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Fenimore experiences baseball and more in Germany, Australia

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball helped Caleb Fenimore get a college education.

It is also allowing the player from east central Indiana see other parts of the world.

A 2010 Rushville Consolidated High School graduate who played 2011-14 at Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne, Fenimore step between the white lines in Germany in the summer and Australia in the winter and he has thoroughly enjoyed three German seasons with the Dohren Wild Farmers and two Australian campaigns with the Macarthur Orioles.

“Overall, this experience has been the best in my life,” says Fenimore, 26. “There is nothing I would change about the last couple of years and I would recommend it to any ballplayer.

“It’s not just about traveling the world and playing a game. It’s about living in a country for six months and becoming a part of the culture and it becoming a part of you. I have many memories on the field that I will remember. But I have so many more memories off the field that I will never forget with people that I’ll never forget.”

Primarily a catcher, Fenimore was named the No. 1 batter by the International Baseball Community (BaseballJobsOverseas.com) and best batter in the Bundesliga Nord (North) with a league-leading 1.471 OPS (.608 on-base percentage plus .864 slugging percentage), eight home run and drove in 24 runs batted in for a team that went 15-9 in the regular season. He hit .424.

The Wild Farmers, which had twice placed first in the second league going 24-4 in 2015 and 22-6 in 2016, moved up to the first league in 2017.

The Wild Farmers practiced three times a week and played games on the weekends. The smallness of Dohren allowed Fenimore to bond with his teammates.

“It is a great big family and we, as a team, are able to walk 10 minutes or less (or bike 3 minutes or less) to anyone’s house in the village to do something,” says Fenimore. Entertainment could also be found by leaving his host family and taking the train to Hamburg. An occasional off weekend would allow the American to explore other countries in tightly-packed Europe.

Fenimore, whose family roots are in Germany and Austria, got the chance to play there through Evan Porter.

A veteran of many European baseball seasons, including one with the Solingen Alligators in Germany, Porter was an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (a Summit League member just like IPFW aka Fort Wayne) and connected Fenimore with Johst Dallmann of the Dohren Wild Farmers.

After his first season in Germany, Fenimore was contacted by Kye Hislop of the Macarthur Orioles in Sydney and eventually signed there for an opportunity to play baseball in the winter and also experience another culture.

Macarthur went 19-6 (with plenty of rainouts) and won the regular-season title in Fenimore’s first season. The Orioles won a best-of-three series and went to the Grand Final, where they were swept and finished the season at 21-9.

The next winter, Macarthur went 26-4 in winning the regular season and also took the Grand Final title, finishing 30-6 overall.

The great thing about this season is that we also won the Club Championship which takes points from all the teams from your club and how they do in their respective levels in the league,” says Fenimore. “I was very fortunate to receive the Gold Glove Award from my club both seasons.”

The Orioles trained twice a week and played games on Wednesdays and either Saturdays or Sundays. When he could, Fenimore would travel to look around Sydney or places like Wollongong.

“I think it’s one of the greatest places in the world,” says Fenimore. “I would often down down there with my teammates Bobby Twedt and hang out during the week as we would hike mountains, go to the beach, hike a waterfall or just go and fund something cool that we hadn’t seen before.”

The last few years, Fenimore had been coming back to the U.S. for just a few days before heading off to the next country for another season. He is taking this winter off and not going to Australia, but he plans to re-join the Wild Farmers in March for his fourth season in Germany.

Fenimore says will assess his future after that. All the while, he plans to really savor his time.

“As much as I love playing ball, I know that eventually my career will be over,” says Fenimore. “I can see myself living in both Germany and Australia (and America of course too), so it will be a tough decision when that time comes.

“I hope to always be involved closely with baseball. This game has been my life for as long as I can remember and I have learned so much in this game. I also know that there is also still so much for me to learn and I think that is the best part about baseball. There is always something new you can learn. While the game itself will never change (hopefully), the way we do things and adjust and execute are changing with every pitch and we can always learn that way.”

Caleb, the son of Bruce and Joni Fenimore, grew up around baseball, playing in the Rushville Little League until age 8. At 9, he joined the Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits travel ball organization and was with it two summers into his college career.

His 18U season, Caleb played with the Summit City Sluggers. Bruce Fenimore was there as a coach with the teams and was at camps following his son from station and station and taking notes.

“My biggest influence to this day is still my dad,” says Fenimore. “He has taught me so much in this game and he is still learning as well. I still consider him my coach as he still throws me batting practice and throws out a suggestion here and there of he thinks he sees something.

“He’s also good at getting in some hit by pitch practice while I’m in the cage too. I can’t thank him enough for all that he has done for me in this game.

“He bred me to be a catcher. He knew the importance of the position as it was the same one he played and knows that a great catcher can change and help a team in many ways.”

Bruce Fenimore coached the Indiana Bandits 16U/18U and college teams in 2017.

Jake Fox, who was a catcher in the big leagues with the Cubs, Athletics and Orioles, is Caleb’s godfather. The former Indianapolis Cathedral High School and University of Michigan receiver gave Fenimore plenty of helpful pointers.

Last summer, Fox was the guest speaker at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet in Muncie.

Fenimore wound up his prep career at Rushville Consolidated as an IHSBCA all-star. Playing for coach Keith Perin, he collected 97 hits and drove in 76 runs during his Lions days — both school records. He bashed 10 home runs, including six in 2010. As a pitcher, he posted a 2.01 career earned run average (1.34 in 2010).

Second cousin Kyle Harpring is now head baseball coach at Rushville.

At IPFW, Fenimore found a combination that he like — a small campus, a major he wanted to pursue (chemistry/pre-med), a chance to play NCAA Division I baseball and knowledgeable coaching staff, including head coach Bobby Pierce and assistant Grant Birely. After committing, he received a Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship which pays full in-state tuition.

“Coach Pierce and Coach Birely are great men and great coaches in my opinion,” says Fenimore. “I have learned many things from many different coaches during my career from my dad teaching me since I was a little kid to all the college coaches that we both took things from as I was growing up and going to different camps and clinics. “But, being with Coach Pierce and Coach Birely for four years, I have picked up a lot from them. The things that stick with me the most are bat control, early and late count rhythm, plate discipline, pitch calling and sequencing, situations and just how every ballplayer is different and some players need to do things different ways.

“I have nothing but respect for both of them and still enjoy leanring from them whenever I can be around them up there in Fort Wayne.”

Bruce Fenimore, a 1983 Rushville Consolidated graduate, played football and baseball at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute and is a civil engineer. Joni Fenimore, a 1984 Rushville Consolidated graduate played basketball for the school’s 1981 state runners-up and is a math teacher at RCHS.

Caleb is the oldest of four children. His sisters are Mariah (22), Hallie (16) and Alexis (15). Mariah is a former college soccer player now studying civil engineering as a Trine University senior. Junior Hallie and freshman Alexis attend Rushville Consolidated.

CALEBFENIMORE2

Caleb Fenimore, a product of Rushville Consolidated High School and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne, has played three baseball seasons in Germany with the Dohren Wild Farmers. This past summer, he was the No. 1 batter in Bundesliga Nord and International Baseball Community.  He has also played two winters with the Macarthur Orioles in Australia. (Georg Hoff Photos)

CALEBFENIMORE1

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Oakland City’s Fletcher enjoys watching Mighty Oaks grow as ballplayers, students

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drawn to a private Christian school in southern Indiana renowned for its education, Kentucky native T-Ray Fletcher went to Oakland City University in the early 1990’s as a student-athlete and never really left the campus in Gibson County.

After graduating in the spring 1995, Fletcher was named to the OCU baseball staff for the fall. By the spring, he was the Mighty Oaks head coach and 2018 will mark his 24th season.

“It was one of those right place at the right time situations,” says Fletcher, who was a catcher for the Oaks after playing at Madisonville North Hopkins High School. He was junior varsity as an eighth and ninth grader and varsity his last three years.

“(Oakland City) used to be known as the teacher/preacher school and it is still known for the School of Education and School of Business,” says Fletcher. “It’s a strong academic school.

“As a part of our core principles and values, we set the example of what other athletes should be on campus. We’re pretty adamant about class attendance. We give them resources to succeed academically. Drugs and alcohol are not going to be tolerated here.”

Fletcher, an Oakland City University Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, says communication is the key to making it all happen and most of his players have graduated and flourished in a structured environment.

“Kids still want to be coached and they still want discipline,” says Fletcher.

At one time, the coach had 16 former players coaching high school or travel baseball in the Indiana-Kentucky-Illinois tri-state area.

Among six players Fletcher has sent into professional baseball, the most recent is Eric Barnes, who was recently named head baseball coach at Boonville High School.

In 2017, Oakland City went 18-29 and made its 12th National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association tournament appearance on Fletcher’s watch (the Oaks placed ninth after finishing third in 2016).

In 2016, Fletcher passed the 400-win plateau and has the most victories in the long history of the program.

Oakland City is also an NCAA Division II member — one of just three baseball-playing schools in Indiana. The others are the University of Indianapolis and the University of Southern Indiana. Saint Joseph’s College was D-II, but that school closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

By comparison, Indiana collegiate baseball boasts nine in NCAA D-I (Ball State, Butler, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Valparaiso), nine in NCAA D-III (Anderson, DePauw, Earlham, Franklin, Hanover, Manchester, Rose-Hulman, Trine, Wabash), 13 in NAIA (Bethel, Calumet of Saint Joseph, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Indiana Tech, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University Southeast, Marian, Purdue Northwest, Saint Francis, Taylor) and three in the National Junior College Athletic Association (Ancilla, Ivy Tech Northeast, Vincennes).

While there is no set number of athletic scholarships available, Fletcher says athletes at Oakland City can get scholarship money through a combination of academic and athletic performance and economic need. A dollar amount is divided among athletes.

“We do not offer full-ride scholarships to any athlete on campus,” says Fletcher. “We’re looking for a strong academic kid who can be supplemented from athletic money. You get a good package here.”

OCU typically has 450 to 500 students. The incoming freshmen class of 100 was the biggest in a decade. The 2010 census had nearly 2,500 folks living in the town of Oakland City, making it the third-largest in Gibson County behind Princeton and Fort Branch.

An independent with no conference affiliation, Oakland City does play several schools in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference — both D-II leagues.

“My whole philosophy is to play the best competition we can play to challenge our athletes and also give us a chance to succeed,” says Fletcher, who typically carries a roster of 25 to 30 with only a varsity schedule.

Fletcher handles recruiting for the Oaks. Most most players come from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. But there have been some from Canada, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as New York and Ohio.

“We’re located in a good geographic area for baseball in my opinion,” says Fletcher.

Oakland City plays on-campus on Brooks C. Pinnick Memorial Field. The facility has been upgraded over the years. In 2014, the outfield grass and drainage system was re-done and the Oaks spent much of the season on the road.

Fletcher’s assistant coaches for 2018 are former OCC players Alex Portee’ (fourth season) and Zach Deutsch (second season). Washington (Ind.) High Schoolg graduate Portee’ is the Oaks pitching coach. Deutsch went to Evansville Harrison High School and played two seasons at Vincennes University and two at Oakland City.

Tommy Ray Fletcher II has gone by T-Ray since age 1. He was given that nickname when older brother Zane asked why there were two Tommy Ray’s in the household of Tommy Ray and Judy Fletcher.

“(Zane) was a big influence on me at an early age,” says T-Ray of the brother who died in 2015. “He was a big fan of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds of the 1970’s) and really got me introduced to baseball at an early age.”

T-Ray became a Chicago Cubs fan and tries to attend a game at Wrigley Field each year.

It’s not always easy with a busy schedule that includes coaching, serving at OCU as assistant athletic director as well as in Compliance and the School of Business (he teaches three classes each semester) while spending time with wife Maddie and their three daughters — Sophie (10), Avery (8) and Alaine (4).

The Fletchers reside in Evansville. T-Ray also has two younger siblings — Brandon and Chiara.

TRAYFLETCHER

T-Ray Fletcher, a 1995 Oakland City University graduate, has been the Mighty Oaks head baseball coach since the 1996 season and has more than 400 victories. OCU is a member of both the National Christian College Athletic Association and NCAA Division II. (Oakland City U. Photo)

 

Servant leadership top priority for Bremen’s Gerard

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Being able to field, pitch and hit is essential.

But second-year Bremen High School head baseball coach Chad Gerard places leadership above those diamond skills.

“Teaching leadership to me is just as important as baseball,” says Gerard, who served two seasons as an assistant to Bo Hundt before taking over the Lions program for 2017. “It’s servant leadership. The the theory beyond that is that leaders are put in that position to make other people better.”

Taking a cue from former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, Gerard and his staff — former Mishawaka assistant Jim Morris and Bremen graduates Ryan Carpenter and Greg Williams — look to “build leaders that build leaders.”

Beyond baseball, Gerard sees his players as future fathers, husbands, employers and employees and wants them to lead in those capacities.

“That’s what is most important to me,” says Gerard, who has been married to Amanda for nine years and they have a daughter — Kaitlyn (6).

Between the lines, 1998 Mishawaka High School graduate Gerard puts an emphasis on pitching and defense.

Being a “huge Cubs fan,” Gerard enjoyed Chicago beating the Washington Nationals 9-8 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

But when coaching, a pitchers’ duel is more his speed.

“I like to win ball games based on preventing the other team from scoring runs as opposed to a slugfest,” says Gerard.

That may stem from his playing days, when he was a catcher for coach Gregg Minegar at Mishawaka and then Glenn Johnson at Grace College.

“At the college level, you play doubleheaders every time out,” says Gerard. “Catchers don’t want to be out there for a big inning.”

Big is the task that Bremen faces as the only IHSAA Class 2A school in the 13-team Northern Indiana Conference (which also includes Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay and South Bend Riley in 4A and Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in 3A).

“That certainly is a challenge,” says Gerard, noting the number of athletes who participate at the bigger schools. “But we’ve gone into the tournament extremely prepared the last two years. Day in and day out, we’re playing quality opponents. There’s no fear coming from these kids.”

The NIC is divided into two divisions — Bremen, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawka Marian, New Prairie and South Bend Riley in the South and Elkhart Central, Mishawaka, Penn, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend St. Joseph and South Bend Washington in the North. Each team plays the other once in conference play and there are titles for overall and games won within the division.

The Lions’ non-conference schedule includes Bethany Christian, Culver Academy, Elkhart Christian, Elkhart Memorial, Knox, LaVille, Tippecanoe Valley, Rochester, South Central and Triton.

Bremen won the Northern State Conference (which featured Culver, Jimtown, John Glenn, Knox, LaVille, New Prairie and Triton) in 2015 before that league disbanded.

At 2018 sectional time, Bremen is grouped with 2A schools Central Noble, Eastside, LaVille, Prairie Heights and Westview.

The Lions won the 2016 Westview Sectional and lost to eventual winner Eastside in the semifinals of the 2017 Westview Sectional.

Gerard coached in the Harris Township Junior Baseball Softball Association for three summers before spending 10 years as an assistant Mishawaka head coach John Huemmer then heading to Bremen. He has long kept track of pitches for his own hurlers and the opposing team. At any point in the game, he knows the pitch count for all.

With that in mind, he encourages his batters to work the count and get the opponent’s pitch count up.

He favors keeping track, but says the pitch count rule adopted by the IHSAA for 2017 (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) “has room for improvement.”

“It’s got it’s ups and downs,” says Gerard. “It’s great for the kids’ arm health. But they threw a monkey wrench in it when they added another day (of rest) once you hit 100 pitches.”

The old rule allowed a pitch to go 10 innings every three days.

“I remember when you could look in the newspaper and see who pitched and how many innings they have available,” says Gerard.

Hitting the 100-pitch plateau now means a required four days of rest, which really comes into play with a compacted sectional schedule.

“That forces some decision making (on when and how much to use a pitcher),” says Gerard.

Another sticking point is the enforcement of the new rule. Teams are now supposed to self-report and give their pitch count totals to their athletic directors and led AD’s communicate with one another.

It’s a matter of accountability.

“The umpire doesn’t keep track. It’s not his job,” says Gerard. “Who am I supposed to tell (if there’s a violation)?

“I caught two guys over the maximum number (120).”

The penalty for going over the limit is a team forfeit and Gerard says that did happen around the state last spring.

If Gerard got his way, he would also see baseball participation numbers go up across the board. He laments the shrinking of youth leagues.

“Little League is dying,” says Gerard. “Travel ball numbers are growing. A lot of kids are being left out. They are getting cut (from travel ball). I’m not sure how to do it, but we need get more kids playing baseball.”

Gerard notes that it depends on the number of baseball players in a given class whether Bremen will field a junior varsity team. Two years ago, the Lions had 11 seniors. Last year, Bremen did not have a JV team. He says he expects there will be enough freshmen this year to have one.

Bremen has one diamond. It is located a few blocks southwest of the Marshall County school’s campus.

CHADGERARD

Chad Gerard, a 1998 Mishawaka High School graduate, is entering his second season as head baseball coach at Bremen High School in 2018. He was Mishawaka assistant for 10 seasons and Bremen assistant for two before taking over the Lions program.

Turnock wants his Marian Knights to push themselves as far as they can

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When baseball players are pushed past the comfort zone, that’s when progress is made.

That’s the way Joe Turnock, sixth-year head coach at Marian High School in Mishawaka, goes about his job of developing young athletes.

“It’s about developing and being pushed beyond his experience,” says Turnock. “We want to stretch them, challenge them.

“I don’t care what year you graduate If you can play and have the mental maturity.”

That may mean a freshman standing in against a gas-throwing senior. But if they can handle it, their age and grade is not factored in.

Turnock, a graduate of Marian (1982) and Indiana University (1986), knows that being mentally strong is important in a game not always filled with moments of success.

“Baseball resembles life,” says Turnock. “There’s a lot of failure in the game. What do you do to respond after something negative happens — something that might not be within your control?

“The most important muscle is between the ears. It’s your mental make-up.”

Learning to cope in these situations while in high school will help in the future.

“Not everything works according to plan,” says Turnock. “You’ve got to able to bounce back.

“Control what you can control and compete.”

Even in games that may have resulted in losses, the positives are added up.

“Did you scrap back and win the last few innings?,” says Turnock. “There are things you can build on in your next game or practice.”

Turnock joined a Marian coaching staff led by Tim Prister after spending time in the showcase/travel baseball world. Turnock was a coach with the Michiana Scrappers and continues to be affiliated with the Crossroads Baseball Series.

Youngest son Josh (Joe and Amy Turnock also have 24-year-old Joe) was a catcher for the Scrappers and a battery mate of Evan Miller.

Now 22, Josh Turnock was a freshman on Marian’s IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up team in 2011.

The young Turnock and Miller went on to play for the North in the 2014 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All/Star Series.

While Josh Turnock is at Eastern Illinois University, LaPorte graduate Miller is now pitching in the San Diego Padres organization.

At EIU, Josh got to catch Michael McCormick. The right-hander who played at Speedway High School for father Marcus McCormick is now in the Chicago White Sox system.

Riley Tirotta, a 2017 Marian graduate, was a standout at shortstop and also played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series before heading to the University of Dayton.

Turnock has helped Tirotta, who has trained with Mike Marks at the Hitters Edge in Sturgis, Mich., and others get the attention of college coaches.

“A lot of the recruiting process had changed,” says Turnock. “You have to proactive and market yourself.”

Some of the recruiting tools including sending out videos and attending the showcases appropriate for the player.

For instance, a player suited for the NAIA or NCAA Division III will not be best-served at a showcase with mostly D-I coaches.

“There’s enough college baseball out there,” says Turnock. “Find where you’re going to fit. It’s not the glamor and glitz that people think it is. There’s a lot of work.”

With Tirotta’s athleticism, his coach was able to use him at various places in the infield and on the mound.

When Turnock had exit interviews with his players at the season of the ’17 season, he advised the returnees to work on versatility.

“If your name is on the lineup card, that’s a good day,” says Turnock. Players should not be concerned about where they are on the field or in the batting order. Just compete and contribute.

Roles can change. It happens at the high school level and it happens in the big leagues.

Take Chicago Cubs left-hander Mike Montgomery as an example.

“He might start then be used in middle relief then close then start again,” says Turnock.

Marian is a Roman Catholic secondary school, operated by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, and is a college preparatory institution.

The Knights are also in Class 3A-sized school.

“We have to share athletes,” says Turnock. “We know that not all players will make it to open gyms (or fields) when they are in-season (with another sport). But I want a kid who had to stand on the foul line and had to knock down two free throws with no time on the clock.

“Kids know who should be taking those shots or who should be at the plate in a key situation. Most kids’ self-awareness is a lot higher than people give them credit for.”

Turnock believes everyone should take part in a team sport — something that prepares them for the work world. There is teamwork and the discovery that sometimes not everyone pulls their weight.

As Marian looks toward the 2018 season, Keith Schreiber and Ryan Dainty are returnees to Turnock’s coaching staff.

“(Schreiber) is a phenomenal addition,” says Turnock of the former Glen Oaks Community College head coach and youngest son of the late Ken Schreiber. A 13-time Hall of Famer who won 1,010 games and seven state titles at LaPorte, Ken died Sept. 8 at age 83.

Dainty, Dean of Student Formation at Marian, is the head junior varsity coach.

Turnock tends to carry a large number of JV players in order to give them opportunities and a chance to get better so they can help at the varsity level.

“You never know how kids are going to develop,” says Turnock.

Walter Lehmann, a Marian graduate who was on Turnock’s staff, has become head coach at Concord High School.

Turnock says he is looking to add to his staff.

“We look at the coaches the same as the players,” says Turnock. “I don’t have an ego. The goal is to be successful as a team. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit for it.”

The Knights play in the Northern Indiana Conference. In 2017, the NIC produced a 3A state champion (South Bend St. Joseph) and 4A state runner-up (Penn).

“I’ve got a lot of respect for both of those guys,” says Turnock of St. Joe coach John Gumpf and Penn coach Greg Dikos, an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. “It’s a strong conference from top to bottom. On any given day, anyone can beat anyone.”

The NIC has 13 teams (Marian, Penn, St. Joseph, Bremen, Elkhart Central, Jimtown, John Glenn, Mishawaka, New Prairie, South Bend Adams, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley and South Bend Washington) and is broken into divisions.

Marian plays home-and-home games with NIC teams St. Joseph, Mishawaka and Elkhart Central and a round robin with traditionally-strong programs Fort Wayne Carroll and Northridge.

“We want to have to grind through the season,” says Turnock. “When we get into the sectional, it’s not something we haven’t seen before.”

JOETURNOCK

Joe Turnock. a 1982 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, is in his sixth season as Knights head baseball coach in 2017-18. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Work ethic leads Riggins to long coaching career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Diligence and determination learned as a teenager in southern Indiana has sustained Mark Riggins throughout a long baseball career.

Riggins, who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tim Nonte on the diamond and Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Jack Butcher and assistant Nonte on the hardwood as part of the Loogootee High School Class of 1975, went on to pitch at Murray (Ky.) State University and logged five seasons in the minors with the St. Louis Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles organizations.

He has been in player development since 1984 and has been pitching coach for the Mike Quade-managed Chicago Cubs (2011) and Bryan Price-managed Cincinnati Reds (2016) as well as a minor league pitching coordinator and pitching coach for the Cardinals, Cubs and Reds.

Riggins, who was inducted into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame himself in 2016, is now charged with developing pitchers for the Dunedin Blue Jays.

“The work ethic I gained at Loogootee has carried me on,” says Riggins, who was a part of the Lions’ state runner-up basketball team as a senior. “Success and winning doesn’t come easy. We were very successful because of our dedication and hard work that we learned from the people that taught us.

“I still preach the work ethic to these players.”

Dunedin is a member of the talent-rich High-A Florida State League.

“We have quite a few good prospects,” says Riggins, 60. “We have really good arms trying to find the stroke zone and learn a second and third pitch.”

This season, while the team has earned a playoff berth (Game 1 vs. Tampa is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 5), Riggins has helped eight pitchers move up to Double-A or beyond.

“It’s very rewarding to see these kids get better,” says Riggins.

Each Major League Baseball organization has its own philosophy on developing players.

Like the St. Louis Cardinals when Riggins was a part of system, the Toronto Blue Jays tend to be patient with their prospects.

“Other organizations move them along rather quickly,” says Riggins. “That’s a problem in baseball. (Players are rushed to the big leagues and) not prepared to handled that level of talent. We want to make sure the guy is ready to move to the major league level.”

Riggins guides a staff with a five-man starting rotation that rare has a hurler go over 100 pitches in a game.

Relievers rarely pitch on back-to-back days or go more than two innings at a time. Starters tend to pitch 120 to 150 innings during a 140-game season while relievers go 50 to 60.

“We’ve had a really successful year in keeping guys healthy,” says Riggins. “We pick the starters out of spring training. They are best arms with the best chance to be a starter at the major league level.”

Of course, that could change along the way and the pitcher might be deemed better-suited to a bullpen role.

The use of analytics has steadily increased in baseball and they come into play in the FSL.

“We do have scouting reports on every team we play,” says Riggins. “I simplify those reports to what I feel (my pitcher) can handle. Some pitchers can’t do it as well as others.

“But the guys at this level are pretty advanced in being able to execute pitches. We always pitch to their strength vs. a hitter’s weakness. Having reports at A-ball was unheard of five years ago.”

Riggins welcomes the advancements in information and training methods.

“I like new things,” says Riggins. “I have to see how it applies. You have to be open-minded.

“Everybody is getting the information now. If you’re not, you’re way behind. It’s what you do with it that makes each individual organization different.”

The Blue Jays organization has a plan for each one of its player. That plan is reviewed every two weeks during the season and is tweaked as necessary.

The player’s input is always considered.

“If they’re on board, they work hard at their efficiency and trying to make it better,” says Riggins. “Players have changed a lot. They’re smarter. They’re pretty sharp at gaining information from other sources.”

It’s up to Riggins to help them get the most out of the info and their ability.

“I dissect what they do best,” says Riggins. “They are not sure. They are just throwing the baseball.

“The difference is consistency. How often can you execute pitches? Once they can do it on a consistent basis, they can cut hitters apart.”

MARKRIGGINSDUNEDINBLUEJAYS17

Mark Riggins, a 1975 Loogootee High School graduate, began his career as a professional baseball coach in 1984. He is now the pitching coach for the Florida State League’s Dunedin Blue Jays. (Dunedin Blue Jays Photo)

 

Closser heeds call of baseball coaching

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J.D. Closser played professional baseball for 14 seasons.

After two campaigns away from the diamond, the former Indiana Mr. Baseball decided it was time to return to the game that has been so good to him.

“I wanted to give back what I’ve learned and make a career out of it,” says Closser, the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder, Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. “(Baseball is) what I’ve done my whole life.”

His goal is to make it back to the majors in some capacity.

Closser was 18 when he began his pro playing career in 1998 after being selected in the fifth round of that year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Alexandria-Monroe High School. The Monte Sprague-coached Tigers won the 1998 IHSAA Class 2A state title.

Closser played for the South Bend Silver Hawks for parts of the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons and made his MLB debut with the Colorado Rockies in 2004 and logged 160 MLB games over three seasons.

He also played in the Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers systems through 2011.

Closser was 34 when he started coaching in 2014 with the High Class-A Tampa Yankees.

The former left-handed-swinging catcher spent two seasons in Tampa (working for managers Al Pedrique and Dave Bialas) and is now 37 and in his second year with Trenton.

Closser, who serves on the staff of 2017 Eastern League Manager of the Year Bobby Mitchell, carries the official title of defensive coach. Mitchell was also Trenton manager in 2016.

Coaching duties for Closser in 2017 include throwing batting practice and hitting fungos during batting practice while concentrating on the team’s catchers before, during and after contests.

“I make sure they get their work in,” says Closser. “I also get advance reports together for coaches and catchers and set up a gameplan for opposing teams. (In the bullpen), I give (relievers) a brief rundown on who is coming into the game.”

Closser says there is more game planning done and in-game adjustments made in Double-A than at lower levels of MLB-affiliated baseball.

“They’re executing pitches and working off their strengths (in A-ball),” says Closser catchers and pitchers. “You begin to spot a hitter’s weaknesses (in Double-A).”

There is also plenty of work on blocking and receiving pitches and talk of Pop times (time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the intended fielder receives his throw.).

Like all organizations, the Yankees have a way they like to develop their players. But they do allow their coaches some freedom to use their own experiences to help players.

“You can incorporate our own ideas, things that have worked for you,” says Closser.

A few years ago, he helped one of his catchers by passing on a lesson he had learned about speeding up his throws to second base.

“I wanted him to get the ball in his throwing hand and in the air as fast as possible,” says Closser. “It is a thought process.”

Growing up, Closser’s thoughts were filled with baseball, fueled by men like Sprague and his father, Jeff (who is now head baseball coach at Alex).

Young J.D. gained a foundation based on work ethic.

“It was about going out and practicing,” says Closser. “So much of today’s player is showcasing and playing games. My dad instilled in me that you practice everyday. If you want to be good at something, you have to practice. It’s the Rule of 10,000. If you want to be good at anything, you have to do it 10,000 times.”

J.D. also learned about accountability.

“Your teammates and coaching staff are counting on you to show up and do your game everyday,” says Closser.

What he misses most about his playing days is the unity.

“I remember the clubhouse atmosphere being part of a team,” says Closser. “There was that competing everyday day and learning how to attack hitters.”

At home in Raleigh, N.C., Closser’s home team features wife Holley and daughters Belle (14), Callie (12) and Maebry (1). Belle is a freshmen in high school and Callie a seventh grader. Holley is from the area. She met J.D. when he played in Zebulon for the 2002 Carolina Mudcats.

Closser will have to wait to see what off-season assignments the Yankees might send his way. Trenton was to close out the regular season Monday, Sept. 4, and open the Eastern League playoffs Wednesday, Sept. 6.

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J.D. Closser, a 1998 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is a bullpen coach with the Trenton Thunder in the New York Yankees organization. He played 14 professional baseball seasons and 2017 is his fourth as a coach. (Trenton Thunder Photo)

 

South Bend hurler Hudson uses height to his advantage

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Chicago Cubs have high hopes for a player who stands high on the pitcher’s mound.

Bryan Hudson, a 6-foot-8 left-hander, is honing his craft while sending his deliveries on a downward plane for the Low Class-A South Bend Cubs.

“It definitely plays a part,” says Hudson of his size. “I try to pound the zone and get weak contact.”

Mixing a curve and an inside fastball, Hudson likes to keep the ball on the ground if he can’t get a swing and miss.

“I try to get a lot of tinker ground balls that are turned into double plays or easy outs for us,” says Hudson, who is 8-3 with a 4.17 earned run average, 77 strikeouts, 50 walks in 116 2/3 innings spread over 23 games (all starts) in 2017. “I just try to keep in a good rhythm and a tempo and keep my team kind of locked in with me.”

Selected by the Chicago Cubs in the third round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Hudson began his professional career with five relief appearances that summer with the Arizona Cubs and helped the Eugene Emeralds win the Northwest League title with a 5-4 mark and 5.06 ERA over 13 starts in 2016.

Hudson calls full-season Midwest League, with its 16 teams, tougher than the short-season Northwest League and its eight clubs.

“There’s better hitters and more players with experience,” says Hudson, who is ranked as the No. 28 prospect in the Cubs organization by MLB.com.

He is now in his third season as Cubs property. Growing up, Hudson rooted for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a standout for the Alton (Ill.) High School Redbirds and committed to play for the University of Missouri before opting to go pro instead.

Alton is a Mississippi River town located about 15 miles north of St. Louis. Southern Illinois is littered with both Cubs and Cards fanatics.

When South Bend visited Peoria in May, there were plenty of Hudson’s family and friends in attendance though he did not pitch in the series.

“I still get a little bit of trash talk when (Cubs and Cardinals are) playing each other,” says Hudson. “But, for the most part, they support, me.”

If South Bend’s schedule is not altered, Hudson’s next start is Thursday, Aug. 31 against West Michigan at Four Winds Field. It will be the next-to-last regular-season home game for the Cubs, who are still in the chase for a MWL wild-card playoff berth.

When the 2017 campaign is over, Hudson plans to head back to Alton to lift weights and get stronger for the 2018 season.

BRYANHUDSON

Bryan Hudson, a 6-foot-8 left-hander, is a starting pitcher for the 2017 South Bend Cubs. (South Bend Cubs Photo)