Tag Archives: Chet Waggoner Little League

Saint Joseph grad, Morehead State righty Rotkis knows confidence is key

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

Joe Rotkis got just eight outs in his first season as a college baseball pitcher.
Taking the mound for Morehead (Ky.) State University in 2020, the right-hander from South Bend (Ind.) Saint Joseph High School hurled 2 1/3 innings.
“It was the worst 2 1/3 innings I pitched in my entire life,” says Rotkis, who gave up 16 earned runs and 14 hits as an MSU freshman. “It was frustrating in the moment. I knew what I was capable of and I didn’t show it.”
That became the driving force for Rotkis through the rest of the COVID-19 spring and summer and into the 2021 season.
After the 2020 shutdown, Rotkis played for the Midwest Collegiate League’s Whiting-based Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
“That was awesome,” says Rotkis, who pitched well enough in his first two relief stints that he landed a spot in the Oilmen’s starting rotation.”
He also got to work with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko. He took to approach espoused by the former pro moundsman.
“He said I was just over-thinking things and to go out and do what I know I can do,” says Rotkis, 20. “I gained confidence last summer.
“Confidence is the best tool.”
Playing this spring at Morehead State, where Mik Aoki is the head coach and Brady Ward the pitching coach, Rotkis made 13 appearances (all out of the bullpen) and was 2-0 with a 4.05 earned run average. In 26 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked 10.
Rotkis uses four pitches — a two-seam sinking fastball, a four-seam fastball, a “circle” change-up and a slider.
“It plays off the sinker and the same tunnel, working different sides of the plate,” says Rotkis, who throws from a mid-three-quarter overhand arm slot which helps with his sinker and touched 92 mph a few times in the spring while sitting in the high 80s. “I like to throw anything to anybody.
“I just throw what I think’s going to beat them at that point.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Rotkis went for an assessment at the P3 (Premier Pitching Performance) lab in St. Louis and is working this summer with Director of Remote Pitching Mitch Plassmeyer while following a structuring throwing and weightlifting plan near home in Granger, Ind.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” says Rotkis of Plassmeyer. “He filled my head with knowledge.”
In the third week of the program, Rotkis lifts four times a week — two upper body and two lower body. He does mobility moves before lifting and throwing.
Working out with former high school teammate Patrick Farrissee (now on the Clemson University club baseball team) on the practice football fields at Notre Dame, Rotkis long tosses 100 yards or more.
As a sophomore, Farrissee was the starting left fielder when Saint Joseph won the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A state championship.
Rotkis is a 2019 graduate of Saint Joseph, where he and buddies Farrissee, Mitchell Coleman, Nick Dolniak, Surf Sadowey, Michael Schroeder and Brady Gumpf (now at Notre Dame) played for former Indians head coach John Gumpf and former assistant and current bench boss John Smolinski.
“They made practice enjoyable to come to each day,” says Rotkis, who began to get some NCAA Division I offers through the Area Code Games trials at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
He was recruited by Morehead State when Mike McGuire was head coach and Kane Sweeney the pitching coach and then they both left for the University of South Carolina Upstate.
Aoki and Ward convinced Rotkis to still come play for the Eagles.
Born in Elkhart, Ind., Rotkis moved from Bristol, Ind., to Granger around age 5 with parents Mike and Jill and younger brother Andrew (a 2021 St. Joseph graduate bound for Purdue University).
Joe played at what is now Harris Baseball Softball and then Chet Waggoner Little League in South Bend which led to the Michiana Baseball Club travel team. As a high school, he was with the South Bend Cubs travel organization, spending two summers with South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley as coach.
“Mark Haley is one of the smartest and one of the most caring baseball guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to,” says Rotkis. “He’s awesome.
“We were learning the game, the ins and out and the little things.”

Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)
Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)

Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)

Bickel’s baseball track takes him to Bismarck Bull Moose

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Bickel just arrived with his third baseball team of summer 2020.

After splitting time with the Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League’s Mishawaka (Ind.) Brewers and the College Summer League at Grand Park’s Snakes, the middle infielder is with the Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose.

The Shawn Harper-managed Brewers lost this week to the Jackers in the tournament finals and the Grand Park league wrapped last week. Snakes manager Jake Martin and the rest of the team witnessed a home run by righty-swinging Bickel that TrackMan measured at 436 feet with a 103 mph exit velocity.

“I feel like I can do everything well on the baseball field,” says Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and a member of the Palm Beach (Fla.) State College squad. “I hit for power. I have speed. I am smooth in the field with a strong arm.”

“It all comes back to my work ethic and how hard I train.”

Bickel, who is primarily a shortstop but can play second base or third base, got to North Dakota’s capital city after a 14-hour drive from South Bend. He reached out to Bull Moose manager Mitchell Gallagher, sent video and stayed in-touch with the Xavier University assistant.

“He brought me aboard when they had a need for an infielder,” says Bickel, who joins a team that is 6-26 playing in the COVID-19-induced pod system. The North Dakota Region consists of three teams all playing at Bismarck’s Dakota Community Bank & Trust Field — the Bull Moose, Larks and Mandan Flickertails. Players are housed in a hotel two-to-a-room. The season is to continue until Sept. 1.

“Hopefully, I can put up so good numbers here since I won’t get much exposure this fall,” says Bickel, alluding to the fact that junior college baseball canceled its fall season, meaning the loss of more than 20 games at the Palm Beach State Pro Day. 

Online classes for the Business Management major begin Aug. 31. The school is closed until January, meaning Bickel will come home to South Bend after his time in North Dakota. Bickel’s 21st birthday is Jan. 21, 2021.

Born and raised in South Bend, Bickel got his organized baseball start at Chet Waggoner Little League, where he played until 9.

At 10 and 11, he played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers — first for Andy Biskupski and then Bill Petty.

After that came two summers with the Brian West-coached South Bend Baseball Factory. 

Longshots Baseball — based in Downers Grove, Ill. — was Bickel’s baseball home away from home. He played with that Rob Rooney-led organization in fall (weekday games and weekend doubleheaders).

Bickel was a three-year varsity player at Marian, playing for Knights head coach Joe Turnock — 2015, 2016 and 2018. 

His junior year, Bickel played in the Hitters/Prep Baseball Report Spring League in Kenosha, Wis.

His collegiate career began at San Jacinto College in Texas. After the fall semester, he transferred to Miami Dade College in Florida.

He struggled at the plate with the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Sharks and opted to take off 2019-20 to re-tool his swing. Bickel was offered a scholarship by head coach Kyle Forbes to join the Palm Beach State program. The Panthers are NJCAA D-I members and part of the Florida College System Activities Association

Jarrett, 20, is the middle child of Joe and Megan Bickel. Joe owns a lawn care service. Tyler Bickel is 23. Xavier Bickel is 17.

Jarrett Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., swings the bat in 2019 for Miami Dade College in Florida. He is now on the baseball roster at Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. (Miami Dade College Photo)
Jarrett Bickel (left) takes a throw while playing for Miami Dade during the 2019 baseball season. The 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., is now on the roster at Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. (Miami Dade College Photo)
Jarrett Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., played baseball at Miami Dade College in Florida in 2019 and is now on the roster of Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. (Miami Dade College Photo)
Shortstop Jarrett Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., played at Miami Dade College in 2019 and is now on the baseball roster at Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. This summer, he has played for the Mishawaka Brewers and Snakes of the College Summer League at Grand Park and just joined the Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose. (Miami Dade College Photo)

Former D-I baseball player Hammond getting started with South Bend Washington Panthers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With support from the community and the school system, Lawrence “Buster” Hammond Jr., is now leading the baseball program at South Bend (Ind.) Washington High School.

Hammond had a call-out meeting about a month ago that drew 25 players. He has since picked up a few more who are interested in representing the Panthers and the West Side.

As he searches for a coaching staff, Hammond will continue to look for potential athletes both in the hallways and baseball organizations.

With enough players, Washington may be able to field three teams in 2019 — varsity, junior varsity and freshmen (or C-team).

Washington is in the Northern Indiana Conference (with Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley and South Bend St. Joseph).

The Panthers are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Culver Military Academy, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie and South Bend St. Joseph. Washington’s last two sectional titles came in 1996 and 1997 — the final two years of single-class sports.

“Washington baseball alumni have really supported me,” says Hammond. “I’ve jumped on to their legacy and how great they used to be.”

Hammond says Washington High School administrators — athletic director Garland Hudson, principal Thomas Sims, assistant principals Dr. Nicole Garcia and Trent Chambliss and CSI coordinator Ryan Frontczak — have also been in his corner.

There’s also been backing from Mark Haley and Doug Buysse at the South Bend Cubs 1st Source Bank Performance Center.

“They’ve really supporting me and I appreciate it,” says Hammond.

The son of the late Lawrence “Buster” Hammond Sr., and Joann Cale, Hammond is a 1998 graduate of Middletown (Del.) High School. He was a three-sport athlete for the Cavaliers, earning all-conference in football, starting as a sophomore and junior in basketball (missing his senior season with a broken leg) and being recognized as all-state and all-conference outfielder in baseball.

Middletown baseball coach Richard Green taught Hammond that the diamond sport is “hardest mental game you’ll ever play.”

“That’s absolutely true,” says Hammond. “You can be on top of the world one game and on the bottom of the world the next.”

Green also let his players know that adversity and failure is a part of life and those life lessons can be learned through baseball.

“I would be riding high then go 0-for-13 or something,” says Hammond, who swang from the left side of the plate. “I found out you’re not always going to be good at something. But you have to work hard at it and it will play off.

“Hitting is a muscle memory and a confidence thing. I would just kept going and be persistent. I’d get more swings in the cage and focus in on little stuff. I’d make sure I was perfecting my skills in the outfield so I didn’t let my team down there.”

Hammond played two seasons at Cecil College, a junior college in North East, Md., and two at NCAA Division I Delaware State University in Dover, Del.

At Cecil, Hammond worked with head coach Charlie O’Brien and assistant Clyde Van Dyke and learned how to stay consistent at the plate and foul off the pitches he could not hit squarely.

Hammond encountered head coach J.P. Blandin and assistant Clint Ayers at Delaware State.

“(Ayers) taught me a lot about hitting like a two-strike approach,” says Hammond. “Most hitters want to hit to their power (the pull-side). (With two strikes, you) let the ball travel and hit it on the back side. (Ayers) changed our stance a little bit. You hit the ball where it’s pitched and let your hands be the engine and everything else follows.”

With that advice, Hammond’s confidence took off and the ball began jumping off his bat as a DSU Hornet.

Hammond moved to South Bend in November 2007, following the woman that would become his wife she took a job at the University of Notre Dame. She now works in insurance for the NCAA.

Buster worked six years for the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County, coaching youngsters in flag football, basketball and soccer at Wilson Elementary. He’s also coached his son in flag football and baseball at Chet Waggoner Little League.

Hammond started as a Family & Consumer Science teacher at Washington in August.

Married now for eight years, Buster and Nikki Hammond have four children together — kindergartener Langston (6), pre-schooler Hazel (3) and twins Isadora and Iris (who turn 1 on Dec. 11). Buster’s two older children are Dominic (15) and Kamille (14).

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Lawrence “Buster” Hammond Jr., is entering his first sas

 

South Bend’s Bond looking to add muscle prior to second season in Giants organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Bond has watched his baseball career bloom the past couple of years.

Heading into his senior season at South Bend Clay High School in the spring of 2015, the left-handed swinger barely knew the feeling of hitting the ball over the fence.

“My whole life I had like two home runs,” says Bond, who used a combination of strength and bat speed to triple that number that season with encouragement from Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold. “He always pushed me to try to do a little better each time.”

In the fall of 2014, Bond went to Texas with his Prairie Gravel Baseball travel team to play in a tournament that included San Jacinto College North.

Bond came away with a scholarship offer from the elite junior college program in Houston.

After four varsity seasons at Clay, he played the outfield for the San Jac Coyotes in 2016 and 2017.

The first year Bond was selected in the 39th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals and did not sign, opting to go back to San Jacinto for his sophomore season.

Tom Arrington is the Coyotes head coach.

“He was strict but he always kept us relaxed,” says Bond of Arrington. “He told jokes. It was good playing for him.”

When the 2017 MLB draft rolled around, the San Francisco Giants chose Bond in the 12th round as one of six San Jacinto players selected.

“We’d come to practice everyday looking to get better,” says Bond. “We’d challenge each other. (San Jac) should be really good (in 2018).”

Center Grove High School graduate Jacob Cantleberry, a left-handed pitcher, went to San Jac and recently committed to the University of Missouri.

After his two junior college seasons, Bond signed and went to play in the rookie-level Arizona League. In 41 games and 147 at-bats, he hit .306 with eight homers, 31 runs batted in and 50 strikeouts.

“I learned a lot,” says Bond. “If you have a bad day, look to the next day. There are a lot opportunities. You clear your head and play again.

“It’s a work in progress. I still have a lot to learn.”

Most of his defensive time in the AZL was spent in left field, where he got to show off his arm and athleticism.

Bond, 20, has been back in South Bend for a little over a month after attending instructional league in the fall.

He will gain more knowledge about the Giants organization when he travels to San Francisco Saturday, Dec. 9, to start a five-day rookie camp.

When he gets back he will resume sessions four or five days a week in Elkhart  with former Notre Dame baseball and football player Evan Sharpley at Sharpley Training.

“I’ve been been working out so I can gain a little weight, some bat speed and get a little faster,” says Bond. “He’s kicking my butt so far.”

At 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, Bond says he would like to be at 205 by the time he goes to Arizona for spring training in March.

“I need to eat more,” says Bond. “I need to get more protein.”

Bond was 5-of-8 in stolen base attempts for the AZL Giants.

“That’s something I’ve got to get better at,” says Bond. “I need to get a better jump. I was a good baserunner — going first to third on a base hit.”

Bond began playing for Chicago-based Prairie Gravel and coach Al Oremus toward the end of the summer after his junior year at Clay.

His high school summers up to that point were spent with the Indiana Land Sharks.

Before that, he played one season with the Niles (Mich.) Sluggers following two with the Raptors travel team. He got his start as a player at Chet Waggoner Little League in South Bend.

Aaron got interested in bat-and-ball sports by watching his father play fast pitch softball. Charles and Angela Bond have three sons. Alex (25) and U.S. Marines veteran Alonzo (22) both attend Ivy Tech in South Bend. Aaron is two online classes short of a general studies degree at San Jac.

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Aaron Bond, a 2015 South Bend Clay High School graduate, played two seasons at San Jacinto College North in Texas and signed in 2017 with the San Francisco Giants organization. He is a left-swinging outfielder. (San Francisco Giants Photo)

 

Indiana Land Sharks travel organization enjoys great growth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Can’t you see them circling … the bases?

The Indiana Land Sharks are coming to a diamond near you.

The travel organization based in northern Indiana and southern Indiana is fielding 26 teams — 22 baseball and four softball — with 290 players in 2017.

Ages are 8U to 17U for baseball and 10U to 16U for softball. The only baseball division that does not have more than one team in 17U. There is one team each for the four softball age groups. Teams are distinguished by the colors blue, gray and black.

The first Land Sharks team was run by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and South Bend resident Jim Reinebold in 2003 at the invitation of Clint Emberton (father of Chad Emberton), Dr. Karl Schultz (father of Kyle Schultz) and Russ Stines (father of Brenden Stines).

The Land Sharks were a top-10 finisher in a big tournament at Wide World of Sports in Florida.

A later team featured future major leaguer Ryan Strausborger.

The program was re-birthed with one one in 2009 and expanded to five in 2012.

In 2015, a new indoor training facility was added in Niles, Mich., and the Land Sharks began fielding girls softball teams.

A second indoor facility (Niles Sports Warehouse) is managed by the Land Sharks.

“We just grew so quickly,” says Jim Robinson, Land Sharks athletic director and an owner along with Marc Waite, John Baxter and Joel Reinebold. “We’re offering a product people want.”

Based on training space, teams were actually turned away.

All coaches are volunteers and many are associated with high schools.

“We are advocates of the high school game,” says Robinson.

8U players typically play three to six tournaments per season. These families are exploring travel baseball to see if it’s for them.

“We encourage (players on) 8U teams to play rec ball and experience travel ball,” says Robinson. “9U also plays at limited travel schedule.”

By the time they reach 10U, they are usually playing a full travel schedule. From that age until high school, they might play up to 50 games from early April until Aug. 1 (when high school sports practices start).

Needing more pitching, high school teams may carry 14 or 15 players on a roster. The younger ones usually go with 11.

High school players cease off-season training with the Land Sharks once their school teams fill their rosters and they don’t begin their travel season until they are released from their school teams, making for a shorter season of four or five tournaments.

Tryouts are usually held the second weekend of August.

While there is natural attrition as families move or players gravitate to another sport or activity, Robinson says retention is pretty high from season to season, meaning many teams may be only looking to fill a few spots.

“People follow good organization and good coaching,” says Robinson. “The chemistry of the parents is also very important. (Travel ball) is your summer family. Kids travel and room together (on road trips). So many families have multiple kids playing. They depend on people they trust.”

Some teams stay together year after year. Take the current 17U baseball team. This team — coached by Tom Washburn, John Kehoe and Dennis Ryans — has been together since 10U.

This familiarity has been a key to development.

“We’re different from a lot of the teams we play,” says Washburn, who coaches older son Andrew (lead-off hitter on the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A state champion South Bend St. Joseph Indians) on the 17U team and also younger son Joseph on a 10U team. “Each year we can teach these guys a little bit more. Many travel teams don’t have time to practice and it becomes knowledge vs. talent.”

New Prairie High School graduate Washburn played for Tony Robichaux at McNeese State. South Bend Washington graduate Kehoe was in the Toronto Blue Jays system. South Bend LaSalle product Ryans the New York Yankees organization.

Washburn calls the 10U team a hybrid with travel and Chet Waggoner Little League games on its schedule.

In either scenario, it’s all about learning how to play.

“At 10, I’m more concerned with their development than winning a bunch of trophies,” says Washburn. “We learn to run pick-offs at second, the hit-and-run and proper bunt. We learn about running a first and third defense and cut-offs. It’s amazing to me. These 10 year-old kids pick it up quick.”

Washburn, a longtime Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp instructor who took his sons to former Land Shark Strausborger for tips at the South Bend Cubs Performance Center during the winter, says the reason so many people gravitate to travel ball and away from Little League and the like is because it offers more traditional rules at younger ages.

“It’s just different baseball,” says Washburn. “The younger boys learn to lead off, hold runners on as pitchers and catchers learn to give signs.”

Washburn also sees the appeal of summer travel ball tournaments with a concentrated group of talented player to college coaches who are busy coaching their own players during the spring.

Each Land Sharks team typically makes at least one big trip. Robinson had a team in Omaha, Neb., tournament last weekend, where they got to take in College World Series games.

Land Sharks teams play in Baseball Player’s Association, Gameday USA, Bomb Squad, Bullpen, Pastime, United States Specialty Sports Association and National Softball Association events.

Some popular game sites include Grand Park, Newton Park, City-County Athletic Complex in Warsaw, some Michigan City parks and Belleville Softball Complex in South Bend.

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The Indiana Land Sharks travel baseball and softball organization traces its origins back to the 2003 Michiana Land Sharks. In 2017, the outfit has 26 teams — 22 baseball and four softball. (Steve Krah Photo)