Tag Archives: Basketball

DePauw’s Callahan juggles baseball, studying for health care career

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Callahan’s future is pointed toward a career in health care.

His father (Mike Callahan) and uncle (Jim Callahan) are doctors. He has cousins who are doctors and dentists.

“That’s what I grew up with,” says Callahan, a Biochemistry major at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., where he has been on the Tiger Pride Honor Roll for his first four semesters and is a member of the Future Medical Professionals club with his sights set on medical, dental or optometry school.

But that’s not all.

Callahan is a baseball player.

During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he hit .324 (11-of-34) with two home runs, 18 runs batted in and 10 runs scored in eight games. He started all eight as the Tigers’ designated hitter, batting in the No. 3 hole. After four losses to open the campaign, NCAA Division III DePauw ended with a four-game winning streak.

After sweeping Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders at Manchester University, players were told they could not shake hands with the opposition.

“We were told, ‘you’re not going to do this today.’ We had heard talks about the virus. We knew something was up.”

The team practiced for a few days and then found out the rest of the season was canceled.

“It was definitely a tough pill to swallow,” says Callahan. “Especially for the seniors. They played their last game as a DePauw Tiger.”

Callahan has played two years in the Black and Gold.

In his freshman campaign of 2019, he hit .296 (34-of-115) with four homers and 24 RBIs while scoring 41 runs and learning lessons from Tigers head coach Blake Allen.

“He came from Vanderbilt,” says Callahan of the DePauw graduate who served two stints on the Nashville-based NCAA Division I powerhouse (2004-08, 2015-16). “He definitely knows what he’s talking about.

“He teaches us how be a good player and how to behave off the field. He stresses how important that is after college to be a good person. We have meetings where we talk about that.”

The Tigers also talk about being a good teammate, competitive and displaying mental toughness.

“You’ve got to be mentally tough to play baseball,” says Callahan. “Seven out of 10 times you’re going to fail. You have to focus on your positives.

“You may have one tough day. But there’s always tomorrow. There always’s more AB’s.”

Callahan had a memorable at-bat Tuesday, June 23.

Making a transition from outfield to first base, he’s been playing that position this summer for the Mark Walther-coached Marksmen in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. 

In the first game of a doubleheader against the Woodchucks, righty-swinger Callahan faced DePauw teammate E.J. White and socked a homer that TrackMan Baseball data says traveled 416.96 feet (the CBL’s longest hit in Week 2). 

“It went right down the left field line,” says Callahan. “I pulled it. It kind of hooked around the pole.

“I was afraid the umpire was going to wave the ball foul.”

It’s not a long commute to Grand Park. Callahan is from Zionsvillle, Ind., in nearby Boone County. 

A 2018 graduate of Zionsville Community High School, Callahan was on junior varsity as a freshmen and a roster player when the Eagles were IHSAA Class 4A state runners-up in 2016. He started in the outfield in 2017 and 2018 for head coach Jered Moore.

“He was always a great coach,” says Callahan of Moore. “Coming in as a freshmen, I was intimidated by him. Our relationship evolved and he became a friend. He supported us on the field and taught us how to behave off the field.

“He was a great role model and mentor throughout high school.”

Callahan was born in Indianapolis. His father, who now works at St. Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, did a three-year fellowship in Boston and the family landed back in Zionsville when Kyle was 7.

Organized baseball began at Zionsville Little League. Kyle was on the first Zionsville Baseball Club travel teams at 12U and 13U. 

From 14U to 18U, Callahan played for the Indiana Bulls with head coaches Mike Wade, Jeremy Honaker, Dan Held, Troy Drosche and Matt Campbell.

These days, Wade’s son Kyle plays at Purdue University. Former Bulls executive director Held is on the Indiana University coaching staff. Honaker (Martinsville), Drosche (Avon) and Campbell (Lapel) are high school head coaches.

Honaker, Callahan’s 15U Bulls coach, went from Zionsville High assistant to the Artesians and has continued to work with Callahan on his hitting in the summer.

“He’s been an awesome part of my baseball career,” says Callahan.

Last summer when a chance to play for the Chillicothe (Ohio) Paints in the Prospect League fell through, Callahan worked out with long-time friend Nick Nelson. They’ve known each other since middle school and were high school teammates and share the field at DePauw. Nelson was the Tigers’ starting center fielder in 2020.

“He’s short stocky guy,” says Callahan of Nelson. “He’s pretty jacked. He wants to do something in the health field as well, maybe Kinesiology or Physical Therapy school.”

Callahan has to balance the diamond and academics in college.

“It’s tough,” says Callahan. “There’s some hard moments when you feel swamped.

“The important thing is to manage your time wisely. You should really try to stay on top of your work so it doesn’t snowball on you all at once.

“We have great resources at DePauw with teacher assistants and tutoring hours — usually nightly.”

The Tiger Honor Roll was established by director of athletics and recreational sports Stevie Baker-Watson to recognize the top student-athletes. To get on the list, they must have semester grade-point average of 3.40 or higher.

As a D-III program, the Tigers work with coaches in the fall and then — about the end of September — coaches are not allowed to instruct players.

“We have senior- or upperclassmen-led practices,” says Callahan. “It’s important. It weeds out the guys who aren’t fully committed to making baseball a priority.

“It’s definitely a bonding experience.”

When Callahan has rare free time he sometimes works in St. Vincent’s operating rooms as a Patient Care Technician (PCT). He cleans up after a case and gets it ready for the next.

“It’s immersed me into the hospital setting,” says Callahan. “I’ve only worked one day since COVID started and there were no cases when I was there.”

While keeping his baseball skills sharp, Callahan has been studying to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) on Aug. 7. 

He’s glad he lives near a testing site because the exam is slated for 6:30 a.m.

Mike and Mollie Callahan (a former Westfield Elementary teacher) have three children. Kyle (20) has a twin sister named Grace, who is studying Journalism at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Christian (10) is baseball and basketball player heading into fourth grade.

Kyle Callahan, a graduate of Zionsville (Ind.) High School, has played two baseball seasons at DePauw University where he is a Biochemistry major. This summer he is playing for the Marksmen in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Wirthwein chronicles century of ‘Baseball in Evansville’ in new book

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Wirthwein fondly remembers when professional baseball came back to his hometown.

It was 1966 and his grandfather, attorney Wilbur Dassel, bought season tickets for the Evansville White Sox at Bosse Field

That meant that 12-year-old Kevin got to be a regular at games of the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. 

Evansville had not been a pro outpost since the Evansville Braves played their last Class B Three-I (Illinois-Iowa-Indiana) League season in 1957.

“I had been watching baseball on TV and now I was able to see a real ball game,” says Wirthwein. “I started loving baseball.”

Another way his grandfather fueled that love was by sharing The Sporting News with Kevin. After reading it cover to cover he turned it over to his grandson so he could do the same.

Two of the biggest names on the E-Sox in those years were Bill Melton and Ed Herrmann.

Melton was 21 when the corner infielder and outfielder came to Evansville in 1967 and hit nine home runs and drove in 72 runs. He made his Major League Baseball debut with Chicago in 1968 and led the American League in home runs in 1971 with 33.

Herrmann was a 19-year-old catcher in 1966 and was with Chicago briefly in 1967 before coming back to Evansville in 1967 and 1968. He stuck with the parent White Sox in 1969.

Cotton Nash, who had been a basketball All-American at the University of Kentucky and played in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warrior and ABA with the Kentucky Colonels, was played with Evansville in 1967, 1968 and 1970, belting 33 homers in the first season of the Triplets. 

As a defensive replacement for the Chicago White Sox, Nash caught the last out of Joe Horlen’s no-hitter on Sept. 10, 1967.

On Picture Day at Bosse Field, Wirthwein got to go in the field and snap shots of his diamond heroes with his little Brownie camera.

A few of those color images appear on the cover of Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing).

In a group shot, left-handed pitcher Lester Clinkscales is in the middle of the frame. His son, Sherard Clinkscales, was a standout at Purdue who was selected in the first round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals and is now athletic director at Indiana State University.

Wirthwein captures roughly the first century of Evansville baseball in a book published March 2, 2020. 

Through library files, digitized publications and the resources of the Society for American Baseball Research, he uncovered details about teams and characters going back to the Civil War, which ended in 1865.

Bosse Field, which is now the third-oldest professional baseball park in use (behind Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field) came on the scene in 1915.

Wirthwein’s book goes through the Evansville White Sox era and highlights how Triple-A baseball came to town with the Triplets in 1970. The independent Evansville Otters have inhabited Bosse Field since 1995.

Growing up, Wirthwein played youth baseball and then plenty of slow pitch softball.

He graduated from Harrison High School in 1972. He earned a journalism degree at Butler University in Indianapolis in 1976 and took job at The Brownsburg (Ind.) Guide, where he covered everything from sports to the city council and was also a photographer.

After that, he covered trap shooting for Trap & Field Magazine and had a short stint as editor at the Zionsville (Ind.) Times.

Desiring more in his paycheck, Wirthwein went back to Butler and began preparing for his next chapter. He worked toward a Masters of Business Administration (which was completed in 1991) and worked a decade at AT&T and then more than 20 years managing several departments at CNO Financial Group (formerly Conseco) before retiring in June 2019.

“I got lost for 30-plus years,” says Wirthwein, who has returned to his writing roots.

About three years before his last day at CNO he began researching his Evansville baseball book.

“I slowly assembled and had a manuscript shortly before retirement,” says Wirthwein, who is married with four daughters and resides in Fishers, Ind. 

When it came time to find someone to produce the book, he found The History Press, a division of Arcadia Publishing that specializes in regional history.

Wirthwein says Willard Library in Evansville was very helpful in the process, scanning images that wound up in the book.

It took a bit of digging to unearth the treasures from the early years. He was amazed that little had been written about the pre-Bosse Field era.

He did find details on teams like Resolutes, Blues, Brewers, Hoosiers and Blackbirds — all of which seemed to have monetary difficulties and scandals swirling around them.

“The whole 1800’s was just a mess,” says Wirthwein. “Teams were coming and going. Financial failures were everywhere.”

Jumping contracts was very commonplace in 19th century baseball. They were often not worth the paper they were written on since a player could get an offer for more money and be on the next train to that city.

To try to combat this, Evansville joined the League Alliance in 1877. It was a group of major and minor league teams assembled to protect player contracts.

It always seemed to be about money.

The 1895 Evansville Blackbirds led the Class B Southern League for much of the season. But, being nearly destitute, the club began throwing games for a sum that Wirthwein discovered to be about $1,500.

The Atlanta Crackers were supposed to be the beneficiary of the blown ballgames, but it was the Nashville Seraphs who won the pennant. Evansville finished in third — 4 1/2 games back.

Blackbirds right fielder Hercules Burnett socked four home runs in a 25-10 win against the Memphis Giants at Louisiana Street Ball Park May 28, 1895. 

In 1901, catcher Frank Roth hit 36 home runs for the Evansville River Rats of the Three-I League. 

“The Evansville paper thought that to be a world record,” says Wirthwein.

The wooden park on Louisiana, which was built in 1889 near the Evansville stockyards, was in disrepair by 1914 when it collapsed and injured 42 spectators.

Seeing an opportunity, Evansville mayor Benjamin Bosse sprang into action.

“The city had bought this big plot of land,” says Wirthwein. “(Bosse Field) was built in a matter of months. 

“He was ready.”

Unusual for its time, Bosse Field was meant to be a multi-purpose facility from the beginning and became home not only to baseball, but football games, wrestling matches and more.

Wirthstein’s book tells the story of Evansville native Sylvester Simon, who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1923 and 1924.

In the fall of 1926, he lost three fingers on his left hand and part of his palm while working in a furniture factory.

He came back to baseball using a customized grip on his bat and with a glove that was repaired using a football protector and played for the Evansville Hubs in 1927 and had pro stops with the Central League’s Fort Wayne (Ind.) Chiefs in 1928 and 1930 and played his last season with the Three-I League’s Quincy (Ill.) Indians in 1932. His bat and glove are at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Hall of Famers Edd Roush (1912-13 Yankees/River Rats), Chuck Klein (1927 Hubs), Hank Greenberg (1931 Hubs) and Warren Spahn (1941 Bees) also spent time in Evansville. Roush is from Oakland City, Ind. Klein hails from Indianapolis.

Huntingburg native Bob Coleman played three seasons in the majors and managed 35 years in the minors, including stints in Evansville.

The Limestone League came to town thanks to travel restrictions during World War II. The Detroit Tigers conducted spring training in Evansville. Indiana also hosted teams in Bloomington (Cincinnati Reds), French Lick (Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox), Lafayette (Cleveland Indians), Muncie (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Terre Haute (White Sox in 1945).

Wirthwein’s research found plenty about barnstorming black baseball teams in the early 1900’s.

In the 1920’s, the Reichert Giants represented Evansville in the Negro Southern League. The Reichert family was fanatic about baseball. Manson Reichert went on to be mayor (1943-48).

“(The Reichert Giants) played semipros when not playing league games,” says Wirthwein. “They lobbied hard to play at Bosse Field when the Class B (Hubs) were out of town, but they kept going turned down.

Games were played at the Louisiana Street park, Eagles Park or at Evansville’s all-black high school, Lincoln.

“They started playing games opposite the Hubs and outdrew them every single time. The Bosse Field people finally acquiesced.”

In the 1950’s, the Evansville Colored Braves were in the Negro Southern League and were rivals of an independent black team, the Evansville Dodgers. Games were played at Bosse Field and Lincoln High.

What about the “Global” disaster?

Evansville-based real estate tycoon Walter Dilbeck Jr. conceived of the Global Baseball League in 1966. It was to be a third major circuit to compete with the American League and National League. There would be teams all over globe, including the Tokyo Dragons from Japan, and the GBL was headquartered in Evansviile.

“It’s a pretty remarkable story,” says Wirthwein. “The guy just wouldn’t give up.”

Happy Chandler, commissioner of baseball in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was brought in as GBL commissioner. 

Hall of Famers Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter as well as Chico Carrasquel were brought in as managers.

Dilbeck did get the league up and running with six teams and games in Latin America in 1969. Spring training was held in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“It ended up in financial debacle,” says Wirthwein. “(Dilbeck) was banking on getting a television contract. When he couldn’t get that, there was no money.

“The league crashed and burned.”

While he can’t say more now, Wirthwein’s next writing project centers on basketball.

Wirthwein has accepted invitations to talk about his baseball book on Two Main Street on WNIN and Eyewitness News in Evansville and on the Grueling Truth podcast (12:00-39:00).

A baseball advertisement from 1877 that appears in Kevin Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing).
Kevin Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing) tells about River Rats slugger Frank Roth.
Evansville native Sylvester Simon played in the majors with the St. Louis Browns in 1923-24. An industrial accident in the fall of 1926 took three fingers of his left hand and part of the his palm. His pro career continued until 1932. His story is in Kevin Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing).
The Global Baseball League was an idea hatched in 1966 by Evansville real estate tycoon Walter Dilbeck Jr. It was to be a third major league and rival the American League and National League. The GBL played a few games in 1969 then collapsed. The story is in Kevin Wirthwein’s book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing).
“Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing)” was published March 2, 2002 by Evansville native Kevin Wirthwein. The two color photos on the cover were taken by Wirthwein as a boy at Photo Day at Bosse Field.
Kevin Wirthwein is the author of the book, “Baseball in Evansville: Booms, Busts and One Global Disaster” (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing). He is a graduate of Harrison High School in Evansville and earned journalism and MBA degrees from Butler University in Indianapolis. Retired from business in 2019, the Fishers, Ind., resident has returned to his writing roots.

Former two-way standout Whisler still passing along diamond wisdom

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wes Whisler was still playing when he began passing along his baseball knowledge.

During breaks from off-season training as a professional, Whisler provided lessons in the same town where he became Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville (Ind.) High School in 2001 before coming a two-way player at UCLA and pitcher in the Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins systems.

“I had extra down time,” says Whisler, now 37 and the owner of Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike Zone, 15475 Endeavor Drive, Noblesville (he founded his business in 2014, buying The Strike Zone and re-branding it). “What can i do to keep my mind sharp and give back to the younger generation? 

“At the end of my playing career, I was able to make a smooth transition to coaching and instructing, something I loved to do.”

There are three regular baseball instructors at the academy — Whisler, Travis Reboulet and Brent Miller (also with Pastime Tournaments). 

Jim Reboulet, who helps Travis coach the Indiana Nitro 18U Gold team, has conducted infield schools. 

Academy softball instructors are Kevin Schmidt, Kristen Boros and Alexandria Heygood. Schmidt coaches for the Indiana Dream travel program. Boros and Heygood played softball at Butler University.

After two years as general manager, Whisler is also in his second full year of running USAthletic Baseball Club, a travel organization he took over from long-time friend Rob Barber when the latter began focusing on The BASE Indy urban youth inititative.

USAthletic Baseball Club currently has four teams — 15U, two in 16U and 18U. 

Whisler says he looks to added other levels in the future, but is building with purpose.

With the recent lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, USAthletic players just got back together after about 10 weeks apart.

“Everybody is on a shortened time frame and under the gun,” says Whisler, who will see teams open their seasons June 14. “We’ve got to be ready to go. We pretty much jump into games.”

Whisler is always trying to provide another learning tool for his players and encouraging them to be students of the game.

Problem is the pandemic shut down live baseball in mid-March and Major League Baseball still has not started in 2020 season.

“If you’re going to play, one of the best ways is by watching,” says Whisler. “Wait, there’s no games on (TV).”

Plans call for USAthletic to play in games at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Victory Field in Indianapolis plus road trips to Louisville and St. Louis.

Whisler has about 125 private instruction clients at his academy — many are two-way players.

A lefty hitter and thrower, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Whisler was a first baseman/designated hitter as well as a pitcher through his college career and first two pro seasons.

“That’s all I knew my entire life,” says Whisler. “I said let’s see how it plays out. Essentially, they were getting two players for one.”

In three seasons at UCLA (2002-04), Whisler hit .304 with 34 home runs and 129 RBIs and also went 11-14 with a 5.00 earned run average, 172 strikeouts and 105 walks in 259 1/3 innings on the mound.

Selected in the second round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox, Whisler got to swing the bat some when not pitching and went to Chicago in the off-season to work with hitting instructors.

“The decision came down after two seasons that we’re going to make you a left-handed pitcher,” says Whisler. “That’s the way we want it. 

“At the time, the system was loaded with first baseman. (As a pitcher) I could be on the upswing and move up quicker.”

Whisler made three relief appearances with the big-team White Sox in 2009 with Ozzie Guillen as manager and Don Cooper as pitching coach and remained in pro baseball through 2013. He retired having been in Triple-A in six of 10 minor league seasons.

Whisler got his organized baseball start at Skiles Test Little League in Indy’s Lawrence Township. His seventh grade year, his family, including father Mike, mother Kristie and older brother Brandy, moved to Noblesville. 

Wes played for the Indiana Bulls from age 13-18. That last summer before college he also suited up with the Ohio’s Midland Redskins.

At Noblesville High, Whisler’s head coaches were Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dennis Kas for baseball and Dave McCollough for basketball.

“They were very in-line together with their coaching styles,” says Whisler. “They were both hard-nose and expected a lot of you. It was a work ethic they instilled.

“I may not have agreed with everything, but I can look back and say it made me a better player and a better person.”

Ohio native Gary Adams was head coach at UCLA when Whisler was with the Bruins.

“Skip was extremely genuine and a heart-felt guy,” says Whisler. “He was on the shorter side, but when he got fired up he was a pistol.”

Adams retired in 2004 after 30 seasons at UCLA. At 65, he ran five miles a day.

“He always expected and gave us his all,” says Whisler of Adams. “He got you back on track when you needed it.”

Gary Adcock was UCLA’s pitching coach for Whisler’s first two seasons.

“In high school, I was a hard thrower,” says Whisler. “He helped me learn what it was to pitch at that level.

“Facing top hitters night in and night out, it’s easy to get lost if you don’t know what you’re doing

he helped me under that process.”

In 2004, former big league pitcher Tim Leary was the Bruins pitching coach and helped Whisler get ready to make the leap into pro ball.

Vince Beringhele was UCLA’s hitting coach for all three of Whisler’s seasons. He had worked with a long list of distinguished alums, including Chase Utley, Troy Glaus, Eric Karros, Dave Roberts and Eric Valent.

One day, Beringhele called in Glaus to take batting practice with Whisler. Once he got over being starstruck, he got to pick the brain of a big league power hitter.

The summer after his first two collegiate seasons, Whisler went to the Cape Cod Baseball League to play for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. Future big leaguer Chris Carter was on the team in both 2002 and 2003. Future MLB players Michael Bourn, former Indianapolis Cathedral High School catcher Jake Fox and Jamie Vermilyea played for Y-D in 2002 and Trevor Crowe, Philip Humber, Nick Hundley, Rob Johnson, John Mayberry Jr., John Meloan, Garrett Mock and Curtis Thigpen in 2004.

Whisler looks back fondly on his summers on the Cape. 

“There was camaraderie on that team,” says Whisler. “We were very good.”

Whisler encountered a number of managers (Marc Bombard, Chris Chambliss, Chris Cron, Ken Dominguez, Nick Leyva, Joe McEwing, Max Oliveras, Rafael Santana, Joel Skinner and Julio Vinas) and pitching coaches (Britt Burns, Richard Dotson, J.R. Perdew, Sean Snedeker and Bobby Thigpen) in the White Sox minor league chain.

“They were all instrumental in helping me get to the big leagues,” says Whisler. “They are gave me a piece in helping me become a complete pitcher.”

Whisler credits Perdew for getting his mechanics back on track after a bout with shoulder tendonitis and Dotson cleaned things up even more.

Wes and Warsaw, Ind., native Kara have four children — 5-year-old triplet girls Gwynn, Molly and Vivyan and 3-year-old boy Guy.

The Whisler family (from left): Front row — Guy, Molly, Gwynn and Vivyan; Back row — Wes and Kara. Wes Whisler is the owner of Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike in Noblesville, Ind., and runs USAthletic travel teams. He was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville High School and played at UCLA and in the Chicago White Sox system, making the majors in 2009.

Kara and Wes Whisler are the parents of Gwynn, Molly, Vivyan and Guy. Wes owns Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike Zone in Noblesville, Ind. He was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville Noblesville, Ind., and runs USAthletic travel teams. He was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville High School and played at UCLA and in the Chicago White Sox system, making the majors in 2009.
Wes Whisler, a graduate of Noblesville (Ind.) High School who played at UCLA, made it to the majors with the Chicago White Sox in 2009. In 2014 he established Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike Zone in Noblesville. He also runs the USAthletic travel baseball organization.

Former McCutcheon, Purdue hurler Wittgren finds his groove in Cleveland bullpen

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A change of baseball addresses meant a change in change-up approach for Nick Wittgren.

The 6-foot-3 right-handed reliever was traded from the Miami Marlins to the Cleveland Indians in February 2019.

The Tribe made a request of the former Purdue University closer and three-sport standout at McCutcheon High School — also in West Lafayette, Ind.

“When I got to Cleveland they told me my change-up plays pretty well and to throw it more to right-handers than I did in the past,” says Wittgren, who recorded a career-high 12 holds in 55 appearances and 57 2/3 relief innings. His 2.81 earned run average was 19th-lowest among American League relievers. “Roberto Perez was behind the plate and loved calling it.

“I almost felt like I threw my change-up more than I did my slider.”

Close.

According to Statcast data, Wittgren’s pitch arsenal included four pitches in 2019. He threw his four-seamer 66.4 percent of the time, slider 18.8, change-up 14.7 and curve 0.1.

“I was in my groove last year,” says Wittgren, who turns 29 on May 29. “I had my head where I needed it.”

With Miami in 2018, Statcast actually has Wittgren with a higher percentage of change-ups (15.7) as compared to sliders (12.8). Besides the four-seamer (62.7), there was also the sinker (7.5) and cutter (1.3).

With all the movement, Wittgren refers to his pitch repertoire as fastball, change-up and breaking ball.

Wittgren pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle. He throws across his body with his glove flaring out and whips around to deliver the baseball.

“I don’t know when I started,” says Wittgren of his mechanics. “In college I did it. It just works for me. I get the most force toward home. It’s really tough to pick up the baseball.

“To a righty I’m started with my arm behind them. It works in my favor.”

Wittgren favors sliders and four-seamers in on the hands with change-ups down and away.

“I started manipulated that pitch a little more last year,” says Wittgren of the change-up.

Indians pitching coach Carl Willis, assistant pitching coach Ruben Niebla and bullpen coach Brian Sweeney will often remind Wittgren to use that pitch.

With Cleveland, he occasionally got a chance to deliver that pitch and others to a familiar target.

Kevin Plawecki, a college teammate, was a back-up catcher with the Indians in 2019 (the Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox in January).

“It was kind of cool taking it back to the good old Purdue says,” says Wittgren. “We still clicked.

“I didn’t have the change-up in college. I didn’t need it.”

Wittgren played shortstop and pitched at McCutcheon for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

As a Mavericks senior, Wittgren was an MVP in tennis in the fall and earned the same recognition for basketball in the winter.

Following brother Kyle’s lead, Nick took up tennis as a freshman.

“It was a good way to stay active for basketball and baseball,” says Wittgren. “It helped with footwork and conditioning and hand-eye (coordination).”

Rick Peckinpaugh was Wittgren’s head basketball coach.

“(Peckinpaugh) brought the most energy and talent out in you,” says Wittgren. “We had a group that played together really well. He was there for every single person, trying to get us better.

“It was a pleasure and a joy playing for him.”

With no college baseball offers coming in, he was thinking about bypassing his senior year on the diamond and focusing on basketball.

“I was just looking for a way to pay for college,” says Wittgren. “I was not looking at the whole picture.”

Wittgren had his sights on teaching math and coaching — either at the high school or college level.

“My mom (Lisa) is a (fourth grade) teacher,” says Wittgren. “I love kids. I love numbers.”

Burton let Wittgren know that he had baseball potential past high school.

He said, ‘you have something special, don’t waste it,’” says Wittgren of Burton’s advice.

Besides that, Burton emphasized that Wittgren was part of a large senior class and he owed it to the guys he’d been playing with since sixth grade to finish high school strong (born in Torrance, Calif., and raised in Long Beach and Cypress, Nick moved to Indiana as a sixth grader; father Andy lives in San Juan Capistrano; Nick’s other brother is Jack).

“If Jake didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here,” says Wittgren. “He saw something in me.”

A few days ago, the player and his former coach connected via FaceTime and Burton got to see Nick and Ashley Wittgren’s 14-month old son Jackson.

At McCutcheon, shortstop/pitcher Wittgren’s velocity topped out around 85 mph for most of the his senior season.

“I never took reps off in high school,” says Wittgren. “I need to do this to get better.”

His arm was tired from the workload.

With a few days off prior to sectional, Wittgren was touching 90.

Wittgren pitched in the Colt World Series in Lafayette and was scouted by McCutcheon graduate Matt Kennedy, then head coach at Parkland College. He got Wittgren to come to the junior college power in Champaign, Ill.

Seeing that the Cobras were in need of a Sunday starter, Wittgren pitched an idea to Kennedy.

He wanted to only pitch.

Wittgren recalls the response of the man he calls “KY.”

“He said that might be one of the best decisions you ever make,” says Wittgren a decade later. “I brought you in as a pitcher. I wanted you to figure it out.”

The lanky right-hander went 10-0 with 54 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings for a Parkland that placed fifth in the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.

In the fall of his sophomore year at Purdue, Wittgren had an ulnar nerve transfer.

Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber wanted him to be the team’s closer in the spring of 2011.

“Whatever puts me out on that field is what I want to do,” says Wittgren, who finished 24 games and appeared in 29 with a Big Ten Conference-leading 12 saves to go with 55 strikeouts in 51 innings.

Schreiber (who later was head coach at McCutcheon and is now head coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) and assistants Ryan Sawyers and Tristan McIntyre (now head coach at McCutcheon) implored him to “trust your stuff and pound the strike zone.”

“They got me to throw certain pitches in certain counts,” says Wittgren.

He could change the batter’s eye level with fastballs up and sliders down. If he  pitched up and in, hitters would not be able to extend their arms.

Wittgren was named second-team all-conference and then went to play for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks that summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Schreiber asked Wittgren to be a closer again in 2012.

He pitched in 26 games, finishing off 25 and racked up 10 saves, setting a new Purdue all-time high with 22. He fanned 39 batters in 41 innings and was named third-team all-Big Ten. His two-year earned run average for the Boilers was 2.54.

Wittgren selected in the ninth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Marlins and made his major league debut for Miami in 2016.

On the Cape is where Wittgren first met Ashley Crosby. She was part of the media department for the elite summer circuit.

A few years later, strength trainer Ashley did an internship with Cressy Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and she began dating Nick, who was training in south Florida with the Marlins. The relationship blossomed. The married couple now lives near Miami.

During the COVID-19 quarantine, Wittgren works out in his garage gym.

“It’s a full set-up,” says Wittgren. “There’s anything you need.

Eric (Cressy) writes my program. My wife implements them.”

Ashley Wittgren has wealth of knowledge with an MS (Master of Science) degree and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Precision Nutrition (Pn1) and TPI accreditations. She is there to help her husband correctly perform the movements and get the most out of them.

“She could apply for a big league strength job if she wanted,” says Nick of his wife. “She walks and talks me through a lift so I can get as strong as I possibly can.”

During quarantine, Wittgren throws into a backyard net. On bullpen days, he throws to catchers living in the area brought together by CSP.

During the off-season, Wittgren long tosses. But as the season approaches, he gets dialed in to pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches.

“I want my release point during the season to stay the same on everything,” says Wittgren. “I keep it on a line the whole entire time and hit (the catcher’s) knees every single time.”

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Nick Wittgren, a McCutcheon High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University, is now a reliever for the Cleveland Indians. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 2016 with the Miami Marlins. (Cleveland Indians Photo)

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Nick Wittgren, who played at McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, delivers the baseball for the Cleveland Indians. He excelled as a set-up reliever for the Tribe in 2019. (MLB Photo)

 

Lasher brought in to help with Oakland City transition

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Oakland City (Ind.) University is making a transition from NCAA Division I to NAIA and the Mighty Oaks baseball program has also changed its leadership.

Andy Lasher, who played at Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., Olney (Ill.) Central College and the University of Evansville and coached at Olney, the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville and for the Dubois County Bombers in Huntingburg, Ind., has been hired as OCU head coach.

T-Ray Fletcher, who was Oakland City head coach for 26 seasons, is still the school’s athletic director.

Since taking the job a few weeks ago, Lasher been concentrating on building up his roster.

“I’ve been doing a lot of recruiting though there are no games to watch,” says Lasher, referring to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic which has live baseball shut down at the moment. “There’s been a lot of calls and text messages.”

Lasher, who is tapping into his network of contacts, says he would like to have 35 players in the fall and 40 to 45 in the future so the Mighty Oaks can add a junior varsity program.

In moving from NCAA D-II to NAIA, Oakland City also goes from an independent to a member of the River States Conference, a circuit that also features baseball-playing schools Indiana University Kokomo and Indiana University Southeast.

That takes care of half the schedule. Lasher has the opportunity to fill in the rest of the games, choosing ones that are feasible and keeps players from missing too many classes.

It’s Lasher’s intent to schedule some contests in the fall.

Lasher’s assistants are Jacob Bedwell and Austen Bullington. Washington (Ind.) High School graduate Bedwell was on the OCU team last year. Castle grad Bullington played at Wabash Valley College and the University of Tennessee-Martin.

Lasher was hired by Southern Indiana  last summer and spent much of his time assisting Screaming Eagles head coach Tracy Achuleta with hitters and position players.

“I also kept track of academic progress and a lot of little things that don’t happen on the baseball field,” says Lasher. “That’s a much bigger percentage of the job than people realize.

“At the college level, it’s a lot more than the bats and balls. It’s a full-time job for a reason.

“(Archuleta) is one of my favorite people. He’s alot of fun to be around and a really good baseball mind. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Lasher performed many of the same duties during the 2019 season as an assistant on Jason Anderson’s coaching staff at Eastern Illinois University.

He was an assistant to Dennis Conley at Olney Central from the 2014 season until the fall of 2018.

“It was a really good experience I wouldn’t trade for the world,” says Lasher, who helped the Blue Knights win 173 games in five seasons.

An outfielder, Lasher played two seasons at Olney (2010 and 2011) for Conley and two at Evansville (2012 and 2013) for Wes Carroll.

Going to Castle, Lasher had heard all about alums Wes and brother Jamey Carroll (who played in the big leagues).

“(Wes Carroll) was a real good player’s coach,” says Lasher. “We had some good teams.”

The Purple Aces won 56 games in Lasher’s two seasons at UE. He played with five players — left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland (Colorado Rockies), lefty-swinging outfielder Kevin Kaczmarski (New York Mets), righty-batting Eric Stamets (Rockies), righty pitcher Kyle Lloyd (San Diego Padres) and lefty hurler Phillip Diehl (Rockies) — who eventually made it to the majors.

For five summers, Lasher was with the Bombers — 2014 as an assistant coach and 2015-18 as manager.

He got to guide many talented players, including New Mexico State University’s Daniel Johnson in 2015, USI’s Logan Brown in 2016 and NMSU’s Nick Gonzales in 2018.

Lefty-hitting outfielder Johnson is now on the Cleveland Indians’ 40-man roster.

Brown is a catcher in the Atlanta Braves organization.

Lasher calls shortstop Gonzales, who was the 2019 NCAA Division I batting champion, the best player he’s ever coached and expects him to be taken about the top picks in the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

The atmosphere created by Dubois County ownership and fans at League Stadium made Lasher’s time with the Bombers very enjoyable.

“It’s a great place to watch a game,” says Lasher. “It’s a shame they’re not getting to do it this summer (due to COVID-19 causing cancelation of the Ohio Valley League season).”

Lasher graduated in 2009 from Castle, where he played for Curt Welch.

“He was very intense,” says Lasher of Welch, who has also been an assistant wrestling coach for the Knights. “We were probably in better shape physically as any team in the country.”

There was plenty of running and ab workouts.

“It was worth it,” says Welch. “No doubt about it. It got guys ready for the college stuff. You have to be mentally tough and physically in shape in college or you just aren’t going to make it.”

Besides head baseball coach, Lasher is also in charge of maintaining Oakland City athletic fields and is gameday coordinator for any on-campus sporting events. The Mighty Oaks sponsor teams in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer and tennis for men and women and softball and volleyball for women.

Lasher and girlfriend, former Orleans (Ind.) High School, Olney Central and Brescia University basketball player Shelbi Samsil, recently moved to the north side of Indianapolis to be closer to Oakland City.

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Andy Lasher is the new head baseball coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University. He is a graduate of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., and played at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the University of Evansville. He has coached at Olney, Eastern Illinois University, the University of Southern Indiana and with the summer collegiate Dubois County Bombers. (Oakland City University Photo)

 

Grove appreciates how Churubusco values baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Grove retired as head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School in 2015.

But that hasn’t stopped him from being a regular around “Turtle Town” diamonds.

Grove has helped out with the high school program, now led by 2011 graduate Jordan Turner, and has crossed Churubusco Community Park to watch youth league games.

“Baseball’s important in Churubusco,” says Grove. “It really is.

Grove, a graduate of Bluffton (Ind.) High School and Ball State University (1977), started coaching baseball at Churubusco in 1980 as an assistant to Jerry Lange (who was head football coach at the school 1985-91) and took over the Eagles in 1985. He went on to earn 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. Churubusco won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (reigning four times in the NECC tournament) on his watch and two Allen County Athletic Conference titles.

Grove produced 25 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state selections and six players selected for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series — Devin Peters (2015), Bryan Brudi (2008), Brad Vaught (2007), Brad Dell (2003), Todd Fleetwood (1997) and Travis Rehrer (1995). Grove was an assistant to North head coach Erik Hisner during the 2015 series.

Peters went on to play for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national champions at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College (2017) and participate in the NCAA Division II World Series with Ashland (Ohio) University (2019).

Right-handed pitcher Fred Ransom Jones, a 2004 Churubusco graduate, was selected in the 33rd round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees out of the University of Evansville.

Grove’s 1995 squad lost 7-1 to eventual single-class state runner-up Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Massucci, in the championship game of the Concordia Semistate. Bill Sharpe was the plate umpire in the title games of the Warsaw Sectional, Plymouth Regional, Concordia Semistate and State Finals in ’95.

The ’Busco battery of right-hander Rehrer and catcher Shawn Targgart wound up playing for Richard “Itchy” Jones at the University of Illinois.

Right-hander Brent Gaff represented Churubusco in the majors. He was chosen in the sixth round of the 1977 MLB Draft by the New York Mets and spent parts of 1982-84 with the big club.

“A small town kid from Churubusco can make it to the bigs,” says Grove. “This town is proud of the product they turn out on the baseball field.”

Whether or not an Eagles’ season included any postseason accolades, Grove got a kick out of fitting the pieces of the puzzle together.

“I enjoyed the whole preseason part and working out in the gym,” says Grove. “I moved kids around so we could be the most competitive we could be.”

After games, Grove went home and studied charts to see how to pitch to returning players for the next opponent.

“That was a lot of fun,” says Grove.

He also appreciated the rapport with his players and the camaraderie with his assistant coaches.

“I’ve got to see (players) grow up and become fathers,” says Grove. “You’re only going to be as good as your assistants.”

Business teacher Terry McManama was hired at Churubusco at the same time as Industrial Technology teacher Grove and coached volleyball and softball before he was lured to the baseball staff, where he served for more than two decades.

Math teacher Monte Gerig, who was Eagles head coach from 1973-77, and Chemistry teacher Jim Folland (a former Fort Wayne Elmhurst head baseball coach) were also Grove assistants. When Trent Gerig (Class of 1996), was a player, his father was lured back to coaching baseball.

Coaches in the Churubusco athletic department knew that they needed to share athletes in order for their teams to be competitive so multi-sport athletes were the norm.

“Everybody worked together,” says Grove. “We kept our kids active. We were there for the kids.

“The more sports they play, the more it makes them a rounded athlete. They tend to stay away from injuries because they don’t use the same muscles over and over again until something gives.”

Grove, McManama and Gerig can often be seen together on the golf course.

To stay close to football, Grove and McManama walk the sidelines and keep statistics for Churubusco football, which is now led by Paul Sade.

A former defensive coordinator, Grove was an Eagles assistant from 1979-99. He coached football at Lake State Edison briefly before coming to Whitley County.

Grove is still active with the IHSBCA, helping with registration at the State Clinic each January and assisting with the Class 2A poll. He was a district representative for many years and has served on the North/South All-Stars Series committee and was co-chair of the Baseball Strikes Out Cancer project with former executive director Bill Jones. The campaign raised more than $25,000 for the American Cancer Society.

“The most satisfying committee I ever worked on with the IHSBCA,” says Grove.

He is grateful for the impact of mentors like Hall of Famers Jones (who coached at DeKalb), Masucci, Don Sherman (Huntington North), Chris Stavreti (Fort Wayne Northrop) and Bill Nixon (Plymouth).

“I was skinny young coach,” says Grove. “I really looked up to those guys. The smartest thing I’ve ever done is that I kept my mouth shut and learned from them.”

At Bluffton, Grove was an outfielder and right-hander pitcher. Fred Murray was the Tigers head coach.

As a thank you to Murray, some member of the Class of 72, including Mike Pettibone, Bruce Hirschy and Jeff Penrod, initiated a reunion a couple of summers ago. Playing on old Wilson Field, Bluffton won its own sectional in 1972.

“Bluffton was a great place to grow up,” says Grove. “there was something going on for kids all the time.”

A summer recreation program provided chances to learn about baseball, swimming, tennis and more.

Denise Milholland, who went to another Wells County high school — Norwell — was introduced to Grove by Jim Watson and they later wed. Eric Milholland, brother of Denise, played in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Mark and Denise Grove have two married daughters and two grandsons — Jennifer, who works for Child Protective Services, and Derek Hupfer with Payton (9) and Brittany, an occupational therapy assistant, and Brennon Moughler with Evan (11).

Jennifer played volleyball, a little basketball and softball at Churubusco then softball at Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.). Brittany played volleyball, a little basketball and tennis for the Eagles. The Hupfers reside in Bluffton and the Moughlers near Butler, Ind.

One of Grove’s hobbies is collecting antique tools and tool boxes and fixing them up. One Christmas, he gave a tool box to each grandson and then let them and their fathers take turns picking out tools.

In January 2020, Grove received a call from Steve Warden on behalf of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association. Grove was selected for induction into the NEIA Hall of Fame with the banquet moved from the spring to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18 at Classic Cafe Catering & Event Center, 4832 Hillegas Road, Fort Wayne, because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

“That was a happy day at the Grove house,” says Grove, who was on the IHSBCA Hall of Fame ballot in 2020. “It validates the kind of program we had here at Churubusco.

“We had a lot of support from the administration and community. You don’t win without that.”

The NEIBA will also induct Northrop head coach Matt Brumbaugh and World Baseball Academy Chief Executive Officer Caleb Kimmel and present awards to Tom Knox and Tom Clements. Tickets are $25 each. Mail payment and the number of attendees to NEIBA, P.O. Box 12733, Fort Wayne, IN 46864.

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Mark Grove was head baseball coach at Churubusco (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School from 1985-2015 and earned 513 victories, nine sectional titles, four regional crowns and a semistate runner-up finish in 1995. He is to be inducted into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Fame Oct. 18.

 

Indiana Tech’s Alwine gains new perspective on coaching

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana Tech’s 2019 season ended in Lewiston, Idaho, at the NAIA World Series. The Warriors went 42-16-1.

Tech concluded play in 2020 much sooner than planned because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

With a win against Viterbo March 11 in Georgia, the Warriors finished at 11-5.

Since then, the Tech team and coaching staff have been moving forward while social distancing.

“Everybody’s numb to how it happened,” says second-year assistant coach Brent Alwine of how the season was rolling and then came to a screeching halt. “We’ve got (players) doing workouts. We’re hoping a lot of guys get to play this summer.

“So much is unknown.”

What is known for Alwine is that he is not the same coach at 36 and married with three sons and with many different diamond experiences behind him than he was at 23 and just out of college.

“I used to think there was only one way to teach,” says Alwine, who works with infielders and hitters. “You learn to adapt to the personnel you have rather than philosophy that’s cut and dried.”

It has also become relational vs. transactional. It’s a point that has become clearer since Brent and Brandi Alwine, a physician’s assistant for Parkview Health in Fort Wayne, have had Beckett (7), Bode (5) and Brooks (8 months). All three have baseball ties to their names.

There are four reasons for Beckett — the sports card magazine, the ballplayer (Josh Beckett), the brand of boilers his father, Jim, sells, and the town in Massachusetts where he worked at a camp with former Indiana University head baseball coach Bob Morgan. The boy’s full name is Beckett Steven James Alwine. Brandi’s father Steve passed away in 2001. The other middle name to to honor Brent’s father, who has coached high school baseball at North Miami and Peru.

Bode’s middle name is Maddux as an homage for Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.

Brooks is a nod to former Western Michigan University catcher Brooks Beilke.

“I’m coaching someone’s kids,” says Alwine. “I want to win. But I would rather win and 10 years down the line have a relationship with the players I coached.”

Alwine joined head coach Kip McWilliams in Fort Wayne, Ind., having been an assistant to Billy Gernon at Western Michigan (2011 and 2012), Ed Servais at Creighton University (2009 and 2010) and Gernon at alma mater Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (2007 and 2008). He holds a bachelor’s degree from IPFW (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and a master’s degree from Indiana University.

He was head coach at Perry (Mich.) High School (2013) and a director for Prep Baseball Michigan and has coached with the Summit City Sluggers, leading 12U, 13U and then 17U travel teams and served as an associate scout for the Texas Rangers.

“You learn a lot when you coach younger kids,” says Alwine. “You have to really explain things and get them to buy into it.”

An attribute that Alwine appreciates about McWilliams is that he values the opinions of his assistants.

“He lets his assistant coach,” says Alwine. “He doesn’t micro-manage and he looks for our input.

“I trust him. In today’s world, it’s hard to trust everybody.”

Alwine has a few points of emphasis with his infielders.

“I want them to be athletic and take good angles to the baseball,” says Alwine. “It starts with our throwing program. Throwing and catching is the main thing in baseball.”

He makes it a point to observe when his fielders are playing catch to see that they are getting their footwork right and taking it seriously.

“When the pressure’s on, a good throw is going to win you a game,” says Alwine, who has his infielders practicing double players during between-innings warm-ups.

Alwine observes how organized McWilliams is, something that is vital when you carry a roster of more than 60 players — varsity and developmental.

“You have to be organized to get everybody involved,” says Alwine. “Year 2 helped me see that a little better than Year 1.”

The Warriors make a point of hustling all the time — even the coaching staff runs on the field.

“That’s the way it should be,” says Alwine. “(On game day), it sets a tone for your own team and the team you’re getting ready to play.

“These guys are here for business.”

Alwine says having the season stopped is likely to make the players more appreciative of the opportunity to play when fall camp rolls around.

“Fall can be a tough time to motivate because there’s nothing on the line,” says Alwine. “(Players) should be excited. They had baseball taken away from them.”

Alwine says 10 of 14 seniors this spring have opted to come back for an extra year of eligibility granted by the NAIA.

With the Indiana Tech campus closed to all but essential workers, students have been finishing their spring term online.

“It’s new to a lot of these professors, too,” says Alwine. “Everybody’s going through the same thing. It’s brought a sense of community back.”

To stay connected the to the baseball community,  Alwine says Tech coaches have regular Zoom meetings. These have been done by class and within the staff, which also includes Gordon Turner, Miguel Tucker and Marshall Oetting, and will also include positions, incoming freshmen and transfers.

Alwine was born in Peru, Ind., and grew up in Mexico, Ind. He played soccer, a little basketball and baseball North Miami Middle/High School. John Burrus was the head coach for basketball and baseball. Alwine was a shortstop on the diamond.

At IPFW, he played second base for Gernon.

“He does things the right way,” says Alwine of Gernon. “He demands a lot of his players. He care for his players, too.”

Alwine went to Creighton to be a volunteer coach. Within a month of arriving in Omaha, Neb., a paid assistant position opened up and he took it. There, he was in charge of outfielders and catchers.

“It made me a better coach,” says Alwine. “I had to learn those positions in detail to make players better.”

Servais displayed an attention to detail and stressed the fundamentals.

“That’s why Creighton — year in and year out — leads the country defensively.”

Servais, the uncle of former big league catcher Scott Servais, did not get too high or too low.

“He’s very level-headed,” says Alwine. “He thinks forward — next player, next pitch, next at-bat.”

The Bluejays skipper has been rewarded with 745 career victories.

More than 20 players that have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including two at Creighton that made it to the majors — San Franciso Giants first baseman Darin Ruf and Baltimore Orioles left-handed pitcher Ty Blach.

Alwine coached infielders and hitters at Western Michigan. He was in the fall of his second year with the Broncos when he got into a very bad car accident on I-94 near Kalamazoo, Mich.

He was put into an induced coma with a traumatic brain injury. After a couple weeks at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, he was transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich. After about three weeks, he regained consciousness.

Among the first requests he had was for a second opinion on the plastic surgeon.

“I am very, very fortunate to be alive,” says Alwine. “God was looking out for me that day. The biggest thing is the amount of people who prayed for me.

“I had very positive people around me who supported me and got me through it. I get to coach baseball and see my kids grow up.”

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Brent Alwine (left) observes players during Indiana Tech’s 2019 NAIA World Series appearance. It was Alwine’s first season on the Warriors baseball coaching staff. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Brent Alwine (center) is in his second season as an assistant baseball coach at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2020. He is a graduate of North Miami High School and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. (Indiana Tech Photo)

 

Mumma uses Baseball Utility Travel to develop players, humans

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brad Mumma learned decades ago he wanted to help others.

“I was touched as a teenager,” says Mumma, who turned 39 on April 1. “It changed me. It humbled me.”

He had the opportunity to help feed and clothe others — in some cases classmates — living in his community.

Mumma (pronounced MOO-muh) still looks back on his days with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes group at LaPorte (Ind.) High School and remembers that feeling.

Dave Krider and wife Lois led the FCA chapter and helped plant that compassion in Mumma, who earned 11 athletic letters for the LaPorte Slicers (three in football and four each in basketball and baseball), where he graduated in 1999.

“My coaches were fantastic role models and leaders for me,” says Mumma.

After playing for Bob Schellinger on the gridiron, Joe Otis on the hardwood and Ken Schreiber and Scott Upp on the diamond, the Slicer lefty went on to play baseball at Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., and Western Michigan University, where he met his future wife Rose (the Mummas now reside in the Detroit Metro town of Fraser, Mich., with their four children — Madelyn, 8, Bradley Jr., 7 Ellie, 3, and Max, 1).

Mumma was drafted as a left-handed pitcher in the 32nd round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.

He was in the Blue Jays system through 2006 then spent three seasons in independent professional baseball with the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, Schaumburg (Ill.) Flyers and Joliet (Ill.) JackHammers.

Before his playing days ended, he began teaching lessons through his Mumma Baseball Academy.

He found himself being a sounding board for the parents of his clients. They were telling him about their son’s travel ball experience — some of it was negative.

When the opportunity came for Mumma to expand his reach, he wanted to accentuate the positive.

Adam Rosales, a Western Michigan teammate who made it to the majors by playing multiple positions (mostly in the infield), started an online training business called Baseball Utility. Rosales is now a coach in the Oakland Athletics organization.

When Mumma decided to get into the world of travel baseball and to cross-promote, he decided to call his group Baseball Utility Travel.

“I found some like-minded people,” says Mumma. “We can do this without some undesirable things about travel ball.

“Parents can really put a lot of pressure on their own kids.”

It’s about player development and human development.

Something as seemingly innocent as “Come on, Johnny, throw strikes!” can be a negative cue or phrase.

“Studies show that players don’t want you to say these things,” says Mumma. “We’re trying to help guide (parents) on what is proper to say.

“A clap is sometimes better than saying something.”

Baseball Utility Travel’s mission statement: “Development. Our mission statement could end right there. We are about developing your child into the best player he can possibly be at the age and skill level he is currently at. Striving for that on a year to year basis you will see the growth of your child both on the field and off the field. Nothing, including winning will ever trump the development of your child, period. All of this being done in a positive environment that promotes maximum growth.”

Mumma has crafted a comprehensive Code of Conduct for both players and parents and has them sign a copy.

In part, that code states that players are expected to be on time (which means being ready to go 15 minutes before any activity). If they are going to be late, they are expected to call or text their coach.

Another expectation: Spikes on, uniform on, belt on, hat straight, Shirt tucked in, pants not sagging.

“You can rock your hat backward at the mall, I do myself, but on the field it’ll be straight with no hair showing out the front,” says Mumma. “Take pride in how you look.”

Mumma notes that umpires are going to miss calls and players should get used to it. If you show-up an umpire on the field they will promptly be taken out.

“I don’t care if he blew the easiest call ever, we will play with class,” says Mumma. “When you fail, which you will, act like you’ve played the game before and you understand that failure is a big part of this game.

“If you decide to put on a show after you strike out or make an error a replacement will be sent in without hesitation. The same will take place if you hit a pop up and don’t run it out as hard as you can. We will sprint on and off the field as if we were running from the cops.”

Another lesson to be learned is responsibility. So players are expected to carry their own bag, bring their own drinks and equipment.

“Control the things you can control and this will be a great experience,” says Mumma. “Things players can control: Attitude, effort, preparation, hard work and dedication. Things they can’t: Umps, crappy fields, crappy weather, umps, umps, where you hit in the lineup, and much more. And umps.”

As for parents, they are expected to get their player to practice and games on time and communicate with the coach if they are going to be late.

Mumma also tells parents how to deal with game officials.

“Umpires won’t be great so please understand that,” says Mumma. “It is not your job to communicate with them, you will directly affect your son and our team if you take that matter into your own hands. We’re teaching our coaches how handle them with class, and how to get on them when necessary.”

There is a policy where parents can ask a manager or coach about playing time or the place in the batting order 24 hours after a competition. But they must be ready to hear something they might not want to hear.

Parents are asked to cheer and avoid negative cues. They are to stay away from the dugout unless it is absolutely necessary. They are not to approach a coach in the dugout, after a game or in the parking lot.

“Please wait until the next day to handle your issue,” says Mumma. “After games please tell your kids that you are proud of them and you enjoyed watching them play. Baseball will suck the life out of a growing child because it is a game of failure.

“They do not need to get into the car after the game and hear how they went 0-4 and made two errors. Our coaches will handle that part of it and very rarely will it be in the heat of competition or after. We will take care of those types of conversations in practice and training sessions, the correct avenue for learning.”

There are now about 150 players on 12 teams ages 9U to 18U that train and play based out of a facility shared with the Detroit Diamond Jaxx in Warren, Mich., a northern suburb of Detroit.

High school players participate in six tournaments during the summer, finishing by Aug. 1. The younger kids play in eight and are done by July 1.

“Kids need to be kids and have a summer,” says Mumma. “Rest time — physically and mentally — is important for them.”

The season generally begins when the weather breaks in April.

Baseball Utility Travel has won some trophies. But that’s not the important thing.

“It’s not a prestige thing for us,” says Mumma. “Our ratio of practice to games is 2:1.

“(Beginning in late October), we have 70-80 training sessions and 35-40 games.”

Mumma is one of the lead instructors on a staff of 17 — all being former college or professional players.

“We have no parent coaches,” says Mumma. “All our guys coach all the teams in the winter. We train in big groups.

“All of our coaches) has something to offer.”

Joe Small, a former assistant at Macomb Community College, has come aboard to coordinate defensive concepts and do administrative work.

When Mumma was with the Blue Jays, minor leaguers participated in Baseball 101 class room sessions.

That’s when Mumma realized how much could be taught about the game on a chalk board and has brought that to Baseball Utility Travel.

“In these non-competitive situations, kids learn so much better,” says Mumma. On the field — with so many other players and coaches around — some might have a tendency to “clam up.”

To get messages across to his players, Mumma and his staff have brought in many guest speakers — players, coaches, sports psychologists, nutritionists and more.

On Monday, April 13, more than 100 participated in a Zoom video conference featuring former big league pitchers Zach Jackson and David Purcey, inventor of the Towel Trainer.

While the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has players and coaches physically apart, Mumma wants his players to be ready when baseball resumes.

“We give them things to do at home,” says Mumma. “Throwing the ball is the best way to get your arm feeling good again. Your body wants the consistency of work.

“Make sure you’re throwing.”

Not just about balls and bats, Baseball Utility Travel is also a charitable organization. Mumma says the group annually spends $25,000 to $30,000 in the community. This is done through such deeds as delivering Thanksgiving meals, Christmas gifts or paying the rent for families who lost their home in a fire.

“I always wanted to do that,” says Mumma. “We have the power of numbers. But it’s just a helping hand.”

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Baseball Utility Travel celebrates with (from left): Chuck Rinehart, Broc Riggs and Brad Mumma. Rinehart is the father-in-law of organization founder Mumma.

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Brad Mumma talks to Baseball Utility Travel players via Zoom conference. The graduate of  LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Western Michigan University founded the organization in the suburbs of Detroit. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Fraser, Mich.’s Mumma family (from left): Max, Rose, Madelyn, Bradley Jr., Ellie and Brad. Baseball Utility Travel was founded by Brad Mumma as a way to lead player and human development.

 

Lewis Cass graduate Marschand makes, maintains fields of all kinds

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As soon as Blake Marschand could put one foot in front of the other, he was stepping on a baseball field.

From a young age, Blake was helping his father groom diamonds and other facilities.

Greg Marschand, a 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee, has spent countless hours on fields at Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Ind., where he is still head baseball coach and athletic director.

“My dad got this etched in me,” says Blake Marschand, who played football, basketball and baseball for the Cass Kings and graduated in 1998. “This is all I knew. There was no sleeping in on the weekends when I was a little kid.

“Sports have always been a big thing to the Marschand family.”

Over the years, Blake saw his father’s work ethic and heard him talk about having a company that builds and maintains these places to play ball.

A right-handed pitcher, Blake played baseball for two years at Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Phenix City, Ala., and two at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu and retuned to Howard County, Indiana.

He purchased some equipment from former Northwestern High School baseball coach Dan Armstrong and launched Marschand’s Athletic Field Service in 2008.

MAFS works on baseball, softball, football and soccer fields.

On the natural side of things, it’s construction (laser grading, adding DuraEdge infield mix, building mounds and bullpens, complete tear-offs, re-grades, re-builds and more) and maintenance (aerification, fertilization, overseeding, top dressing, deep-tine aerification, edging etc.).

As a regional representative, Marschand applies DuraEdge-engineered infield mix. The product is used on many Major League Baseball fields and throughout the nation. There are three main varieties — Classic, Collegiate and Pro. Each mix is engineered to certain percentages of clay, sand and silt.

Marschand and his crew also perform maintenance on artificial-surface fields throughout the Midwest for Sprinturf.

“I’m not totally against synthetic (turf),” says Marschand. “It’s got it’s place.”

Marschand notes that some schools may not have had their fields built the right or does not have the right equipment or knowledge to maintain those fields correctly.

“If the fields are built using the correct products and materials, it makes maintenance a lot easier,” says Marschand. “Basketball courts get budgeted to be re-surfaced every year, but outside fields often get put on the back burner.

“Outdoor fields being laser-graded every two or three years would be similar to having a basketball court re-surfaced.”

It’s all about maintaining a facility. It cuts down on that big project.

MAFS has been to fields all over Indiana and continues to pick up new business.

For 13 years, Marschand has held the contract at CFD Investments Highland Park Stadium in Kokomo, Ind., doing daily game preparation, clean-up and more.

“We thrive on building and developing that honest relationship with customers,” says Marschand. “We’re not a huge business. I just try to keep it to a small core group of (four to five workers). That way we can be efficient.”

Marschand says that the initial important step in field construction or maintenance is using the correct products such as DuraEdge infield mix and setting the correct grade.

“Looking into the future, that’s just going to help in maintaining the field,” says Marschand. “On a renovation project, it sometimes can be tricky because we have to match the existing grade of the way the field was laid out.

“We’re trying to determine what percentage of grade that is to give them that efficient surface run-off, which is what you want.

“On the DuraEdge side, we shoot for a two-inch cap,” says Marschand. “That will give you a really nice, quality skin surface.”

Marschand says the best time to do field renovation work is in the summer and fall because the weather tends to be nicer and teams are not on the field as often as they are in the spring.

Even though the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has baseball — and other sports — canceled for the spring, MAFS has been busy working on fields.

But it’s not been a typical March and April.

“Usually springs are pretty stressful,” says Marschand. “Once you get those first sunny days, your phone’s ringing off the hook. Everybody wants you there that day. I get it. I’m not mad at them for that.

“The goal is to make your customers happy. You don’t want to keep them waiting.

“We’ve got all kinds of work in the books. I try to lay out my work on a first-come, first-served basis. When customers call I put them on a list and try to run down that list.”

There is not much grade work being done when it’s wet, but the crew can install mounds and perform other tasks.

“I also try to split it up so I’m not burning guys out on the same thing every day,” says Marschand. “That’s what’s so great about this work. It’s always something different. Every place is different and has its own needs.”

Marschand is appreciate of the relationships he has formed in the industry.

“Guys that are way more knowledgeable than me are always willing to talk and discuss whatever the situation might be,” says Marschand. “Having those relationships mean a lot to me and I’m very thankful.”

That includes staffers at DuraEdge, Joey Stevenson with the Indianapolis Indians, Jeremy Tredway at Indiana University and Brian Bornino at Purdue University.

Marschand typically looks for former athletes to work on his crew.

“They understand the work ethic and appreciate the big picture once they start seeing what goes on behind the scenes,” says Marschand.

This week’s schedule called for work on netting and padding on the dugouts at Kokomo Municipal Stadium, building mounds for Noblesville High School, finishing laser-grading at Carroll (Flora) High School, aeriating and later top-dressing at Kokomo High School soccer fields, spraying at Guerin Catholic High School, spraying at Western High School, top-dressing at Eastern High School and a number of things at Rochester High School.

Blake and Tara Marschand live in Kokomo with daughters Kinsley (11) and Bayah (7).

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Marschand’s Athletic Field Service has long held the maintenance contract at CFD Investments Highland Park Stadium in Kokomo, Ind.

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Marschand’s Athletic Field Service has laser-graded Andy Mohr Field, the softball facility at Indiana University.

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Marschand’s Athletic Field Service has laser-graded Alexander Field, Purdue University’s baseball facility.

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The Marschand family (from left): Tara, Bayah, Blake and Kinsley. The Marschands reside in Kokomo, Ind. Blake Marschand is the founder of Marschand’s Athletic Field Service.

Chesterton, Goshen College graduate Hoover to be voice of Gary SouthShore RailCats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Laura Hoover thought her summer would again have her calling baseball play-by-play in Connecticut like she did in 2019 with the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

But not so fast.

Hoover, a 2019 Goshen (Ind.) College graduate, was approached by the independent American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats in February about her interest in club’s vacant broadcaster job.

Having grown up 20 minutes from U.S. Steel Yard in Chesterton, Ind., and a follower of the team, sure she was interested.

Hoover met with general manager Brian Flenner and field manager Greg Tagert and accepted an offer to be broadcaster and media coordinator.

She officially begins her duties April 1. The RailCats open the May 19 at the Sioux Falls Canaries with the home opener May 22 against the Milwaukee Milkmen. Games will air on Michigan City’s WEFM-FM 95.9.

When word got out of Hoover’s hiring, other AA broadcasters reached out.

“I always want to learn,” says Hoover, 23. “I can learn from other broadcasters. I will happily absorb all that information.”

Using the John Chelsenik-ran Sportscasters Talent Agency of America, the RailCats will find an intern to work with Hoover, helping with on-air duties at home and likely selected road games.

“I am extremely young to be in this position,” says Hoover. “I want to learn from them as much as they are going to be learning through me about a broadcast. It will be a 50/50 kind of deal.

“I’m still learning and I will never stop learning.”

Why baseball broadcasting?

“I just love the sport,” says Hoover, who is already doing preparation for the upcoming season, researching players and other personnel, statistics, history and more and figuring out what she wants to put into the team’s media guide and daily media packets.

“The thing that I’m trying to add more to my broadcast is talking more to players and coaches,” says Hoover. “I want to open that line of communication and use that in the broadcast.”

Growing up in an active family with parents Terry (Andrean High School graduate) and Chris (Hammond Gavit High School graduate) and older brother Jordan (Chesterton High School graduate), Laura participated in basketball, cross country, karate, soccer, track and field and volleyball and came to decide that her best sport was swimming. She attended St. Patrick Catholic School in Chesterton before entering public school as a middle schooler.

She swam four seasons for Chesterton coach Kevin Kinel while working at the school’s student-run radio station — WSDO-FM 88.3 — under the supervision of teacher Matthew Waters. She juggled her swim workouts with her studies and her radio duties, which included studio shifts and play-by-play for football, boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and softball.

“I never played baseball and softball,” says Hoover, a 2015 Chesterton graduate. “I’m a student of the game. (Regional Radio Sports Network president/founder) Paul Condry keeps reminding of that.”

Early time spent in the baseball press box was definitely a learning experience for Hoover.

“I did not know how to keep a book,” says Hoover. “I learned that very quickly.”

A drawback of calling baseball for the Chesterton Trojans is that her broadcast partner would sometimes not show up.

That was not a problem in college, where she also took the mic for soccer, volleyball, basketball and softball.

“People showed up to help me broadcast and it just kind of took off,” says Hoover. “I learned how to do it and enjoyed doing it.

“It turned out being one of the sports I love to broadcast the most. I decided to make a life out of it.”

Hoover saw broadcasting as a way to cope with her natural timid nature.

“I was always a really shy kid,” says Hoover. “Speaking behind a mic, you’re never physically face-to-face.

Then came the chance to broadcast.

“I might might as well go do it,” says Hoover. “I tried it out and loved it.

“I decided to pursue a degree in it.”

Hoover chose Goshen for its award-winning communication department, featuring assistant professor Jason Samuel and associate professor Kyle Hufford.

GC has produced many professional sports broadcasters, including Benjamin Kelly (now with the Northwest Naturals in the Kansas City Royals organization and the SEC Network) and Dalton Shetler (who works for the Spartan Sports Network on Michigan State University games).

She worked all four years at WGCS 91.1 FM aka The Globe, serving as student station manager as a senior, and helped re-boot GCTV.

As student station manager, Hoover did many behind-the-scenes things and kept the station and its personnel organized. She was there many late nights and random times day and night.

“I had to make sure I had my time available for everybody else,” says Hoover. “People leaned on me more.”

Her job with the RailCats will mean road trips to nine states (Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas, Wisconsin) and one Canadian province (Manitoba).

“I’m not too worried about travel,” says Hoover. “I’m no stranger to 18-20 hour trips. The Globe goes (by train) to New York every year (for the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s Multimedia Conference).

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Laura Hoover, a graduate of Chesterton (Ind.) High School (2015) and Goshen (Ind.) College (2019), has been hired as broadcaster and media coordinator for the Gary SouthShore RailCats. She spent the 2019 season calling games for the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.