Tag Archives: Academics

IU Kokomo’s Cheek emphasizes competition, classroom, community

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Cheek spent the summer collegiate baseball season of 2015 playing for the Kokomo Jackrabbits.

Coming off his first season as a pitcher at Indiana State University, Cheek played for manager Matt Howard.

The two maintained a relationship and Cheek came back to town as an assistant to head coach Howard at Indiana University Kokomo. The 2021 season will be his third with the Cougars.

“I love it,” says Cheek of working with the energetic Howard. “He will push you day in and day out to be a better leader on or off the field.

“What I enjoy most about him is he gives freedom (to his assistants) as if we were in-charge. I can make the pitching program my own. There is trust my abilities.”

Cheek, 26, is not only IUK’s pitching coach but he leads the program’s academic supervision and community service and helps with camps.

At pitching coach, he looks for aggressiveness and competitiveness. 

“What we strive to do is attack hitters,” says Cheek. “We recruit a lot of guys who are athletes that go out and compete. They piece it together inning by inning and put up zeros.”

Cheek wants his hurlers to trust their defense.

“We have plenty of gold glovers on the field so pound the zone,” says Cheek. “Execution is big for us.”

Knowing that not all pitchers are the same, Cheek looks to get each one to identify what makes them successful.

“Every guy is going to have different pitches and different sequences that they throw,” says Cheek, who knows some will around 90 mph with their fastball while others will have to pitch backwards, starting with a breaking ball and spotting their fastball.

“It’s about letting them know their success and know what they have to bring to the table,” says Cheek. “When they take pride int he role they have that’s where you start to see success.”

About half way through fall practice, IUK pitchers (a group that includes Ryan’s brother, Kacey Cheek) are currently in COVID-19 quarantine.

“It’s been a tough fall,” says Cheek. “It make guys see the picture of how they approach each day with an appreciation and a full passion for the game.”

That can be said of the whole squad, which includes returning college players who had their spring season cut short and incoming freshmen who had their senior high school seasons canceled.

Cheek and the other IUK coaches encourage them to respect the game but also have passion.

“Show up with a chip on their shoulder,” says Cheek. “Keep a goal in mind each day and don’t let a day pass.”

Because of the pandemic, the NAIA has granted an extra year of eligibility to those who want to use it.

Among those back to lead the Cougars are right-handed pitcher Renton Poole (at Bloomington High School South graduate who was selected in the 28th round of the 2018 Major League First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers but opted to stay in college) and infielder Austin Weiler.

While being aware of contact tracing, IUK baseball coaches work to separate players on the field and in the weight room. With pitchers away, there are a number of machine scrimmages. 

“We’ll have developmental work and one-on-one work when pitchers come back,” says Cheek.

As an academic supervisor, Cheek makes sure players are keeping up their grades up. He stays in-touch with professors and sets study table hours.

“They’re coming to IUK to get an IU degree and play baseball,” says Cheek. “The goal is to get these guys to where they want to go in life.

“My goal is to make sure they’re reaching their goals in the classroom.”

IUK students are currently taking a hybrid of in-person and online classes. After Thanksgiving to the end of the semester that will be all online.

While COVID-19 regulations and protocols has limited what players can do at the moment, there was plenty of community service with local groups last fall. Cheek says that each team member did up to 25 hours in the fall while meeting Kokomo know they care.

Cougars associate head coach Drew Brantley heads up camps and is helped by Cheek and Howard.

Cheek took his current job after serving as varsity boys basketball and varsity baseball coach at his alma mater Oblong (Ill.) High School. In 2018 and 2019, he coached Britton’s Bullpen 16U travel team.

As a player, Cheek was in spring training with the independent professional Evansville (Ind.) Otters in 2017.

Cheek pitched two seasons at Indiana State University (2015 and 2016) and two at Vincennes (Ind.) University (2013 and 2014).

As a right-handed collegiate pitcher, Cheek went 10-5 in 32 mound appearances (16 starts) at VU and 2-0 in 11 games (all in relief) at ISU.

Cheek was the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region 12 MVP in 2014 and helped Vincennes make the NJCAA D-II World Series (placing seventh).

He earned Management and Marketing degree from Indiana State in 2016.

Mitch Hannahs was the head coach and Jordan Tiegs the pitching coach at ISU.

Cheek went to youth camps run by Hannahs when the latter was coaching at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

“He’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever played under,” says Cheek of Hannahs. “He understands the game and knows how to compete.

“He helped me grow as a player and a person.”

Tiegs, who is now a coach in the Rangers organization, had an impact on Cheek.

“He was really smart and knew how to develop guys,” says Cheek of Tiegs. “He really sparked my interest about what a routine meant and entailed — throwing everyday, arm health, your body moving correctly and competing at a high level.”

Cheek appreciates his time with Vincennes head coach Chris Barney.

“He knew the game,” says Cheek of Barney. “He was a little Old School, but I loved it.”

The term “JUCO bandit” is used in baseball circles these days. Cheek tells what it means to him.

“They are guys who are hard-nosed and a little blue collar,” says Cheek. “It was a really good fit for myself to go junior college route. I learned a lot about myself — who I am as a person and player.”

Without the time restrictions of the NCAA and NAIA, junior college players have the chance to spend plenty of time working on their craft.

“We had a fall and spring season and a lot of competition,” says Cheek. “You’d get out of class and then be at the field for six hours at a time.

“We learned what ‘no off days’ meant,” says Cheek. “You didn’t get many.”

Cheek grew up in Oblong, which is Crawford County about 20 miles from the Indiana line and Sullivan County, Indiana. 

The 2012 OHS graduate played golf for coach Jason Hartke, basketball for coach Brent Harper and baseball for coach Dave Miller.

Richard and Kelly Cheek have three children — Ryan, Kacey (20) and Lincoln Trail College freshman Katie (18). 

Ryan Cheek, a graduate of Oblong (Ill.) High School, Vincennes (Ind.) University and Indiana State University, is heading into his third season as a baseball assistant coach at Indiana University Kokomo in 2020-21. (IU Kokomo Photo)

Purdue Fort Wayne’s Birely helps pitchers navigate a world of knowledge

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Blending various talents into a cohesive unit, helping them navigate a world of knowledge and encouraging a flow of ideas.

This is what Grant Birely gets to do as pitching coach at NCAA Division I Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne).

Birely, 36, has been on the job since the 2009 season. The Mastodons are scheduled to open the 2019 campaign Feb. 15-17 with four games at Alabama A&M.

The Purdue Fort Wayne roster features 14 active pitchers with two who will likely be medical redshirts.

“I make an individual plan with each of them to become the best they can,” says Birely. “As they get older and go through the program, they take a lot of ownership of their own development and I become a consultant for them. With the young guys, it’s about teaching them what it takes to pitch at this level.”

Birely says the cornerstone of Mastodons pitching is throwing and learning to spin pitches.

“In some form or fashion, there is throwing each day,” says Birely. “It might be 60 feet one day just to get loose. It might be 350 feet if they’re going to long toss that day. I don’t put a distance restriction on them. We tell them to listen to their arm and see how it feels each day.”

The point is, collegiate pitchers are asked to throw a lot.

“There’s no better way to learn to throw than to throw,” says Birely. “We’re working on their craft every single day.”

Playing baseball at the college level, especially Division I, is a major commitment between school work and hours spend getting ready for and playing games.

“We spend everyday with them and they spend so much time on it, they have to love baseball and showing up everyday and working on it,” says Birely. “One thing they’ll leave with is time management when they head into the real world.”

Purdue Fort Wayne pitchers do a hybrid training program that includes band work, stretching and some weighted-ball movements.

“We don’t dive straight into a full weight-ball program because these guys are competing the minute they get on-campus,” says Birely. “They never really have that down time to solely focus on velocity or anything like that. We’re always trying to work on command (of the strike zone) and commanding a second pitch.”

When the weather keeps the Mastodons off the frozen tundra, they do their throwing in a spacious fieldhouse large enough to make tosses of up to 250 or 260 feet.

“We’re very lucky to have that,” says Birely. “It’s just high enough so they can get a little bit of air under the baseball.”

The top two pitchers from 2018 in terms of innings pitched and victories are gone. Right-hander Brandon Phelps, a Fort Wayne Snider High School graduate, pitched 83 innings and won five games as a redshirt senior. Left-hander Damian Helm worked 73 1/3 innings with four victories in his senior season.

As the Mastodons head into the only four-game series of 2019, Birely says junior right-hander Chase Phelps (Brandon’s brother and also a Fort Wayne Snider graduate), junior right-hander Cameron Boyd (Fishers) and redshirt senior right-hander Shane Odzark will get the first opportunity to be starting pitchers.

The bullpen is being built with establishing strength in the late innings as a priority.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are excited to try to go and finish games,” says Birely, who counts freshman left-hander Justin Miller (Homestead), sophomore right-hander Sean Ferguson (New Haven) and freshman right-hander Jarrett Miller in the closer mix.

Other right-handers include sophomore Trevor Armstrong (Fort Wayne Snider), sophomore Nathan Hefle, freshman Garrett Hill (University), junior Tyler Kissinger, junior Duane Miller, sophomore Brian Skelton (Westfield) and redshirt freshman Cade Willard (Eastside).

Another lefty is sophomore Spencer Strobel (Avon).

Birely says two freshmen right-hander — Grant Johnston (Hamilton Southeastern) and Drew Pyle (Hagerstown) — have had injuries that will likely make them redshirts.

The pitching coach has learned that he is dealing with players who have different ways of learning. They might be visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.

“We have some guys who like to see themselves on video and they can make adjustments based off that,” says Birely. “Some guys I have to put in a position kind of in a kinesthetic way so they can feel it.

“It’s definitely a challenge to figure out each guy.”

And figuring it out is key.

“Anyone who is teaching might be the smartest person in the world but if they can’t get that information to the players, it doesn’t really work and it doesn’t help,” says Birely. “It’s been fun finding different ways to teach and different ways to convey information that I have to them.”

Birely notes that the current generation — Generation Z — gets a bad rap for asking so many questions.

“They have all this information at their finger tips,” says Birely. “Some of it is good and some of it is not good.

“I’d rather have them ask me a question or to try to figure something out than to just go and do it on their own.”

Group chats are a way that information is exchanged.

A pitcher will see a video in social media and ask, “what do you think of this, Coach?.”

Birely asks his hurlers to identify their favorite major league pitcher.

“That gives me some insight of who they’re going to watch,” says Birely. “My favorite pitcher to watch growing up was Greg Maddux. I was never the big velocity guy. Watching him throw a baseball looked like watching a wiffleball.”

He also followed the fortunes of another future Hall of Famer. Roy Halladay went to high school just a few years before Birely in nearby Denver suburb of Arvada.

Birley is a graduate of Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, Colo. He played for current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Bobby Pierce at Central Arizona College (the Vaqueros won the 2002 National Junior College Division I World Series) then finished his collegiate career at the University of New Orleans. That’s where he met his future wife, Bonnie. The two were living in the Big Easy when Hurricane Katrina hit and they moved closer to Grant’s family in Denver.

Retired as a player after one season of independent baseball with the Mesa Miners, Birley went into the business world when a friend asked him to help with freshmen tryouts at Regis Jesuit High School, figuring it would just be for a few hours on a Saturday.

“From the moment I walked out there, I was hooked,” says Birely, who spent two seasons at Regis Jesuit in Aurora, Colo. When Pierce became head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver, he invited Birely to become Roadrunners pitching coach. When Pierce moved to Indiana to lead the IPFW Mastodons, he asked Birely to come with him.

“I wouldn’t have this opportunity without him,” says Birely of Pierce. “He’s been a mentor and a great person to learn from.

“The best thing about him is that he lets everybody in the organization from players to staff go do their job

he gives them the freedom and creativity to make the program better.”

Pierce promotes a spirit of working together for a common goal.

“He’s very positive,” says Birley. “He’s great to work for. He’s awesome to play for. He allows the players the freedom to exchange ideas.

“Let’s figure it out together.”

Grant and Bonnie Birely have figured out how to balance baseball and family life. The couple has two children — Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School senior Tyler (who is active in theater and show choir) and sixth grader Kaylee.

“Like everyday says you’ve got to have a very understand wife,” says Grant. “She’s on this journey with me. Otherwise, I couldn’t do this.

“She keeps the fort going at home.”

Purdue Fort Wayne plays in the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). That makes for a good deal of travel. When the Mastodons go to the Dakotas, they often leave campus on Wednesday night and return at noon Monday.

“(Players) do a great job of doing their schoolwork on the road,” says Birely. “It’s not uncommon to walk through a hotel lobby and there’s 25 or 30 guys doing their homework.

It’s not uncommon for players to ask for the movies to be turned off on the bus to study for an upcoming test.

“We’ve had guys who understand what it means to be a true student-athlete,” says Birely. “It goes back to time management. They have to rely on themselves a lot to make sure they’re getting their work done.”

Coaches will proctor tests for professors, who email the exam and set the time limit and have the coaches sent it back. Other take online classes to allow flexibility and no requirement to be in a classroom.

Christine Kuznar is Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics and meets with players each semester to them on-track toward getting their degree as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“She’s the rock star behind the whole thing,” says Birely.

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Purdue Fort Wayne was formerly known as Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. In its new branding, the Mastodons have adopted black and gold as school colors with a hint of blue as homage to the IPFW brand. (Purdue Fort Wayne Image)

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Grant Birely, the baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne, is a native of Colorado who played and coached for Mastodons head coach Bobby Pierce before following him to Indiana. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

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Grant Birely has been baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) since the 2009 season. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

 

 

After getting so much from baseball, Elkhart Central, Bethel graduate Kloosterman is sharing with youth in his community

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The little white ball with 108 stitches has given so much to Greg Kloosterman.

“Everything pure in my life came from baseball,” says Kloosterman, 35. “It allowed me to go to college and experience pro baseball. I met my wife while playing pro baseball. Now we have two beautiful young sons.”

A diamond standout at Elkhart Central High School (1997-2000) and Bethel College (2001-03), the left-hander pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization (2003-05). Greg and Megan, who met in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, while he was playing for Beloit, have Grady (9) and Blake (6).

While having his car serviced in Pittsburgh Greg met the father-in-law of Bethel assistant athletic director Chris Hess and was hired for his first job in the oil and gas industry. He is now a sales engineer for Carbo Ceramics and services clients around the Northeast.

Still very much involved in sports, Kloosterman and Kristi Hilbert are partners in GameChangers Baseball Club in Canonsburg, Pa., near Pittsburgh. The facility currently trains 75 youth baseball players in a four-county area and plan to add softball in the fall.

With the help of corporate and private sponsors, GameChangers will soon be changing the way it operates.

“I will no longer support the pay-to-play model,” says Kloosterman of a program that has a roll-out date scheduled for June 1. “My passion is to be able to provide a high level of baseball and softball to anybody willing to earn it.

“Mom and dad’s check book does not insure you can play. It’s all about development, but it’s not going to cost any of our players a dollar.”

GameChangers is in the process of implementing an academic and athletic institute to provide baseball, softball and other sports for every kid regardless of socio-economic standing. Planning for the initiative began in August 2016 and many people have gotten on-board.

“We will make their academics their tuition,” says Kloosterman, who holds a B.S. degree in organizational management from Bethel. “A lot of our young folk are in pretty bad situations. They don’t have parents to look over their homework. They don’t get $20 for every ‘A’ they bring home.

“We want to make them successful in school while making baseball and softball the base.”

If a young person needs assistance or recommendation with a university of college, GameChargers has every intention of helping them get there.

“My goal is that if our athletes our privileged enough to play college baseball, they never have to take an athletic scholarship,” says Kloosterman. “Academic scholarships can’t be taken away; athletic scholarships can.”

While GC teams will play in tournaments, they won’t be in it to chase trophies.

“A son or daughter going to college not having to play any money, that’s what a championship means to me,” says Kloosterman.

GameChangers will host college and career fairs, social media do-and-don’t presentations and showcases while inviting local colleges and universities to check out their operation and their student-athletes.

The organization is working toward being fully-funded and providing all the equipment needed for players to be successful in the classroom and on the field. Besides bats, balls and uniforms, there’s laptops, back packs and academic tutors.

Kloosterman and company are using baseball to fulfill what he sees as a duty.

“Every person who can has the morale obligation to make sure kids are warm, fed, educated and un-abused,” says Kloosterman. “If you don’t think you do, you need to go to the doctor and get your mind right.

“I’m just in a position I can do that. Since I’m in that position, I don’t have a choice.”

Kloosterman notes that kids are most at-risk from 2:30 to 7 p.m.

“Parents aren’t home and kids are unsupervised,” says Kloosterman. “They can come to us.”

He is not worried about accommodating higher numbers of youngsters.

“It’s like facing Clayton Kershaw and you have two strikes on you and you’ve got to drive in that run,’ says Kloosterman. “You’ve got to figure out a way.”

Kloosterman, who recently accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet Friday, July 20 at Century Center in South Bend, insists that players earn what they get.

It’s a concept that he sees as very rare.

“It’s a vital life lesson,” says Kloosterman. “In baseball at the 18-and-under level, kids don’t have a skin in the game. But from 6, 7 and 8, just because you show up doesn’t mean you play. We want to them earn your spot everyday.

“That’s completely lost on today’s players. They didn’t have to take it away from somebody and hold it. They never had to do it.

“The game didn’t change. There are 35 guys in each dugout (in college baseball). Nine players still play.”

As an Elkhart Central player for head coach Steve Stutsman, Kloosterman was honorable mention Class 4A All-State in 2000.

Going into 2018, Kloosterman was the Blue Blazers’ career leader in innings (256 1/3), walks (160), losses (23) and wild pitches (23), second in strikeouts (317), tied for fourth in complete games (19) and fifth in wins (17). Offensively, he ranks first in batting average (.415) and on-base percentage (.530) and second in hits (137), runs batted in (97) and innings played (749) and fourth in home runs (16).

As an outfielder and pitcher at Bethel, he played for coaches Sam Riggleman and Mike Hutcheon.

Kloosterman helped Hutcheon’s Pilots win a National Christian College Athletic Association national championship in 2002.

He was an NCCAA Division II All-American in 2002 and 2003 and NAIA honorable mention All-American in 2003. He was the NCCAA National Player of the year and Mid-Central Conference (now Crossroads League) Player of the Year in 2003.

The left-handed slugger hit .380 with 40 home runs and 138 in his three collegiate seasons, b testing 18 home runs in 2002 and 20 in 2003. As a pitcher, he fanned 162.

Selected in the ninth round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Kloosterman pitched in 61 games (55 as a starter) with a 12-28 record a 5.28 earned run average.

Before landing in Pennsylvania, Kloosterman was a coach and instruct for Slammers Training Academy in Lake Forest, Ill.

Along the way, he gained an appreciation for teammates.

Those mates come in different forms.

“One teammate is your best friend,” says Kloosterman. “One teammate you are trying to compete with. Competition is healthy and you’re pushing one another.

“Another teammate is a leader to you. You definitely respect this person. Another teammate looks up to you.”

Kloosterman counted Tom Gifford, Nick Treadway, Marcel Guevara, Javier Guevara, Chris Jergens, Brock Doty and Javier Jimenez among his Bethel band of brothers.

“If it wasn’t for my teammates, I don’t where I’d have gone,” says Kloosterman. “All those guys were instrumental in getting where I got. You have to be surrounded with good teammates.

“If you try to play this game solo, you’re going to miss a ton of fun and probably not be as successful as you could be.”

His teammates and friends have been there for him and his family over the year. When Grady was born with a heart rhythm condition called Long QT syndrome, he received a pacemaker at six days old. Last December, he received his second pacemaker.

“He’s doing wonderful,” says Greg of his baseball-loving third grader.

Through genetic testing, it was learned the Megan and her father, Michael, also have the syndrome and so does Blake. They all treat it with medicine.

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The Kloostermans (from left): Greg, Megan, Grady and Blake.