance Center, as an advisor in the recruiting process and be a second set of eyes for Haley when it comes to talent evaluation and other matters.

At Dayton, Chase was recruiting coordinator for Flyers head coach Jayson King, who is also a Massachusetts native.

“We went into a program that we both thought had a lot of promise,” says Chase. “There were a lot of positive things. It was a high academic school. The campus was beautiful. A lot of things you can sell to high school kids.

“We really worked hard at it and were able to get Dayton to where we felt it should be — a competitive school in the Athletic 10 (Conference) and getting good players from that area.”

Chase and King had been together as assistants on the Army staff. It was King who brought Chase to West Point, N.Y., having known about him while at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. Chase and coordinator King shared recruiting duties. The Black Knights head coach was — and still is — Jim Foster.

“Coach Foster is a baseball savant. He played many years in the minor leagues as a catcher and he has that kind of brain. He really understands the game. He’s very good at teaching the game to the players.”

Chase says he knew intricacies of the game, but Foster “took it to a whole different level.”

Jacob Hurtubise, a Zionsville High School graduate now in the Cincinnati Reds organization, played at Army when Chase was there.

Scott Loiseau is head coach of the Southern New Hampshire Pennmen. 

“Scott’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around in terms of working with his players and getting them to play at their highest level,” says Chase. “His ability to develop relationships with guys is to the point where the team wants to run through a wall with that guy.

“He really, really cares about his players and his coaches. He allows coaches to develop. He gave me a lot of responsibility when I stepped on-campus as a young kid. He was a great mentor for me.

“Most guys are coaching college baseball out of the passion that they have either for the game or the people that they’re around and — a lot of time — it’s both. There are a lot of things you have to sacrifice to be a college baseball coach.”

Chase was a graduate assistant at SNHU and began work on a Masters of Business Administration with a  concentration in Sport Management.

As a volunteer assistant at Navy, Chase first learned about what it means to coach baseball at a military school by Midshipmen head coach a baseball lifer Paul Kostacopoulos, who was assistant and head coach at Providence (R.I.) College and head coach at the University of Maine before landing at Navy in Annapolis, Md.

“He’s been very successful for a very long time,” says Chase for Kostacopoulos. “He took over at Navy and really turned a program around that had been relatively mediocre in the past, but had a great history. He brought it to being consistently competitive and at the top of the Patriot League every single year and winning 30-plus games.

“That’s a hard job. There’s a lot of things at a military academy you need to uphold. It’s not just winning on the field. It goes beyond that. It goes to understanding what the cadet life is being able to foster both commitments to baseball, academics and their military requirements. He does a great job to do all those things.”

Chase says that players at military academies may not have the time to devote to baseball that other schools do. But they bring a resilient, hard-nosed mentality to the field because they compete in everything they do.

UC-Santa Barbara head coach Andrew Checketts gave Chase his first college baseball job as the Gauchos video coordinator.

“I learned what a College World Series program looks like in the inside from the time commitment to the culture to the player development,” says Chase. “As a kid just coming out of college you don’t see what the coaches do off the field.”

Chase still maintains relationships with former Notre Dame bosses Schrage and Aoki.

Chase played three seasons for the Irish. He appeared in six games (all at second base) as a freshman in 2009 and missed the 2010 season following knee surgery with Schrage as head coach. 

“Coach Schrage gave me a chance to live my dream of going to Notre Dame and playing baseball there,” says Chase. “He was a very personable guy and really cared about the well-being of his players.

“He was always a positive person. He was not a cutthroat-type coach. There’s a lot to be said for that.”

Aoki took over for 2011 and Chase got into 11 games (one as a starter). 

“He’s a New England guy through and through,” says Chase of Aoki. “He allowed me to work my way to a chance to compete on the field and contribute to the team.”

At the end of 2011 season, his teammates thought enough of him to choose him as one of the captains for 2012 as he played in 17 games (four starts).

“It was a great honor,” says Chase of being chosen as a captain. “I enjoyed having a voice to lead the other guys and help them. When you’re a coach, you’re implementing your culture and you’re talking about the things that are important. A lot of times, the thing that’s most important is the leaders on the team saying the same message. 

“A lot of times it’s not what the coaches say, it’s what the leaders among the players say to each other. The players have so much influence over the where the team’s headed and the culture of the team.”

Leaders can handle issues like players coming late to the weight room before it ever becomes big and has to be addressed by the coaching staff.

Chase grew up in Cohasset a few years ahead of Mike Monaco, who went on to Notre Dame and served as a broadcaster for the South Bend Cubs and now counts and has called games for the Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox and the big-league Boston Red Sox.

Tommy and Teresa Chase have three sons — David (2 1/2), Peter (1) and Patrick (5 weeks). They are in the process of buying a home in Granger, Ind. Many friends from Tommy’s Notre Dame days still live in the South Bend area.

Tommy Chase was a Notre Dame baseball co-captain in his senior season of 2012. (Notre Dame Video)
Tommy Chase has joined the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel board and will be an instructor at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center. He is a former baseball co-captain at the University of Notre Dame and has extensive experience as a college coach.

Tirotta stays close to home while gearing up for final season with Dayton Flyers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Riley Tirotta is enjoying baseball and family life this summer.

Coming off an abbreviated junior season at the University of Dayton in Ohio because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tirotta spent the first month of quarantine at home in South Bend, Ind., and about a week in Bryan, Texas, where he participated in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational.

A 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty swinger who has started 109 games at Dayton (including 97 at third base the past two seasons with starts at designated hitter, right field, first base and second base as a freshmen in 2018), Tirotta did not get selected in the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Citing unfinished business, he decided not to sign a free agent contact with an MLB organization and he’s planning to come back for his senior season in 2021.

“We had a really good team at Dayton this year,” says Tirotta. “We can do a lot of special things. We have a lot of seniors returning. If I do some things individually and we win some games, I can put myself in an even better position (for professional baseball). 

“We want to finish what we started.”

As a sophomore, Tirotta led Dayton in hits (59), at-bats (227) and stolen bases (18 in 20 attempts) and tied for the team lead in RBIs (41). He enjoyed 16 multi-hit games. 

His freshmen year yielded 27 hits and seven stolen bases while he fielded at a .987 clip.

A past honoree on the dean’s and Atlantic 10 Conference commissioner’s academic lists, Tirotta is on track to earned his Finance degree at Dayton.

At the CSBI, Tirotta played on a team managed by former big league pitcher, Gary, Ind., native and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer LaTroy Hawkins and got to face former high school teammate Nate Thomas and college mate Cole Pletka.

Before joining the Matt Kennedy-coached Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park this week, Tirotta spent about 10 days training at Prospect Performance Academy in Aurora, Ohio — near Cleveland and Akron.

Tirotta has worked for more than a year with agent and PPA founder/owner Ben Simon.

“He’s helping me get ready for pro ball and reaching out to scouts,” says Tirotta of Simon. “We’re pretty good friends.”

The CSL plays its games on Monday and Tuesday (11 a.m. doubleheaders). Tirotta spends the rest of the time in South Bend, where he works out at the O’Brien Fitness Center and the 1st Source Bank Performance Center (home of the South Bend Cubs), where Mark Haley is the director.

Following workouts prescribed by trainers, including those at Dayton, Tirotta hits the gym five or six times a week. He goes through strength and conditioning moves and does sprint training.

“I use my speed as well as my power,” says Tirotta. “Just being at athlete on the baseball field is one of my biggest strengths.

“I like to use my athleticism a lot. I’m making plays and using my arm strength. I take extra bases when I can and get stolen bases. I’m hitting a few home runs here and there. I’m pretty well-rounded. I’m not a power-only guy.”

Dayton played just 14 games before the 2020 season was halted. Tirotta started cold and finished hot. He wound up hitting .228 (13-of-57) with one homer, one double, 15 RBIs, nine runs, four stolen bases.

He batted fourth in the Flyers’ final game on March 9 at Dayton swept a three-game series against Northern Kentucky. 

The previous day, Flyers head coach Jayson King inserted Tirotta in the 3-hole and he went 3-for-6 3-for-6 with a home run, double, three runs batted in and three runs scored.

“I was putting good barrel on the ball and going in a good direction,” says Tirotta. “Then COVID happened.

“(Coach King has) done everything for me. He’s gotten me into the Cape and a lot of good leagues. He gets us where we need to be.”

Tirotta hooked up with the CSL when other collegiate summer leagues were canceled or scaled back for 2020. 

He got into 28 games in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2019 — 19 with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and nine with the Harwich Mariners. He signed a temporary contract with Y-D and finished with league runner-up Harwich. He supposed to go back to Harwich this summer, but the league canceled its schedule.

He knew he wanted to play summer ball. He was not sure where and then the opportunity came at Grand Park.

“There’s a lot of guys I grew up playing with and against,” says Tirotta, a 2017 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., who played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls his 17U and 18U summers after being with the South Bend Silver Hawks for 15U and 16U and the Michiana Scrappers for 11U through 14U. Coached by his father, he started organized baseball at Southeast Little League in South Bend.

Playing summer ball two times a week in Indiana, Riley also gets to be around parents Mike and Stacy Tirotta and younger brother Jordan (a 2020 Marian graduate who plans to study dentistry at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis). 

Sunday nights are for dinners at grandpa Frank Tirotta’s house. It’s not unusual for 40 or more relatives and friends to gather for these weekly feasts or on holidays.

“I have a very close family,” says Tirotta. When pandemic hit that shut down meals with his grandfather — a widower — and visits were kept at a distance. “He was fed up with it and itching to see everybody again.”

Mike Marks has broken bread with the Tirottas. He runs the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and has been helping Riley with his swing since Marian coach Joe Turnock and son Josh Turnock recommended him during Tirotta’s freshmen year with the Knights.

“He’s the reason I am a college hitter,” says Tirotta. “I put in a lot of hours with him.

“He’s definitely part of the journey in my baseball career.”

Baseball gears back up again next week. Right now, Tirotta is getting ready to join family for some camping.

Riley Tirotta, a graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at the University of Dayton in Ohio. This summer he is playing in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (University of Dayton Photo)

Hasler breaks down pitching delivery, long toss

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chicago White Sox bullpen coach Curt Hasler was back at the place where he really got his professional baseball career going.

Back in 1988, Hasler was the starting pitcher for the first South Bend (Ind.) White Sox game at what was then known as Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium. His battery mate that day was Mike Maksudian.

On Jan. 20, 2020 he was at Four Winds Field to talk about pitching with the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club.

Hasler lives in South Bend, teaches youth players during the winter at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and is the father of White Sox minor league hurler Drew Hasler.

The elder Hasler talked about the delivery and his belief in the power of long toss.

Hasler broke down pitching deliveries (some from the stretch and some from the wind-up).

“The best deliveries belong to starters in the big leagues,” says Hasler. “Relievers can get a little shaky.

“Relievers are only responsible for 15 to 30 pitches. Starters are responsible for 110 or 120. You’ve got to have good delivery to do that over and over again.”

From the stretch, White Sox right-handed reliever Jimmy Cordero begins with his feet shoulder width apart with most of his weight on his back leg.

“When he’s ready to go, all he’s going to have to do is transfer the rest of the 30 percent that’s on his front leg to his back leg and get to a balance position,” says Hasler. “This the simplest thing Jimmy can do. I can lift high. I can lift low. I can slide-step from this position.”

Hasler says that if a pitcher sets up too wide it takes an effort to get back over the rubber.

White Sox left-handed reliever Aaron Bummer’s delivery to very simple.

“He just lifts and goes,” says Hasler. “He comes set with feet and toes in line and slightly closed and more weight on the back leg.”

White Sox righty reliever Evan Marshall balances over the rubber and slightly rotates his hips while lifting his front leg.

“He’s in an athletic position,” says Hasler. “You’re not athletic with your feet and legs straight and your knees locked out.

“Eyes on target start-to-finish.”

The majority of major league pitchers do these things in their own way. Hasler says you can always find someone who’s different but those are the outliers.

“You want to make the guys that are good the rule,” says Hasler. “How high (Marshall) lifts (the front leg) is up to him. He has slide-step. He has a shorter one and has one with nobody on (the bases).

“Just as long as you get back to balance.”

Then Cordero was shown going toward the plate and in the process of separation.

“When your leg goes and your knees separate, your hands have to separate,” says Hasler. “They can’t be late. I’m not going to be on-time. My hand’s not going to catch up.

“He’s going to ride down the mound in a powerful position.”

Showing a photo of Max Scherzer, Hasler notes how the Washington National right-handed starter uses his lower half.

“He’s into his legs,” says Hasler. “The back leg is the vehicle to get you to where you want to go.

“I want all my energy, all my momentum, all my forces going (straight toward the plate).

“You’re using your glues and your hamstrings. You’re not really uses your quads.”

Houston Astros right-handed starter Justin Verlander is another pitcher who really gets into his legs and glutes and rides down the mound in a power position.

White Sox righty starter Lucas Giolito uses his hamstrings and glutes as does Los Angeles Dodgers left-handed starter Clayton Kershaw — the latter sitting lower than most.

Hasler says Giolito has one of the better riding four-seam fastballs and the correct way to grip it is across the four seams with the horseshoe pointing out (longer part of the finger over the longest part of the seams).

“It’s going to give you the most-efficient spin and the best ride,” says Hasler. “If that’s what you’re looking for.”

Righty closer Alex Colome gets into a powerful position with a slight tilt of the shoulders in his delivery.

Hasler says all pitchers, infielders and outfielders (catchers are a little different) have to step to where they throw.

“Being in-line is really important,” says Hasler.

Pitchers work back and front.

“I got over the rubber,” says Hasler. “Small turn. Upper half led. Lower half stayed back. I got into my legs. I’m going to the plate. I’m creating this power position. I’ve created created a little bit of tilt back with my shoulders.

“Now I’m going to work back to front, north to south, top top to bottom — anything you want to call it. I’m working (toward the plate).”

Hasler says pitchers who have a lower arm slot — like Boston Red Sox lefty starter Chris Sale — set their angle with their upper body.

In showing White Sox righty starter Dylan Cease and his “spike” curveball, Hasler noted that the wrist has to be a little bit stiff.

“You can’t be floppy over lazy with it,” says Hasler. “Dylan has spin the ball from 1-to-7 (o’clock). Nobody spins it 12-to-6. No one has an axis of 6 o’clock.”

For those without technology, Hasler says the best way to see if a player is spinning the ball the right way is play catch with them.

To learn to throw a curve, pitchers must learn to feel and spin the ball.

Hasler is a long toss advocate.

“Long toss is one of the most underrated and underused things out there,” says Hasler. “It’s a huge tool for kids.

“It can help arm strength. It will help you attain the best velocity you can attain. I’m not going to tell that it’s going increase velocity. It’ll give you the best chance to throw as hard as you can.

“It’s going to help you stay healthy.”

A problem that Hasler observes when the White Sox select a college player in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is their lack of throwing on non-game days.

“They tell me they were a Friday night starter in college,” says Hasler. “What did you do Saturday? Nothing. My arm’s sore. What did you do Sunday? Nothing. We didn’t have practice. What did you do Monday. Nothing. We had an off-day.

“He’s pitching Friday and not playing catch Saturday, Sunday or Monday. That’s a mistake.

“You need to play catch. You need to use it to keep it going.

“If you’re hurt then don’t (play catch). If you’re just a little sore then do (play catch). You have to understand the difference between soreness and being hurt.”

Hasler showed a long toss sessions between Giolito and White Sox righty starter Reynaldo Lopez.

“(Lopez) doesn’t start crow-hopping until he gets about 120 or 150 feet away,” says Hasler. Lopey long tosses at about 220 feet and he can do it because he’s strong.

“He’s on his front leg. There’s no exiting stage left or stage right. When we’re playing long toss, my misses can be up. But my misses can’t be side-to-side.

“When I miss right or left the ball is screaming at me that something’s wrong.”

Giolito crow-hops from 90 feet and back. But nothing comes “out of the hallway” (no throws would hit the imaginary walls).

“His first step is pretty aggressive and he’s going in the direction I want to go,” says Hasler. “If my first step is small, weak and little then what’s my second step going to be?”

The tone is set for long toss and as the thrower moves back, the tone and tempo picks up.

“Pitching and long toss are violent acts, but they’re done under control,” says Hasler.

Cubbies Coaches Club meets at 6 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month during the baseball preseason. To learn more, call (574) 404-3636 or email performancecenter@southbendcubs.com.

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South Bend’s Curt Hasler is the bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox. He spoke at the Jan. 20, 2020 South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club. (Chicago White Sox Photo)

 

Cubs minor leaguer Jordan breaks down principles of infield play

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Levi Jordan, an infielder in the Chicago Cubs organization, holds an economics degree from the University of Washington.

To study economics is to look at efficiency, trends and systems. Jordan sees that transferring to sports and, specifically, baseball.

“There are more efficient ways to play the game,” says Jordan, who played 66 games for the Midwest League champion South Bend Cubs in 2019 and shared aspects of infield play at the monthly South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club session Monday, Dec. 16 at Four Winds Field. “You can master your foot work or perfect mechanics. There are just little things that you can add on to your game that makes you a more efficient player.”

Jordan covered areas such as pre-pitch routine, science and technique, circle of focus, the difference in corner and middle infielders, where and how to practice, communication and infield positioning and shifts.

Pre-pitch routine can go by many names – prep step, set step, de-cleat/re-cleat.

“Essentially, the pre-pitch routine is a way to adapt rhythm and timing,” says Jordan. “We’re trying to optimize range for infielders. We’re trying to give our infielders the best possible chance to make not only the routine play, but expanding their routine play range.”

And it’s another way for players to be on their toes and locked in.

Jordan explained science and technique in four parts:

1. Eyes register an event, message is set to the occipital (visual) lobe in the brain.

2. Message travels from the occipital lobe to the frontal (decision) lobe.

3. Decision is made to take action.

4. Motor cortex sends control signals to the spinal cord and on to the relevant muscles.

“Between .2 and .3 seconds your brain can react to something,” says Jordan. “I’ve been told it’s not humanly possible to react to something visual in less than .2 seconds.”

With the de-cleat/re-cleat, the cleats are literally taken up out of the ground and back into the ground.

“The reason for that is so that .3 seconds of reaction can happen while you’re in the air,” says Jordan. “Many coaches have told me you want to be on the ground at contact. I argue with them all the time. If I’m on the ground at contact, the next thing I have to do is pick my foot up off the ground, which doesn’t make sense.

“If the reaction process happens in air, your decision to move right or left happens before your feet are on the ground. Your feet can move in a way to move in that direction by the time you’re on the way back to the ground.

“That perfect timing is what optimizes our infield range.”

For right-handed throwers, the right foot hovers above the ground, there is a false step and they move to make the play.

Jordan was first introduced to the circle of focus at Washington, where he started as a walk-on out of Puyallup and wound up on the all-Pac 12 team and played for the Huskies in the College World Series before being selected by the Cubs in 29th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The Huskies head coach was Lindsay Meggs, former head coach at Indiana State University.

Mental coaches in the Cubs system explain the focus principle to players.

“As a human being if you really intently focus on something, you can only do it for a certain amount of time,” says Jordan. “We don’t want to always be ready. I know that sounds different, especially for younger kids.

“If your brain focuses for shorter intervals of time, you want to relax your brain when you don’t need to be focused per se.’”

Jordan says the infielders step out of the circle of focus between pitches.

“It’s a time to anticipate the ball being hit to you,” says Jordan. “You’re going over in your head that if the ball is hit to me, I know what to do.”

It’s a time where infielders can communicate the number of outs and “flush” their previous at-bat and focus on the next defensive play.

In between pitches is also a time to present in the moment and be where your feet are, something that the late Dr. Ken Ravizza, one of Jordan’s favorite mental coaches, talked about.

“Once I step into the circle of focus, that’s when the pitcher is in his motion,” says Jordan. “You want to eliminate thoughts at this point. You’re going to have some kind of rhythm with your feet, getting in the ready position and beginning that beginning that process of de-cleating/re-cleating with a clear mind. You’re expecting the ball and ready to make the play.”

Jordan has a lower prep step and will wait until the ball is crossing the contact zone to come off the ground.

To illustrate the difference between corner and middle infielders, Jordan used Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman and Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies.

As a corner, Chapman has a lower head and eye level, a wide base, the glove is his shin or knee. It is the best position for him to move one or two steps left of right.

“At third base and first base, you have less time to react to the ball,” says Jordan. “You’re closer to the plate compared to a middle infielder. You don’t necessarily have time to get into a sprinting position. The majority of your plays are one, two, maybe three steps to your left or right.”

As a middle, Albies stands with a high, upright posture with his hands at his hips and a narrow base. This allows him to be quick to sprint and is the best position to cover more ground left, right, forward or back.

“We’re trying to cut out nonsense movements — things we don’t necessarily need to do – to be more efficient infielders,” says Jordan. “I don’t know that the timing is different between corner and middle infielders. Everybody should be in he air at contact.”

Jordan says players can get better at pre-step routine etc. during batting practice, drill time and speed/agility/weight room time.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important batting practice is for me to take those mental reps at third base, shortstop, second base,” says Jordan. “Being a utility player, it’s important for me to understand the angles and be comfortable in different positions seeing the ball off the bat.

“You can understand the type of pitch and what time does the bat come off the hitter’s shoulder for him to hit me the ball.”

Jordan notes that defensive shifting is growing in baseball cited a definition of a shift by David Waldstein in the New York Times: “It shows how a batter has the propensity to hit the ball to certain parts of the field. Teams will position their infielders accordingly.”

“I personally like it,” says Jordan. “It can really help your team win with team defense.

“It’s inefficient to put a defender where a batter’s never going to hit the ball, in my opinion.”

The pros of shifting including cutting down the size or something else.

“I see that all the time in Low-A ball,” says Jordan. “Some of my closest friends and teammates were left-handed batters who pulled a lot of ground balls.

“They would step up to the plate and see this giant, gaping hole at third base and try to put or lay a ball down the line for a double. All of a sudden, they are down 0-2 (in the count) because they are doing something they don’t normally do as hitters. That’s an advantage of the shift.”

On the negative side, it can put young infielders in uncomfortable positions. They are at places they don’t take practice reps.

“If not practiced enough, (shifting) can work in a negative way,” says Jordan.

There’s also the idea that many younger batters will mis-hit the ball, making the direction of the batted ball very unpredictable.

“It’s probably not worth putting on a heavy shift unless you are in pro ball or late college ball because hitters don’t really know what they’re doing (at the younger ages) and have a decent amount of bat control,” says Jordan.

Shifting can be done with data or by reading tendencies.

Jordan also sees the importance in communication in the infield.

“I was taught at a young age, if you move and you’re vacating a spot, you need to move somebody with you,” says Jordan.

For example: The shortstop takes a few steps to his left and the third baseman moves accordingly. The shortstop lets the third baseman know he is moving toward the middle or wherever.

The first baseman might let the second baseman know he’s playing on the foul line, moving in for a bunt or might need more time to the get to the bag if he’s shifted to his right. Fielders are talking about coverage.

“Communication is key,” says Jordan. “The success of your team defense and lack of errors depends on how successful you are at communicating with your (teammates).

“You’ve got to be vocal on the infield in order to relay those messages.”

Jordan says the Chicago Cubs use a numbering system for infield positioning (0 for straight, 1 for 1 to 3 steps pull side, 2 for 3 to 5 steps pull side and 3 for heavy shift). These come out of the dugout.

Others might use hand signals. That’s what was done when Jordan was in college.

For the past several off-seasons, Jordan has worked with Billy Boyer (who is now infield and base running coordinator for the Minnesota Twins).

Boyer, who says “Defense is nothing but a glorified game of catch,” is what Jordan calls a true teacher of the game.

“There’s a difference between coaching baseball and teaching baseball,” says Jordan. “A lot of organizations these days are moving toward teaching because they’e seeing the results that it develops players a little better. “Players respond better to somebody teaching them something to do rather than the evaluation part of a coach. A coach will be intimidating to some players because they think they are evaluating.”

Jordan will conduct an infield camp for high school players from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20 at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center. For more information, call 574-404-3636.

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Levi Jordan, who played in the infield for the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in 2019, shared principles of infield play with the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Hardy coaches Irvington Prep Ravens in baseball, life

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A relationship that began with the diamond has gone much deeper.

Davon Hardy is the third-year head baseball coach at Irvington Preparatory Academy on the near east side of Indianapolis.

Hardy teaches his youngsters how to play the game. But the teaching and the mentoring to does not end with a game or practice.

“I’m very involved with the boys,” says Hardy. “I’m not just a coach between the lines. I’m their coach all the time.

“I’ll help in any way.”

Hardy has his own remodeling business and he has some of his players help with cleaning up job sites, painting, drywalling and other handy skills.

“It keeps them out of trouble,” says Hardy. “We’re constantly stressing the importance of being a good person.

“It’s God, family, baseball and the classroom. It’s the total package.”

For players wishing to go to college, he will do what he can to make that happen.

“I’ll help in getting them tutoring,” says Hardy. “We stress the student-athlete.”

Former major league pitcher Justin Masterson, who lives in Fishers, Ind., came by practice last week to talk about faith, family and baseball with the IPA crew.

Hardy has watched his players come so far in the time he has been at Irvington Prep.

“Now that my (original class of) freshmen are juniors, I’m seeing a pay-off,” says Hardy. “That’s my satisfaction.

“That’s a W in my book.”

The inner-city high schools in Indy include Indianapolis Public Schools Arsenal Tech, Crispus Attucks, Shortridge and Washington. Besides Irvington Prep, others include Herron, Howe, Manual, Providence Cristo Rey, Purdue Poly and Tindley. This spring, Howe and Washington did not field a baseball team.

What is now known as Irvington Prep Academy opened in 2006 as Irvington Community High School. The original location was on East Pleasant Parkway and is now home to Irvington Community Middle School on East Pleasant Run Parkway. IPA is housed in the former Children’s Guardian Home on University Avenue.

Baseball and softball teams play about three miles away in Irvington Park on Raymond Street.

Hardy was an 18U regional all-star coach for the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program last summer. The squad went unbeaten in Pittsburgh and lost to Cleveland in Detroit.

Before landing at Irvington Prep, Hardy was an assistant to Jerry Giust at Broad Ripple.

The IPA Ravens went against the Broad Ripple Rockets a couple times before the latter IPS high school was closed.

Giust was the one who suggested that Hardy look into becoming a head coach.

“He knew I had been around the game for a long time and saw the enthusiasm I approach the game with and my knowledge,” says Hardy of Giust. “I loved him for it.”

Hardy graduated from Broad Ripple in 1997 after moving from South Bend, where he grew up. He went to South Bend Washington High School for three years and was drawn to swimming to fight his asthma. He was also drawn to baseball. He competed in summer ball before leaving for Indianapolis. Washington’s varsity and junior varsity both won summer titles.

“I loved the way the game was broken down,” says Hardy, who played as a sophomore and junior in a program then led by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski, who learned much from South Bend coaching legends like Jim Reinebold and Len Buczkowski and LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber.

“The knowledge T gave us was phenomenal,” says Hardy. “He told us everybody has a job to do.”

Players at each position were supposed to know the duties of the other players on the diamond.

When his schedule allows, Hardy plans to return to his hometown to help Mark Haley at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and with South Bend Cubs Foundation youth baseball activities.

Irvington Prep (enrollment around 310) charted a 2019 schedule with Anderson Prep Academy, Arsenal Tech, Eminence, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Lutheran, Indianapolis Manual, Indianapolis Shortridge, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Knightstown, Liberty Christian, Morristown, Providence Cristo Rey, Tindley, Traders Point Christian, Triton Central and Waldron.

Rain in the first half of the season means IPA will be trying to make up many games leading up to the postseason.

The Ravens are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Eastern Hancock, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Howe, Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, Knightstown and Triton Central. Irvington Prep has been competing in the tournament since 2013 and has not won a sectional title.

Hardy and fiancee Sandi have been together for seven years. They have one child together — Isaiah. He has three other children (Josiah, Iyanah and Ariyana) and she has two (Sylvanna and Gianna). Josiah plans to play baseball next year at Herron.

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Davon Hardy (foreground) is the head baseball coach at Irvington Preparatory Academy in Indianapolis.

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Former major league pitcher Justin Masterson delivers the baseball during an Irvington Prep Academy practice.

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Former major leaguer Justin Masterson visited coach Davon Hardy and his Irvington Prep Academy baseball team to talk about faith, family and the game.

 

Blasko sees positive attitude as essential for athletics, life

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chadd Blasko found out as an an athlete how far a positive attitude could carry him and he’s carried that into his roles as coach, educator, husband, father and citizen.

Blasko, who recently became a baseball instructor at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center in South Bend, graduated from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School where he was a standout in basketball and baseball. He went on to pitch for Purdue University when Doug Schreiber was the Boilermakers head baseball coach.

“He’s probably one of the most influential people ever in my life,” says Blasko of Schreiber (who is now head coach at McCutcheon High School). “I heard as an immature high school kid about attitude and things like that. I didn’t understand what attitude meant until I went to Purdue and was around Coach Schreiber. He drilled attitude, attitude, attitude, attitude.

“When I coach, I carry that piece from him. A good attitude can relate to every single thing you do — how you carry yourself, how your react to people, how you come to practice. It’s the attitude you bring to the table in sports and in life.”

Blasko, who likes to use analogies in his coaching and teaching, sees attitude as the glue that keeps the pieces of the puzzle together.

“If you keep that attitude sound, it takes care of everything else,” says Blasko.

The 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher was selected in the 47th round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star did not sign and three seasons at Purdue and was taken in the first round (36th overall as a “sandwich” pick) in the 2002 draft by the Chicago Cubs.

Mishawaka teammate Eric Good was drafted as a pitcher in 1998 and played in the Montreal Expos organization. Purdue mates David Gassner (Toronto Blue Jays) and Andy Helmer (Cleveland Indians) were also drafted as pitchers.

Blasko wound up his professional career in the Baltimore Orioles organization in 2007.

He has had two stints as a varsity baseball assistant at Mishawaka, where he has been an assistant boys basketball coach for a decade.

“I’ve always had a passion for playing sports,” says Blasko, 38. “(Coaching) allows me to still be young and be a competitor. This allows me to still connect to it.”

Blasko is also a physical education and health teacher at MHS. Chadd and wife Samantha have two sons — Baylen (5) and Brooks (3).

When he became a father, Blasko backed off his baseball coaching duties to spend more time with his wife and sons.

“I sit back a lot of times and realize how valuable my times is with my boys,” says Blasko. “The time people put in with me, especially my dad and mom (Ed and Sandy Blasko). Those things are so important.

“It’s nice to coach kids, but it’s very important to be there for your kids as a father. Before you know it, they’re going to be 7 years old, 10 years old then they’ll be a teenager and won’t want to talk to you because they know everything.”

Blasko, who has a younger brother named Phil (who played basketball at Defiance College in Ohio and is now Mishawaka Parks & Recreation Department director), played baseball at Mishawaka for head coach Gregg Minegar and basketball for Jerome Calderone.

“(Minegar) was more laid-back,” says Blasko. “He had a mellow way of reaching a kid.”

Calderone was more demonstrative as is current Caveman head boys basketball coach Ron Heclinski.

“I remember his tough love,” says Blasko of Calderone (who is now principal at MHS). “I thanked him when I was inducted into the Mishawaka Hall of Fame.

“He was old school. He’s going to let out a bark. He’s not going to let you just go through the motions. He had passion. You have to have a passion for what you’re doing.”

Blasko appreciates how Heclinski finds a way to get though to his young athletes and their many personalities.

“I relate to him a lot,” says Blasko. “If you don’t relate to the kids, it’s hard to get to them. I’ve learned that from him.

“Sometimes you have to give that tough love and get after a kid. You have to hold him accountable.

“Some folks betray that as being too harsh. It’s about knowing that line and not crossing the line to disrespect. You’re showing them your passion. I’m trying to help you out.”

Blasko has also learned from Heclinski that some players respond to the proverbial kick in the hindquarters while other wilt when you do that.

“You should learn your players,” says Blasko. “You can’t just be a cookie-cut coach.

“There’s a common goal there it’s finding a way of how to unlock the kid’s lock.”

Blasko’s bottom line: If you’re in the classroom, on the court or on the field, if you can’t connect with that kid, it’s going to be very hard to teach them.

“I don’t care if I’m trying to teach you to have self esteem and be nice to people or how to pitch,” says Blasko. “It’s going to be very hard for me to get in your brain and for you to trust me.

“If you trust me, I’ve got you. They’ve got to know they can trust you and know what you’re about.”

In his early Performance Center sessions, Blasko has been showing young pitchers how to load up and use their whole body rather than just their arms.

He told them that if you’re going to throw a punch, you want to bring it back before you take it forward for maximum power and the same is true with pitching.

Once again, Blasko is not using a cookie-cut approach.

“They’re all different,” says Blasko. “We have a main goal, but if something works for you, I’m not going to change it all that much. I’m not going to make everybody a robot . We’re not all going to look identical.”

He wants them all to have the same foundation and be able to balance during their motion.

“You’re not stopping but you’re gathering yourself to make that powerful movement toward the plate,” says Blasko. “We want to be equal and opposite (creating a rhythmic and synchronized arm swing; extending the arms at the same tine, in the same motion, with the elbows matching up int he exact identical position and foot strike), stay on top of the ball and follow through.

“You’ve got to have a base and build your way up to get to the power position.”

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Chadd Blasko recently became a baseball instructor at the First Source Bank Performance Center in South Bend, Ind. He is a coach and teacher at Mishawaka (Ind.) High School. He played baseball at Purdue University and in the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles systems.

 

Berlin sees giving back to the community part of South Bend Cubs’ duty

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“We’re not superheroes here, but we like to use our power for good.” — Andrew T. Berlin, owner and chairman of the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs

Berlin has used the strategies that have made him successful as a businessman, attorney and philanthropist in Chicago and brought about growth in downtown South Bend, where he enters his eighth season of owning a professional baseball franchise in 2019.

In November 2011, Berlin reached an agreement to purchase the South Bend Silver Hawks. He signed a 20-year agreement with the city of South Bend for the use of Coveleski Regional Stadium.

South Bend ended a 17-year affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks and began its first Player Development Contract with the Chicago Cubs beginning with the 2015 season. The current PDC ties South Bend and Chicago together through 2022.

Berlin says the South Bend Cubs have the advantage of being able to leverage the Chicago Cubs brand.

“There’s a lot of interest there,” says Berlin, 58. There has been talk about bringing the South Shore Line and its access to the Windy City to Downtown South Bend with the station a short walk from the ballpark.

Along the way, the park has had a name change to Four Winds Field. Millions of dollars have gone into renovations and other amenities, including the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and apartment buildings — The Ivy at Berlin Place — that are slated for completion this spring (Berlin signed the lease for the first of 121 units and expects to be in town for each homestand during a regular season which goes from April 4 to Sept. 2).

The Midwest League All-Star Game returns to South Bend for the first time since 1989 and three days of events are planned June 16-18.

Berlin and his off-field team, which now includes about 375 full-time and seasonal employees, including president Joe Hart, relish their role in South Bend and the surrounding area.

“The health of the city is something we take seriously,” says Berlin. “We’re not a government entity. We’re a private corporation. But we see the South Bend Cubs is part of the public trust, if you will.

“It belongs to the community in spirt and in soul. For us a happy and successful community is a happy and successful club. The team does better when the city’s doing better.”

Berlin sees it as a duty for his organization to impact areas like education and charity. He’s witnessed good being done by many entities not as high profile as a professional sports team.

“All of us here at the South Bend Cubs see it important to be giving back to the community,” says Berlin. “We want to see the tax revenues growing in the city so the city can invest money in infrastructure and reducing the amount of crime in the area — not just by more policing but providing more opportunities for the folks that are committing the crimes.

“They might see crime as the only path to financial success or relevance.”

Berlin went to California to learn more about the concept of what has been called “conscious capitalism.”

“It is good business to engage the community and help the community around you,” says Berlin. “Some people call it karma. Some people call it you get what you give.

“But as long as we’re a giving organization, the community ends up — whether consciously or subconsciously — rewarding us.

“We’re here to make a profit and support our employees with good wages,” says Berlin. “I delight in the fact that we’ve hired more people. We three times more employees now than there were eight years ago.”

Through games, concerts and other events, the club hopes to bring 400,000 or more people to Four Winds Field which allows more chances to give back.

“We’re helping folks out by doing a lot of philanthropic things,” says Berlin. “Giving money to worthy organizations that do a lot of good work. We do a lot of vetting of those organizations to assure it’s not going toward administrative costs.

“It’s very much a part of the heart and soul of the organization.”

SOUTH BEND CUBS

2019

Thursday, April 4

• Home and Season Opener vs. West Michigan, 7:05 p.m.

Midwest League All-Star Game Festivities

Sunday, June 16

• All-Star Concert at Four Winds Field (artist to be announced in the coming weeks).

Monday, June 17

• Fan Fest with autograph sessions with six former Chicago Cubs players, including Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins and Andre Dawson plus East and West All-Stars. Proceeds from Fan Fest ticket sales will go to one of five charities selected by the fans (Beacon Children’s Hospital. Logan Center, Pet Refuge, South Bend Education Foundation or United Way of St. Joseph County)

• Home Run Derby featuring MWL All-Stars.

• 2016 World Series trophy will be at the park.

Tuesday, June 18

MWL All-Star Game Luncheon at Century Center, 11:30 a.m. with keynote speaker and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

MWL All-Star Game, 7:35 p.m. The game will be broadcast live locally by WMYS (My Michiana) and regionally by WCIU (The U Too in Chicago) for the first time in league history. South Bend Cubs broadcaster Darin Pritchett will have the TV call.

Approximately 3,000 tickets have been sold for the All-Star Game and 500 tickets have sold for the All-Star Luncheon.

Promotions

• Dog Day Mondays. Fans can bring their dogs to the ballpark and fans can enjoy $2 hot dogs, $2 popcorn and $2 peanuts. There will be free Fun Zone wristbands for ages 12-and-under. This excludes May 27 and Aug. 12.

• $2 Tuesdays. Fans may purchase $2 tickets in advance for Tuesday games — online only. The offer is valid for April 14, May 7, May 28, Jine 4 and Aug. 6.

• Bobblehead Nights are scheduled for 2015 South Bend Cub David Bote (Wednesday, June 5) and Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish (Wednesday, Aug. 21).

• New theme nights include Polish Heritage Night (Thursday, April 25), PBS Kids Day (Sunday, June 23 and Sunday, June 30) and Dino Day (July 11). Full descriptions and theme days are available on SouthBendCubs.com.

• Fans are invited to share their photos and videos taken at the ballpark all season long by submitting them on MySouthBendCubs.com.

• Two April Saturday dates will have 4:05 p.m. start times with gates opening at 2.

Food

• The “Sweet Spot” dessert stand, located beside Gates A, is a new concession option. It will feature hand-dipped novelty ice creams and elephant ears and takes the place of the former Burgertopia location. Burgertopia is getting its own separate stand on the first base side concourse. An Italian sausage sandwich with peppers and onions has been added to the menu.

• Loaded tots will be served for $5 at the Waveland and Sheffield stands.

• Fresh Squeezed Lemonade will be available beginning in May.

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ANDREWTBERLINMILB

Andrew T. Berlin, owner and chairman of the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs, has his minor league baseball franchise practicing “conscious capitalism.”

 

IUSB’s Buysse stresses importance of receiving to baseball catching

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Catchers catch the baseball. It is in the title of the position.

And yet Doug Buysse often sees an emphasis placed elsewhere when it comes to the player who wears the mask, chester protector and shinguards.

“A lot of people want to talk about the sexy stuff — blocking and throwing,” said Buysse, the Indiana University South Bend head baseball coach and a former Saint Joseph’s College catcher. “That part’s awesome. But far more important — the day-to-day stuff — is receiving and the true catching part.”

Buysse and IUSB junior catcher Jordan Moore gave a demonstration on catching Tuesday, March 5 for the South Bend Cubs Foundation’s Cubbies Coaches Club at Four Winds Field.

“In a game, we may have 130 pitches and Jordan may block it 10 times,” said Buysse. “He maybe throws a guy out at second three or four times. He catches the ball 130 times.

“That’s what we’re going to spend the majority of our time on. Receiving is the most-important part.”

Buysse has a simple goal for his catchers: Keep strikes strikes, turns three balls a game into strikes and balls out of the strike zone are kept there.

“If you can’t receive and keep strikes strikes, you need to go play first base,” said Buysse. “We spend more time doing this than anything else.”

The coach noted that there are umpires who call he pitch where it is caught and not where it crosses the plate.

“Nothing’s worse than watching a kid throw a really good pitch and our catchers catches it and because of the way he caught it, it’s (called) a ball,” said Buysse.

IUSB pitchers generally do not have swing-and-miss stuff.

“Our staff has got to pound the zone, work down and work ahead (in the count),” said Buysse.

That makes it important to have a catcher that can accommodate their needs and strengths.

When he is recruiting receivers, the first Buysse looks at is the player’s hips.

“Some kids are genuinely blessed with good hips,” said Buysse. “But it’s one of the things we can work on.”

Buysse has his catchers go through a position-specific daily stretching routine that takes 10 minutes or less.

“You can’t expect your catchers to use the exact same stretches that outfielders do because they’re using different muscles,” said Buysse.

The routine helps with the flexibility in the ball and socket joint and get hips used to moving in the desired direction.

The coach said catchers who are doing squats and cleans in the weight room need this daily stretching or else they will be too tight in the hips to be an effective receiver.

“Jordan’s probably going to catch 40 to 45 games for us so he’s got to keep himself really loose,” said Buysse. “The looser he is, the quicker he’s going to recover.”

Buysse noted that since the chair came along people don’t squat like they once did. He has noticed many young catchers who are not comfortable in their stance.

“One way we eliminate that is to put the left knee down (with no runners on base),” said Buysse.

Moore does this more than half the time when catching for IUSB.

Buysse said the benefits are twofold — it saves his legs and he can work a little bit lower.

“It took a long time for me to be OK with this,” said Buysse. “I’ve accepted it. It helps and he can give a lower target.”

On pitches with a lot of run, it helps having the knee out of the way with the zone opened up.

“We’re looking to give our catchers freedom to move and give our guys the best possible scenario to keep a strike a strike,” said Buysse.

Buysse went through receiving drills using tennis and plyo balls. He fed the ball to Moore, who received it with the idea of being quiet and efficient.

After listening to Tim Cossins (former minor league catching coordinator with the Florida/Miami Marlins, field coordinator with the Chicago Cubs and now major league field coordinator/catching instructor with the Baltimore Orioles) speak a few years ago at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, Buysse has been having his catchers start with their glove hand on the ground.

“We want our catchers to work up to catch the ball and stick the pitch instead of chasing it out of the zone,” said Buysse. “There’s less movement.

“For for a long time, I was a ‘drive the wheel’ guy. Now we start down and we work up.”

Buysse insists that his catcher’s head and eyes follow the ball as if a string was tied from their mask to the their middle finger.

On high pitches, the instinct for many younger guesses is for their head to go down and hand to go up.

“Now I’m guessing,” said Buysse. “It’s sounds simple and it sounds easy. But you’d be surprised how many kids don’t watch a ball all the way into their gloves.”

Buysse said the wrist — not the arm — is to be kept soft when receiving a pitch. The throwing hand should be kept out of harm’s way.

Buysse called Twitter a great resource for baseball drills. He found a reaction drill where one person stands behind the catcher and throws tennis balls off the wall which a catcher must receive with the proper technique.

Buysse said one way to build confidence for catchers is to receive balls from a pitching machine (or a coach) from shorter and short distances. One example might be 75 mph at 45 feet.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment with things and try to make them better,” said Buysse.

When it comes to throwing, Buysse said catchers should use the time when they’re playing catch to work on things like transfers and footwork for throwing to bases.

“It’s right to left, left to target and throw,” said Buysse. “When you make a bad throw, it starts with your feet.

“Catchers can do this every single day.”

At the college level, Buysse has his catchers do a lot of throwing during fall practice. During the season, he does not want too much extra throwing, considering all the times the catcher must throw the ball back to the pitcher, down to second after warm-up pitches and around the horn after strikeouts etc.

When it comes to throwing, Buysse said catchers should use the time when they’re playing catch to work on things like transfers and footwork for throwing to bases.

“It’s right to left, left to target and throw,” said Buysse. “When you make a bad throw, it starts with your feet.

“Catchers can do this every single day.”

Buysse wants his catchers to block balls to the field and not to the plate. The former keeps the ball in front of them with their momentum going into the direction they’re throwing.

He also insists that “the chin has to dig into my chest protector.”

“Protect your neck,” said Buysse.

The Cubbies Coaches Club is done meeting for the off-season but 1st Source Bank Performance Center director and South Bend Cubs travel team coach Mark Haley encourages area coaches to continue to call on the baseball community centered in South Bend if they have questions.

The Performance Center is at 525 S. Lafayette Blvd., South Bend. The phone number is 574-404-3636.

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Doug Buysse is the head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend. He was a catcher at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind.

 

Haley sees importance of building culture, knowing how players learn

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Every head coach or manager has to find a coaching style and a way he is going to run his baseball team.

Mark Haley, who coached and managed in professional baseball for more than two decades including 10 years as manager of the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks (2005-14), shared his ideas on team management at the monthly meeting of the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Four Winds Field.

Haley, who has talked about the presentation with friend and San Diego Padres manager Andy Green, emphasized the importance of building relationships and communicating with young athletes.

It is helpful to know the background of players.

What’s their family life like?.

What makes a kid the way he is?.

Because of the commitment of money and time, this is critical in professional baseball.

“It’s surprising how mentally fragile and insecure some of the best big leaguers are,” said Haley.

There are many differences in any given locker room.

These include cultural, social, economic, religious and in motor development.

“It’s a melting pot,” said Haley. “We (as coaches) have to dig deep. Give everything to your players and expect nothing in return.

“We’re here to help them. We’re here to develop.”

Haley outlined three primary learning styles (ways of processing information) — Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic.

Once the coach sees how an individual learns, he can find ways to get a message across the way that player will best receive it. The coach’s way is not always the only way.

“We pass judgement on kids because it’s not how we learn,” said Haley.

From working with him in the Chicago White Sox system, Haley knows that Hall of Famer Frank Thomas was a visual learner.

“He’s got to see it,” said Haley of The Big Hurt.

Visual learners want to see a picture and video. They notice things around them. They want information in writing.

A tip for this kind of learner is to use video to exaggerate the area that’s being worked on. Video can be used to anchor something visual and fix it in the player’s mind.

Auditory learners tend to use their voice and their ears. They remember what they hear and say. They want to know the “Why.”

They want no outside distractions.

Instructors need to repeat the information in “their words.”

It is also helpful to give the same instruction but in a different context.

Coaches are encouraged to make these auditory learners talk about the subject with a teammate.

Former White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko was auditory.

“You have to talk his language,” said Haley, noting that Konerko would use lingo that would have most running for a kinesiology book.

Aaron Rowand, a former White Sox outfielder, was kinesthetic. He learned by doing.

“He just wants to do drills,” said Haley.

Kinesthetic learners want to move, touch, create and physically interact.

They will be facially expressive and move around when they are interacting.

They want to know “How” to do something.

“They are the workers,” said Haley of kinesthetic learners. “They are the cage rats.”

With this kind of learner, coaches are advised to go over the area they are teaching with a step-by-step approach.

Haley talked about building a team culture. He defined it as “the formal or informal organizational systems the coach establishes to move the team towards its goal.”

Part of building a productive locker room is having a common goal.

“We have to have a commitment,” said Haley.

Roles include starter, key backup player or reserve/role player.

“Know your role and perform it well,” said Haley. “Clearly understand your role for team success.”

Players should understand complimentary roles.

“It gives them direction so they’ll know exactly where they’re at,” said Haley. “Never evaluate another kid to a player. You’re just creating animosity. Don’t humiliate them by saying ‘you’re not as good as him.’”

Haley accentuated the fact that it’s a performance culture that’s being built.

“Everything is done on how well we do, how well you coach etc.,” said Haley. “Feedback about performance has to be clear.

“It’s got to be productive. Don’t let them float off. Maintain communication.”

It’s important to find inspirational leadership.

Not a believer in naming team captains, Haley said the leader will naturally emerge.

If that leader is also bringing the team down with their attitude, Haley said the coach needs to override them or, perhaps, find another leader.

At the pro level, leaders who are negative need to be weeded out.

Haley wants to build an empowering climate where every player has a say in the fortunes and direction of the team.

There should be a compelling vision.

“We as coaches can keep that to ourselves,” said Haley. “Let the vision be known. Kids like that.”

Haley also believes in shared values. His are Honesty, Trust and Respect.

“Those are the three I preach,” said Haley. “You need to do that non-stop.”

Goal orientation is also a part of the plan.

“We’ve got to accomplish this as a team,” said Haley.

A “Can Do” attitude is a must.

“It radiates through the dugout and the locker room,” said Haley. “Young kids battle the fear of failure. As a coach, I’m never going to do that. Never be afraid to fail.”

For Haley, it’s about baseball development. But it’s also about making better people. That goal needs to be remembered.

Haley said coaches should take advantage of innovation that is constantly being developed in baseball.

“Find new ways of doing things,” said Haley, noting all the new metrics and devices available to coaches these days.

“Kids want instant feedback on everything,” said Haley. “We have to adapt to them. They are not going to adapt to us. We can influence them.”

Haley identifies three types of players on a team. There’s those who are seeking to get to the next level (No. 1’s). There are those who are satisfied with where they’re at (No. 2’s). Lastly, there are the players who are not even sure they want to be there (No. 3’s).

Haley, who is director of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and a South Bend Cubs travel baseball coach, will see the No. 1’s all the time at the Performance Center. The No. 2’s come less often. The No. 3’s are a rare sight.

Having a team of 1’s and 3’s is a recipe for major conflict.

Haley said there are areas that help create cultural identity on a team. Besides common values, symbols will help build the cohesiveness and he likes to see these originate with the players.

Common heroes can also bring teammates together. Maybe they all root for the same big leaguer. That’s something else they have in common.

Rituals — chants, team meals, championship belts — also tell players they are a part of a group.

Coaches should show an interest in each athlete’s achievements and show pride in the team’s accomplishments.

With all of it, there has to be consistency.

“You have to practice it all religiously,” said Haley. “Good coaches don’t just talk. Everything that comes out of their mouth is for a reason.”

Haley said there is no absolute one right way to coach and finding a coaching style comes through trial and error.

Having a mentor helps. Haley’s was Jim Snyder, who spent a lifetime in the game including stints as a coordinator of instruction in the White Sox organization.

The final Cubbies Coaches Club meeting of the off-season is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5. For more information, call (574) 404-3636 or email performancecenter@southbendcubs.com.

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Mark Haley, director of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and a South Bend Cubs travel baseball coach, talked at the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club meeting Tuesday, Feb. 5 about team management. (Steve Krah Photo)