Tag Archives: Avon

Getting to know players well is key for Rangers area scout Medici

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

How a player can swing a bat or throw a baseball is important to Texas Rangers area scout Mike Medici.

But it goes deeper than that.

“It’s about doing a better job of knowing the person,” says Medici, who lives near Danville and Avon on the west side of Indianapolis. “I appreciate the story. I like to know what drives them, the influences in their lives.

“There’s adversity. It’s not smooth sailing all the time. It’s important knowing anything and everything about them. I go as deep as I have to. I go to the people who don’t have a vested interest.

“It’s anyone who is going to give you a straight answer about that player. If he shows up to camp and he’s a screwball and not putting in the work, that comes back to the signing scout.”

Much can be learned from trainers and strength and conditioning coaches who sometimes spend more time with players than their on-field coaches.

Some players may be found to be a little immature or party too much.

“They may have been coddle a little bit in high school,” says Medici. “We can work with that.

“If so-and-so needs to grow up a little bit, teams will try to pair guys up away from the complex that are going to be good influences on each other.”

Medici says the high school player is the riskiest to draft but offers the most upside because of their age and the time they have to develop.

Major League Baseball organizations are investing in these athletes so they want to know what they’re getting and scouts like Medici are the ones gathering much of that information and forming those relationships.

Medici, who was an area scout in Indiana and Illinois for the Toronto Blue Jays December 2009 to June 2013 before going with the Rangers and scouting Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky since November 2013, sees mid-range prospects getting to and making an impact at the big league level.

He uses Paul DeJong — a fourth-round draft pick in 2015 out of Illinois State University and now the starting shortstop of the St. Louis Cardinals — as an example.

“We want to see how big the make-up component shapes who he is,” says Medici.

Gavin Lux was a 2016 first-round selection by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Wisconsin. He made it to the majors in 2019, but not before experiencing some trials in the minors.

“I could have told you that he will overcome,” says Medici. “That’s the kind of kid he was with a tireless work ethic and dedication to the game.”

Medici notes that some players have never really experienced prolonged failure, begging the question: “Can he handle adversity and overcome?”

“A high school kid may have been the big fish in a small pond for a long, long time,” says Medici. “When they fail and they’re trying to make adjustments at a high level and they don’t know how to handle it.”

Medici relates it to football.

“How many Five Star high school recruits become great NFL players?,” says Medici. “They go to college where there is structure and systems that allow them to succeed.”

It changes when the athlete becomes a professional.

“I tell my guys, ‘it’s your career,’” says Medici. “You have to own your career. We’ll guide you, but you’ve got to put in the work.”

Born in Albany, N.Y., Medici is a former catcher at Shaker High School in Latham, N.Y. (north of Albany) and NCAA Division I Niagra University near Niagra Falls, N.Y., and an assistant coach at The College of Saint Rose in Albany.

Medici says his background as a catcher helped him make the switch to scout.

“It’s amazing the way they see the game,” says Medici of catchers. “They end up learning every position on the field and they know pitching staff.”

When he was hired by the Blue Jays and then general manager Alex Anthopoulos, Medici moved to Chicago. When he went to the Rangers and added Wisconsin and Kentucky to his territory, he settled in the Indianapolis area.

“We absolutely love it here,” says Medici. “The thing I’ve learned about living here is that people are passionate about their sport

“This has been a very productive state for me. Every year, there’s players up here.”

Invited to fall instructional league while with the Blue Jays, Medici was able to be sort of a member of the coaching staff, hitting fungos, pitching batting practice and soaking it all in.

“I would listen, learn and ask questions,” says Medici.

Also while in Chicago, Medici lived near Sal Fasano and learned a lot about baseball from a man who played at the University of Evansville and was a catcher in the big leagues and now a catching coach for the Atlanta Braves.

Former major league infielder and coach Mike Mordecai and hitting coach Anthony Iapocci are also counted among Medici’s baseball mentors.

Medici estimates that he puts in 30,000 miles a year looking for prospects. Whenever possible, he commutes to be home with his wife of seven years, Beth (a southern Illinois native), and their three children, 6-year-old son Miles and 1-year-old twins Beckham (boy) and Raelyn (girl).

With fall games winding down in the Midwest, Medici is transitioning to doing face-to-face meetings with college players. He will do this up until about Thanksgiving then turn to high school players. During the winter, he will invite college players in to work out — often at former major league pitcher Bill Sampen’s Samp’s Hack Shack in Plainfield.

“I can see them work away from campus,” says Medici.

There has been rumors of restructuring and shrinking the minor leagues and the scout has his take.

“If you start taking levels aways, it’s going to hurt the development,” says Medici. “The game’s getting younger.

“There’s a need to have (multiple levels). You can’t rush young kids.”

Medici, who also holds a masters degree in sport management from Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., started a website last winter — ScoutSchool.org — as a way to educate scouts and bring them together as a community.

Medici went on The Baseball Awakening Podcast to talk about scouting in June.

 

The Medici family (from left): Raelyn, Beth, Miles, Mike and Beckham. Mike Medici is an area scout with the Texas Rangers. The family resides near Danville and Avon on the west side of Indianapolis.

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The Medici family (clockwise from upper left): Mike, Beth, Miles, Beckham and Raelyn. Mike Medici is an area scout for the Texas Rangers. The Medicis reside near Danville and Avon west of Indianapolis.

18666The Medici family (from left): Beckham, Beth, Miles, Mike and Raelyn. Mike Medici is an area scout with the Texas Rangers. The Medicis live in central Indiana.

 

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Zionsville grad Hurtubise making mark on, off diamond for Army; many from Indiana play on Cape Cod

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jacob Hurtubise was selected in the 39th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

Having already invested in three years at Army, the 2016 Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate opted not to sign and resumed his regimented activities at the United States Military Academy while also sharing the field with some of the nation’s top players.

Hurtubise made a visit to West Point in mid-July of 2015. By month’s end, he had committed to Army, fulfilling his dreams of playing NCAA Division I baseball and pursuing a first-rate education and improving himself in the areas of hard work, patience and discipline.

“I’ve absolutely loved my time up here,” says Hurtubise, who is a operations research (applied mathematics) major and a center fielder for the Jim Foster-coached Black Knights. “It’s the relationships you form off the field with guys on the baseball team. You form strong bonds through military training.

“I want to make sure I am as prepared as possible for the future. It’s a degree people don’t look past.”

On the diamond, Hurtubise has gone from hitting .238 with two doubles, nine runs batted in, 32 runs scored, 22 walks and 18 stolen bases while starting 41 times as a freshman in 2017 breaking Army’s single-season steals and walks records with 42 and 50, respectively, in 2018. His 42 swipes led NCAA Division I.

That sophomore season, Hurtubise also set a single-game mark with six stolen bases against Bucknell and was named all-Patriot League first team with two Patriot Player of the Week honors and a place on and all-academic team. He hit .278 with four doubles 22 RBIs, 56 runs in 61 starts (a school record for games played in a season).

In 2019, the lefty-swinging junior batted .375 with four triples, six two-baggers, 26 RBIs, 71 runs, 69 walks and 45 stolen bases (ranked third in NCAA D-I). His on-base percentage was .541.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder was Patriot League tournament MVP for the defending league champions, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and PL first-teamer and was also a part of the ABCA/Rawlings NCAA Division I Second Team All-American and Google Cloud Academic All-District teams.

After the Black Knights’ 35-26 season, Hurtubise and other juniors went through three weeks of culminating summer training.

“We went through missions, ambushes and raids,” says Hurtubise. “It was the first opportunity to lead a platoon through those different missions.”

Many Army athletes are mixed during summer training.

“Everybody knows everybody in a sense,” says Hurtubise. “You may not know them, but you went through training with them. It makes caring for each other a lot cooler.”

After summer training, he headed to the elite Cape Cod Baseball League — already in progress. Hurtubise first landed with the Harwich Mariners. But an overabundance of outfielders saw him switch to the Orleans Firebirds.

In 21 games, Hurtubise hit .313 (20-of-64) with one triple, three doubles, two RBIs, 12 walks and six stolen bases. His on-base percentage was .429.

“I got more exposure and more consistent at-bats,” says Hurtubise of Orleans. “I faced some of the country’s best pitchers day in and day out.”

Hurtubise worked out each day on the Cape, but also found some time to go to the beach and hang out with his family, who he had not seen since January.

Jacob, 21, is the youngest son of Francois and Lisa Hurtubise. His older brother, Alec, is 24.

Many other players with ties to Indiana competed on the Cape this summer.

Right-handed pitcher Kyle Nicolas (who completed his sophomore season for Ball State University in 2019) helped the Cotuit Kettleers to the title, saving two games in the playoffs. During the regular season, the Massillon, Ohio, resident went 1-2 with four saves, a 6.28 ERA, 31 strikeouts and 21 walks in 24 1/3 innings.

Right-hander Bo Hofstra and left-hander Matt Moore also pitched for Cotuit. Hofstra wrapped his sophomore year and Moore his redshirt sophomore season at Purdue University in 2019.

Illiana Christian High School product Hofstra went 4-1 with one save, a 6.31 ERA, 20 K’s, 11 walks and 15 2/3 innings during the regular season.

Avon (Ind.) High School graduate Moore went 1-0 with an 0.67 ERA, 11 K’s and five walks in 13 1/3 innings. He also pitched in the CCBL All-Star Game.

Two University of Notre Dame players — infielder Niko Kavadas and lefty pitcher Joe Boyle — performed for Harwich. Both were CCBL all-stars coming off their second seasons for the Fighting Irish.

Lefty swinger and Penn High School graduate Kavadas hit .252 with nine homers, six doubles and 30 RBIs during the regular season.

Boyle went 1-2 with, two saves a 1.92 ERA, 28 K’s and 12 walks in 14 regular-season frames. The 6-foot-7 hurler from Goshen, Ky., also saved one game in the playoffs.

Third baseman Riley Tirotta was also with Harwich. Coming off his sophomore season at the University of Dayton, the South Bend St. Joseph graduate hit .222 from the right side with 0 homers, two doubles and one RBI during the regular season.

Two players from the University of Louisville — second baseman/right-handed pitcher Jared Poland and catcher/outfielder Zach Britton — also competed on the Cape.

Righty swinger Poland hit .271 with 0 homers, four doubles and seven RBIs and also went 3-1 with a 3.37 ERA, 18 K’s and four walks in 10 2/3 regular-season innings for the Bourne Braves. He was 1-0 during the playoffs.

Lefty batter Britton hit .286 with five homers, six doubles and 19 RBIs during the regular season for the Orleans Firebirds.

Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate Poland and Batesville (Ind.) High School graduate Britton are both coming off their sophomore campaigns at Louisville.

Lefty-swinging all-star first baseman/catcher T.J. Collett (a Terre Haute North Vigo High School graduate coming off his junior season at the University of KentuckyUniversity of Kentucky) hit .281 with nine homers, six doubles and 32 RBIs during the regular season for the Brewster Whitecaps.

After finishing at West Point and completing officer training school, Hurtubise must serve two years as active military. It’s possible that if he goes into professional baseball that he can do it through the world-class athlete program and be a promotional tool while he is paid ballplayer.

Hurtubise played his first organized baseball at age 7. His first two seasons were spent at Eagle Creek Little League in Indianapolis. His family then moved when he was a third graders and he participated at Zionsville Little League.

From the fifth through eighth grade, he played travel ball for coaches Terry Bohl and Ken Elsbury and the Zionsville Longhorns (which became the Zionsville Baseball Club).

In high school, Hurtubise played two summers for the Indiana Nitro and one for USAthletic.

Ten days after Zionsville lost to Roncalli in the 2016 IHSAA Class 4A state championship game2016 IHSAA Class 4A state championship game, Eagles lead-off man and L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award recipient Hurtubise was off to West Point for six weeks of basic training.

Then as now, Jered Moore led the ZHS program.

“He was an awesome coach,” says Hurtubise of Moore. “That team we had my senior year was one of the best not only in the state, but in the country.

“They made it to semistate the next year. That shows what a good program Zionsville has and a bright future moving forward.”

While visiting daughter Macy Moore, a Purdue manager and an intern with Brewster this summer, Jered Moore saw Hurtubise play two CCBL games with Harwich and later two playoff games with Orleans.

He was a leader,” says Moore of Hurtubise’s time at Zionsville. “He’s one of my favorites I’ve ever coached. He got it started for us. He immediately put the defense on their toes.

“He was a threat to run any time he was on-base.”

The Zionsville Class of 2016 produced six D-I players — Hurtubise, Jordan Cox (Dayton), James Meyer (Valparaiso), Jack Pilcher (Butler), Nick Prather (Florida Atlantic) and R.J. Wagner (Dayton). Prather has since transferred to Lynn University.

All but two of the Zionsville players who got into the state championship game in 2016 went on to play college baseball. Besides those already mentioned there were seniors Drew Bertram (Purdue) and Jacob Hurd (Taylor) and sophomores Riley Bertram (Michigan), Sam Egdell (Otterbein) and Nick Nelson (DePauw).

Moore says Chad Garisek, a Zionsville junior in 2016, is hoping to play at Indiana University-Kokomo. Senior Nolan Elsbury went on to be a student at Purdue. Senior Stephen Damm is a student at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and a member of Moore’s Zionsville coaching staff.

Hurtubise is now back at West Point going through organization week. The first day of class is Monday, Aug. 19. He will also be preparing for his final baseball season with the Black Knights.

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Army left-handed hitter and center fielder Jacob Hurtubise was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2019, but opted to go back to the United States Military Academy for his final  year. He is a graduate of Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

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Through three seasons (2017-19), Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate has 101 stolen bases for the Army Black Knights. He paced NCAA Division I with 42 in 2018 and was third with 45 in 2019. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

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Jacob Hurtubise hit .375 with four triples, six two-baggers, 26 RBIs, 71 runs, 69 walks and 45 stolen bases (ranked third in NCAA D-I) for Army in 2019. The on-base percentage for the graduate of Zionsville (Ind.) Community High school was .541. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

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With his speed and batting eye, Jacob Hurtubise has been a threat at the top of the order for the Black Knights of Army baseball since 2017. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

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Jacob Hurtubise, a 2016 Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate, played his third season of NCAA Division I baseball at Army in 2019 and was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He opted to stay in school and played in the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

 

Drosche, ‘coachable’ Avon Orioles enjoying the game

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Troy Drosche has been coaching baseball for 17 seasons at Avon (Ind.) High School — the last 11 as head coach.

The Orioles are one victory away from competing in the IHSAA State Finals for the first time. Avon (20-13-1) plays Columbus East (24-4) Saturday, June 8 in the Class 4A south semistate game, which follows the 1 p.m. 3A game (Silver Creek vs. Edgewood) at Mooresville High School.

Drosche and his O’s have gotten to this point by getting his players to “be coachable.”

“We do our best as coaches to create an environment where players enjoy coming to the field everyday,” says Drosche. “It all starts from there — enjoy the GAME.”

Avon (enrollment around 3,200) is a member of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference (with Brownsburg, Fishers, Franklin Central, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield, and Zionsville).

The Orioles are part of a sectional grouping with Brownsburg, Mooresville, Northview, Plainfield, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo. With 2019’s titles, Avon has won five sectionals and two regionals (the previous one in 1994).

“We’ve got this thing rolling pretty good, winning three of last four sectionals,” says Drosche.

Avon reigned at the Terre Haute North Vigo Sectional and Decatur Central Regional.

“In the postseason, pitching and defense has carried us,” says Drosche. “We have done enough offensively and executed at the right times to score enough to survive and advance.

“We like to play situational baseball. Bunting/moving runners/setting ourselves up to get a big hit. We try to get the best matchups and execute our game plan.”

In the sectional semifinals against Northview with the game scoreless and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Avon won in walk-off fashion by scoring a run from third base with a bunt single.

“Our players have bought into their roles and believe that the coaches are going to put them in the best position to win,” says Drosche. “This mindset didn’t come overnight though — it took a lot of time over the years.  

“This group has a unique mix of grit and toughness. Honestly, they just come and play ball — trying not to make things too big or too small.”

Senior right-hander Austin Baugh (Kentucky Wesleyan College commit) and junior left-hander Kyren Power have been the Orioles’ go-to pitchers during the IHSAA tournament. They combined for a two-hit shutout in the sectional championship against Mooresville.

“We didn’t over-work them during the year, so they have been pretty fresh for the postseason and have been outstanding,” says Drosche.

Junior left-handed middle reliever Jake Hoffman and senior lefty closer Lucas Carrillo have shined out of the bullpen during the regular season and postseason. Hoffman has five wins in relief. Carrillo has three victories and seven saves. Both have earned run averages under 2.50.

Junior center fielder Cam Melvin has been Avon’s best hitter with four home runs, three triples, 14 doubles and an average that’s been around .400 most of the season. Baugh, junior second baseman Mason Miller, senior designated hitter Mark Gemmer and junior first baseman Tyce Ferrell have all hit around .300.

Sophomore third baseman Henry Hesson slugged two home runs and Power one during the regional. Senior right fielder Parker Sutton is committed to Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Ill.

Drosche, a 1992 graduate of Fern Creek High School in Louisville, Ky., and 1996 graduate of Marian College (now Marian University in Indianapolis), is assisted by Ryan East, Nick Spence, Tasker Strobel, Ryan McPike, Bob McPike and Matt Kinney.

East has been with Drosche for 10 years. Spence is the pitching coach. Strobel and Ryan McPike played for Drosche at Avon. Kinney runs the C-team. This year, Avon had 49 players on its varsity, junior varsity and C-teams.

Recent Avon graduates who played college baseball include Spencer Strobel at Purdue Fort Wayne, Noah Navarro at Ball State and Kahi’au Quartero at Marian.

Former Orioles pitchers Jared Miller and Chandler Sanburn competed in the minors in 2018.

Drosche calls Avon’s on-campus home field “one of the best in the state.”

“Matt Dudley is our field maintenance manager and he is flat-out the best in the state,” says Drosche. “And the field is getting better and better since his arrival two years ago.”

The Avon Baseball Club serves is a feeder system for the high school. It is up to 16 teams. The travel program is under the Avon Junior Athletic Association umbrella.

“The high school staff has been heavily involved with the program for a number of years now,” says Drosche.

The Indiana Bulls travel organization has had Drosche as a summer coach.

After coming to central Indiana from Kentucky, Drosche was a four-year starter at shortstop at Marian and helped the Knights win two conference championships. He was an All-American honorable mention and the team’s and conference’s MVP as a senior and was inducted into M-Club Wall of Fame in 2008.

Prior to Avon, he was an assistant at Marian and Ben Davis High School.

Drosche was an assistant at Avon for Clark Reeves for six years before taking over the program. He considers his father Glenn Drosche, Marian coaches Kurt Guldner and Bret Shambaugh, Reeves and fellow business teacher and former Reeves assistant Ralph Hartnagel as mentors.

“(Reeves) was one of the most knowledgeable baseball guys I’ve ever been around,” says Drosche. “He definitely had a certain way of coaching. He held kids to a high standard and expected nothing less from them.

“(Guldner) was a great leader that allowed his teams to play. Sometimes less is more. He allowed us to be baseball players and enjoy the game. That’s something we’re definitely doing this year (at Avon).

“(Hartnagel) is extremely knowledgable. He has great innovative ideas about drills and practices.”

Drosche, who holds a masters degree from the University of Indianapolis, teaches Careers and is a DECA advisor at AHS. He and Hartnagel run the O-Zone school store.

Troy and Jenn Drosche have three children — Olivia (11), Trevor (9) and Kendra (7). All three play travel basketball. Olivia also plays travel softball, Trevor travel baseball and Kendra travel soccer.

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 8

North

At Plymouth
Class 1A

Rossville (25-7) vs. Washington Township (22-6), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT

Class 4A
Hamilton Southeastern (21-8) vs. Mishawaka (25-6), following

At Kokomo (Municipal Stadium)
Class 3A

Yorktown (18-14) vs. Andrean (34-1), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT
Class 2A

Alexandria Monroe (27-6) vs. Whiting (15-11), following

South

At Mooresville
Class 3A

Silver Creek (23-6) vs. Edgewood (23-3), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT
Class 4A

Columbus East (24-4) vs. Avon (20-13-1), following

At Jasper (Ruxer Field)
Class 1A

Tecumseh (21-7) vs. University (20-10-1), 1 p.m. ET/noon CT
Class 2A

Southridge (16-8) vs. South Vermillion (24-5), following

AVONORIOLES

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The Drosche family (clockwise from upper right) — Troy, Trevor, Kendra, Olivia and Jenn — celebrate a regional baseball championship for Avon (Ind.) High School. Troy Drosche is in his 11th season as head baseball coach for the Orioles. Avon plays Silver Creek in the IHSAA Class 4A Mooresville Semistate on Saturday, June 8.

 

Indiana State lefty Polley stays calm, keeps coming at hitters

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Triston Polley is the first weekend starting pitcher for the Indiana State University baseball team.

The senior left-hander knows what it means to face pressure situations and to perform in hostile environments when the Sycamores  go on the road.

At 22 and with 210 collegiate innings logged, Polley does his best to be the calm in the storm. Like the eye in the hurricane.

“We’ve played in some of the biggest ballparks in the country in my time here,” says Polley. “It’s the same everywhere you go.”

Polley, a 2015 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, was in one of those stressful situations in his last start Friday, May 3 at Illinois State.

“It was one of his best outings in terms of competing and giving us a chance to win the game,” says Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs. “I was really impressed with what he did (in the game) with the composure and from a competing standpoint.”

The host Redbirds collected 12 hits against Polley, but he battled for six innings and gave up just three runs in a no-decision.

“There’s always going to be games that don’t go your way,” says Polley. “You have to be able to keep a calm mindset and stay aggressive throughout it all and not fold, which is what the other team wants.”

Polley says it would be easy to get rattled pitching in front of a loud crowd and opposing dugout.

“It almost feels like things can speed up on you,” says Polley. “There was one point in the game (at Illinois State), where I just had to take a step off of the mound, re-group, try to figure out what I was and go at the other team again.”

As Polley and Indiana State (34-11, 11-4) enter a Friday-Saturday-Sunday Missouri Valley Conference series at Dallas Baptist, he is 6-0 with a 2.23 earned run average in 12 starts and 80 2/3 innings. He has struck out 65 batters and walked 33. Opponents are hitting .203 against the southpaw.

The 6-foot, 190-pound Polley competes using a sinking fastball, cutter/slider, change-up and big breaking ball.

He credits Hannahs and pitching coach Jordan Tiegs for helping him to develop an aggressive mindset on the mound and to hit his spots.

During winter breaks, Polley has worked with Greg Vogt (founder and operator of PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind.) on things like pitch design.

“He’s a really good dude and nice resource that I have,” says Polley of Vogt. “I can pick his brain. He’s a very knowledgable guy.”

Polley has also spent much time on his own doing research online to find the philosophies and routine that works best for him.

“I stick with ti and got about it everyday,” says Polley.

Growing up in Avon, Ind., Polley took the mound in high school as a strong-armed lefty. He later learned the craft of pitching.

Polley credits the Indiana Bulls travel organization for giving him a chance to play NCAA Division I baseball at Indiana State.

He says he’s come a long way since arriving in Terre Haute.

“A lot of it has to do with mentally (maturing),” says Polley. “I was an off-the-wall freshman.

“Once I got here, I knew if I took a step mentally, because I knew I had the physical ability that everything was going to play up.”

For his ISU career to date, Polley is 16-4 in 57 mound appearances (30 as a starter) with a 3.51 ERA, 167 strikeouts and 98 walks.

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Triston Polley is a senior starting pitcher for Indiana State University. In 12 starts, he is 6-0 for a team that is 34-11 heading into a weekend series at Dallas Baptist. (Indiana State University Photo)

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Triston Polley has been aggressive and calm at the same time at the front of the Indiana State University baseball team’s pitching rotation. The ISU senior is a graduate of Brownsburg (Ind.) High School. (Indiana State University Photo)

 

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

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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)

 

 

Abrell values life lessons while leading Plainfield Quakers baseball program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As a coach and educator, Shane Abrell looks for teachable moments.

Abrell and his coaching staff got the opportunity to teach their players about dealing with failure and about momentum during Abrell’s first season in charge of the Plainfield (Ind.) High School baseball program.

“Life lessons are really important in coaching,” says Abrell. “If we’re not teaching them about life, we’re failing them.”

Facing a formidable schedule, the 2018 Quakers got off to a 2-9 start then went on an 8-3 run on the way to 12-16-1. Right-hander Sam Tackett (an Indiana University Kokomo commit for 2019-20) hooked up in a pitchers’ duel with Braydon Tucker (now at Indiana University) as Plainfield bowed to Northview 1-0 in nine innings in the first round of the IHSAA Class 4A Avon Sectional.

“Now they know they can play with those teams,” says Abrell. “It gives us a lot of mental toughness as time goes on.”

Abrell and his assistants spent much time talking about the team.

“We have some really great conversations,” says Abrell, who welcomes back varsity assistants Josh Morris, Noah Lane and Jaylen Cushenberry, junior varsity coach Brian Holsclaw and freshmen coach Mike Harper for 2019. “We demand a lot of time and effort. But hese guys don’t skip a beat. They make my job easy.”

The coaches were honest with their athletes and admitted when they made mistakes in 2018.

The lines of communication are kept open through that sincerity.

“Baseball is so mentally tough on people,” says Abrell. It’s not for everybody.

“Kids are more willing to come to us when they’re struggling. We’re seeing more players are consoling each other.”

Abrell, who teaches computer science at PHS, was a Plainfield assistant to Jeff McKeon (now head coach at South Putnam High School) for one season before taking over the program.

Prior coming to Hendricks County, Abrell was an assistant to Kyle Kraemer at Terre Haute South Vigo High School from 2001-14 and helped coach youth teams around Terre Haute including the Junior Sycamores and with the John Hayes-managed Wayne Newton American Legion Post 346 program.

Abrell played for Kraemer at South Vigo, graduating in 1998.

“Kyle is probably one of the most organized people I’ve come across in coaching,” says Abrell of Kraemer. “He is very meticulous. There was very little down time in practice. You were always moving.”

South Vigo has enjoyed continuity on the coaching staff with assistants like Brian Pickens, T.C. Clary, Todd Miles and Chad Chrisman serving for decades.

“(Kraemer’s) been a great mentor and friend to me,” says Abrell, who will take his Plainfield team to the 2019 Braves Bash at South Vigo. The event also features Munster and New Haven.

Plainfield (enrollment around 1,700) is part of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Perry Meridian and Whiteland).

The MSC plays home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to crown its champion.

The Quakers are part of the IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Avon, Brownsburg, Mooresville, Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo. Plainfield has won eight sectional titles — the last in 1997.

While in Terre Haute, Abrell had the opportunity to coach A.J. Reed and become close T.J. Collett and his family while coaching his brother Doug with the Post 346 junior squad and then as North Vigo athletic director.

Both A.J. and T.J. were Indiana Mr. Baseball honorees — Reed at South Vigo in 2011 and Collett at North Vigo in 2016.   

A walk-on at Indiana State University, Abrell’s coach with the Sycamores was Mitch Hannahs.

Abrell graduated from ISU in 2003 with a B.S. degree in Management Information Systems/Computer Science and worked various jobs, including web designer for Clabber Girl and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Reserve Deputy for the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department.

“That was an eye opener,” says Abrell of the issues he saw some students dealing with that have nothing to do with a baseball drill or home work assignment.

He makes a point of getting his players to give back by volunteering in the community at a food pantry or with Riley’s Children’s Hospital.

Gratitude is another life lesson Abrell teaches.

“We talk to the kids about thanking their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents for all the time and money they spend,” Abrell.

He was a football, basketball and baseball coach at South Vigo. North Vigo, coached by Shawn Turner and Fay Spetter and featuring Collett, were 4A state runners-up in 2014 and 2015 with Abrell as AD.

Along the way, he attended Western Kentucky University (Master of Education & Kinesiology) and Indiana Wesleyan University (Education Administration).

Baseball has long been a big deal in the Abrell family.

Shane’s grandfather, the late John Abrell, was a long-time Connie Mack baseball coach and sponsor in Terre Haute.

Rick Abrell, Shane’s father, coached youth baseball at Prairie Creek, Prairieton and Riley and was president of Terre Haute Babe Ruth. He now tends to the baseball fields at both South Vigo and West Vigo.

The Abrells are close with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Bob Warn and Steve DeGroote. Warn was head coach at Indiana State from 1975-2006. DeGroote assisted Warn at ISU and then led the West Vigo program.

Abrell says he took something from all the baseball men in his life.

“To be a good coach, you have to accept you’re not going to create something new in baseball,” says Abrell. “You take what you learn and you mold them all together.”

A love of tending the field was ingrained in Abrell. Kraemer had his team spend 30 minutes after each practice and game wielding shovels and rakes and Abrell does the same with his Quakers.

And there’s lots of time spent mowing and edging in the summer and fall.

“For every two hours practicing, probably another two hours working on the field,” says Abrell. “It’s therapy for me.

“We’re blessed at Plainfield. We have a beautiful complex and support from the administration.”

Principal Melvin Siefert and Assistant Principal of Athletics Torrey Rodkey are both former coaches.

The Quakers feeder system includes Plainfield Pee Wee Association, Plainfield Optimist Baseball League and Plainfield Teenage Baseball League (a Babe Ruth League) as well as a locally-based travel organization — the Plainfield Havoc.

“We’re trying to keep travel ball in the community,” says Abrell. “When they play together their whole life is when you have some of the better teams.”

When Abrell took over the program, he contacted Plainfield graduate Jeremy Kehrt. The right-handed pitcher was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 47th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in independent ball in 2017.

“He stops by a lot,” says Abrell of Kehrt. “He works with our pitchers. When he shows up, their eyes get huge.”

Connor Mitchell, a left-hander who pitched in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in 2018, also visits to work on arm maintenance. His younger brother, Jackson Mitchell, was the Plainfield’s shortstop in 2018 and is now at Earlham College.

“It means a lot to have alumni reaching out,” says Abrell.

Current Plainfield outfielder/first baseman Jacob Sims is drawing interest from college programs.

A wedding is planned for Shane Abrell and Shannon Bormann in the fall of 2019. Shannon is a nurse anesthetist at IU Health Arnett Hospital in Lafayette.

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T.C. Clary (left), Shannon Bormann, A.J. Reed and Shane Abrell meet at the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. Clary was a baseball teammate and coached with Abrell at Terre Haute South Vigo High School. Bormann is engaged to Abrell. Reed played at South Vigo and was a Pacific Coast League all-star. Abrell is now head baseball coach at Plainfield (Ind.) High School.

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Shane Abrell is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Plainfield (Ind.) High School. He is also a computer science teacher at PHS.

It’s about more than baseball for Gossel, Covenant Christian Warriors

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Covenant Christian High School baseball players hoisted a sectional trophy in 2018.

The Warriors reigned at the IHSAA Class 2A event at Speedway.

That was only part of what veteran head coach Andy Gossel wants his players to achieve.

“Our two team core covenants are to be relentless to be selfless,” says Gossel. “We emblazon them on everything. This is what we’re about.”

Gossel wants his athletes to see how this looks in the class room, weight room, on game days and in dealing with their parents — in all aspects of their lives.

“We want to win games and championships,” says Gossel. “But we’re passionate about helping kids develop and grow as men of God.

“We want to impact kids’ lives far above and beyond the baseball field. They’re going to spend a much greater amount of being fathers, husbands, employees and employers than baseball players.”

Each year, Gossel and his team pick a book or topic to focus on besides baseball. They have done Bible studies and delved into John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.

Gossel goes to the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention when its within driving distance.

“It’’s so phenomenal,” says Gossel. “Coaches at so many levels share what they do.

“They are so approachable.”

In attending the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis in January 2018, Gossel noticed that the subject of relational coaching kept coming up.

“I don’t know if it’s a bigger emphasis or more people are willing to talk about it, but it was like an ad hoc theme for the weekend,” says Gossel, who saw Sam Houston State University head coach Matt Deggs do a presentation on the big stage about going from a transactional to a transformational coach.

“When it gets down to the nitty gritty, kids are going to remember the relationship so much more,” says Gossel, a Buffalo, N.Y., native who played at and graduated from Bible Baptist College (now Clarks Summit University in Pennsylvania) in 1997, and is heading into his 22nd season as a head baseball coach in 2019.

Following six seasons at Arlington Baptist School in Baltimore, this will be his 16th at Covenant Christian on the west side of Indianapolis (the school is at 21st Street and Girls School Road just over a mile from Ben Davis High School).

Kingsway Christian in Avon, Ind., and Mooresville (Ind.) Christian Academy in Mooresville are considered feeder schools. But students come from all over to attend the school for grades 9-12.

Covenant Christian has played on-campus at Warrior Park since 2003. The school started its baseball program in 2000 with no facility to call their own. A fund was established to built a field in honor of long-time player and Covenant parent Scott Dobbs after he lost his battle with cancer in the fall of 2002.

Gossel, who is also the school’s athletic director, says Covenant is constantly looking to improve the field.

So far, Denis Schinderle returning to his varsity coaching staff. He has been with Gossel for most of his Covenant tenure and both his sons played for Gossel. Chris Stevenson is back to lead the junior varsity. A search is on for other coaches.

Covenant Christian (enrollment of about 365) is a member of the Circle City Conference (with Brebeuf Jesuit, Guerin Catholic, Heritage Christian, Indianapolis Bishop Chatard and Roncalli).

The CCC plays a home-and-home series, usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays to determine the regular-season conference champion. A year-end tournament is slated for May 17-18 at Roncalli.

“There’s no easy games in that conference,” says Gossel. “It’s really going to be a challenge for us.

“It prepared us for the state tournament. Every play was important. Every inning was important.”

The 2018 season in the Circle City was probationary for new member Covenant though the Warriors played all league teams twice but Roncalli.

The Warriors are in an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Indianapolis Shortridge, Indianapolis Washington, Park Tudor, Speedway and Cascade. Covenant Christian won its fourth sectional title in 2018, reigning at the Speedway Sectional.

“We can be very competitive at the sectional level,” says Gossel. “We’ve never gotten out of the regional.”

Covenant currently has graduate Eric Murphy (Wabash College) playing baseball at the next level.

Andy and Laura Gossel met at college. They have been married more than 21 years and have three children. Ty Gossel (16) is a sophomore football and baseball player at Covenant. Jacob Gossel (14) is a freshman basketball and baseball athlete at Covenant. The youngest is daughter Elyssa Gossel (11).

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Andy Gossel is the athletic director and head baseball coach at Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis. (Covenant Christian Photo)

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Andy Gossel is heading into his 16th season as the head baseball coach at Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis in 2019. (Covenant Christian Photo)

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As head baseball coach at Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis, Andy Gossel and his Warriors constantly talk about the covenants of being relentless and selfless. (Covenant Christian Photo)

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Andy Gossel came to Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis in the fall of 2003 to be head baseball coach and athletic director. The Warriors won the IHSAA Class 2A Speedway Sectional in 2018. (Covenant Christian Photo)