Working for head coach and Northland alum Jeremy Snow, Kowalski is in charge of the LumberJacks pitchers.
It’s a different path than Kowalski was on just a few years go when he stepped away from the college world as a player after a discouraging first experience.
The pitcher from Arlington Heights, Ill., lost his passion.
And that doesn’t work for the 6-foot-4 right-hander.
“I’m not the kind of guy who does not want to do something unless I’m totally devoted to it,” says Kowalski, who spent his first year out of Buffalo Grove (Ill.) High School, where he played for Jeff Grybash and graduated in 2013, on the roster at North Park University in Chicago but did not get into a game. “It was a wake-up call at North Park that set the tone for me personally: You need to figure yourself out.”
Kowalski was prepared for a life outside of baseball. Then found himself back on a diamond in men’s league and decided to give the college game another try.
He spent 2015-16 at Harper College, a National Junior College Athletic Association Division III school in Palatine, Ill. He appeared in nine games (five starts) for Hawks head coach Cliff Brown with one win and three complete games.
In the Summit City with the Kip McWilliams-coached Warriors, Kowalski’s baseball fire stoked.
The big righty struck out 10 in 9 1/3 innings out of the bullpen and was an Ultimate Warrior nominee in 2019. Tech went to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
It’s that connection with McWilliams and others at Tech that helped him get on the coaching staff of Steve Jaksa at NCAA Division II Saginaw (Mich.) Valley State University in University Center, Mich., as a volunteer for 2019-20 and land his current role on the banks of Lake Superior. He arrived on-campus at Northland this fall.
“It’s not what you know or who you know, it’s who knows you,” says Kowalski, 25. “If not for my time of Indiana Tech and that period of growth, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It helps to have those types of guys in your corner and speaking for who you are and has seen you put in the work.
“There are people who made me realize who I am and what I can do. I’m very grateful for staff at Indiana Tech, my former teammates, the people I competed against. I now have chance to be a major part of changing a program.”
It’s not lost on Kowalski that he’s starting a coaching job in the middle of a global pandemic.
“It’s an interesting time,” says Kowalski. “I sincerely things will clear up and we can return back to the things we love to do.
“We got through a full fall season — with mainly instrasquads. We were just beginning our off-season training when everything shut down.
It started out with student-athletes in a hybrid — some online classes and some in-person — then only those with prior approval were allowed to stay on-campus.
Kowalski says the LumberJacks were beginning to develop a team identity when they were told to go home.
“It’s a day-to-day process and our guys have done a tremendous job every day we get to practice together,” says Kowalski. “These are smart players. We were teaching some of the bigger concepts and faster-moving practices were becoming ingrained.”
Like at Indiana Tech, Kowalski sees player development at Northland as a personalized experience.
“We’re not trying to create carbon copies,” says Kowalski. “We want everyone to maximize their strengths while improving their weaknesses.”
A Kinesthetic or hands-on learner, Kowalski uses YouTube videos and other resources to take in concepts that he passes on to his players.
While there are a few volunteers, much of the coaching load falls to Kowalski and Snow. The latter is a 2010 NC graduate and spent 2019-20 as an assistant at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima after four seasons as head coach at Lourdes University in Sylvania. Both are NAIA members.
Snow and Kowalski have been busy with recruiting players to the school located 70 miles east of Duluth, Minn. and 260 miles northwest of Appleton, Wis. Ashland is a town of about 8,000 and fishing and hunting is popular with residents and Northland baseball players. When Snow was a player, they put a deer stand on a foul pole and brought down an animal with a bow.
Though he grew up in a metro environment and has never hunted, Kowalski has been taking a hunting safety course.
Having a mild form of Cerebral Palsy, Tubaugh has not played the game since he was a youngster in LaPorte, Ind. His CP causes limited mobility in his knees and chronic spasticity — stiffness — in his legs.
But Tubaugh, who graduated in May as a Business Management major with a minor in Communication, made an impact for Pilots baseball in his four seasons as a student manager for the NAIA program based in Mishawaka, Ind.
His primary gameday duty was keeping score, including spray charts for the opponents.
Based on the plays Tubaugh was charting, he was able to relay valuable information to Bethel head coach Seth Zartman or assistant Kiel Boynton that could be used against an opponent.
“I do have a part to play in match-ups,” says Tubaugh, who helped the Pilots go 11-0 in the fall of 2019 and 8-7 in the spring of 2020 before COVID-19 put an end to the season. “I take my job vary seriously.
“We took charge as a senior class (in 2019-20). We came together and played team baseball. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball field to this point.”
Tubaugh was also able to point out trends like a foe’s ability to steal bases and or offensive trends. These tendencies were more pronounced in Crossroads League games where teams see each other so often.
“You do anything you can to get a leg up on (conference opponents),” says Tubaugh. “This is a way I can be productive and help the team win.
“It’s a lot of fun and I enjoy that.”
Now working toward a masters degree in Organizational Leadership, Tubaugh has taken on the new position of director of baseball operations.
“I enjoy the camaraderie of it all and the sense of family,” says Tubaugh. “I’ve grown a lot with the guys and grown close to the coaches as well.
“I just love baseball. I’d do anything to be around the game. I’m blessed to be where I’m at for a fifth year.”
As director of ops, Tubaugh monitors the Internet and social media to help with recruiting leads, facilitates practices with the running of drills and he will continue to keep the book — something he learned while working with Bethel assistant Dick Siler, who was on the staff for 23 seasons and passed away July 20 at 84.
“Coach Siler taught me a lot about keeping the book,” says Tubaugh, 23. “In high school, I did not have a lot of experience with it. I sat next to (Siler) every year for three years and picked up a lot of knowledge of the game.
“I miss him dearly. He lived a great life. That’s what keeps me comforted.”
Tubaugh also looks up to Zartman and Boynton.
“I love him for many reasons,” says Tubaugh of Zartman aka Coach Z. “He’s one of my heroes. He is grounded in what really matters. It’s not a win at all costs mentality with him. It’s how you win — with respect for your opponents and you put God in the center of it all.
“(Boynton) has mild form of cerebral palsy like I do. He’s been a mentor. Coach K and I talk almost everyday. He’s been instrumental in giving me that confidence in my coaching career.”
Tubaugh chose Organizational Leadership for his masters because it clicks with his personality and his aspirations.
“I’m a big people person,” says Tubaugh. “If you treat your employees well, organizational culture goes a long way toward positive productivity.
“Baseball overlays with that. My ultimate goal in life is to start an organization that allows kids with physical disabilities to play baseball. That’s my dream.”
Born in Chicago, Tubaugh moved to LaPorte at a young age and played T-ball and machine pitch until his legs would no longer let him.
“He changed my life,” says Tubaugh, who now had an outlet for the sport he loved.
Tubaugh appreciates the history of the game and how it relates to this country.
“I remember reading about Jackie Robinson (breaking the color line) and what that meant,” says Tubaugh. “From a game standpoint, It’s really a mental game more than anything. The person who perseveres through adversity will come out on top. It’s about encouraging and being mentally tough.
“And there’s always something going on in the game.”
The pandemic has made baseball look differently at Bethel. All classes are now virtual. In the fall, the Pilots were able to conduct workouts, but they had to pay attention to social distancing.
“We had a lot of intrasquad scrimmages and small-group practices,” says Tubaugh. “It’s not ideal by any means. But it’s what was necessary to stay safe.
“If you want to play baseball that’s what you do.”
Patrick’s parents are Brian Tubaugh and Mary Drewes. His stepmother is Kathie Tubaugh. His stepfather is Steve Drewes. Sister Alli Tubaugh, a LaPorte High grad, earned her Bethel diploma in 2019. Stepbrothers are Dylan Drewes, Gavin Drewes and Owen Drewes. Dylan graduated from Greenwood (Ind.) High School and the other two are still in high school.
Melton was 21 when the corner infielder and outfielder came to Evansville in 1967 and hit nine home runs and drove in 72 runs. He made his Major League Baseball debut with Chicago in 1968 and led the American League in home runs in 1971 with 33.
Herrmann was a 19-year-old catcher in 1966 and was with Chicago briefly in 1967 before coming back to Evansville in 1967 and 1968. He stuck with the parent White Sox in 1969.
Cotton Nash, who had been a basketball All-American at the University of Kentucky and played in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warrior and ABA with the Kentucky Colonels, was played with Evansville in 1967, 1968 and 1970, belting 33 homers in the first season of the Triplets.
In a group shot, left-handed pitcher Lester Clinkscales is in the middle of the frame. His son, Sherard Clinkscales, was a standout at Purdue who was selected in the first round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals and is now athletic director at Indiana State University.
Wirthwein captures roughly the first century of Evansville baseball in a book published March 2, 2020.
Through library files, digitized publications and the resources of the Society for American Baseball Research, he uncovered details about teams and characters going back to the Civil War, which ended in 1865.
Bosse Field, which is now the third-oldest professional baseball park in use (behind Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field) came on the scene in 1915.
Growing up, Wirthwein played youth baseball and then plenty of slow pitch softball.
He graduated from Harrison High School in 1972. He earned a journalism degree at Butler University in Indianapolis in 1976 and took job at The Brownsburg (Ind.) Guide, where he covered everything from sports to the city council and was also a photographer.
After that, he covered trap shooting for Trap & Field Magazine and had a short stint as editor at the Zionsville (Ind.) Times.
Desiring more in his paycheck, Wirthwein went back to Butler and began preparing for his next chapter. He worked toward a Masters of Business Administration (which was completed in 1991) and worked a decade at AT&T and then more than 20 years managing several departments at CNO Financial Group (formerly Conseco) before retiring in June 2019.
“I got lost for 30-plus years,” says Wirthwein, who has returned to his writing roots.
About three years before his last day at CNO he began researching his Evansville baseball book.
“I slowly assembled and had a manuscript shortly before retirement,” says Wirthwein, who is married with four daughters and resides in Fishers, Ind.
When it came time to find someone to produce the book, he found The History Press, a division of Arcadia Publishing that specializes in regional history.
It took a bit of digging to unearth the treasures from the early years. He was amazed that little had been written about the pre-Bosse Field era.
He did find details on teams like Resolutes, Blues, Brewers, Hoosiers and Blackbirds — all of which seemed to have monetary difficulties and scandals swirling around them.
“The whole 1800’s was just a mess,” says Wirthwein. “Teams were coming and going. Financial failures were everywhere.”
Jumping contracts was very commonplace in 19th century baseball. They were often not worth the paper they were written on since a player could get an offer for more money and be on the next train to that city.
To try to combat this, Evansville joined the League Alliance in 1877. It was a group of major and minor league teams assembled to protect player contracts.
It always seemed to be about money.
The 1895 Evansville Blackbirds led the Class B Southern League for much of the season. But, being nearly destitute, the club began throwing games for a sum that Wirthwein discovered to be about $1,500.
The Atlanta Crackers were supposed to be the beneficiary of the blown ballgames, but it was the Nashville Seraphs who won the pennant. Evansville finished in third — 4 1/2 games back.
In 1901, catcher Frank Roth hit 36 home runs for the Evansville River Rats of the Three-I League.
“The Evansville paper thought that to be a world record,” says Wirthwein.
The wooden park on Louisiana, which was built in 1889 near the Evansville stockyards, was in disrepair by 1914 when it collapsed and injured 42 spectators.
Seeing an opportunity, Evansville mayor Benjamin Bosse sprang into action.
“The city had bought this big plot of land,” says Wirthwein. “(Bosse Field) was built in a matter of months.
“He was ready.”
Unusual for its time, Bosse Field was meant to be a multi-purpose facility from the beginning and became home not only to baseball, but football games, wrestling matches and more.
Wirthstein’s book tells the story of Evansville native Sylvester Simon, who played for the St. Louis Browns in 1923 and 1924.
In the fall of 1926, he lost three fingers on his left hand and part of his palm while working in a furniture factory.
He came back to baseball using a customized grip on his bat and with a glove that was repaired using a football protector and played for the Evansville Hubs in 1927 and had pro stops with the Central League’s Fort Wayne (Ind.) Chiefs in 1928 and 1930 and played his last season with the Three-I League’s Quincy (Ill.) Indians in 1932. His bat and glove are at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Hall of Famers Edd Roush (1912-13 Yankees/River Rats), Chuck Klein (1927 Hubs), Hank Greenberg (1931 Hubs) and Warren Spahn (1941 Bees) also spent time in Evansville. Roush is from Oakland City, Ind. Klein hails from Indianapolis.
Huntingburg native Bob Coleman played three seasons in the majors and managed 35 years in the minors, including stints in Evansville.
The Limestone League came to town thanks to travel restrictions during World War II. The Detroit Tigers conducted spring training in Evansville. Indiana also hosted teams in Bloomington (Cincinnati Reds), French Lick (Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox), Lafayette (Cleveland Indians), Muncie (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Terre Haute (White Sox in 1945).
Wirthwein’s research found plenty about barnstorming black baseball teams in the early 1900’s.
In the 1920’s, the Reichert Giants represented Evansville in the Negro Southern League. The Reichert family was fanatic about baseball. Manson Reichert went on to be mayor (1943-48).
“(The Reichert Giants) played semipros when not playing league games,” says Wirthwein. “They lobbied hard to play at Bosse Field when the Class B (Hubs) were out of town, but they kept going turned down.
Games were played at the Louisiana Street park, Eagles Park or at Evansville’s all-black high school, Lincoln.
“They started playing games opposite the Hubs and outdrew them every single time. The Bosse Field people finally acquiesced.”
In the 1950’s, the Evansville Colored Braves were in the Negro Southern League and were rivals of an independent black team, the Evansville Dodgers. Games were played at Bosse Field and Lincoln High.
What about the “Global” disaster?
Evansville-based real estate tycoon Walter Dilbeck Jr. conceived of the Global Baseball League in 1966. It was to be a third major circuit to compete with the American League and National League. There would be teams all over globe, including the Tokyo Dragons from Japan, and the GBL was headquartered in Evansviile.
“It’s a pretty remarkable story,” says Wirthwein. “The guy just wouldn’t give up.”
Happy Chandler, commissioner of baseball in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was brought in as GBL commissioner.
“I had never heard of Oscar Charleston,” says Beer. “When I found out he was from Indiana I was floored.”
The National Baseball Hall of Famer from Indianapolis and long-time Negro Leagues star just wasn’t on Beer’s radar.
With a sense of “Indiana patriotism,” Beer decided he wanted to know more.
Around 2012, he got serious about his research and decided to write a comprehensive book about the “Hoosier Comet” and his times.
“I had to learn everything about the Negro Leagues and African American culture and history in the early 20th Century,” says Beer, a Society for American Baseball Research member. “I was a baseball guy and had read a good deal of baseball history, but not black baseball.
“I looked for every mention I could find of Charleston. I did a thorough investigative job. I wanted it to be pretty definitive. The thing about biography is you can’t make things up. It’s not like philosophy.”
Beer won the Seymour Medal that recognizes the author(s) of the best book of baseball history or biography first published during the preceding calendar year and the Larry Ritter Book Award presented for the best new book set primarily in the Deadball Era.
Between 1924-48, he managed the Harrisburg Giants, Hilldale Club, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Toledo Crawfords, Toledo-Indianapolis Crawfords, Philadelphia Stars and Brooklyn Brown Dodgers plus East All-Stars, West All-Stars and Negro National League All-Stars.
Beer’s first reading about Charleston online showed him to be a bully and someone with an uncontrollable temper and not well-liked.
“That’s not true,” says Beer after much more research. “He got into fights on the field, but not that much more than other players did at the time.
“He was very well-liked and charming. He smiled and was charismatic.”
Beer learned that Charleston had an affinity for billiards and playing the piano. He taught himself Spanish when he was in Cuba.
“He was intellectual and socially ambitious,” says Beer. “He was fascinating. I expected a mean jock. That’s not who he was.”
Beer, who has also published a blog about Charleston, discovered that Charleston broke the color line for paid big league scouts when Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey put him on the payroll in 1945 — two years before Jackie Robinson played for Rickey’s club.
“I can’t find record of anyone who was paid to do that before that,” says Beer. “(Top Dodgers scout) Clyde Sukeforth is how we know about that.”
Sukeforth not only helped bring Robinson to the Dodgers, but another future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. Charleston knew well about the catcher since he played and managed in Campy’s hometown of Philadelphia.
After getting his undergraduate degree at Indiana and master’s and doctorates at Texas, Beer worked as vice president of publications and editor in chief at Intercollegiate Studies Institute Books. ISI produces books written by academics intended for an audience outside their own disciplines.
Beer is the principal partner and co-founder of American Philanthropic, LLC, a national firm that provides strategic consulting and services to non-profit organizations. His Phoenix office is three blocks from SABR headquarters at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and he helps SABR with fundraising. He also attends meetings of the Hemond-Flame Delhi chapter (the Indianapolis SABR chapter is named for Oscar Charleston).
While Beer is working on an anthology of Negro Leagues writing, his next book will not be about baseball. It will focus on Fr. Francisco Garces (1738-1781), a Spanish missionary priest who led an expedition across the Mojave Desert.
Jeremy is married to Kara, who is from the Phoenix area. Brother Jonah Beer is married (Sara) and lives in Napa, Calif. Sister Amanda Woodiel is married (Thomas) with five children and resides in Goshen, Ind. Ken Beer, who ran a real estate school and was a world traveler, died in 2018. Lynne Beer passed away in 2009.
Migley Field was started with some scrap fencing in 2006 and elements have been added over the years, including Wrigley-like scoreboard and marquee.
Before each home game, they play recordings of retired Wrigley Field organist Gary Pressy and the voice of radio play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes welcomes everyone. Regular-season home games start at 1:20 p.m. as do the Hometown Cup semifinals.
The Hometown Cup draws 70 to 80 teams most years. Twenty fields are used during Saturday pool play — some at the Little League park and some at New Prairie High School.
The Top 48 return Sunday for single-elimination play with the semifinals and championship on Migley Field. Dimensions roughly emulate those in Chicago. It’s 95 feet down the left field line, 98 in the power alleys, 100 to center and 93 down the right field line.
This year, all-time home run leader Scott Soos of the Newts belted his 400th circuit clout. The league has been keeping stats since about 2010.
While Hometown Days is canceled for 2020, the Hometown Cup aka The Wiffle® Ball Championship will go on July 24-26. The home run derby is July 24, pool play July 25 and the Top 48 in single-elimination plus the semifinals and finals July 26. The last two rounds are at Migley Field.
Past finals have drawn hundreds of spectators. BroadcastSport.net is again planning to stream the semifinals and finals on the internet.
ORWBL is one of the few Wiffle® Ball leagues around that has home fields for all its teams — Palace of Bourissa Hills (301 St. Meridian St., New Carlisle) for the Wildcards, The Garage (7564 E. 400 N., Rolling Prairie) for the Kings, The Barnyard (9352 S 150 W., Union Mills) for the Cyclones, Magic Park (Kesling Park, A Street, LaPorte) for the Magic, various locations for the Heat, The Spin Factory (3810 Lincolnway East, Mishawaka) for the Meatspins, The Goat House (53105 Ironwood Rd., South Bend) for the Billy Goats, Manor Field (2332 Kenilworth Dr., Elkhart) for BFAM, Cam Snead Field (51972 Gentian Lane, Mishawaka) for the Panthers, The Hideout (410 French St., Niles, Mich.) for the Godfathers, Rocko’s Park (29481 Lynn St., New Carlisle) for the Leprechauns, Migley Field (500 S. Bray St., New Carlisle) for the Newts, The Land Down Under (110 S. Harris St., New Carlisle) for Emery’s Army and Helmet Head Field (10109 S. 600 W., Union Mills) for the Goon Squad.
Week 4 (June 3) players of the week were Eric Wodrich (Meatspinners) in the American League and Nate Hansen (Leprechauns) in the National League. Wodrich went 15-of-22 (.682 average) with six homers, 12 RBIs and 11 runs. Hansen was 10-of-17 (.588) with eight homers, eight RBIs at the plate and went 2-1 in 19 innings pitched with a 7.68 earned run average.
The ORWBL plays tripleheaders on Sundays for a 24-game regular season. Playoffs run through August. Games are six innings and last 45 minutes to an hour each. The league plays with a pitcher, catcher and three fielders.
The pitching rubber is between 30 and 40 feet from home plate. There will be no called strikes, balls or walks. Batters can strike out swinging. Foul tips caught by the catcher with two strikes will also be a strikeout. The pitcher’s hand rule applies for outs. There is no bunting allowed in slow-pitch Wiffle® Ball.
It’s always been pitch-to-hit league. Every pitch has to have some sort of arc.
“It was built as a fun league — giving the batter a pitch to hit,” says Magic manager and ORWBL commissioner Alex Friedman. “You get action all the time. Balls are being batted into the field of play. Defense has to be played.
“People enjoy watching our style.”
Maple City is the defending three-time league champion. Friedman took over ORWBL commish duties from Keck.
Friedman says one of the reasons the league uses three outfielders is that Bourissa Hills — home of the former league champion Pterodactyls — is so wide and there’s so much outfield ground to cover.
Covering the world of ORBWL is the Don’t Get Wifflenated podcast. WiffleTalk.com follows all things slow-pitch Wiffle® Ball.
There’s even a ORWBL Hall of Fame.
The Dirtyard (1117 W. Epler Ave., Indianapolis) is known as one of the top Wiffle® Ball fields in the country.
Circle City will be hosting the National Wiffle® World Series there Sept. 18-20 (it moved from Morenci, Mich.).
The league typically plays Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. There is a one-day round robin tournament to get all eight teams to the field at one time and promote league camaraderie. That recent Sunday event went from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. There are lights at The Dirtyard.
To be a National Wiffle® member league, a website, statistics and video presence must be kept.
“It’s to prove you are a competitive Wiffle® Ball league,” says Circle City president/commissioner and Short Shorts player Brendan Dudas, oversees The Dirtyard in his parent’s backyard. “You have to be 18 to play for liability reasons.”
Most teams have there own Twitter accounts. Games are often streamed live. Podcasts keep Wiffle® wackos informed.
Dudas and has friends were middle schoolers fooling around in the back yard with a ball and bat in 2009. Four years later, Circle City Wiffle® Ball became a reality.
“It’s been slowly evolving ever since,” says Dudas, who played baseball at Perry Meridian High School and the University of Indianapolis and coached at Center Grove with former Perry coach John Carpenter.
“All the guys in the league are either former athletes,” says Dudas. “They like the competitive nature of sports in general.
“It’s low impact, a controlled environment and we still fulfill the competitive drive we all have. We enjoy being around each other and having fun.”
Circle City plays six-inning games. It’s 3-on-3 (pitcher and two fielders). There can be on a roster and all of them can bat. It’s 45 feet between bases, 47 1/2 feet between the rubber and the strike board.
“You have to have (quality) pitchers in fast pitch (Wiffle® Ball) or it becomes a walk fest,” says Dudas. “In the national tournament, it’s all about pitching. The recipe to win tournament is throw a shutout, make one big play and hit a home run. Scores are often 1-0 and 2-1.”
The Dirt Yard dimensions are 89 feet down the left field line, 97 to left-center, 95 to right-center, 102 to center and 85 down the right field line.
Dudas has observed that most leagues have fields between 75 to 100 down the lines and 85 to 110 to center.
“You get further than than and it gets hard to poke the ball out,” says Dudas.
When the 8 Balls joined the league in 2017, they brought snazzy uniforms with them and the league soon followed suit and now sublimated jerseys are a Circle City requirement.
“We encourage guys to run wild with it,” says Dudas, who cites Keck and the ORWBL as the inspiration for creating his league.
“It’s fun to do something competitive one you get out of high school” says Ratajczyk. “It satisfies everybody’s competitive desires in the summer.
“We had enough friends that wanted to do it consistently. We’ve embraced it as a weekend getaway where we get to see our friends.”
Traditionally a Sunday league, Griffleball went to four weekend tournaments (pool play Saturday and single-elimination Sunday) for the 2020 slate. Remaining dates are June 27-28, July 18-19, Aug. 1-2.
New players can pick the team of their choice. There is also a league waiver wire.
Every squad picks out new flashy uniforms each season.
“We usually sit down in January and February and brainstorm,” says Ratajczyk of Griffleball planning. “This year was the exception with coronavirus.”
While childhood 1-on-1 games between Ryan Galiher and Kyle Lidster can be cited as the genesis of Griffleball, the league’s modern origins date to 2010 when it played on a public basketball court and set up fencing around the grass — ask the Griffle Grounds in Highland.
The 2017 all-star game was played at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith and the league moved its games there for 2018 and 2019.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, a new field — The Warehouse, 5000 W. 45th Ave., Gary — was selected for 2020 action. Opening Day was June 6.
The first eight years of Griffleball, teams were kept intact year after year. The last two years, things were shaken up and there was a re-drafting of players.
Even with the moves, Griffleball has stuck with the same field dimensions — 60 feet down the foul lines, 85 to the gaps and 80 to center.
Griffleball games are five innings and last around an hour. There are four players per team though there is only a pitcher and two fielders at a time. Everyone in the lineup hits.
There is no catcher in fast-pitch Wiffle® Ball, but a strike board (which is 20 inches wide, 32 inches tall and 12 inches off the ground).
There are two outs per inning, five balls for a walk or two hit batsmen in the same at-bat.
Ratajczyk, who has played in all four National Wiffle® (formerly National Wiffle Ball League Association) leagues in Indiana, says fast pitch Wiffle Ball is all about the batter vs. pitcher duel and the scores of games often rely on the elements.
“If the wind is blowing, there will be no runs,” ays Ratajczyk. “If the wind is blowing out, there will be a ton of runs.”
The GBL has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Snap Chat.
LWA plays all its games at a six-field compound in an incorporated community near Crown Point on land owned by commissioner/president and Leroy Riot owner/manager Tim Wiltjer. The address is 4504 E. 145th Ave., Crown Point.
In 2020, the league includes 12 teams — Backdoor Sliders, Barn Stormers, Bushleague Badgers, Fabulous Flamingos, Lake County Liners, Leroy Riot, Marvelous Maniacs, Mighty Melon Heads, Noble Narwhals, Porter County Porkers, Squints Sluggers and Walking Tacos.
The Sluggers are the defending champions.
Ty Bothwell (a redshirt pitcher for Indiana University baseball in 2020) and Bo Hofstra (a junior pitcher at Purdue University) are on the Badgers.
There are seven players on each roster with four players competing in games. There are three players on defense — one pitcher and two fielders. The fourth player keeps stats or takes a break.
All four players have to pitch one inning, giving everyone a chance to bat, field and pitch. Regular-season games are five innings with two games a night. A team’s best pitcher goes two innings with one apiece for the other three.
Post-season games are six innings. Forty-eight players compete each Wednesday.
“It breaks up the week,” says Wiltjer of the preferred gameday.
A unique feature of LWA is that only the manager can stay with a team year after year while the rest of the rosters are shuffled.
“We start fresh,” says Wiltjer. “We don’t have a Golden State Warriors thing going on.
“As commissioner, I want to see our guys get along and get together. Teams from so many different cities with so many friend groups.”
The LWA is numbers-driven.
“I’m obsessed with stats,” says Wiltjer.
To keep things competitive, Wiltjer has devised a “salary cap” based on the batting and pitching numbers put up by players. All awards are stat-based. The highest salary is the MVP. Ironman awards go to those with the most at-bats or most innings pitched.
While the first official LWA season was 2014, Wiffle Ball was part of a Lawn Olympics on the property before that.
Leroy plays a hybrid style of Wiffle® Ball. Throwing fast pitch, pitchers can run up a count of up to five balls. After that, he moves closer to the batter and lobs it.
Once a 10-ball count is reached, the batter can elect to take a single or he can elect to keep hitting. At 15 balls, it becomes an automatic double, 20 an automative triple and 25 an automatic home run.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” says Wiltjer. “It gets runs all the time.”
Teams rotate among the six fields. Two fields are symmetrical with dimensions being 85 feet down the lines and 95 to center.
The four other wider fields give a flavor for Major League Baseball parks, including Boston’s Fenway Park (short porch in right and deeper in right center), Houston’s Minute Maid Park (deeper center, shallow left and right), Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
It’s 45 feet between bases with 48 feet between pitching rubber and strike board.
Batting lineup pitching lineup are the same and must be submitted 24 hours before the game.
The LWA normally begins the first or second week of May. There’s an 11-week regular season (22 games per team).
The 12th team does not make the playoffs. Teams seeded 7-10 go into a single-elimination “death bracket” with the winner earning the No. 8 in the Final Eight. Teams then play two-game series plus a one-inning sudden death game to break ties (if necessary). There can be extra innings.
Pitchers switch every inning during the playoffs.
“All four Indiana (National Wiffle®) leagues are very, very unique,” says Wiltjer. “That’s what makes it awesome.”
Going Corn is the podcast of the Leroy Wiffle® Association.
Indiana players are well-represented on the rolls of the Wiffy Awards presented by National Wiffle®.
Migley Field (ORWBL) was the National Field of the Year in 2019.
The New Carlisle Newts (ORWBL) had the Team Jersey of the Year in 2019.
Friedman (ORWBL) was National Commissioner of the Year in 2018 and National Manager of the Year in 2017.
Nick Arndt (ORWBL) belted his way to National Home Run Champ and Jay Ryans (ORWBL) tossed his way to National Closer of the Year — both in 2012.
Garrett Curless (ORWBL) powered to National Home Run Champ in 2011.
The Dirtyard (CCW) was chosen as National Field of the Year in 2018.
Mid City Moonshots (CCW) sported the Team Logo of the Year in 2019
Caleb Jonkman (LWA) was selected as National Player of the Year in 2017 and 2019 and thumped his way to National Home Run King in 2019. He also is regular in all four Indiana National Wiffle® leagues.
Matt Dykstra (LWA) was National Closer of the Year in 2016.
Brogan started the program 13 years ago in Chicago as South Side Irish Baseball. He ran a baseball academy in Bridgeview, Ill., and fielded three teams.
When Shane’s son, Stone Brogan, was deciding on which high school he would attend, he picked Andrean in Merrillville, Ind., and the move was made from Chicago to northwest Indiana. The Brogans landed in Schererville and the travel team became the Midwest Irish.
Shane began coaching at Andrean and has been a 59ers assistant for nine years.
The 2020 Midwest Irish have four teams — 15U, 16U, 17U and 18U. Brogan is head coach of the 18U team. Rosters are predominantly made up of northwest Indiana players, but there are some from Illinois.
“We get a variety of college level players,” says Brogan. “We have a lot of everything.”
Stone Brogan played at NCAA Division III Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind.
“I watched Division III baseball for a long, long time,” says Brogan. “There’s great players everywhere.
“There’s a stigma attached to all of these divisions. That’s not the case. There’s tremendous baseball at all levels.”
Nearly half of the current Midwest Irish 18U squad has been with the Irish for at least three seasons. There are 17 players — all from the Class of 2020.
Lake Central’s Brock Begesha (University of Dayton), Marian Catholic’s Adam Huekels (Niagra University) and Mount Carmel’s Nick Miketinic (Butler University) are committed to NCAA Division I schools for baseball.
Portage’s Xavier Rivas (University of Indianapolis) and Mount Carmel’s Ethan Imlach (Purdue Northwest) are going to D-II programs, Andrean’s Jacob Mullen (Wabash College) and Sam Nagy (Benedictine University), Boone Grove’s Austin Lamar (Manchester University), Chesterton’s Zach McKenna (Anderson University) and Marian Catholic’s Dominick Angellotti (University of Chicago) to D-III schools and Lake Central’s Doug Loden (Joliet Community College), Andrean’s Mason Sannito (Waubonsee Community College), Chesterton’s Max Weller (Wabash Valley College), Taft’s Ernie Day (Iowa Western Community College) and Illiana Christian’s Tavares Van Kuiken (College of DuPage) to junior college baseball.
Boone Grove’s Elijah Covington is currently uncommitted.
“There’s a place for kids who say. ‘I’m going to put in my time. I’m going work hard and I’m going to get good grades.’ If they do that, there’s somewhere to play in baseball. Then however it works out is how it works out.
“At the end of the day, we know that baseball only goes so long for some guys. It’s about a school and a fit and getting that degree. Are program has a lot of that which excites me.”
The 18U Midwest Irish expect to participate in seven tournaments this summer. Following the Pastime event with games at Four Winds Field, Ancilla College, Bethel Unicersity and U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, the organization is heading to Michigan beginning Thursday, June 18. After that comes a tournament with games at minor league parks in Crestwood, Ill., and Rosemont, Ill. The squad is to compete in the Pastimes 18U National Championship (The Irish were runners-up in 2018) at Butler in Indianapolis and at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
“We don’t do the excessive traveling,” says Brogan. “We don’t go to Georgia. We don’t go to Florida.
“I’m a big fan of Pastime. They are getting better and better with how they run their tournaments. They’re putting out more information. They’re shooting more video stuff. I’m really impress with the direction Pastime’s going. President Tom Davidson does a great job.”
With the cancellation of high school ball to COVID-19, the Midwest Irish have practiced more than they have in the past. Fields are northwest Indiana are used. Illiana Christian in Dyer, Ind., has been a home field, but is currently off limits along with all other high school facilities.
“It’s a strange, strange summer,” says Brogan. “I’m just so happy to see kids on the baseball field. Just being able to practice about three weeks ago put a smile on my face.”
Brogan says the Midwest Irish season might be lengthened by a week or two.
“We might go a little bit farther,” says Brogan. “We’ll just see how it goes health-wise. All my guys on my 18U team will be going off to college. Some may leave early so my roster might be a little thinner.
While you’ll only see Adam Piotrowicz donning one cap — usually a brown one with a gold “W” — he essentially wears three.
A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Piotrowicz as associate head coach. He also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon.
“I help out more with scheduling, budget and things of that nature,” says Piotrowicz. “I have more administrative responsibility.”
Piotrowicz guides the Broncos’ offense. In 2019, WMU hit the most home runs (32) since the BBCOR Bat era in 2010 and posted the second highest batting average (.287) since 2012. The team also scored the most runs per game (6.0) since 2008 and racked up the most stolen bases (50) since 2013.
When the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic brought Western Michigan’s 2020 season to a close after 15 games, the Broncos had belted seven homers with a .261 average, 8.6 runs per contest and 35 stolen bases.
“I’m a big believer in having a great two-strike approach and competing in the box,” says Piotrowicz. “It’s about our daily routine — whatever it is.
“Each guy’s different.”
Some hitters are focused on power and others are looking to get the most out of their speed.
It’s the routine that keeps hitters sane.
“This game will drive guy’s crazy,” says Piotrowicz. “Just focus on the day-to-day process. It gets you over the 0-of-10 slumps and keeps you grounded during the 10-for-10.”
It’s helpful to Piotorowicz to know the style of learning that suits hitters best — Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic — in order to best communicate and assist them with their approach, mechanics etc., while competing at all times.
“We want to be a tough out,” says Piotrowicz. “We want to make other team earn all 27 outs.”
Piotrowicz is also aware that all players do not respond to the same coaching techniques based on their personality. Calling a player out in front of his teammates may not be appropriate for one while another will respond well.
“Our center fielder (Blake Dunn), I can yell at him,” says Piotrowicz of a junior from Saugatuck, Mich., who he expects to go high in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. “He was a multi-sport athlete and football player. He needs that. He wants that hard coaching.”
The analogy that Piotrowicz favors is the mail. A package, whether sent first class air mail or standard third class will carry the same message and expectations regardless of delivery method.
Piotrowicz says Western’s recruiting territory is reflective of the 2020 WMU roster which features 19 players with hometowns in Michigan, nine from the Chicago area and three from Indiana high schools — junior Ryan Missal (Lowell), sophomore Bobby Dearing (Lafayette Harrison) and freshman Hayden Berg (Penn). The Broncos have received a commitment from Ryan Watt (Mishawaka).
Piotrowicz says the school has helped by making out-of-state tuition only $2,000 to $3,000 more than for in-state students.
Working with Gernon, Piotrowicz absorbs knowledge someone who has plenty of coaching experience. He was an assistant at Indiana University, helped Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) transition to NCAA Division I as assistant then head coach then was a Michigan State University assistant before his first season in charge in Kalamazoo in 2011.
In 2016, WMU won its first Mid-American Conference tournament. Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate Gernon has 210 victories as Broncos skipper, including 104 in the MAC.
“I couldn’t ask for a more supportive boss,” says Piotrowicz of Gernon. “He’s given me a lot of freedom and responsibility.
“(Woodson) gave me a ton of freedom and a lot of trust,” says Piotrowicz, who go to work with hitters, infielders, catchers and outfielders while splitting strength and conditioning with Schmack.
In 2012, Valpo was regular season and tournament champions in the Horizon League and competed in the NCAA Gary Regional, losing to Purdue and Kentucky.
In 2013, the Crusaders won the HL tournament and took part in the Indiana Regional, losing to Indiana and Austin Peay but not before knocking out Florida.
Piotrowicz got his college coaching start with two seasons at NCAA Division III Heidelberg University (2009-10) in Tiffin, Ohio, where they won Ohio Athletic Conference Conference and regular-season titles both seasons. The 2010 team won the Mideast Regional and competed in the D-III World Series in Grand Chute, Wis., beating Johns Hopkins and Wisconsin-Stevens Points and losing to eventual champion Illinois Wesleyan and Linfield.
Though he was a graduate assistant, he worked like a full-time coach and had his perceptions of what a coach is shaped while developing head coach Matt Palm’s Student Princes. He aided hitters and catchers and shared in recruiting.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Matt Palm,” says Piotrowicz.
After a season at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind. (now Bethel University), Piotorowicz finished his playing days at Manchester.
“(Zartman) was a good guy,” says Piotrowicz. “He was very big on team culture.
“(Siler) was amazing. He was very, very knowledgable guy and a down-to-earth person. He worked with catchers and made sure I was in shape.
“(Jimenez) also brought a ton of knowledge.”
Rick Espeset was and still in head baseball coach and athletic director at Manchester. Given his workload and Espeset’s young family, Piotrowicz and his teammates marveled at how organized he was.
“Practices were always detailed,” says Piotrowicz. “He did a good job of teaching guys how to the win the game.”
Points of emphasis included baserunning, defense and playing the game hard and fast.
“You do that and winning will take care of itself,” says Piotrowicz. “We called (Espeset) the ‘Silent Assassin.’ He was a psychology major with a very dry sense of humor. The mental side of the game, that’s where he was the strongest.”
Adam and Heather Piotrowicz, a former Manchester basketball player, have two sons — Hunter (4) and Elliot (1).
A member of the Western Michigan University baseball staff since the 2014 season, 2020 was the second for Adam Piotrowicz as associate head coach. The graduate of John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and Manchester College (now Manchester University) in North Manchester, Ind., also served as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on a group led by Billy Gernon. (Western Michigan University Photo)
Flash forward more than a decade after his high school days and Cohen is the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, Chicago’s affiliate in theTriple-A Pacific Coast League. The 2020 season is to be his third in Des Moines.
“This is Cubs country,” says Cohen. “Being the voice of a Chicago Cubs affiliate, it comes with a lot of responsibility.
“There’s just so many Cubs fans who come out in full force. You can tell that the Cubs fans are just a little bit different.”
Former major leaguer Darnell Coles was a first-time professional manager in Huntsville. Cohen and Coles experienced highs and lows together.
“He’s probably the best guy I’ve ever met in professional baseball,” says Cohen of Coles.
One high moment came when Coles summoned Cohen to the locker room before a game in Jackson, Tenn.
Coles had acted mad on the phone, so Cohen thought he was in trouble.
Instead, Coles introduced Cohen to former Seattle Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. The broadcaster — the one who had imitated a right-handed version of Junior during backyard wiffleball games — and the ballplayer talked for an hour.
Working in Bowling Green, Cohen learned to see the game from a unique perspective.
“It’s a really different angle when you’re calling from (the) third base (press box),” says Cohen. “Your depth perception is a little off on balls hit to the outfield (You learn to watch the umpire or look at the monitor).
“It’s fun with your strike zone because you can tell pitches up and down a little bit better. In and out is a little more difficult.”
The radio booth at Tacoma of the PCL is also on the third base side.
“The world’s most-interesting broadcaster,” says Cohen of Goldberg-Strassler. “He’s focused on finding that small detail.”
Along the way, Cohen’s baseball fandom has become tied to his employer.
“As a broadcaster in Minor League Baseball you are a fan of the organization you work for and the affiliate they are with,” says Cohen. “You see these guys work so hard to get to the big leagues.
“You root for them to do well and by proxy you root for the big league team to do well.”
While he tends to work solo on the road, Cohen has a color commentator for home games. Deene Ehlis has been a I-Cubs broadcaster in some capacity for three decades and can tap into that treasure trove of memories.
Ehlis, who for years was paired with Randy Wehofer (who is now Iowa’s assistant general manager), does play-by-play in the middle innings and Cohen moves over to color.
Cohen and Ehlis have developed a rhythm over more than 150 games together.
“It’s more a conversation with baseball intertwined,” says Cohen. “That’s our main job is to paint the picture for the fans.”
Legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas will always have a warm spot in Cohen’s heart.
His current favorite is the Cubs’ Pat Hughes. With Chicago playing so many day games and Iowa so many night contests, Cohen gets to listen to Hughes while prepping for his game.
“The reason Pat is so good on radio is balance,” says Cohen. “Pat paints the picture. It makes sure the fan doesn’t get distracted from the game, but they also get background information.
“He’s just so even-keeled. There’s no bad games. He goes 2-for-4 or 3-for-4 every game as a broadcaster.”
All have learned about the grind in a 16-team league that is so geographically spread out that it leads to lots to commercial air travel.
“From a travel standpoint, there’s no other minor league league like the PCL,” says Cohen, who notes that getting to airports in the wee hours, arriving in the next city at mid-day and then being ready for a night game is common.
“I’ve been through a lot,” says Cohen. “I’ve lived in a lot of different time zones. I’ve gone paycheck-to-paycheck up until Iowa job.
‘It’s both rewarding and time-consuming. We spend a lot of time away from your family and friends. This is the industry we chose. I don’t view it as paying your dues.”
During the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that has live baseball on hold, Cohen stays sharp by contributing to Iowa Cubs social media and calling simulated games for MLB The Show.
“It scratches that itch,” says Cohen, who was supposed to go out to spring training in Arizona March 20 (pandemic hit March 13). “I definitely have fun with that.”
Asked about his home run call, Cohen told the virtual gathering about his rule.
“My rule when I got into broadcasting was I don’t want to have a home run call until I make it to the big leagues,” says Cohen. “If I make it to the big leagues then I’ll have my own home run call.”
Cohen, who has also called baseball games for the Australian Baseball League as well as in Taiwan, Japan and Colombia and the World Baseball Softball Confederation, has visited or worked at three Indiana ballparks — Victory Field in Indianapolis, Parkview Field in Fort Wayne and Four Winds Field in South Bend.
“I love it,” says Cohen of Victory Field, the home of the Indianapolis Indians and a place about 45 minutes from the IU campus. “I love urban ballparks.”
For this reason, he counts parks in Nashville, Charlotte, Baltimore, Denver and — of course — Chicago among his favorites.
“I really like Wrigley Field because even though it’s not in ‘The Loop’ or anything, you can still see what Wrigleyville has to offer,” says Cohen. “(The Fort Wayne TinCaps‘ Parkview Field is) probably one of my top five parks I’ve ever been to in Minor League Baseball. They just did it right. They have enough berm area. They have enough suite level. It’s so open. You have a panoramic view of the city.”
Cohen says he was unimpressed on his first visit to South Bend in 2011 then he came back after owner Andrew Berlin made many upgrades to the place.
“That ballpark has taken on a life of its own,” says Cohen of the South Bend Cubs‘ stadium. “It’s Wrigleyville Jr. It’s so cool.”
Combining the park, fans, proximity to Notre Dame and downtown amenities, Cohen says, “I’m not sure if there’s any better full scene in the Midwest League.”
“It was a cold winter night in April,” says Cohen. “It was a 96 mph fastball running up and in.
“I’m not sure that ball has landed yet.”
Count Cohen a fan of Howard Kellman, who has been calling Indianapolis Indians games for more than four decades.
“Howard’s one of those classic voices,” says Cohen. “He’s so steady. You just know that he knows what he’s talking about. You know he’s done his research.
“In terms of pacing and verbiage and pausing, I really do try to emulate Howard.”
As a young broadcaster, Cohen does use advanced stats into his call. But he doesn’t force them.
“I’m not just reading them off a sheet for no reason,” says Cohen. “If Donnie Dewees is batting at the top of the order, you want to talk about his OBP (On-Base Percentage), OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play).
“That’s important to a 1- or a 2-hole hitter or someone who needs to get on-base. I don’t want to randomly read out sabermetrics.”
Any advice for anyone thinking of baseball broadcasting as a profession?
“With the contraction of Minor League Baseball, it’s tough,” says Cohen. “You don’t know how many gigs are going to be available at any given time.”
To hone their craft, Cohen prescribes repetition.
“Try to broadcast college or high school games,” says Cohen. “If you can’t, take tape recorder to a professional game.
“Email every single major league media relations director and director of broadcasting and say, ‘Hey, I have my own equipment. I want to get into broadcasting. Can I take one of your empty booths at a random game in May?’”
That gives the aspiring play-by-play man the chance to record a demo that can be sent to other broadcasters and directors for critiques.
“That’s how I got my experience early on,” says Cohen, who says he is open to the idea of being shadowed and then providing access to an open booth at Principal Park.
“You go through that process over and over and over again until you see jobs you want to apply for,” says Cohen.
Alex Cohen (right), the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, gets a visit in the booth on July 4, 2019 from Joe Biden. Cohen is a Philadelphia area native and graduate of Indiana University. (Iowa Cubs Photo)
After that came a very brief stint as a player with the Rockland Boulders of the independent professional Can-Am League. He finished out the 2015 season with the Pomona, N.Y,-based team as a player-coach.
In 2016, DeYoung was a coach with the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters in the Northwoods League, a college collegiate circuit. He coached catchers, outfielders and hitters for a team that won both halves of a split season and the playoffs. More than a dozen players on that team went on to sign professional contracts.
“It’s best preparation for professional baseball there is,” says DeYoung. “We played 72 games in 75 games.”
There were no days off for the Wisconsin Rafters staff with the league’s all-star game, showcase and postseason. That meant a stretch of more than 80 days without time off.
In 2017 and 2018, DeYoung was bench coach/hitting coach with the Crestwood, Ill.-based Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent pro Frontier League. At the time, the league was predominantly a rookie league and has since consolidated with teams in the Can-Am League.
“It revives guy’s careers and helps them get back into or have their first shot at affiliated baseball,” says DeYoung of indy ball.
DeYoung has pro hitters coming from all over Chicagoland to hit with him at the Omni 41 and Morris Baseball facility in Schererville, Ind.
As bench coach on a staff led by manager Iggy Suarez, DeYoung did many things. He coached first base and third base, instructed players on catching and base running and assisted Suarez, hitting coach Nelson Paulino and pitching coach Bob Kipper.
When Ryan Johansen became assistant hitting coordinator for the White Sox, he asked DeYoung to join the organization.
“The White Sox seem to be a really good fit for me,” says DeYoung. “They’re moving in a really good direction.
“It’s exciting to see the steps they’re talking and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
He will be a bench coach for Barons manager Justin Jirschele, who will be 29 when the Southern League season opens.
“I will aid in the work load and try to make everybody’s job easier,” says DeYoung. “I’ll collect data and just try to be the voice of reason.
“Genuinely caring about players. That’s how I go about player development.”
DeYoung is scheduled to report to spring training in Arizona Feb. 8. Before then, he will continue to teach lessons and clinics through Devin DeYoung Pro Baseball/Softball. But he’s carved out time to learn about players who may land in Birmingham in 2020 and for his family.
Devin and high school sweetheart Samantha DeYoung reside in St. John and have a daughter, Ella (7).
Much of what DeYoung knows about business came from working as a youngster at DeYoung Interiors of St. John, which was established in 1928.
“It helps you quantify things you can’t see within the swing,” says DeYoung. “You get a baseline and create a player plan. You can see deficiencies in the swing or a movement assessment. We can eliminate some guessing.
“We can find out what these players are capable of doing physiologically. We’re really early in the process.”
Devin DeYoung (11) talks with Dustin Pedroia during a Greenville Drive game. DeYoung, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., was a coach in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. (Greenville Drive Photo)
Devin DeYoung (11) talks with Jonathan Ortega during a Greenville Drive game. DeYoung, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., was a coach in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. (Greenville Drive Photo)
Devin DeYoung (11) coaches third base in 2019 for the Greenville (S.C.) Drive in the Boston Red Sox organization. The team’s home park has its own Green Monster. DeYoung is a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. (Greenville Drive Photo)
Devin DeYoung (left) sees relationships as the key to player development. He was with the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. The graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., is now with the Chicago White Sox system. (Greenville Drive Photo)
Devin DeYoung, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has known he wanted to be a baseball coach since 13. Here he is in 2019 with the Greenville Drive in the Boston Red Sox organization. (Greenville Drive Photo)
Devin DeYoung swings the fungo bat as a coach for the Greenville (S.C.) Drive in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. The graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., is now in the Chicgao White Sox system. (Greeenville Drive Photo)
Devin DeYoung, a 2008 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., knew at 13 and taking hitting lessons from John Maleee and Anthony Iapoce that his future was as a baseball coach. He was with the Greenville Drive in the Boston Red Sox system in 2019 and will be with the Birmingham Barons in the Chicago White Sox organization in 2020. (Greenville Drive Photo)
DeDario inherits a program that graduated several seniors in 2019.
“It’s a pretty fresh start,” says DeDario. “We’ve got two returning seniors and two juniors. The rest are freshmen and sophomores.
“We’re building from the bottom up. It’s all about fundamentals, playing the game the right way and having fun while we do it. I’m recruiting the heck out of the hallways. I’m probably going to end up with maybe six seniors now because of that.”
Demario led the Wildcats through IHSAA Limited Contract practice in the fall and winter workouts are now in progress. The turnout has been high.
“I’m expecting 40 kids for tryouts,” says Demario. “I want to keep 30.
“The kids are excited. I’m excited.”
Weather permitting, Riley will play a full schedule, which features nine road games to open the season.
Wildcats assistant Larry Vaznonis was a baseball and basketball standout at Hammond Gavit High School and Purdue University Calumet and is a member of the Hammond Sports Hall of Fame. He reached out to Purdue Northwest and arranged for Riley to practice and play on the turf at Dowling Park.
NIC teams play one another once and games are scheduled on Mondays, Wednesdays and sometimes Fridays. The Wildcats’ first conference game is slated for April 13 on the new turf at Penn’s Jordan Automotive Group Field.
Riley is part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with LaPorte, Michigan City, Mishawaka, Plymouth and South Bend Adams. The Wildcats have won two sectional titles — 1975 and 1991.
While retired teacher Vaznonis comes in as varsity first base coach, Mishawaka Police Department detective Mike Armey returns from the 2019 Riley season and will be varsity pitch coach.
Former Benedictine University and Eastern Illinois University pitcher and Notre Dame video crew worker Kyle Arnett is the head JV coach.
Mishawaka Police officer Jacob Craft is a JV assistant.
Former Riley all-conference softball player and current Harrison Elementary teacher Courtney (Armey) Mitchell is the Wildcats’ academic advisor.
DeDario and Arnett are developing a plan for pitchers with arm care in mind.
“We want to limit the number of throws put on each kids’ arm even at practice,” says DeDario. “When a kid pitches on a Monday, I don’t necessarily want him starting at shortstop on Wednesday after going through an entire infield practice on Tuesday.
“We want to be very diligent on how we’re using each kid. You have to be smart about it.”
Riley plans to return to using the diamond at Jackson Middle School for JV games and practices. The varsity will continue to call Bob Rush Field home.
DeDario is a 1999 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka. He played baseball freshmen and sophomore year. His freshmen year was the last as head coach for Lou Lanzalotto.
Football was the sport DeDario played throughout high school with Reggie Glon as head coach.
DeDario played some club baseball at Loyola University in Chicago. He earned an associate degree at Holy Cross College and received a bachelor’s degree in education from Indiana University South Bend.
He was on the football staffs of Frank Amato and, most recently, Jay Johnson at Washington, Joe Szajko at Clay and Amato at Adams.
For many years, DeDario has taken to the air waves as a sports broadcaster. He currently helps with color commentary and occasional talk show duty at WSBT AM 960. He is also a Notre Dame football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated.
Vince and Kristen DeDario were married in 2004 and have five children — seventh grader Dylan (12), fourth grade twins Ella (10) and Lily (10), second grader Chloe (7) and pre-schooler Liam (4).
The Bulldogs had gone winless when he took over the program and got to the point where they competed for the championship in 2017 and 2018 and won it in 2019
Jefferson played against South Bend schools and against Inter-City Catholic League and Catholic Youth Organization members. Besides public schools, the varsity played against ICCL squads and the junior varsity against CYO competition.
Many games were played at Riley.
“We built the program up so much that I had to have cuts the past two years,” says DeDario. “We had 40 kids coming out for the team.”
Some of those players will be part of DeDario’s Riley program.
Vince DeDario is the new head baseball coach for 2020 at South Bend (Ind.) Riley High School, where he also teaches physical education and health. (Steve Krah Photo)