Tag Archives: American Baseball Coaches Association

Indiana State Hall of Famer Grapenthin enjoys baseball from the business side

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Midwest weather didn’t always allow for ideal training conditions.

But that didn’t stop Indiana State University coach Bob Warn from fielding competitive baseball teams back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Dick Grapenthin knows because he was there.

Grapenthin has been a sporting goods executive for the better part of the past 30 years. But as a right-handed pitcher from Iowa, he began his college experience at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College then toed the rubber for the ISU Sycamores in 1979 (leading the Missouri Valley Conference champions and NCAA regional qualifiers with 45 strikeouts) and 1980 (pacing the squad with nine wins, 53 strikeouts and 76 innings).

Grapenthin then went into pro ball and made it to the majors with the Montreal Expos.

“Bob had a lot of success bringing in blue collar grinders,” says Grapenthin of Hall of Famer Warn. “We had a really, really nice team and great work habits.”

To get time in the physical education center in the winter, the team often practiced from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. then players went to their 8 a.m. classes.

Warn was very organized.

“We’d use every part of an indoor facility for some type of drills,” says Grapenthin. “We always had something going on.”

Grapenthin, who was inducted into the Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame as an individual in 2016 after being honored for his involvement with the 1986 College World Series team in 2002, remembers ISU traveling to Florida to play the vaunted Miami Hurricanes.

“We didn’t have the talent those guys had, but we were very well-schooled in fundamentals,” says Grapenthin. “You had to do that. You couldn’t play as much (in the north) because it was cold out.”

On nicer days, the team would practice on the turf at Memorial Stadium (football).

Mitch Hannahs was on the 1986 ISU team and is now head coach. Grapenthin saw the team play last season at Vanderbilt, the team that went on to the win the College World Series. While the Commodores had the lights-out pitching arms, he saw more skill from the Sycamores.

“Mitch has done such a great job,” says Grapenthin.

After his playing days at ISU concluded in 1980, Grapenthin signed with the Expos as a minor league free agent. He came back to Terre Haute in the fall and winter to work out with and coach the Sycamores.

He made his Major League Baseball debut in 1983. He split the 1984 and 1985 seasons between Montreal and the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, managed by Buck Rodgers and then Felipe Alou.

“A lot of those guys are still there,” says Grapenthin, noting that former president and chairman Max Schumacher remains involved with the club and radio voice Howard Kellman is still calling games for the Tribe — only its now downtown at Victory Field and not on 16th Street at Bush Stadium.

Grapenthin’s playing career concluded in 1989 and he spent two seasons as pitching coach to Bill Wilhelm at Clemson University.

Much of his focus with his pitchers was on mechanics.

“I focused a lot on trying to try to get kids in a position to make repeatable actions and be consistent,” says Grapenthin. “I taught from the feet up.”

Grapenthin learned much about baseball from Warn and Wilhelm. He also found out about how tough it can be to coach.

“That is a very hard lifestyle,” says Grapenthin. “Coaches make an unbelievable amount of sacrifices to be really good.

“I wanted more of a controlled family life.”

Dick and Cindy Grapenthin live in Alpharetta, Ga., north of Atlanta, and have three children — two daughters and a son. Alex is a Clemson graduate. Kristi is an Auburn University graduate. Trevor Grapenthin is a economics major and baseball player at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

Cindy Grapenthin holds a doctorate in psychology from Indiana State and has a individual and family psychology practice as well as being an assistant professor of psychology at Brenau University in Gainesville, Ga.

Dick Grapenthin earned his Master of Business Administration degree from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in 1993.

He worked for Easton for seven years then Mizuno for seven. In 2015, he started his own sports management and consulting business — BoneChip Enterprises — and consulted for Louisville Slugger for three threes then spent another nine with Mizuno.

He started PBPro (PlayersBrandPro) two years ago. The company makes custom game gloves and infield trainers ranging from $120 to $300. Infield guru and top instructor Ron Washington teaches with the PBPro WashDonutTrainer and 9.5-inch PBPro WashTrainer.

Grapenthin appears at MLB Winter Meetings clubhouse show, American Baseball Coaches Association trade show, state coaches clinics, spring training and at grass roots events around the Atlanta area.

“I love working with people who are passionate about the game,” says Grapenthin. “It’s a lot of fun.

“I’ve done that basically my whole life. It’s like you’re not going to work.”

Why gloves?

“I wanted to do something unique,” says Grapenthin. “There’s not a lot of people focused on baseball/softball training gloves at a high end.”

He says one of the strengths of company is its knowledge of production and factories.

“I knew people in that industry and I just kind of like baseball gloves,” says Grapenthin. “I enjoy making nice stuff.”

Grapenthin does not consider himself to be a designer, but he does bring ideas to craftsmen and they make the adjustments in patterns and gloves. He relays feedback from players an coaches.

“There are always ways we can make gloves better,” says Grapenthin.

The PBPro website offers a custom feature that allows the buyer to build their own glove.

With 18 different thread colors and many webs and leathers, the options go on and on and on.

For Grapenthin, the game of baseball has to be fun.

And fun is what he’s having after all these years.

DICKGRAPENTHIN

Dick Grapenthin, an Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Famer, pitched for the Montreal Expos 1983-85. He has long been a sporting goods executive and is the founder of BoneChip Enterprises and PBPro.

 

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.

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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)

 

Hall of Famer Riggleman provides pitching guidance, mentoring as Grand Valley State assistant

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Riggleman spent four decades leading young men on and off the baseball field.

As a head coach at six different institutions — John Wesley (Mich.), Mt. Vernon Nazarene (Ohio), Southern Illinois, Bethel College (Ind.), Dallas Baptist and Spring Arbor (Mich.) — he went 1,023-661-2 with four trips to the NAIA World Series (two each with Dallas Baptist and alma mater Spring Arbor) and two NAIA National Coach of the Year selections.

Riggleman has been inducted into halls of fame by the American Baseball Coaches Association, NAIA, National Christian College Athletic Association, Bethel and Spring Arbor and has received ABCA’s Ethics in Coaching Award.

He retired following the 2016 season.

Then Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., came calling.

It was a week before the start of the 2019 season and the Lakers suddenly had a need for a pitching coach.

GVSU graduate assistant Jon Newman played for Riggleman at Spring Arbor. Grand Valley head coach Jamie Detillion contacted the veteran skipper about his interest.

“He was looking for someone with some experience and provide a different perspective,” says Riggleman, who accepted the invitation and went about assessing the pitching staff while relishing the idea of creating a competitive culture and mentoring young coaches (Detillion, Newman and Cody Grice).

Riggleman made it clear he did not want to step back into the world of recruiting or administrative details, but he had plenty to offer.

“Teaching and watching guys get better still lights a fire,” says Riggleman. “It gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction.”

Two years prior to Riggleman’s arrival at GVSU, the Lakers had been focused on velocity enhancement programs.

“The ability to command the strike zone was really, really in jeopardy,” says Riggleman. “We walked away from all those (velocity-building) things.”

Pitchers were asked to — do just that — pitch.

“How do you set people up and put them away?,” says Riggelman, who is back for the 2020 season. “How do you force contact on your terms?”

Riggleman has been refining mechanics and mechanical efficiency and getting his hurlers to attack hitters, putting them in defensive (ball-strike) counts.

GVSU pitchers are asked to command two-seam fastballs in order to create late movement while also developing an effective change-up.

“Guys are spending plenty of time working on breaking balls,” says Riggleman.

Grand Valley is an NCAA Division II school and a member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“There’s so much quality in players across the board at the Division II level,” says Riggleman. “There are no breaks here. Every single day is going to be a battle.

“How you go about preparing teams becomes the critical issue.”

At his previous stops, Riggleman prepared his players like they were going to compete at the highest level.

“We made practices competitive and demanding,” says Riggleman. “We forced failure on them and made them make adjustments because that it what’s going to happen in the game.

“We have to find a way to replicate. That’s what I’m trying to do at Grand Valley.”

It was early in his career that Riggleman figured out the kind of coach he wanted to be.

“Coaching is an opportunity to help kids develop in their personal, spiritual and emotional lives and athletically,” says Riggleman. “So many life lessons can be pulled out of this game. I’ve tried to take advantage of that.”

As a college coach, Riggleman knows that parents are turning over their sons to guide them in the right way and he does not take that responsibility lightly.

“I had an obligation to do that,” says Riggleman. “Kids are a lot more important than I am.”

When Riggleman was at Mount Vernon Nazarene and in his formative years developing his coaching philosophy, Bob Starcher was head coach at Malone College in Canton, Ohio.

“He took me under his wing,” says Riggleman of Starcher whom he met in the fall of 1979. “I saw guy who put incredibly competitive teams on the field and truly loved his guys. It was a model I gravitated toward.

“You don’t stay in coaches for 40-plus years and enjoy doing it, if you’re doing it exclusively to win games. I never lost sight of what I was doing and why I was doing it — developing young men.

“You’ve got to demand a great deal, but you’ve got to love them at the same time.”

Riggleman learned how to get players to exhibit quiet toughness and be very competitive yet humble. His successor at Mount Vernon, Keith Veale, went into the NAIA Hall of Fame Jan. 3 in Nashville and Sam and wife Kathy were there for the induction.

Besides Starcher, Riggleman counts Hank Burbridge and Richard “Itch” Jones among his mentors.

Riggleman played for ABCA Hall of Famer Burbridge, who won 1,003 games and retired as Spring Arbor head coach after the 2004 season, then coached alongside him before taking over the Cougars program.

“He had such an instrumental impact on me,” says Riggleman of Burbridge.

The two roomed together at the ABCA convention and shared many ideas about baseball and life.

In 2000, Burbridge was head coach for a team of all-stars that went to the Czech Republic and Riggleman was brought along as pitching coach. The following year, Riggleman was head coach on the tour.

Jones preceded Riggleman at SIU.

“His style was really different and unique,” says Riggleman of the former Salukis and University of Illinois boss. “He was and tremendous game coach. Very intuitive.”

Riggleman spent five seasons (1995-99) in Mishawaka, Ind., at Bethel College (now Bethel University).

“We had a great run there,” says Riggleman, who went 176-88 with two Crossroads League championships (1997 and 1998) and a league tournament title (1998) and led Bethel to three NCCAA national runner-up finishes. “A lot of fun and some really good teams there.”

He often got a chance to right son Jeremie’s name into the lineup at shortstop.

“My single greatest highlight of my coaching career was to coach Jeremie at that time,” says Riggleman, who is the grandfather of four. Jeremie Riggleman is now an assistant professor of art at Taylor University. Sam and Kathy’s daughter, Sarah, is married and lives in Granger, Ind.

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Sam Riggleman enters his second season as baseball pitching coach at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., in 2020. He was a head coach for 40 years, including five at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., and won over 1,000 games. (Grand Valley State University 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.

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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)

 

Dunno sees transfer of energy key to pitching velocity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Being a maker of tools, Rich Dunno looks at pitching a baseball with an engineering mind.
“I’m always looking for the bigger, better, faster things,” says Dunno, a Fort Wayne-based toolmaker and baseball coach who spoke about pitching mechanics Dec. 15 at the Huntington North Hot Stove as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger. “Pitching mechanics is so broad and so variable. But there are absolutes — things that I see that every pitcher does in their own certain way.”
One of these absolutes is the ability to transfer energy during the kinetic sequence that is pitching a baseball.
“What we want to do is have the hips open before the upper body,” says Dunno. “That’s what they call separation and is a big part of keeping the arm healthy and maximizing velocity. That’s one of the transfers of energy.”
Dunno says the biggest transfer of energy comes at heel plant.
When done correctly, the energy results in more velocity coming out of the arm.
“If we fly open, we never get the effect of that extra torque that’s going to cause us to go harder because the lack of separation,” says Dunno. “Any time we open early, the early hip rotation will cause that arm to drag.
“It puts excessive stress on the inner part of your shoulder and the medial part of your elbow — your UCL area.”
Dunno recommends the book, “The Arm” by Jeff Passan for those who want to know about the history of arm injuries in baseball.
If pitchers transfer energy in an efficient way to create velocity and have pin-point control have a better chance of sustained success.
As a pitcher himself at Fort Wayne North Side High School and then in college, Dunno would let it fly.
“I never knew where it was going,” says Dunno. “There has to be a mixture of velocity and control.”
Dunno has traveled all over the country to talk with pitching experts such as Tom House and Ron Wolforth and has studied thousands of deliveries. He shares his knowledge with his pitching pupils.
Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank, who was Big Ten Conference Pitcher of the Year at Indiana University and was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks and D.J. Moore of Huntington U., who was being scouted by a several teams, are both Dunno students.
“My goal is to keep these guys as efficient as possible with the least amount of arm stress along with maximizing velocity,” says Dunno. “That’s what it’s all about.”
When working with young hurlers, the first thing Dunno does is videotapes them throwing out of the windup and the stretch.
“Whatever sticks out in my mind as a visual, that’s what we initially work on,” says Dunno. “Before anything else, I look at what the glove arm is doing.  “(The front arm) allows us to stayed closed on the front side and be a lot more consistent.”
Dunno refers to what the forearm and elbow is doing during the delivery as blocking and the forearm should be showing for as long as possible.
“To this day, I hear coaches say point your glove and throw,” says Dunno. “I don’t like the mitt being the boss. I want the elbow to be the boss.”
Dunno talks about having a strong elevated front side during the delivery.
What about the glove?
“My pitchers direct it right into the arm pit when they’re done that keeps the front side consistent,” says Dunno. “It’s right in the nest.”
Since the lead arm and the throwing arm are connected in the motion, if the path of the glove is inconsistent then so, too, will the release point be inconsistent.
“You hear it all the time: Consistency. Consistency. Consistency,” says Dunno. “Scouts are looking for repeatable mechanics. If you can’t repeat them, you’re never going to be consistent with any pitch.”
During Dunno’s research, he came to learn the importance of the drop-and-drive and how the lower half of the body can add speed to a pitch.
Dunno is the inventor of King Of The Hill, Queen Of The Hill and King Of The Swing ground force trainers and the devices are used by several professional and college teams. He’s invited to MLB camps to educate their coaches on how and the benefits of training with the King of the Hill.
The president of Ground Force Sports, Dunno gets to the go to Major League Baseball spring training each year to confer with some of baseball’s top minds.
“You want to ride the back side as long as you can,” says Dunno. “It all plays into late explosion.”
The device helps the user to keep from rotating their hips too early.
“You keep the back side flexed so you can drive through the front  leg,” says Dunno. “Force plate data is showing the high-velocity pitchers are getting more force off the back side than other pitchers and they land a lot harder.”
Now is the time of year that Dunno travels to various clinics. He was recently at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Convention in Atlantic City and NFCA clinic in Chicago and will be at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 2-5, 2020 in Nashville.

For more info go to www.GroundForceSport.com.

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Rich Dunno’s King Of The Hill ground force trainers are used throughout professional and college baseball.

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Rich Dunno has even introduced his King Of The Hill trainer in Canada.

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The Washington Nationals use the King Of The Hill ground force trainer, invented by Fort Wayne’s Rich Dunno.

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The San Francisco Giants also use the King Of The Hill ground force trainer, developed by Rich Dunno of Fort Wayne, Ind.

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Rich Dunno talks about baseball pitching mechanics at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinic session on Dec. 2015, 2019. He is a toolmaker and coach who has intensely studied how to pitch for efficient and optimum velocity and control. (Steve Krah Photo)

Indiana Tech’s McWilliams shares championship practice drills

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kip McWilliams and his Indiana Tech baseball team attack practice.

“We always have our practices at fast pace,” says McWilliams, who spoke Dec. 15 at the free Huntington North Hot Stove clinics as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger. “It’s uptempo.

“It’s controlled chaos. It’s a mess. But we love it and our guys get so much out of it.”

The goal for Tech is to play a nine-inning game in two hours.

“We don’t throw the ball around the horn,” says McWilliams. “We strike a guy out and the ball is right back to the pitcher.

“We want to really play that fast pace. Why? Because the game of baseball is not supposed to be played that fast.

“If that is an advantage to us over our opponents, so be it. That’s great.”

Tech, which is located in Fort Wayne and went to the NAIA World Series in 2019, has a varsity and developmental teams. That’s 65 players.

McWilliams has them all working out as a group.

“I’m a firm believer in having everybody practice together,” says McWilliams. “I know that sounds like a nightmare for some high school coaches. You can get so much out of your practices.

“Younger players learn your systems for their four years.”

While he sees the benefit of individual work, McWilliams loves to do team drills and he shared some of those with the Hot Stove.

The tone is set at the beginning. While the old Green Bay Packers ran on “Lombardi Time” and being on time was late, the Warriors run on “Indiana Tech Time.”

“If practice is at 3, we’re stretching at 2:45,” says McWilliams. During that time, a “quote of the day” is shared. There is discussion of the program’s core values or standards.

Seniors will present a word of the day, telling their teammates what it means to them and maybe the Webster’s Dictionary definition and how the team and coaches can use that word to jell together.

“It’s so important that the guys get a great stretch,” says McWilliams. “It’s also important for the coaching staff to be out there when the team is stretching.”

Tech gets all 65 players in a big circle and center field and McWilliams addresses each one of them daily.

“I don’t want a day to go by that I don’t say anything to or greet one of my guys,” says McWilliams. “I think that’s so important.”

There’s a no-walking rule for the Warriors.

“That includes me,” says McWilliams. “If we expect our guys to hustle all the time on the field, then I need to hustle all the time on the field.

“If I see them walking, I hold them accountable. If they see my coaching staff or me walking, they hold me accountable. We’re all at the same level there.”

After stretching comes the throwing routine. The Warriors go through championship level catch with each position having a specific focus like infielders working on quick hands etc.

Then comes the four corners drill.

“I know it’s something they’ve been doing from Little League on up,” says McWilliams. “That is a great drill. Keep doing it.”

McWilliams once attended at practice at Spring Arbor University when American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Sam Riggleman was the head coach.

“He flat out told me, ‘Kip, this is the reason why we’re always top five in the country defensively,’” says McWilliams of Riggleman’s devotion to four corners. “It’s not just the throwing and catching of the four corners, it’s the communication. That’s key.

“In baseball, there are so many plays that are made when we’re actually fielding a ground ball or catching a fly ball when we take our eyes off the target.”

McWilliams uses an example from his family life. Kip and Melissa welcomed a baby into their lives five years ago.

When Ava was a baby, Melissa would talk softly to her through the baby monitor to calm her at night.

“Ava’s in the dark but she hears a very comfortable voice,” says McWilliams. “What happens if you’ve got a shortstop who fields that ball in the hole and he doesn’t know exactly where the first base bag is? He knows it’s over it that direction.

“But he’s hearing a comforting voice. ‘Hit me in the chest! Hit me in the chest!’ Or even a third baseman saying, ‘Hit Rich in the chest! Hit Rich in the chest!’”

McWilliams says communication can help when a ball is bobbled.

“Everyone on the field is yelling you’ve got time ‘You’ve got time!,” says McWilliams. “Because everybody panics. They grab it and just throw it and now it becomes another error.”

Then Tech practices its pre-game routine aka I/O (“In and Out”).

“Our ‘In and Out’ is pretty unique,” says McWilliams, noting that teams are allowed 10 minutes for I/O during the NAIA postseason. “We like to get it in about nine minutes. We’ve got two guys deep at every position. We’ll hammer it out to the point that just about every play in baseball is done during our pre-game. It’s a workout for the coaches.”

Every fungo is struck from home plate. Coaches don’t go out in the grass. They try to hit line drives and fly balls to the outfielders, but if it’s a ground ball infielders are supposed to lay out for it.

“That sets a tone and it sends a statement to your opponents before the game,” says McWilliams.

A few times a season, McWilliams finds himself asking the same question of new players: Could you have gotten that ball if you dove for it?

“Before they can give me an answer, I say we’ll never know because you didn’t dive,” says McWilliams.

Tech allows finishes a team drill with a game-winner.

“That helps guys get fired up a little bit,” says McWilliams. “If they don’t execute it — guess what? — we’ve got to keep doing it.”

I/O typically ends with a pop-up to the catcher and all players come in an make that catch together.

At the end of practice, the very last play will be a championship game-winner and that is followed with a hand shake line for players and coaches.

Drills are called by specific names so it’s easier to set up.

“The Difference” is a bunting drill. About seven years ago, it was added to the practice rotation because the Warriors lacked in its ability to bunt or field a bunt.

It covers bunting, base running and defense.

Bunters are asked to execute a bunt for a hit, a drag bunt or a push bunt on the first live pitch. If the first pitch is not a strike, the second pitch becomes a suicide squeeze.

Foul balls are played like a passed ball or wild pitch. Runners are super-aggressive on the base paths.

“We really put that pressure on that defense,” says McWilliams.

Tech doesn’t have regular batting practice on the field. They call it “Thundering Buffalo.”

Because 65 players on the field running through BP resembles as heard of thundering buffalo.

Hitters are split into small groups to work on specific things while getting a max of 60 balls in a crate per round and a max of five swings per at-bat.

“We want to focus on hitting the ball hard,” says McWilliams. “If they don’t hit the ball hard they’re out of the cage. It could be your first swing.

“As a coach, you’ve got to enjoy kicking them out of the cage. What do most young people struggle with today in baseball? It’s game day. When adversity hits, they struggle with it.  As a coaching staff, it’s our responsibility to give them as many adverse situations as possible in practice to prepare them for that game.”

At Tech, practices are supposed to be lot tougher than games.

Base running during “Thundering Buffalo” involves working on various things like the hit-and-run, steal jump etc. That includes “don’t be silly” or get caught breaking from second at the wrong time on a ground ball and being thrown out.

“We’re very big with our communication with our base runners at third and second,” says McWilliams. “Too may times I see base runners at second run the runner off at third. The runner at second has no idea when the runner at third is going.”

The runners will work on leads and when they’re going like on-contact with the infield in.

If runners reach first, the defense turns two.

With coaches throwing live BP, pitchers take a knee behind the “L” screen with a ball in their glove. When a ball hits the screen, the pitchers turn two.

Infielders will work on looking the runner back and throwing the ball to first.

Outfielders will not play at a regular depth — either very shallow working on pop-up communication with the infielders and balls hit over their head or very deep to get more reps on balls off the wall or diving for balls in front of them.

“There’s nothing that’s ever really routine in the game of baseball,” says McWilliams. “Outfielders are gassed during Thundering Buffalo.”

Another reason for the fast pace is that when players are exhausted, the first thing that goes away is the mental side.

Practicing consistently at a fast pace allows for coachable moments when there is a mental or physical breakdown.

One important drill is relays and tandems where outfielders go to a specific location (foul line or gap) and throw the ball off the fence to start a relay sequence. All Tech outfielders do this and there are several reps.

“We’re one of the better teams in the country when it comes to tandems and relays,” says McWilliams. “We get so many assists every year from our outfield because we practice those tandems and relays non-stop.”

One way to get the infielders more involved in communication is for the catchers to put up a number — 2, 3, or 4 — and have the infielders yell out the call.

In the first and third defense and offense drill, players gain more confidence by going over the plays on a regular bases.

There are three offensive players — a batter and runners at first and third. The defense is set with every position covered. There is live pitching off the mound. Pitchers hold runners on first and are encouraged to try to pick them off.

At the end of practice, players “sweep the sheds.”

“One of the greatest things I got out of baseball as a player was my responsibility to the team for the field,” says McWilliams. “We’re teaching our guys a lot if we can teach them that responsibly at a younger age.”

The Huntington North Hot Stove series is scheduled to continue at 2-5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22 and resume with sessions Jan. 12 and Jan. 19.

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Kip McWilliams is the head baseball coach at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Indiana Tech Photo)