Tag Archives: Chicago Cubs

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.

DUSTINDEMUTHBILOXISHUCKERS

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)

 

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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

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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)

 

Crown Point’s Plesac in Indians system making up for lost time

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Plesac’s true introduction to professional baseball was delayed.

The Crown Point native spent the spring and summer of 2017 making up for time lost.

Plesac, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher, was selected out of Ball State University in the 12th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Two months before that life-altering June event, he underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his pitching arm, ending his college mound days and making the rest of the year about rehabilitation rather than facing batters.

At Ball State, Plesac had been splitting his time between pitcher, outfielder and designated hitter as a junior.

Head coach Rich Maloney brought Plesac to Muncie.

“He believed in me,” says Plesac. “I thought I was going to play a position and maybe pitch a little.”

When Plesac set a school single-season record for victories while going 12-2 with a 2.11 earned run average, 67 strikeouts and 33 walks in 85 1/3 innings and 25 appearances (six starts) as a freshman in 2014, his mound profile increased.

In 2015, he went 5-5 with 3.27 ERA, 77 strikeouts and 38 walks in 107 1/3 innings and 16 appearances (all starts). Since he could swing the bat, he was also used as an outfielder, DH and first baseman.

The came his junior season in 2016.

Mostly from the No. 5 hole in the order, he hit .304 with 15 runs batted in. As the Cardinals’ Friday night starter, he pitched in 11 games (eight as a starter) and was 3-2 with a 4.25 ERA and a nine-inning shutout against Miami University of Ohio.

“The next morning, I could not throw a baseball,” says Plesac. “I knew something was wrong.”

His next start came against Central Michigan and Plesac was still not feeling normal. A check of his arm revealed a partial tear.

Now he was faced with the decision of getting the surgery right away or staying in the lineup as a hitter.

“As much as I wanted to play, I didn’t want to be hurt,” says Plesac. “I had to do what was best for my career.”

While he was working his way back post-surgery in Arizona, he began taking online classes. He kept it up all season and has earned a general studies major with three minors (communication, psychology of human development and sociology).

“Now I can go into 2018 season and  focus on playing ball with no nervousness (about school),” says Plesac, who is scheduled to walk in BSU winter commencement ceremonies Dec. 16.

Plesac finally walked up on a pro mound in game action in 2017 extended spring training action against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A witness to the event was Chris Fetter. He had been Ball State’s pitching coach and had become a pitching coordinator for the Dodgers.

“That’s my boy. He’s the man to me. He’s a mentor,” says Plesac of Fetter, who is now pitching coach at the University of Michigan. “He was there on the last pitch of my college career and first pitch of my professional career.”

Plesac was first assigned to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the short-season New York-Penn League. He went 0-1 with a 1.38 ERA for the Niles, Ohio-based club and made eight appearances (seven as a starter), starting with limitation of three innings.

After Mahoning Valley came a stint with six starts for the Low Class-A Midwest League with the Lake County Captains. He went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA for the team in Eastlake, Ohio. By season’s end, he was up to five innings or 60 pitches. He wound up the season with 50 strikeouts and 14 walks in 51 total innings.

“Finding the (strike) zone was a big key for me,” says Plesac. “That’s what I wanted to work on. If I can find the zone, it doesn’t matter how hard I’m throwing. I could be effective.”

Plesac used his fastball most in 2017, followed by his change-up (which became his most-effective pitch), slider and curve. He saw his velocity return and he was regularly hitting the gun at 91 to 94 mph with his fast one.

“I had so much confidence,” says Plesac. “I felt ready. I didn’t feel like I was a year behind.

“I’m coming out max effort. You have to be smart with how you pitch. Max effort doesn’t mean you lose control. I’m so comfortable. I’m just trusting in God.”

The righty is happy to say he goes into 2018 with no innings restrictions.

“I’ve put in the work,” says Plesac. “I’ve got good routine to help me keep moving forward.

“Daily, I’m growing and becoming wiser about the game.”

Plesac views his time since starting in pro ball as a period of personal growth.

In college, he was on a schedule based on practices and what the coaches dictated. As a pro, he has been able to take the reigns of his schedule.

“It’s really fun,” says Plesac. “The people I’ve met have changed my life.”

He is pleased to be going through the journey with the Indians.

“I fell into best organization,” says Plesac. “They know how to treat people. This (delayed start) has been a blessing — to be honest.”

Plesac is in the same organization with Elkhart Central High School graduate and left-handed hurler Tanner Tully. The two were roommates for the 2013 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and both play in the Area Code Games.

Since the 2017 season wrapped, Plesac has been able to spend time in Los Angeles where girlfriend and former BSU diver Quinn Bixler is in graduate school at Loyola Marymount University and working out with Jordan Smolar at NWI Performance in Crown Point.

A a Crown Point High School athlete, Plesac earned three letters in baseball and helped the Steve Strayer-coached Bulldogs to a 27-4 record in his senior season of 2013 and to sectional and regional titles in 2011. He also claimed two letters each in football and basketball.

Strayer made an impact on Plesac then and still does.

“He groomed me into who I am as a baseball player and a man,” says Plesac. “I can remember when I was freshman practicing with the other kids. I was at third base. I made a bad throw to first and I said, ‘it slipped.’ He told me, ‘don’t make excuses ever.’

“Now I don’t make excuses for anything happens. You can’t get caught up in that. I’ve been able to go to Coach Strayer for all types of things. He’s been a good person in my life. He’s always helped me out.”

Plesac who turns 23 Jan. 21, is also taking the time to catch up with family.

Ron and Jeannie Plesac have three children — twins Zach and Ronnie (Zach is 10 minutes older) and Frankie (15).

Ronnie Plesac pitched at Parkland College in Illinois and State College of Florida. Frankie Plesac is a Crown Point sophomore ballplayer.

Uncle Dan Plesac pitched 18 years in the majors and is now an on-air regular with MLB Network.

“He’s there for me whenever I need him,” says Zach of man who in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and won 65 games and saved 158 for the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies.

The pitcher plans to attend a strength camp in January before heading back to Arizona for spring training.

“I’ve caught myself up ability-wise,” says Plesac. “I’m ready to rock.”

ZACHPLEASCINDIANS17

Zach Plesac, a 2013 Crown Point High School graduate, made his pro baseball debut in 2017 with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The right-handed pitcher was drafted in 2016 by the Cleveland Indians and spent the season rehabbing from Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He pitched three seasons at Ball State University (2014-16). (Mahoning Valley Scrappers Photo)

 

Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Hawkins knows the importance of being nice

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Only nine men in the history of Major League Baseball made more pitching appearances that LaTroy Hawkins.

From 1995-2015, the lanky right-hander took the mound 1,042 times for 11 different MLB organizations — Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies (twice), New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.

Originally signed by Daniel Durst, the 1991 Gary West Side High School graduate made a minor league stop with the Fort Wayne Wizards in 1993 and went on to won 75 games and save 127 in the big leagues.

Along the way, “The Hawk” met thousands of folks.

Hawkins always tried to treat them with kindness — the way he was taught growing up in Gary, Ind., by mother Debra Morrow and grandparents Lesley Cannon and Eddie and Celestine Williams.

“I always wanted to do the right thing,” says Hawkins, who will be inducted into the Indiana High Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January. “Part of that is having a positive impact on others.

“I learned at a young age that trouble easy to get into and hard to get out of. I didn’t want to be a thorn in my (mother or grandparents’) side. I wanted to put a smile on people’s face.”

LaTroy’s mother still resides in Gary as do Mr. and Mrs. Williams. Grandmother Lesley died more than a decade ago, but her words and actions still ring true with LaTroy.

“She taught me about caring about people,” says Hawkins. “It didn’t matter what color they were.

“She had this uncanny way of opening up her home to everybody. You could always get three hot meals from her. She had a real sweet presence about her.

“She told me to always be willing to help people. You never know when you might need help. You always nice to people. Show them that you care. That always stuck with me.”

Lesley asked her grandson to always be that way.

“I try to be nice 99 percent of the time,” says Hawkins. “It’s hard to be nice 100 percent of the time. You come across more good people than (bad people).”

Maybe he didn’t always know your name.

“Hey, Big Fella!”

But Hawkins had — and still continues to have — time for everyone in his sphere that has revolved around a little white sphere. That might be folks on the grounds crew, security staff or on the loading dock.

“I made it my business to get to know everybody around me that made my day a little smoother once I left my front door and went to work,” says Hawkins.

When he learned about his Hall of Fame selection, he saw it as recognition for hard work and good character.

“It’s also the things you’ve done to grow the game of baseball in Indiana and around the world,” says Hawkins. “That’s having a positive impact I think.”

Now retired from his 21-year playing career, Hawkins is back with the Twins as a Special Assistant to Baseball Operations. His responsibilities include: contributing to the development of the organizational pitching philosophy used in the selection and development of all players. He will occasionally serve as an analyst for Twins games on Fox Sports North.

In working with the organization’s minor league pitchers, he gets them to set realistic goals and to help with both the mental and mechanical sides of their trade.

He talks about throwing high fastballs, pitching inside or down and away and when to use the curve ball.

But he also stresses the importance of data — something he paid little attention to as a player.

“It won’t work for everybody, but they’ll be some careers saved because of it,” says Hawkins. “It was a thing (when I played), but I didn’t want to know it.”

“When I started to 1995, analytics had a very small imprint.”

People relied on the human element and scouting.

“All we had to go on back then was the eye test,” says Hawkins. “Either you could do it or you couldn’t. Now there’s a reason for that and a program that can help you do it.”

Hawkins, who turns 45 on Dec. 21, helps hurlers change their grip to get a higher spin rate on their deliveries. After hanging out with Twins video personnel last March and seeing TrackMan data from spring training games and and also the numbers from his last three seasons (2013-15), he saw how spin rate either helped or harmed his own performance.

“That’s when I really got interested,” says Hawkins. “I saw what made me the pitcher I was. I didn’t care how hard I threw. Coming up in the Twins organization it was about command. That’s why I lasted so long. When I started throwing harder, I had still had command.”

It was also helpful that Hawkins possessed loose wrists, long fingers and strong hands.

“You’ve got to have two out of three to be able to do some of those things with the baseball,” says Hawkins.

Before going to spring training in 2018, Hawkins plans to travel to Indianapolis for the Jan. 28 Indiana Hall of Fame banquet at the Sheraton at the Keystone at the Crossing. The rest of the induction class includes coaches Rich Andriole (Indianapolis Cathedral/Guerin Catholic) and Pat Murphy (Valparaiso High School/retired), contributor Colin Lister (Fort Wayne/deceased) and Veteran’s Committee selection Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians broadcaster).

LaTroy and Anita Hawkins (who is a Gary Roosevelt High School graduate) celebrated their 17th year of marriage Nov. 25. The couple have a 16-year-old daughter — Troi — and reside in the Dallas area.

Westin Hotels & Resorts, Justin Tuck, LaTroy Hawkins And Rocco DiSpirito Launch "Make Monday Better" Campaign With Surprise Giveaway At A.C.E. High School In Canarsie, Brooklyn

LaTroy Hawkins began his 21-year Major League Baseball career with the Minnesota Twins and now works in the team’s front office. The 1991 Gary West Side High School graduate is part of the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. (Yahoo Photo)

 

Andriole, Murphy, Lister, Hawkins, Kellman going into Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The doors to the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame on the campus of Vincennes University-Jasper will swing open to five more inductees — coaches Rich Andriole (Indianapolis Cathedral/Guerin Catholic) and Pat Murphy (Valparaiso High School/retired), contributor Colin Lister (Fort Wayne/deceased), player LaTroy Hawkins (Gary West Side High School and Major League Baseball/retired) and Veteran’s Committee nominee Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians broadcaster).

The list of inductees was released Monday, Nov. 27, 2017.

HOWARD KELLMAN

2018 will mark Kellman’s 43rd season as “Voice of the Indians.”

He has watched more than a million pitches and seen more than 300,000 outs recorded during Indians broadcasts.

On June 30, 2017, Kellman broadcasted his 6,000th game with the Tribe.

Kellman joined the Tribe in 1974 and has been the club’s lead play-by-play announcer each year during that time frame except for the 1975 and 1980 seasons.

Honored as Indiana’s Sportscaster of the Year in 2002, Kellman has called IHSAA football and basketball games on WHMB-TV 40 since 1990.

In 2009, he was inducted to the Indiana Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame.

Most recently, Kellman was inducted into the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame in 2015.

Since joining the Indians, Kellman has also been named to the radio broadcast team for three Triple-A All-Star Games, including the 1989 Midsummer Classic in Columbus, Ohio, the 2001 contest at Victory Field and most recently, the 2013 showcase in Reno, Nev. In addition, he led the broadcast team for ESPN’s coverage of the Triple-A World Series from 2006-08.

Along with covering the Tribe, Kellman has worked behind the microphone for the Chicago White Sox (1984) and Cleveland Cavaliers (1988-90), called both IHSAA football and basketball games, and served as a sideline reporter for Yale football on the YES Television Network (2012).

He also filled in as a replacement on New York Mets broadcasts in 2014.

Kellman currently manages his own professional speaking service which features life lessons drawn from sports-related stories, and published his book, “61 Humorous & Inspiring Lessons I Learned From Baseball” in 2010.

A graduate of Brooklyn College, Kellman began his early broadcasting days as an announcer for St. John’s University basketball. Howard and his wife, Robin, reside in Carmel, Ind.

PAT MURPHY

Murphy graduated from Valparaiso High School and St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind.

He recorded 483 wins over 28 seasons and this included 13 Sectional Championships and two Duneland Athletic Conference Championships. He was honored three times as District Coach of the Year.

He also served on numerous IHSBCA committees, had five players IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series, and was also inducted in 2010 to the Valparaiso High School Hall of Fame.

Pat and wife of 45 years, Nancy, live in Valparaiso. They have two sons. Michael is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps, currently stationed at Corpus Christi Naval Station in Corpus Christi, Texas. He and his wife JoAnne have two daughters.

Tim has a P.h.D. in Cultural Anthropology, and is a professor of Urban Studies at Worcester State University, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

COLIN LISTER

Lister grew up in Australia and moved to Fort Wayne in 1958 due to his involvement with the Fort Wayne Komets professional hockey team.

He eventually became owner of the team and served in that role until 1985. He never played the game of baseball, but became enamored with it when he was asked to umpire a game one day and from that point on he was “all in” with the sport.

Once arriving in the United States, he spent 45 years of his life involved with amateur baseball. That included Connie Mack teams in Fort Wayne known as the Komets and the DOX.

These teams also played in the older Stan Musial League and included former pro players like Brent Gaff, Andy Replogle, Dave Doster and Matt Kinzer.

Colin’s legacy in baseball is one of an ambassador for the sport and a mentor. His teams won 85 percent of their games, but he was more concerned about touching the lives of the people under his tutelage and giving of his own resources to see that their needs were met. This is hard to describe in a short bio, but if you have met the man you completely understand the impact he had on the game and the people around him.

His honors include being named to the Indiana High School Hockey Hall of Fame, the Fort Wayne Sports Hall of Fame, having No. 59 retired on his behalf by the Komets hockey team, and having the local Connie Mack League renamed the Colin Lister League.

LATROY HAWKINS

Hawkins is a 1991 Graduate of West Side High School in Gary, where he played baseball and basketball.

He was drafted in the seventh round of the 1991 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.

He was a two-time minor league player of the year in the Twins organization (1993 and 1994) and made his MLB debut on April 29, 1995 at the age of 22.

He played in the big leagues for parts of 21 season as a member of the Twins, Chicago Cubs; San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies (twice), New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.

He made the playoffs six times in his career reaching the World Series in 2007 with the National League champion Colorado.

LaTroy ranks 10th on MLB’s all-time list in games appeared with 1,042 over his 21-year career.

He is one of only 13 relievers in baseball history to record a save against all 30 teams and appear in 60 plus games in 10 different seasons.

On Sept. 11, 2004, he recorded an immaculate inning striking out the side on nine pitches.

LaTroy joined the Twins front office in November 2016 as a Special Assistant to Baseball Operations. His responsibilities include: contributing to the development of the organizational pitching philosophy used in the selection and development of all players. He will occasionally serve as an analyst for Twins games on Fox Sports North.

RICH ANDRIOLE    

Andriole is a graduate of Cathedral High School and of the University of Dayton.

He coached 20 seasons at Cathedral and had a career record of 504-97.

The program won 13 Indianapolis City Championships, 13 IHSAA sectional titles, 11 IHSAA regional crowns, 6 IHSAA semi-state championships, and won two IHSAA state championships in 2001 and in 2007.

Andriole has served on various IHSBCA committees, has organized and led several youth camps and clinics, has twice been named the South All-Star coach, and has won numerous Coach of the Year honors.

In the fall of 2017, he was named the new head coach at Guerin Catholic High School.

A Hall of Fame dinner is scheduled for the 2018 class during the three-day Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic at the Sheraton at Keystone at the Crossing in Indianapolis.

The dinner is Saturday, Jan. 27. Tickets are $45 and available by contacting HOF chairman Jeff McKeon at 317-445-9899 or jmckeon@plainfield.k12.in.us.

IHSBCALOGO

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame is located at the Vincennes University-Jasper campus.