Tag Archives: Cavaliers

Shafer enjoys player development as Kankakee CC assistant

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bryce Shafer faces a distinctive challenge as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College baseball program.
A former right-handed pitcher at Northfield High School in Wabash, Ind., and Valparaiso (Ind.) University as well as in the Chicago Cubs system and independent pro ball (Frontier Greys and River City Rascals), Shafter is preparing for his seventh season at KCC — a two-year school and a member of National Junior College Athletic Association Region 4.
“Junior college is definitely unique,” says Shafer, 33. “You’re always recruiting and trying to get your guys recruited.
“Year to year, your roster changes so much.”
As the Cavaliers get ready for the 2022 season opener on March 4 at Southeastern Illinois College, four of Shafer’s sophomore pitchers — starters Kyle Iwinski (Purdue), Matt Lelito (Toledo), Dylan Wolff (Eastern Michigan) and reliever Gavin King (Eastern Michigan) — have already made commitments to NCAA Division I schools. Three others are close to declaring their next stop. Right-handers Iwinski (Griffith) and Lelito (Andrean) and left-hander King (Bluffton) are from Indiana high schools. Righty Wolff hails went to Joliet (Ill.) West.
Since 2016, Shafer has seen 25 of his pitchers move on to four-year schools or the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — Eleven to NCAA Division I; six to NCAA Division II; five to NAIA; and two (West Noble’s Waylon Richardson and Dylan Dodd) to the MLB Draft.
Richardson was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies (2018) and Dodd was selected 96th overall by the Atlanta Braves in the third round in 2021. Last spring, the Cavaliers pitching staff broke the KCC single-season strikeout record with 491.
“It’s really about development,” says Shafer. “We have something going the full year-round. “There’s pitchers’ strength and speed development in the off-season. Now we’re now getting them ready for competition.
“It’s all about developing players and getting the most out of them. Junior college is a stepping stone. We realize we’re not a destination.
Shater, who is on a staff with head coach Todd Post and hitting/catching coach Nick Ulrey (a New Palestine graduate), uses networking to find players to develop at KCC.
“As a junior college, you get told ‘no’ a lot,” says Shafer, who looks at a roster full of Illinois and Indiana players but also has a two from Canada, one from Missouri and a shortstop — Beyonce Paulina — from Curacao.
“It’s about the connections you make,” says Shafer of the recruiting process. “You watch film. Some numbers help. Velocity is always nice. We look at mechanics. Can we clean him up and make him better?
“We look at the body type. How does he move?
“We always talk to their coaches. We get their whole background and make sure there’s not any red flags.”
Kankakee coaches Shafer, Post and Ulrey all weigh in on player evaluations.
“I pride myself in being able to look at a limited amount of video to see if this kid can be successful at this level and what can we do to make them better,” says Shafer. “We want good kids from good families that get good grades and want to be better at baseball. My goal is to get our players at their highest level of baseball.”
That means teaching the physical and mental sides of the game.
“We try to put our guys in difficult situations and how to handle it,” says Shafer, who earned a Psychology degree at Fort Hayes State University. “We teach pitchers what they need to think about and to avoid things they can’t control, focus on the next pitch and the hitters’ weaknesses.”
It’s about handling adversity.
“We do a good job of that here,” says Shafer. “It’s definitely a priority.”
Shafer grew up around Wabash and played travel ball for the Summit City Sluggers, Jarrod Parker, Kyle Leindecker, Scott Woodward and Rhett Goodmiller. Parker pitched in the big leagues. Leindecker played at Indiana University, Woodward at Coastal Carolina University and indy ball and Goodmiller Central Michigan University and Taylor University.
At Northfield, Shafer helped the Norsemen to the IHSAA Class 2A Final Four in 2006, and graduated in 2007. Tony Uggen, who is now in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, was his head coach.
“He was always very professional,” says Shafer of Uggen. “We had to have our shirts tucked in and look and act like ballplayers. It was a disciplined system. The basics were always there. We did things right.
“If you stay focus and disciplined the whole time, you can have a pretty good high school team.”
While he was barely 5-foot, 100 pounds, Shafer made varsity as a freshman.
“I thought I was getting cut,” says Shafer. “I had to out-work people because I was so small.”
By graduation he was 5-10 and around 150. In college, he grew to 6-1 and 185.
“I learned that you need to need to be big if you want to last,” says Shafer. “We play 56 games in 2 1/2 months at (KCC). Guys can break down if their bodies aren’t ready.”
At Valpo, Shafer played for head coach Tracy Woodson and pitching coach Brian Schmack (who is now VU head coach).
“He taught me to be calm, handle situations and embrace where you’re at,” says Shafer of Schmack. “Just remember the people — not necessarily the facilities.”
While attending the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago in January, Shafer gravitated to mental performance presenters like Brian Cain.
“I got a lot out of it,” says Shafer. “That is the most under-accessed part of the game. To succeed at the highest level need to be mentally tough.”
Some of the books read by Shafer lately are “The Mental ABCs of Pitching: A Handbook for Performance Enhancement” by Harvey Dorfman and “The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental Emotional Physical Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists” by James E. Loehr.
“It’s how champions think,” says Shafer. “If you can teach that to a young guy really, you’re doing something right.”
Bryce and wife Jill have two sons — Carver (4) and Callum (2).

Bryce Shafer (Kankakee Community College Photo)

Former Castle, Virginia righty Messinger excited for opportunity in Yankees system

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Three years of showing what he can do pitching in the power-packed Atlantic Coast Conference, University of Virginia right-hander Zach Messinger was selected in the 13th round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees.
“I’m extremely excited and honored to play for a team like the New York Yankees,” says Messinger, 21. “They have 27 World Series championships for a reason.”
A 2018 graduate of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Messinger was part of a Virginia program that won 82 of 137 games during his time in Charlottesville and made it to the 2021 College World Series.
Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor, who was the pitching coach at Notre Dame for nine seasons (1995-93) under Irish head coach Paul Mainieri, has led the Cavaliers to five CWS appearances with a national title in 2015.
The 2021 season was Drew Dickinson’s second as Virginia pitching coach.
“He’s already done a phenomenal job,” says Messinger of Dickinson. “He’s one of the best college pitching coaches in the country.
“Statistically, we’re one of the best pitching staffs in the ACC because of it.”
UVA ranked in the top three in the conference in several categories in 2021, including wins, earned run average, opposing batting average, strikeouts and innings pitched.
Assistants Kevin McMullan and Matt Kirby have also helped get the most out of the Cavaliers.
“We put full trust in the coaches for their game-by-game and series-by-series preparation,” says Messinger.
In his three collegiate campaigns, Messinger made 51 mound appearances (11 starts) and was 5-3 with a 4.42 ERA. He racked up 107 strikeouts with 47 walks in 99 2/3 innings.
In 2021, he got into 28 games (24 as a reliever) and was 3-2 with a 4.89 ERA. He fanned 64 and walked 21 in 57 innings.
Does Messinger consider himself a starter or reliever?
“I can be put out there no matter what,” says Messinger. “I have the mentality, endurance and pitchability to be a starter.
“I also also have the capability to come out of the pen in high-stress situations. I can come on with short rest and deliver for the team. It comes down to where the organization thinks is the best fit for me.”
Signed on July 22, Messinger is now at the Yankees training headquarters in Tampa, Fla., getting to know personnel and the way the system works and expects to be there into the fall.
“The Yankees don’t tend to send new draft guys off to a (minor league) team,” says Messinger. “They like to have guys in-house throwing in front of coaches.
“I want to find a good base strength-wise and be where the coaches want me to be by spring training.”
The Yankees’ top four affiliates are the Low Class-A Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons, High Class-A Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades, Double-A Somerset (N.J.) Patriots and Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre (Pa.) Railriders.
Messinger employs four pitches from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot — four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and change-up.
The four-seamer sat at 93 to 95 mph and touched 97 while Messenger was at Virginia.
“The slider has more horizontal break and plays well off the fastball with the same release point,” says Messinger. “It’s late-breaking when I throw it correctly. It has become a pretty good ‘out’ pitch for me.”
Messinger calls his “12-to-6” curve “Ol’ Reliable.”
“I’ve had it since I was 15 years old,” says Messinger. “I’ve used the same grip ever since I was a kid.”
He uses a “circle” change.
Born in Evansville, Ind., Messinger moved into the Castle district while in elementary school. His family resided in Chandler, Ind., until his mother accepted a job offer and they moved to Richmond, Va., at the end of Zach’s senior year.
Dennis and Lisa Messinger have four sons — Zach and 17-year-old triplets Eli, Lucas and Tyler.
Dennis Messinger is a job site supervisor for Shurm Homes. Lisa Messinger is director of environmental sciences at Dominion Energy. He played basketball at Olney (Ill.) Central College. She was a volleyball player at the University of Evansville.
Heading into their junior year of high school, all three triplets are athletes — Eli and Lucas in basketball and baseball and Tyler in track.
Zach Messinger got his organized baseball start at what is now Evansville East Youth Baseball, but played at what is now Newburgh Junior Baseball from 8U to 11U.
Dennis Messinger coached Zach and the Ohio Valley Vipers for his son’s 12U and 13U summers.
At 14U and 15U, Zach was with the Cory Luebbheusen-coached Jasper J-Cards.
He spent two seasons with the Indiana Bulls (Dan Held at 16U and Sean Laird at 17U).
Curt Welch was Messinger’s coach for four varsity seasons at Castle.
“That man taught me how to be a man while on the baseball field,” says Messinger. “Behind my father Curt Welch is the second-most influential man in my life. He was tough on me. He saw the potential that I had. It was going to take hard work and focus.”
Messinger says Welch taught him how to treat the game and the opposition with respect and how to carry himself on and off the field.
“He taught me more than how to hit a baseball or how to pitch,” says Messinger, who played third base when not on the mound. “What stands out is the stuff that was outside the lines.”
After going 7-1 with a 1.66 ERA, Messenger was the 2018 Courier & Press All-Metro Player of the Year (he was first-team All-Metro three times) and was named to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and was a Prep Baseball Report Indiana first-team All-State selection.
Also a three-letterwinner in basketball, he was Castle’s 2018 Lonnie Fisher Male Athlete of the Year Award winner and graduated with a 3.97 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and was a four-time Scholastic “C” Academic Letter recipient.
His major at Virginia is Media Studies. He plans to complete that in the near future.
“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to play professional baseball,” says Messinger. “Academics has always important to me and my family.”
In the summer of 2018, Messinger went to Virginia early to take summer classes and to train. He played for the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats in 2019, but did not play in the summers of 2020 or 2021.

Zach Messinger (University of Virginia Photo)
Zach Messinger (University of Virginia Photo)
Zach Messinger (University of Virginia Photo)
Zach Messinger was drafted and signed by the New York Yankees.

Ball State grad Riedel appreciates his diamond education

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball taught Jeff Riedel lessons about mental toughness and personal relationships.

Riedel played at Cookeville (Tenn.) High School, Jackson (Mich.) College and Ball State University and coached briefly at the collegiate level and gave lessons before going into construction to support his young family.

Born in Macomb, Mich., Riedel moved to Tennessee around 10 and played at Cookeville for Butch Chaffin.

“He was very much a mental coach,” says Riedel of Chaffin, who mentored the Cavaliers to a 36-2-1 record and a Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association AAA regional title in Riedel’s senior year of 2013. “You need to be mentally tough or you won’t be physically tough.”

Cookesville was put out of the tournament by future major league left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield and his Tullahoma team.

Chaffin had his players read a book that Riedel would return to as his diamond career progressed — “Mental Toughness: Baseball’s Winning Edge (by Karl Kuehl, John Kuehl and Casey Tetertiller).”

Riedel (rhymes with needle) appreciated the testimonials from big leaguers that related to specific aspects of mental toughness.

After taking a year away from the diamond, Riedel began his two-year junior college experience at Jackson College. Rick Smith was — and still is — the Jets head coach.

“He knew the game better than anyone I had been around to that point,” says Riedel of Smith. “For a lot of the guys he was hard to understand. I got it right away. We had a really good connection. He expectations for me and I had expectations for myself.

“I probably went above those and that’s what he and I were hoping for.”

As a Jackson sophomore in 2016, Riedel was a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II first-team All-America selection and the Michigan Community Collegiate Athletic Association Player of the Year. The righty-swinging outfield paced a 37-14 team in batting average (.489), on-base percentage (.571), slugging percentage (.883), runs scored (69), hits (67), doubles (21), triples (12), runs batted in (61) and stolen bases (school-record 48).

“At the junior college level, it was different,” says Riedel. “Our coaches really expected us to better ourselves.”

Players had essentially unlimited access to practice facilities to get in work on their own time.

“It was very much do-it-yourself,” says Riedel. “That helped me going to the Division I level.”

In the fall of 2016, Riedel signed to play at Oakland (Mich.) University, but a coaching change led him to forego that opportunity.

Chris Fetter, then a Ball State assistant (and now pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers), brought Riedel to Muncie, Ind., for a visit and he soon signed with the Cardinals and went on to enjoy his time around head coach Rich Maloney and assistants Scott French and Dustin Glant.

“Having that connection calms you down and lets you relax,” says Riedel. “Coach Maloney was very passionate about the game. He was very intense. 

“What really struck me with him on my visit was that he was very personable. He was very genuine. He told me what he expected out of me. He was very upfront.”

It also got Riedel’s attention that Alex Call was selected in the third round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox.

“I knew Alex signed (at Ball State) for a reason,” says Riedel. “I wanted to see what that was all about.”

In two seasons at BSU, Riedel started 104 times in right field. The first year Alex Maloney, son of the coach and now a volunteer assistant coach at Tennessee Tech University in — of all places — Cookeville, was a roommate.

In 2018, Riedel was named to the all-Mid-American Conference second team and hit .380 in 22 MAC games.

But was a non-league game that really turned heads. In the second game of a March 9 doubleheader at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., Riedel went 5-of-6 with a NCAA-record five doubles.

“I will never forget that day,” says Riedel, who batted in the No. 3 hole in the 20-8 Ball State victory. “I always knew how it was going to go based on my first at-bat. If I was seeing the ball well, I knew it was going to be a good day.”

After sharply grounding out to the shortstop in the first inning, Riedel socked two-baggers to left center in the third, center in the fourth, right center in the fifth, down the third base line in the sixth and to left center in the seventh and final frame.

Riedel earned his Interpersonal Communication degree from Ball State in 2018 and began his coaching career at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Valley Community College that fall. He also taught lessons at the Hardball Fans Academy in Kalamazoo, and coached briefly with the Kalamazoo Growlers during the 2019 Northwoods League summer collegiate wood bat season before opting to take a construction job.

“The thing I enjoyed about coaching was the connection you made with the players,” says Riedel, now 26. “They came to play for you. They had respect for you and you had respect for them.

“The best coaches I played for, I had respect for them as a coach and had a personal connection with them. It relaxed me more.”

While COVID-19 restrictions have interrupted work, Riedel and wife Kayla got to spend extra time with daughter Nora shortly after her birth in Nora in March. The couple that calls Battle Creek, Mich., home welcomed son Wyatt in February 2018.

Jeff Riedel, a 2018 Ball State University graduate, went 5-for-6 with five doubles in a 2018 baseball game against Western Carolina. In two seasons at BSU, he started 104 times in right field. (David Wegiel Jr./Ball State University Photo)
Jeff Riedel locks in a a pitch while playing baseball for Ball State University in 2018. Riedel was born in Michigan, played high school baseball in Tennessee and then junior college ball in Michigan before his two seasons at BSU — 2017 and 2018. He was on the all-Mid-American Conference second team as a senior. (Tim Cowie/Ball State University Photo)
Jeff Riedel was the regular right fielder for the Ball State University baseball program in 2017 and 2018. He went on to briefly coach at the collegiate level and give lessons before taking a construction job. Jeff and Kayla Riedel reside in Battle Creek, Mich., and have two children. (Ball State University Photo)

Ulrey insists his Kankakee CC batters hit the ball hard

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nick Ulrey instructs the catchers and hitters in the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College baseball program and teaches lessons to youngsters.

The former New Palestine (Ind.) High School, KCC and University of Missouri St. Louis player wants them all to see hitting in three parts — approach, timing and swing.

“The approach is what you can control 100 percent of the time,” says Ulrey. “You’re timing and swing aren’t going to be perfect every time.”

That approach includes always trying to hit the ball hard.

“I preach hard-hit balls rather than launch angle,” says Ulrey. “We’re never thinking about hitting a ball over the fence. We’re always trying to hit the ball through the center field wall.

“Even with two strikes, we will shorten up but we are still driving the baseball.”

Ulrey wants his hitters to have Quality At-Bats. He defines a QAB as one that results in the following: a hard-hit ball, seven-pitch at-bat, single, double, triple, home run, sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly, walk, hit by pitch or moving the runner over with no outs.

When it comes to the swing, Ulrey works with the hitter’s natural tendencies.

“I’m not a one-way guy,” says Ulrey. “They might be down and through the zone as a contact hitter or a power hitter with a little higher launch angle.

“I make sure they’re getting the work they need and I stress talking about the mental side of the game.”

The verbiage Ulrey uses with hitters is always positive.

He asks them to “drive the ball the other way” rather than “getting themselves out” to move a runner.

“You never want to give your AB away,” says Ulrey.

Rarely has Ulrey given away a day to be around baseball. He’s at KCC games and practices six days a week this fall.

On Sundays, he travels back to Greenfield, Ind., for instruction at The Yard Sports Complex, owned and operated by older brother Chris Ulrey.

Seven years older than Nick, Chris has served as a guide to his younger brother and even served a year on the KCC staff during Nick’s sophomore season with the Cavaliers.

“(Chris) is a great mentor,” says Nick Ulrey. “Ninety percent of what I know as a hitting coach, I learned from him.”

When he’s not working with KCC players or those at The Yard, Ulrey is running camps at Fundamentals Sports Academy in Dwight, Ill.

“I’m around the game seven days a week,” says Ulrey, 24. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stray away from that.

“It’s what I love to do.”

That comes across to the athletes he is instructing.

“Players are real receptive to what you’re saying,” says Ulrey. “Most people want to get to the next level.”

Ulrey played four years of baseball at New Palestine. He was mostly a junior varsity player as a freshman and Al Cooper was the varsity head coach. Shawn Lyons took over the Dragons in Ulrey’s sophomore year.

The father of classmate Corey Lyons, Shawn Lyons had coached Nick and his son on New Palestine youth teams.

“He prepared me more than I ever could hope for,” says Ulrey of the elder Lyons. “We were learning mental side of the game at 10. He prepared me well for the college level.”

Ulrey’s collegiate career started at KCC in 2013, where he started both years behind the plate. He was an all-National Junior College Athletic Association Region 4 performer and is on eight career hitting record lists.

He transferred to NCAA Division II UMSL, where he was a two-time all-Great Lakes Valley Conference selection and led the conference both years in runners caught stealing.

Ulrey was brought to St. Louis by Jim Brady, who died of cancer in 2017 as Ulrey was about to begin his coaching career with the Tritons.

“He was a great man and an even better coach,” says Ulrey of Brady.

Cory Wahl took over the USML program.

“He was a well-rounded guy,” says Ulrey. “He coached at several schools, (including an assistant stint at Vincennes University) he was very versatile and brought a lot of knowledge to UMSL. I learned a lot from him.”

Ulrey holds a degree in Criminal Justice from UMSL.

At Kankakee, Todd Post is the head coach and (former Valparaiso University pitcher) Bryce Shafer is the other assistant.

“He knows more about the game than any coach I’ve ever met,” says Ulrey of Post has led the KCC program since 2001 and earned an NJCAA Division II national title in 2017. “(Shafer) does an unbelievable job with the pitchers and strength and conditioning.”

KCC players spend plenty of time in the weight room in the fall, winter and spring. They are on individualized programs designed to improve weaknesses and enhance strengths.

NICKULREY

Nick Ulrey, a New Palestine (Ind.) High School graduate, is a baseball assistant coach at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College. (Kankakee Community College Photo)