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Fouts, Purdue baseball adjusting to new recruiting norms

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A buzzword during the COVID-19 pandemic is “new normal.”

For Purdue University baseball recruiting coordinator Cooper Fouts and the rest of the Boilermaker coaching staff, scouting and evaluating talent has changed during a time when recruits missed out on a 2020 high school season, others had their college campaigns cut short and traveling is discouraged.

“It’s taken a different turn,” says Fouts. “We’re really putting a emphasis on relationships.”

The NCAA recruiting calendar was changed and keeps changing.

“At first, it was we can’t recruit until April 15 and then get back on the road like normal,” says Fouts, 37. “But they kept pushing it back. That just didn’t happen.

“This is our normal right now.”

Fouts, who works for Boilers head coach Greg Goff after spending the 2019 season with Mark Wasikowski (now head coach at the University of Oregon), has been gathering as much information about players as possible.

“We look at video and honest video with some failures,” says Fouts, who also serves on a staff that includes Chris Marx, volunteer Harry Shipley, director of player development John Madia and supervisor of operations Tim Sarhage. “On our level, there’s more failure than they’e used to. They have to learn and make adjustments. Expectations are even higher.”

In many ways, coaches glean more from failure than success.

“We like to see what their body language looks like,” says Fouts. “When they’re struggling, you see a lot more truth.

“We’re cross-checking more and making more calls since we can’t see for (ourselves). We don’t get to see interactions. And we want to see the whole package. This makes you trust your gut more.”

Ninety minutes of Fouts’ morning in July 8 when spent in a FaceTime call with a player in Texas, talking about and showing them the facilities at Purdue.

There are plenty of conversations with high school and travel coaches, including the opponents of the player.

NCAA rules dictate that players do coaches and not the other way around.

“There’s a large amount of emphasis on how they communicate on the phone,” says Fouts. “I’ve never offered a kid we haven’t seen in-person. That’s a huge change.

“That virtual tour allows (recruits) to make the right decision. We do it multiple times every week.”

Fouts has been coaching since right after college graduation and has done his best to serve the interests of the man in charge. At Purdue, that’s been Wasikowski and Goff.

“It’s the preference of what those head coaches like and how they want to build a team,” says Fouts. “I’m a follower of their desires.”

With Goff, Fouts has a little more freedom with hitters and their day-to-day instruction and planning. 

Fouts has not seen players already on the Purdue roster in-person since March. The hope is that they will be reunited Aug. 24. That’s when the 2020-21 school year is scheduled to begin at Purdue.

The Boilers have players in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Midwest Collegiate League and had hopes of placing some in the Coastal Plain League.

Prior to coming to West Lafayette, Ind., Fouts spent the second of two stints at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. He was on the Waves staff 2011 and 2012 with head coach Steve Rodriguez (now head coach at Baylor University in Waco, Texas) and 2016-18 with Rick Hirtensteiner at the helm.

“He’s my biggest mentor,” says Fouts of Rodriguez. “he was so good at giving guys the freedom to play. 

“He wasn’t a micro-manager. Players were not paralyzed by a thought process. That allowed them to be successful. He does the same thing at Baylor. He knows what his players can and can’t do. They absolutely play loose.”

Hirtensteiner was an assistant to Rodriguez during Fouts’ first tenure at Pepperdine. 

“He’s an absolute great man of faith,” says Fouts of Hirtensteiner. “He treats his player so well. He gave me a ton of freedom on the coaching and recruiting side.

“He’s just a thoughtful individual. He’s not emotional. He was never overwhelmed by a situation.”

In between his seasons at Pepperdine, Fouts was on the staff of Eric Madsen at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah (2013-15). Madsen taught him much about the mechanics of hitting and more.

“He’s a really good offensive coach and a great human being,” says Fouts of Madsen. “He allowed me to make a lot of mistakes.”

In 2010, Fouts was an assistant at the College of Southern Nevada in North Las Vegas, where Tim Chambers was the head coach and Bryce Harper earned the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s best amateur baseball player. 

Harper graduated high school early so he could attend College of Southern Nevada and was selected No. 1 overall in the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Nationals.

Fouts was 11 when he first met Chambers, a man who also coached him his first two years at Bishop Gorman High School in Summerlin, Nev., and for one year at CSN.

“(Chambers) was awesome,” says Fouts. “He’s one of the better managers of people I’ve ever been around.

“He let guys play aggressive and make mistakes.”

Fouts played his final two varsity seasons at Bishop Gorman for head coach Kenny White.

Originally committed to Auburn (Ala.) University, the righty-swinging catcher played three seasons Texas Tech University in Lubbock (2003-05), playing alongside older brother Nathan Fouts. Cooper appeared in 156 games, hitting .265 (114-of-431) with two home runs, 77 runs batted in and 76 runs for Red Raiders head coach Larry Hays.

Fouts remembers that Hays was pretty hands-off as a coach and led assistants tend to day-to-day details.

“He was a great mentor as a Christian man,” says Fouts of Hays, who concluded his Tech run in 2008. “Larry was beloved in that Lubbock community.”

Besides his brother, Fouts got to be teammates with Big 12 Conference Triple Crown winner Josh Brady, who also played at the College of Southern Nevada, and future big league pitcher Dallas Braden.

“(Braden) was one of the two best competitors I’ve ever been around in my life

(the other is Harper),” says Fouts, who still has occasional contact with the two players.

Fouts was drafted twice — the first time in the 26th round by the Oakland Athletics in 2001 — but decided a pro baseball playing career was not for him.

He picked up his diploma on a Saturday and began coaching on Brandon Gilliland’s staff at Lubbock Christian School two days later in 2006.

Fouts was born in Kokomo, Ind., in 1983. At 7, he moved with his family to Indianapolis, where he attended St. Thomas Aquinas School. 

After Cooper turned 11 in 1994, the Fouts family moved to Las Vegas and lived there through his high school days with the exception of a one-year stay in Memphis, Tenn.

Cooper and Bri Fouts are to celebrate 10 years of marriage July 24. The couple have three children — daughter Harper (who turns 8 July 29) and sons Emmit (who turns 6 on July 10), and Nash (who turns 4 on Aug. 18).

Cooper Fouts has been a Purdue University baseball assistant coach since the 2019 season. He is a native of Kokomo, Ind., and played high school and junior college baseball in Nevada and NCAA Division I baseball in Texas. (Purdue University Photo)

Beer writes award-winning book on Negro Leaguer Charleston

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Beer grew up with an appreciation for baseball.

He played Little League and Pony League in Milford, Ind. (now the Wawasee Summer League).

The oldest child of the late Dr. Ken and Lynne Beer, Jeremy graduated from Wawasee High School in 1990 then earned psychology degrees at Indiana University and the University of Texas and read about the game’s past. He considered himself pretty knowledgable about baseball. 

One day Beer was going through the second edition of the Bill James Historical Abstract and the listing of all-time best players.

No. 4 in the James rankings was Oscar Charleston.

“I had never heard of Oscar Charleston,” says Beer. “When I found out he was from Indiana I was floored.”

The National Baseball Hall of Famer from Indianapolis and long-time Negro Leagues star just wasn’t on Beer’s radar.

With a sense of “Indiana patriotism,” Beer decided he wanted to know more. 

Much more.

Around 2012, he got serious about his research and decided to write a comprehensive book about the “Hoosier Comet” and his times.

“I had to learn everything about the Negro Leagues and African American culture and history in the early 20th Century,” says Beer, a Society for American Baseball Research member. “I was a baseball guy and had read a good deal of baseball history, but not black baseball. 

“I looked for every mention I could find of Charleston. I did a thorough investigative job. I wanted it to be pretty definitive. The thing about biography is you can’t make things up. It’s not like philosophy.”

The 456-page book — “Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Forgotten Player” (University of Nebraska Press) — came out late in 2019 and helped the author earn honors from SABR. 

Beer won the Seymour Medal that recognizes the author(s) of the best book of baseball history or biography first published during the preceding calendar year and the Larry Ritter Book Award presented for the best new book set primarily in the Deadball Era.

Charleston was born in Indianapolis in 1896 and died at 57 in Philadelphia in 1954. He is buried in Floral Park Cemetery on the west side of Indianapolis. As part of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s centennial celebration of the first Negro National League game (May 2, 1920, Chicago at Indianapolis), a new grave marker was placed for Charleston.

The lefty-swinging center fielder and first baseman played pro baseball first for the 1915 Indianapolis ABC’s and last for the 1941 Philadelphia Stars.

Paul Debono’s book “Indianapolis ABCs: History of a Premier Team in the Negro Leagues” (McFarland) tells much about the team and Indianapolis during that era.

Between 1924-48, he managed the Harrisburg Giants, Hilldale Club, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Toledo Crawfords, Toledo-Indianapolis Crawfords, Philadelphia Stars and Brooklyn Brown Dodgers plus East All-Stars, West All-Stars and Negro National League All-Stars.

Beer’s first reading about Charleston online showed him to be a bully and someone with an uncontrollable temper and not well-liked.

“That’s not true,” says Beer after much more research. “He got into fights on the field, but not that much more than other players did at the time.

“He was very well-liked and charming. He smiled and was charismatic.”

Beer learned that Charleston had an affinity for billiards and playing the piano. He taught himself Spanish when he was in Cuba.

“He was intellectual and socially ambitious,” says Beer. “He was fascinating. I expected a mean jock. That’s not who he was.”

An article by Beer appears in SABR’s Spring 2017 Baseball Research Journal entitled “Hothead: How the Oscar Charleston Myth Began.”

Beer, who has also published a blog about Charleston, discovered that Charleston broke the color line for paid big league scouts when Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey put him on the payroll in 1945 — two years before Jackie Robinson played for Rickey’s club.

Future Hall of Famer Rickey made Charleston the manager of the United States League’s Brooklyn Brown Dodgers and he was able to provide inside information about the Negro Leagues.

“I can’t find record of anyone who was paid to do that before that,” says Beer. “(Top Dodgers scout) Clyde Sukeforth is how we know about that.”

Sukeforth not only helped bring Robinson to the Dodgers, but another future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. Charleston knew well about the catcher since he played and managed in Campy’s hometown of Philadelphia.

Former Ball State University professor Geri Strecker has been researching Charleston for years and helped get a marker placed at the site of Washington Park during the 2011 Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference in Indianapolis.

With Strecker guiding BSU students came the documentary film, “Black Baseball in Indiana.” Beer said her findings were useful for his book.

Beer appeared on an author panel at the NINE Spring Training Conference in Tempe, Ariz., that also featured James Brunson and Ron Rapoport. That discussion plus another with just Beer can be heard on the Baseball by the Book with Justin McGuire podcast (episodes 242 and 225).

After getting his undergraduate degree at Indiana and master’s and doctorates at Texas, Beer worked as vice president of publications and editor in chief at Intercollegiate Studies Institute Books. ISI produces books written by academics intended for an audience outside their own disciplines.

Next Beer was the president at The American Conservative before landing at his current job in 2009.

Beer is the principal partner and co-founder of American Philanthropic, LLC, a national firm that provides strategic consulting and services to non-profit organizations. His Phoenix office is three blocks from SABR headquarters at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and he helps SABR with fundraising. He also attends meetings of the Hemond-Flame Delhi chapter (the Indianapolis SABR chapter is named for Oscar Charleston).

While Beer is working on an anthology of Negro Leagues writing, his next book will not be about baseball. It will focus on Fr. Francisco Garces (1738-1781), a Spanish missionary priest who led an expedition across the Mojave Desert.

Jeremy is married to Kara, who is from the Phoenix area. Brother Jonah Beer is married (Sara) and lives in Napa, Calif. Sister Amanda Woodiel is married (Thomas) with five children and resides in Goshen, Ind. Ken Beer, who ran a real estate school and was a world traveler, died in 2018. Lynne Beer passed away in 2009.

Indianapolis native Oscar Charleston managed the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers in 1945 and 1946. He is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the subject of a book by Indiana native Jeremy Beer,  “Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Forgotten Player” (University of Nebraska Press).
Jeremy Beer, who grew up in Milford, Ind., graduated from Wawasee High School, Indiana University and the University of Texas, is principal partner and co-founder of American Philanthropic, LLC and os based in Phoenix. He won the Society for American Baseball Research’s Seymour Medal and Larry Ritter Book Award for the book “Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Forgotten Player” (University of Nebraska Press).

Mault helps build ballplayers from the ground up

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mault affirms that the body’s lower half is the foundation of baseball.

When instructing pitchers or hitters at Extra Mile Baseball in a pole barn next to his rural home near Kimmel, Ind., the former college and professional player talks a lot about the important part played by biggest muscle groups.

“I’m a mechanics guy,” says Mault, who had close to 20 lessons on his schedule this week and counts third baseman/second baseman and Wright State University commit Jake Shirk (Fort Wayne Carroll High School Class of 2020) and left-handed pitcher/first baseman and University of Kentucky commit Carter Gilbert (Northridge Class of 2022). “Hips is where it’s at with pitchers. I don’t care about the arm slot. If you can do what I want you to do, your arm will not hurt. Period.

“When your arm is sore baseball is not fun.”

Mault, who has a degree in Health and Human Performance from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville Tenn., has his athletes — first graders through college — doing different drills that emphasize hip, core and trunk rotation.

“I come up with some weird drills,” says Mault. “Everybody learns different.”

He uses a football pad to protect himself while asking hitters to thrust their knee at him.

Mault, 39, began teaching lessons in Fort Wayne, Ind., with Rich Dunno shortly after graduating from West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., in 1999.

Dunno is the inventor of King of the Hill, Queen of the Hill and King of the Swing training devices for Ground Force Sports.

“I had one of the very first ones,” says Mault. “It’s awesome.

“I wish I had it when I was playing.”

A right-handed pitcher and right fielder in high school then pitcher-only after that, Mault played for Tim Schemerhorn at West Noble (the Chargers won the IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional in 1998 then lost 7-5 to Northridge in the first round of the Wawasee Sectional with smoke-throwing Mault and Doug McDonald as the top two pitchers).

Mault got the ball up to 92 mph in high school.

“I didn’t have anything else,” says Mault. “I had a curve that curved when it wanted to. I couldn’t throw a change-up.

“My theory was throw hard in case they missed it. That’s how I pitched.”

Mault began his post-high school career with head coach Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College.

“It seemed like home,” says Mault. “It’s out in the middle of nowhere with cornfields.”

Mault grew up on a farm and still tends to chores at his in-law’s place in Wawaka, Ind., besides a full work week as parts/service advisor at Burnworth & Zollars Auto Group in Ligonier and having a half dozen lawns to mow.

Mault was a medical redshirt his freshmen year at Olney Central after a hairline tear was found in his ulnar collateral ligament, which is similar to the injury that leads to Tommy John surgery.

“(Surgery) was not even suggested,” says Mault. “Tommy John doesn’t make you throw harder. It’s the rehab (which for Mault took about nine months).

“The next year was a mental block. I just didn’t feel comfortable throwing hard.”

In his third year at OCC, Mault was back to normal and the Blue Knights won 39 games.

“We lways made it to (conference) championship game and got beat — usually by John A. Logan or Wabash Valley,” says Mault.

Olney played in a fall tournament at Austin Peay State. Governors head coach Gary McClure was looking for a closer so Conley used starter Mault to finish two games.

Once at Austin Peay State, Mault set the single-season school record with 10 saves in 2003. In his senior year (2004), he alternated closing and starting until he accumulated the three saves he needed for what made him at the time the Governors’ career saves leader.

Springfield/Ozark Ducks manager Greg Tagert offered Mault a chance to play with that independent professional team. He instead went for what turned out to be a very brief stint with the Gateway Grizzlies.

“I pitched in one game and they let me go,” says Mault. “When there’s money involved, it’s cut-throat.

“But if not for that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. Everything works out.”

That winter, Mault attended a camp in Florida run by Brad Hall (who has worked with Stephen Strasburg) and Matt Stark and learned mechanics.

Mault’s velocity went from sometimes touching 92 mph to 96.

“My arm never hurt again,” says Mault, who was 6-foot, 158 pounds as a pro player. “I was using the lower half. My floor work. I was using my hips and keeping my body straight.

“I pitched like Tim Lincecum all through high school and college.”

Seattle Mariners scout Stark signed Mault and after short stints in extended spring training and Everett, Wash., he went to High-A ball in San Bernadino, Calif. (Inland Empire), where he made 14 relief appearances, struck out 13 and walked 13 in 20 1/3 innings with a 3.10 earned run average.

Mault was released the following year in spring training.

“I worked out with Triple-A,” says Mault. “I was on the field for two hours and got called back in and they let me go. That was rough.

“But I was still going to play.”

He came back to Noble County and worked on the farm then finished college in fall of 2004.

In 2006, Tagert was in his second season as manager of the Gary SouthShore RailCats and brought Mault aboard. The righty went 0-2 in eight games (six in relief) with five strikeouts and five walks in 18 1/3 innings with a 4.91 ERA.

Mault was reunited with former Olney Central assistant Andy Haines in 2007. At that point he was manager of the Windy City ThunderBolts in Crestwood, Ill., and is now hitting coach with the Milwaukee Brewers. The pitcher went 3-0 in 11 contests (eight in relief) with 21 K’s and 17 walks in 24 1/3 innings and a 3.70 ERA before his pro career came to a close at 26.

Jeff and Abbey Mault have two children — daughter Cora (9) and son Casyn (6). Abbey is an Arts teacher at Central Noble Junior/Senior High School in Albion, Ind.

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Jeff Mault, who pitched at West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., Olney (Ill.) Central College and Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn., was signed by the Seattle Mariners and pitched in Everett, Wash., in 2005. (Everett AquaSox Photo)

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Jeff Mault, a former college and professional pitcher, offers instruction at Extra Mile Baseball in Kimmel, Ind.

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

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

Close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rick Peckinpaugh was Wittgren’s head basketball coach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His arm was tired from the workload.

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

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

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

He wanted to only pitch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schreiber asked Wittgren to be a closer again in 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Teenager Roederer welcomes challenge of full season in Cubs system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

By taking outfielder Cole Roederer in the second round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (77th overall), the Chicago Cubs see promise in the youngster.

The Cubs selected only two players — shortstop Nico Hoerner and outfielder Brennen Davis — before Roederer.

The lefty-swinger who graduated from Hart High School in the Newhall section of Santa Clarita, Calif., in 2018 has high hopes for his first full professional season.

“I have some very high expectations for myself,” says Roederer, who begins the 2019 season with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs of the Low Class-A Midwest League after playing 36 games with the rookie-level Arizona Cubs No. 2 team in 2018. In Mesa, he hit .275 (39-of-142) with five home runs, four triples, four doubles and 24 runs batted in.

Roederer, who played in the 2017 Area Code Games and had committed to UCLA before forgoing college for the pros, says it is a combination of his talent and maturity that has allowed him to go from high school to pro ball and to be sent to a full-season league as a teenager.

The 19-year-old is the youngest player on the South Bend roster and does not turn 20 until Sept. 24, three weeks after the regular season ends.

“A lot of high school guys aren’t mentally prepared for this kind of stuff,” says Roederer. “It’s very tough. It’s extremely mental.

“I’m able to fix my game and keep going forward regardless of the outcome. That’s what got me to pro ball. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the mind for it you’re not going to make it.”

Since joining the Cubs organization, Roederer has been able to benefit from mental skills training, including meditation.

“It kind of opened my eyes, the fact that you can train your brain and constantly improve yourself mentally,” says Roederer. “It’s something that’s very beautiful.”

Roederer got into two spring training games with the major league team and went 1-for-2 at the plate.

The first Cactus League at-bat on March 19 produced a home run against Seattle Mariners right-hander Tayler Scott at Mesa’s Sloan Park.

“I walk up there and the guy’s throwing fuzz — like 96, 97 (mph),” says Roederer. “I said, ‘I’ve got to get my foot down.’ I watched all the guys before. He kind of goes high and tight on my head. It kind of buzzed me awake. Let’s go. This is getting real.

“I had a lot of adrenaline flowing. For some reason, the crowd was screaming. I heard nothing. The coach was screaming. I heard nothing. It was just me and (former Cubs minor leaguer Scott). I was just dancing with him.

“When that pitch came I was screaming inside and freaking out. This is something I’d dreamed of.”

Roederer, who sees center fielder as his natural position, he looks forward to making the adjustment to the long season by developing a routine.

“This is definitely a marathon and not a sprint,” says Roederer. “You have to maintain yourself and have a good regimen go off of.”

Roederer will be playing his home games more than 2,000 miles from his California home.

His family is scheduled to bring his truck next week and will spend some time with him.

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Cole Roederer (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

 

From San Juan Capistrano to Valpo, Ferketic enjoys baseball odyssey

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Trey Ferketic was with his third college baseball program — all in California — when he tore the labrum in his pitching shoulder.

Three screws were inserted in that right shoulder, the one that helped him make high-speed deliveries for JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Cal State Long Beach and the University California San Diego.

The very first intrasquad scrimmage in late September at UCSD, Ferketic tore the labrum.

There were doubts about his ability to bounce back.

“Coaches and teammates told me I’d never pitch again,” says Ferketic. “I wanted to prove it to myself and anyone else that I could.”

Ferketic pitched in four games and worked 3 2/3 innings for UCSD in 2016, but the pain was just too great and he was shut down.

Thinking he had played his last, Ferketic finished his communications degree at the NCAA Division II school in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego.

There was a sense of closure.

But rehabbing the injury, Ferketic got the idea he could still pitch and he wanted to do it at the Division I level — like he had in 2015 with the “Dirtbags” of Long Beach, where he made six appearances for 9 1/3 innings.

So he appealed to the NCAA to give him back a year of eligibility, claiming a medical hardship.

He was turned down the first time.

On the second try, he provided more information.

A lot more information.

Ferketic turned in more than 60 pages of paperwork.

“It was super extensive,” says Ferketic, who had to submit all his academic records from all his college stops, including summer classes taken elsewhere, and all his medical records. “It was a ton of work.”

This time, he was granted another year. He reached out to some of his connections. He had been recruited by Valparaiso University coming out of junior college ball at Saddleback and that’s where he decided his baseball odyssey would take him next.

“After I got my shoulder surgery, I wanted to play somewhere and I thought it be awesome to come out here and play in front of some new eyes and come to all these new states, new teams and places I’d never heard of,” says Ferketic. “That’s why I chose to come out here.”

Alerted to Ferketic’s availability by cousin and Next College Student Athlete representative Jim Sak, Valparaiso head coach Brian Schmack liked what he saw in bullpen session videos so he brought the Californian to northwest Indiana.

“He knows how to handle his business,” says Schmack of the graduate student. “He shows the younger guys how it’s supposed to be.

“We brought him out here to pitch. He gives us a chance every time.”

Ferketic, who is in the starting rotation for the Crusaders, is not the first graduate transfer for the Crusaders. In fact, he is not the only one on the 2018 squad. There’s catcher-infielder Zack Leone, of Pelham Manor, N.Y.

In 2013, Valpo brought in former Cal State Northridge right-hander Chris DeBoo as a grad transfer.

“He was a mature guy and he knew what it took to be successful,” says Schmack.

Valpo has been very successful in luring California players to play in Indiana.

“We’ve got enough connections out there where we’re getting referrals and maybe a couple of kids from the same high school,” says Schmack. It’s a word-of-mouth type of thing.

“Our thought is to go where the players are. We wanted to find guys who were driven to play baseball and we’ve found a niche out there.

“There’s some kids that say ‘I’m never leaving the state of California.’ There’s other that say ‘I want something new.’ Those guys are really accepting of what we have.”

Ferketic is one of 11 players with California hometowns on the roster. The others are redshirt junior infielder-outfielder Blake Billinger, sophomore outfielder Riley Dent, senior outfielder Giovanni Garbella, sophomore right-hander Michael Hardtke, sophomore right-hander Garrett Hill, senior infielder Chad Jacob, sophomore right-hander Jake Larson, junior left-hander Josh Leaverton, junior right-hander Montana Quigley and junior infielder Sam Shaikin.

There’s also two from Arizona — senior infielder-outfielder Jayden Eggiman and sophomore right-hander Easton Rhodehouse.

Ferketic has enjoyed the transition.

“It’s been awesome out here in the Midwest,” says Ferketic. “What sticks out to me is the seasons. In California, we don’t have seasons at all.

“Pitching in 35 degrees, snow and rain has been crazy. I have more respect now for this part of the country for people who have to grind through that. It’s been cool to experience that.”

Another thing is the different styles of baseball.

“On the West Coast, there’s a lot of ‘small ball’ and playing for one run. It’s pitching- and defense-dominated,” says Ferketic. “Out here, these guys swing for the fences. There’s home runs almost every game.”

Sometimes the wind blowing out favors Valpo and other times it works to the advantage of the opponent.

“You’d like to think it evens out over the course of the year — at least you want to believe that,” says Ferketic.

He expresses appreciation for what Valpo coaches — Schmack, full-time assistants Ben Wolgamot and Nic Mishler and volunteer Kory Winter — have done for him.

“They have a lot of trust in their players,” says Ferketic. “It’s a lot easier to play and it takes a lot of pressure off, knowing the coach believes in you and wants you to succeed.”

A focus on the mechanical side has been keeping him directional rather than rotational (with his shoulder flying open).

“I’m a sinker guy and I play off movement,” says Ferketic. “I need to be linear or it goes where I don’t want it to go. I need to have that downhill plane.

“It’s been an awesome experience.”

As a graduate student, Ferketic is working toward a masters degree in sports administration and will likely finish in December.

He chose that route to stay closer to athletics and can see himself running a training facility, scouting program or sporting goods operation.

But he’s still a player right now and he’s soaking that up.

“I would love to play more baseball,” says Ferketic. “I can’t imagine hanging them up. It’s going to be a sad day when I do.

“But I don’t know what my shoulder’s got left. I really don’t. It’s kind of on borrowed time.”

Valpo (18-32) is seeded No. 7 in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in Dallas and plays No. 2 seed Dallas Baptist Wednesday, May 23. The event continues through Saturday, May 26. The winner earns an NCAA tournament berth.

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Valparaiso University’s Trey Ferketic delivers a pitcher in 2018. He is a graduate transfer from California in his only season with the Crusaders. (Valparaiso University Sports Media Relations Photo)

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Trey Ferketic pitched for JSerra Catholic High School, Saddleback College, Cal State Long Beach and the University California San Diego before landing with Valparaiso (Ind.) Universty in 2018. (Valparaiso University Sports Media Relations Photo)

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Trey Ferketic wanted to make his comeback from shoulder surgery at the NCAA Division I level and the California native decided to do it in the Midwest with Valparaiso University. (Valparaiso University Sports Media Relations Photo)

 

Gumpf credits chemistry for major part in South Bend St. Joseph run to 3A title game

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

John Gumpf has enjoyed watching his South Bend St. Joseph Indians take turns wearing the hero label on the way to the program’s first IHSAA state championship game appearance.

“It’s not one person all the time doing it,” says Gumpf, who sends St. Joseph (24-4) against Jasper (30-4) in the 3A title game (following the 11 a.m. 1A game) Saturday June 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. “It could be top half the order one time. It could be the bottom half of the order one time. It could be our defense. It could be our pitching. It’s been a team effort throughout.”

Team chemistry has also played a major part in the Tribe’s success.

“(Chemistry) can take you a long way,” says Gumpf. “They’re a pretty loose group. They enjoy one another. They are definitely fighters. They don’t quit.”

Gumpf, who is in his 10th season as head coach, says he plans to send junior left-hander Michael Dunkelberger to the mound against Jasper. It has been Dunkelberger and junior right-hander Alex Voss logging most of the playoff innings for St. Joe.

The new IHSAA pitch count rules (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) have not been a real concern for Gumpf in ’17.

“My goal for these kids is to play at the next level and I don’t want to jeopardize anything by overthrowing them,” says Gumpf. “During the year, you’ve got to manage it a little more. We did have pitchers throwing their (between-appearances) bullpens more during games this year.”

Voss slammed a key three-run home run in the semistate.

The Indians’ path to the championship game includes wins over New Prairie and Culver Academies at the Jimtown Sectional, Griffith and John Glenn at the Griffith Regional and NorthWood at the Plymouth Semistate on the heels of a strong regular-season schedule which featured against Northern Indiana Conference foes Penn (2017 4A state finalist) and Glenn plus one game against 4A Plymouth and doubleheader vs. 3A Fort Wayne Dwenger.

St. Joe won its first 16 games of the season before falling to Penn in mid-May.

“I try to schedule games that will help us play into June,” says Gumpf, who also serves as assistant athletic director at St. Joe. “I think it has helped us.”

Gumpf, who played in the Minnesota Twins organization from 1989-92, coached high school baseball and junior college football in southern California before coming to South Bend when wife Deanna took an assistant softball job at Notre Dame (2017 was her 16th season as Irish head coach). John was a volunteer softball coach at ND for four seasons and volunteer Irish baseball assistant for three more before taking over the St. Joseph baseball program.

Gumpf, 45, is a stickler for the fundamentals.

“The biggest thing is doing the little things,” says Gumpf. “If you do the little things, the spectacular things will come.”

After giving his team Monday off, he planned to go back to work on Tuesday with the players and coaching staff of John Smolinski, Ray Torres, Nick Kleva, Drew Mentock, Dan Mentock, Ryan Newland, Ted Pajakowski and Tom Kostielney.

“We’re going up against a great baseball team in Jasper with great baseball tradition,” says Gumpf. “Hopefully they’re not scared, but excited to be a part of this.

“It’ll be fun If we do the best we can and bring home a state championship.”

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John Gumpf, in his 10th season as head baseball coach at South Bend St. Joseph High School, will lead the Indians against Jasper in the IHSAA Class 3A championship game on Saturday, June 17. (St. Joseph Photo)