Tag Archives: ABCA Convention

Notre Dame’s Jarrett shares on ‘Building Complete Hitters’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Link Jarrett has been studying the art of hitting and teaching it at the highest levels of college baseball for more than two decades.

First-year University of Notre Dame head coach Jarrett presented his ideas on “Building Complete Hitters” to the 2020 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic. The the head coach at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he spoke on the same subject at the 2019 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Dallas.

Jarrett says offense revolves around hitting, short game, base running and two-strike toughness.

“That’s offense,” says Jarrett. “It’s just not swing and launch angle. It’s team.”

What about the stance?

“Where guys stand in relationship to the plate is probably under-taught, under-studied, under-utilized,” says Jarrett. “Where that hitter stands side-to-side is very important. Front-to-back, to me, is not as important.”

Jarrett says he moved one player out of 20 forward in the batter’s box during fall practice.

“The strike zone and the hitting zone is based on where you stand in relationship to the plate,” says Jarrett. “It always has been and always will be.

“You have to be able to cover the outside part of the plate and adjust in. Some guys might be slightly opened or slightly closed (with their stance). Where they end up is what I’m looking for.”

Jarrett says that hitters get things going in their swing with a negative move (an initial move away from the pitcher).

“As you load physically, you also need to prepare mentally to be aggressive, look where you’re looking and do damage,” says Jarrett, who notes that some hitters will step straight back and others will sink back.

To Jarrett’s way of thinking, there is less-than-two-strike hitting and there’s two-strike hitting.

With less than two strikes, the goal is to drive the ball.

Jarrett addressed toe touch.

“Where are we with our lower body when the front big toe and the ball of the foot lands?,” says Jarrett. “The launch position for me is really waist up.

“When (hitters) coil, I want their shoulder alignment with the “off” infielder (shoulder pointed at the shortstop for left-handed hitters and the second baseman for right-handed hitters).

“I like the top hand to be even with the back shoulder. Everything should be on one level plane.

“I look for the knob of the bat to sit over that back foot (when they get to the toe touch).”

Jarrett says he doesn’t the barrel of the bat wrapped too far behind the head.

“A good key is that the sweet spot of that bat gets to the mid-line of the head,” says Jarrett. “That’s a pretty good check point.”

Hitters then reach a 50-50 athletic position as they plant their heel.

When the back elbow gets near the hip, the back heel and back knee will start to come up.

When the swing is made, it is made an a parallel plane toward the pitcher.

Contact depth depends on the location of the pitch. The ball away is hit a little deeper. The middle ball is struck even with the front foot. To drive the inside ball, it must be contacted in front of the stride foot.

“I want the finish to match the timing, location and plane of the pitch,” says Jarrett. “Versus finishing with two hands or one hand, high or low.”

Jarrett says that hitters must be able to compete and that means tracking pitches.

Notre Dame hitters train for a 22-inch wide zone with emphasis on 11 inches, which may be away, middle or in.

“Hitting is timing and it’s fastball rhythm,” says Jarrett. “Can you time the fastball and hit off that?

“Can you make mid-pitch adjustments? The mid-pitch adjustment is really the hardest thing we have to do in our sport.”

An example would be hitting with two strikes and being ready for a 94 mph fastball and an 86 mph slider comes instead.

“You have to survive,” says Jarrett. “It’s done best if you are in a very consistent back-leg simple hitting position.”

Jarrett played with Todd Helton and against David Ortiz in the minor leagues.

“Todd Helton had the best focus and concentration I’ve ever seen,” says Jarrett. “He wasn’t as big as all those guys in the Eastern League with us. David Ortiz was probably the strongest. Helton was probably the most locked in pitch-to-pitch.”

Jarrett’s definition of approach is “a mental and physical strategy for competitive in-game success.”

“Approach development (happens) one pitch at a time,” says Jarrett. “If you’re hitters are locked in one pitch at a time every at-bat then you’re breaking it down into the proper dynamic of how to be successful.”

Jarrett says Helton’s one-pitch mindset, focus and toughness was Hall of Fame caliber.

“You have to have aggressive, but you also must be patient,” said Jarrett. “Helton was the most-disciplined hitter I saw.

“If you gave him what he was looking for, this guy was going to annihilate that. If he didn’t get it, he had enough patience to take it.”

In grading Quality At-Bats, Jarrett ranks contact on a 3-2-1 scale (whether it’s off front toss, the tee, a machine or live pitching).

“You got three points for doing a job,” says Jarrett. “The strikeout is still the Kryptonite of my QAB. I haven’t changed it any in 20 years.

“You have to be able to put the ball in play.”

Jarrett says overall fielding percentages in Major League Baseball are very good. It tends to go down for college baseball and again for high school baseball.

“The more we can put the ball in play with two strikes, the more chance we have to somehow score and somehow win. Period,” says Jarrett. “I’m not into the strikeout being just another out. It’s not. If you put it in play, there’s not guarantee it’s an out at all.”

Since college players don’t have the power of Aaron Judge and don’t hit the kind of rock-hard baseball they do in the majors, thinking balls will consistently leave the yard is the wrong approach.

“We have to hit as many line drives as we can possibly hit. End of story,” says Jarrett. “Do I want some of those to go out? Absolutely right.”

When he was coaching at Auburn University, the Tigers hit 131 home runs in one season and the bat was changed the next season to the BBCOR.

“Line drives win,” says Jarrett.

Hitters learn to “spit” on breaking balls or pitches they think they can’t put a “3” contact swing on.

“We are going to demolish the fastball,” says Jarrett. “The middle of our lineup should be fastball-and-adjust types of hitters.”

By training for all the possibilities in practice, Jarrett says hitters can sort pitchers into categories.

“Hey, lefties we’ve got to sit away,” says Jarrett. “Righties, you’ve got to sit in.”

Jarrett values tee work and that means adjusting them when necessary.

“If I can’t handle the zone off a tee, then I got the wrong tees,” says Jarrett. “You have to be able to navigate those zones.

“Put we the limit on that tee hard and say what they’re hitting — ’94 up and in.’ Thwack! ’Left-handed breaking ball down.’ Thwack!”

Jarrett prefers standing front toss so the path is similar to an actual pitch.

“When you’re sitting in a chair coming uphill, it doesn’t work,” says Jarrett.

Facilities sometimes dictate what teams can do in practice. Creativity is key.

He likes to utilize the long batting cage. He favors the two-wheel pitching machine because the hitter can see from the same game-like angle and the position of the wheels tells them where the ball is going to go.

At Notre Dame, the machine sits on the back level part of the mound 54 feet from the plate and is set for 80 to 83 mph.

“We don’t go at 94 mph,” says Jarrett. “If that machine is throwing that hard it just doesn’t correlate. I can’t explain it. I’m not a scientist.

“When it’s going 83 mph, to the hitter it feels like 90. It just does.”

Hitters take four to 10 swings per round.

Batting practice in the long cage is thrown from 36 to 40 feet.

“There has to be that little mechanism so they can track visually and time the ball,” says Jarrett. “It’s all about intensity and line drives.

“That cage stuff should be tough (and competitive).”

BP on the field is thrown from about 36 feet and is results-based with runners on-base.

Hitters may be asked to hit-and-run, hit behind the runner, safety squeeze etc.

“We want to use the field,” says Jarrett. “It’s not all pull. It’s not the other way.

“That whole field has to be used with some authority.”

There are individualized goals at various drill stations — cage, tee or on the field.

“Swing mechanics are individual,” says Jarrett. “It’s what you need. (Niko) Kavadas may not need to do with (Daniel) Jung is working on.

“I’ve got to work on each guy.”

There are also video skills sessions where things can be learned from a short video of four or five swings.

“We have 27 things offensively we can do,” says Jarrett. “(Players) have to understand all 27.”

Jarrett says team offensive evaluation includes how well a team runs the bases, reads the dirt balls, communicates with coaches, slides and so on.

Team offensive goals include on-base percentage of .400 and 30 percent of hits for extra bases. Elite offensive squads score seven runs per game.

Jarrett says there is a responsibility is being the man in charge.

“They’re going to call you Coach,” says Jarrett. “I still call my coaches, Coach.

“But, to me, there are some that I don’t know if they earned Coach. Were they accessible to help the guy play? Help them train. Everybody’s got a different type of facility. Do we keep it up?

“Do you study what they do and explain it to them, knowing that it’s the right stuff?”

LINKJARRETT

Link Jarrett is the first-year head baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

 

Carroll sees belonging, connection key to teaching Gen-Z

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jamey Carroll was a professional baseball player until he was 40.

Born and raised in Evansville, Ind., Carroll took to the diamond at Castle High School and the University of Evansville and was in the big leagues with the Montreal Expos, Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals.

Logging almost 2,000 games at second base, third base and shortstop, Carroll gained the knowledge that has landed him a job as coordinator of infielders for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Jamey and Kim Carroll have 11-year fraternal twins — Cole and Mackenzie.

As a coach of son Cole’s team, the Space Coast Thunder 12U travel ball team in Melbourne, Fla., Carroll also knows about youth baseball.

“I’m in the fire,” says Carroll while speaking at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville on “Guiding Gen-Z to Greatness.”

Carroll, 45, says the reason we play sports is for a sense of belonging and connection.

“It’s about belong to a group and being connected to people for a cause,” says Carroll.

It’s the memories made with teammates, coaches and more.

“That belonging and connection that I missed, that I couldn’t wait to be a part of again, is what I’m trying to create for my group,” says Carroll of the Space Coast Thunder 12U squad. “With the Pirates, one thing that can really motivate us is the belong and connection. To be motivated, do you feel like you belong and do you feel like you’re connected to who you are?”

In the audience were many of Carroll’s former teammates, including ABCA assistant executive director Ryan Brownlee, and his younger brother, UE head coach Wes Carroll.

“I guarantee you this weekend we’re going to talk about about something because we belong and are connected to something bigger than ourselves,” says Carroll.

Sharing a Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) Parenting lesson he learned, Carroll says he watched one of his son — when he was 3 — climb the monkey bars. The boy got about halfway across, stopped and began screaming.

“The first instinct as a parent is to get up and go help them,” says Carroll. “The teacher goes, ‘Nope. Stay right there.’

“But he may fall. The first instinct as a parent: Go save and protect. The teacher goes over and says, “Hey, Bub. When your body’s ready you’ll go over” and turned around and walked away.”

A few days later, Cole went all the way across those monkey bars.

“When he came down he didn’t look at mom and dad and said ‘did you see what I did?’ I honestly can tell you I saw the sense of satisfaction … I just did that.

“He had his own sense of self pride.”

Who is Generation Z?

Give or take three years, it’s people born between 1996-2010. That’s about 72 million people in the world today.

Carroll says we live in a “SCENE” society. We want Speed (slow is bad), Convenience (hard is bad), Entertainment (boring is bad), Nurturing (risk is bad) and Entitlement (labor is bad).

“They’re willing to work hard but they want a reward,” says Carroll. “My son’s guilty of it. ‘Dad, if we go to this tournament do we get a trophy? Are we getting a medal?’ I don’t know, man. Maybe.

“We finished third place in a tournament. Parents want (a group photo). I don’t want to be part of a third-place picture. Get me away from it. What are we doing?

“Anything worth fighting for takes time. When it’s hard, that’s when we grow and learn.”

Risks and taken and those involved leave their comfort zone.

“We have this unique opportunity to bridge this (generation) gap,” says Carroll. “Do we know who’s in front of me? We want to do the drills. We can’t understand why they’re not getting things accomplished. Do we know their skill sets? Do we know their personality? Do we know their parents? Do we know the other coaches?

“Who’s in front of you is more than just a kid. It’s a person. We get to play baseball. It’s what we do. It’s not who they are. Get to know them. Belonging and connection.”

To motivate young players, coaches should get to know them and show that they care.

To get these youngsters to grow and learn, an environment is created where they will learn and will want to come back and play hard.

“Who is this about?,” says Carroll. “Is this about you as a coach or it about those kids?”

At a recent tournament, Carroll saw a kid swing at a pitch in the dirt then witnessed a father bang his fist against a concrete wall.

“Man, who stole your trophies as a kid?, says Carroll. “Why are you so mad at a team in ‘The Middle of Nowhere, Fla.,’ on a Saturday afternoon that means nothing?

“If you don’t win a game, you’re not a good coach. If you’re not a good coach, nobody’s going to respect you and you can’t walk around town.

“Get over the ego. This is not about you. We all had our chance. It’s not about us. It’s about them.”

Carroll says young players can be labeled for a position too early.

“I speak from experience,” says Carroll. “I was an outfielder on all of all-star teams until I was 13. I wasn’t fast enough when we went to the big field to play center field anymore so I moved to shortstop. I got to play shortstop until I was 40 years old.

“We don’t have a right to tell a kid he’s only an outfielder, he’s only a pitcher until we get to a certain point where they’re mature enough to show us who they are. We don’t know. Who are we to decide?”

Carroll says coaches should consider whether their feedback is positive or negative the message they are sending with their body language and tone of voice.

“We talk all the time about how these guys have to risk and create and be able to handle failure and yet when they steal a base we’re the first ones to jump up and ask, ‘What are we doing? Why’d you do that?’

“The thing that gets under my skin is when you’re sitting there and hear ‘Throw strike!’ Wow. No kidding? ‘You’ve got to make that play.’ ‘Why’d you swing at that pitch?’”

Instead of being Coach Obvious, Carroll suggests that they show the player something that will help them throw a strike or swing at the right pitches.

“This game is already hard enough,” says Carroll. “We don’t need to add more to it.

“Did you create that play in practice that he can make it?”

Carroll says the coach should figure out ways to get the player to understand.

“Can we do that?,” says Carroll. “No. It’s their fault.”

Carroll wants to know if coaches are building perfectionists.

“If what we say doesn’t match our actions now it’s causing fear and anxiety inside of a player who doesn’t even want to mess up,” says Carroll. “We had a 9-year-old (on first base) that could even run to second base after a ground ball. Why? Because he was afraid to mess up. Why was he afraid to mess up? His dad was all over him all the time.

“Is that building belonging and connection? Is that creating memories? We can do all the drills we want. How are we speaking to these guys?”

At the same time, Carroll says coaches can talk too much.

“Are we giving too much information?,” says Carroll. “When you talk too much you’re interrupting the body’s ability to learn.”

It helpful to be specific, instructive and constructive.

It was a “nice pitch” but was nice about it?

“Maybe you give a tip?,” says Carroll. “When you just give ‘attaboy’ and you don’t give anything behind it, you’re creating a reliance on the coach. I don’t know what I just did, but (the coach) is happy.”

Carroll says its best to keep the focus for players external rather than internal (‘Make sure you load on that back side. Get your hands up. Make sure you spread.’)

“We give them 10 different things to think about and create that hazy focus,” says Carroll. “We see the ball yet we don’t see it.

“Do we have the ability to go external? Give them outside targets. Hit the ball in the gap. Are we guiding them to the answers or are we just telling them?”

It’s a matter of teaching by the coach and learning by the player.

Carroll has studied the findings of Frans Bosch, an authority on athletic movement.

“It’s not about learning a move and trying to perfect it, says Carroll. “It’s our job as coaches to put them in a learning environment where the brain eliminates what doesn’t work to get to what does.

“We’ve got to be able to create some sort of drill that gets them through every single thing so they know this works compared to that doesn’t work.”

Coaches can run practices where all plays are made perfectly and players “feel good” or are challenged to do things the right way to “get good.”

Carroll talks about “The Gap.”

Carroll says that if players are successful at a task — ie. fielding ground balls — and are successful 80 percent or better, they become bored.

“Did we get them any better?,” says Carroll. “If they fail 50 percent of the time or more, they go into survival mode. Are we learning? They just want to get out of there.

“Each player has a different gap. Do we know who’s in front of us?”

Carroll says building the sense of belonging and connection leads to confidence which leads to trust, focus and performance — concepts explored by Dr. Michael Gervais and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.

Carroll says that coaches can create the process, but asks if they know the player.

In closing, Carroll quoted author Peggy O’Mara: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”

“We have this ultimate opportunity to influence a whole group of people,” says Carroll. “They are not jewelry to be shown off. They are human beings that play get to play baseball. Please don’t lose sight of that.

“We had our chance. Now it’s there. Let them have it.”

JAMEYCARROLL

Jamey Carroll, an Evansville, Ind., native, played in the big leagues until he was 40. Now 45, he is coordinator of infielders for the Pittsburgh Pirates and a youth baseball coach. He spoke at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville on “Guiding Gen-Z to Greatness.” (Minnesota Twins Photo)

 

Lowery fondly recalls Maloney’s first tenure at Ball State

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Maloney has been a head coach in college baseball coach for 24 seasons with 22 campaigns of 30 wins or more and 832 total victories.

Maloney has developed dozens players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

John Lowery Jr. was there at the beginning, serving as assistant coach to Maloney throughout his first stint at Ball State University and two seasons into his tenure at the University of Michigan.

Lowery, who was the West Virginia high school player of the year in 1988 and four-year right-handed pitcher at the University of Minnesota, was in his third season of coaching collegians when Maloney was hired at BSU in the summer of 1995.

After finishing his playing career, Lowery was on Joe Carbone’s staff at Ohio University heading into the 1995 season when Mike Gibbons left the Ball State staff to pursue a scouting job and Pat Quinn, a good friend of Carbone, was looking for a pitching coach for what turned out to be Quinn’s final coaching season. Lowery was hired in January.

When Maloney, who had been an assistant at Western Michigan University, was named Cardinals head coach he inherited Lowery.

“He gets his first head coaching job at 30 years old and he has to keep an assistant for a year,” says Lowery, who was in attendance at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville. “He was open-minded about it but he told me you need to be able to recruit and evaluate players and you’ve got to be loyal.

“We did have some good players over the years.”

While Lowery was on the BSU staff, the Cardinals produced four players that went on to be drafted in the first round — right-handed pitcher Bryan Bullington (No. 1 overall by  Pittsburgh in 2002), outfielder Larry Bigbie (No. 21 overall by Baltimore in 1999) and left-handers Luke Hagerty (No. 32 overall by the Chicago Cubs in 2002) and Jeff Urban (No. 41 overall by the San Francisco Giants in 1998).

Hagerty hails from Defiance, Ohio. The rest are Indiana high school products — Bullington from Madison Consolidated, Bigbie from Hobart and Urban from Alexandria-Monroe.

There was also catcher Jonathan Kessick (third round to Baltimore in 1999), right-handers Justin Wechsler (fourth round to Arizona in 2001) and Paul Henry (seventh round to Baltimore in 2002) and left-hander Jason Hickman (eighth round to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000). Wechsler prepped at Pendelton Heights.

In addition, MLB came calling in the first 20 rounds for left-hander Sam McConnell (11th round Pittsburgh in 1997), catcher Doug Boone (15th round to the Florida Marlins in 2001 and 36th round to the New York Yankees in 2002), left-hander Adam Sheefel (17th round to Cincinnati in 2000), right-hander Bruce Stanley (18th round to Kansas City in 1997) and shortstop Shayne Ridley (19th round to Baltimore in 2000).

Tapping into Indiana high school resources, Boone went to Providence and Stanley Shenandoah.

“He was definitely energetic,” says Lowery of a young Maloney. He was about getting after it. That’s for sure.

“He was aggressive. He could recruit. He understood projectability of players. That’s why he had so many first-rounders. He could look at guys who were sort of under-valued. We can do this, this and this with this kid and he has a chance to be pretty good.”

Lowery says Bullington was undervalued because he was such a good basketball player. He just hadn’t played a lot of baseball.

“For whatever reason he chose to play baseball instead of basketball in college even though his father (Larry Bullington) is one of the best basketball players ever to play at Ball State,” says Lowery. “(Bryan Bullington) really got good at the end of his senior year (of high school in 1999) to the point that he was offered to sign (by Kansas City) and did not.

In three seasons at BSU, Bullington went 29-11 with 357 strikeouts in 296 2/3 innings was selected No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates with a $4,000,000 signing bonus.

Lowery recalls that Hagerty’s parents moved into a smaller house so he could come to Ball State. He ended up being a first-round “sandwich” pick.

Urban was a 6-8 southpaw who got better.

“He could always throw strikes but he couldn’t throw very hard,” says Lowery of Urban. “All of a sudden, he got a lot stronger, did a lot of long toss and started throwing in the lower 90s.”

Urban was also first-round “sandwich” pick.

In their seven campaigns together in Muncie, Lowery and Maloney were part of 256 wins along with three Mid-American Conference titles and four MAC West crowns.

Lowery followed Maloney to Ann Arbor and those first two Wolverines teams won 64 contests and placed in the top three in the Big Ten Conference.

Top MLB draftees during those two years were Indianapolis Cathedral product Jake Fox (third round to the Chicago Cubs in 2003, Carmel graduate Jim Brauer (ninth round to Florida in 2005), Derek Feldkamp (ninth round to Tampa Bay Rays in 2005) and Brock Koman (ninth round to Houston in 2003).

“He’s a great communicator,” says Lowery of Maloney. “He has a vision. He’s intense.

“Kids like to play for him.”

At the end of his second season at Michigan, John and Tricia Lowery had three children under 6 — Abbee, Beau and Brooks — and he decided to leave college coaching and went back to West Virginia.

Lowery has a unique distinction. He turned 50 in 2019 and his high school and college head coaches — father John Lowery Sr. (a founder of the West Virginia High School Baseball Coaches Association and WVHSBCA Hall of Famer) at Jefferson High School in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va. and John Anderson at Minnesota — are still serving in the same positions as when he played for them.

For seven seasons, Lowery was head coach at Martinsburg High School. The Bulldogs’ arch rivals are the Jefferson Cougars, coached by his father.

Martinsburg won a state title in 2009 and Jefferson bested Martinsburg on the way to a state crown in 2011. The Lowerys won a state championship together when John Jr., was a player.

The younger Lowery, who now teaches at Jefferson, coached travel ball and softball on and off the next few years then became head baseball coach for four years at Mercersburg Academy, a boarding school in south central Pennsylvania that is about 40 miles from Martinsburg.

Last spring, he traveled often to see Beau Lowery play as a walk-on left-handed pitcher at West Virginia University.

How did Lowery end up going from the Mountaineer State to Minnesota?

Rob Fornasiere, who ended up as a Golden Gophers assistant for 33 years, was a good friend of Bernie Walter, who coached Denny Neagle at Arundel High School in Gambrills, Md., and had gotten the pitcher to come to play at Minnesota.

Fornasiere was at the 1987 Olympic Festival watching Dan Wilson and John Lowery Sr., approaches him to say that his son is talented and would consider playing for the Gophers.

“To Rob’s credit, he didn’t blow my father off,” says Lowery. “Rob was always very organized. At another recruiting even later that year, John Anderson saw me play. I was good enough.”

His first recruiting visit was also his first time on an airplane. He attended Game 7 of the 1987 World Series (St. Louis Cardinals at Minnesota Twins).

In the lunch room, Lowery sat the lunch room at the table next to Reggie Jackson (who was on the ABC broadcast crew).

In his four seasons at Minnesota, Lowery played with six future big leaguers — Neagle, Wilson, Jim Brower, Brent Gates, Kerry Lightenberg and Brian Raabe.

Lowery spent a short time in the Giants organization at Everett, Wash., and Clinton, Iowa, after signing for $1,000 as a free agent with scout Mike Toomey on a car trunk in Huntington, W.Va. His pro debut was memorable.

“I was nervous as all get out,” says Lowery. “I come in with the bases loaded. I balk all three runs in because the balk rule is different in college. You can basically change direction. In pro ball, you had to set.”

Lowery pitched for the Minneapolis Loons of the independent North Central League. The team was managed by Greg Olson. Teammates included Lightenberg and Juan Berenguer.

JOHNLOWERYJR

John Lowery Jr., was an assistant baseball coach at Ball State University 1995-2002 and the University Michigan 2003-2004 — all but the first year as an assistant to Rich Maloney. Lowey is a former West Virginia high school player of the year who pitched at the University of Minnesota. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Hutchinson serves UIndy pitchers, Pastime Tournaments participants

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Landon Hutchinson is developing pitchers in a scientific way at the University of Indianapolis.

Heading into his third season as pitching coach at the NCAA Division II school in 2020, Hutchinson uses the latest training methods while staying focused on the ultimate objective.

“It’s very tech-driven,” says Hutchinson, who was learning more about his craft at the Jan. 2-5 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville. “But at the end of the day you’ve got to try to get guys out.”

To get his pitchers ready to do that, Hutchinson pays close attention to health.

“Arm care is definitely the No. 1 point of emphasis,” says Hutchinson. “Workload is managed. We’re not throwing too much. We’re not throwing too little.

“We make sure we’re recovering and moving the right way. We’re making sure we’re getting proper sleep, nutrition, all those things.”

Motus sensors are used to monitor throwing. It’s a seven-day workload that maps out to a 28-day workload.

“If you keep that on pace it helps ramp things up in a safe manner,” says Hutchinson. “We use the Florida Baseball Ranch style of training as far as the cycle goes.”

The Greyhounds have heavy day followed by a recovery day, connection day (a time to work on movement patterns) and max intent day.

“If you keep repeating it, you don’t have to think about it out on the mound,” says Hutchinson. “The last thing I want them thinking about is that. Their job is to get guys out.”

Flexibility are the mobility of the Thoracic spine (T-spine) are also deemed important.

With the help of Chad Odaffer, an instructor in UIndy’s Kinesiology, Health & Sport Sciences department, full-body assessments are performed.

If deficiencies are found those can be addressed by head strength and conditioning coach Steve Barrick.

To improve core strength, pitchers do plenty of yoga. There’s also chaos training and HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts to get the heart rate up.

“We want to make sure we’re athletic,” says Hutchinson. “Pitchers are athletes.”

Hutchinson notes that ABCA members are harping on how far golf is ahead of baseball in terms of movement patterns.

“The amount of video that we take on our guys is insane,” says Hutchinson. “I don’t know if I have one video of me pitching when I was in college.”

As a right-handed pitcher, Hutchinson graduated from Liberty Union High School in Baltimore, Ohio, then played four seasons (2012-15) at the University of Rio Grande (Ohio).

After his playing career, Hutchinson served the 2016 and 2017 seasons for the Red Storm as a graduate assistant. He received a bachelor’s degree in Educational Studies in 2016 and a master’s in Coaching Leadership in 2017 and joined the UIndy staff in the fall of 2017. Indianapolis went 31-23 in 2018 and 30-20 in 2019.

Since each pitcher on his staff is unique in his approach, cues won’t be the same for each one.

“Sometimes it’s best to tell them to change their aiming point or use their legs more because they have nothing to do with their mechanics,” says Hutchinson. “If you’re glove side is flying open, you might be told to stay tight.

“Little things like that can help guys stay in line and stay true.”

D-II baseball teams are allowed 45 days of practice in the fall. After that comes individual work. That’s when the process of developing velocity and pitch design begins.

During pitch, Hutchinson will create video overlays of all the pitches in a hurler’s repertoire.

“We want to make sure all those are tunneled and we’re going from the exact same arm slot,” says Hutchinson. “We want them to mimic each other. Around the 40-foot mark is our goal for when they start to separate. That’s when the spin actually takes effect.

“I’d rather have later movement than earlier (giving the hitter little time to react).”

Each pitcher is given an individualized plan that begins when they arrive on campus in the fall. Hutchinson asks them the last time they threw live

“I tell them to be honest,” says Hutchinson. “There’s no point in lying because you’re just going to hurt yourself.”

Once they get to winter break after final exams, UIndy pitchers are given six- to eight-week plan they can follow when they are away from the coaches.

Players are due back on campus Jan. 13.

“That’s when we start hitting things pretty hard,” says Hutchinson. “We open up Feb. 15 (against Hillsdale in Johnson City, Tenn.).”

The Hounds will also play several games inside their dome.

“We’ve got plenty of arms,” says Hutchinson. “Guys are getting full ground balls and full fly balls since it’s seven stories high.

“Hitters are seeing live (pitching) and it’s  white background. If you can hit the ball in there, you can probably hit the ball almost anywhere.

“With our pitchers we do a good job making sure their intensity and pitch count is where it needs to be.”

Hutchinson says UIndy head coach Al Ready wants pitchers to be able to throw seven innings or up to 100 pitches within their first outing.

“If we can get them to that point we know we’re going to have a chance to win,” says Hutchinson. “If they can go seven innings, we have a bullpen that can seal the game for them.”

When Hutchinson arrived on campus, there were 15 pitchers. The following year that moved to around 27. This year, there are 30.

“To be a fully-funded program, there must be at least 45 man on the roster,” says Hutchinson. “Why not bring in arms?”

Besides his role at UIndy, Hutchinson is also national scouting coordinator and regional director for Pastime Tournaments, which runs travel baseball events all over the country.

He is in charge of staffing all events. Last summer, the organization employed around 250 250 independent contract workers.

Hutchinson makes certain baseballs and merchandise go to the right places.

On tournament weekends, president Tom Davidson, vice president and national director Brent Miller and Hutchinson divide up the 25 or more tournaments and oversee them with the help of site directors.

Hutchinson also acts as a point of contact between players, parents and college coaches and educates the recruited on the process. He lets them know that the colleges will want to know things like age, grade-point average and SAT score. Players should get their own email address to be used in corresponding with colleges.

“I want to recruit the athlete,” says Hutchinson. “I don’t want to recruit the parents.”

It also helps to have a presence on social media, where videos and other important information on a recruit can be placed.

To help college programs, Hutchinson can let coaches know which teams and players will be playing in which region so they can take a look at that uncommitted left-hander they seek.

When filling tournament fields, Davidson likes to pool like competition to keep them challenging for all involved.

Pastime’s social media presence has swelled in recent years. The organization has more than 8,500 followers on Twitter and more than 1,000 in Instagram.

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Landon Hutchinson is baseball pitching coach at the University of Indianapolis and national scouting coordinator and regional director for Pastime Tournaments. (UIndy Photo)

Indiana Twins instructor Haase keeps growing pitching know-how

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott Haase is a collector of baseball knowledge — especially about pitching.

Haase (rhymes with classy) was in Nashville, Tenn., at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention, talking face-to-face with folks he has connected with online or by phone.

“I learned pretty quickly what I was going to get most out of (the ABCA convention) was the networking,” says Haase, a board member, pitching coordinator and social media manager for the Indiana Twins travel organization. “It’s good to put a name to a face, chat in-person and strength that relationship.”

Among those he has connected with is Steve Merriman, a pitching coordinator in the Colorado Rockies system who also happens to share a hometown with Haase — Mt. Pleasant, Mich.

Haase, who turned 33 in December, has many certifications, including from OnBase U (functional movement) and Driveline Baseball as well as group exercise and personal training for his full-time job as health coach and wellness coordinator for Community Health Network. He was at Pitch-A-Palooza in Franklin, Tenn., Dec. 13-15, 2019.

For six years, he was pitching coach at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School — first for head coach Paul Strack and then Ryan Feyerabend. During that time, Twins president and founder and lead hitting instructor Jason Clymore reached out and Haase came to a clinic with Ron Wolforth of the Texas Baseball Ranch hosted by the Twins.

Haase came on board as an instructor and 17U pitching coach for Twins while also coaching at Franklin Community and conducting private lessons.

“It was six days a week of baseball for the first year of marriage,” says Haase, noting that his wife (Lora) was also busy at that time with coaching volleyball. “It was fun.”

After that first summer as a Twins coach, Haase decided to focus on being an instructor. He now coordinates pitching, teaches other instructors and coaches and runs the off-season training program with the organization as well as help Clymore with operations.

The Indiana Twins were housed in a facility near the University of Indianapolis then moved to spot in Martinsville with two buildings and three diamonds. There’s about 180 players in the program from 8U through 17U.

Haase notes that 8U gives family an introduction.

“Travel baseball is not right for everybody,” says Haase.

While high schoolers typically play up to eight tournaments each summer in June and July, younger players take part in up to 10 from April to July.

Beginning with 9U, teams have an off-season training program included in fees that lasts up to 20 weeks. Besides training in pitching, hitting, fielding and catching, there is Baseball I.Q.

Coaches were complaining because they were losing games because players who might look good during workouts don’t know how to back up first base or execute bunt coverage.

“Things that a travel ball coach doesn’t have as much practice time to cover,” says Haase.

A game created by Clymore involves a wipe board with a baseball field.

Players pull a card that gives them a situation. It might be “runner of first base and two outs.”

Another card is pulled.

It may say, “you’re the batter and you hit a ball past the defender in left-center field, what are you doing?”

That gives an opportunity to go around the room and see how many scenarios players identify.

As the game progresses, the card may have them as the right fielder and they are asked what they do when the ball goes into left-center field.

“It’s been pretty cool,” says Haase. “It gets them to think through it.”

Clymore is a proponent of mental skills and each team must spend part of their practices, which begin in January, doing some kind of mental work.

“It can be simple or elaborate,” says Haase. “They may watch a 10-minute video and have discussion and work sheet.”

It might be a TED talk or a motivational clip from a movie. Players and coaches will talk about how the subject elations to life, relationships, baseball or whatever.

“The mental component is such a big part of the game,” says Haase. “If you aren’t mentally strong, well-rounded an educated, in sports and in life you are not going to be able to succeed very much.

“If you don’t believe you’re going to have success — regardless of the reason — it’s going to be hard to have success.”

College players come back to train at the Twins facility during breaks. Among the recent alums is UIndy senior right-handed pitcher Reid Werner and Purdue Fort Wayne third baseman/pitcher Luke Miles.

Earlier in their development, the Schnell brothers (Nick and Aaron) and Avery Short played for the Indiana Twins. Outfielder Nick Schnell is now in the Tampa Bay Rays organization while left-hander Short is with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

A former left-handed pitcher/outfielder and team captain at Sacred Heart Academy in Mt. Pleasant (where he helped earn two district and regional titles and was the football team’s starting quarterback as a junior and senior), and pitcher at NCAA Division II Saginaw Valley State University in University Center, Mich., Haase video-taped himself and friends and studied footage of Tim Lincecum while trying to add velocity to his pitches.

Haase’s first coaching position was at a Little League in Saginaw.

He wound up in Indianapolis after long-distance dating his future wife. Scott and Lora Haase have an 8-month old (Max). Lora, who was an all-state volleyball player at Perry Meridian High School, coached Team Indiana in that sport for three years.

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Scott Haase is a board member, pitching coordinator and social media manager for the Indiana Twins travel organization. The group has a training facility in Martinsville.

 

Sutkowski, Hammond/Morris Chiefs marking three decades of baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A celebration is being planned by the Hammond/Morris Chiefs.

The northwest Indiana-based baseball baseball organization is celebrating its 30th season in 2020.

Founder/coach Dave Sutkowski wants all former players to come to a get-together this some summer (time and place to be determined).

When Sutkowski fielded his first Hammond Chiefs team in 1991.

“At that time there was no travel ball,” says Sutkowski. “There was a lot of baseball for kids until 15 in their local leagues and organizations.

“When they would hit 16, the only thing out there for them was (American Legion) ball. Most Legion teams were affiliated with a high school. Some high schools had no affiliations with Legion teams. We wanted to extend the playing time for kids in the summer once they turned 16.”

Sutkowski coached players at ages 14 and 15 in Babe Ruth League that was a basis for the first 16U Hammond Chiefs team.

The next few years, there were 16U and 17U/18U squads.

The Chiefs won a Senior Babe Ruth World Series championship in 2003.

Five years ago, the Hammond Chiefs merged with Morris Baseball. The Morris Chiefs now field teams from 10U to 17U.

High school age kids play a summer and fall season.

“We’re always teaching,” says Sutkowski. “We are in it to teach the game of baseball and help kids with their skills no matter how young or how old.”

There is year-round training opportunities at Morris Baseball based in the Franciscan Health Fitness Center in Schererville, Ind.

As players become older, exposure for college becomes part of the equation and contacts are made with those coaches.

“When we started, college coaches were always at high school games,” said Sutkowski. “College coaches rarely come to high school games (these days) because of the nature of the season.

“Come summertime, they’re all over the place. We try to go to venues where these kids going to have an opportunity to be seen and recruited.”

The Chiefs have regularly traveled to Perfect Game tournaments near Atlanta and to Prep Baseball Report events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

There were more than 400 teams in the 17U division in 2019 at a Perfect Game tournament.

“Not all kids are (NCAA) D-I players and some kids understand that sooner than others. We as coaches have to put a kid in a position where we think he might have the most success.

“We tell kids that there’s nothing wrong with going to play baseball at a Division II, Division III or NAIA school. In Indiana, there are a lot of good programs that are not Division I. We have to find venues that meet the needs of those kids, too.”

Many events are played on college campuses. Sutkowski notes that the Cincy Flames host an event with games played at schools of various levels.

“Someone from that program is out there running event on their field,” says Sutkowski. “That helps out when you’re able to do that.”

The Chiefs have two alums currently in Major League Baseball — Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) and Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays).

Manaea and Brosseau both spoke at a Chiefs banquet during the recent holiday break held at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith.

At 14, Manaea’s parents brought him from Wanatah to play in a fall league in Hammond and he was with the Chiefs through high school.

Sutkowski is an American Baseball Coaches Association member and has attended more than 20 national conventions, including the one that just wrapped in Nashville.

“The first year I went I fell in love with it. We’ve just made it a point to come every year.

“The speakers are outstanding.”

Pro, college, high school, youth and travel ball coaches are all represented in formal meetings and clinic sessions.

There are also several informal discussions throughout the hallways of the convention.

“They’re all talking baseball,” says Sutkowski. “A lot of times you’ll learn just as much in those little sidebar sessions as you will listening to the speakers.”

The 2020 ABCA drew more than 7,100 coaches to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The 2021 convention is Jan. 7-10 at Gaylord National in Washington, D.C.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, which will hold its annual State Clinic Jan. 16-18 at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis, is also a regular stop for Sutkowski.

After playing at Hammond Edison Little League, Sutkowski graduated from Hammond Gavit High School in 1978. He is in his 33rd year as a teacher in School City of Hammond. He leads physical education classes for about 600 K-5 students at Lincoln Elementary School.

He stayed involved with baseball after high school as an umpire and a youth coach.

His baseball coaching career at the high school level began as an assistant to George Malis at Hammond. He was also football assistant to Marty Jamrose and Bob Hansen at Hammond Gavit.

Sutkowski then became head baseball coach at Hammond Morton in 1996. The first team was a veteran squad and the second team had only one returning senior and very little varsity experience.

Sutkowski and his players talked about expectations talked about expectations before the season.

“No matter what happens, we never quit at what we do — whether it’s something we’re working on at practice or something during the game,” says Sutkowski. “No matter how frustrating things may become for us, we never lay down and quit. That was our motto.”

At the beginning of the season, the young Governors took their lumps.

“But our kids were getting better,” says Sutkowski. “They never quit. They worked as hard as they could in practice and games.”

One day against Hammond Bishop Noll, Morton got into an early hole.

“I could look at my kids and see they’re done,” says Sutkowski. “We got 10-runned in five (innings).”

Sutkowski did not address his team at the field. They got on the bus and went home.

“I figured I’ve got to do something to remind these kids that we’re not quitters,” says Sutkowski. “I painted our bench pink.

“The players saw it and all understood it.”

Players were responsible for carrying equipment and his lone senior — Justin Hornsby — was made to carry a can of red paint and a brush.

“When we prove that we are no longer going to quit at what we’re doing, you will be the first guy to paint that bench back to red,” says Sutkowski of his remarks to his senior. “That was it.

“The kids all bought into it.”

While the players understood the motivational tactic, it was picked up in the press.

“Since we were using the color pink they thought we were discriminating against females and softball,” says Sutkowski, “It had nothing to do with it — Nothing.”

Sutkowski says former head coach Greg Jancich supported the idea of reinforcing the no-quit rule with the players.

Though he was given no specific reason, the administration opted not to bring Sutkowski back for a third season.

DAVESUTKOWSKI

Dave Sutkowski is the founder of the Hammond/Morris Chiefs travel baseball organization. The 2020 season will be the 30th for the group based in northwest Indiana. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Southern Indiana’s Archuleta shares ideas about infield play

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tracy Archuleta is renown in coaching circles for his ability to convey knowledge on infield play.

The head coach at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville has led the Screaming Eagles to NCAA Division II national championships in 2010 and 2014 and has conducted multiple clinics, including on the big stage at the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention.

The coach — with the help of his son and USI infielder Alex Archuleta — presented on the subject at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.

At the start of Archuleta’s talk, he explained that infielders playing for him must be able to use their glove well.

He make it a point to have infielders go to the baseball with the finger tips of their glove down.

Why?

“It’s the biggest pocket,” says Archuleta. “It’s the first thing I’m looking at (a prospective infielder). When I’m watching them field a ground ball, I can teach them how to move their feet. I can’t teach them how to use their glove.”

Archuleta says he has his infielders lead with their left hand and does not even use the top (or bare) hand (to stop the ball).

“The top hand is insurance. If I’m really good with my glove, I don’t need insurance.

“I want them to be athletic and really use their glove.”

As a training tool, USI infielders use a small glove that Archuleta learned about from former Screaming Eagles assistant Vicente Cafaro, who was a San Diego Padres minor league infield instructor during the 2019 season.

What does Alex Archuleta like it?

“It makes me feel the ball in my palm,” says the younger Archuleta. “You’re not catching it the web.

“On top of that, it makes me stay down.”

Tracy Archuleta chimed in.

“I like it because it makes you get your butt down,” says the coach. “I don’t care if you’re 10 years old or 18 years old, the lower you get the more chance you’re going to have to field that ball.

“It’s amazing how they’re able to use their glove and get so much more confident.”

A drill that was introduced to Archuleta by Cafaro involves bouncing lacrosse or dimple balls. The infielder constantly moves his feet and then goes after the ball with his glove after the first or second bound to work on fielding short hops and big hops.

“It makes them be patient,” says Archuleta. “What are we doing with the big hop? We want to wait and get it.”

An emphasis for Archuleta during USI’s fall practice was getting infielders comfortable with quickly getting rid of the baseball. They constantly worked on shuffling and throwing after fielding it.

“I’m a big proponent of using my glove out in front and nothing funneling in,” says Archuleta. “Anytime we funnel in, what going to happen? The ball’s moving. I want to go get a short hop, catch the big hop and go from there.”

In making tags at second base, the Archuletas highlighted a few things.

Rather than straddle the base, the fielder stands right in front of it.

“If the (throw) is the up the line, I can move up the line and be able to make the tag,” says Coach Archuleta.

“(With the tag), it’s going to be straight down,” says Alex Archuleta. “You don’t want to catch and drag. (Going straight to the ground is) quicker and it’s easier to tag.”

Says Coach Archuleta, “There’s no way he’s going to be able to get around you. You’re always going to have a good tag.

“You go straight down the with tag. You’re not searching for something.”

If the throw bounces, the fielder catching it goes straight down with the ball to make the tag.

“This is really big for your infielders because everything we’re telling them is low to high, low to high, low to high,” says Coach Archuleta. “When we go to tag we’re high/low.”

To build power and explosiveness, USI infielders do a drill that replicates the slalom on a skier.

“Your knee can not go forward,” says Coach Archuleta. “You have to be in a strong position at all times and I need to learn to bend properly. If not, I’m not going be explosive left and right.”

In making the double play, Archuleta has his shortstop image a pole going straight up from second base and they have to get around that pole.

“Their glove hands get them into the turn,” says Coach Archuleta. “And we have to touch the bag (because the ‘neighborhood play’ no longer applies in this video replay era.”

On the DP pivot by the second baseman, he times it and moves toward the bag when he sees the ball come out of the shortstop’s hand.

The second baseman steps on the back side of the bag for quickness and protection from the incoming runner.

Archuleta, whose first season as USI head coach was 2007, sees the importance of enjoying the journey.

“I didn’t enjoy a single moment of (the national championship) in 2010 until it was over,” says Archuleta. “(In 2014,) we sat back, watched our players, watched their reaction, watched their preparation. I was able to enjoy it not only for myself, but enjoy it for them.”

Archuleta encourages other coaches and parents to do the same with their special times.

“Those moments may not happen again,” says Archuleta. “Watch those young men get after it and enjoy that moment.”

The coach also gave some insight in recruiting at the NCAA D-II level.

“We have had to move forward where we’re evaluating young men in their freshmen and sophomore years,” says Archuleta. “We’re not making that full plunge at them until they’ve fully-committed to where they’re at.”

That means being realistic.

A player should pick the school he wants to attend and then ask a question.

“Do they have a chance to play there?,” says Archuleta. “If they have a chance, go to (the chosen school’s) camps.

“Once you get in front of their coaches — if you’re good enough — they’re going to get after it. They’ll make sure they contact you and go from there.

“What if it doesn’t work out? There are all kinds of schools that will fill your needs baseball-wise and academically.”

It also helps to know the identity of the program and how the player might fit in.

“What does that coach do well?,” says Archuleta. “At USI, we’re going to try to run a lot. We’re going to play small ball.

“We’re going to try to move runners and out-pitch you.”

In working with USA Baseball last summer, Archuleta worked with Vanderbilt University pitching coach Scott Brown and learned something about the way the Commodores (which won the 2019 College World Series). At the upper echelon of D-I baseball, players are recruited at younger and younger ages — some before arriving on a high school campus.

That being said, Brown let Archuleta know that more time over the years, the top player in Vandy’s recruiting class has been the last one to commit. Right-handed pitcher Kumar Rocker, who threw a 19-strikeout no-hitter in the 2019 College World Series, did not commit until October 2018.

“It makes sense,” says Archuleta. “Why? The player was confident in his ability. He knew where he was going to be at.

“Don’t get in a rush.”

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Tracy Archuleta is the head baseball coach at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. The frequent clinic speaker led the Screaming Eagles to NCAA Division II national titles in 2010 and 2014. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

 

Brownlee jumping into challenge of new role with ABCA

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Brownlee has always enjoyed a challenge.

As a baseball player, he appreciated being pushed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Franklin Community, Hanover grad Miller now coaching at Tusculum

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Todd Miller’s baseball coaching path has taken him to the eastern part of the Volunteer State.

A graduate of Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2002 and Hanover (Ind.) College in 2006, Miller is in his first season as an assistant at Tusculum University, an NCAA Division II school in Greeneville, Tenn.

Recruiting coordinator and assistant coach is charge of hitting, base runners and infielders are duties for Miller, who was hired in the summer of 2018.

He joined Brandon Steele, a former Tusculum assistant who was promoted when Doug Jones resigned as head baseball coach to concentrate on his duties as Pioneers athletic director.

Associate head coach Todd Ireland and graduate assistants John Topoleski and Hayden Pewitt round out the coaching staff.

Tusculum (24-14 through April 4) is part of the South Atlantic Conference (with Anderson of South Carolina, Carson-Newman, Catawba, Coker, Lenoir-Rhyne, Lincoln Memorial, Mars Hill, Newberry, Queens of Charlotte and Wingate).

The Pioneers play home games at Pioneer Park, a stadium owned by the school and also used by the short-season Appalachian League’s Greeneville Reds (Cincinnati Reds affiliate).

“We have, arguably, the best facilities in Division II baseball,” says Miller. Tusculum has indoor covered batting cages. A clubhouse, weight room, video lab and coaches offices are all underneath the stadium. A nearby building is used for defensive work.

Prior to Tusculum, Miller served four seasons as an assistant to Chris Anderson at Belmont (N.C.) Abbey College and four campaigns as an assistant to Jim Gantt at Cattawba College (Salisbury, N.C.).

Anderson played for Gantt at Catawba and joined Miller in turning the Crusaders’ fortunes around.

“We had a lot of success there,” says Miller.

After going 25-25 in 2015 (Miller’s first season), Abbey was 40-14  with a No. 2 national ranking (best in program history) in 2018 (Miller’s last).

“(Gantt) is one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around — bar none,” says Miller. “He’s got a fantastic program. He does a great job of developing players. He’s truly winner.”

Miller was a part of winning teams for the Indians. During his time there, Catawba won three conference titles and qualified for regional play three times. The program’s first regional crown and D-II College World Series berth in Cary, N.C., came in 2012.

He was an assistant at his alma mater, Hanover, and helped head coach Shayne Stock in 2009 and 2010. Those were also the junior and senior seasons for brother Adam Miller (Hanover Class of 2010). Their sister, Jessica (Class of 2012), was also a student there at the time.

Two seasons at Bluffton (Ohio) University, where James Grandey was head coach, came right after Miller graduated from Hanover.

In March 2007, Miller was involved in a tragic highway accident in Atlanta. Bluffton was on its way to Florida on its southern trip when a crash took the lives of seven people, including five players.

“I was thrown from the bus,” says Miller. “I went through the front windshield.

“I had four broken bones in my back, a skull fracture and a broken jaw.”

Head coach Grandey was hurt even worse and stayed weeks in a hospital before going back to Ohio.

At 22, Miller became temporary head coach.

“I was talking to guys about losing their best friend and roommate,” says Miller. “We had a team meeting after all the funerals. We said we can play this year if you’d like or not. Nobody is going to judge you either way.

“The team decided it wanted to play and do its best. We played the rest of that season with heavy hearts.”

The first game after the fatal accident was a loss, but the Beavers scored five runs — one for each lost player.

“That was symbolic,” says Miller, who recalls that the outreach locally and nationally was tremendous.

After a month after the accident, Tiffin University (located about 45 minutes from Bluffton) held a Purple Day (in honors of Bluffton’s school colors) and raised $13,000.

He was still dealing with physical and mental issues when Miller met one of the Tiffin students that were a part of the effort. A year later, they went on a date and are now married with three children.

Todd and Leigh Miller have Madeline (6), Brooks (3) and Boone (almost 10 months).

“It shows you that even through that tragedy, there can be a silver lining,” says Miller.

Bluffton is where Miller received his masters degree in business administration and formed a bond with Grandey.

“He’s been a teacher, mentor and friend to me through the years,” says Miller.

He played four seasons at Hanover — the first three for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dick Naylor and the last for Shayne Stock.

“I enjoyed Coach Naylor very much,” says Miller. “He was very organized and demanded excellence everyday — not only in the game but it practice.

“He was a winner. He was always able to get the best out of you. He was hard on you. But you had to read through the message a little bit. It was what he said not how he said it.”

Miller also played football at Hanover. He was a three-sport athlete in high school, spending his winters with basketball.

At Franklin Community, Miller’s baseball coaches were Jeff Mercer Sr. and Mark Pieper.

Jeff Mercer Sr. is the father of Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer Jr., a Franklin Community graduate and two years younger than Todd Miller. The Miller and Mercer families are long-time friends.

Miller is an American Baseball Coaches Association member and regular attendee of the ABCA Convention in January (the 2020 event is slated for Nashville).

“The ABCA is a must-attend for anybody serious about baseball,” says Miller. “I pick up something new every year.

“It’s relevant for all stages of coaching — youth, high school, college and professional.”

Miller also coached three summers with the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization, leading a 14U squad for two years and a 15U team for one. Brother Adam assisted for all three seasons. He also got help from Ben Kleber, who is now head coach at Trinity Christian High School in Seymour, Ind.

One of the players on those Bulls team was Drew Ellis, who went on to play at Jeffersonville High School and the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization (he begins 2019 at Double-A Jackson, Tenn.).

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Todd Miller (left), a graduate Franklin (Ind.) Community High School and Hanover (Ind.) College, is in his first season as an assistant baseball coach at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn. (Tusculum University Photo)

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Todd Miller is an assistant baseball coach at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tenn. His duties include recruiting coordinator and he is in charge of hitters, base runners and infielders. (Tusculum University Photo)

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.