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Former Notre Dame captain Chase returns to area, will help South Bend Cubs Foundation, 1st Source Bank Performance Center

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tommy Chase knew he wanted to play baseball at the University of Notre Dame since age 5.

He grew up going to Notre Dame camps when Paul Mainieri led the Fighting Irish. Father Mark Chase (Class of 1978) and sister Jacqueline (2009) Notre Dame graduates.

After graduating from Boston College High School in 2008, Cohasset, Mass., native Tommy Chase did take to the diamond and the classroom at ND

Chase started his Irish career with Dave Schrage as head coach, finished with Mik Aoki and served as a team co-captain with Will Hudgins as senior and was on the academic all-district team in 2012. 

Notre Dame degrees were earned by Chase in both Accounting and Psychology.

After graduation, Chase served as video coordinator at the University of California at San Barbara then was an assistant coach at the U.S. Naval Academy (Navy), Southern New Hampshire University, the U.S. Military Academy (Army) and the University of Dayton.

He is now back in northern Indiana to start a new job at Lippert Components in Goshen, Ind., where he will work with former Elkhart Memorial High School and Purdue University catcher and baseball coach at Knightstown, Mount Vernon (Fortville) and Concord high schools Eric Nielsen, and will put his baseball knowledge to use with the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel board and 1st Source Bank Performance Center at Four Winds Field.

In that role, Chase will be working closely with foundation executive director and Performance Center general manager Mark Haley.

“Hales and I connected and, honestly, I just want to help in whatever way that I can,” says Chase. “I’ve had some experiences — both in my playing career and coaching career. 

“(On the) player development side, I think I can add some value. On the recruiting side, I can help some of the older guys — 15- 16-, 17-year-old guys looking to play in college and get them to understand what the recruiting process is like. It can seem very confusing a lot of times, especially to families who haven’t gone through it. I would just love to provide some clarity with that.”

Chase also has many connections in college baseball and knows where the opportunities lie.

“I really like working with young kids,” says Chase. “Baseball is such a great game from the relationships that you have to the friends that you meet and learning lessons from the game itself.”

Throughout all his coaching stops, Chase has worked with hitters, infielders and outfielders. He was an infielder at Notre Dame. He will help with instruction at the Performance Center, as an advisor in the recruiting process and be a second set of eyes for Haley when it comes to talent evaluation and other matters.

At Dayton, Chase was recruiting coordinator for Flyers head coach Jayson King, who is also a Massachusetts native.

“We went into a program that we both thought had a lot of promise,” says Chase. “There were a lot of positive things. It was a high academic school. The campus was beautiful. A lot of things you can sell to high school kids.

“We really worked hard at it and were able to get Dayton to where we felt it should be — a competitive school in the Athletic 10 (Conference) and getting good players from that area.”

Chase and King had been together as assistants on the Army staff. It was King who brought Chase to West Point, N.Y., having known about him while at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. Chase and coordinator King shared recruiting duties. The Black Knights head coach was — and still is — Jim Foster.

“Coach Foster is a baseball savant. He played many years in the minor leagues as a catcher and he has that kind of brain. He really understands the game. He’s very good at teaching the game to the players.”

Chase says he knew intricacies of the game, but Foster “took it to a whole different level.”

Jacob Hurtubise, a Zionsville High School graduate now in the Cincinnati Reds organization, played at Army when Chase was there.

Scott Loiseau is head coach of the Southern New Hampshire Pennmen. 

“Scott’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around in terms of working with his players and getting them to play at their highest level,” says Chase. “His ability to develop relationships with guys is to the point where the team wants to run through a wall with that guy.

“He really, really cares about his players and his coaches. He allows coaches to develop. He gave me a lot of responsibility when I stepped on-campus as a young kid. He was a great mentor for me.

“Most guys are coaching college baseball out of the passion that they have either for the game or the people that they’re around and — a lot of time — it’s both. There are a lot of things you have to sacrifice to be a college baseball coach.”

Chase was a graduate assistant at SNHU and began work on a Masters of Business Administration with a  concentration in Sport Management.

As a volunteer assistant at Navy, Chase first learned about what it means to coach baseball at a military school by Midshipmen head coach a baseball lifer Paul Kostacopoulos, who was assistant and head coach at Providence (R.I.) College and head coach at the University of Maine before landing at Navy in Annapolis, Md.

“He’s been very successful for a very long time,” says Chase for Kostacopoulos. “He took over at Navy and really turned a program around that had been relatively mediocre in the past, but had a great history. He brought it to being consistently competitive and at the top of the Patriot League every single year and winning 30-plus games.

“That’s a hard job. There’s a lot of things at a military academy you need to uphold. It’s not just winning on the field. It goes beyond that. It goes to understanding what the cadet life is being able to foster both commitments to baseball, academics and their military requirements. He does a great job to do all those things.”

Chase says that players at military academies may not have the time to devote to baseball that other schools do. But they bring a resilient, hard-nosed mentality to the field because they compete in everything they do.

UC-Santa Barbara head coach Andrew Checketts gave Chase his first college baseball job as the Gauchos video coordinator.

“I learned what a College World Series program looks like in the inside from the time commitment to the culture to the player development,” says Chase. “As a kid just coming out of college you don’t see what the coaches do off the field.”

Chase still maintains relationships with former Notre Dame bosses Schrage and Aoki.

Chase played three seasons for the Irish. He appeared in six games (all at second base) as a freshman in 2009 and missed the 2010 season following knee surgery with Schrage as head coach. 

“Coach Schrage gave me a chance to live my dream of going to Notre Dame and playing baseball there,” says Chase. “He was a very personable guy and really cared about the well-being of his players.

“He was always a positive person. He was not a cutthroat-type coach. There’s a lot to be said for that.”

Aoki took over for 2011 and Chase got into 11 games (one as a starter). 

“He’s a New England guy through and through,” says Chase of Aoki. “He allowed me to work my way to a chance to compete on the field and contribute to the team.”

At the end of 2011 season, his teammates thought enough of him to choose him as one of the captains for 2012 as he played in 17 games (four starts).

“It was a great honor,” says Chase of being chosen as a captain. “I enjoyed having a voice to lead the other guys and help them. When you’re a coach, you’re implementing your culture and you’re talking about the things that are important. A lot of times, the thing that’s most important is the leaders on the team saying the same message. 

“A lot of times it’s not what the coaches say, it’s what the leaders among the players say to each other. The players have so much influence over the where the team’s headed and the culture of the team.”

Leaders can handle issues like players coming late to the weight room before it ever becomes big and has to be addressed by the coaching staff.

Chase grew up in Cohasset a few years ahead of Mike Monaco, who went on to Notre Dame and served as a broadcaster for the South Bend Cubs and now counts and has called games for the Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox and the big-league Boston Red Sox.

Tommy and Teresa Chase have three sons — David (2 1/2), Peter (1) and Patrick (5 weeks). They are in the process of buying a home in Granger, Ind. Many friends from Tommy’s Notre Dame days still live in the South Bend area.

Tommy Chase was a Notre Dame baseball co-captain in his senior season of 2012. (Notre Dame Video)
Tommy Chase has joined the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel board and will be an instructor at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center. He is a former baseball co-captain at the University of Notre Dame and has extensive experience as a college coach.

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

New Castle’s Besecker take non-traditional course to D-I’s VMI

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

This is not your typical story of college baseball recruitment and commitment.

Nic Besecker, a senior at New Castle (Ind.) High School, played travel baseball just a few times — his 12U summer with a team called the Revolution and as a fill-in at 16 with 17U Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM).

A self-described “rec league” player most of his diamond life, Besecker has in the New Castle Babe Ruth League and toed the rubber of the all-star team in last summer’s Indiana state tournament in Crown Point. That team was coached by Bret Mann, who had also coached New Castle’s entry in the 2012 Little League World Series.

Besecker, a right-handed pitcher, had his velocity clocked just three times during his prep days. He maxed out at 78 mph at an Earlham College camp as a freshman.

He got into the weight room and took a few lessons from pitching coach Jay Lehr and his velo went up.

“He’s been a big part of it,” says Besecker of Lehr, who is based in central Indiana. “We haven’t gotten to him enough. I’ve had only five true lessons with him, but he taught me something every time. He me how to use my lower half and get into my legs.”

Following his junior year at New Castle, he attended a Prep Baseball Report showcase and went as high as 85. In the early part of 2020, he was at another PBR event and got up to 89.

Besecker isn’t the biggest kid on the field either. Rosters list him at 5-11 and 155 pounds. He says he might be closer to 5-9 and 150.

He gets the most out of what he got. That’s why Besecker has been enamored with major league pitcher Tim Lincecum and what he did with his small frame.

“He’s been my idol since I’ve been little,” says Besecker. “What made me fall in love with him is that when he was good, he was the best pitcher in the world. He was so different from everyone else.”

Besecker has prided himself in exceeding expectations.

“Who’s this little squirt?” says Besecker imitating batters facing him for the first time. Then comes the first delivery.

Usually pretty swift.

But it’s not just about the heat.

“I’ve always prided myself in being a pitcher,” says Besecker. “I always knew how to locate.

“I wasn’t just a hurler.”

Besecker’s passion impresses first-year New Castle head coach Brad Pearson, who didn’t get to see the pitcher perform in a senior season that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nic is one of those kids who seems to be all about baseball,” says Pearson. “He wants to learn. He wants to get better. He just loves the sport.”

Pearson also appreciates Besecker’s mound approach.

“He’s not worried about lightning up the radar gun,” says Pearson. “He just wants to get outs.

“That’s pretty refreshing for a high school kid.”

Besecker signed his National Letter of Intent with NCAA Division I Virginia Military Institute on May 11.

Funny thing is when Keydets head coach Jonathan Hadra and pitching coach Sam Roberts welcome their new recruit to the Lexington, Va., campus it will represent a few firsts.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it will be the first time for Besecker and his coaches will seeing each other in-person when the player makes his first appearance in Virginia.

“I had options,” says ays Besecker, who will step into a program that has sent right-handers Zak Kent, Josh Winder and Matt Eagle into pro baseball in recent seasons. “Coach Hadra and Coach Roberts has something special going on over there.”

Besecker says he does not owe four years of military service after he graduates from VMI.

“I’m going there to play baseball and etch out some kind of career in baseball,” says Besecker. “That’s been my dream.”

Like all first-year VMI students, Besecker will start on the “Rat Line.” He is hopefully that this basic training program that usually lasts from August through January will help him pack on 20 to 30 pounds.

“I would not get that anywhere else,” says Besecker. “I’ve always been a guy to accept that kind of challenge.”

The majority of new cadets begin around Aug. 15, but they have had summer conditioning programs in the past. If those are available and his coaches want him to attend, Besecker might leave for VMI early.

It’s not yet certain when or if New Castle will have a graduation ceremony.

VMI is a member of the Southern Conference. The Keydets went to Virginia and North Carolina before the 2020 season was halted and was to play home-and-home series with Virginia Tech.

The SoCon tournament was to be staged at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C. The park has its own “Green Monster.” The Greenville Drive are Low Class-A affiliates of the Boston Red Sox.

Besecker played junior varsity baseball as a New Castle freshman and enjoyed his best varsity campaign as a Trojans sophomore.

“I played against guys who were able to hit the ball regardless of velocity,” says Besecker. “You have to be creative (with breaking pitches).”

In two varsity seasons, Besecker went 8-6 with a 2.96 earned run average. He struck out 80 in 71 innings.

The oldest of Kevin and Lauren Besecker’s two sons, Nic was born in Centerville, Ohio and was raised in Greenville, Ohio.

“I’ve been in a small town my whole life,” says Besecker.

When he was 9, his father brought the family to New Castle. That’s where he was a mechanic/crew chief for the racing Armstrong family, including Dakoda and Caleb, and Nic could get into the Focus program for gifted kids.

“It was a no-brainer for us,” says Nic of the move. “It was a perfect storm.”

He went to be inducted into the National Honor Society and participate in speech and debate while posting a 3.6 grade-point average (on a 4.0) scale at New Castle High.

Nic has logged around 200 service hours at New Castle Babe Ruth’s Denny Bolden Field and has been an assistant coach for teams featuring his little brother Drake (the 13-year-old left-hander is already as tall as big brother and finishing seventh grade).

Lauren Besecker holds a sports marketing degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and has what Nic calls a “love/hate relationship” with the Cincinnati Reds. She is waiting management to make the moves to again make the team make a consistent contender.

Before focusing on baseball his senior year, Besecker played football from fourth grade through junior year. The former quarterback was encouraged by Jaymen Nicholson, who coached in fifth and sixth grade and was part of the highs school staff.

“He’s always believed in me,” says Besecker. “Guys like him and Bret Mann have told me, ‘If you want to do it, you can do it.’ They bought in

“That’s catapulted me as far as I’ve gotten so far.”

BRETMANNNICBESECKERBRADPEARSON

New Castle (Ind.) High School senior Nic Besecker (center) celebrates his signing to play NCAA Division I baseball at Virginia Military Institute. He is flanked by Babe Ruth coach Bret Mann (left) and high school head coach Brad Pearson. (New Castle High School Photo)

 

From Bedford to Lexington, Elkins enjoys long broadcast career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keith Elkins grew up in Bedford, Ind., with a love for baseball and broadcasting.

He played Little League, Babe Ruth and high school ball in the Lawrence County town, usually roaming center field.

“The center fielder is trusted to go get the ball and catch it,” says Elkins, who graduated from Bedford High School (now part of Bedford North Lawrence) in 1970 but not before playing his last two seasons as a Stonecutter for future Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Orval Huffman. “It was a fun position to play.”

Appearing often in the World Series or the on the TV Game of the Week, New York Yankees slugging center fielder Mickey Mantle became Elkins’ favorite player.

“I don’t think I had Mickey’s power,” says Elkins.

While his family took the Louisville Courier Journal and tuned into Louisville TV and radio stations, it was the radio that was Elkins’ connection to baseball.

Prior to that season, WBIW in Bedford became part of the St. Louis Cardinals radio network, meaning Elkins could listen to the on-air stylings of Harry Caray.

Growing up a Cardinals fan, 9-year-old Elkins attended his first big league game in 1961 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

He had heard Caray describe on the radio and now he got to see the gigantic scoreboard in left and the pavilion that extended from the right-field foul line to the center field bleachers with his own eyes. He also saw Curt Flood in center field, which was his place throughout the 1960’s.

Elkins was also a fan of Redbirds mainstays Bill White and Lou Brock.

“I liked the way (White) played first base,” says Elkins of the 2020 Cardinals Hall of Famer. “He was left-handed and hit a lot of home runs onto the (Sportsman’s Park) pavilion roof.

“You got used to hearing Lou Brock’s name in the lead-off spot.”

Elkins counts himself fortunate that he had the chance to watch diamond dynamos like Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente. He was in the park the day Clemente’s line drive broke Bob Gibson’s leg (July 15, 1967).

Over the years, Elkins watched the Cardinals play in three different home ballparks — Sportsman’s Park, Busch Stadium I and Busch Stadium II and got to see the colorful word pictures by Caray and the more understated stylings of Jack Buck come alive.

Long before he became the on-air voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League — a job he did for nine seasons (2009-17), Elkins developed an interest in broadcasting.

When it came time to attend college, he went to the University of Kentucky and earned a telecommunications degree in 1974. With the exception of one year away, he has lived and worked around Lexington ever since.

His first job out of college was at WMIK in Middlesboro, Ky., where he did a little bit of everything. He was a disc jockey and a play-by-play man for high school football, basketball and baseball.

Elkins then became a TV sports reporter for WLEX, an NBC affiliate in Lexington. He had played his share of pick-up hoops back in Bedford and now got cover UK’s 1978 national championship men’s basketball team.

“They were expected to win from preseason on,” says Elkins of a group coached by Joe B. Hall and featuring Jack Givens, Rick Robey, Kyle Macy, James Lee and Mike Phillips. “There was some pressure.”

The Fran Curci-coached Kentucky football squad went 10-1 in 1977. Defensive end Art Still was a first-round National Football League draft selection and played in the NFL from 1978-89. Still is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

The father of two adult sons (Adam in Lexington and Tim in Cincinnati) and a grandfather of one with another on the way, Elkins still enjoys UK football — from tailgating to game time.

Elkins spent a year as a TV news reporter at WJTV, a CBS station in Jackson, Miss., before returning to work in public relations at UK and then Transylvania University — also in Lexington.

After that, he was employed as a writer/editor/coordinator of a variety of marketing communications and public relations projects for WYNCOM, Inc., a marketing and seminar company associated with leading business speakers and authors.

Elkins then returned to UK as Director of Communications for the College of Engineering.

In November 2008, he was hired by the Legends as Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations.

“It was as big jump at that age,” says Elkins. “But I never regretted it. I never wished that I was somewhere else.

“It was always a pleasure to do the game.”

Like those broadcasters he’s admired, Elkins was sure to let fans know about distinctive traits at the ballpark or if the wind was blowing in or out. He let you the colors of the uniforms and were fans might be congregating.

“Anything you can do to help the fan experience what you’re seeing,” says Elkins. “It’s an important part of the broadcast.”

Elkins called 140 games a year — home at Whitaker Bank Ballpark  (originally known as Applebee’s Park) and away — for the first six years with the Legends and then just home games the last three. He was solo in the booth on the road and occasionally had a color commentator at home. For some TV games, that role was filled by former big league pitcher Jeff Parrett, an Indianapolis native who played at UK.

At the time, the Sally League featured teams in Lakewood, N.J. and Savannah, Ga. — both bus rides of nine or more hours from Lexington.

Elkins recalls one steamy night in Savannah when the bus broke down.

“The air condition was off and it got really hot,” says Elkins.

Players stepped outside and brought mosquitos and fire ants back into the bus with them. The team arrived back in Lexington around noon.

“There were long overnight rides, but you get used to it,” says Elkins. “That’s part of the minor league lifestyle.

“One of the challenges in baseball is to play at top level every day. If you don’t take care of yourself in April and May, it’s going to be pretty tough in July and August. Seeing every game you get to see guys come along and battle through slumps.”

In his second season behind the mike for Lexington, Elkins got to call the exploits of Legends  22-year-old J.D. Martinez and 20-year-old Jose Altuve, both on a path toward the majors.

Before being called up to Double-A, Martinez hit .362 with 15 home runs and 64 runs batted in 88 games. Prior to a promotion to High-A, Altuve hit .308 with 11 homers, 45 RBIs with 39 stolen bases in 94 games.

Elkins was there to call Bryce Harper’s first professional home run, socked for the visiting Hagerstown Suns in 2011.

“It was a line drive over the wall in left-center field,” says Elkins. “Even as an 18-year-old, he was getting a lot of attention.”

Elkins also saw Anthony Rizzo and Mookie Betts on their way up. Rizzo played for Boston Red Sox affiliate Greenville in 2008-09 when he was 18 and 19. Betts was 20 and with the same franchise in 2013.

Stephen Strasburg had already debuted in the majors with the Washington Nationals when he made a rehabilitation appearance for Hagerstown.

Elkins never had what he would call a signature phrase or home run call.

“If you’re doing games every night you settle into your pattern,” says Elkins. “I hope I’m remembered for accurate or entertaining descriptions.”

For years, he has put his descriptive powers to use as a free lance sports broadcaster and recently finished his 14th season as a TV studio host for men’s basketball on UK Sports Network and he sometimes substitutes as play-by-play man for Wildcats baseball.

That’s where he gets to make word pictures at Kentucky Proud Park.

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Keith Elkins, a native of Bedford, Ind., was the baseball play-by-play voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends 2009-2017. His broadcast career stretches from the early 1970’s to the present. (Lexington Legends Photo)

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A long-time baseball fan, Bedord, Ind., native Keith Elkins got the chance to be the on-air voice of the Lexington (Ky.) Legends of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League 2009-17. (Lexington Legends Photo)

 

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

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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)

 

Evansville Razorbacks promote accountability, communication, commitment

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 18U Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have been a force in the travel baseball world with four Pastime Tournaments national championships and a National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series runner-up finish.

The 2017 team went 40-0.

Established in 2002 by Jeremy Johnson, the Razorbacks have had 336 players sign on with college baseball programs and numerous players have been in pro ball.

“This program sets guys up not only in baseball, but their whole life,” says Johnson. “It’s a fraternity. You’re going to be a Razorback the rest of your life.

“It’s bigger than anybody, including me.”

Johnson is a 1993 Mater Dei graduate. He grew up spending Saturday mornings helping his father groom youth diamonds around Evansville. C.J. Johnson is a 2017 inductee into the Greater Evansville Sports Hall of Fame as a baseball administrator.

At 14, Jeremy severely hurt his right arm and learned how throw serviceably with his left. In high school, he was a successful cross country and track runner.

Johnson networks with college coaches and does his best to educate players and parents on the recruiting process and deciding on the best fit for them.

“My job is to help you find out your ‘why,’’ says Johnson. “What is driving you? If you don’t know that, you can get lost. You need to have a really good grasp on that. If you don’t and everything starts to go south, you’ll start panicking.”

And it doesn’t have to be NCAA Division I or bust. Some are best-suited by going the D-II, D-III, NAIA or junior college route.

“I’m completely over the fact that Division I is the best case scenario (for every player),” says Johnson. “You should pick a school where, if you didn’t play baseball any more, you wouldn’t want to transfer.

“It’s very, very personal thing for each kid. Look at schools that fit you personally. Start putting together legitimate ideas on what you know you want instead of what you think you want.

“High school is very status-orientedYou’re not doing it for your teammates. There’s a 50-50 shot you’ll meet your wife there.

“It’s way more than baseball.”

Johnson says he has watched the transfer portal blow up in recent years in part because of so many early commits (freshmen and sophomore are making verbal commitments these days) and players and parents not doing their due diligence on what they want and what a program has to offer.

“They may be good enough to be a tweener with D-I,” says Johnson. “But they could play more at D-II or go to D-III and be an All-American.

“We don’t want them to have regrets or at least minimize them.”

While he has been involved in most of the 336 college signings, Johnson doesn’t take credit. It’s the players with the talent.

“I’m not the reason any of my kid plays in college,” says Johnson. “I’m just a guy who goes to bat for them. My job is to market them. I’m an avenue.

“The kids are the ones that deserve everything. I didn’t throw a ball, catch a ball or hit it. I’m not the reason for the season.”

A junior college advocate, Johnson says those players tend to play with a chip on their shoulder. Six starters on the Razorbacks’ 2018  team went on to JC ball. The 2017 club was made up mostly of D-I commits.

“It saves money and keeps their options open,” says Johnson. “It makes you grind a little bit. You find out if you really love baseball if you go junior college.”

Johnson says the Razorbacks are well-represented in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference (John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois, Wabash Valley).

Johnson says parents don’t always receive personal feedback when they take their sons to showcases. They get the numbers, but not an idea of what that coaching staff thinks of the player and how they would fit in their program.

Players can go to showcase after showcase and the money spent can add up to the cost of a scholarship.

“Tell me what you’re interested in doing and let me market you,” says Johnson. He will do his best to have college coaches look at the player and let them know what they think.

“College recruiting always in flux,” says Johnson. “(Recruiters) don’t want to tell you yes or no. There’s a lot of maybes. That’s a frustrating thing. I tell parents to build an idea of where their kid really fits.”

In showcases or with private lessons, many times players are told over and over again how good they are.

“Some are honest about good things and bad things,” says Johnson. “There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism. You need it.”

Johnson sees his role with the Razorbacks as driven by relationships.

“I get to know the kids,” says Johnson. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with them.”

While many players come from southern Indiana, southern Illinois and Kentucky, there is no real limit and have come from several states away.

“I’m not afraid to ask anybody,” says Johnson. “We have the ability to house a few kids.”

Many players spend two seasons with the Razorbacks, which Johnson says averages 17 to 20 college commits per year. In any given year, a third to half of the squad goes into the summer uncommitted.

Among the 2019 high school graduates from Indiana schools on the ’19 summer team were Evansville North shortststop/second baseman Alex Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Austin shortstop/right-handed pitcher/third baseman Drew Buhr (Saint Louis University), Castle left-handed pitcher Blake Ciuffetelli (USI), Castle first baseman Brodey Heaton (Belmont University), Evansville Memorial right-handed pitcher Isaac Housman (USI) and Tecumseh outfielder Steven Molinet (USI).

There’s also shortstop/second baseman Alex Adams (Purdue University), catcher Garret Gray (Butler University), right-handed pitcher Trey Nordmann (Howard College in Texas) and left-handed pitcher/outfielder/first baseman Mark Shallenberger (University of Evansville).

Former Ben Davis High School catcher Zyon Avery (Ohio University), Decatur Central right-hander Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and right-hander Garret Simpson (Eastern Kentucky University) are among the recent Razorbacks now playing college baseball.

Razorback alums left-hander Dean Kiekhefer (Oakland Athletics), right-hander Derek Self (Washington Nationals) and outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Boston Red Sox) played at Triple-A in 2019. All three played at the University of Louisville. Kiekhefer appeared in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 and with Oakland in 2018.

There’s also former Backs Easton McGee and Stewart Ijames.

Right-hander McGee played for Bowling Green in the Tampa Bay Rays system in 2019.

Outfielder Ijames, a former U of L player and in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, was with the independent Kansas City T-Bones in 2019.

Clint Barmes, a Vincennes Lincoln High School graduate who recently went into the Indiana State University and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame after a major league career, played for the Evansville Black Sox (1993-2001), which were picked up by the Razorbacks in 2002.

Johnson was an outfielder for the Jim Wittman-coached Black Sox in 1993-94. In a Black Sox alumni game, Johnson’s last pitch resulted in a Barmes home run.

“I hadn’t pitched in two years,” says Johnson. “Didn’t matter. Would happened on my best day.”

Former U of L catcher Jeff Arnold was signed by scout Kevin Christman and played in the San Francisco Giants organization.

Right-hander Morgan Coombs went to West Vigo High School and Ball State University then played independent ball.

Outfielder Sean Godfrey played at New Albany High School and Ball State before time in the Atlanta Braves system and indy ball.

First baseman Jon Hedges played at Indiana State.

Third baseman Kevin Hoef went to the University of Iowa and played indy ball.

Catcher Jeremy Lucas played at West Vigo and Indiana State before time in the Cleveland Indians system.

Black Sox right-hander Stephen Obenchain played at Evansville Memorial and the University of Evansville before stints in the Athletics system and independent ball.

First baseman Derek Peterson, who hails from New Jersey, went on to Temple University and played in Baltimore Orioles organization.

Black Sox right-hander Andy Rohleder played at Forest Park High School and the University of Evansville before tenures with the Florida Marlins organization and indy ball.

Right-hander P.J. Thomas, a Jeffersonville High School graduate who played at USI, was twice-drafted by the Red Sox and played indy ball.

Catcher Kolbrin Vitek (Ball State) played in the Red Sox organization.

Former Black Sox, Heritage Hills High School and University of Dayton catcher Mark Wahl was in the Orioles system.

While the Razorbacks run a full program with off-season training, Johnson says he is a realist and he knows that players have commitments to their hometown teams and work with their own hitting and pitching instructors. He doesn’t ask them to drive several hours to Evansville to hit them grounders.

“I’m not that full of myself,” says Johnson. “I have the utmost respect for high school programs.

“I love travel ball. But a large amount of travel ball is B.S. It’s such a money-driven situation. Travel ball — as a whole — is expensive for families with travel, hotels and all of that. We try to keep that cost down as low as we possibly can.”

When the 18U Razorbacks do travel, the team stays together in the same hotel.

Many of the players are getting close to going away to college. They get to experience curfews, team meetings and learn personal accountability. It’s an early look at their freshmen year and that first taste of freedom. They are responsible for their own laundry.

“The team runs the team,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot to be learned off the field until they go to college.”

Parents are encouraged treat the weekend like a getaway. All they have to do is attend the games and watch their sons play.

The organization expanded this off-season to 10 teams — 8U, 9U, 10U, 11U, two 12U squads, 13U, 14U, 16U and 18U. 8U to 14U is high school prep. 15U to 18U is college prep.

According to Johnson, whose 18U assistant coaches are Bob Davis, Ryan Dills and Buddy Hales, the emphasis is on teaching player accountability at an early age, communication with parents, speed and strength conditioning and commitment to helping the person, then the player.”

Top 18U events in 2020 include June 12-14 in Midland, Ohio, June 18-21 in Louisville, Ky., June 26-28 in Midland, Ohio, June 30-July 1 at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, July 5-9 at Perfect Game World Series (invitation only) in Hoover, Ala., and July 15-19 at the 18U Nationals in Indianapolis.

Jeremy and Christi Johnson married in 2013. There are three children — Seth (18), Ava (14) and Conner (13). Conner Johnson, now an eighth grader, was born in 2007, the same year the Razorbacks were NABF World Series runners-up.

“Spending summers with him with me is what ties it all together,” says Jeremy Johnson of time spent with Conner and Backs baseball.

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The Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have placed 336 players in college baseball since 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks)

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Jeremy Johnson (center) is the founder of the Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks travel baseball organization. The Razorbacks’ first season was in 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks Photo)

 

DeYoung embraces relationships, technology as instructor, pro baseball coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Devin DeYoung saw his future when he was a teenager and it was as a baseball coach.

“I knew from when I was 13 and hitting with John Mallee and Anthony Iapoce that’s what I wanted to do,” says DeYoung, 30. “(Mallee and Iapoce) had such an impact on me.

“I learned how to relate to people and to empower people just by interacting with them. They genuinely cared about every kid they worked with. I try to model how I approach the game after them.

Both men are major league hitting coaches — Malee with the Los Angeles Angels and Iapoce with the Chicago Cubs.

DeYoung will be a bench coach with the Double-A Birmingham Barons in the Chicago White Sox organization in 2020.

A 2008 graduate of Lake Central High Schoolin St. John, Ind., DeYoung played catcher for head coach Todd Iwema. He went on to play two seasons at the College of Lake County in Graylake, Ill., and one at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn.

After that came a very brief stint as a player with the Rockland Boulders of the independent professional Can-Am League. He finished out the 2015 season with the Pomona, N.Y,-based team as a player-coach.

In 2016, DeYoung was a coach with the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters in the Northwoods League, a college collegiate circuit. He coached catchers, outfielders and hitters for a team that won both halves of a split season and the playoffs. More than a dozen players on that team went on to sign professional contracts.

“It’s best preparation for professional baseball there is,” says DeYoung. “We played 72 games in 75 games.”

There were no days off for the Wisconsin Rafters staff with the league’s all-star game, showcase and postseason. That meant a stretch of more than 80 days without time off.

In 2017 and 2018, DeYoung was bench coach/hitting coach with the Crestwood, Ill.-based Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent pro Frontier League. At the time, the league was predominantly a rookie league and has since consolidated with teams in the Can-Am League.

“It revives guy’s careers and helps them get back into or have their first shot at affiliated baseball,” says DeYoung of indy ball.

DeYoung has pro hitters coming from all over Chicagoland to hit with him at the Omni 41 and Morris Baseball facility in Schererville, Ind.

One of those hitters was Ryan Fitzgerald, who went to Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Ill., and played for the independent Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2017 and was signed by the Boston Red Sox and for the 2018 season.

DeYoung spent the 2019 campaign in the Red Sox system with the Greenville (S.C.) Drive.

As bench coach on a staff led by manager Iggy Suarez, DeYoung did many things. He coached first base and third base, instructed players on catching and base running and assisted Suarez, hitting coach Nelson Paulino and pitching coach Bob Kipper.

When Ryan Johansen became assistant hitting coordinator for the White Sox, he asked DeYoung to join the organization.

“The White Sox seem to be a really good fit for me,” says DeYoung. “They’re moving in a really good direction.

“It’s exciting to see the steps they’re talking and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”

He will be a bench coach for Barons manager Justin Jirschele, who will be 29 when the Southern League season opens.

“I will aid in the work load and try to make everybody’s job easier,” says DeYoung. “I’ll collect data and just try to be the voice of reason.

“Genuinely caring about players. That’s how I go about player development.”

DeYoung is scheduled to report to spring training in Arizona Feb. 8. Before then, he will continue to teach lessons and clinics through Devin DeYoung Pro Baseball/Softball. But he’s carved out time to learn about players who may land in Birmingham in 2020 and for his family.

Devin and high school sweetheart Samantha DeYoung reside in St. John and have a daughter, Ella (7).

Much of what DeYoung knows about business came from working as a youngster at DeYoung Interiors of St. John, which was established in 1928.

DeYoung has cultivated a network of baseball people, including Justin Stone (Director of Hitting for the Cubs) and Travis Kerber at Elite Baseball Training in Chicago.

“Every time I’m around them I seem to grow,” says DeYoung. “The people I’ve had the privilege of being around helps with my obsession with trying to learn more about the game.

“I have a desperate pursuit of making baseball easier for other players than it was for me.”

DeYoung has learned how to incorporate things like Blast Motion, Edgertronic cameras, Force Plate, K-Vest and Rapsodo to assess players and build player plans.

He has started to do Electromyography (EMG) testing, which measures muscular activity through the swing.

“It helps you quantify things you can’t see within the swing,” says DeYoung. “You get a baseline and create a player plan. You can see deficiencies in the swing or a movement assessment. We can eliminate some guessing.

“We can find out what these players are capable of doing physiologically. We’re really early in the process.”

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Devin DeYoung (11) talks with Dustin Pedroia during a Greenville Drive game. DeYoung, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., was a coach in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. (Greenville Drive Photo)

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Devin DeYoung (11) talks with Jonathan Ortega during a Greenville Drive game. DeYoung, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., was a coach in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. (Greenville Drive Photo)

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Devin DeYoung (11) coaches third base in 2019 for the Greenville (S.C.) Drive in the Boston Red Sox organization. The team’s home park has its own Green Monster. DeYoung is a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. (Greenville Drive Photo)

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Devin DeYoung (left) sees relationships as the key to player development. He was with the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. The graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., is now with the Chicago White Sox system. (Greenville Drive Photo)

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Devin DeYoung, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has known he wanted to be a baseball coach since 13. Here he is in 2019 with the Greenville Drive in the Boston Red Sox organization. (Greenville Drive Photo)

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Devin DeYoung swings the fungo bat as a coach for the Greenville (S.C.) Drive in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. The graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., is now in the Chicgao White Sox system. (Greeenville Drive Photo)

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Devin DeYoung, a 2008 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., knew at 13 and taking hitting lessons from John Maleee and Anthony Iapoce that his future was as a baseball coach. He was with the Greenville Drive in the Boston Red Sox system in 2019 and will be with the Birmingham Barons in the Chicago White Sox organization in 2020. (Greenville Drive Photo)

 

 

Plainfield, Southern Indiana grad Kehrt scouting for Diamondbacks

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Kehrt is taking the lessons he learned as a player and using them to evaluate baseball talent as an area scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Kehrt, an Avon, Ind., resident, is heading into his third year with the D-backs after concluding his own professional career. As a right-handed pitcher, he competed for 10 seasons in the minors with the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations.

Selected in the 47th round of the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by Boston out of the University of Southern Indiana, Kehrt pitched in the Red Sox system into 2014 and in the Dodgers chain 2014-16, going 45-57 with a 4.55 earned run average over 222 games (128 as a starter). He hurled at the Triple-A level in 2011-14 and 2016.

He was the Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs Citizen of the Year in 2011. That same year he was 2-1 in 10 games with Scottsdale of the Arizona Fall League.

He pitched in the Double-A Texas League All-Star Game in 2015. He was with Laguna of the Triple-A Mexican League and Trois-Rivieres of the independent Can-Am League in 2017.

Kehrt also played winter ball in Puerto Rico with Mayaguez in 2012-13 and 2013-14 and Caguas in 2015-16, Venezuela with Zulia in 2014-15 and Magallanes in 2016-17 and Mexico in 2016-1 with Mazatlan.

In his role as scout, he estimates that he drives 50,000 miles a year while checking on high school and college players in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.

“I commute as much as possible,” says Kehrt, who tries to make it back to wife Meagen, 4-year-old son Maddux and 2-year-old daughter Belamy immediately after most scouting trips. “Fall is more organized with scrimmages and scout days and these new exhibition games. Summers and falls have more showcase environments. Spring can be crazy and you can go from Michigan to Kentucky in one day to see players.”

Kehrt traveled to the University of Louisville Wednesday, Oct. 16 to see action in the annual Pizza Bowl fall intrasquad series.

Whenever the weather, schedule changes and traffic allows, Kehrt tries to arrive at the field as early as possible to observe players during warm-ups. He sees how they interact with teammates and coaches.

“I want to get the whole picture of what the player is,” says Kehrt, 32. “I talk to the people in their life. I try to get multiple looks.”

Drey Jameson, a hard-throwing right-hander who signed with the Diamondbacks in the first round out of Ball State University, was tracked by Kehrt.

Kehrt, 33, saw 2019 Southport (Ind.) High School graduate Avery Short several times before Arizona selected the left-handed pitcher in the 12th round of the 2019 MLB Draft.

“For a high school kid, he was able to throw an insane amount of strikes,” says Kehrt of Short. “He had an advanced (baseball) IQ for a 17- or 18-year-old kid.”

Short pitched for Team USA in the U18 Pan-American Championships in Panama in the fall of 2018. The southpaw was reportedly inked by the D-backs for a $922,500 signing bonus.

“They get experience and get used to grinding during the summers (in travel ball),” says Kehrt. “They have fun during their senior years. It’s one last hurrah and they can showcase their stuff.”

Andrew Saalfrank was chosen by the Diamondbacks in the sixth round of the 2019 draft out of Indiana University. Purdue University catcher Nick Dalesandro (10th round) and Indiana State University right-hander Ethan Larrison (16th round) were taken in 2018.

A 2004 graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School, Kehrt played two seasons for Brian Planker and one for Michael Thompson. After playing in the Plainfield Little League and Plainfield Teenage Babe Ruth Baseball League in his younger years, he pitched in a few tournaments with the Indianapolis Bulldogs his 16U summer then spent full summer seasons with the James Hurst-coached travel team as 17U and 18U player.

“(Hurst) gave me the best advice I ever got,” says Kehrt. “He told me to go to college. That’s what he did (left-hander Hurst pitched at Florida Southern College and got into eight games with the 1994 Texas Rangers and hurled in three with the 1995 Indianapolis Indians). “That was a pivotal point in my high school career.”

Off to college to study marketing (he finished his degree in December 2008), Kehrt played at USI for four seasons (2005-08) — the last two with Tracy Archuleta as head coach and Joel Weaver as pitching coach.

“They changed the culture of the team,” says Kehrt of Archuleta and Weaver. “Coach Weaver connected with me on mechanics. He broke it down, made it easy to understand and click in the game.

“I owe a lot to me making a big step to both of those guys.”

Kehrt’s pitching coach for six seasons with Red Sox minor league teams was former big league left-hander Bob Kipper, who spent time with the righty reflecting on the positives and negatives of his outing.

Spending time around major league pitchers in spring training was also instructive to Kehrt.

“I’m a big learn-by-example guy,” says Kehrt. “I’d watch John Lackey during his bullpens and see how his mechanics work.”

With the Dodgers, former big league pitcher Matt Herges was his pitching coach at Double-A and Triple A.

“It was eye-opening how much more I could learn at age 29 and 30,” says Kehrt. “He allowed me to play an extra year.”

Kept busy these days with scouting and family, Kehrt has taught lessons in the past at former big league pitcher Bill Sampen’s Samp’s Hack Shack training facilities.

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Jeremy Kehrt, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and the University of Indiana, works in the bullpen during his minor league baseball career. He is now an area scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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Jeremy Kehrt pitched in the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers systems during his baseball-playing career.

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The Kehrt family (from left): Jeremy, Maddux, Meagen and Bellamy. Jeremy is an area scout with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Kehrts resides in Avon, Ind.

 

Gregor displaying baseball tools, helping others reach their goals

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Conrad Gregor does his best to use baseball’s five physical tools (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average and hitting for power).

As a third baseman, first baseman and left fielder for the New Jersey Jackals of the independent Can-Am League, the lefty swinger has played in 72 games for the 2019 season (through Aug. 9) and is hitting .324 with nine home runs, 15 doubles, four triples, 49 runs batted in, 68 runs scored, 61 walks, 34 stolen bases and a .459 on-base percentage.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has amassed 22 multi-hit games with four in a “friendly” against the Cuba National Team and four three-hit games.

Batting No. 3 for manager Brooks Carey, the graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School (2010) and Vanderbilt UniversityVanderbilt University (2016) went 0-of-3 then 1-for-1 with a double, three runs scored two walks and one stolen base Friday as New Jersey (40-32) beat Sussex County 4-0 and 10-1 at Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, N.J., and moved within 5.5 games of the league-leading Miners.

Besides the tools, Gregor also sees the importance of using mental skills, work ethic, mindset, consistency and a desire for excellence.

“It’s what’s between your two ears,” says Gregor of mental skills. “As a pro, you play on a nightly basis. You have to survive the ups and downs of being a hitter in baseball.

“I have to get my body ready to play 140-plus games a year. You have to be a good teammate at all times — even when things aren’t going well for  you individually. Have a ‘team at-bat’ — no matter what that may be.”

Gregor, 27, grew up playing the Carmel Dads’ ClubCarmel Dads’ Club and for the Carmel Pups.

In middle school, he went with the Indiana Prospects. In high school, he joined the Midland Redskins and helped them to an American Amateur Baseball Congress Connie Mack World Series title in 2009. He played a couple of high school falls with the Kanas City Royals Scout Team.

Eric Lentz was Gregor’s head coach at Carmel High School. They have stayed in contact through the years.

“He’s got a great baseball mind,” says Gregor of Lentz. “I learned a lot from him. He’s about bringing it everyday, keeping the blinders on, doing the little things and playing team baseball to win games.”

“I’ve passed it on to the people I teach.”

During the baseball off-season, Gregor runs Anchor Down Sports Performance in downtown Carmel and many of his clients are junior high, high school and college ballplayers.

“I want to help people the best that I can,” says Gregor, who completed his finance and entrepreneurship degree during fall semesters after beginning his pro baseball career in 2013 and is certified in weightlifting and functional movement systems.

Anchor Down — a name that gives a nod to the Vanderbilt Commodores — has a presence on social media, including Facebook and YouTube.

Gregor was selected in the 40th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox, but opted to go to Vanderbilt. He played three seasons for the Commodores (2011-13), hitting .327 with nine homers, 45 doubles, 115 runs batted in, 117 runs scored, 33 stolen bases and a .444 on-base percentage over 186 games.

“It was a great honor to be able to play and learn from one the best-regarded baseball coaches in the sport,” says Gregor of head coach Tim Corbin, who led Vandy to the College World Series championship in 2019 and is to be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2020. “He provided me with a lot of useful lessons.

“He helped me become not only a great baseball player, but a great person.”

Picked in the fourth round of the 2013 draft by the Houston Astros, Gregor signed that June then had an unforgettable family moment in 2014 in Davenport, Iowa.

Conrad slugged his first Midwest League home run and his father — Marty — caught the ball. Marty and Megan Gregor had made their way out to a restaurant near right field and Marty was there to collect the souvenir.

Gregor was in the Astros system into 2017 then played 69 games with New Jersey before being picked up with the Boston Red Sox organization at the end of 2017. He played 12 games in he Red Sox chain along with five for the independent Atlantic League’s Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers and 98 with the Can-Am League’s Rockland (N.Y.) Boulders in 2018.

The Can-Am League all-star hopes to help New Jersey to a league title in 2019 (the regular season ends Sept. 2 and the playoffs conclude Sept. 15) then come back to Carmel to re-charge and then head out again.

Gregor is currently shopping around for a chance to play winter ball in Mexico, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic.

“I’m at the stage of my career where it’s ‘what have you done for me lately?’ It’s performance-based,” says Gregor. “I’m looking to continue playing.”

Always a righty thrower and lefty batter, Gregor sees advantages in swinging from that side of the plate.

“Being left-handed gives you a head start running to first base and you’re facing a lot of right-handed pitchers so the off-speed pitch is coming into your barrel.”

When teaching hitters, Gregor likes to point to the great left-handed swings — like the sweet one with the high finish used by Ken Griffey Jr. — and encourage his students to use what works best for them.

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Conrad Gregor, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University, is playing professional baseball in 2019 with independent New Jersey Jackals. (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

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Conrad Gregor, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University, is playing professional baseball in 2019 with independent New Jersey Jackals. Gregor has also played in the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox organizations and owns and operates Anchor Down Sports Performance in Carmel.  (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

Mt. Vernon (Posey), Southern Indiana product Brown contributing in Braves system at bat, behind the plate

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Logan Brown takes pride in being a contributor on both offense and defense.

Take a recent game for the Florida Fire Frogs at the Daytona Tortugas.

The lefty-swinging Brown produced the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning and then went behind the plate in the bottom half to guide his pitcher and the team to victory.

“I got a change-up and doubled over the right fielder’s head and we went ahead 2-1,” says Brown. “We won with our closer (Daysbel Hernandez).

“It’s always nice to help the pitchers out. In the end of the day, they’re the one making the pitches. But I hope they feel comfortable throwing to me. That’s always a big priority to me.”

When his son was age 3 or 4, Kevin Brown noticed that the boy was turning into a lefty. Being a professional catcher himself (the elder Brown was a receiver for the Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox between 1996-2002), he let his boy keep swinging from left side but changed him to a right-handed thrower.

Logan Brown, who was born in Evansville, Ind., grew up in nearby Mount Vernon and played Mount Vernon Youth Baseball and travel ball for the Mount Vernon Wildbats (coached by Dan McNamara and including future high school and college teammate Drake McNamara), Southern Indiana Sharks (coached by Kevin Brown, J.D. Mobley and Kevin Krizan and featuring teammates Cody Mobley and Austin Krizan) and Evansville Wolfepack (coached by former big league infielder Joe Lis) and for Mount Vernon (Posey) High School.

Along the way, he played some in the infield. But his primary position was catcher and his high school coach — Paul Quinzer — trusted him to call pitches.

“(Quinzer) was a great coach,” says Brown, who was an all-Southwest Indiana Conference performer after batting .384 as a senior. “He knows you have that kind of potential.”

The trend of letting him call pitches continued for Brown at the University of Southern Indiana, where Jeremy Kuester was the pitching coach and Tracy Archuleta the head coach.

“He’s a fantastic coach,” says Brown of Archuleta. “He wants what’s best for every single player. He knows how to run a program.

“If he knows you can do better, he’s going to let you know. He knows you have that potential. He’ll say things like ‘I know you have more in your tank.’”

Archuleta has led the USI to two NCAA Division II national championships. The Screaming Eagles went 106-63 during Brown’s time on the team (2016-18) as he hit .313, .276 and .338 with 127 starts. USI won regional titles in 2016 and 2018.

Brown notes that many of his minor league teammates and opponents played D-II baseball.

Selected in the 35th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Braves, Brown has continued calling pitches as a professional.

“It’s a lot of reading the hitters and things like that,” says Brown. “It’s more than just throwing pitches. You see how the hitters react to it. You see their swing path.”

The Kissimmee- based Fire Frogs play in the 12-team Advanced Class-A Florida State League. Seeing a team one time is enough for Brown to pick up on hitters’ strengths and weaknesses.

“You can’t get repetitive or they’ll sit on pitches,” says Brown. “It can’t be the same rhythm for every at-bat.

“Throw a throw a question mark in there to confuse them. A 3-2 curve ball is enough to get them guessing.”

Brown’s background in the infield also serves as catcher.

“It translates,” says Brown. “The pitcher may spike a curve ball or slider. You stay through it and pick it.”

With a bat in his bands, Brown looks to make adjustments.

“I know the movement on baseballs is a little better (each step up the minor league ladder),” says Brown. “I’m sticking to my approach. I like to think ‘drive the ball the other way.’ But it depends on what the pitcher is doing as the game and the at-bat goes on.

“To be a good hitter, you’ve got to make adjustments throughout the at-bat.”

Brown, who turns 23 on Sept. 14, began the 2019 season with the Low Class-A Rome (Ga.) Braves and played in 51 games, hitting .301 with one home run, 11 doubles and 26 runs batted in.

In his first 35 games with the Fire Frogs, Brown is hitting .272 with three homers, five doubles and 16 RBI. He his hitting .289 with six runs driven in over his last 10 games.

Brown says he likes to emphasize his strengths and work on what he understands to be his weaknesses during the off-season.

The next two stages in the Braves system are Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett (Ga.).

Though he is not yet sure what the Braves have in mind for him at season’s end, Brown says expects to be in Mount Vernon at some point and helping his father at the Kevin Brown Baseball & Softball School.

Kevin Brown played baseball at USI while Logan’s mother, Rachel (then Murray and now Daniel) played tennis (Logan also played the sport in high school). Logan’s parents have remarried and he has seventh brothers and sisters in the Mount Vernon/Evansville area, ranging from 2 to 20.

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Logan Brown, a Mount Vernon (Posey) High School graduate and former University of Southern Indiana player, is now a catcher in the Atlanta Braves system. (Florida Fire Frogs Photo)