Tag Archives: Chicago Cubs

South Bend Cubs anxious for start of 2018 baseball season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Weather permitting, the South Bend Cubs are set to roll out their 2018 edition tonight (April 5) with the first of two days at West Michigan and then comes the home opener at Four Winds Field Saturday. First pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m.

Jimmy Gonzalez is back for his fourth season as manager.

At the Low Class-A level, Gonzalez is helping young players adjust to professional baseball life while also developing so they can move up the chain.

It’s something the Hartford, Conn., native did in South Bend with Ian Happ (now in the starting lineup for the Chicago Cubs), Gleyber Torres (now on the New York Yankees 40-man roster) and Eloy Jimenez (now on the Chicago White Sox 40-man roster). Happ and Torres played for Gonzalez in South Bend in 2015 and Jimenez in 2016.

Every player is encouraged to be an individual. It’s not a cookie-cutter system.

“We have a set of rules that we abide by, but they have to be themselves,” says Gonzalez. “We can’t say act this way or that way. We’re teaching them and letting them make adjustments.

“It’s a big learning curve for these guys with weather, the full season and all that stuff.”

Many players were on college campuses last spring. After the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, they played for the short-season Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds.

“They had all these things they were worried about before,” says Gonzalez. “Now it’s just baseball. This is their job now. You have to create a routine that works for them.”

Erich Uelmen gets to focus on his training, rest and recovery

“You get to put all of your time into baseball, which is a kids’ game,” says Uhelmen, a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher from Las Vegas. He was selected by the Cubs in the fourth round of the 2017 draft out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

“I loved college baseball,” says Uelmen. “The transition to pro baseball has been fun, too.”

Uelmen was a starter with the Mustangs then was asked to pitch out of the bullpen for the Emeralds.

“Out of the bullpen, it’s hard to get all of your pitches established,” says Uelmen, who used mostly his sinker and slider in Eugene but does have a change-up and four-seam fastball in his pitching bag of tricks. “As a starter, we’ll see the same hitters more and more throughout the season and they’ll have more at-bats against you during the game. You need to keep them off-balance (and change eye levels).”

Uelmen goes to back to starting in South Bend.

“I like to start because throughout the week you can do your workouts,” says Uelmen. “I have a nice routine I can fall back on.”

Brendon Little, a left-hander and 2017 first-round selection out of State College of Florida after a season at the University of North Carolina, got his first taste of pro ball at Eugene.

“Everybody says it’s a grind and it definitely is,” says Little, 21. “It was a great education. It was a lot to take in for one year, but it was definitely a great experience.”

Little, who hails from Malvern, Pa., outside of Philadelphia (he was at the Super Bowl celebration parade for the Eagles and has friends at Villanova, home of the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball champions), has goals this season as a South Bend starter.

“Commanding the baseball and having the change-up as more of a weapon,” says Little, who is considered the top left-handed pitching prospect in the Cubs system by MLB.com and MinorLeagueBall.com. “In the past, my curveball has always been my go-to.”

Besides a “spike” curve and change-up, Little throws a four-seam fastball that he has gotten up in the upper 90’s.

At 25, catcher Tyler Payne is the oldest players on the South Bend opening day roster. Drafted in 2015, he enters his fourth pro season.

The Hurricane, W.Va., native is looking to be a good teammate not only to Cubs pitchers — like 19-year-old Mexican right-hander Jose Albertos — but everyone including 20-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Rafael Narea.

“If they ever need anything, I’m here for them,” says Payne. “I want to win a championship. That’s what it’s all about.”

“For me, I’ve just got to come and bring my game everyday.

Payne will do his part in the development and competitiveness of the pitching staff.

“You’ve got to have a set plan everyday. Go over the scouting reports and trust what our guys have. That’s a big thing for us.”

Brian Glowicki, a 23-year-old right-hander who was used as a reliever in four seasons at the University of Minnesota and last summer in Eugene, is ready to contribute in any way he can for South Bend.

“I bring a lot of energy and I’m very competitive,” says Glowicki, who is from Downers Grove, Ill., but grew up a Boston Red Sox fan because of father Tom and counts former Bosox and current left-hander Jon Lester as his favorite pitcher. “We’ve got a lot of personalities on the team. We like to have fun. But we know how to take care of business once we get on the field.”

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Jimmy Gonzalez is in his fourth season as South Bend Cubs manager in 2018. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

ERICHUELMEN

Erich Uhelmen

BRENDONLITTLE

Brendon Little

TYLERPAYNE

Tyler Payne

BRIANGLOWICKI

Brian Glowicki

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Ian Happ was with South Bend Cubs in 2015.

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Gleyber Torres was with South Bend Cubs in 2015.

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Eloy Jimenez was with South Bend Cubs in 2016.

 

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Combs brings intensity, love for the game to Decatur Central baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Combs brought passion to the Decatur Central High School Hawks as a player and he’s still bringing it as he goes into his seventh season as head baseball coach in 2018.

Combs earned eight letters at DC in football, basketball and baseball. His head baseball coach was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Phil Webster.

“I loved him from the get-go,” says Combs of the fiery leader. “Webby is the best one I’ve been around as far as taking a player and developing him. I matched him beat for beat in intensity.

“He had this attention to detail and got me understanding the game.”

Combs was part of a 2000 squad that won Conference Indiana, sectional and Marion County championships.

Webster, who would see his Hawks win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in 2008, put Combs in center field and used the right-hander as a No. 3 pitcher behind 2001 IHSBCA All-Star John Tolson and Matt Elder.

“In all the years I played and have coached, Tolson’s still the nastiest curve ball I’ve ever seen,” says Combs.

A decade after playing for him, Combs joined Webster as his varsity assistant and followed him as DC head coach in 2012. The two still talk regularly and Combs leads his program at Phil Webster Baseball Complex — aka “The Web.”

Combs graduated from Decatur Central in 2001 and played four seasons for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University, receiving a secondary education degree in 2005.

Farley used Combs in the outfield with a few games on the mound and taught many off-field lessons.

“There’s more to being a baseball player than playing baseball,” says Combs. “There being a good human being and a good student.”

Farley pointed his players toward community service opportunities and got them to work youth camps.

Combs also learned to curb his on-field temper.

“I learned to control my emotions, which was always a problem with me,” says Combs. “If I slam down my helmet, I’ll find someone else standing at my position.

“I saw that it’s not all about me. It’s about the team.”

Not that he figured out all his coach was telling him right away.

“When I was playing for him, I was not smart enough to realize how good of a coach he was,” says Combs. “A couple years later, when I became a coach, I figured out Coach Farley was right.”

Combs and Farley stay in touch and he had his former Butler boss address his DC team last season.

Doing his student teaching at Westfield High School, Combs was invited by Shamrocks head baseball coach Ryan Bunnell to join his staff and he wound up serving three seasons as junior varsity head coach and two as varsity assistant. He was there when Westfield, featuring current MLB catcher Kevin Plawecki, finished as 2009 IHSAA state runners-up.

“(Bunnell) taught me the ins and outs and logistics of being a head coach,” says Combs.

If it were possible, Combs would like to see every player get a chance to be a coach. By explaining the game to others, it will help their own understanding of baseball.

Jason’s baseball passion was first stoked by his father, Steve Combs. The retired fireman was a fixture at Carnine Little League in Rhodius Park on the near west side of Indianapolis and did everything from coaching to cutting grass.

It’s in that atmosphere that Combs developed into a fierce competitor.

“We had people who taught us how to compete,” says Combs. “It was grown-men baseball at 10 and 11 years old. You had to fight and not give up no matter what.

“I still embrace that today.”

Donna Combs was also supportive of Jason’s athletic exploits.

“She was a loving, caring, awesome woman,” says Jason of the mother who passed away in February 2017.

Jason’s older brother Josh graduated from Washington High School in Indianapolis in 1995. When Jason was in the eighth grade, the family moved into the Decatur Central district.

Along the way, the youngest Combs gained an affinity for the history of the game.

“You respect what happened before you,” says Combs, who teaches social studies at DCHS. “You know it, learn it and love it.”

He received baseball books as gifts while growing up.

He came home from school and watched Chicago Cubs games on TV and heard famed announcer Harry Caray telling stories about the game’s past.

Combs has watched Ken Burn’s Baseball documentary series numerous times.

His favorite player was a tall shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr.

Decatur Central is part of the Mid-State Conference (along with Franklin Community, Greenwood, Martinsville, Mooresville, Plainfield and Whiteland). Next year, Perry Meridian is to join the circuit.

“It’s a really good baseball conference,” says Combs. “It’s always been pretty even. It’s competitive and it will be again this year.”

MSC games are played in a Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series.

“You’ve got to prove it,” says Combs. “You can’t have one guy who can (pitch every conference game). You’ve got to have a team.”

There has been discussion in going to Friday night doubleheaders like the Hoosier Heritage Conference.

“I like the way we do it,” says Combs.

There are 35 players in the program this spring for varsity and junior varsity games. The coaching staff features Alan Curry (pitching coach), Ben Ferrell and Jeff McKeon with the varsity and Brandon Curry (Alan’s son) and Brayton Lake with the JV. Curry joined Combs in his second season as DC head coach and Ferrell in his third. McKeon was head coach at Plainfield High School and head coach of the South squad at the IHSBCA North/South All-Stars in Muncie last summer.

Recent Decatur Central graduate Jack Wohlert is a pitcher for Indiana University Southeast. Current seniors Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and Alex Mitchell (Indiana Tech) have made commitments and Austin Mitchell (twin brother of Alex) and Devin Gross are among those Combs expects to play college baseball.

The Hawks are scheduled to open the season with three games at historic Bosse Field in Evansville against Evansville Reitz, Evansville North and Indian Creek. Other 2018 non-conference opponents include Beech Grove, Ben Davis, Franklin Central, Homestead, Perry Meridian, Roncalli, Southport, Speedway and Warren Central.

Decatur Central plays in a Class 4A sectional group with Ben Davis, Perry Meridian, Pike, Roncalli and Southport. The host rotation lands on Ben Davis this year.

Phil Webster is helping son and Pike head coach Todd Webster  this spring.

The Hawks last won the sectional in 2015 and the games were played at Decatur Central.

“I like to play a tough schedule,” says Combs. “You’ve got to get ready (for the IHSAA tournament) somehow. You’ve got to see what you’ve got.”

Located less than 10 miles apart, Decatur Central and Mooresville are backyard rivals.

Thanks to Webster and current Pioneers head coach Eric McGaha, the two baseball programs play each spring for the “Battle of 67” trophy.

The school that holds the trophy — currently Decatur Central — must be beaten on their own field to have it taken away. That means the “trophy” game in 2018 will come when Mooresville visits DC.

Mooresville is heading into its second season with artificial turf, causing many in the Decatur Central community to ask, “Are we next?”

Combs knows of no immediate plans for that kind of investment.

The coach is thankful for the assistance of Hawks athletic director and close friend Justin Dixson. They went to Decatur Central and Butler together and were in each other’s weddings.

“Within reason, he does just about anything I want,” says Combs.

Helping to feed the high school program are seventh grade and eighth grade teams at Decatur Middle School.

“I’m going to do that as long as we can,” says Combs. “There’s something to playing middle school baseball. We try to teach them our system. Plus they have to act right in school and stay eligible.”

Add Decatur Central Little League at Southeastway Park and travel baseball and some seventh graders are playing games with 60 feet between bases then 70 then 90 — sometimes in the same week.

“But the more you play, the more chances you have to get better,” says Combs. “We let the kids play where they feel comfortable.”

Jason and Jamie Combs reside in Decatur Township with daughters Amelia (5) and Josie (2).

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Decatur Central High School head baseball coach Jason Combs (left) embraces with oldest daughter Amelia following a game against Whiteland in 2017. DC graduate Combs heads into his seventh season as Hawks head coach in 2018.

 

Process among points of emphasis for Brabender, Northridge Raiders baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seeing the value in the process, staying with trends and building relationships.

That’s what baseball coaching is all about for Andrew Brabender, who enters his 11th season in charge at Northridge High School in 2018.

“I believe in the little things, the process of things,” says Brabender. “It’s getting kids to buy into doing the things that need to happen for the end result to happen. We’re not not looking toward the end result, but the little wins that happen throughout the process to get us to the end.

“I believe in staying current. It’s a great time to coach baseball. At the tips of your fingers you have Twitter, YouTube videos, apps and other gadgets.

“The guys on my staff are eager to learn and they really want to be current. What is the best stuff out there? What are the elite hitters doing? What are the elite throwers doing? What are the elite infielders doing and how do we make our kids do that?”

One way Brabender and his assistants — James Greensides, Dyrk Miller, Mike Miller, Blake Fry and Arick Doberenz — get players to focus on the path itself and not its end is the Raider Process Index, a system modified from Justin Dehmer and his 1 Pitch Warrior teachings.

“If we do this, this and this, the end result is going to take care of itself,” says Brabender, who has helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional championship (2015) and numerous conference titles.

The first section in the Raider Process Index is the Freebie War, which counts Northridge totals vs. opponents for errors, walks, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, strikeouts, stolen bases and dead-ball reads.

The second section is Pressure (or Press). Point totals are given for:

• Producing a big inning (10 points).

• Rally scored. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Eliminated rally scores. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Scored first. If Yes (10 points).

• Scored with two outs. If Yes (5 points).

The game goal is 30 points.

The third section is Quality At-Bats. QAB points can be given for a hard-hit ball (fly ball), freebie (walk, hit-by-pitch, error, catcher’s interference), moving a runner with no outs, a base hit or extra base hit, a six-pitch at-bat not ending in a strikeout and an nine-pitch at-bat even ending in a strikeout.

The overall RPI target is 48 points.

“We want to put pressure on the other team,” says Brabender. “We want to score first. We always want to have a shutdown inning after a big inning.

“This Raider Process Index is way for our kids to stay with the process. If we do that, the winning will take care of itself.”

Brabender regularly posts the RPI and QAB in the dugout.

“We don’t show our kids batting average,” says Brabender. “We just show them Quality At-Bats.

“They may have went 0-for-3 hitting, but went 2-for-3 in Quality At-Bats. That’s a good day. We’ve got lots of things in place for kids to value the process. You can’t just say it. You have to have things that will show them that we all value the process.”

For years, the Raiders have employed the mental training methods of sports psychologist Brian Cain.

The past five years, all Northridge players have been on a Driveline weighted ball throwing program.

Brabender says there are many benefits but the top ones are that is that it force feeds good arm action as well as arm development and the ability to throw with intent.

This year marks the second year that the Raiders are using a weighted Axe Bat regimen and the first year they’re really “diving into head-first, full speed ahead.”

The Axe Bat features overloaded and underloaded bats, which teaches intent and body positioning.

“With every kid in our program, exit velocity is up from the first time that we tested,” says Brabender, who has seen gains in hitting and throwing.

Exit velocity is measured with radar guns and with Blast Vision motion capture technology, which keeps track of all the post-contact metrics (things like launch angle, exit velocity and the distance the ball traveled). Blast Motion is used for pre-contact measurements.

Brabender has employed Blast Motion for three years and this is his first using Blast Vision.

Video analysis is also done with a RightView Pro app.

The Raiders boss was not talking about Launch Angle a decade ago.

“Now that’s all we talk about,” says Brabender, who had his youth campers hit on an upward plane. They were competing Saturday to get as many balls above a line on the curtain in the NHS fieldhouse. Below that line of 20 degrees or so was a groundout. Too far above it was a fly ball out.

“That’s what we call result-oriented training,” says Brabender. “That’s straight from (former Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs and current Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach) John Mallee. He does a ton of that.

“It forces kids to put their bodies in the right position to make something happen. If it’s not happening, they’re not doing it correctly.”

Northridge (enrollment around 1,400) belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). It is a double-round robin 14-game slate. Except for the final week of the NLC season, conference games will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Raiders are grouped at 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

What about the pitch count rule (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)?

“We’ve always believed in it,” says Brabender. “One of the things that’s always made our program strong is the amount of depth we’ve created in our pitching. Most of the kids in our program are going to pitch.

“I don’t think you can have enough arms at this level. In my 11 years, we’ve only had a handful of kids go over 100 pitches.

“Unless you’ve got someone with plus velocity — I’m talking 85 mph plus — you’re just asking for trouble. Getting a new guy in there just gives (the opponent) a different look anyway.”

Andrew’s father talked about the “24-hour rule.” A pitcher’s rest would go an hour by number of pitches thrown. That makes 24 hours if he throws 24 pitches and so on.

It comes down to the welfare of the player.

“It’s important that if kids want to play at the collegiate level, they’re healthy enough to do that,” says Brabender

Former Northridge players currently on college rosters include Shannon Baker and Brock Logan at Fort Wayne, Sam Troyer at Evansville, Matt Miller and Andy Ross at Indiana University South Bend and Andrew Kennedy at Taylor.

So far, current Raiders seniors Cody Bible (Indiana University Kokomo) and Dylan Trick (Spring Arbor University) have made college commitments.

Many Northridge players are part of travel baseball organizations like the Indiana Chargers, Michiana Scrappers and Middlebury Mavericks. Brabender and company also conduct coach clinic and player camps for Middlebury Little League.

Andrew is the son of Tom and Dorothy Brabender. Tom, who died in 2015, played football at Western Illinois University for Lou Saban and was a baseball coach in central Illinois for 40-plus years.

“The biggest thing from my dad was the way he related to his players,” says Andrew. “For them to follow what you want to accomplish, there has to be some likability.”

Brabender sees it as his duty to figure out a way to relate to each athlete in some way. He saw his father do it. Tom Brabender coached American Legion baseball into his late 60’s and was still relating with teenage players.

“That’s not easy,” says Andrew. “I hope I’m doing that here. I feel like I am. I want them to value the relationship with me more than baseball and for them to know that I’ve always got their back no matter what.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”

Before becoming head coach at Northridge, Brabender served one season as an assistant to Troy Carson — a man he also coached with in the Raiders football program.

Before Northrdge, Brabender spent three seasons as a baseball assistant to Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central High School.

Prior coming to Elkhart County, Brabender followed his last two seasons as a baseball player at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri with two seasons on the Trojans coaching staff.

His coach and then his boss was Scott Ashton, who brought Brabender to the NAIA school after he played two seasons of junior college ball at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., following his graduation in 1996 from St. Teresa High School in Decatur, Ill.

“He was a huge influence in my life — spiritually, baseball-wise,” says Brabender of Ashton, who is now Mid-Missouri director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and team chaplain for University of Missouri baseball, football and softball. “He taught me how to be a man We’re still close. We talk as much as we can.

“He’s a mentor me not just with baseball but my walk with the Lord.”

Ashton came along at a rough time in Brabender’s life.

In 1998, Andrew was playing in a wood bat tournament in Evansville and his parents and girlfriend (later wife) Marcie were there to watch. When they got home, they learned that Jason Brabender — Andrew’s brother — had been killed in a car accident.

“It was devastating,” says Andrew. “It was a crossroads in a lot of different avenues in our lives.”

Marcie, who Andrew met at Lake Land, had committed to play basketball at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hannibal-LaGrange was one of the few schools that was recruiting both Andrew and Marcie.

“We just took that leap and that’s where we ended up,” says Brabender. “It worked out great. I met some dear lifelong friends there. Marcie was part of the national tournament team in 2000. Two of my buddies from Lake Land ended up transferring there. It was cool.”

Andrew and Marcie married in the summer of 2000. They have four children — Emma (16), Beau (12), Kate (8) and Luke (6). Andrew grew up with an older sister, Mindy, and months ago found out he has another sibling named Lisa.

During the school day, Brabender teaches physical education for Grades K-5 at two Middlebury Community Schools buildings — Jefferson Elementary and Heritage Intermediate.

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Andrew Brabender is entering his his 11th season as head baseball at Northridge High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Former LaPorte, Indiana standout DeMuth heading into fifth pro baseball season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dustin DeMuth’s fourth professional baseball season gave him the chance to see what it means when you move up the ladder.

DeMuth, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Indiana University by the Milwaukee Brewers, played 96 games at High-A Brevard County, Fla., and 34 contests at Double-A Biloxi, Miss., in 2016 then 116 more at Biloxi in 2017.

“It was definitely an up-and-down season,” says DeMuth, who hit .244 with nine home runs, 20 doubles and 40 runs batted in from the left-handed batter’s box and also honed his skills at first base in ’17. “There is a separator from High-A to Double-A ball. It was a grind. It was fun though. I learned a lot.”

DeMuth, a 2010 LaPorte High School graduate, saw the pace of play speed up in the Double-A Southern League. He also faced pitchers who have better command of their stuff.

“You see velocity all through the minor leagues,” says DeMuth. “(Double-A pitchers) have velocity and can put it where they want it. They can locate off-speed pitches. You have to be ready for any pitch in any count.

“They’ll attack you differently every time you go up there. You have to keep making adjustments.”

Defensively, DeMuth continued to pick up on the cues needed to play well at first base.

“I’ve always been a pretty good hitter,” says DeMuth. “But I always thought my defense was lacking.”

DeMuth has picked up a number of things from Brewers coaches on hitting, fielding and footwork.

“A lot of people have different ways of teaching things,” says DeMuth. “You find something that clicks in your head,you understand it and you go with it.”

DeMuth’s off-season has been eventful. He got engaged to girlfriend of more than four years — Caitlin Hansen — last November and the couple plans to wed this November.

Dustin and Caitlin met through mutual friends. The Roncalli High School graduate is a former defensive specialist on the IU volleyball team.

DeMuth has also been in Bloomington working out with the Hoosiers baseball team as he gets ready for 2018 spring training in Arizona. The Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate is at Colorado Springs, Colo.

Indiana’s program is now headed by Chris Lemonis. Tracy Smith was the Hoosiers head coach when DeMuth played in Cream and Crimson.

DeMuth credits Smith for instilling mental toughness in his players.

“He helped us move on from the rough spots and mistakes and continue to grind,” says DeMuth of Smith, who is now head coach at Arizona State University. “He was a great mentor for all of us.”

It was a talented and close-knit group that played in the College World Series in 2013 and the NCAA Regional in 2014 and won back-to-back Big Ten Conference titles. DeMuth’s teammates included several players on their way to pro baseball, including Kyle Schwarber (who made his MLB debut in 2015 with the Chicago Cubs), Aaron Slegers (2017 with the Minnesota Twins), Sam Travis (2017 with the Boston Red Sox) and Jake Kelzer (a Bloomington native now pitching in the Philadelphia Phillies system).

“It was like a family to be honest,” says DeMuth. “Most of those guys are still good friends.”

DeMuth was drafted in the eighth round by the Twins in 2013, but opted to go back to IU. After being chosen as a third-team All-American as a junior, he was a first-team All-American while hitting .374 with five homers and 40 RBIs as a senior. His career average was .344 in 236 games (all starts) and left the program ranked No. 1 all-time in doubles (63) and No. 2 in hits (316).

Born in Merrillville, DeMuth went to school in Highland, Ind., through sixth grade, went to Edgewood Middle School in Ellettsville, Ind., then moved to LaPorte during his seventh grade year. He played four seasons for the LaPorte High School Slicers and is grateful for the chance head coach Scott Upp gave him to be a varsity regular in left field as a freshman.

“That was a big deal back then,” says DeMuth. “(Upp) is one of the reasons I went on to play baseball in college.”

A three-sport athlete at LaPorte, there was a time early in his prep career where DeMuth ranked basketball and football ahead of baseball.

But he saw 6-foot-2 point guards becoming a rarity at the big-time college level and began seeing the opportunities on the diamond.

“I always wanted to go to college and play D-I and baseball was definitely the best route to go,” says DeMuth, who is featured in the book Slicer Baseball, A Cut Above: The History of LaPorte Baseball.

While in high school, DeMuth played a few summers of travel baseball for the Indiana Chargers.

At IU, he followed up his freshman year with the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs of the Florida Collegiate Summer League and his sophomore year with the Wareham Gatemen of Cape Cod Baseball League.

Dustin, 26, is the youngest Dave and Judy DeMuth’s four children, coming after David, Jenny and Julie. Dave, a former Merrillville High School assistant principal, is retired. Judy DeMuth is superintendent of Monroe County School Corporation. The girls both played college basketball — two-time all-Big Ten performer Jenny at Indiana and Julie at Ball State University.

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Dustin DeMuth, a former LaPorte High School and Indiana University baseball standout, is going into his fifth season in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2018. (Biloxi Shuckers Photo)

 

Hall of Famer Hawkins talks about pitching ‘carrousel’, ‘ferris wheel,’ camaraderie

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

LaTroy Hawkins began his professional baseball playing career at 18 and wrapped it up at 42.

The 1991 Gary West Side High School graduate pitched 21 seasons in the big leagues, racking up 1,463 innings in 1,042 games.

There’s just no telling how many baseballs the 6-foot-5 right-hander might have thrown.

On the same day Hawkins became the 189th inductee into the Indiana High School Baseball Association Hall of Fame he talked to 2018 IHSBCA State Clinic attendees about pitching and more.

When Hawkins was selected in the seventh round of the 1991 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins and made his MLB debut in 1995, he was a rare commodity — an Indiana-born big leaguer.

There are many now.

“Baseball has definitely taken a step in the right direction in our state,” says Hawkins, who retired as a player after the 2015 season and now works with the pitchers in the Twins minor league system. “It’s because of (coaches) helping guys get better and pushing them to the next level.”

As a player, Hawkins worked out often to stay in shape. He kept his arm and shoulder sound by doing his “Jobe exercises” (arm raises and rotations with light weights of no more than five pounds) after he threw and then applied ice.

He never did any band work and only a little bit with a weighted ball.

While techniques have changed, Hawkins credits the industry for getting smarter about how to keep arms fit.

“At the end of the day, that’s all we’re trying to do — keep pitchers healthy,” says Hawkins. “When they’re around, they’re productive. When they’re sitting around in the clubhouse or the trainer’s room like I was my last two years in the big leagues, they’re not helping anybody.”

Hawkins had to have labrum surgery in 2010.

“I had two suchers put in my shoulder,” says Hawkins. “I didn’t think I’d ever pitch again. There’s a lot of guys who don’t come back from shoulder surgery.

“You’ve got to take care of your shoulder. The shoulder is much more complicated (than the elbow).”

Hawkins stresses the importance of pitching mechanics.

“The key is to have strong foundation,” says Hawkins. “Stand tall on that back leg. I still want you to have a slight bend in your knee so you can have something to push off with.

“Anything you do in sports, you want to be in an athletic position.”

Hawkins also saw value in having some rhythm to his mechanics.

“Everything is about timing and being in rhythm,” says Hawkins. “If you can dance, you can pitch.”

When his front leg went up, the ball was already coming out of his glove. If he held the ball too long it threw off his timing.

Hawkins sees so many pitchers today who want to tuck their glove under their lead arm during their delivery.

This tends to get the body going into a “carrousel” motion.

“You can’t pitch like that,” says Hawkins. “You’re fighting yourself all the time. You’re opening up way too soon

“I was always taught to be on the ‘ferris wheel’ (with the motion going toward the plate).”

To be able to repeat his delivery and stay relaxed, Hawkins kept his motion as simple as possible.

“I wanted to make it like I was playing catch,” says Hawkins. “I wanted to make it look like I didn’t have a care in the world — like it was second nature to me.”

He recalls learning from current 6-foot-10 Twins right-hander Aaron Slegers that he was taught at Indiana University to keep his motion compact as if he was throwing inside a phone booth (for those who know what one of those is).

With his height it is best for Slegers streamline his moving parts.

But it’s not a cookie-cutter world and Hawkins knows his way of thinking is not for everybody.

“Some are going to max effort guys,” says Hawkins. “I get that. But, at the end of the day, when I tried to throw hard I threw softer.

“When I was in my most relaxed state, that’s when i threw my hardest fastball. I’ve been trying to explain that to kids. They think if you muscle up, you’re going to throw hard. That’s not true. It’s not always about brute strength.”

While most hurlers stand on the same spot, Hawkins was known to move around on the pitching rubber looking for an advantage.

“I stood all over the mound,” says Hawkins. “It depended on who was hitting. If I’ve got a right-handed hitter, I’d stand on the third base side (of the rubber). I wanted a right-handed hitter to feel like I was on top of them.”

The hitter had to pick up a release point that was behind him and they had less time to see a fastball.

“It makes a huge difference,” says Hawkins. “I knew I could control my body and command my fastball so moving a few inches didn’t bother me.”

Hawkins learned these lessons over time. While he threw fastballs on more than 70 percent of his pitches, he also came to appreciate the change-up.

“The change-up is the best pitch in baseball,” says Hawkins. “Now everything is about velocity.

“We can’t throw the ball past guys anymore. Guys are seeing 100 mph everyday. They see it on the amateur level, in college, in he minor leagues. When you’re sitting on 100, you cannot hit (a good change-up).”

But an effective change is tough to develop. A pitcher must throw it all the time.

“I didn’t have a change-up my first 12 years in the big leagues,” says Hawkins. “But I knew one thing: If I didn’t work on it, I was going to be out of the game sooner than I wanted to.

“My last five years, I probably threw 100 change-ups to right-handed hitters.”

The idea is to deliver every pitch so it looks the same. When they were teammates with the Chicago Cubs in 2005, Hawkins remembers watching Hall of Famer-to-be Greg Maddux throw in the bullpen.

Maddux would use his peripheral vision to see that his release point was consistent.

With the change-up, it’s about selling it.

“You want your arm speed to look like your fastball,” says Hawkins. “You let the grip take away the miles per hour.”

At the beginning of his career, Hawkins threw daily and was amazed when he learned that Cubs teammate Mike Remlinger would take days off.

“He told me to save your bullets for the game,” says Hawkins of the left-hander who went on to log 14 MLB seasons. “I started doing that. It gave me life.

In 2017, the Twins acquired former Hawkins teammate Matt Belisle — someone who used to insist on throwing each day. Hawkins met up with him at the park.

Belisle: “Hawk, I’m saving my bullets.”

Hawkins: “Good, that’s why you’re still pitching.”

“You don’t have to throw everyday,” says Hawkins. “You won’t forget how.”

One thing that Hawkins wishes today’s players would not forget is their relationships with their teammates — the all-important cameraderie.

Even now, when former Twins players likes Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones and Corey Koskie come around home clubhouse at Target Field, they are cutting up with Hawkins and get stares from current players.

Hawkins knows what they’re thinking: “They’re so loud. What’s wrong with them?”

He recalls the fun of being around these guys day after day for months at a time.

“We didn’t have cell phones and iPads and stuff,” says Hawkins. “We had to talk to each other. We got a chance to know each other.”

When LaTroy and Anita Hawkins’ teenage daughter, Troi, has friends over to the house, LaTroy gathers all the cellphones so the teens can enjoy one another’s company.

If parents need to contact their child, they are to child LaTroy’s phone.

When Hawkins was with the Twins, teammates knew the names of each other’s children. They were in each other’s weddings. They went out to dinner together.

“We were friends,” says Hawkins. “It’s not like that now. When you’re with your teammates, you enjoy your teammates. You have to bond with your teammates. You have to know this guy has my back and I’ve got his back. We’re all pulling on the same rope.

“It’s all me, me, me. There’s no team mentality anymore and that’s killing baseball.”

LaTroy Hawkins #32 of the MinnesotaTwins

LaTroy Hawkins, a 1991 Gary West Side High School graduate, delivers a pitch for the Minnesota Twins. Hawkins pitched 21 years in the big leagues and was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2018. (Minnesota Twins Photo)

 

Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame calls ‘Old School’ Murphy of Valparaiso

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Murphy describes himself as “Old School.”

Murphy stayed loyal to his old school and his community, choosing to remain in Valparaiso — the city of his birth.

He attended Valpo schools and graduated from Valparaiso High School as senior class president in 1961.

Along the way, Murphy shined in football, basketball and baseball. He picked up plenty of baseball knowledge from nice man named Bob Rhoda — a coach he admired and, one day, would replace as the man in charge of the Vikings on the diamond.

His peers thought enough of Murphy’s career that he will be inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Class of 2018 at a dinner Saturday, Jan. 27 in Indianapolis. Other honorees will include Rich Andriole, Colin Lister, LaTroy Hawkins and Howard Kellman.

After his days as Valparaiso student, Murphy traveled less than 50 miles south for higher education, attending Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer and graduating in 1965 as a social studies major and English minor.

Where did he go from there?

Back to Valpo, of course.

Murphy took a teaching job at his alma mater that would last 37 years. He taught a few English classes in the early years then concentrated on social studies and helped generations know about U.S. Government and U.S. History.

Pat and wife Nancy would raise two boys — Michael and Tim.

Michael went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and become a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Marines, leading a squadron of Stingrays at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, while marrying and giving his folks two granddaughters. Tim earned a doctorate in cultural anthropology and moved out east.

Both Murphy boys gave their parents — married 45 years in 2017 — a reason to travel with Michael stationed for three years in Spain and Tim spending time in Brazil. In retirement, Pat enjoys walking with Nancy and sometimes gets her to accompany him on the golf course.

Back in Porter County, Indiana, their father was making a mark as a educator and a coach.

Pat Murphy spent 19 seasons on the Vikings football staff led by a pair of Indiana Football Hall of Famers — Tom Stokes and Mark Hoffman.

With Stokes in charge, Valpo won an IHSAA Class 3A state championship in 1975 — the first of three straight 3A title-takers from the Duneland Athletic Conference. Merrillville was state champions in 1976 and Portage reigned in 1977.

“It was up to the ball and go,” says Murphy of Valpo’s single-wing attack. “We wore teams down.”

Murph spent four seasons as a VHS baseball assistant to Rhoda then led the program for 28 more, retiring after the 1999 season.

“He was a very nice person, a very kind man,” says Murphy of Rhoda, who is also in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame. “He was very knowledgeable.”

Murphy went into the Valparaiso Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010 after leading his team to 483 victories, 13 sectional crowns and two DAC championships.

All this was achieved against a schedule that regularly featured IHSBCA Hall of Fame coaches — men like LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber, Chesterton’s Jack Campbell, Andrean’s Dave Pishkur, Highland’s Dan Miller, Plymouth’s Bill Nixon and Munster’s Bob Shinkan.

You had to play a hard-nosed brand of baseball to have any success.

“I had to play Schreib (at LaPorte) a minimum of three times (regular season and postseason) to get out of the regional,” says Murphy. “There were times four Duneland schools were in the regional.

“It was extremely competitive. You have to mean business. It’s not something you take lightly. In fact, you take it very seriously. In one week, I may play against three Halll of Famers.

“I’m honored to be considered one of them.”

Murphy’s philosophy: “Work hard, play smart, and most of all, have fun!”

“You can’t get things done unless you work hard,” says Murphy.

The catcher who blocks nasty pitch after nasty pitch is able to do so because of all the time he spent having balls whizzed at him in practice.

“Catchers are like (hockey) goalies, making 40 or 50 saves a game,” says Murphy. “You don’t get that unless you work hard at it.”

Staying with the catcher example, the man behind the mask must have the smarts to know the situation — the score, number of outs, position of runners and order of hitters coming up and what they had done the last time up.

“In baseball, there are more variables than most sports,” says Murphy. “Of course, I’m biased.”

Murphy says fun is an essential additive to this mix.

“Life’s too short not to have fun,” says Murphy. “Whether it’s coaching, teaching or your job,  it can be a real tough thing to do if you dread what you’re doing.”

A true-blue Chicago Cubs fan, Murphy notes that the 2016 World Series champions were a team that had fun while they were winning.

Murphy and his assistant coaches over the years taught young Vikings the game and then sent them into competition.

“You hope they perform the way you’ve told them, but kids are kids and sometimes it’s an adventure,” says Murphy. “You have to remember, these are 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids.”

Biff Geiss was a Murphy assistant the longest. A successful player at DePauw University, he came to VHS to teach languages and helped Murphy impart many baseball lessons.

Murphy expresses gratitude to many baseball assistants who also offered their talents to other sports. Among those are Todd Coffin, Dale Gott,  Zane Cole, Dave Coyle, Rich Spicer, Steve Krutz, Jeff Wood, Gary Gray and John Gutierrez.

Current Valpo head baseball coach Todd Evans was a senior in Murphy’s last season in 1999. The former program leader likes what he sees.

“Todd has brought back things to the sport that are important,” says Murphy. “Things like punctuality, loyalty and accountability. Some of those things aren’t there any more in school or sports.”

Murphy recalls having two at least full teams playing summer games in June and July. That has been replaced by travel baseball when Valparaiso’s high school season ends.

“That’s not right,” says Murphy. “I’m pretty old school. But you have to have pretty deep pockets (for travel ball). Many kids who can’t do that. Some coaches are trophy hounds. I don’t know how much fundamental baseball is being taught and it takes away from the chemistry of the high school team the way it used to be.

“It was nice to see them playing Legion ball (for Valparaiso Post 94), too.”

PATMURPHYVALPO

Pat Murphy is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in January 2018. He was head baseball coach at his alma mater — Valparaiso High School — for 28 seasons and won 483 games.

Coachability, athleticism help Kelzer make splash in two sports

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Kelzer casts a pretty imposing figure on a pitching mound.

At 6-foot-7 and close to 250 pounds, he looks like he means business when he comes out of the bullpen late in a game.

As a right-hander in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, he plays with intensity and swagger.

But it wasn’t always that way for the Bloomington, Ind., native.

Kelzer recalls being a freshman swimmer at Bloomington High School South.

“I was not really that good,” says Kelzer, who is now 24. “I was tall and lanky and skin and bones. I was 6-6 and maybe 160. That’s pretty skinny for someone that tall.”

With time, Kelzer filled out his frame.

With encouragement from his coaches, he became a fierce competitor — no matter the sport. He swam and played baseball at South for four years and football for his first three.

He gained even more confidence when he was allowed to pursue the mound and the pool at Indiana University.

Kelzer was a two-time high school All-American swimmer. He was a part of state championship relay teams (200 freestyle in 2011 and 2012 and 400 freestyle in 2012) and placed fifth in the 50 freestyle (2012) while helping Bloomington to runner-up finishes in his junior and senior seasons.

Kyle Ruth was the Panthers head coach in Kelzer’s sophomore and junior seasons. Kirk Grand was an assistant in 2010-11 and head coach in 2011-12.

“Swimming is a sport where you stare at a line at the bottom of a pool,” says Kelzer of Ruth and Grand. “They were young and brought new styles and techniques. They kept things really exciting and competitive among the swimmers.”

As a South baseball player, Kelzer was impacted by head coach Phil Kluesner.

“He taught me the basics of baseball and how to compete,” says Kelzer. “You have to battle from the beginning to the end of the game. (Kluesner) brought the intensity every single day. It got pass down to all of his players.”

Kelzer went to IU with the idea of swimming and playing baseball.

“I was going to give it a shot for first two years and juggle both,” says Kelzer. “It happened I picked (baseball) my sophomore year.”

When then-Hoosiers head baseball coach Tracy Smith opted to redshirt him as a freshman, he was able to concentrate on swimming. He did that for one season.

“I look back at it now and was a genius idea,” says Kelzer. “It was really smart move on (Smith’s) part. It gave me another year of leverage. I had that experience of being a college athlete for a year with swimming.”

While Smith’s team was moving toward a 2013 College World Series appearance, Kelzer was learning lessons in the water in a program led by Ray Looze.

“He really knows his stuff,” says Kelzer of Looze. “He knows how to push each individual swimmer to their absolute limits.”

Baseball came back into Kelzer’s life his second year in college. He went on to pitched three seasons at Indiana (2014-16), going 8-10 with eight saves and a 3.09 earned run average.

He made 25 mound appearances (all in relief) in 2014, 17 (11 starts) in 2015 and 22 (all in relief) in 2016. He threw a total of 145 2/3 innings with 149 strikeouts and 52 walks.

Smith put Kelzer in a starting role at the beginning of the season when Kyle Hart was not yet available after having Tommy John surgery.

Before Smith and Brandon Higelin left after the 2014 season to become head coach and pitching coach at Arizona State University, they imparted wisdom to Kelzer.

“Tracy is a really, really good coach,” says Kelzer. “He’s not just coach, he’s a teacher.

“It was a bigger learning curve with Higgy. I had not pitched for a year so I was that piece of clay he was able to mold into any pitcher he wanted me to be.”

Higelin is now director of baseball operations at the University of Arizona.

Chris Lemonis came on as Hoosiers head baseball coach and brought Kyle Bunn on as pitching coach, beginning in 2015.

Kelzer credits Lemonis for helping him form the mindset of a dominant pitcher.

“If you’re team scores you some runs, you go out there and have shutdown innings,” says Kelzer. “You have to have that fearless attitude and that swagger. You act like you belong out there. (Lemonis) gave me the confidence to own up to my responsibilities on the mound.

“Bunn took (the mold started by Higelin) and helped me be what would be best for me.”

All the while, Kelzer listened and put his knowledge into action.

“I like to think I was a very coachable athlete,” says Kelzer. “I was able to hone in on what the coaches were saying. That was one of the key reasons I was able to compete at such a high level in two sports.

“And there’s always that God-given talent of being 6-foot-7.”

Since he was past 21, Kelzer draft eligible after his first two collegiate seasons. He was picked in the 22nd round of the 2014 draft by the New York Yankees and in the 14th round of the 2015 draft by the Chicago Cubs, but opted to go back to school each time.

The first time he passed on pro ball, he was just getting back into the game.

“I needed to develop as a person,” says Kelzer. “I was still pretty young. I was 21.”

The second time, he wanted to prove he could have a better college season.

Kelzer selected in the 18th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Phillies.

The big righty spent parts of 2016 and 2017 with the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters in the short-season New York-Penn League and finished the 2017 season with the Low Class-A Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws.

To date, Kelzer has made 32 appearances (all in relief) and is 2-2 with three saves. He has 43 strikeouts and 18 walks in 42 1/3 innings with a 4.89 ERA.

While starters have a routine leading up to their next appearance, relievers have to always be ready to go.

“You have no idea when you’re going to be throwing,” says Kelzer. “You have to be 100 percent focused every single game.”

The youngest of Tom and Roberta Kelzer’s three children after Sarah and Hannah, Jake grew up playing many sports. He started playing baseball as a little kid, but his only travel baseball year was at 15.

“Dad never wanted me to get worn out or sick of the game,” says Kelzer. “Looking back at it it was beneficial to my career in baseball.”

With an eye on his long-term future, Kelzer is to graduate Dec. 16 with a Business Management degree from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

“I like where that management can take me,” says Kelzer. “I like that leadership role and that competitive feeling.”

Having his schooling complete also gives the reliever a sense of relief.

“It’s always nice to have that lifted off your shoulders so you can focus on baseball,” says Kelzer. “That’s going to be my life after this weekend. That’s going to be a great feeling.”

Before heading to Florida for spring training, Kelzer has been working out at IU.

“Lemonis opens up everything to us,” says Kelzer, who is reunited with strength and conditioning coach Will Alli. “It’s something cool IU does for its returning athletes. Many have to go out and join a gym. I’m extremely blessed with that.”

Kelzer goes through a program set up by the Phillies and Alli adds in his exercises.

“It’s about staying active and healthy,” says Kelzer. “Show up at spring training and be able to crush everything. That’s the main goal.”

JAKEKELZER

Jake Kelzer, a 2012 Bloomington High School South graduate, helped win state titles as a swimmer and was good enough in both sports to swim and play baseball at Indiana University. He started his pro career in the Philadelphia Phillies system in 2016. (Lakewood BlueClaws Photo)