Tag Archives: Brian Lawrence

Delta, Ball State alum Nichols nearing baseball broadcast milestone with Dayton Dragons

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana native is about to reach a baseball broadcasting milestone with an Ohio-based team in Michigan.

Tom Nichols, a Muncie native, will work his 4,000th minor league game (radio and television combined) on Wednesday, Aug. 8, if the Dayton (Ohio) Dragons of the Low Class-A Midwest League are not rained out between now and then.

All Dragons games (140 during the regular season) are broadcast on WONE 980 AM and http://www.daytondragons.com.

In his 31st season as a baseball play-by-play announcer and his 11th in Dayton, Nichols is in some rare company.

Jim Weber (Toledo Mud Hens) and Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians) have been at the mike for more than 40 years and have done upwards of 6,000 games apiece.

Larry Ward (Chattanooga Lookouts) has been on the call for more than 35 years.

By his calculations, Nichols trails Curt Bloom (Birmingham Barons) by a few games. He counts Bloom as his longest friendship in the business. Though Bloom is a year older than Nichols, they share the same birthday — Feb. 9. They first crossed paths in the Carolina League and then for years in the Southern League.

“I’m sure I’m in the top 10, but not sure if I’m in the top five,” says Nichols of the longest current radio voices in the minors.

Nichols, 54, was born in Muncie, Ind. At age 7, he became a fan of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”

Al Michaels was the Reds play-by-play from 1971-73 and young Tom only missed games when he was playing himself.

Marty Brenneman took over Michaels’ role in 1974 and is still the No. 1 man in the Reds booth. For years, he was paired with former Cincy pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

“You used to be able to your ride bike through neighborhood and listen to the game because someone would have Marty and Joe on there porch,” says Nichols. “In those days, only 10 or 15 games were televised.”

Another way to keep up with the Reds — and baseball — in the ‘70s was by subscribing to The Sporting News. The publication came in the mail each Friday and Nichols devoured the box scores and stories after getting home on the school bus.

He played baseball at Delta High School in Muncie, where he graduated in 1982.

While at Ball State University, where he got his diploma in telecommunications in 1986, Nichols called high school football, basketball and baseball for WWHC in Hartford City and one season of Ball State baseball for WERK in Muncie.

He was the news director WLBC in Muncie for almost three years after college when he got his professional baseball broadcasting break.

Getting up the nerve to call Kellman for some advice, he was presented with the opportunity to be a No. 2 voice when musician duties took away.

Nichols did that during the 1988 and 1989 seasons.

“I’m eternally grateful to Howard Kellman for giving me that opportunity,” says Nichols, who has taken the opportunity to pay it forward mentoring young broadcasters as they serve as his second during Dayton home radio broadcasts, take the whole game when Nichols is on the TV side and work extensively in media relations.

“I do that because somebody did it for me,” says Nichols. “We’ve had one every year. Many have gone on to be No. 1’s.”

Owen Serey was in Dayton in 2008 and went on to be the voice of the Midwest League’s South Bend Silver Hawks.

Jason Kempf was with Nichols and the Dragons in 2017 and 2018 and is now the No. 1 for the MWL’s Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa.

Others who assisted Nichols in Dayton and moved on to lead play-by-play roles include Mike Couzens (Fort Wayne and now with ESPN), Brendan Gulick (Delmarva and now in Cleveland area radio), Keith Raad (Staten Island) and Alex Vispoli (Winston-Salem, Frisco and then the Ivy League).

Bill Spaulding has carved his niche in the broadcasting world by calling Olympic sports for NBC.

While Nichols is with the Dayton all-year and does many things including speaking engagements and has come to thoroughly enjoy audience Q&A’s, the Dragons No. 2 position is seasonal — March-to-September.

Nichols’ first No. 1 gig was with the Kinston (N.C.) Indians of the Carolina League, where he worked for the 1990 season. Jim Thome (just inducted into the Ball Hall of Fame) led the future big leaguers on the Cleveland Indians-affiliated team. A couple others of note were Curtis Leskanic and Robert Person.

He came the Midwest League to lead airings of Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs games in 1991-92. There, he got frequently have former Harry Caray sideman Jimmy Piersall as his analyst.

“He had a tremendous knowledge of the game and was very colorful person,” says Nichols of Piersall. A Chicago Cubs farm team at the time, Nichols followed the exploits of future MLB players Brant Brown, Mike Harkey and Amaury Telemaco.

Moving over to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Minnesota Twins), Nichols surveyed action from since-razed Memorial Stadium — aka “The Castle” — and saw future big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins (who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January), Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Matt Lawton and A.J. Pierzysnki come through town from 1993-96.

Nichols’ career path took him south to present diamond descriptions to fans of the Mobile (Ala.) BayBears (San Diego Padres) from 1997-2004. Matt Clement, Doug Dascenzo, Brian Lawrence and Jake Peavy were among those on their way to the majors. Lawrence is now the pitching coach for the Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs.

During much of the time Nichols was in Mobile, he was also an executive director for a franchise management company — Victory Sports Group.

From 2005-07, Nichols was director of broadcasting of the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent Northern League. Jermaine Allensworth, an Anderson, Ind., product who had played in the bigs, was with Gary in 2006-07.

Nichols took his current position — Director of Media Relations & Broadcasting at Dayton Dragons Professional Baseball — prior to the 2008 campaign. Dayton’s affiliation with the Reds was one of the things that attracted him about the job.

Over the years, he has got to have former Reds sit in with him. That list features Todd Benzinger, Tommy Helms, Lee May, Ron OesterJim O’Toole and many more.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was on the TV broadcast with Nichols this season.

“That was a thrill for me,” says Nichols, who was also pleased when he got to regularly interact with one of his boyhood idols — Ken Griffey Sr., when the former Red was Dayton’s hitting coach in 2010.

Indiana’s own Tucker Barnhart (who was with Brenneman and others for the 2018 Reds Caravan stop in Muncie) plus Zach Cozart, Didi Gregorius, Billy Hamilton and many others have been Dragons and later big leaguers during Nichols’ tenure.

When a Cincinnati player makes a rehabilitation appearance with Dayton and the Reds don’t play at the same time, flagship WLW often picks up the Dragons broadcast.

In his one game on the Reds Radio Network, Nichols worked the 2017 Reds Futures Game with color man Jeff Brantley and former Cincy broadcaster Jim Kelch.

“Put this one in the win column” is the phrase Nichols uses to cap every Dayton victory.

He says he may have subconsciously picked up descriptive phrases from all those years of listening to Reds broadcasts and recordings of them on his parent’s living room stereo.

But other than the win-capper, Nichols makes it a point not to have signal calls.

He had the belief reinforced by Ernie Harwell when they spent the day and worked side-by-side with the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the 1994 Midwest League All-Star Game in Fort Wayne.

“He told me, ‘People tune in for the game, not for you,” says Nichols of Harwell. “When you put yourself ahead of the game, you’re cheating your listeners.”

Nichols does not cheat on his homework either.

“Preparation is key,” says Nichols. “I believe in that strongly.

“That’s the most important thing. The more experience you get, the better you get at preparing.”

Nichols gathers plenty of facts and has them at the ready to use during the game. He knows that he has a three-hour broadcast to fill. On the road, that’s solo. He familiarizes himself with players and coaches and any pertinent storylines around the Dragons or the opponent.

He has at his ready a sheet full of the “last time” nuggets. Who was the last Dayton player to go 4-for-4 or hit three home runs in a game? His list tells him.

For the past two decades, Nichols has been using a ledger-sized scorebook that he devised with the help of veteran Adams, Blackford and Wells County radio man Bill Morris. It gives him room to right in facts about each player, including key statistics. For opponents, he will list things like their college and draft round.

“This way you’re not looking through a media guide,” says Nichols. “Without wasted time, you can quickly mention how many homers has if he just hit another one.

“It is time-consuming. But if you’re willing to put in the time, there will be rewards.”

The most rewarding thing to Nichols is spending time with family.

His parents — Tom Sr. and Fran Nichols — are retired and live in a country house outside Muncie during the summer months and in Marco Island, Fla., other parts of the year. He was a firefighter in Muncie and she an accountant.

Tom Jr. is the oldest of three. There’s also brother David Nichols and sister Kelli (Nichols) Dulaney.

David Nichols is a former Delta basketball player who was one year ahead of Matt Painter (now the Purdue head men’s basketball coach) and played hoops at Huntington University. He works in claims resolution in Indianapolis.

“David is the better athlete,” says Tom Jr., who was inducted into the Delaware County Athletic Hall of Fame in the coaches, contributors, media, officials category in 2009. “I was very average.”

Uncle Tom is close with David’s two children — Kaylee Nichols (a volleyball player at DePauw University in Greencastle) and Matthew Nichols (a former Delta basketball player).

Kelli is employed by Delaware County 911.

TOMNICHOLS2

With his trusty ledger-sized scorebook in front of him, Tom Nichols broadcasts a Dayton (Ohio) Dragons baseball game. He is in his 31st season as a play-by-play man — 11th with Dayton — and is nearing his 4,000th game broadcast, most of those on radio and about 200 for Dayton on television. (Dayton Dragons Photo)

TOMNICHOLS1

Tom Nichols, a graduate of Delta High School and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., does a stand-up during a Dayton Dragons telecast. Nichols has been doing minor league baseball play-by-play since 1988 and has been a No. 1 voice since 1990. He started in Dayton 2008. (Dayton Dragons)

Advertisements

South Bend’s Pieters proudly representing island of Curacao

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball in Curacao has really taken off since Andruw Jones became a big league star in the late 1990’s.

Jones aka “The Curacao Kid” played 17 Major League Baseball seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees and paved the way for players from the Caribbean island nation of 150,000.

“Baseball has always been big, but since Andruw Jones got to The League it has gotten even bigger,” says Chris Peters, a pitcher-turned-position player who is working on his diamond future with the Low Class-A Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs. “Scouts started coming over even more looking for talent. I think I can pretty much say baseball is the No. 1 sport (in Curacao) right now.”

The Chicago Cubs signed free agent Pieters to a minor league contract in 2011 and he made his professional pitching debut at 17 in the Dominican Summer League in 2012.

After he went 3-5 with a 7.16 earned run average in 29 games on the mound, Pieters was moved to first base for the 2015 and 2016 seasons and has been used primarily in right field in South Bend.

“As a kid, I always liked hitting,” says Pieters, now 22. “I was very happy when (the Cubs) gave me the chance, the opportunity to become a position player. I’m just going for a dream or a goal which is to get to the big leagues.”

Pieters was a mid-season Northwest League All-Star at Eugene in 2016 while hitting .246 with three home runs, 28 runs batted in and 20 stolen bases in 66 games.

“Speed is one of the biggest parts of my game,” says Pieters.

Through his first 55 games in 2017 (he has spent two stints on the 7-day disabled list), Pieters was hitting .240 with four homers, 21 RBI and nine steals, including .342-1-5-2 in his last 10 games.

“I’ve progressed a lot this season,” says Pieters. “I’ve learned a lot from my coaches. I’m really grateful for them.”

South Bend’s staff includes manager Jimmy Gonzalez, hitting coach Jeremy Farrell, pitching coach Brian Lawrence and assistant coach Jonathan Mota.

Pieters, a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder who bats and throws left-handed, explains his approach at the plate: “Look for my pitch and do damage to it. Don’t get myself out. Go up with a plan, look for a certain pitch and attack it.”

Pieters comes from a place where it is often 90 degrees and humid.  The upper Midwest did not offer that kind of climate in the early part of the season, but it’s been more Curacao-like as the summer has heated up and Pieters is enjoying his time in the River City.

“South Bend is pretty chill,” says Pieters. “Since the cold weather went away, it’s been perfect. I can’t complain.”

CHRISPIETERS

Chris Pieters was signed by the Chicago Cubs as a pitcher in 2011. He is an outfielder with the Low Class-A South Bend Cubs in 2017. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Pitching to contact helps South Bend lefty Rondon earn 10th victory

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Manuel Rondon averages more than seven strikeouts per nine innings and the left-handed pitcher in the Chicago Cubs organization still likes to blow hitters away.

But the 22-year-old Venezuelan is beginning to appreciate what pitching to contact can do for him.

Rondon, a fourth-year professional, went a season-best 6 2/3 innings and pushed his 2017 record to 10-3 Monday, July 17 in helping the South Bend Cubs best the visiting Cedar Rapids Kernels 2-1 in Midwest League play.

His 10 wins are twice as many as any other South Bend pitcher has amassed so far this season.

After issuing a leadoff walk and seeing Cedar Rapids score a first-inning run without a hit, Rondon went on to put up zeroes.

The lefty would yield four hits (two doubles) with three strikeouts and three walks while getting five groundouts and six flyouts. He benefitted from double plays in the second and third innings.

South Bend pitching coach Brian Lawrence chalked up Rondon’s successful outing to “attacking the hitters and not being predictable.”

Lawrence watched the southpaw command his fastball and mix in his other pitches and throwing different pitches and different ball-strike counts to keep the Kernels off-balance.

“He’s done that well for the last couple starts,” said Lawrence of a player who was purchased in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels in 2015 and was named the Northwest League Pitcher of the Year in 2016. “(Early in the season) he had some games where he was missing up in the zone and got hit around a little bit. It just took him a little bit of time to get his rhythm again. Now, it comes down to keeping the ball down and changing speeds.”

Getting ahead of hitters allows Rondon to effectively use his change-up.

Rondon, whose native language is Spanish, spoke through South Bend teammate Alberto Mineo after Monday’s start.

“He said he honestly loves striking out guys, but there are situations where you have to pitch to contact, if you want to go longer in the game and keep your pitch count low,” said Mineo. “Today was his longest game (of the season) and he was pitching to contact.”

Mineo, who singled in both South Bend runs Monday, related that Rondon liked how his curve ball was working. With more experience, he is gaining confidence in his ability to get hitters out.

Rondon also expressed his appreciation for the Cubs coaching staff to cheer up players during good days and bad days and how the South Bend fans support the team.

MANUELRONDON

Manuel Rondon is a left-handed pitcher with the South Bend Cubs. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Speedy, versatile South Bend Cubs ready to roll in 2017

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

South Bend is about to begin its third season as a Chicago Cubs affiliate.

Jimmy Gonzalez was the manager for the first two and he’s back for 2017.

The skipper has plenty of nice things to say about the community and the fans (the Cubs drew 350,803 during the 2016 Class-A Midwest League season and owner Andrew Berlin has set a goal of 400,000 for 2017).

“It’s a great town,” says Gonzalez. “There are things to do around here and good restaurants. It’s great to have a minor league affiliate called the Cubs and be so close to Chicago. The support is through the roof.”

Gonzalez leads the ’17 team (Notre Dame visits for a seven-inning exhibition at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 5 at Four Winds Field before plays two road games Thursday and Friday and the home opener at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, April 8) with a few returnees to South Bend and several who played for short-season Northwest League champion Eugene (Ore.).

The Emeralds, managed by former South Bend coach Jesus Feliciano, went 54-22 during the 2016 regular season.

While there was no pennant (that went to the Lansing Lugnuts), the ’16 campaign saw South Bend go 84-55 during the regular season, make the playoffs and Gonzalez earn MWL Manager of the Year honors.

“There’s a bunch of exciting guys,” says Gonzalez. “They’re coming off a great season last year in Eugene, guys that have won.”

Gonzalez surveys his ’17 South Bend roster and sees fleetness and versatility.

“Speed is going to be a huge factor with this club,” says Gonzalez. “Those speed guys create spark and excitement and a lot of good things happen.”

The swiftest of the Cubs are outfielders D.J. Wilson (21 stolen bases in 2016), Kevonte Mitchell (15) and Chris Pieters (20) and infielder Yeiler Peguero.

Wilson expects to be in center field.

“I have first-step quickness,” says Wilson. “My angles are pretty good.”

Wilson is glad to be back with a group of friends that he played plenty of winning baseball with last summer.

“We had great chemistry last year with the Emeralds and it’s only gotten stronger throughout the spring,” says Wilson, who also looks forward to playing in South Bend since it is closer to his hometown of Canton, Ohio, which should allow friends and family to see him play in 2017.

Mitchell says he could see time in right and left and, possibly, center.

“My base running and my speed (are strengths),” says Mitchell. “I also have a nice arm from the outfield.

“I bring energy to the team.”

All the way up the big league team, the ability to play multiple positions is valued in the Cubs organization. South Bend reflects this philosophy.

“I love having that as an option,” says Gonzalez. “It gives rest to a bunch of guys. (Versatility is) also great for their development.”

The manager says it is likely that Peguero will see time at second base and shortstop with Wladimir Galindo at third base and first base, Isaac Parades at shortstop and third base and Zack Short at shortstop, second base and third base.

Including time in instructional league and spring training, Vimael Machin has played all four infield positions and has been used at catcher.

“That’s a good thing about Vimael,” says Gonzalez. “He is willing and able to do a lot of things.”

Machin, Paredes, catcher Alberto Mineo and right-handed pitchers Jared Cheek and Dakota Mekkes appeared with South Bend in 2016.

“I consider those guys leaders,” says Gonzalez. “Yes, they probably didn’t want to come back here (but move up in the Cubs system). That’s just part of the game. You can mope about it or you can just go out there and play.”

Machin models that team-oriented attitude.

“I’ll do whatever (Gonzalez) tells me to do,” says Machin. “Even if we’re not playing, we’re helping and supporting each other. That’s what it’s all about.”

With the grind of a long season, baseball is a game where slumps and bad days are inevitable.

“It’s important that (the players) know that adversity is going to come,” says Gonzalez. “How are they going to handle it? Are they going to get down and just not perform moving forward and understand that’s going to happen.

“Whether you’re 5-for-5 or 0-for-5, that sixth at-bat is another at-bat. You can’t change what you just did. It’s written down. You always have that moment to do something.”

Because it translates in games, Gonzalez says the concept of staying in the moment was an emphasis of the Cubs mental skills program during spring training.

Flame-throwing right-hander Dylan Cease has embraced the mentality and does not dwell on the future.

“It’s the process over the result,” says Cease. “I just expect to stay in my process and do as good as a I can.

“I feel really good about my mechanics. It just comes down to executing … I’m just focused on being the best ballplayer I can be and getting better.”

South Bend pitching coach Brian Lawrence has watched Cease progress well since having Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in June 2015, but there will be a learning curve in 2017.

“He’s never thrown meaningful pitches in April before,” says Lawrence. “He’s going to have to get through his first full season. He has to learn what he has. What he’s shown from last year through spring training is tremendous. He has command of all his pitches.”

Cease is part of a starting rotation that right-handers Duncan Robinson, Kyle Miller, Tyson Miller, Erling Moreno and Matt Swarmer and left-hander Manuel Rondon. Lawrence says there will be a few “piggyback” situations where one pitcher will start and another starter will take over. Left-handers Bryan Hudson and Jose Paulino may join the team from extended spring training in the coming weeks.

“This is going to be a fun team to play with,” says Tyson Miller. “I’ve just got to execute pitches. I want to throw the most innings I can with the least amount of pitches.

“I just need to get better with my pitching I.Q. and knowing how to set up hitters.”

Lawrence says starters will be limited to 80 pitches to start the season.

The bullpen features 6-foot-7 righty Dakota Mekkes and 5-8 lefty Wyatt Short and several other arms who will get work.

“We won’t go back-to-back (days) for quite awhile (with relievers),” says Lawrence. “We do have a lot of guys who can pitch at the end of the game. We have a lot of options.”

NDSBCUBS2017