Tag Archives: Chicago Cubs

South Bend’s Milovich has made a life in minor league baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Milovich was introduced to baseball in South Bend, Ind.

Andy played the game at Southeast Little League, South Bend Riley High School (graduating in 1987) and for South Bend American Legion Post 357 and then at Valparaiso University (graduating in 1992).

“I was raised on ball fields,” says Milovich. “It’s an important part of what I do and it’s what gets me up everyday.

“My baseball roots start in South Bend. It has everything to do with where I’m at now.”

He recalls fondly coming home after school and catching the end of the Chicago Cubs game on WGN-TV. The next morning, he devoured the box score and saw highlights on Ray Rayner’s show.

With Myrtle Beach being a High Class-A affiliate of the Cubs (one step up from Low Class-A South Bend), Milovich was beyond thrilled when he received a World Series ring when the big club won it all in 2016.

Back in 1987, Andy played for Post 357 against South Bend Post 50 in the first game at South Bend’s Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium (now known at Four Winds Field).

Beginning with an internship with the South Bend White Sox in 1990, Milovich has made a life in the game with 2018 being his 28th year in professional baseball. He is both president and general manager for the Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and president of the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Pelicans.

A son of Ron and Judy Milovich and brother to Matt, Brad, Brian and Melanie, Andy learned baseball from his father who began coaching at the Little League level at 18 and continued in adult amateur baseball around South Bend until a few years ago.

Ron Milovich, an optometrist, started a team in the early 1990s featuring local players and some of Andy’s Valpo teammates.

“Dad was always making time for kids and the community,” says Andy. “That’s the way he was raised.”

Andy played at VU for head coach Paul Twenge and at Riley for Ralph “Peanuts” Pienazkiewicz.

Both men instilled in Andy the notion of balancing athletics, academics and personal life and overcoming life’s obstacles through hard work.

“Nothing is given to anybody,” says Milovich. “You have to learn it.

“You take that approach into the business world and you’ll have success.”

As a baseball executive, Milovich has faced the grind of a long season while helping to entertain customers.

“We want to put on a great show and give them a three-hour vacation,” says Milovich. “To use baseball as an opportunity to change communities the way we do is a really rewarding.”

Greenberg Sports Group, founded by Chuck Greenberg, manages minor league baseball franchises in Frisco, Myrtle Beach and State College, Pa. Greenberg is general partner and chief executive officer in Frisco, chairman and managing partner in both Myrtle Beach and State College.

Before joining GSG, Milovich spent 18 years with Palisades Baseball. He has served as assistant general manager and general manager of the Erie (Pa.) SeaWolves, GM of the Mahoning Valley (Ohio) Scrappers, vice president and GM of the West Virginia Power and became president and GM in Myrtle Beach in January 2013.

Milovich says the key to success in Myrtle Beach was “investing in people” and “built on affordability and fun.

“It’s the way we’ll grow it here (in Frisco),” says Milovich, who has turned over the Myrtle Beach GM reins to Ryan Moore.

Milovich went going back and forth between South Carolina and Texas before settling with his wife Cher (the couple met when Andy was working in Mahoning Valley) and daughters Addison (9) and Dylan (7) in Frisco in mid-July.

Frisco, Texas, which has an approximate population of 175,000, has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. It is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (population over 7 million).

The RoughRiders consider north Dallas their primary market and the DFW Metroplex as a whole as their secondary market.

Milovich has been working to get an understanding of the operation and diverse market in Frisco. About half of his staff of 60 or so employees work in ticket sales. Using data, they target the various smaller manageable segments of the market.

“We’re measuring many kinds of groups,” says Milovich.

Frisco and surrounding area is home to many large corporations and there are several other near-by entertainment options, including the Texas Rangers (baseball), Dallas Cowboys (football), Dallas Mavericks (basketball), Dallas Stars (hockey) and FC Dallas (soccer). The RoughRiders are a Double-A affiliate of the Rangers.

Myrtle Beach (with a metropolitan population of around 450,000) is different than Frisco, with its smaller market and staff catering to the needs of both residents and tourists.

The main draw of the area is the beach and the Pelicans are trying to get their share of the entertainment dollar.

Running a minor league team has changed quite a bit since the 1990s.

“It used to be you could have your giveaways and a fireworks show and you could count on the community responding,” says Milovich. “Media consumption is now so fragmented. There are so many entertainment options we didn’t have back then.

“The ability to build promotions that resonate and connect with the masses is a lot tougher.”

To help him grow his network of friends and contacts and to advance the industry, Milovich serves on the steering committees for both the National Sports Forum (scheduled for Feb. 10-12, 2019 in Las Vegas) and Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar (slated for Sept. 24-27, 2018 in Des Moines, Iowa).

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Andy Milovich, a graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Riley High School and Valparaiso (Ind.) University, is in his 28th year of professional baseball. He is president and general manager of the Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and president of the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Pelicans. (Myrtle Beach Pelicans Photo)

 

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South Bend Cubs to host 2019 Midwest League All-Star Game at Four Winds Field

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In another move to energize the community, the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs announced Monday, Sept. 10 that the minor league baseball club will host the 2019 Midwest League All-Star Game festivities June 17-18 at Four Winds Field.

Owner Andrew T. Berlin, who became owner of the franchise on Nov. 11, 2011, expressed his enthusiasm at a press conference.

“We’re excited here for a number of reasons,” said Berlin. “We just completely our seventh year. We’ve drawn almost 1.4 million fans since becoming a (Chicago) Cubs affiliate alone (beginning with the 2015 season).”

Berlin talked about South Bend being the “hub for activity and success” in the region and that the South Bend Cubs are in the business of making memories.

“We celebrate more than just baseball,” said Berlin. “We will apply the financial resources to make sure this is the biggest and best all-star game in the history of the Midwest League.

“It will go viral.”

The last time the midseason showcase was played in South Bend was 1989 when what was then known as Coveleski Stadium was less than two years old.

Because of rotation rules for the 16-team league, it may be quite awhile before South Bend gets another chance to host all-star festivities.

Dick Nussbaum, the Midwest League commissioner who is based in South Bend, lent some perspective to the last visit of league stars to the next.

“It was a single game,” said Nussbaum of the 1989 Midwest League All-Star Game, which was postponed by a rain because of torrential rain and featured future big league pitcher and coach Scott Radinsky, who played for the South Bend White Sox in 1989 and was with the Chicago White Sox in 1990. “There was not a festival part of it.”

The 2019 event will have a fan fest and a home run derby plus an autograph session with several former Chicago Cubs players along with the 2019 Midwest League All-Star players in to other family-friendly activities like the Splash Pad, Toyota Fun Zone, catch on the field and running of the bases on June 17.

The game is slated for June 18 with East taking on the West. South Bend is in the Midwest League’s East Division.

“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that the all-star game will be coming back here,” said Nussbaum, who will count the 2019 Midwest League All-Star Game as his 27th. “We have the opportunity to show the vision of South Bend.”

South Bend Cubs president Joe Hart is part of the team that will look to wow the community and the league.

“We want to turn this into something that is phenomenal for our city,” said Hart. “We want to blow this out.”

South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg talked about how the city has a chance to rally and give the best possible impression of South Bend.

The 2019 calendar will also feature the NHL Classic and Michigan-Notre Dame hockey games at Notre Dame Stadium, Jan. 1 and 5 respectively, and U.S. Senior Open at ND’s Warren Golf Course June 27-30.

“This is a community effort and community enterprise,” said Buttigieg. “It’s up to the people of South Bend to show how excited we are for this event. “(Four Winds Field) is a very special place for all of us.”

Naming rights for the ballpark were awarded to Four Winds five years ago and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and Four Winds Casinos wanted to be part the a major sponsor for the 2019 Midwest League All-Star Game.

“It’s wonderful to be a part of it,” said Senior VP of Government Affairs and Community Relations for Four Winds Casinos Scott Brewer.

The Ivy at Berlin Place apartments at the ballpark are nearing completion. Berlin announced that a model will be ready for showing this week and that were is a waiting list for the 120 units.

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South Bend, Ind., is to host the Midwest League All-Star Game for the first time in 30 years in 2019. (South Bend Cubs/Midwest League Image)

 

Hootons bring ’special vibe’ to Fort Wayne TinCaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A husband-and-wife team with decades in baseball has been making an impact on a team and a city since making it their home in the spring and summer for the past six seasons.

Burt Hooton has been the pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps, a Low Class-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres since 2013.

In 2018, he is one a Fort Wayne coaching staff led by manager Anthony Contreras and also featuring hitting coach Jonathan Mathews and fielding coach Jhonny Carvajal.

Like she’s done throughout most of their marriage, wife Ginger Hooton has been there in-person to lend support to her husband and — through her personality — uplift those around her.

And not just because of her mouth-watering desserts like chocolate chip cookies, caramel brownies and Tres Leches cake.

“She’s a people person,” says Burt, who met Ginger in late 1970 when they both attended the University of Texas at Austin, got engaged in September 1972 and married Dec. 30, 1972. “She loves people. She likes pleasing people. She’s extremely friendly.”

TinCaps president Mike Nutter seconds that sentiment.

“She is such a motivator,” says Nutter of Ginger Hooton. “I’ve never heard a negative thing come out of her mouth.

“She has a unique perspective and outlook.”

The Hootons live right next to Parkview Field in the CityScape Flats. When Nutter and his crew were keeping their eye on the radar and dealing with rain delays Thursday, Aug. 16, Ginger sent him an encouraging text from her balcony.

She wanted him to know she had seen a rainbow over the field and wanted to see how he was doing.

“This is my 27th season in Minor League Baseball,” says Nutter. “Along the way, there are a handful of special people that come into your life.

“Ginger and Burt are certainly in that group. It’s a really special connection they have made. They want to work and make an impact in those young kids’ lives. They just have this special vibe.”

Both native Texans, Burt was a broadcast journalism major from the coastal city of Corpus Christi and art major Ginger hailed from the small farming community of Wharton.

The two met through a campus service organization — the Texas Cowboys. Their first date was at the group’s formal dance.

“I never knew he played baseball,” says Ginger. “I wasn’t a big baseball fan.”

She found it odd that so many people were shaking his hand. She learned years later that he had just thrown a no-hitter for the Longhorns.

Burt Hooton began his professional baseball career in 1971.

A standout at UT, the right-handed pitcher was selected in the first round of the 1971 amateur draft (second overall pick) by the Chicago Cubs and went on to pitch until 1985, winning 151 games and racking up over 2,600 innings.

On April 16, 1972, Burt tossed a no-hitter for the Cubs in his fourth MLB game and went on to be an all-star and the National League Championship Series MVP for the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers (who went on to win the World Series). He was known to possess a wicked knuckle curveball.

Even with all his accomplishments, Nutter marvels that Burt Hooton has no ego.

“He has a great gift of working with these young men,” says Nutter. “Anthony Contreras calls it a ‘feel’ for what will work for them.”

After taking the time to complete his college degree (he promised his mother he would finish it after leaving Texas at the end of his junior year), Burt launched into a coaching career in 1988 and has been a pitching coach at every level of organized professional baseball plus three collegiate seasons with the Texas Longhorns. He was the pitching coach for the big-league Houston Astros 2000-04.

Along the way, Ginger has been making friends in the stands and around the towns where Burt played or coached. When he was coaching in Round Rock, Houston and Oklahoma City, there were enough wives around for Ginger to lead a Bible study.

With younger players (the oldest players on the current Fort Wayne roster is 24 and there are nine teenagers), there is no opportunity with player wives.

“I just really prayed about it and God told me to feed my sheep so I just feed them,” says Ginger. “It’s mostly sweets.”

Pre- and post-game meals are provided by clubhouse manager Sam “Swirley” Lewis.

And it’s not just the players and and coaching staff that have sampled Ginger’s baked goods. Most everyone who works at Parkview Field — front office personnel, ushers, parking lot attendants — has gotten a taste.

The downtown stadium doubles as a public space when a game is not in progress. Many people walk around the perimeter of the field for exercise. Ginger walks there and greets those she encounters along the way.

When Burt and Ginger’s children — Gene and Layne — were very young, they would come to spring training with their parents and be tutored by their mother. As they grew older, they would visit spring training during spring break and then come to whatever baseball city their father called home.

“She always saw to it that she and the kids were wherever I was,” says Burt. “Now, it’s easy. We don’t have any kids (at home). I certainly don’t want to leave her home by herself (in San Antonio).

“I want her here. She wants to be here. We both enjoy it. It’s almost like a five-month vacation.”

This season has seen a steady stream of visits from family and friends. Sometimes when Burt is away, Ginger will go to help daughter Layne with her San Antonio-based store.

“I’ve been entertaining a lot,” says Ginger. “This season has flown by.

“I don’t know what I do, but I stay busy.”

Before moving into CityScape Flats, the Hootons lived next to Parkview Field at The Harrison. For the first few years in Fort Wayne, they resided in places across the city — far enough away that Ginger would sit in the one car they brought from Texas to pick up Burt after games.

Now, he can just walk home.

“I can get stuff done at home,” says Ginger.

The Hootons have gotten to know Fort Wayne and the surrounding area, checking out sites, museums and restaurants.

“Fort Wayne is a great town,” says Burt, the keynote speaker at the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association banquet in May. “The people we have met here have been great.”

Ginger and Burt also drive together on some of the TinCaps’ closer road trips.

“We enjoy traveling around together and being together,” says Burt. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The (Midwest) League is small enough that we can hop in the car and go places like Lansing, Grand Rapids, Dayton, South Bend and Midland, Mich.

“We’re having fun together.”

At 68, Burt takes his coaching career one season at a time.

“As long as I’m still healthy and enjoy it, somebody wants me and she’s OK with it,” says Burt. “When they ask me, I say I’ll ask Ginger and see what she says, She usually says whatever you want to do is fine with me.

“When she says ‘no’ that’ll probably be the end of it.”

Ginger sees the satisfaction her husband gets by helping to launch the pro careers of young pitchers.

“I think his greatest joy is getting to move these young kids up,” says Ginger. “It’s like our own children getting to make it.”

The past few weeks, the Hootons have been watching the Padres on TV and seeing players who once played in Fort Wayne.

“It’s so fun to get to see them experience that,” says Ginger.

And this husband and wife are experiencing so much together.


BURTGINGERHOOTON

Burt (left) and Ginger Hooton share a moment outside Parkview Field, where Burt is in his sixth season as pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps. The couple was married Dec. 30, 1972. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Delta, Ball State alum Nichols nearing baseball broadcast milestone with Dayton Dragons

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An Indiana native is about to reach a baseball broadcasting milestone with an Ohio-based team in Michigan.

Tom Nichols, a Muncie native, will work his 4,000th minor league game (radio and television combined) on Wednesday, Aug. 8, if the Dayton (Ohio) Dragons of the Low Class-A Midwest League are not rained out between now and then.

All Dragons games (140 during the regular season) are broadcast on WONE 980 AM and http://www.daytondragons.com.

In his 31st season as a baseball play-by-play announcer and his 11th in Dayton, Nichols is in some rare company.

Jim Weber (Toledo Mud Hens) and Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians) have been at the mike for more than 40 years and have done upwards of 6,000 games apiece.

Larry Ward (Chattanooga Lookouts) has been on the call for more than 35 years.

By his calculations, Nichols trails Curt Bloom (Birmingham Barons) by a few games. He counts Bloom as his longest friendship in the business. Though Bloom is a year older than Nichols, they share the same birthday — Feb. 9. They first crossed paths in the Carolina League and then for years in the Southern League.

“I’m sure I’m in the top 10, but not sure if I’m in the top five,” says Nichols of the longest current radio voices in the minors.

Nichols, 54, was born in Muncie, Ind. At age 7, he became a fan of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”

Al Michaels was the Reds play-by-play from 1971-73 and young Tom only missed games when he was playing himself.

Marty Brenneman took over Michaels’ role in 1974 and is still the No. 1 man in the Reds booth. For years, he was paired with former Cincy pitcher Joe Nuxhall.

“You used to be able to your ride bike through neighborhood and listen to the game because someone would have Marty and Joe on there porch,” says Nichols. “In those days, only 10 or 15 games were televised.”

Another way to keep up with the Reds — and baseball — in the ‘70s was by subscribing to The Sporting News. The publication came in the mail each Friday and Nichols devoured the box scores and stories after getting home on the school bus.

He played baseball at Delta High School in Muncie, where he graduated in 1982.

While at Ball State University, where he got his diploma in telecommunications in 1986, Nichols called high school football, basketball and baseball for WWHC in Hartford City and one season of Ball State baseball for WERK in Muncie.

He was the news director WLBC in Muncie for almost three years after college when he got his professional baseball broadcasting break.

Getting up the nerve to call Kellman for some advice, he was presented with the opportunity to be a No. 2 voice when musician duties took away.

Nichols did that during the 1988 and 1989 seasons.

“I’m eternally grateful to Howard Kellman for giving me that opportunity,” says Nichols, who has taken the opportunity to pay it forward mentoring young broadcasters as they serve as his second during Dayton home radio broadcasts, take the whole game when Nichols is on the TV side and work extensively in media relations.

“I do that because somebody did it for me,” says Nichols. “We’ve had one every year. Many have gone on to be No. 1’s.”

Owen Serey was in Dayton in 2008 and went on to be the voice of the Midwest League’s South Bend Silver Hawks.

Jason Kempf was with Nichols and the Dragons in 2017 and 2018 and is now the No. 1 for the MWL’s Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa.

Others who assisted Nichols in Dayton and moved on to lead play-by-play roles include Mike Couzens (Fort Wayne and now with ESPN), Brendan Gulick (Delmarva and now in Cleveland area radio), Keith Raad (Staten Island) and Alex Vispoli (Winston-Salem, Frisco and then the Ivy League).

Bill Spaulding has carved his niche in the broadcasting world by calling Olympic sports for NBC.

While Nichols is with the Dayton all-year and does many things including speaking engagements and has come to thoroughly enjoy audience Q&A’s, the Dragons No. 2 position is seasonal — March-to-September.

Nichols’ first No. 1 gig was with the Kinston (N.C.) Indians of the Carolina League, where he worked for the 1990 season. Jim Thome (just inducted into the Ball Hall of Fame) led the future big leaguers on the Cleveland Indians-affiliated team. A couple others of note were Curtis Leskanic and Robert Person.

He came the Midwest League to lead airings of Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs games in 1991-92. There, he got frequently have former Harry Caray sideman Jimmy Piersall as his analyst.

“He had a tremendous knowledge of the game and was very colorful person,” says Nichols of Piersall. A Chicago Cubs farm team at the time, Nichols followed the exploits of future MLB players Brant Brown, Mike Harkey and Amaury Telemaco.

Moving over to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Minnesota Twins), Nichols surveyed action from since-razed Memorial Stadium — aka “The Castle” — and saw future big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins (who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January), Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Matt Lawton and A.J. Pierzysnki come through town from 1993-96.

Nichols’ career path took him south to present diamond descriptions to fans of the Mobile (Ala.) BayBears (San Diego Padres) from 1997-2004. Matt Clement, Doug Dascenzo, Brian Lawrence and Jake Peavy were among those on their way to the majors. Lawrence is now the pitching coach for the Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs.

During much of the time Nichols was in Mobile, he was also an executive director for a franchise management company — Victory Sports Group.

From 2005-07, Nichols was director of broadcasting of the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent Northern League. Jermaine Allensworth, an Anderson, Ind., product who had played in the bigs, was with Gary in 2006-07.

Nichols took his current position — Director of Media Relations & Broadcasting at Dayton Dragons Professional Baseball — prior to the 2008 campaign. Dayton’s affiliation with the Reds was one of the things that attracted him about the job.

Over the years, he has got to have former Reds sit in with him. That list features Todd Benzinger, Tommy Helms, Lee May, Ron OesterJim O’Toole and many more.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was on the TV broadcast with Nichols this season.

“That was a thrill for me,” says Nichols, who was also pleased when he got to regularly interact with one of his boyhood idols — Ken Griffey Sr., when the former Red was Dayton’s hitting coach in 2010.

Indiana’s own Tucker Barnhart (who was with Brenneman and others for the 2018 Reds Caravan stop in Muncie) plus Zach Cozart, Didi Gregorius, Billy Hamilton and many others have been Dragons and later big leaguers during Nichols’ tenure.

When a Cincinnati player makes a rehabilitation appearance with Dayton and the Reds don’t play at the same time, flagship WLW often picks up the Dragons broadcast.

In his one game on the Reds Radio Network, Nichols worked the 2017 Reds Futures Game with color man Jeff Brantley and former Cincy broadcaster Jim Kelch.

“Put this one in the win column” is the phrase Nichols uses to cap every Dayton victory.

He says he may have subconsciously picked up descriptive phrases from all those years of listening to Reds broadcasts and recordings of them on his parent’s living room stereo.

But other than the win-capper, Nichols makes it a point not to have signal calls.

He had the belief reinforced by Ernie Harwell when they spent the day and worked side-by-side with the Hall of Fame broadcaster for the 1994 Midwest League All-Star Game in Fort Wayne.

“He told me, ‘People tune in for the game, not for you,” says Nichols of Harwell. “When you put yourself ahead of the game, you’re cheating your listeners.”

Nichols does not cheat on his homework either.

“Preparation is key,” says Nichols. “I believe in that strongly.

“That’s the most important thing. The more experience you get, the better you get at preparing.”

Nichols gathers plenty of facts and has them at the ready to use during the game. He knows that he has a three-hour broadcast to fill. On the road, that’s solo. He familiarizes himself with players and coaches and any pertinent storylines around the Dragons or the opponent.

He has at his ready a sheet full of the “last time” nuggets. Who was the last Dayton player to go 4-for-4 or hit three home runs in a game? His list tells him.

For the past two decades, Nichols has been using a ledger-sized scorebook that he devised with the help of veteran Adams, Blackford and Wells County radio man Bill Morris. It gives him room to right in facts about each player, including key statistics. For opponents, he will list things like their college and draft round.

“This way you’re not looking through a media guide,” says Nichols. “Without wasted time, you can quickly mention how many homers has if he just hit another one.

“It is time-consuming. But if you’re willing to put in the time, there will be rewards.”

The most rewarding thing to Nichols is spending time with family.

His parents — Tom Sr. and Fran Nichols — are retired and live in a country house outside Muncie during the summer months and in Marco Island, Fla., other parts of the year. He was a firefighter in Muncie and she an accountant.

Tom Jr. is the oldest of three. There’s also brother David Nichols and sister Kelli (Nichols) Dulaney.

David Nichols is a former Delta basketball player who was one year ahead of Matt Painter (now the Purdue head men’s basketball coach) and played hoops at Huntington University. He works in claims resolution in Indianapolis.

“David is the better athlete,” says Tom Jr., who was inducted into the Delaware County Athletic Hall of Fame in the coaches, contributors, media, officials category in 2009. “I was very average.”

Uncle Tom is close with David’s two children — Kaylee Nichols (a volleyball player at DePauw University in Greencastle) and Matthew Nichols (a former Delta basketball player).

Kelli is employed by Delaware County 911.

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With his trusty ledger-sized scorebook in front of him, Tom Nichols broadcasts a Dayton (Ohio) Dragons baseball game. He is in his 31st season as a play-by-play man — 11th with Dayton — and is nearing his 4,000th game broadcast, most of those on radio and about 200 for Dayton on television. (Dayton Dragons Photo)

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Tom Nichols, a graduate of Delta High School and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., does a stand-up during a Dayton Dragons telecast. Nichols has been doing minor league baseball play-by-play since 1988 and has been a No. 1 voice since 1990. He started in Dayton 2008. (Dayton Dragons)

Morgan Township, Grace graduate Dougherty pursuing goals in independent United Shore Baseball League

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There was a time in the life of Joe Dougherty that he convinced himself he was done with baseball.

“I was thinking about giving up on baseball at the time,” says Dougherty, who is pitching for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich. “I’m very thankful I didn’t do it now.

“A lot of people have told me to stick with my dream so I would have no regrets later in life.”

A successful right-handed pitcher, infielder and outfielder at Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., where he helped the Jason Dorshorst-coached Cherokees win IHSAA Class 1A sectional titles as a junior and senior in 2012 and 2013, Dougherty was not planning on pursuing baseball at the next level.

For his prep career, Dougherty won 20 games with 253 strikeouts — both school records. He was 9-3 with a 1.83 ERA and 102 K’s as a junior in 2012 as Morgan Township went 23-5 and followed that up with 18-10 in 2013.

Dorshorst, who went to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, told Dougherty he thought he had what it took play college baseball.

“He helped me a lot,” says Dougherty of Dorshorst. “He understood me as a player. He encouraged me to go after my dream.”

With newfound confidence, that dream had changed pursuing baseball at the college level and — maybe —  beyond.

Enter Bill Barr.

The head baseball coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., Barr was there when Dougherty enjoyed a very fine day on the diamond.

It was in the semifinals of the 2013 Caston Regional. Dougherty clubbed a grand slam, drove in five runs and also pitched in relief in a 6-5 semifinal loss to Elkhart Christian.

After the contest, Dougherty talked with Barr and was convinced to make a campus visit.

That led to a four-season career with the Grace Lancers  the first three with Barr as head coach.

“I give him credit for giving me the opportunity for playing college baseball,” says Dougherty, who made 30 appearances with Barr as head coach and 12 as a senior with Cam Screeton in charge of the Lancers program.

Dougherty fanned 78 and walked 58 in 106 1/3 innings at Grace.

During Grace’s spring trip, Dougherty met Diamond Hoppers manager Paul Noce.

A baseball veteran, Noce who played for the 1987 Chicago Cubs and 1990 Cincinnati Reds and was a successful head coach at Hillsdale (Mich.) College saw potential in Dougherty and invited him to Michigan to throw a bullpen session after the college season.

“It was only throwing in the mid-80’s at that point,” says Dougherty of his velocity. “(Noce) encouraged me to keep working hard.”

So Dougherty went to play for the Shawn Harper-managed Mishawaka Brewers of the Northern Indiana Adult Baseball League and worked out with Shane Zegarac, pitching and strength coach at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. — a short drive from Valparaiso.

“He deserves a lot of credit for getting me here in the first place,” says Dougherty of Zegarac, who pitched in the Texas Rangers organization and parts of three seasons with the Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent Frontier League.

The 6-foot-3 Dougherty packed on about 20 pounds and his heater was up to low 90’s when he went to pitch for the Canada A’s of 2018 California Winter League. He made eight mound appearances (three as a starter) and was 1-1 with a 2.41 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and 12 walks in 20 1/3 innings.

He was signed by the USPBL — a developmental league with four teams (Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Woolly Mammoths are the others) that play all their games at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, a northern suburb of Detroit.

The league takes Mondays off. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are non-public day games. Thursday through Saturday are night contests and Sundays are day games. The regular season began May 11 and wraps Sept. 2. Each team plays 50 games. Rosters are limited to 20 players age 18-26.

“This league is focused on getting players to the next level,” says Dougherty. “They are pretty good at giving guys plenty of time to develop those skills.

“They give you a really good shot to further your career here.”

More than 20 players have gone on to sign contracts with Major League Baseball-affiliated teams since the USPBL debuted in 2016.

Dougherty has been starting and is 1-1 with a 5.09 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 17 walks in 17 2/3 innings.

Between starts, he does a lot of recovery work and maintenance in the weight room — staying away too much in-season heavy lifting. He also does a lot of running, including sprints.

Dougherty was born and raised in Valparaiso the third child of Keith and Beth Dougherty. His older sisters are Rachel and Kelsey.

He played summer league at Morgan Township and then a little travel baseball in junior high and high school.

At Grace, Joe earned a degree in Design Engineering Technology. He says he is especially interested in computer-aided design.

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Joe Dougherty, a graduate of Morgan Township Middle/High School in Valparaiso, Ind., and Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is now playing for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League. (USPBL Photo)

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Joe Dougherty goes into his wind-up during a game at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, Mich. All games in the four-team United Shore Professional Baseball League are played there. (Matt Cripsey Photo)

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Determination shows on the face of Joe Dougherty as he warms up for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers on the independent United Shore Baseball League. He is a graduate of Morgan Township Middle/High School and Grace College in Indiana. (Matt Cripsey Photo)

 

Former Valpo U. catcher Kapers now receiving in Rangers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott Kapers has a reason to show his choppers and it’s not just because his father is a dentist.

The oldest child of Dr. Scott A. Kapers, DDS, and Melissa Kapers, who both work at Creating Smiles PC in St. John, Ind. (across the Lake Central High School), Scott T. Kapers is enjoying his first taste of professional baseball with the Spokane (Wash.) Indians of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League.

Kapers, right-handed-hitting catcher and Schererville, Ind., native, was selected in the 17th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers after three seasons at Valparaiso University.

After attending Forest Ridge Academy and Grimmer Middle School in Scherville, Kapers crossed the nearby state line and went to Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School.

A middle infielder going into a high school, Kapers converted to catcher to get a chance at playing time on a Caravan team that featured a shortstop (Jerry Houston Jr.) two years ahead of him and a second baseman (Ako Thomas) in his class. Houston went on to the University of Oregon and Thomas to the University of Michigan.

During his sophomore year (2013), Kapers finally cracked the varsity lineup at playoff time and helped coach Brian Hurry’s Caravan to a Illinois High School Athletic Association Class 4A state title (Mount Carmel edged Libertyville 2-1 in Joliet).

Two other Mount Carmel seniors in 2013 — Jason Gasser (Northern Illinois University) and Jeremy Kravetz (University of Kansas) — also went on the NCAA Division I baseball.

Kapers, who played for numerous travel teams over the years (Region Redbirds, Futures Baseball, Northwest Indiana Shockers, Indiana Bulls, Team DeMarini, Grinders Baseball and Cincinnati Reds Fall Scout Team), emailed five college programs a week before being approached by Valpo at a Prep Baseball Report showcase.

He made a verbal commitment in the fall of his junior year and signed his letter of intent with the D-I Crusaders as a Mount Carmel senior.

The Redbirds were a team coached by Scott A. Kapers and other fathers.

John Mallee, who is now the hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies and formerly served in that role with the Florida Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, was a Shockers founder and talked to Kapers about attending Mount Carmel.

At VU, Kapers played head coach Brian Schmack and learned about “playing the game the right way” and following routines from him and assistant Ben Wolgamot.

As a catcher, he did much drill work with Nic Mishler. He credits Kory Winter with aiding in improving his physical and mental strength. Kapers played in 45 games as a freshman, 52 as a sophomore and 50 as a junior before being drafted. In 2018, he hit .263 with four home runs, nine doubles and 28 runs batted in.

He also played 92 summer collegiate baseball games for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League in 2016 and 2017.

Through July 6, Kapers had played in seven pro games — two with the Arizona League Rangers and five with Spokane — and was hitting a combined .217 with no homers, two doubles and two RBIs.

Kapers’ approach in the batter’s box revolves around having competitive at-bats.

“It’s about being a smart hitter and not just a swinger,” says Kapers. “Quality at-bats are huge. You string quality at-bats to score runs and that’s how you win games.”

Rangers minor league stops above Spokane, where Kenny Holmberg is the manager, Jared Goedert the hitting coach and Jono Armold the pitching coach, are the Low Class-A Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads, High-A Down East (N.C.) Wood Ducks, Double-A Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and Triple-A Round Rock (Texas) Express.

Following in his older brothers’ footsteps as a catcher at Mount Carmel and heading into his freshman year at Valpo U. is Jake Kapers (18). Sister Madison Kapers (20) will be a junior at VU. She played softball at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Ill.

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Scott Kapers gets ready to fire the baseball for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott Kapers seeks “quality at-bat” for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Texas Rangers system. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott Kapers grew up in Northwest Indiana and played baseball in Indiana and Illinois. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Pacific Northwest with the Spokane (Wash.) Indians in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott T. Kapers, son of Dr. Scott A. Kapers, DDS, is all smiles as he gets set to take the baseball field for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

Former Highland, Purdue hurler Minch moves up to Double-A in Cubs system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jordan Minch has moved up in the Chicago Cubs organization.

The left-handed reliever made his debut with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies Tuesday, June 5, pitching retiring three of four batters in the ninth inning of a 10-2 win at Jackson.

Minch is a 2012 Highland (Ind.) High School graduate who pitched for two seasons at Purdue University before being selected in the 35th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs.

He spent the 2014 season at Short Season Class-A Arizona, 2015 at Low-A South Bend and parts of the past three seasons (2016, 2017 and 2018) at High Class-A Myrtle Beach.

He pitched in 36 games with the 2015 South Bend Cubs.

Injuries in 2016 (Grade 2 lat strain) and 2017 (shoulder and ankle issues) slowed his promotion.

With those ailments behind him, he began the 2018 season at Myrtle Beach by going 3-1 in 18 appearances (all in relief) with eight games finished and one save. His earned run average was 3.65 with 28 strikeouts and 13 walks in 24 2/3 innings.

“I’m happy I’m healthy again and pitching well,” said Minch before leaving Myrtle Beach, where the manager is Buddy Bailey and Anderson Tavarez the pitching coach. “I’ll keep doing my thing and everything else will take care of itself.”

The 24-year-old southpaw has made 120 professional mound appearances (all out of the bullpen).

“It’s a completely different mindset,” said Minch of relieving vs. starting. “As a starter, you have your days where you’ll do long toss, side work and touch-and-feel.

“As a reliever, you have to listen to your body and save your bullets for the games. I’ve been a late-inning guy. You have to produce in those big moments.

“It’s about having a routine and sticking with it. We play 140 games in 152 days. It’s a grind. You have to get your body ready to go out and compete.”

Minch said he gets “natural lefty run” from his three-quarter overhand arm slot and uses a two-seam fastball, slider (which breaks pretty late) and a “circle” change-up.

His fastball sits at 92 to 94 mph, topping out at 95. His breaking pitch is about 10 mph slower.

“It looks like a fastball in my hand and just dives down,” said Minch, who is now working with manager Mark Johnson and pitching Terry Clark at Tennessee.

Minch verbally committed to Purdue as a high school sophomore. As a Boilermaker, 28 of his 30 games came as a starter.

“I started the second game of the year my freshmen,” said Minch. “They threw me right into the fire.”

Purdue pitching coach Tristan McIntyre helped refine the fire-balling left-hander.

“In high school, I threw hard,” said Minch. “(McIntyre) told me to not try to overthrow and let my mechanics work.”

He was taught “pitchability” and learned how to keep batters guessing by pitching backward.

The lefty also saw what he could do against top-flight hitters in the Cape Cod League, where he appeared in 10 games with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the summer 2013 and five contests with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in 2014.

Minch is glad he went to college instead of straight into pro ball.

“I wasn’t ready,” said Minch. “I needed to go to school and grow up a little bit.”

At age 13, Minch played travel baseball for the Chicago White Sox Academy. At 14, he was with the Indiana Bulls. He later played for Highland American Legion Post 180.

At Highland High, Minch played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dan Miller.

“He set the table for me coming up. He humbled me. I had all these. scouts coming to the games. He kept me humble and even keel and taught me to bring it 100 percent to the field every day.”

Minch was a four-year varsity letterwinner for Miller’s Trojans, leading the team in strikeouts as a sophomore, junior and senior and also pacing Highland in doubles as a junior and batting average as a senior. He was chosen for the White Sox Area Code team as a junior and the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series as a senior.

He was a three-year all-conference performer and all-area honoree in basketball and an honor roll student.

Minch was married Dec. 30, 2017. Jordan and Emily, who met through mutual friends, recently bought at house in Indianapolis.

His parents — Jack and Dawn Minch — as well as older brother Josh and twin sister Sarah all reside in Highland.

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Jordan Minch delivers a pitch for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. He is a Highland (Ind.) High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University before being drafted by the Chicago Cubs (Myrtle Beach Pelicans Photo)

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Jordan Minch takes the mound for the High Class-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans before being promoted to the High Class-A Tennessee Smokies. All 120 of his professional appearances have been in the bullpen. (Myrtle Beach Pelicans Photo)

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Because of injuries, Jordan Minch pitched for Myrtle Beach in 2016, 2017 and the beginning of 2018. The left-hander was just promoted to Double-A Tennessee. (Myrtle Beach Pelicans Photo)