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West Vigo baseball’s DeGroote wants to be role model to his players

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the son of coach and middle of three athletic brothers, Culley DeGroote soaked in plenty of knowledge on his way to becoming head baseball coach at West Vigo High School. He has led the West Terre Haute-based Vikings since the 2014 season after eight seasons serving under father Steve DeGroote.

The elder DeGroote was an assistant at Indiana State University to American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Warn 1980-85 joined the coaching staff at West Vigo and led the program from 1993-2013. His teams went 441-118 with 11 Western Indiana Conference titles, 10 sectional champions, five regionals, one semistate and one state runner-up finish (2009). In 2017, he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

“Ninety-five percent of what I do I learned from (my father),” says Culley. “I learned how you treat players. Dad was a master motivator. He got them to buy into something bigger than themselves.”

While the rules were the same for all players, Steve DeGroote knew how to relate to each one as an individual, something he picked up from his athletic career and his days as an ISU recruiter.

“They say that coaching is not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes and dad got the most out of those Jimmys and Joes,” says Culley. “He was genius at reading talent. He was one of those who could see a kid come in as freshmen and see the finished product. He could see potential in a kid that very few people could see.”

Culley saw his dad attracted to the student and the athlete who was on a straight path.

“He had that ability to read people,” says Culley. “He could pick up on people’s habits and their priority in life. He navigated toward kids who had their priorities straight like him. Dad doesn’t drink, smoke or party. His faith is important to him. He was the (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) director at West Vigo. He lived a clean life and lived by example.

“I’ve tried to role model that with my players. I know you’re not going to be perfect, but you need to be striving for perfection.”

Steve DeGroote’s boys — Cory (West Vigo Class of 1991), Culley (1995) and Casey (1998) — were all three-sport athletes for the Vikings. Cory and Culley are both in the West Vigo Athletic Hall of Fame.

Cory DeGroote went to The Citadel to play basketball and baseball and then transferred to Indiana State, where he played baseball for three seasons. He coached multiple sports at North White High School and then served 12 seasons as head baseball coach at Mattawan (Mich.) High School. He is now president of Peak Performance, a travel sports organization based in Mattawan.

Casey DeGroote was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched as a professional until 2004. He served as general manager of the Terre Haute Rex in the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League and is now a train engineer.

Culley DeGroote earned the McMillan Award as the top male athlete in Vigo County and was an IHSBCA All-Star as a senior. He was a three-year starter in football, basketball and baseball and went on to be a three-year starter on both the hardwood and diamond at Franklin College.

His last baseball season was his junior year (he transferred to Indiana State to finish his degree). It was also the first as head coach for Lance Marshall, who still guides the Grizzlies.

“He cared about us as people,” says Culley. “He wanted to know your story and your background. I told myself that when I become a head coach, I hope my players in some way feel about me the way they felt about Coach Marshall.

“He was quiet and no-nonsense, but a super positive guy. You felt good about yourself after talking to Coach Marshall.”

Culley began his coaching career with a four-year stint on the staff of Scott Spada at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School. Before Spada, Derek Jeter played baseball for the Maroon Giants and went on to be captain of the New York Yankees. Future Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings did play for Spada.

Also the school’s head boys soccer coach, Culley heads in the 2018 baseball season with Zack Kent (varsity) and Kyle Stewart (junior varsity) as assistant coaches.

Steve DeGroote is still helping the Vikings baseball program as middle school director. The feeder program fielded two squads last spring — sixth and seventh graders combined and eighth graders. Playing 15 to 20 five-inning doubleheaders, the middle schoolers are heading into their third season in 2018.

“It’s an awesome thing,” says Culley. “It gives you a lot of flexibility and unity. It’s closed the gap between middle school and high school ball. We teach the same things. Getting coached in a lot of the little things that can win you a championship at a younger level.

“(Middle schoolers) get to play on the high school field and they love that.”

At a cost of more than $10,000, that field was upgraded in the fall of 2016 with more than 100 tons of infield dirt and artificial turf around the mound and home plate areas.

“That was the best idea I ever had,” says Culley. “We were getting in games (in 2017) we never got in before.”

Culley teaches physical education at the middle school and gets a chance to have a relationship with athletes as sixth graders.

West Terre Haute Little League, where Steve Shaffer is president, has three fields and four leagues (T-ball, minor and major).

“They are the lifeline of our program,” says Culley.

All of it has gone to help numbers at the high school. There were 15 freshmen baseball players at West Vigo in 2017 and 19 the year before that.

The varsity Vikings went 17-9 and lost to Edgewood in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 3A Northview Sectional.

West Vigo is in the West Division of the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam and Sullivan. Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley comprise the WIC East Division.

With about 1,023 students, Northview is the biggest school in the 2A/3A league with Cloverdale (370) as the smallest. West Vigo (581) is in-between.

Conference games are played five straight Tuesdays with a crossover game on the sixth Tuesday.

Since 1998, the Vikings have sent eight players on to NCAA Division I baseball and had three players drafted out of high school (Casey DeGroote by the Yankees in 1998, infielder Lenny Leclercq by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round in 2005 and Jeremy Lucas by the Cleveland Indians in the 12th round in 2009).

Right-hander Morgan Coombs, a 2006 graduate, played at Lincoln Trail College and Ball State University and went un-drafted before three seasons with the independent Gary SouthShore RailCats. He was the Australian Baseball League’s Pitcher of the Year in 2015 with the Adelaide Bite.

Middle infielder Tyler Wampler, a 2010 graduate, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Indiana State in the 17th round in 2014. He was head coach for the Terre Haute Rex in 2016-17.

Three of Culley’s players are currently at the D-I level — pitcher Davie Inman (West Vigo Class of 2015) at Coastal Carolina University, middle infielder Jordan Schafer (2016) at Indiana State and first baseman/pitcher Ty Lautenschlager (2017) at Northern Illinois University.

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Culley DeGroote, a 1995 West Vigo High School graduate, is entering his fifth season as Vikings head baseball coach in 2018. Before that, he was an assistant to father Steve DeGroote, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

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Baseball passion rooted in family for Jay County’s Selvey

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Long after the last out, Lea Selvey can be found tending to a plot of land he knows very well.

Selvey drags, edges and waters until his favorite baseball field is just so.

After all, the game is in his blood and this diamond bears his father’s name.

As the spring of 2018 looms, Lea Selvey heads into his 30th season as head baseball coach at Jay County High School on the outskirts of Portland, Ind.

The Patriots play on Don E. Selvey Field — a facility built from scratch by its namesake with his building trades students after the school was opened in the mid-1970’s as part of a consolidation bringing together Bryant, Dunkirk, Pennville, Portland and Redkey.

Don Selvey started his baseball coaching career long before the IHSAA state tournament came along in 1967 and was a head baseball coach for the Green Township Tigers, Gray Redbirds and Redkey Wolves. Green Township became part of Monroe Central in 1958, Gray part of Redkey in 1965 and Redkey part of Jay County in 1975.

“Those are all trivia questions now,” says Lea Selvey, a member of the last Redkey graduating class in 1975 who served as Jay County assistant to Ted Habegger (who later served as the Patriots athletic director) before becoming head coach and employing his father as one of his assistants. “I truly have a passion for the game of baseball and come from a family that loves the game as well. The games themselves are a blast, but I truly  have enjoyed the friendships and stories that have been made due to the game.”

Selvey has welcomed the opportunity to work with students as a biology and health teacher and as a coach. Besides baseball, he has been a boys basketball assistant, girls basketball head coach and currently helps out with the cross country program.

I can be their coach and I can also be their mentor,” says Selvey. “I try to instill in the kids that hard work, effort and being an honest and upright person. We want to do things the right way and do them all the time. I want to be a first-class program with first-class people.

“I like to think it’s more than baseball. There’s life skills. Wins and losses take care of themselves. I really don’t worry about that too much.”

In his first 29 seasons as head coach, Selvey is 462-321 with six sectional titles (1987, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995 and 2007) and two regional crowns (1992 and 1993).

The first player Selvey sent to the NCAA Division I level was IHSBCA All-Star MVP Shannon Stigleman, who went to Purdue University. Hopes are high for Shannon’s son and current Jay County senior, Cole Stigleman.

During Selvey’s tenure, the Patriots have moved from the Classic Athletic Conference to the Olympic Athletic Conference and, after a few years as an independent, the Allen County Athletic Conference (which also includes Adams Central, Bluffton, Heritage, South Adams, Southern Wells and Woodlan.).

ACAC teams play each other once during the season with games on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Some of the opponents on Jay County’s non-conference schedule are Wapahani, Norwell, Bellmont and Delta. The closest road game is across the Ohio line against Buckeye State powerhouse Coldwater.

Since class baseball became a reality in 1997-98, Jay County has gone back and forth between Class 4A and Class 3A. With a little over 1,000 students, the Pats are currently in 3A. Jay County lost to eventual sectional champion Yorktown in the semifinals of the 2017 Yorktown Sectional.

In 2018, Selvey’s team is in a sectional mix with Bellmont, Heritage, Marion, Mississinewa and Norwell.

The son of Don and Gladys Selvey has shared many of those moments with wife Denise and children Josh (29), Kristen (26) and Kyle (22).

Josh Selvey played a few seasons at Trine University and is now on his father’s coaching staff along with Pete Byrum and Todd Farr. Kristen Selvey is a Jay County cheerleader coach. Kyle Selvey is heading into his senior season as a shortstop at Huntington University.

Byrum played baseball at Indiana Tech. Farr was head baseball at Eastbrook last spring and served as a North assistant in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South Series — something Lea Selvey did in 2008 in South Bend and 2014 in Richmond with Kyle as one of the players.

“It’s just an honor,” says Selvey of coaching the all-stars. “You get to be around other kids. You get to know some of them even for that brief amount of time and then you follow them.”

The elder Selvey and Farr also coached the college team for the Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers travel organization.

Kyle Selvey is a Sluggers alum and also played with the Portland Rockets, a team of current and former college and some ex-pros.

Lea Selvey served as IHSBCA president in the early 2000’s. He cherishes the chance he gets to talk baseball with coaches around the state.

“Our association is really one of the better ones in the nation,” says Selvey. “Its always been a very strong association and that’s come from the leadership.”

I remember when Bill Jones and Don Sherman took me under their wing a little bit,” says Selvey of coaches who helped shape the organization are part of the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. “I’m very grateful to those guys.”

Except for college and his first teaching job, Lea Selvey has spent most of his life in Jay County. He first went to Ball State University then transferred to the University of Evansville and logged two seasons as a player — first for Bob Hodges.

“I just thought the world of that guy,” says Selvey of the brother of famed slugger Gil Hodges. He also played with the Purple Aces for Jim Brownlee.

Selvey taught  briefly at Frontier in White County before taking teaching job at East Jay Middle School and joining Habegger’s baseball staff. When Habegger retired from coaching, Selvey took his place.

And he’s been on the job at this special place ever since.

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Lea Selvey is heading into his 30th season as head baseball coach at Jay County High School in 2018. His Patriots play on Don E. Selvey Field — a facility named for his father.

 

Howard looking for first IU Kokomo baseball team to play the game fast

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Howard hit the ground running when he took over as head coach for the new baseball program at Indiana University Kokomo.

That’s fitting since Howard wants his Cougars to play the game fast and put pressure on opponents.

Since starting in January and hitting the recruiting trail, Howard and his assistants — associate head coach/pitching coach Joe Thatcher (a Kokomo High School graduate who pitched in the big leagues), recruiting coordinator Zach Hall (who played at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.) and infield/assistant hitting coach Jason Leone (who played at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo.) — have built a roster and begun establishing a culture.

“We want to play fast,” says  says Howard, who used his speed as a outfielder to a be an NCAA Division II All-American and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Slippery Rock State University and was an assistant at Chestnut Hill College, where the Griffins were consistently among the D-II leaders in stolen bases. “We want guys that understand the game and play the game hard. We want to put pressure on the defense and take advantage of any mistake they make.”

A Philadelphia, Pa., native, Howard served three seasons as manager of the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the summer collegiate Prospect League (2014-16) and was on the baseball staffs at Ball State University, LaSalle University and Chestnut Hill after his collegiate playing career.

Howard and his IU Kokomo staff have a group of 38 for 2017-18 and are now working on the recruiting class of 2018-19.

“We’re just looking for the best student-athlete we can find,” says Howard. IUK has about 3,000 students — many of them of commuters.

What attracted him to the heart of Indiana?

“Kokomo is a special place,” says Howard. “It’s a baseball town. We’re at an institution where we can attract a very strong student-athlete

“Our athletic department is young and looking to add sports strategically and run them in a competitive manner,” says Howard.

By having nearly 40 players, its creates competition within the squad and gives the Cougars some depth as they go through fall ball activities. Practices will wrap in a few weeks and players will hit the weight room. When classes begin again after winter break on Jan. 8, the team will kick it into gear as it prepares for the inaugural season opener Feb. 9 at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. It’s the first of three straight weekend series in Tennessee. The home opener on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium is Feb. 27 against Indiana Wesleyan.

At 28, Howard is one of the younger head coaches in NAIA baseball. He sees it as a positive.

“It’s an advantage,” says Howard. “I have a lot of energy and passion for what I do. I’m out everyday to prove I’m the guy for the job. I’m able to get my players on the field more.

“Baseball is a beautiful game that teaches a lot of life lessons and about (dealing with) failure. Baseball is a tough game to play. You need to take the positives from the negatives.”

MATTHOWARD

Matt Howard, 28, is the head coach of a brand new NAIA baseball program at Indiana University Kokomo. He is a Philadelphia, Pa., native who was an NCAA Division II All-American at Slippery Rock State University. (IU Kokomo Photo)

 

Uggen accepts challenge of returning to to alma mater Blackford

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Uggen achieved much diamond success away from the place he grew up.

As head coach at Northfield High School from 1994-2013, Uggen’s Norsemen enjoyed many victories. IHSAA state championships came in 2001 and 2012 with a state runner-up in 2013.

But Uggen’s heart belongs to Hartford City, so he came back Blackford High School as athletic director and head baseball coach, beginning with the 2013-14 school year.

“Although I loved it at Northfield (and also served 10 years as AD there), I felt it was time to focus on the greater challenge of rebuilding my alma mater that hadn’t had a winning season since ‘04,” says Uggen, a 1983 Blackford graduate. “I guess you could say I personally wanted to know if I really was a good coach or just a by-product of being in the right place at the right time.”

On the heels of 4-23 in 2015 and 8-21 in 2016, Uggen’s 2017 Bruins went 17-13 overall and 3-4 in the Central Indiana Conference. It was Blackford’s first winning varsity baseball season since 2004.

The special campaign also included the school’s first sectional title in any sport since 2010 when the Red, Black & White reigned at 2A Blackford Sectional.

“I am proud of where we have come over the past three years,” says Uggen. “And it was great to see the community come out at sectional in full force as it was a great experience for the kids and community.”

The spring of 1991 is the only year since 1980 that Uggen has not coached a baseball team at some level. He helped coach a Babe Ruth League squad at 16. A few years later, he started a six-year run of guiding his own Babe Ruth team.

Uggen took his first teaching job at Northfield in 1991-92 and was hired as junior varsity coach and heir apparent to long-time Norsemen head coach Craig Winegardner.

As a player, Uggen was part of minor league (third grade), Little League (Grades 4-6) and Babe Ruth (7-9) programs before playing for coach Gary Cheesman at Blackford.

“I liked his passion for the game and the fact that he had high expectations for us,” says Uggen of Cheesman. “Looking back I appreciated that he ran a disciplined program as well.”

Uggen played three seasons (1985-87) at Taylor University, where Larry Winterholter was head coach. A pitcher during his freshmen and junior seasons, Uggen sat out his sophomore year because a rotator cuff injury that plagued his college career.

Out of eligibility because of tranferrng from Purdue University at mid-semester and then going to Ball State University, Uggen did not play as a senior. Winterholter did allow him to pick his brain as a student assistant coach.

“Coach Winterholter was less intense as a coach than Coach Cheesman, but he still was a disciplinarian,” says Uggen. “I appreciated playing for each as they gave me different perspectives as to how to reach athletes. It allowed me to learn that different players respond differently to how they are coached. So some kids like the more ‘in your face approach’ while others are more receptive to being pulled aside and talked to.

“Over the years I try to adapt to how I feel the kids best respond which can be a challenge. A couple years I never felt like I was on the same page, but I have always liked a challenge so that makes coaching interesting.”

What qualities does Uggen wish to instill in his players?

“First and foremost, I want our kids to reflect a ‘class act’ program,” says Uggen. “And that starts with discipline. Without a doubt, the best teams I have coached were the ones who were disciplined and focused on wanting to learn and get better. Not all of them had winning records, but I felt many of those teams still exceeded my expectations and that’s a testament to their efforts.

“I also want to instill a strong work ethic and a commitment to excellence. In short, I want them to learn to compete at a high level.

Hopefully, my hope would be that all who play for me look back and say ‘Coach Uggen made me a better baseball player and person’ and have pride in their accomplishments as individuals and as teams when all is said and done.”

The 2017 season marked the first for the new IHSAA pitch rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) and Uggen has has his take on it.

“I will admit I was leary at first,” says Uggen. “But in the end, the pitch count rule was a big reason we won the sectional. Taylor, who we beat in the sectional final, had to throw their ace all 10 innings in the opening win so he was done for the tournament.

“And in the sectional championship, we tied it when down to our last strike and they unfortunately ran out of pitching and had to turn to a young many who had only thrown about eight innings all year. So yes, the pitch count worked in our favor in the tournament.”

Uggen tried to worked up to five pitchers into a game early in the season then whittled back to three or less per game as pitch counts went up and the pitchers who could consistently throw strikes were identified.

“I think that helped us develop more kids capable of handling the grind of as the season wore on,” says Uggen. “And, thankfully, most of those kids are back (for 2018).”

His assistant coaches will be Bob Banter, Travis Huffman and Devon Kirkwood at the varsity level with Travis Huffman has JV head coach and Lucas Miller as JV assistant.

Uggen says he would be in favor of changing the IHSAA ‘open gym’ rule.

“I think it ties coaches’ hands only being able to work with two kids directly at a time,” says Uggen. “That frustrates me, especially knowing that there are schools probably not following the rule.

“Yes, I understand that not having it may open up some coaches to coaching year-round. We do it because it is the right thing to do and because I can’t say we are going to be a ‘class act’ and then break the rules.

“And, frankly, there are a lot of kids today that get pulled in the wrong direction for whatever reason. If I could work with more kids than those kids are less likely to get lured into doing something they shouldn’t.”

Tony and and wife Lisa have been married eight years and have five children ages 12 to 23 — Stephanie Uggen, Christian Fleener, Brandon Fleener, Brendan Uggen and Elly Uggen.

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Tony Uggen, a 1983 Blackford High School graduate, has been athletic director and head baseball coach at his alma mater since 2013-14 after a long stint in both jobs at Northfield High School. (Blackford Photo)

 

Sinker effective pitch for Kokomo native, Padres minor leaguer Weir

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Making more of his pitches go down has helped T.J. Weir go up in professional baseball.

Weir, a graduate of Kokomo High School (2010) and Ball State University (2014), has incorporated a sinker into his pitching repertoire and is now at Double-A in the San Diego Padres organization after beginning the 2017 season at High-A.

According to Tim Weir, T.J.’s father, off-season throwing partner and pitching coach at Kokomo High, his son learned the sinker while playing catch a couple off-seasons back with big league reliever Craig Stammen.

Todd Linklater was one of T.J.’s pitching coaches at Ball State and had coached Stammen while guiding pitchers at the University of Dayton and helped get the two hurlers together.

“Last year he used a four-seam fastball and sometimes a sinker,” says Tim Weir. “This year, it’s primarily a sinker. He can rely on the sinker and can get a swing and miss or ground balls in counts where he used to give up hits.”

T.J. played at UCT Cal Ripken Baseball League until 12 and travel ball with the Central Indiana Kings (coached by Tim Weir, Chad Reida and Keith Vautaw) and Tim Weir-coached Indiana Force through his 15-year-old summer before he went with the Indiana Bulls to be coached by Todd Dunwoody then Alex Rynearson.

All the while Tim, a 1982 Kokomo graduate who played Wildkats baseball for Carl McNulty and Mike Smith, was paying close attention. He knows his sons’ mechanics almost better than he does.

“I don’t like to admit it, but sometimes he’s right,” says T.J. of his father. “He knows the game really well. He watches the game online and sees things I need to fix.”

The 25-year-old Weir now often uses the sinker — thrown at 90 to 93 mph — in fastball situations and it has aided the 6-foot right-hander in going 4-1 with a 1.65 earned run average in 31 games and 49 innings with the Double-A San Antonio Missions after going 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 10 games and 19 1/3 innings with the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm.

Weir, who also throws a curve, slider and occasional change-up, has a way of describing himself as a pitcher.

“I’m a strike thrower,” says T.J. “I get ahead in the count and keep (hitters) off-balance.”

In his last 10 appearances, Weir has thrown 101 of 230 pitches for strikes while going 1-0 with an 0.56 ERA over 16 innings.

“I take pride in throwing strikes, being able to field my position and things like that,” says Weir, who was often a third baseman or shortstop when not pitching at Ball State.

Getting ahead in the count allows Weir to sometimes “pitch backwards” from the conventional sequence.

“The Texas League only has eight teams (four in Texas and four up north),” says T.J. “We play the same three teams over and over again. You need to be able to adjust on the fly.”

But players don’t actually fly in the Texas League. All trips are by bus. The shortest from San Antonio is 2 1/2 hours. It takes about 12 to get to Springfield, Mo. The Missions take two buses on that long haul and don’t have to share seats. Otherwise, players do their best to get comfortable on one. Not an easy task for Weir, but even tougher for bullpen mates like (6-9 Brad Wieck) and (6-7 Trey Wingenter).

T.J. played for Steve Edwards at Kokomo and was a classmate of right-hander Nolan Sanburn, now in the Washington Nationals system.

Weir was recruited to Ball State by Greg Beals and played for Alex Marconi his first two collegiate seasons and Rich Maloney his last two. Before Linklater, his pitching coach at BSU was Jeremy Plexico.

“It was cool to be able to hear from both of them,” says T.J. “They came from two very different experiences. (Plexico) is tall and left-handed. (Linklater) is a short righty.”

Weir went back and forth from believer to starter at Ball State. He was primarily a starter his senior season, when he was selected in the 17th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Padres.

Of his 124 minor league appearances, all but 20 have come as a reliever.

“I’ve found a rhythm and a routine I like in the pen,” says T.J., who usually pitches two innings per outing and has yet to pitch on consecutive days.

He has also learned much from San Antonio pitching coach Jimmy Jones.

“He’s great,” says T.J. of Jones. “We relievers listen in during starter’s bullpens. He’s always dropping knowledge.”

Jones has conveyed the importance of control over the body — even when tired from the long season.

“You learn how to play catch the right way,” says T.J. “You can get in so many bad habits. We play six months straight. You learn how to conduct yourself as a professional and take every rep seriously.”

T.J. will be seriously busy once the 2017 season ends.

Giving back to his hometown, he will conduct a free kids baseball camp Sept. 30 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

On Nov. 18, T.J. is to marry former Ball State volleyball player Kati Vasalakis in Muncie and then move to Cincinnati where she is now working.

After recovering from the 2017 season, Weir begins ramping up his throwing program in preparation of 2018 in December.

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T.J. Weir delivers a pitch for the 2017 San Antonio Missions. The Kokomo, Ind., native is in the San Diego Padres organization. (San Antonio Missions Photo)

 

Homestead graduate Jernigan enjoying experience as second-year pro

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andre Jernigan grew up in Fort Wayne watching young baseball players chase their professional dreams in the Midwest League.

Jernigan, 23, is now doing the same as an infielder with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

A Homestead High School graduate in 2012 and Louisville Slugger All-American at Xavier University in 2016, Jernigan was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round of the ’16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after being named Big East Conference Player of the Year.

At spring training this year, Jernigan enjoyed picking the brains of former Minnesota Twins who were Fort Wayne Wizards coming through the minors — LaTroy Hawkins (with Fort Wayne in 1993) and Torii Hunter (1994).

“It’s incredible to play on the same fields and in the same league as them,” says Jernigan, who played 36 games for Elizabethton (Rookie-level Appalachian League) after the draft and four contests for the E-Twins in ’17 before being assigned to Cedar Rapids June 29.

“We’re lucky to come out here and just play,” says Jernigan. “I just like to take it day by day and enjoy the experience. It’s that fun and excitement you had when you were a kid that made you want to become a professional baseball player.

“It’s very easy once you get out there to lose sight of that. You start to think of it as a job. My main goal is to come out and learn something new and get better each and everyday.”

Playing so many games, pro baseball can become a mental and physical grind. But Jernigan chooses not to see it that way.

“You don’t think I have to play today, I get to play today,” says Jernigan. “It’s really just a blessing to be out here.”

Jernigan grew up playing shortstop and accept for being moved to third base by then-Homestead head coach Steve Sotir during his sophomore year, he was an everyday shortstop until he became a pro. The Twins have used him at second base, third base, shortstop and even one game at catcher.

“A ground ball’s a ground ball though the ball gets too you faster at third base,” says Jernigan. “The Twins talk about (playing multiple positions). I’ve always been told the more versatile you are, teams can get you more playing time.”

Jernigan is thankful for a foundation laid by Sotir, who now works at The Base in El Paso, Texas, and current Homestead head coach Nick Byall.

“They run a great program,” says Jernigan of Sotir and Byall. “I look back on the drills and some of the things we did. I can’t thank them enough with helping me with my development.”

Scott Googins, who became head coach at the University of Cincinnati after the ’17 season, was head coach at Xavier during Jernigan’s days as a Musketeer.

“Coach Googins made sure that we put together a tough schedule and faced the Vanderbilts and the Arizona States and some high-power arms,” says Jernigan. “Playing those teams in those series definitely helped in the sense that I’ve seen the velocity and the breaking balls.

“I seen some of that electric stuff. The biggest thing (in the minors), everyone you face now is a Friday night guy.”

The key is to hit the pitcher’s mistakes.

“I want to find a pitch and drive it,” says Jernigan. “You must be ready for the fastball at all times. You can adjust to the off-speed after that.”

Andre was born to Frankie and Stacey Jernigan in Muncie and the family landed in Fort Wayne around the time Andre was starting school.

Frankie Jernigan graduated from Muncie Central High School and earned a baseball letter at the University of Nebraska (1989). He passed along his knowledge and love of the game to sons Andre and Austin (who played baseball at Homestead and is now a senior student at Ball State University).

“I can’t thank him enough for all those days when he threw us BP and hit us ground balls,” says Andre of his father.

Andre played travel in younger days with the Mavericks and then with the Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).

In one of those small world phenomenons, The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy owner/senior baseball instructor and director of player development Manny Lopez was a minor league teammate of Ramon Borrego when both played in the Twins organization. Borrego is now manager of the Gulf Coast League Twins.

Jernigan graduated from Xavier with a degree in finance.

“I’ve always been good with numbers,” says Jernigan. “It’s one of those things that I find interesting.”

Another interesting family connection is former NBA standout Bonzi Wells. He is connected in Andre’s mother’s side.

Wells shined on the hardwood at Muncie Central and Ball State and then played with the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets before stints in China and Puerto Rico.

At 40, Wells now plays in the new BIG3 pro 3-on-3 league.

Jernigan says Wells recently talked with youngsters at Muncie Central.

“He has that inner drive that keeps you going,” says Jernigan.

ANDREJERNIGAN

Andre Jernigan, a graduate of Homestead High School and Xavier University, is in the Minnesota Twins organization with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

IHSBCA All-Star alum Fox speaks from the heart

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Fox knows the honor of being chosen as an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant.

Before he went on to play at the University of Michigan and 14 seasons in professional baseball — making his big league debut in 2007 with the Chicago Cubs — Fox played for the South in 2000 in Fort Wayne.

Fox, who is now retired as a player and living in Michigan, accepted an invitation from former Wolverines and current Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney to address the 2017 All-Stars and their families at a recognition banquet Friday, July 14.

A 1 p.m. doubleheader is slated for Saturday, July 15 with one wood-bat game at noon Sunday, July 16 at Ball State in Muncie.

Outlining the passion, persistence, perseverance and patience it took him to make it to baseball’s pinnacle and play five different positions with seven different MLB organizations plus stints in independent ball and in Mexico and Korea, the Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate told his story.

Fox, 34, first congratulated the Class of 2017 All-Stars.

“This is a great honor,” said Fox. “You may not know it now. But looking back on my career, these are some of the memories that I hold dear. It is a testament to your talent and a dedication to your craft. It’s awesome.”

Why did Maloney choose Fox to speak when the coach has had so many players with what many would call better resumes?

“I asked him why me?,” said Fox. “He chuckled like the answer was obvious — ‘You played. You were there.’ Who else was going to stand up here and talk about getting from here to where I am now?”

Deciding against a prepared speech, Fox spoke from the heart.

“At the end of the day, I wasn’t a superstar player,” said Fox, who was selected in the third round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs and signed by scout Stan Zielinski. “I was a role player my whole time in the big leagues (through 193 games, 489 at-bats, 20 home runs, 73 runs batted in with the Cubs, Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles). These kids don’t want to be a role player. They want to be the best.”

Fox asked the people who know him best to list his best qualities and he compared them with his own self assessment and came up with those four P’s.

Playing with passion, persistence, perseverance and patience, Fox found a way to stay on the field. He related a story of playing in Triple-A with the Iowa Cubs. He came up as a catcher and was working out before a game as a third baseman when his manager came to him.

“‘Of all the players I ever managed or coached, you’ve got the most out of your ability,’” said Fox of the words he heard that day. “That’s probably the biggest compliment I ever got.”

The manager went on to say that Fox did not have the physical ability of some of his teammates, but he possessed something special and said: “You come out here and find ways to compete. You’re trying a different position not because you have to but because you want to. You’re trying to get better.”

Fox said he was not equipped to talk about being a superstar, but he could speak to the effort it takes to get the most out of his God-given talent.

“My nose was to the grindstone,” said Fox. “I was so concentrated on where I wanted to go that I never actually sat down and thought about what got me there.”

Fox and his closest friends and family agree that he has passion.

“I loved to play baseball and if you don’t love it, it’s not going to last long,” said Fox. “This game can chew you up and spit you out.”

The IHSBCA All-Star alum also encouraged the current All-Stars to enjoy baseball as a team game — something that often goes away when professionals are competing for jobs and playing time and looking out more for themselves than chasing victories.

“That’s why I enjoyed playing in Mexico and playing independent ball,” said Fox. “Guys were just out there playing games.

“There was a time in Triple-A that I hated the most. It didn’t even matter what team was on the other side of the field. It was a competition in your own dugout. That’s not baseball.

For Fox it was about enjoying the competition and seizing the opportunities.

“At the end of the day — even with all the business things — you go out and play,” said Fox. “No matter where it is. No matter what country you’re in. No matter what level you’re at. We get too caught up in where you play and not how you play.”

How about persistence and perseverance?

“Everyday in the major leagues, I was overmatched physically,” said Fox. “These guys were 5-star athletes. I had to find a way to compete. You’ve got to be persistent. Coach Maloney said to me, ‘You know what the second-most favorite thing about you was: You never took ‘no’ for an answer.’”

Fox got much of his MLB playing time on the days when a regular would ask off with a particularly tough pitcher going that day for the other team?

“If you name a tough left-handed pitchers between 2007 and 2011, I probably faced them,” said Fox. “(The regular) would come in and say, ‘CC Sabathia’s pitching today? I don’t feel so good.’”

“When I stepped in that box, I feel I had nothing to lose. They could be a Hall of Famer. What did I care? That’s what made me as good as I was. I just wanted to play.”

Fox also learned to be patient.

“It doesn’t happen on your time,” said Fox. “You can feel like you’re ready. You can feel like you deserve it and you see other people take your place. But you keep playing and you will get your chance.

“They pass guys over because they are too busy complaining (about being slighted).”

Fox reflected on his career and said it was not the numbers he put up but the times he spent with teammates and families and the places he got to see along the way.

“I encourage you to enjoy the journey,” said Fox to the All-Stars. “You don’t know where it’s going to take you. You don’t. You show up everyday, you play hard and you have fun doing it and the rest will take care of itself.

“I once had a friend tell me, ‘You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.’ He’s right. You have no idea where this game is going to take you. You have no idea where life is going to take you.”

To illustrate his point, Fox talked about being invited to big league spring training with the Cubs in 2007 and where it led him.

It was Lou Piniella’s first season as manager and Chicago’s top two catchers — Henry Blanco and Michael Barrett — were called away to the World Baseball Classic. Fox was with the big club, but spent his sweaty afternoons warming up pitchers in the bullpen.

“I knew I was getting sent back down. I knew I wasn’t making the team. But I got the experience. I knew what the scouting report was about me: Good hitter. Can’t play defense. It bothered me. I wanted (Pineilla) to see what I was or wasn’t capable of doing before he read it in a report that I didn’t agree with.”

When Barrett came back from the WBC, Fox was the lone player on the roster who had not logged an at-bat or a defensive inning.

Barrett encouraged Fox to say something to the coaching staff.

The Hoosier finally worked up the courage ask for a chance to show what he could do before going to minor league camp.

Fox got his wish. He would play at the end of an away game against the Royals.

Called to hurry from the bullpen, Fox scrambled to the dugout and to the plate and socked the second pitch he saw — a slider — for a double off the wall.

In the ninth, Fox belts a first-pitch home run to plate the decisive run in a Cubs victory.

The next day, the Milwaukee Brewers came to visit the Cubs. Fox started the game on bullpen duty. When called upon to hit late in the game, he pops another first-pitch homer.

“I’ve seen four pitches (in big league camp) and have two homers and a couple,” said Fox.

The next day, Cubs bench coach Alan Trammel told the team to “keep it close until Fox can hit.”

Fox again homers that day.

“I thought I was going to black out,” said Fox.

The next day against the San Francisco Giants, Fox was called in from he bullpen to play left field — for the first time in his life.

Sent back to the minors, Fox opened the season by playing in the outfield and made his debut July 19 in right field at Wrigley Field.

“It just goes to show you that you never know where this game is going to take you,” said Fox. “I played five different positions in the big leagues (right field, left field, catcher, first base, third base). For a guy who couldn’t use a glove, I thought that was pretty good.

“So don’t ever put yourself in a box or limit yourself. Somebody else may see a capability in you that you don’t see yourself.”

JAKEFOX

Jake Fox, shown with the independent Somerset Patriots, played 14 professional seasons and was a 2000 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant. (Somerset Patriots Photo)