Tag Archives: Boston Red Sox

Bethel Hall of Famer Masterson keeping busy since baseball retirement

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Masterson put the wraps on his professional baseball playing career in 2017.

A 6-foot-6, 235-pound right-hander possessing what was often a devastating sinker pitched for the Boston Red Sox (2008-09, 2015), Cleveland Indians (2009-14) and St. Louis Cardinals (2014).

“Mr. Clean” appeared in 25 games with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in 2016. He also pitched in the minors for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations.

Before any of that, the Kingston, Jamaica-born, Beavercreek (Ohio) High School graduate spent two seasons at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. (he was an honorable-mention NAIA All-American in 2004 and National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association All-American in 2004 and 2005), and one at San Diego State University (2006).

At Bethel, he was a combined 20-8 on the mound with 185 strikeouts posted earned averages of 2.09 in 2004 and 1.59 in 2005. With a bat, he clubbed a team-best 10 homers in 2005.

He was inducted into the Bethel Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.

Masterson was selected in the second round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Red Sox.

Justin and wife Meryl Masterson (her maiden name is Ham) celebrated 11 years of marriage Nov. 3, 2018. The couple resides in Fishers, Ind., and have three children — 7-year-old Eden and 4-year-old twins Cruz and Nadia.

Philanthropists, the Mastersons founded a non-profit, Fortress Foundation, in 2013 with business partner and former Bethel teammate Matt Zappasodi. Justin Masterson is chairman, Matt Zappasodi director, Meryl Masterson co-chair and Emily Zappasodi treasurer.

Masterson also partnered with the One Child Matters baseball project in the Dominican Republic in 2008, spoke at the Pentagon’s weekly prayer breakfast in 2009 and worked with Bright Hope in 2013.

He has also indicated that he will support The BASE Indianapolis. The group brings baseball and educational opportunities to urban youth.

Masterson, 33, was an award presenter in October at the Bethel College Founders Society Dinner, where plans were revealed for the school’s transition to Bethel University in May 2019.

Recently, Masterson agreed to an IndianaRBI Q&A session.

Q: What are some of your fondest on-field memories at Bethel College?

A: Let’s see. Justin Gingerich, fellow pitcher, hitting a bomb off of me in fall ball. And — no! — he didn’t have much practice leading up to that moment. I think that was the fall of our sophomore year.

I felt all the emotions during a doubleheader. We were facing Marian, I think for the conference, and I start the first game and we did well and won. Game 2, we are winning and I am brought in to close out this game. Control was a little off, I think I walked the bases loaded, then their best hitter at the time — don’t know his name, but he had a solid beard and long hair — he came up and crushed one into the trees for a grand slam. The day started on a high note and ended on a low note. There are so many incredible memories!

We set a record in wins my freshman year (44 in 2004) and it was a pleasure to play with some great players.

One game, I am still trying to figure out if it was true or folklore, but Marcel Guevara, a well-sized left-handed Venezuelan, crushed six or seven homers in a doubleheader. And the joke remains that Marcel hit a guy with a ball over the fence during batting practice, we looked at Marcel and said, ‘You hit that guy!’ He responded with, ‘He shouldn’t have been standing there.’ Fun times!

Q: What are some of your fondest off-field memories at Bethel College?

A: My time started with incredible roommates. First year I had my cousins Dan and Aaron Hamrick, along with Kyle Feller and Matt Savill.

The next year it continued with my cousin Aaron and we added Logan Halley and Aaron Engbrecht.

Along with the fact that my older sister (Mandy) was at Bethel, this made for the baseline of a blessed college journey.

One of my favorite things to do was to join my cousin Dan for open gym basketball just about every evening. Even the days I had two-a-day baseball practices, Dan would still drag me to open gym, but I didn’t fight too hard either.

Meeting my wife, Meryl, has to be near the top of fondest memories at Bethel. I was a sophomore and she was a freshman. We were together in perspective of fine arts, that is we were both taking the class and she noticed me well before I noticed her, but once I noticed she was noticing me, well, lets just say we celebrated 11 years of marriage.

I could go on for days and know there are plenty that I am forgetting. Enjoying myself I did!

Q: What was your favorite class or classes?

A: Anything with Dr. Bob Laurent! There were other great professors and enjoyable classes but he — just like he has for thousands of students and people in his lifetime — impacted my life in lasting ways that were helpful in molding me into who I am today.

Q: What else can you tell us about your studies at Bethel or San Diego State? What was major?

A: At Bethel, I was taking a smorgasbord of bible classes and when I went to San Diego State those that transferred turned my major into a criminal justice/psychology/sociology major.

I worked hard in all my classes, but school was honestly a means for me to grow and develop socially, physically and mentally as I continued my journey to the Major Leagues.

Q: Who were the toughest hitters you faced in the big leagues?

A: One most people will agree with — Miguel Cabrera. I believe he is one of the best hitters because he can do anything with a bat and is willing to do what the situation dictates. He can hit a home run, but is satisfied with a base hit that scores a run. Not afraid to take a walk if the pitcher is giving it to him.

Melky Cabrera raked me, but the other I talk about most is Don Kelly.

If you haven’t heard of him that is understandable, also means you are not a Tigers fan. Don was the king at just dropping balls in over the infielders’ heads. (Kelly) would bat in the 9-hole against every other pitcher, but would hit in the 4-hole against me. It culminated to 2013, I gave up three runs in each of my games against Detroit. Those runs came from Downtown Don’s two three-run home runs. If he wasn’t an incredible guy, I might be more upset about it!

Q: Who were some of the best that you got out regularly?

A: I do not remember the best. I would say the majority of right-handed hitters I fared quite well against with my low three-quarters arm slot and heavy sinking action.

I do remember my first playoff series against the angels and facing Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero each game. I did not get them out every time, but fared decently well against them, at least we won that series so I didn’t do too terrible!

Q: What do you think it’s been like for her to be a baseball wife?

A: A journey! It is such an interesting world to navigate as a professional athlete’s wife.

That world ranges from ladies who, by the way they talk, are out on the field making plays, to ladies who are some of the kindest, most humble people you will ever meet.

Of course, my wife is a part of the kind, humble spectrum and she was and still is well-respected by all who crossed her path. Not only do they have to deal with each other, but they have to deal with their husband who may or may not have fared very well that night.

I think my wife’s husband made that part of the gig a little bit easier. Not because he always performed well, but because the game was just that — a game! And he answers in third person!

Q: What are you doing these days?

A: I am available. What do I mean by that? I have dug a ditch, I have milled some logs, I have done some speaking, I have done some leading, I have done some lessons, I am coaching second grade basketball and the list can continue.

I did not want to jump into anything too permanent right away after deciding not to play anymore.

What do most of my days consist of? Lots of family time, reading, writing and some bootleg guitar playing!

Q: What about Fortress Foundation?

A: A refuge to those in a time of need. We are trying to go where God is leading us to impact spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

Meryl and I started the foundation in 2013 and do not plan on it lasting forever but wanted a way to be good stewards of God’s financial blessings through baseball and also have a way to hold the organizations we work with accountable.

Matt Zappasodi and I are going to India soon to impact lives in a positive way

Q: Do you keep in-touch with other former Bethel teammates or classmates?

A: We have been blessed to have the Zappsodi’s around and have also had chances to keep in touch with many Bethel people over the years.

One of the great things about baseball is that you travel to a lot of neat cities and with Bethel alumni being scattered throughout the country, lets just say the joke in the clubhouse was that I knew someone in every city that we went to.

And if I had time I loved meeting before the game or after the game for a late night bit to eat. Many opportunities have arisen though the friendships that I made at Bethel.

Q: You say you live in or near Fishers, Ind.? Is that near where Meryl is from?

A: Meryl is from the mean streets of Mishawka and I hail from two minutes east of Dayton. We could live anywhere after we were married and (the Indianapolis area) kind of splits the difference between our families. Ten years later, we are still here and it is a pretty good place to live.

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Justin Masterson (foreground) captures the scene at a fall retreat in Brown City, Mich. Masterson is a member of the Bethel College Athletics Hall of Fame and former Major League Baseball pitcher. He is kept busy doing many things, including making impact spiritually, emotionally, and physically through the Fortress Foundation.

 

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With Barber as president/CEO, The BASE Indianapolis offers diamond, educational opportunities to urban youth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A group of concerned community leaders have been making a difference in the urban areas of Boston with The BASE and it is starting to branch out in Indianapolis.

The BASE is a not-for-profit organization that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.

It helps them overcome the negative stereotypes and barriers that come with single-parent homes, government housing and poverty and to enjoy athletic and academic achievement.

These young people from “at-risk” areas are given a chance to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them.

A video for The BASE puts it this way: “Too many people keep saying what our young folks can’t do and where they’re going to end up … We will strive and achieve.”

Founded in Massachusetts by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE seeks to change mindsets and perceptions by providing opportunities to these kids.

“Every child deserves to be educated, safe, healthy, warm, fed and un-abused,” says Lewis. (The BASE) is a passion point. You can take an opportunity and find things young folks love to do. It could be baseball, football. It could be arts or technology.

“Our young folks have to participate in the 21st century work force. They have to be educated and skilled to do that.”

With support from many, programming is free to these young people.

“Money isn’t going to be the determining factor to keep them from playing the greatest game in the world,” says Lewis. “Every child can love a great game and also participate at the highest level.”

Lewis and The BASE celebrated the 40th year of the Boston Astros at Fenway Park — home of the Boston Red Sox. The BASE has a facility in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood and a stadium complex with first-class learning facilities is in the works.

The BASE carries this motto: Success Begins Here.

“Excellence is the new minimum and we’re going to keep pushing,” says Lewis. “I got into this to really change the trajectory for black and Latino boys.

“That’s a moral standard. That’s where we start. How do we solve problems?”

Lewis counts former Red Sox and current Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein as a friend and financial supporter of The BASE and the organization is now in Chicago with plans to open a clubhouse later this month in Grant Park.

Lewis says The BASE has no bigger fan than famed writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons, who calls the organization the “best urban baseball program in America today.”

Leading the charge to serve urban youth in central Indiana through The BASE is Rob Barber.

“We consider them to be under-served assets,” says Barber of the young people. “Help and love is on the way.”

Barber, a former Indiana University player and long-time member of the baseball community, is the president and chief executive officer of The BASE Indianapolis. He is working to form partnerships with individuals and businesses.

He’s gone inside baseball circles, including Play Ball Indiana, Major League Baseball-backed Indianapolis RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), travel organizations, high school and colleges. He’s also gotten the ears of politicians, civic leaders and more.

A launch team has been formed and board, staff and advisory positions are being filled. Current and former big league ballplayers with central Indiana ties lending their support include Tucker Barnhart, Justin Masterson, Kevin Plawecki and Drew Storen. Barber says more are expected.

Barber has relationships all around the baseball community, including with instructors Chris Estep (Roundtripper Sports Academy) and Jay Lehr (Power Alley Baseball Academy), Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski, Warren Central High School head coach Emmitt Carney and Kansas City Royals are scout Mike Farrell.

Plans call for The BASE Indianapolis to build a clubhouse or two around the city where kids can come year-round for assistance — whether that’s with their athletic skills or homework. The group partners with many colleges to provide scholarships.

Last summer, the Indianapolis RBI team played in the Pittsburgh Urban Classic. The GameChangers Baseball Club, based in Canonsburg, Pa., and led by Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School and Bethel College graduate Greg Kloosterman and business partner Kristi Hilbert, has also partnered with The BASE.

(Kloosterman) loves the model that we have,” says Lewis. “You earn your spot. It’s not based on pay-for-play. It’s a loving commitment.

“It’s a culture.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates are also backers of The BASE.

Lewis says The BASE is on-track to have a presence in Indianapolis in 2019.

“We’re building alliances and partnerships,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to come in and crash. We want to be part of the party.”

Barber says he hopes to have a fundraising event in Indianapolis February. He plans to invite Carl Erskine and Chuck Harmon.

Anderson, Ind., native Erskine played with Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Harmon, who hails Washington, Ind., was the first black to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

Bill Harmon, Chuck’s brother, was a mentor to Bob Barber (Rob’s father who died in 2010) and a coach to Rob as he grew up in Jennings County, Ind.

Barber played three seasons at Indiana in the late 1980’s for Hoosiers coach Bob Morgan and was a teammate of future big leaguers Mickey Morandini and John Wehner.

Later, Barber worked with Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of current IU head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.) and helped form the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

Barber founded USAthletic and was an assistant coach to Dan Ambrose at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis the past seven years.

To concentrate on The BASE Indianapolis, he is turning over USAthletic to Wes Whisler and stepping away from his high school coaching duties.

In one visit to The BASE in Boston, Rob and wife Nichole met Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. The Barbers have two children. Mary is in graduate school in Nashville, Tenn. Alec is an accounting analyst for Roche in Indianapolis.

Rob took Alec to Boston and spent three days with The BASE. That convinced Lewis of the level of the elder Barber’s commitment.

Lewis and his Boston kids showed their appreciation when they came out to support Barber’s team at a tournament in Indianapolis. They were there with hugs and positivity.

“Folks like Rob are shifting the paradigm,” says Lewis. “Baseball is a game for everybody. We want to support him.

“I love Rob like a brother. He doesn’t have to do this at all. The safest thing he could do is keep going.”

“But it’s about family.”

For more information, contact Barber at rbarber@thebaseindy.org or 317-840-6488. Contact Lewis at Rlewisjr@thebase.org.

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Founded in Boston, The BASE serves urban youth through baseball, softball and educational opportunities and is expanding to Indianapolis. (The BASE Graphic)

Former Columbus North, Louisville player Mann making his way in the Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

At 6-foot-3, first-year professional Devin Mann is not a typical second baseman.

Of the 30 second sackers in the No. 1 slot on the latest Major League Baseball depth charts, just two are listed as taller than 6-3. Colorado’s D.J. LeMahieu and Milwaukee’s Travis Shaw are both 6-4. Eleven current 2B starters are shorter that 6-foot. And that doesn’t count two stars on the disabled list — 5-6 Jose Altuve of Houston and 5-9 Dustin Pedroia of Boston.

Pedroia is Mann’s favorite player.

Why?

“I just like how he plays the game,” says Mann. “He plays the game really hard.

“He goes about his business everyday. That’s what they taught at (the University of) Louisville. I love that about him.”

Mann, 21, was a shortstop during his four seasons at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, which concluded in 2015.

When Mann arrived at the Louisville, he was moved to second base by Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell.

That was the position played by McDonnell at The Citadel and he put Mann through enough reps on that side of the infield that it became his natural defensive spot.

“(McDonnell) helped mold me (at second base) everyday,” says Mann. “Every kid deserves to play for a coach like that — the things he does for you as a baseball player and a person off the field don’t compare to anyone else.”

Mann also learned to flourish with the bat.

The right-handed swinger hit .303 in 39 games with no homers, nine doubles, 17 RBIs and one stolen base in 2016, .268 in 64 games with eight homers, 11 doubles, 44 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 2017 and .303 in 69 games with seven homers, 17 doubles, 52 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 2018. He hit in the No. 3 slot for the Cards this past spring.

Mann earned Atlantic Coast Conference honors in each of his three college seasons — all-freshman in 2016, third team in 2017 and all-tournament in 2018.

During that span, the Cardinals combined to go 148-45 with NCAA tournament appearances each season. U of L went to the College World Series in 2017. Louisville had eight players drafted each year, including first-rounder Brendan McKay and Jeffersonville’s Drew Ellis in 2017 and Batesville’s Bryan Hoeing (who’s announced he’s returning to Louisville for 2018-19) and Mann in 2018.

Mann was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After two games with Arizona League Dodgers, Mann has logged 38 with the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons in Midland, Mich., and is hitting .252 with one homer, eight doubles, 14 RBIs and five stolen bases. He consistently hitting from the third or fourth hole in the Great Lakes lineup.

Mann’s first professional long ball — a two-run shot — came July 8 in Midland against Dayton.

John Shoemaker is the Loons manager. The hitting coach is Jair Fernandez.

Mann says he has gained an awareness as a hitter. He recognizes the pitches he can do damage on and aggressively pursues those pitches.

“I’ve trained myself to see pitches early and have an awareness of the strike zone,” says Mann. “It’s paid dividends for me.

“I’ve definitely worked hard at it.”

Watching his power numbers go up at the end of his college career, Mann credits the increase too good mechanics and hitting his preferred pitch more times than not.

“It’s about not missing the pitch you’re getting each at-bat,” says Mann. “The rest might be pitcher’s pitches which are tougher to hit.”

Told the importance of finding a daily routine in pro baseball, where games are played nearly everyday, Mann says he was able to find one early.

Mann more of less re-wrote the offensive record book at Columbus North, finishing his prep career as the Bull Dogs’ career leader in average (.449), runs (118), hits (150), doubles (36), triples (10), home runs (20), RBI (111) and stolen bases (92). The right-handed swinger batted .410 with nine homers and 35 RBIs as a senior, earning all-state honors. He hit .433 average with 14 doubles and 24 RBIs as a junior. He set single-season records for average (.532) and stolen bases (30) as a sophomore.

His head coach was Ben McDaniel.

“He’s similar to Coach McDonnell,” says Mann of McDaniel. “He cares about you as a person off the field and knows the game.

“He demands the most out of you everyday. That’s what a team needs. He treats everybody the same — varsity, JV and freshmen.”

Devin, an only child, calls McDaniel “a second father” and says he and his parents — Bill and Diana Mann — are close friends. Bill owns Moore’s Roofing and Diana works for an asset management company.

Growing up in Columbus, Devin played early travel baseball for the Indiana Blazers. His 12-year-old summer, he was at Bartholomew County Little League as it attempted a run at the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

Mann also played travel ball for the Indiana Nitro and then the Indiana Bulls leading into his junior and senior years at Columbus North.

Dan Held was his head coach with the Bulls.

“He taught us about work ethic and getting the most out of each day,” says Mann of Held, who is now on the baseball staff at Indiana University.

Mann was a sport management major in college and is a semester shy of graduation. He says he plans to finish his degree this year or next.

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Devin Mann, a Columbus, Ind., native is playing with the Great Lakes Loons in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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A shortstop at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, Devin Mann was moved to second base at the University of Louisville and that’s where he plays much of the time in his first professional baseball season. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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Devin Mann, who played at Columbus (Ind.) North High School and the University of Louisville, smacks a pitch as a member of the Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League. (Great Lakes Loons)

Indiana native Wagner enjoying the big league life in first season behind mic for Blue Jays

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Wagner is basking in the glow of his first full-time Major League Baseball escapades.

After a decade as play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Buffalo (N.Y.) Bisons, Wagner got the call to the big leagues in March when the Toronto Blue Jays named the Indiana native as their radio voice. Jerry Howarth retired after holding the job for 36 years.

“I still roll out of bed everyday and double-check that this is my life,” says Wagner, who has already witnessed plenty of memorable on-field highlights and taken in MLB cities across the continent. He has had the pleasure of exploring Independence Hall in Philadelphia, eating crabs in Baltimore and signing the inside of the Green Monster in Boston. “I felt like a tourist when we were in Philly. You’ve got to take advantage of those things.”

The culture is different in the big leagues.

“These are higher-caliber athletes,” says Wagner. “But you conduct yourself professionally, so not much has changed there.

“But everything else has.”

In the International League, teams take buses from city to city — often in the wee hours — and try to get as many home games on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as possible.

“It boils down to dollars and cents,” says Wagner. “At the minor league level, it’s a math problem.”

In the bigs, clubs take charter flights. The bus pulls right up to the jet and away they go!

“It was an oh-wow moment when I first stepped on that charger plane,” says Wagner, a graduate of Fairfield Junior/Senior High School, near Goshen, Ind., and Indiana State University. “There’s nothing like sport’s teams charter travel. Every little thing is taken care of by people behind the scenes. It’s really an incredible experience.”

MLB cities are bigger. The hotels are of the 5-star variety.

“We’re going to places that people make destinations,” says Wagner. “And this is my everyday life.”

During his 10 years in the bus leagues, Wagner welcomed the all-star break as a chance to heal and re-boot.

“By this time in the season, my body torn up, twisted and sore and I’m not playing everyday,” says Wagner, who is 95 games into the 162-game 2018 schedule. “My body feels so much better now because the travel has improved. We are experiencing the best travel out there.

‘The biggest change to my life is the ease of travel. They make it as convenient they can for players, coaches and support staff, including the broadcasters.

When the hotel is within walking distance of the ballpark, it gives Wagner a chance to soak in the flavor of the city.

“I don’t like to breathe too much hotel air so I get out and find a good coffee house,” says Wagner.

There, he can get a cup of joe and then do some exploring.”

He is living in the center of Toronto and can walk to Rogers Centre in 10 to 15 minutes so he has found his favorites spots along the route. Ben and wife Megan live in Lancaster, N.Y. — about a 25-minute drive to Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo.

Depending on whether the opponent that night has already appeared on the Jays schedule, early afternoon on the first day of a series is devoted to prep and research.

Home or away, Wagner get to the park between 2 or 3 p.m. (for a 7 p.m. game).

“I anxiously await lineups being posted,” says Wagner. “Then I plug in storylines on the scorecard.”

There are many media agencies cranking out individual and team trends and Wagner sorts through the mound of information to find precious nuggets.

“Sometimes it’s totally irrelevant,” says Wagner. “But it’s nice to have those resources.”

Wagner spends up to 45 minutes chatting with players and coaches in the clubhouse and then there’s the daily briefing with Toronto manager John Gibbons three hours before first pitch.

After that, Wagner often networks to get the latest news about the other team and baseball in general.

“As much as I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the Blue Jays, having a balanced broadcast is important,” says Wagner. “Consumers have changed. With all the online broadcasting and satellite services, I might not only being talking to Blue Jays fans or Canadians.

“I’m not doing my job if I’m leaving out the other half of the story.”

With an hour before game time, Wagner must be in the “air chair” to record introductions. Then, he grabs a cup of coffee or a bite to eat and is ready to share what he sees with the listeners on SportsNet 590 and the Blue Jays radio affiliates.

On the road, it’s a two-man booth with Wagner and Mike Wilner conversing and trading off the play-by-play innings.

Veteran broadcaster and Toronto resident Dan Shulman works 80 home games — 50 on TV and 30 selected radio dates. When that happens, Wagner and Schulman divide the play-by-play and Wilner also contributes to the broadcast. Jay Siddall is a radio analyst.

Wagner says the difference between the two- and three-man booth is the cadence. With the Bisons, his sidekick was Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Duke McGuire.

“Duke was an incredible resource and he was fun to be with,” says Wagner. “Our broadcast was major league quality — home or on the road.”

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As a first-year full-time radio play-by-play announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays, Ben Wagner has gotten to enjoy crabs in Baltimore. (Photo Courtesy of Ben Wagner)

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On a recent trip to historic Fenway Park in Boston,  Toronto Blue Jays radio voice Ben Wagner got to sign the inside of the Green Monster. (Photo Courtesy of Ben Wagner)

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Ben Wagner, a graduate of Fairfield Junior/Senior High School near Goshen, Ind., and Indiana State University is in first full season as a radio play-by-play announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays. Here he is on the field at Rogers Centre doing some television work. (Photo Courtesy of Ben Wagner)

South Bend Cubs anxious for start of 2018 baseball season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Weather permitting, the South Bend Cubs are set to roll out their 2018 edition tonight (April 5) with the first of two days at West Michigan and then comes the home opener at Four Winds Field Saturday. First pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m.

Jimmy Gonzalez is back for his fourth season as manager.

At the Low Class-A level, Gonzalez is helping young players adjust to professional baseball life while also developing so they can move up the chain.

It’s something the Hartford, Conn., native did in South Bend with Ian Happ (now in the starting lineup for the Chicago Cubs), Gleyber Torres (now on the New York Yankees 40-man roster) and Eloy Jimenez (now on the Chicago White Sox 40-man roster). Happ and Torres played for Gonzalez in South Bend in 2015 and Jimenez in 2016.

Every player is encouraged to be an individual. It’s not a cookie-cutter system.

“We have a set of rules that we abide by, but they have to be themselves,” says Gonzalez. “We can’t say act this way or that way. We’re teaching them and letting them make adjustments.

“It’s a big learning curve for these guys with weather, the full season and all that stuff.”

Many players were on college campuses last spring. After the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, they played for the short-season Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds.

“They had all these things they were worried about before,” says Gonzalez. “Now it’s just baseball. This is their job now. You have to create a routine that works for them.”

Erich Uelmen gets to focus on his training, rest and recovery

“You get to put all of your time into baseball, which is a kids’ game,” says Uhelmen, a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher from Las Vegas. He was selected by the Cubs in the fourth round of the 2017 draft out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

“I loved college baseball,” says Uelmen. “The transition to pro baseball has been fun, too.”

Uelmen was a starter with the Mustangs then was asked to pitch out of the bullpen for the Emeralds.

“Out of the bullpen, it’s hard to get all of your pitches established,” says Uelmen, who used mostly his sinker and slider in Eugene but does have a change-up and four-seam fastball in his pitching bag of tricks. “As a starter, we’ll see the same hitters more and more throughout the season and they’ll have more at-bats against you during the game. You need to keep them off-balance (and change eye levels).”

Uelmen goes to back to starting in South Bend.

“I like to start because throughout the week you can do your workouts,” says Uelmen. “I have a nice routine I can fall back on.”

Brendon Little, a left-hander and 2017 first-round selection out of State College of Florida after a season at the University of North Carolina, got his first taste of pro ball at Eugene.

“Everybody says it’s a grind and it definitely is,” says Little, 21. “It was a great education. It was a lot to take in for one year, but it was definitely a great experience.”

Little, who hails from Malvern, Pa., outside of Philadelphia (he was at the Super Bowl celebration parade for the Eagles and has friends at Villanova, home of the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball champions), has goals this season as a South Bend starter.

“Commanding the baseball and having the change-up as more of a weapon,” says Little, who is considered the top left-handed pitching prospect in the Cubs system by MLB.com and MinorLeagueBall.com. “In the past, my curveball has always been my go-to.”

Besides a “spike” curve and change-up, Little throws a four-seam fastball that he has gotten up in the upper 90’s.

At 25, catcher Tyler Payne is the oldest players on the South Bend opening day roster. Drafted in 2015, he enters his fourth pro season.

The Hurricane, W.Va., native is looking to be a good teammate not only to Cubs pitchers — like 19-year-old Mexican right-hander Jose Albertos — but everyone including 20-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Rafael Narea.

“If they ever need anything, I’m here for them,” says Payne. “I want to win a championship. That’s what it’s all about.”

“For me, I’ve just got to come and bring my game everyday.

Payne will do his part in the development and competitiveness of the pitching staff.

“You’ve got to have a set plan everyday. Go over the scouting reports and trust what our guys have. That’s a big thing for us.”

Brian Glowicki, a 23-year-old right-hander who was used as a reliever in four seasons at the University of Minnesota and last summer in Eugene, is ready to contribute in any way he can for South Bend.

“I bring a lot of energy and I’m very competitive,” says Glowicki, who is from Downers Grove, Ill., but grew up a Boston Red Sox fan because of father Tom and counts former Bosox and current left-hander Jon Lester as his favorite pitcher. “We’ve got a lot of personalities on the team. We like to have fun. But we know how to take care of business once we get on the field.”

JIMMYGONZALEZSBCUBS

Jimmy Gonzalez is in his fourth season as South Bend Cubs manager in 2018. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

ERICHUELMEN

Erich Uhelmen

BRENDONLITTLE

Brendon Little

TYLERPAYNE

Tyler Payne

BRIANGLOWICKI

Brian Glowicki

IANHAPPSBCUBS

Ian Happ was with South Bend Cubs in 2015.

GLEYBERTORRESSBCUBS

Gleyber Torres was with South Bend Cubs in 2015.

ELOYJIMENEZSBCUBS

Eloy Jimenez was with South Bend Cubs in 2016.

 

Baseball scout Machemer keeps eyes peeled for talent

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Machemer’s eyes have seen a great deal of baseball.

A Benton Harbor (Mich.) High School graduate, Machemer played at Central Michigan University and was selected in the fourth round of the 1972 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the California Angels.

Used mostly as a second baseman, Machemer played in 29 MLB games — 10 with the 1978 Angels and 19 with the 1979 Detroit Tigers.

Machmer’s manager in California was Jim Fregosi. His only career home run came in his first big league at-bat — a lead-off shot against Minnesota Twins left-hander Geoff Zahn on June 21, 1978 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. That was one week after Sparky Anderson took over as Detroit manager.

Over 11 minor league seasons and stints with the Angels, Tigers, Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins organizations, Machmer batted .277 with 1,078 hits in 1,126 games played. He spent short stints with the Jim Leyland-managed Evansville Triplets in 1979 and 1980.

Leyland went on to manage in the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, Colorado Rockies and then the Tigers.

Cal Ermer, who won more than 1,900 games in the minors, was Machemer’s manager in Toledo.

Machemer would win nearly 1,700 contests as the main man in the dugout from 1985 to 2013 and also was employed five years as a coordinator.

His managing career began in the Midwest League with the 1985 Beloit Brewers. He went on to manage clubs in Stockton, El Paso and Denver for the Brewers, Delmarva, Rochester, Frederick and Bowie for the Baltimore Orioles, Clinton and Harrisburg for the Montreal Expos and Norwich, Connecticut, Arizona, Augusta and Richmond for the San Francisco Giants.

He took the 1986 Stockton Ports to the California League title, skippered Mexicali to 1989 Mexican Pacific League title and the Caribbean World Series, earned Texas League Manager of the Year with the 1996 El Paso Diablos and guided the 2008 Arizona Giants to the rookie-level Arizona League championship.

Machamer managed a number of future big leaguers, including Gary Sheffield at High Class-A, Double-A and Triple-A, Brian Roberts at High-A and Double-A, Jayson Werth at Low-A and Double-A and B.J. Surhoff at Low-A.

“I loved managing the game and the strategy and competition that I had with other managers,” says Machemer. “I thought I did it well.

“Managing is all about development and winning. Nowadays, the focus is not on winning. It’s about player development.”

Bruce Manno, minor league director when Machemer was with that organization, was liked to win.

“He said, ‘Mac, winning and player development go hand-in-hand because when you win those players get developed,’” says Machemer. “I always believed in that.

“You always had more fun when you won and you developed a winning attitude and a good solid player at the next level to eventual help you win in the major leagues.

“If you don’t win, what’s the game all about?”

The baseball lifer is now in his fifth year as a scout for the Orioles — the first on the amateur side tracking the best high school and college players for the MLB Draft and the past two on the pro side for trades and acquisitions.

In 2017, he traveled from coast to coast and in Latin America and racked up 120 nights at the Marriott while seeing players from Low Class-A to the majors.

“It’s not all bad,” says Machemer. “I get a lot of frequent flyer miles.”

Most of that flying is out of South Bend International Airport.

Machemer, who turns 67 in May, spent a month in Arizona for spring training intently watching players — using those eyes.

“(The Orioles) do a lot of sabermetrics and analysis through computers,” says Machemer. “I don’t. I go with my eyes and my heart and my experience.

“(Executive vice president) Dan Duquette believes in that and we’re still doing it a lot that way and I like it.”

Machemer notes that MLB organizations let 60 scouts go at the end of 2017 that do what he does.

“They’re handing the ball off to a lot of people who sit in the office and go over the numbers and watch a lot of it on television,” says Machemer, who worked with Duquette with the Expos and again with the Brewers. “Dan hasn’t done that yet and I hope he doesn’t.”

When Machemer joined the Orioles scouting staff in 2014 and began taking marching orders from scouting director Gary Rajsich, he was made a national cross checker. He spent three years assessing mostly players who wound up being drafted in the first two rounds.

His role changed last year. He recently returned from spring training where he followed key players on five MLB teams, but was also responsible for everyone he saw on the field. Players might have been out of options or would help the O’s with their Triple-A depth.

Machemer, who got his first taste of scouting in 2007 when the Giants sent him on the road for three months with renowned advance scout Ted Uhlaender, was looking for things like athleticism, arm strength and bat speed and submitting reports.

Since teams do their pre-game work on back fields during the spring, Machemer had to rely on just what he saw in games.

“You have to be very, very astute to be able to evaluate a guy on a couple different plays or couple at-bats,” says Machemer. “It’s not an easy job. It’s hard.”

Machemer would watch teams for five or six games in a row and then move on to the next team.

“I’m hoping to see something in that five or six games that excites me a little bit,” says Machemer. “Maybe I don’t see that this guy’s skills play to the level he should?”

The player in question might be heavy or light on his feet, have a weak or strong arm, slow or quick bat.

“All I can tell them is what I see,” says Machemer. “I pull the trigger and that’s what we all do as scouts. You’ve got to pull the trigger.”

Scouts have to have the ability to project what they think a player is going to be and how they fit into the organization’s plans.

“Every player in this game as they come up is going to have a role,” says Machemer. “As a scout, I put a present role on them and a future role.

“That’s what this game is all about. Can he help us in the big leagues?”

That’s what Machemer’s bosses want to know.

Fernando Tatis Jr., who played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps at 18 in 2017, impressed Machemer in Cactus League play and sees him as a talent that could become an everyday big leaguer.

“When you see guys like a Tatis, you know he’s going to be something in the major leagues,” says Machemer. “It’s for you as a scout to determine what he’s going to be

Machemer was also projecting as a minor league manager.

“Those skilled players I knew were eventually going to start in the big leagues,” says of players like Sheffield, Roberts, Werth and Surhoff. “That was going to be their role.

“Not everyone coming up is going to be an everyday player in the major leagues. I had to zero in on what they needed to get better at and what their role was going to be.”

The player’s idea of their role and the team’s is not always the same.

Such was the case with Machemer as a player. He didn’t always see eye to eye with his managers, including Leyland, about his playing time and his role.

“As a I graduated into managing and player development, I understood it a little more,” says Machemer. “When I got into scouting, I really understood it.”

Machemer learned much for many people over the years. His baseball and football coach at Benton Harbor High was Al Ratcliff.

“He taught me so much about the game and about life,” says Machemer. “That man taught me to the believe in myself and to overcome adversity when the trenches got real deep.”

Ratcliff died March 7 at 93.

Machemer also looks back fondly on his time with his minor league majors Ermer, Jimy Williams, Deron Johnson, Doc Edwards and Joe Morgan. Williams (Toronto Blue Jays, Red Sox, Astros), Edwards (Cleveland Indians) and Morgan (Red Sox) all managed the majors. Johnson was an MLB hitting coach.

“Those guys gave me a piece of them,” says Machemer. “I learned a lot from each and every one of those guys. From them, I kind of developed my own style.

“I’ll never forget those guys. I pay tribute to them for my career. They molded me into who I am.”

While he was managing in the Midwest League, he was approached by South Bend coach Jim Reinebold and the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame took him back to the days that he led his South Bend Clay Colonials against Benton Harbor.

“‘Dave, you played the game as hard as any player I ever saw,’” says Machemer in repeating Reinebold’s comments. “That meant a lot to me. That guy’s a legend and those kind of people are hard to impress. They are cut from a different cloth.”

Does Machemer have his eyes on another managing job?

The only jobs that would pique his interest are managing at the Triple-A or the majors and coaching the bigs.

“I like what I’m doing right now,” says Machemer. “I have a good feel for scouting.”

DAVEMACHEMEREVANSVILLETRIPLETS

Dave Machemer’s long baseball career as a player, manager, coordinator and scout includes two brief stops with the old Evansville Triplets in the Detroit Tigers organization. The Benton Harbor, Mich., resident is now a pro scout for the Baltimore Orioles.

 

‘Small ball’ one way Stotts, Borden Braves achieve small-school baseball success

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Being consistently competitive on the baseball field at a small school is no small feat.

Head coach Eric Stotts has found a way to make the Braves of Borden High School (enrollment just over 200) into a program to be reckoned with around southern Indiana.

Fielding just a varsity team with about 12 to 14 players, the IHSAA Class 1A Braves have faired well against a schedule that is full of larger schools, including 4A’s Jennings County, New Albany and Seymour and 3A’s Corydon Central, North Harrison, Salem and Silver Creek.

“Aside from conference, we have only one 1A opponent,” says Stotts. “It’s the nature of the beast where we’re located.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a modest amount of pitching depth for a 1A high school.”

One way Borden dealt with the new pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) last spring was to sometimes lift pitchers at the front of the rotation early in games and go back to them later if needed.

“Everybody’s dealing with it,” says Stotts. “With 12 kids on a baseball team, our arms are limited.”

In 2017, Borden went 16-7 and might have gotten to the 20-win plateau if not for some rainouts that never got made up.

Lanesville edged Borden 1-0 in the championship game of the 1A South Central (Elizabeth) Sectional. The Eagles went on to hoist the 2017 state championship trophy a year after beating Borden 4-1 in the Lanesville Sectional final then going on to be 2016 1A state runner-up.

“We have see-sawed back and forth (with Lanesville),” says Stotts, who has led  Borden baseball 2000-07 and 2015 to the present. “We gave them the toughest game in their state tournament run both years.”

Because of the IHSAA success factor, Lanesville will move up to 2A in 2018. That leaves Christian Academy of Indiana, New Washington, Shawe Memorial, South Central (Elizabeth) as potential sectional foes for Borden.

Borden will still meet up with Lanesville. They are both members of the Southern Athletic Conference (along with Crothersville, Henryville, New Washington and South Central).

If SAC schools meet twice during the season, the first one counts toward the conference standings. Crothersville (about a 50-minute trip) is the furthest SAC school from Borden.

Borden, Henryville and Silver Creek are all part of West Clark Community Schools.

With the help of full-time assistants Sam Beckort and Eric Nale and part-timers Kyle Kruer (Indiana University Southeast student) and Dawson Nale (University of Southern Indiana student), the Braves go into 2018 with a trio of seniors that have been starters since Stotts came back to the program in 2015 — catcher/shortstop/pitcher Lucas McNew (a USI commit), first baseman/utility player Cory Anderson and outfielder Noah Franklin.

Having seen him speak at clinics, Stotts has incorporated some infield drills taught by USI head coach Tracy Archuleta.

Stotts draws on the influence of a real diamond veteran. The 1993 Clarksville High School graduate played for the Generals and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Wayne Stock, who taught lessons of dedication and commitment.

“Coach Wayne threw every pitch of batting practice,” says Stotts. “He was a wonderful man and a wonderful mentor.

“I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet. I’m now a coach and social studies teacher. That’s exactly what he was. No one outside my family was more influential on me.”

Stotts recalls the words of the late Billy Graham: “A coach will impact more people in a season than the average person does in a lifetime.”

“I firmly believe that,” says Stotts, who is father to Jonathan (22) and Zane (15).

As for strategy, Stotts says Stock was not a fan of the bunt. It took Stotts some time to learn how effective “small ball” can be.

“Now that has become a main weapon in any high school coach’s arsenal,” says Stotts.

As an assistant to Larry Ingram at Eastern (Pekin) High School in 1999, Stotts saw the Musketeers lay down up to a dozen bunts a game.

“You can have a lot of success with it,” says Stotts. “Getting the ball down means somebody (on defense) has to make a play.”

Before the BBCOR era, Stotts might have multiple long-ball hitters in his lineup. He can’t count on power now.

“Everybody can bunt — slow, fast, whatever,” says Stotts.

Stotts began his coaching career in youth leagues while he attended IU Southeast. He was freshmen coach on Chris McIntyre’s staff at New Albany in 1998.

McIntyre was a student teacher at Clarksville when Stotts was still in school.

“Coach Mac is a great old-school kind of coach,” says Stotts. “His teams do things the right way.”

One of Ingram’s products at Eastern (Pekin) was Brad Pennington. Drafted in 1989, the 6-foot-5 left-hander went on to pitch five seasons in the majors with the Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, California Angels and Tampa Bay Rays.

Like tennis, track and softball, Borden has its baseball facilities about a mile from campus.

The baseball field does not have lights. But fencing and other equipment was replaced after a low-grade tornado tore through last season.

Upgrades last year at Borden Youth League meant that junior high age players no longer had to share the high school diamond.

ERICSTOTTS3GREGMENGELTNEWSANDTRIBUNE

Eric Stotts gets a point across to his Borden High School baseball team. He has led the Braves in two different stints — 2000-2007 and 2015 to the present. (Greg Mengelt/News and Tribune Photo)

ERICSTOTTS4JOEULRICHNEWSANDTRIBUNE

Borden High School baseball players listen intently to head coach Eric Stotts. The 1993 Clarksville High School graduate is in his second stint with the Braves. (Joel Ulrich/News and Tribune Photo)