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Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball a 60-year tradition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Way to get off the bus, Gus. Scoring runs is fun!”

After the Portland (Ind.) Rockets plated three in the first inning at the National Baseball Federation major division (unlimited age) wood bat regional in Fort Wayne, manager Randy Miller shouted his approval from the third base coach’s box.

Miller has brought enthusiasm to the diamond for much of the organization’s long history.

The Rockets — started in 1959 by Dick Runkle and continued by Ray Miller (Randy’s father) — celebrated 60 years of diamond fun and memories in 2019. That makes it one of the longest-running continuous teams in amateur baseball.

“We go back to our 1960’s roots,” says Portland manager Randy Miller, who has seen the Rockets square off against squads from Albany, Geneva, Dunkirk, Elwood, New Castle, Upland, Yorktown and beyond. A rivalry with the Gas City-based Twin City Bankers is well-chronicled in Bill Lightle’s book “My Mother’s Dream.”

When the Rockets began, they were comprised of players from Portland and later fanned out from Jay County.

“We’re still townball,” says Miller”. We just come from a lot of towns.”

The ’19 Rockets (10-13) had four players who claim Portland as their hometown — Peyton Heniser, Chandler Jacks, Max Moser and captain Mitch Waters. They also came from Auburn, Bluffton, Carmel, Ellettsville, Frankton, Indianapolis, LaPorte, Marion, Pendleton, St. Joseph and Thorntown in Indiana and Coldwater, St. Mary’s and Vandalia in Ohio.

The oldest players were Waters (35), Chris Gaines (33), Zeth Tanner (29), Codey Harrison (28) and Craig Martin (28). The rest were under 25 with seven teenagers. Waters is the director of operations at the Jay County Community Center.

A graduate of Jay County High School and Manchester College, Waters played for the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kings of the independent Frontier League.

“Our guys are some of the best athletes their high schools have ever had,” says Randy Miller. “They’re gamers.

“I’m just so proud of them.”

Miller, 65, began playing for the Rockets in 1972 and caught a doubleheader at 51. By the 1990’s, he was sharing manager duties with his father and has continued helped continue the tradition.

“I’ve got a motorcycle and a boat,” says Miller, a former teacher at Adams Central High School in Monroe, Ind. “I’m not on them very much in the summer.”

Runkle had the Rockets competing in the old Eastern Indiana Baseball League. Local talent included Steve Takats. His Ball State University teammate, Merv Rettenmund, played for Portland in 1966 and made his big league debut as a player with the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and was an MLB hitting coach for many years.

The Rockets went 18-1 and won the EIBL in 1968.

With the team in financial trouble, Ray Miller took over in 1972. He doubled the schedule and included games with Fort Wayne teams.

With the support of wife Betty, Ray helped secure a playing facility in Portland that is now known as Runkle-Miller Field.

“Mom was always there with a sandwich and a cold beverage,” says Randy Miller of his mother, who served 16 years as city clerk.

In 1984, the Rockets merged with the Bank of Berne Lancers and went 34-20. The ’85 season was the best to date at 41-14 with Portland’s first-ever American Amateur Baseball Congress state title.

Miller became AABC state secretary in 1991 and the Rockets won AABC state crowns in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006 and in more than 30 years as manager Portland won more than 900 games.

Ray Miller died in 2017 and was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Randy Miller was enshrined in 2011.

With Randy Miller, siblings Brad Miller and Mickey Scott and many community members pitching in, the Rockets have survived. Mickey, who was city clerk for 12 years, used to run Runkle-Miller’s “Rocket Lunching Pad” concession stand and now Brad does it.

All three Miller offspring have taken turns watering the field. The baselines are seeded to help with all the excess rain.

For years, the Rockets were purely a family-funded operation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Rockets have swung wood bats. At first, Randy provided those. But that got too expensive and now the players provide their own clubs.

For $100, the team picks up the cost of caps, uniforms and handles insurance.

Randy Miller carries on a tradition by giving the “Rocket Report” on WPGW 100.9 FM on afternoons following games. Samantha Thomas, who once worked for the Fort Wayne TinCaps, is involved with keeping score and other team functions.

Randy Miller schedules games, recruits players, pays bills and generally keeps the Rockets going.

“That’s my legacy,” says Miller. “I carry the torch.”

The Rockets coaching tree spreads far and wide, especially along the U.S. 27 corridor.

“They want to give back to the game,” says Miller. “We are a baseball town. I really believe that.”

Among former Rockets are Jay County High School head coach Lea Selvey, Adams Central head coach Dave Neuenschwander and Bethel University head coach Seth Zartman.

Portland won 35 or more games a season throughout the 2000’s and went to the NABF World Series in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2012. A few years ago, the Rockets posted a 35-12 mark.

In 2018, an $28,000 scoreboard was installed at Runkle-Miller Field.

A 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of Portland’s Ritz Theatre was painted by Pamela Bliss and dedicated July 28 and many alums and Rocket backers came to celebrate.

Wearing the gold and black, fans were in Fort Wayne to see the Rockets’ latest season come to a close.

But the fun is not over yet for 2019. The annual Rocket Rally golf outing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at Portland Golf Club. For more information, email Randy Miller at ramiller15@embarqmail.com.

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Randy Miller and Mitch Waters share in the spoils of victory for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Dalton Tinsley hits for the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Former players and fans gathered July 28, 2019 for the dedication of a 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural and celebration of 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Artist Pamela Bliss created the 60-foot “Wall of Dreams” mural on the side of the Ritz Theatre in Portland, Ind. On Aug. 28, 2019, there was a

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Siblings Brad Miller (left), Randy Miller and Mickey Scott stand in front of a “Wall of Dreams” mural in Portland, Ind., celebrating 60 years of Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball. The mural behind them depicts Randy and their father, Ray Miller, who were co-managers for years.

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The story of the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team and the “Wall of Dreams.” (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Runkle-Miller Field received a $28,000 scoreboard in 2018. The field is home to the Portland (Ind.) Rockets baseball team, which has been around since 1959. (Portland Rockets Photo)

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Batesville native Miller sees pitching change in half century of pro baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dyar Miller’s 51 years in professional baseball wrapped in 2018 as a pitching coach for the Triple-A Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies, an affiliate of the Houston Astros.

The Indiana native witnessed many changes to the game as a player, manager, coordinator and coach.

When Miller began his career as a unsigned free agent catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies organization out of Utah State University in 1968, there were no pitching coaches in the minors. He did not work with a coach dedicated to the art until he was in the big leagues.

Miller, who was born in Batesville and graduated from tiny New Point High School (there were 14 in his graduating class), was turned into a pitcher by the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. He first toed the rubber in a major league game with the Orioles on June 9, 1975. Earl Weaver was Baltimore’s manager. George Bamberger was the O’s pitching coach.

“The Orioles are the first organization to use a radar gun,” says Miller, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who pitched seven MLB seasons with Baltimore, the California Angels, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. “We used to phone or fax the game report in. Now it’s on a computer.

“When I first signed, (minor league teams) had a manager and a trainers. Trainers took care of injuries.

“(Pitchers) talked among ourselves. Back then you repeated each league two or three times and you watched. We did not have video. We tried to learn from an opponent.”

At the end of his career, Miller was often in video sessions with his hurlers, breaking down TrackMan information.

“Sometimes the pitcher would beat me to my office, looking for the data,” says Miller. “The Astros mandated that we have cell phones or iPads — company-owned — for bullpen sessions. That was the (minor league pitching) coordinator’s call.”

As a coach, Miller encouraged his more-seasoned pitchers to pass information along to other hurlers.

“They’ll listen to their peers,” says Miller. “Just tell me what you’re telling them.

“In the big leagues, they still do it that way.”

From 1995-2012, Miller served in many roles with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, including pitching coach, roving minor league pitching instructor, minor league pitching coordinator and major league bullpen coach.

It was a standard rule for Cardinals starters to watch fellow starters do their side work and chime in with their observations.

Miller insisted that his pitchers always play catch with a purpose.

“I have to remind guys of that every time you throw a ball, throw to a target — maybe the left shoulder, right shoulder or chest,” says Miller. “Long toss was real big there for awhile.”

Each organization is a little bit different. But many have pitchers start at 60 feet and work their way out to 120 or more.

“Some do it up to 20 minutes on a certain day,” says Miller. “It’s more of a recovery thing. They get the lactic acid out of there.

“Moderation is the best thing. Some guys do too much long toss.”

Miller likens the minor leagues to a laboratory and development — rather than winning the pennant — is the focus.

“We experiment with things here and there,” says Miller. “(Players) develop something that suits them. We’re not cloning everybody.”

At the same time, organizations have specific throwing programs.

“It’s pretty strict,” says Miller. “The Astros don’t like you throwing sinkers unless you’re like Charlie Morton and have a real good one. They stress the change-up.

“There are drills and we give them options — things to work on — each day like inside throws and crow hops. It’s pretty hands-on now, but there’s still leeway to be individualistic.”

Miller says that the higher player climbs the minor league ladder, the more they know themselves and what works best.

the higher you go in the minor leagues,

“At the lower levels, they are watched like a hawk,” says Miller.

The diamond veteran has his pitchers look for external cues — visualizing throwing the ball outside the body and going for the outer or inner halves of the strike zone.

“It’s more effective than internal (cues),” says Miller. “Nowadays, the favorite saying is ‘recent studies show.’ We’ve got what been studied and been shown to work.”

Then there’s the matter of rhythm.

“That’s an external thing, too,” says Miller. “You want to find your tempo and rhythm and pound the strike zone.”

The idea is to get the synchronize with the other body parts.

“There should be no stress on the arm,” says Miller. “It’s coming through because your torso is rotating.

“Your arm just comes along for the ride.”

Like winding a spring or a top, the pitcher loads up then it all comes loose at once.

“That’s how you get the extra pop on the ball,” says Miller. “A lot of people have trouble getting the load or it will leak out.

“It takes time to figure all that out.”

It took time for Miller to gather all his pitching knowledge.

“I knew about 1/10th or less when I was pitching than I do now,” says Miller, 73.

He does know that he is busier now away from pro baseball than when he was in it. Miller turned down an offer from the Mets to finish the 2019 season as pitching coach at Triple-A Syracuse.

“It was tempting,” says Miller, who moved from Batesville to Indianapolis in 1997 to be closer to a major airport and now spends his days working around the house, catching up with family and friends or fishing at his place on Lake Monroe.

Dyar and wife Bertha are on their second marriages. Between them, they have six children and 14 grandchildren with one on the way.

His sons look forward to the annual Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame Celebrity Golf Classic Oct. 4 in Jasper.

Miller still follows the game on television and was able to attend a Wright State-Indiana game in Bloomington, where he was able to catch up with IU director of player development Scott Rolen (who played for the Cardinals) and WSU head coach Alex Sogard (who pitched in the Houston system).

Another pupil in the Astros organization — right-hander Cy Sneed — made his major league debut June 27.

Former Houston farmhand Trent Thornton is now in the starting rotation for Toronto.

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Batesville, Ind., native Dyar Miller served in several capacities in the St. Louis Cardinals organization from 1995-2012. (St. Louis Cardinals Photo)

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Dyar Miller, an Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer, was in pro ball for 51 years — the last few as a pitching coach in the Houston Astros system. (Houston Astros Photo)

 

Daniel brings 1980 baseball season back with lively “Phinally!”

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J. Daniel was just shy of 13 when the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series for the first time in 1980.

Even though he was in southwestern Ohio, he followed the Phils from “Mike Schmidt to Ramon Aviles.”

Growing up when he did, Daniel appreciates baseball and pop culture in the 1980’s.

He is a big fan of Dan Epstein — author of Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s — and his style.

So much so that the Brownsburg, Ind., resident decided to write a book about baseball and more in the decade he knows so well.

“I’m a total stat geek,” says Daniel, who recalls devouring the box scores in the Cincinnati Enquirer during his youth. “Everything’s interesting to me.”

With so much material, it became books — plural.

Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t (McFarland & Company) was published in 2019.

It was 1980 that gave us ….

The primetime TV drama “Dallas” and the cliffhanger summer question of “Who Shot J.R.?”

Movie-goers saw comedy in the “The Blue Brothers” and “Airplane!” and horror in “The Shining” and “Friday The 13th.”

In one scene from “The Shining,” Shelley Duvall wields a Carl Yastrzemski model Louisville Slugger.

Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was cast as the co-pilot in “Airplane!” If not for filming during the baseball season, it might have been Pete Rose.

A former weatherman — David Letterman — also read for a part but did not land one.

Roberto Duran topped “Sugar Ray” Leonard in a 15-round bout in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

Free agent Nolan Ryan became the first baseball player to sign for $1 million a season, signing with the Houston Astros.

Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was about to make his clients a lot of money.

The average minimum salary at the time was $20,000.

In the spring of ’80, they went on a mini-strike that wiped out 92 spring training games.

Elias Sports Bureau introduces Game-Winning RBI as a statistic in the spring. The first one credited in a game went to the Cincinnati Reds’ George Foster in the first inning of a 9-0 Opening Day romp against Phil Niekro and the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta would get off to a 1-9 start and owner Ted Turner (who launched CNN in 1980) benched Gary Matthews and sent Bob Horner to the minors.

It was also on Opening Day, that “Kiteman” hang-glided his way onto the field at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium.

Ken Landreaux of the Minnesota Twins enjoyed a 31-game hit streak — the longest in the American League since Dom DiMaggio’s 34 in 1949. A few seasons’s prior to Landreaux’s feat, Aqua Velva gave $1,000 per game to the hitter with the streak. But that changed in 1980. Things were worked out for Landreaux to give the money to charity.

San Diego Padres shortstop Ozzie Smith wasn’t looking for charity, but extra income. He took out a newspaper ad. He had many offers, including one from Joan Kroc, wife of Padres owner Ray Kroc, to assist her gardner. He eventually got supplemental pay from a company on Los Angeles.

There were many bench-clearing brawls and knockdown pitches in 1980.

Fergie Jenkins of the Texas Rangers joined Cy Young, Jim Bunning and Gaylord Perry as pitchers with 100 wins in both leagues.

Freddie Patek of the California Angels hit five home runs on the season and 41 for his career, but he popped three in one game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Left-hander Jerry Reuss did not begin the season in the starting rotation for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but tossed a no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants.

On his way to a 25-7 record and the AL Cy Young Award, Baltimore Orioles right-hander Steve Stone started the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium and worked three inning in just 24 pitches.

The game also featured the debut of the massive Diamond Vision video boards.

Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench passed Yogi Berra for the all-time lead in home runs by a catcher.

Houston fireballer J.R. Richard suffered a stroke.

The Chicago Cubs fired manager Preston Gomez and replaced him with Joey Amalfitano.

“Super Joe” Charbonneau became an icon for the Cleveland Indians.

A white-hot George Brett was hitting .401 on Aug. 17 and finished with a .390 average. The Kansas City Royals third baseman’s back side was likely warm during the end of the season and the postseason. He finally had to have surgery for hemorrhoids prior to Game 3 of the World Series.

Maverick owners Charlie Finley (Oakland Athletics) and Bill Veeck (Chicago White Sox) announced the sale of their teams.

The White Sox did the unusual when they used the left-handed Mike Squires as a catcher.

Montreal Expos right-hander Bill Gullickson set a rookie-record with 18 strikeouts against the Cubs.

Oakland’s Rick Langford tossed 28 complete games, including a modern-record 23 straight. The Athletics staff completed 94 starts.

Three of the four division races were not settled until the season’s final week. Kansas City rapped the AL West up early. The Philadelphia Phillies edged out Montreal in the NL East. Houston topped the Dodgers in the NL West. The Yankees bested Baltimore in the AL East.

Games 2-5 in the National League Championship Series went extra innings before the Phillies prevailed over the Astros.

New Jersey’s Army staff sergeant Craig Burns took a three-day pass and flew from Germany to see his Phils play the Royals in the first game of the World Series. With Schmidt and Tug McGraw among the heroes, Philly won its first title.

Daniel is shopping his next volume about the 1982 season. The working title is Suds Series: The Brewers, the Cardinals and the year the ’80s became the ‘80s. He is grateful to author and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis journalism professor Chris Lamb for his help and encouragement.

That era is also kept alive on social media by Daniel with his website (80sbaseball.com), Facebook (Facebook.com/80sbaseball) and Twitter (@80sbaseball) pages.

Daniel, a graduate of Talawanda High School in Oxford, Ohio, and Ohio University, is now employed in communication for IUPUI parking services. More than 20 years of his working life was spent in sports television, including four years as the producer/director of “Rays Magazine” on Fox Sports Florida.

J. and wife Sue were engaged at Clearwater’s Jack Russell Memorial Stadium, a place where he spent two seasons at official scorer for the Clearwater Phillies. The couple has two seasons — Brady (19) and Michael (16). Brady played travel baseball with the Indiana Outlaws and Indiana Hurricanes. Michael played at Brownsburg Little League.

Daniel is an assistant coach this summer for the 17U Indiana Expos with Kevin Barnhart (father of Cincinnati catcher Tucker Barnhart) as head coach and Tim Hampton as another assistant.

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J. Daniel, a Brownsburg, Ind., resident, has written Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t and has other books planned about the 1980s.

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Phinally!: The Phillies, the Royals and the 1980 Baseball Season That Almost Wasn’t by J. Daniel chronicles not only what happened on the diamond pop culture. The author resides in Brownsburg, Ind. (McFarland & Sons Image)

 

Blasko sees positive attitude as essential for athletics, life

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chadd Blasko found out as an an athlete how far a positive attitude could carry him and he’s carried that into his roles as coach, educator, husband, father and citizen.

Blasko, who recently became a baseball instructor at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center in South Bend, graduated from Mishawaka (Ind.) High School where he was a standout in basketball and baseball. He went on to pitch for Purdue University when Doug Schreiber was the Boilermakers head baseball coach.

“He’s probably one of the most influential people ever in my life,” says Blasko of Schreiber (who is now head coach at McCutcheon High School). “I heard as an immature high school kid about attitude and things like that. I didn’t understand what attitude meant until I went to Purdue and was around Coach Schreiber. He drilled attitude, attitude, attitude, attitude.

“When I coach, I carry that piece from him. A good attitude can relate to every single thing you do — how you carry yourself, how your react to people, how you come to practice. It’s the attitude you bring to the table in sports and in life.”

Blasko, who likes to use analogies in his coaching and teaching, sees attitude as the glue that keeps the pieces of the puzzle together.

“If you keep that attitude sound, it takes care of everything else,” says Blasko.

The 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher was selected in the 47th round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North-South All-Star did not sign and three seasons at Purdue and was taken in the first round (36th overall as a “sandwich” pick) in the 2002 draft by the Chicago Cubs.

Mishawaka teammate Eric Good was drafted as a pitcher in 1998 and played in the Montreal Expos organization. Purdue mates David Gassner (Toronto Blue Jays) and Andy Helmer (Cleveland Indians) were also drafted as pitchers.

Blasko wound up his professional career in the Baltimore Orioles organization in 2007.

He has had two stints as a varsity baseball assistant at Mishawaka, where he has been an assistant boys basketball coach for a decade.

“I’ve always had a passion for playing sports,” says Blasko, 38. “(Coaching) allows me to still be young and be a competitor. This allows me to still connect to it.”

Blasko is also a physical education and health teacher at MHS. Chadd and wife Samantha have two sons — Baylen (5) and Brooks (3).

When he became a father, Blasko backed off his baseball coaching duties to spend more time with his wife and sons.

“I sit back a lot of times and realize how valuable my times is with my boys,” says Blasko. “The time people put in with me, especially my dad and mom (Ed and Sandy Blasko). Those things are so important.

“It’s nice to coach kids, but it’s very important to be there for your kids as a father. Before you know it, they’re going to be 7 years old, 10 years old then they’ll be a teenager and won’t want to talk to you because they know everything.”

Blasko, who has a younger brother named Phil (who played basketball at Defiance College in Ohio and is now Mishawaka Parks & Recreation Department director), played baseball at Mishawaka for head coach Gregg Minegar and basketball for Jerome Calderone.

“(Minegar) was more laid-back,” says Blasko. “He had a mellow way of reaching a kid.”

Calderone was more demonstrative as is current Caveman head boys basketball coach Ron Heclinski.

“I remember his tough love,” says Blasko of Calderone (who is now principal at MHS). “I thanked him when I was inducted into the Mishawaka Hall of Fame.

“He was old school. He’s going to let out a bark. He’s not going to let you just go through the motions. He had passion. You have to have a passion for what you’re doing.”

Blasko appreciates how Heclinski finds a way to get though to his young athletes and their many personalities.

“I relate to him a lot,” says Blasko. “If you don’t relate to the kids, it’s hard to get to them. I’ve learned that from him.

“Sometimes you have to give that tough love and get after a kid. You have to hold him accountable.

“Some folks betray that as being too harsh. It’s about knowing that line and not crossing the line to disrespect. You’re showing them your passion. I’m trying to help you out.”

Blasko has also learned from Heclinski that some players respond to the proverbial kick in the hindquarters while other wilt when you do that.

“You should learn your players,” says Blasko. “You can’t just be a cookie-cut coach.

“There’s a common goal there it’s finding a way of how to unlock the kid’s lock.”

Blasko’s bottom line: If you’re in the classroom, on the court or on the field, if you can’t connect with that kid, it’s going to be very hard to teach them.

“I don’t care if I’m trying to teach you to have self esteem and be nice to people or how to pitch,” says Blasko. “It’s going to be very hard for me to get in your brain and for you to trust me.

“If you trust me, I’ve got you. They’ve got to know they can trust you and know what you’re about.”

In his early Performance Center sessions, Blasko has been showing young pitchers how to load up and use their whole body rather than just their arms.

He told them that if you’re going to throw a punch, you want to bring it back before you take it forward for maximum power and the same is true with pitching.

Once again, Blasko is not using a cookie-cut approach.

“They’re all different,” says Blasko. “We have a main goal, but if something works for you, I’m not going to change it all that much. I’m not going to make everybody a robot . We’re not all going to look identical.”

He wants them all to have the same foundation and be able to balance during their motion.

“You’re not stopping but you’re gathering yourself to make that powerful movement toward the plate,” says Blasko. “We want to be equal and opposite (creating a rhythmic and synchronized arm swing; extending the arms at the same tine, in the same motion, with the elbows matching up int he exact identical position and foot strike), stay on top of the ball and follow through.

“You’ve got to have a base and build your way up to get to the power position.”

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Chadd Blasko recently became a baseball instructor at the First Source Bank Performance Center in South Bend, Ind. He is a coach and teacher at Mishawaka (Ind.) High School. He played baseball at Purdue University and in the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles systems.

 

IUSB’s Buysse stresses importance of receiving to baseball catching

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Catchers catch the baseball. It is in the title of the position.

And yet Doug Buysse often sees an emphasis placed elsewhere when it comes to the player who wears the mask, chester protector and shinguards.

“A lot of people want to talk about the sexy stuff — blocking and throwing,” said Buysse, the Indiana University South Bend head baseball coach and a former Saint Joseph’s College catcher. “That part’s awesome. But far more important — the day-to-day stuff — is receiving and the true catching part.”

Buysse and IUSB junior catcher Jordan Moore gave a demonstration on catching Tuesday, March 5 for the South Bend Cubs Foundation’s Cubbies Coaches Club at Four Winds Field.

“In a game, we may have 130 pitches and Jordan may block it 10 times,” said Buysse. “He maybe throws a guy out at second three or four times. He catches the ball 130 times.

“That’s what we’re going to spend the majority of our time on. Receiving is the most-important part.”

Buysse has a simple goal for his catchers: Keep strikes strikes, turns three balls a game into strikes and balls out of the strike zone are kept there.

“If you can’t receive and keep strikes strikes, you need to go play first base,” said Buysse. “We spend more time doing this than anything else.”

The coach noted that there are umpires who call he pitch where it is caught and not where it crosses the plate.

“Nothing’s worse than watching a kid throw a really good pitch and our catchers catches it and because of the way he caught it, it’s (called) a ball,” said Buysse.

IUSB pitchers generally do not have swing-and-miss stuff.

“Our staff has got to pound the zone, work down and work ahead (in the count),” said Buysse.

That makes it important to have a catcher that can accommodate their needs and strengths.

When he is recruiting receivers, the first Buysse looks at is the player’s hips.

“Some kids are genuinely blessed with good hips,” said Buysse. “But it’s one of the things we can work on.”

Buysse has his catchers go through a position-specific daily stretching routine that takes 10 minutes or less.

“You can’t expect your catchers to use the exact same stretches that outfielders do because they’re using different muscles,” said Buysse.

The routine helps with the flexibility in the ball and socket joint and get hips used to moving in the desired direction.

The coach said catchers who are doing squats and cleans in the weight room need this daily stretching or else they will be too tight in the hips to be an effective receiver.

“Jordan’s probably going to catch 40 to 45 games for us so he’s got to keep himself really loose,” said Buysse. “The looser he is, the quicker he’s going to recover.”

Buysse noted that since the chair came along people don’t squat like they once did. He has noticed many young catchers who are not comfortable in their stance.

“One way we eliminate that is to put the left knee down (with no runners on base),” said Buysse.

Moore does this more than half the time when catching for IUSB.

Buysse said the benefits are twofold — it saves his legs and he can work a little bit lower.

“It took a long time for me to be OK with this,” said Buysse. “I’ve accepted it. It helps and he can give a lower target.”

On pitches with a lot of run, it helps having the knee out of the way with the zone opened up.

“We’re looking to give our catchers freedom to move and give our guys the best possible scenario to keep a strike a strike,” said Buysse.

Buysse went through receiving drills using tennis and plyo balls. He fed the ball to Moore, who received it with the idea of being quiet and efficient.

After listening to Tim Cossins (former minor league catching coordinator with the Florida/Miami Marlins, field coordinator with the Chicago Cubs and now major league field coordinator/catching instructor with the Baltimore Orioles) speak a few years ago at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, Buysse has been having his catchers start with their glove hand on the ground.

“We want our catchers to work up to catch the ball and stick the pitch instead of chasing it out of the zone,” said Buysse. “There’s less movement.

“For for a long time, I was a ‘drive the wheel’ guy. Now we start down and we work up.”

Buysse insists that his catcher’s head and eyes follow the ball as if a string was tied from their mask to the their middle finger.

On high pitches, the instinct for many younger guesses is for their head to go down and hand to go up.

“Now I’m guessing,” said Buysse. “It’s sounds simple and it sounds easy. But you’d be surprised how many kids don’t watch a ball all the way into their gloves.”

Buysse said the wrist — not the arm — is to be kept soft when receiving a pitch. The throwing hand should be kept out of harm’s way.

Buysse called Twitter a great resource for baseball drills. He found a reaction drill where one person stands behind the catcher and throws tennis balls off the wall which a catcher must receive with the proper technique.

Buysse said one way to build confidence for catchers is to receive balls from a pitching machine (or a coach) from shorter and short distances. One example might be 75 mph at 45 feet.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment with things and try to make them better,” said Buysse.

When it comes to throwing, Buysse said catchers should use the time when they’re playing catch to work on things like transfers and footwork for throwing to bases.

“It’s right to left, left to target and throw,” said Buysse. “When you make a bad throw, it starts with your feet.

“Catchers can do this every single day.”

At the college level, Buysse has his catchers do a lot of throwing during fall practice. During the season, he does not want too much extra throwing, considering all the times the catcher must throw the ball back to the pitcher, down to second after warm-up pitches and around the horn after strikeouts etc.

When it comes to throwing, Buysse said catchers should use the time when they’re playing catch to work on things like transfers and footwork for throwing to bases.

“It’s right to left, left to target and throw,” said Buysse. “When you make a bad throw, it starts with your feet.

“Catchers can do this every single day.”

Buysse wants his catchers to block balls to the field and not to the plate. The former keeps the ball in front of them with their momentum going into the direction they’re throwing.

He also insists that “the chin has to dig into my chest protector.”

“Protect your neck,” said Buysse.

The Cubbies Coaches Club is done meeting for the off-season but 1st Source Bank Performance Center director and South Bend Cubs travel team coach Mark Haley encourages area coaches to continue to call on the baseball community centered in South Bend if they have questions.

The Performance Center is at 525 S. Lafayette Blvd., South Bend. The phone number is 574-404-3636.

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Doug Buysse is the head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend. He was a catcher at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind.

 

Stanley wants confidence, consistency for Shenandoah Raiders baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Confidence and consistency.

They are the foundation of the baseball program Bruce Stanley has built as head coach at Shenandoah High School in Middletown, Ind.

Taking a cue from Tug McGraw and Stanley’s last college coach, Rich Maloney, the Raiders carry the motto: Ya Gotta Believe!

“I’m big on consistency. Make the routine play. Throw strikes. It’s basic things of baseball like competing and believing in yourself,” says Stanley, who enters his fifth season as head coach in 2019. The 1993 Shenandoah graduate has also also served two stints as an assistant at his alma mater. “Everything you attack in life, you gotta believe you’re going to do it and do it well.”

Shenandoah (enrollment around 450) is a member of the Mid-Eastern Conference (with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Union of Modoc and Wapahani).

MEC teams play each other one time to determine the conference champion. The Raiders joined the league in 2017-18. Stanley says plans call for conference games to be played on Tuesdays and Thursdays in 2021.

Among Shenandoah’s non-conference foes are Alexandra-Monroe, Anderson, Centerville, Frankton, Hagerstown, Jay County, Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Muncie Central, New Castle, Pendleton Heights, Richmond, Rushville and Wes-Del.

The Raiders are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Frankton, Lapel, Monroe Central, Muncie Burris and Wapahani. Shenandoah has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2006.

Stanley’s assistant coaches are Ryan Painter (varsity) and Rusty Conner (junior varsity). The Raiders normally have about 30 players in the program each spring.

Shenandoah plays home games on its campus at the Dale Green Field complex. In recent years, the facility has gotten new dugouts, a new backstop and fencing has been replaced. This spring will bring a new scoreboard.

The feeder system for the high school includes Little League and Babe Ruth program in Middletown and several travel baseball organizations, including the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Longhorns, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Premier, Indiana Prospects and Midwest Astros.

Stanley, who was chosen for the 1993 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series, was selected three times in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — 1993 by the Pittsburgh Pirates (41st round), 1996 by the Baltimore Orioles (11th round) and 1997 by the Kansas City Royals (18th round).

The right-handed pitcher says the first time he was drafted, he planned to go to college (he earned four letters at Ball State University). The second time the money wasn’t right and the third time he decided it was time to move on and start a family.

Bruce and Holly Stanley, who attended Shenandoah and Ball State together, have two children — Cy (18) and Meg (15). Cy Stanley is a freshman left-handed pitcher at Taylor University. Meg is a sophomore softball player at Shenandoah.

Other recent Raider player now in college baseball is shortstop-second baseman Max McKee (Indiana University Kokomo).

Current Shenandoah senior pitchers — left-hander Hadden Myers (Indiana Tech) and right-hander Gavin Patrick (Wabash College for baseball and football) — are also college-bound.

Pat Quinn was Ball State’s head coach when Stanley arrived in Muncie.

Stanley appreciates the way Quinn instilled work ethic and competitiveness.

“(Quinn) was a big influence,” says Stanley. “He showed me how to go about things in a professional way.

“He brought intensity to the game. It really helped me be successful.”

Stanley says Maloney was also intense and set expectations high.

“He was good at bringing about the family atmosphere,” says Stanley. “We were working for each other. He was a great mentor, leader and father figure.

“I’d have run through a wall for him repeatedly.”

Stanley has been a teacher for 20 years. He spent 14 years at South View Elementary in Muncie and is in his sixth year as a special education teacher at Shenandoah.

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Bruce Stanley (left) coached his son at Shenandoah High School in Middleton, Ind. Cy Stanley (right) now plays for Taylor University.

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Holly and Bruce Stanley both attended Shenandoah High School and Ball State University. The couple have two children — Cy and Meg. Bruce is head baseball coach and a special education teacher at Shenandoah.

 

Purdue pitching coach Cribby builds relationships with Generation Z

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Elliott Cribby has knowledge to share about throwing a baseball.

But the main reason the Redmond, Wash., native became a coach was to build relationships and have a lasting impact on young men.

“I want to help them achieve their dreams,” says Cribby, the first-year pitching coach at Purdue University. “I get more joy doing that than I ever did when I was playing.”

The former University of Washington closer has learned how to communicate with Generation Z.

“They have a lot of questions,” says Cribby, 33. “They want to know why on a lot of things.”

Teaching methods have changed since Cribby was pitching for Lake Washington High School, Columbia Basin College, Washington and the independent professional Rockford (Ill.) RiverHawks.

“It can’t be all tough love or you’ll lose them,” says Cribby. “You have to be able to communicate the way they communicate today.”

The current generation is more visual and they take in information by doing rather than listening to a long lecture.

Cribby gets players to understand concepts like mechanics, mentality and strategy by sharing videos he’s seen on social media and by letting them see what they can do with the baseball in their hand.

A presenter at the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis, Cribby emphasizes communication and scheduling, maximizing time efficiency, bullpen work, simulating a game-like environment, “turning up the heat,” setting expectations, sticking with a plan, consistency and training the arm for strength and health as he gets the Boilermakers ready for the 2019 season opener on Feb. 15 at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Cribby insists that his athletes know what they’re going to be throwing in advance and posts a weekly schedule.

He cautions high school coaches about time.

“Understand your time is precious,” says Cribby. “March to May is three months.

“You must get creative to maximize the limited hours you have to get your pitchers the work that you need.”

Cribby says pitchers need their work everyday. They can build “feel” and confidence with 15 pitches per day in practice. They should work basic locations first. Down and away is thrown most at the high school level.

“Flat grounds are the best way to get the most reps in with the limited practice hours,” says Cribby. “However, they must be intentfull! You as coaches must control that. A miss up in the zone is not OK!”

If weather dictates, game-like conditions can be simulated in the cage with a mobile mound.

“Pitchers need to have hitters in the box as much as possible when they are throwing live or in a flat ground,” says Cribby.

Coaches should make their voices heard to create pressure.

“Don’t be afraid to get vocal!,” says Cribby. “Pitchers need to practice being ‘under fire.’ These environments in practice should be difficult.”

It’s key to teach them what creates success on the mound. That’s how to pitch.

Cribby insists that coaches do not deviate from the plan.

“Stay consistent with your mission,” says Cribby.

At Purdue, pitchers do a lot of throwing.

“The arm must be conditioned to the point where it can withstand the violence of throwing explosively through each start/appearance,” says Cribby.

For about 10 weeks since November, the Boilers have been ramping up and throwing long toss to build arm strength.

“Our guys throw twice a week and get after it,” says Cribby. “We want them to get adequate rest between throwing days. The number of throws is managed.

“The goal is to throw a little father each time out.”

Cribby has seen velocity increase as players are able to increase the distance of their long toss.

After long toss come two max-effort pull down throws.

They throw it on a line as hard they can,” says Cribby.

Then comes several arm care exercises. There are explosive movements with medicine balls along with core, forearm and shoulder work.

“We want to build up the whole arm and not just the shoulder,” says Cribby.

He has been on the job since July and Purdue pitchers have been competing since the fall. The first scrimmage of the preseason phase of practice was last Sunday. Cribby expects mound roles for the season to be defined in the next 10 days or so.

“The strength of the pitching staff is we have a lot of options,” says Cribby. “1 to 16, I’m pretty comfortable with the group we have.”

Among the arms is right-handers Andrew Bohm, Trevor Cheaney, Bo Hofstra, Trent Johnson, Dalton Parker and Drew Peterson and left-handers Ryan Beard and Hayden Wynja.

Redshirt sophomore Bohm started the Big Ten Tournament championship game against Minnesota and an NCAA Regional game against Houston in 2018. Purdue went 38-21 overall and 17-6 in the Big Ten.

Junior Cheaney made 29 appearances for the ’18 Boilers. Sophomore Hofstra got into 28 games (27 in relief). Sophomore Johnson, a Crawfordsville High School graduate, started half of his 18 appearances. Junior Parker was in the bullpen for all 18 of his contests, but he could find himself starting this spring.

Freshman Peterson (Chesterton) reminds Cribby of former teammate Tim Lincecum (he played with the future big leaguer during summer ball in high school and at Washington).

But not because of stature — Peterson is 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds and Lincecum 5-11, 170.

“They’e both happy-go-lucky,” says Cribby. “When they get on the mound, they are bulldogs. Play time is over. When the outing is over, they go back to their fun-loving selves.”

When Cribby met Lincecum, the latter was about 5-5. But he made the summer team and went on to have that dominating stretch for the San Francisco Giants (he went 61-26 with a 2.80 earned run average and 977 strikeouts in 881 innings from 2008-11).

“He always had an unorthodox approach with torque from the lower hips to the upper half,” says Cribby of Lincecum. “He loads up and (the pitch is) like a bullet coming out of a gun.”

Senior Beard started 11 times in 15 games last spring. Redshirt freshman Wynja (Heritage Christian) sat out the season and got stronger. the 6-8 southpaw was drafted out of high school by the Atlanta Braves but did not sign.

Cribby notes that Purdue’s 2018 closer, Ross Learnard, threw his fastball around 82 mph but came at the batter from the left side with a “funky” slot.

Seattle lefty submariner Will Dennis led the country in ground ball ratio and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 2015. He was still in pro ball in 2018.

“(Dennis) got outs,” says Cribby. “And that’s what it’s all about.”

Cribby likes his pitchers to have clean, repeatable motions and have mastery of a fastball, breaking ball and change-up to both sides of the plate. They must also have the ability to hold runners and understand counts.

While it seems that every reliever in the bullpen throws 95 mph-plus, college pitchers can excel with the right arm angle and a change of speeds.

Pitchers should be their own best coaches.

“We can’t be with our guys when they get to professional baseball where they’ll be competing with elite talent from all over the world,” says Cribby. “They need to know their mechanics better than anybody else.

“Do you want to be taken seriously? Be consistent everyday.”

At Purdue, that means in the classroom and on the field.

Cribby uses the stock market as a metaphor with his pitchers.

“I want to invest in you,” says Cribby. “With 18- and 19-year olds, it takes time

“Success creates confidence which creates a career.”

Cribby was brought to West Lafayette by Boilermakers head coach Mark Wasikowski, who played at the University of Hawaii and Pepperdine University in California and was an assistant at Southeast Missouri State, Florida, Arizona and Oregon before taking over at Purdue prior to the 2017 season.

“Coach Wasikowski is one of the best and brightest baseball minds I’ve been around,” says Cribby, who pitched against his Arizona teams and got to know ‘Waz’ when he was coaching at Oregon. “The detail is tremendous. He sees it in different ways.”

Wasikowski learned much about baseball on the staffs of Arizona’s Andy Lopez (a American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) and Oregon’s George Horton.

Cribby, who made 36 appearances with 10 wins and 13 saves in three seasons as a righty reliever at Washington, earned a sociology degree then a masters in intercollegiate athletic leadership from the Pac-12 Conference school. His father, Ed, was a four-year letterman for the Huskies (1974-77) and retired last year after 38 years at Boeing. His mother, Pam, also retired from the Aerospace and defense manufacturer.

Done as a player and working in a Trader Joe’s, Cribby coached with Baseball Northwest and at Columbia Basin and was asked by a friend to coach the junior varsity squad at Eastside Catholic High School near Seattle.

Former Seattle Mariners slugger Jay Buhner recommended Cribby for the head coaching job at Mount Si High in Snoqualmie, Wash., 30 miles east of Seattle. The Wildcats won a Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Class 3A state championship in his first season (2011) and were successful the second year.

Cribby went to Abilene (Texas) Christian University for the one season (2013) on the coaching staff of Ken Knutson, helping to lower the Wildcats’ team ERA from 6.35 the previous year to 4.38, then returned to the Pacific Northwest and was pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Seattle University (2014-18) on a staff led by Donny Harrel. He helped lead the Redhawks to 30-plus wins in 2015, 2016 and 2018. Seattle won a program-record 37 games and the Western Athletic Conference title in 2016.

Elliott and Shannon Cribby have been married six years and have two dogs.

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Elliott Cribby, a native of Redmond, Wash., who pitched at the University of Washington, enters his first season as baseball pitching coach at Purdue University in 2019. (Purdue University Photo)