Tag Archives: Chicago

After pitching in majors, Japan, Bullington scouting for Brewers

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Bryan Bullington left Ball State University after his junior year as the No. 1 overall selection in the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates he had visions of anchoring a big league starting pitching rotation for a decade or more.
It didn’t go quite like that, but the 6-foot-5 right-hander who had been Indiana Mr. Baseball at Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School in 1999 did pitch as a professional until age 34 and returned to the game two years later as a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers – a position he has held for the past five years.
“I’m super proud, happy and thankful that I got to play as long as a I did,” says Bullington, who made his MLB debut with Pittsburgh in 2005, pitched in 26 big league games (16 in relief) with the Pirates, Cleveland Indians, Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals, made several minor league stops and hurled four full seasons and part of a fifth in Japan. Starting with an 11-0 ledger, he tossed the first four with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp (38-31 from 2011-14) and the beginning of 2015 with the Orix Buffaloes.
“During my playing career I did a little bit of everything and had different experiences.”
Bullington had labrum surgery in 2005 and missed the 2006 season.
When did not make the big club out of Royals spring training in 2010, (Kansas City drafted him in the 37th round out of high school but he opted for college) Bullington was presented with his first invitation to play in the Far East.
He chose to stay in the U.S. and went to Triple-A Omaha and got into 13 contests that season with Kansas City.
“We had just had twins in the offseason (with a toddler already in the house),” says Bullington, who is married to Lauren. “It felt a little overwhelming.”
Now married 17 years, Bryan and Lauren Bullington reside in the Chicago suburbs with daughter Bella (15 and a high school freshman) and sons Jack and Matthew (both 12 and sixth graders).
In 2011, the interest and opportunity to go to Japan was still there. Bryan did his research then headed to the Land of the Rising Sun – where he enjoyed the baseball and was able to share cultural experiences with his family.
“I loved Hiroshima,” says Bullington. “I had two great interpreters.
“I spoke ‘survival Japanese.’”
He could order a meal or catch a cab.
Bullington was away from pro baseball in 2016 then got a chance to join the Brewers scouting staff in 2017.
“It’s been very educational,” says Bullington, 41. “The game has changed a ton in five years I’ve been doing it.
“(Research and development) and analytics are a big part of the game. I learn something new every year.”
By examining the data, a pitcher can add a pitch to his repertoire, tweak an existing one or adjust its frequency or efficiency.
“We used to be hesitant to mess or tweak with what a guy did later in their career,” says Bullington. “You can put data in front of them and they can see there might be an avenue for growth or improvement.”
While he has helped out in spring training and at fall instructional camp and has helped former Ball State assistant Matt Husted at Wheaton (Ill.) College, Bullington’s role with the Brewers is not as a coach – he does that with his sons – he’s an evaluator.
The past thee years scouting duties have been combined with a mix of amateur and pro assignments.
“My experience in Japan lets me get some international looks as well,” says Bullington, who was traveling over there a time or two each year pre-COVID-19 pandemic.
After the 2021 MLB, Minor League Baseball and amateur seasons, he did go the instructional league and the Arizona Fall League — both in the Phoenix area.
Right now, Bullington is assessing minor league and MLB free agents and preparing for the Rule 5 Draft, which is slated Dec. 9 – the last day of the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
By rule, players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on their new team’s big league roster all season in 2022, otherwise they must go through waivers and be offered back to their original team.
Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary O’Neal, Bullington went 15-0 as a Madison Consolidated senior, pitching a one-hitter in the 1999 IHSAA Class 3A state championship game.
In three seasons at Ball State, he earned numerous All-American honors and was Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year in 2000 and MAC Pitcher of the Year in 2001 and 2002. He set school records of career wins (29), strikeouts (357), single-season strikeouts (139 in 2002), fewest walks per nine innings (1.55 in 2002) and career hit batters (44).
Bullington was with the Cardinals during Rich Maloney’s first stint as head coach.
“I talk to him every couple of months,” says Bullington of Maloney. “He’s been great mentor for me and a coach.”
Taking online classes in the offseason, Bullington completed his degree in Business Administration and Management in 2010.
He was inducted into the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014 and MAC Hall of Fame in 2020.

Bryan Bullington (Topps Image)
Bryan Bullington (Getty Images)
Bryan Bullington (Hiroshima Toyo Carp Photo)
Bryan Bullington (Hiroshima Toyo Carp Photo)

Berlin marks 10 years as South Bend Cubs owner; growth on the horizon

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It was on this date 10 years ago that Andrew T. Berlin purchased the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs from former Governor of Indiana and U.S. Navy veteran Joe Kernan.
Wanting to make the occasion memorable, the transaction came on Veterans Day 2011 – 11-11-11 — at 11:11 a.m.
In the last decade, Berlin and the Minor League Baseball franchise affiliated with the Chicago Cubs have helped make many memories for visitors to Four Winds Field.
“When I think about the last 10 years so much has happened – not just when it comes to baseball or even South Bend but the world at large,” said Berlin to a media gathering at the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Life-changing events have affected all of us as we go through the years.
“It all puts everything into perspective. What’s marvelous about baseball is that it provides a foundation for the gathering of friends and family and loved ones. And I take that job very seriously. It’s not just baseball. It’s about the community. It’s about the people. It’s about having fun and celebrating life. And if there was ever a time to do that, it’s probably now as the world struggles to re-open (from the COVID-19 pandemic).”
Berlin looks at the area near the ballpark and sees a rebirth in the past decade — not only commercial but from a population standpoint.
Downtown South Bend continues to grow the development and continues to enjoy investments,” said Berlin. “It feels safer. It feels more vibrant. And the stadium – I’m happy to say — continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of the community as well.”
According to AECOM, the South Bend Cubs provide $24 million annual economic impact to the region (based on information provided by the team).
Through various charitable efforts, the club has donated nearly $1.6 million and invested over $32 million into facilities that would improve not only the ballpark, but the community as a whole.
Plans are in the works to expand Four Winds Field (capacity 5,000 permanent seats), adding an upper deck and more suites.
“There’s tremendous investment that’s going to be done in our ballpark over the next several years,” said Berlin, who put millions of his own dollars into keeping the team in South Bend and upgrading the park. “We’re going to be enlarging the stadium and offering more amenities. And making it a place that is comfortable.”
The park – then known as Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium aka “The Cove” — was built in 1987 it cost a little under $4 million. He has been told that to built the same stadium that now exists it would run in the neighborhood of $85 million.
At the time Berlin bought the team from Kernan, Berlin was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Chicago-based Berlin Packaging (he is now part of defense firm Shield AI) and the South Bend Silver Hawks were an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate.
Near the end of 2014 came the opportunity to be tied to the Chicago Cubs.
“That was an extraordinary event for the team,” said Berlin. “But I also have to say it was a fantastic vote of confidence in South Bend and the Michiana region.
“The Chicago Cubs — one of the most-celebrated and oldest brands in all of baseball made the decision to come here rather than going anywhere else.”
Renowned third-generation Chicago White Sox groundskeeper Roger Bossard was brought in to install the field surface and a performance center modeled on the one used by the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., was built at Four Winds Field.
The 1st Source Bank Performance Center is used not only by the pros but by the community.
The stadium is also ringed by four apartment buildings – The Ivy at Berlin Place. It is currently 98 percent occupied with two commercial spaces — one 6,000-square feet and one 4,000-square feet available for lease.
In 2021 — with the restructuring of Minor League Baseball under the oversight of Major League Baseball Player Development Contracts were moved from two- or four-year arrangements to 10. South Bend is in the High-A Central League.
The South Bend Cubs’ lease with the city has 20 more years on it.
After having no games in 2020, South Bend drew 217,066 in 2021. In 2019, that number was 319,616.
The Indiana General Assembly passed the Professional Sports Development Act, which benefits the baseball team and other downtown places and businesses.
“Taxes collected in this area – rather than going down to Indianapolis — can stay here in South Bend and can help pay for some of the renovations for Four Winds Field without increasing taxes across the board. In fact, the PSDA wouldn’t even exist if the South Bend Cubs weren’t here.
Berlin notes that the expansion will help the team better cater its fans food and drink needs.
“Currently we are able to feed everyone in the ballpark with just one small kitchen,” said Berlin. “We’ve been able to make do with this, but in increasing crowds and increasing capacity we’ll have to add more back-of-the-house improvements like kitchens and storage.”
Berlin said light construction will begin before 2023 and then building in-earnest will happen after the 2023 season. In the past, smaller projects have been accomplished during the fall and winter months.
Berlin said he is hopeful that current supply chain and transportation issues that can affect construction will smooth out.
“Since we’re not going to be breaking ground for a little while, I have to think that there will be stabilization of the cost of those materials over time,” said Berlin.
What will the new capacity be?
“I hesitate to give you a percentage of increase, but it will be substantial,” said Berlin. “Of the 70 (home) games were have in the season right now, we’re selling out around 55 to 60 games a season.”
Those numbers are dependent largely upon whether and students being in or out of school for the summer.
Going back to 2011, Berlin was not sure he wanted to buy the South Bend team. He was convinced by Kernan and set about putting together his off-the-field team.
“Joe convinced me that this was a diamond in the rough and so we went forward,” said Berlin. “Once I was in, I was all-in. I learned in hard because I wasn’t going to get into a business and not try to be successful.
“And so I brought all the resources I could possibly muster. I was able to recruit some really amazing talent.”
Ever the optimist, Berlin sees his place in the community as a facilitator of memories.
Married with five children and living in the Chicago area, Berlin tries to spend at least one game per homestand in South Bend. Sometimes when his family is with him and the crowds have gone home, the family has a pick-up game under the Four Winds Field lights.

Andrew T. Berlin. (Steve Krah Video)
Andrew T. Berlin.

Hasper sharing love of baseball at Indianapolis Metropolitan

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

At 51, Roger Hasper still plays the game.
He’s also sharing his love of baseball with youngsters — many who are experiencing it for first time.
Hasper plays in the Indianapolis Baseball League and has competed in 25-and-over, 35-and-over and 45-and-over leagues. He came back to the diamond as a player at 41 after a two-decade absence. He has been a second baseman and third baseman and in his 35-and-over league, made the all-star team as a pitcher.
“I throw a change-up and off-speed — 75 (mph) at the most,” says Hasper. “I use (hitters’) aggressiveness to my advantage.”
IBL games are played at a variety of high schools with more than half at Grand Park in Westfield.
Hasper is also the head baseball coach at Indianapolis Metropolitan High School and an English Language Acquisition Paraprofessional at the Goodwill-affiliated institution with an enrollment of about 275 about 1.5 miles northwest of Victory Field that caters to “students with barriers.”
“We’ll get kids as juniors and seniors who are credit-deficient,” says Hasper. “We don’t get many freshmen.”
Hasper started the program in February 2020 — a few weeks before the COVID-19 shutdown took away that season. The revamped revamped Pumas debuted in 2021 as a club team and finished the season with 10 athletes. Only one had played baseball before.
“We have really good athletes here,” says Hasper. “It’s just changing their mind from basketball and football to baseball.
“We had a really fun year last year.”
Hasper, who was the lone coach last year, says there’s been a groundswell of baseball interest at the school.
“I’m looking at 20 or 30 kids,” says Hasper. “If that’s the case I’ll definitely need some (coaching) help.”
In 2022, Indianapolis Metropolitan will a bona fide IHSAA team with orange, blue and white uniforms.
Metropolitan is a member of the Greater Indianapolis Athletic Conference (with Crispus Attucks, Eminence, Indianapolis Washington, Irvington Preparatory Academy, Purdue Polytechnic, Tindley and Victory College Preparatory).
Last year, Metropolitan played two games against Purdue Polytechnic — one at Howe. Next spring, Hasper hopes the Pumas will be able to play and practice at either Howe or Rhoadius Park.
Hasper got his coaching start at Herron High School in Indianapolis where he assisted Rusty Hughes for five seasons (2015-19).
As a high school player and student, he attended what is now Prosser Career Academy in Chicago into the start of his junior year before moving to California and finishing at Los Angeles Baptist. He then went to College of the Canyons, a junior college in Santa Clarita, Calif. Decades later, he’s been taking two courses a semester at Ivy Tech in Indianapolis to finish his degree.
Hasper says he plans to give many of his players a chance to pitch in order to cover the pitch county requirement and because of lack of stamina for those just learning mound skills.
“I wouldn’t want to hurt anybody,” says Hasper. “Give me a good two (innings) and we’re good.”
Hasper also sees baseball as a leverage tool.
“You’ve got to get the grades to make the team,” says Hasper. “It’s bigger than baseball.”

Roger Hasper swings the bat.
Roger Hasper.
Roger Hasper.
Coach Roger Hasper and the 2021 Indianapolis Metropolitan High School baseball team.

Mysliwy focused on Whiting baseball development

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tim Misliwy has a plan as he guides baseball at Whiting (Ind.) High School.
“My main point of emphasis of the program is to focus on player development,” says Misliwy, who led the Oilers for the first time in 2021 after serving as an assistant on the staff of Adam Musielak. “I believe my job is to try to get the best out of every player. We focus a lot on drill work and skill development to try to help every player improve.
“I want to put my players in the best position to continue playing baseball at whatever level they want.”
Recent Whiting graduates Nicholas Semancik (Class of 2020) and Austin Crocker (Class of 2021) are on the baseball roster at Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting.
Whiting (enrollment around 475) is a member of the Greater South Shore Athletic Conference (with Bishop Noll Institute, Boone Grove, Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, South Central of Union Mills and Wheeler).
Hanover Central was the IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up in 2021.
Also in 2021, Whiting was part of a Class 2A sectional grouping with Bishop Noll Institute, Bowman Leadership Academy, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison and Wheeler. The Oilers have won four sectional titles — the last in 2019 (when they advanced to semistate before losing to eventual state champion Alexandria-Monroe).
“We have some big goals at Whiting,” says Misliwy. “We have goals of getting back (to semistate) and beyond that.
“We still have a few players from that (2019) team who are seniors now and they got a taste of that success and would like to recreate (in 2022).
“We were a very young program last year, which was my first season, and this year I’m hoping the guys develop and mature into a very successful team.”
Misliwy’s 2021 assistants were Steven Taylor and James Martinez and he hopes they will return in 2022.
The Oilers share a ballpark with Calumet College and the summer collegiate Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
“I love getting to play at Oil City Stadium,” says Misliwy of the diamond on 119th Street and very near Lake Michigan. “It’s a great facility and we are very lucky to get to call that our home field. A lot of teams want to schedule games with us mainly to come play at our park. The crew that takes care of the field does a great job making sure it is in great condition every year.
“I honestly think it’s one of the nicest home parks in the state of Indiana and we are obviously very proud to call it home.”
Oil City Stadium was host to the 2016 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period ends Oct. 16. With many players in football and other fall sports, Whiting did not have baseball activities this fall.
While the Oilers don’t have any official feeder systems, players tend to come from area leagues (including Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth) and travel ball organizations.
Misliwy is in his 13th year of teaching — all at the high school level. He instructs Advanced Placement Stats, AP Calculus, Pre-Calculus and Business Math at Whiting. He formerly taught math and coached baseball and bowling at Bishop Noll Institute.
A 2002 graduate of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, where played baseball for Caravan coach Brian Hurry, Misliwy went on to earn a bachelor’s degree as a Mathematics/Business Administration double major at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., a Secondary Education degree from Calumet College and a masters in Sports Administration from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Tim Misliwy

Mortrud’s Midwest Recruiting, LLC approaching 1-year anniversary

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

First-hand familiarity with the subject and the desire to offer something of value to baseball players and their families led Aaron Mortrud to launch Midwest Recruiting, LLC in October 2020.
Mortrud, a 1990 graduate of Bethany Christian School in Waterford Mills, Ind. (south side of Goshen), where his head coach was Dan Bodiker, played one season each for head coach Mike Frame at Huntington College (now Huntington University) and at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).
Oldest son Nick Mortrud went through the recruiting process while playing at Westview High School in Topeka, Ind.
Midwest Recruiting, LLC helps market players to prospective colleges in an efficient, affordable way.
Mortrud describes it as “Autotrader for Athletes.”
“Recruiting is a sales process,” says Mortrud, whose day job is National Sales Manager for Starcraft Inc., and works of the office near his Shipshewana, Ind., home. “College coaches are buyers of a product — the student-athlete. How do you connect the buyer with the product?”
Using his relationships with recruiters, Mortrud works for his clients to join the two parties.
Once he got the ball rolling last fall, things took off like crazy.
“I just picked up a kid from Australia who wants to play college baseball in the U.S.,” says Mortrud.
So far three players have found a college baseball home — Kaleb Fritz (Lafayette Jeff Class of 2021) at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Noah Perkins (East Noble Class of 2022) at Principia College in Elsah, Ill., and Carson Smith (Knightstown Class of 2022) at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne. Others are close to signing.
Full Midwest Recruiting, LLC services cost $95.
“What I’m trying to do is give as much honest and real information to families at the best cost,” says Mortrud. “Parents deserve to be told the truth about all facets of the game.
A profile with a players’ vital data goes on a website that recruiters can go to for their specific needs. For example: One coach might be seeking a left-handed pitcher who throws in the high 80’s and has such-and-such a standard test score.
Mortrud sees himself as an unbiased third party who has invested into quality measuring equipment that provides reliable numbers.
“The only thing worse than no information is bad information,” says Mortrud. “I don’t want to waste a (college) program’s or a kid’s time. Let’s be honest from the beginning.
“I have to maintain my credibility.”
Players can also be seen at Midwest Recruiting, LLC-hosted recruiting events. The next ones are a Fall Showcase Oct. 2 and Scout Series Oct. 3 at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. The first is a pro-style workout and assessment. The second includes spots for teams and individuals.
A Scout Series event is scheduled for June 25-26, 2022 at Huntington U.
Mortrud has experience as a baseball parent and travel ball coach. He is now with the Midwest Pack (run by Westview head coach Jason Rahn) and was with the Eastside Irish before moving from central Ohio back to Indiana six years ago.
“College baseball is a job,” says Mortrud of the long days and year-round commitment it takes at that level. “(Players and families) need to know what college baseball is.
“This may not be for you. How bad do you really want to play baseball?”
Ultimately, the decision is not for the parents but the student-athlete.
“That kid’s got to decide what he wants to do,” says Mortrud.
Nick Mortrud (Westview Class of 2021) — Aaron’s oldest son — made decision to not play college baseball.
“I know what its like to come through the recruiting process as a parent with a kid who does not want to go on after you’ve spent all that time and money,” says Aaron Mortrud.
Matty Mortrud (Westview Class of 2023) has more high school and travel ball to play before he might go to college.
Midwest Recruiting, LLC is on Facebook and Twitter. In the past week, Mortrud shared on Twitter what it takes to make it at the NAIA and NCAA Division III levels. Those numbers appear below.

Aaron Mortrud

Region-raised slugger Seymour selected by Tampa Bay Rays

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bobby Seymour strikes an imposing figure on the baseball field.
The lefty-swinging first baseman stands 6-foot-4 and weight 250.
“I’m pretty big and physical,” says Seymour. “I’m definitely powerful.
“I have a smart baseball I.Q. and play the game the right way.”
This week the 22-year-old resident of St. John, Ind., and 2017 graduate of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago was selected in the 13th round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays out of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. He is to travel to St. Petersburg, Fla., next Tuesday for a physical and could begin his professional playing career soon.
With one year of eligibility remaining because of COVID-19, Seymour has represented the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on the diamond for four seasons.
In 176 games, Seymour hit .320 (223-of-695) with 38 home runs, 45 doubles, 190 runs batted in, 135 runs scored.
With 21, Seymour was among the nation’s top NCAA Division homer hitters in 2021. Ahead of him were South Carolina’s Wes Clarke and Florida State’s Matheu Nelson with 23 apiece and Notre Dame’s Niko Kavadas with 22. Tied with Seymour were Northeastern’s Jared Dupere, Dallas Baptist’s Jackson Glenn, Memphis’ Hunter Goodman and Texas Tech’s Jace Jung.
Kavadas, a 2018 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., is an 11th-round 2021 draft pick of the Boston Red Sox.
What are Seymour’s best qualities as a hitter?
“Being able to drive the ball to all fields,” says Seymour. “When guys are in scoring position, you you just want to drive them in.
“You’re trying to do a job. You just want to want a good swing on something and pass the torch.”
Playing for Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter, associate head coach/hitting coach Bill Cilento and volunteer coach Joey Hammond (now head coach at High Point University), Seymour shined.
“It was an absolute pleasure playing for (Walter),” says Seymour. “He always knew how to get me to perform at my best. He made it a priority to make me better.”
Seymour could always count on Cilento and Hammond to throw him extra batting practice or help him with his defense. He went from 10 errors as a freshman to 12 in his next three seasons.
The pandemic shortened the 2020 campaign. Seymour turned heads around the college baseball world in 2019, hitting .377 with seven homers, 12 doubles, a nation-leading 92 RBIs (45 with two outs) and 51 runs. He was named Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and Dick Howser Trophy semifinalist. All-American honors came from Collegiate Baseball (first team), Perfect Game (second team), American Baseball Coaches Association (second team), D1Baseball.com (third team).
Seymour continued to produce even after being struck by what turned out to be appendicitis during an ACC series against North Carolina State. Even with stabbing pains in his abdomen, adrenaline and antibiotics allowed him to the stay in the lineup.
That summer Seymour played a few weeks with the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League and was going to join Team USA, but ended up having appendix surgery while on the Cape.
“My dad (Bob) happened to be there, which was good,” says Seymour.
Seymour did not play summer collegiate ball this year while getting ready for the draft, working out at The Max in McCook, Ill., home to Top Tier Baseball and his hitting instructor since high school, Matt Plante.
The power hitter was in the Northwoods League in the summers of 2018 (St. Cloud, Minn., Rox) and 2020 (Rockford, Ill., Rivets).
Born in Harvey, Ill., in 1998, Robert John Seymour moved from Homewood, Ill., to St. John with his family when he was about 5. He played in youth leagues from 6 to 8 then travel ball for the Region Redbirds followed by the Illinois Sparks and Top Tier Baseball.
Many travel ball teammates and opponents from either side of the Indiana-Illinois State Line wound up playing in the Chicago Catholic League, including Scott Kapers (now in the Texas Rangers system).
After a few months at Brother Rice, Seymour followed family tradition by enrolling at Mount Carmel. He father, grandfather and uncles went there.
Playing for Caravan head coach Brian Hurry, Seymour was selected as the 2017 Daily Southtown Player of the Year after hitting .561 with 15 homers, 10 doubles and 48 RBIs. In a junior, he hit .374 with four homers, 10 doubles and 51 RBIs. Mount Carmel was an Illinois Class 4A state runner-up in 2015.
Seymour made an immediate impact at Wake Forest, earning Collegiate Baseball Freshmen All-American honors.
Bob and Zoe Ann Seymour have three children — Adrienne, Lizzie and Bobby. The girls both graduated from Lake Central High School in St. John. Lizzie Seymour played softball and George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Bobby Seymour (Wake Forest University Photo)

Thoughts of American Legion baseball keep Cruz going during COVID-19 battle

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Antonio “Tony” Cruz Jr., came close to losing his life and the sport that occupies much of thoughts.
The COVID-19 virus struck the husband and father of three in the first half of 2020 and he spent 25 days of May in Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. — nine in the Intensive Care Unit. His oxygen level dropped to 55 and twice was not expected to make it.
One night he was visited by a doctor and nurse. Cruz recalls the doctor’s words: “Well, we’re not going to sugar-coat it. We’re going to be honest with you. You might die tonight. We’ve got a yellow legal pad right here. If there’s anything you might want to write to anybody, now’s the time.”
There was also plenty of support of his family — wife Ilka, sons Carlos and Santana and daughter Neveah and Amiyah, father Antonio Sr. (who also in the hospital with COVID but released before his son) and mother Lucy.
“It wasn’t your time,” is what Lucy Cruz told her son of why he survived and recovered.
Baseball also played a big part.
“Legion was always on my mind,” says Cruz, the manager of the South Bend American Legion Post 151 senior baseball team. “It gave me a reason to keep fighting and get out of there.”
Drawing strength from messages sent by coaching friends including John Kehoe, Joel Reinebold, Tom Washburn and Dennis Ryans.
“You don’t forget that stuff,” says Cruz. “It means a lot to me.”
While the pandemic caused American Legion Baseball to cancel its state, regional and national tournaments in 2020, Indiana teams were allowed to play games if they could provide their own insurance.
Cruz got out of the hospital and with air bottle in tow came to the place he considers his home away from home — the baseball field.
Jim Reinebold Field — named for the late Indiana High School Baaeball Coaches Association Hall of Famer —  is where the South Bend Clay High School Colonials play and Cruz serves as an assistant coach and home to Post 151, though COVID caused cancellation of the high school season and had the Legion team playing home games at South Bend’s Boland Park in 2020.
For his baseball foundation, Cruz looks back to his days at Maurice Matthys Little League, where his coach from 12 to 16 was Terry Cline.
“He is who I pattern my coaching style after,” says Cruz of Cline. “He was about caring and giving back.”
As a player at South Bend LaSalle High School, where he graduate in 1997, Cruz played for Lions head coach Scott Sill.
Cruz was a coach on Kehoe’s staff at South Bend Washington High School and also led the baseball program at Dickinson Middle School — going 23-1 in two seasons — then joined Joel Reinebold at Clay.
“Joel is so supportive,” says Cruz. “I’ve been blessed to be around him for so many years.”
Carlos Cruz (now 23) and Santana Cruz (21) both played for the Colonials, graduating in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Carlos attended Indiana State University for three years. Santana also played at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.
Neveah Cruz (who turned 19 July 12) has been around Clay baseball from seventh grade until the present and has been a student manager, director of operations and coach. This summer, 2020 Clay grad and Sport and Recreation major at Trine University in Angola, Ind., is Post 51 Juniors (17U) team manager and assistant coach to her father with the Post 51 Seniors (19U).
“It’s a good bonding experience with my dad,” says Neveah. “I’ve met a lot of good people through baseball — role models.”
Being around teams has given Neveah something more.
“I have a lot of older brothers now,” says Neveah.
Youngest daughter Amiyah is 11.
This is the sixth year Tony Cruz has coached American Legion ball. When Lenny Kuespert was no longer able to manage South Bend Post 50, Cruz started Post 357. He was 357 manager for two summers and after guidance from former Bristol Post manager Jim Treadway and Legion baseball organizer Joe Kusiak and consulting with post commander Mike Vargo has led Post 151 since the 2018 season.
“Legion ball is good for families who can’t afford to play travel ball, which can be salty,” says Cruz.
Post 151 baseball is supported through $650 registration fees and fundraisers to cover things like insurance, uniforms, hat, socks, field rental, umpires and, in the advent of rain, field conditioner.
If there’s any money left over, Cruz use it to buy Legion shirts etc. for his players.
“I always give back to the kids,” says Cruz. “It’s not about me.”
Custom COVID masks were purchased as well a Post 151 visors for players’ mothers.
Believing that Legion baseball is also a tribute to veterans and patriotism, Cruz outfits his squads in red, white and blue uniforms.
American Legion teams are allowed to roster 18 players for the postseason. There is a total enrollment limit of 6,000 in the top three grades for the high schools that provide players.
Besides Santana Cruz at Ancilla, athletes who have played for Cruz and gone on to college baseball include Hunter Aker at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., Robbie Berger, J.P. Kehoe, Mason Ryans and Andrew Washburn at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Tyler Bortone at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Tyler Cuma at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Gabe Galvan at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Nathaniel Garcia at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Chris Gault, Cooper Lee, A.J. Klimek, Andy Migas and Lee Timmons at Trine, Colin Greve at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., Dylan Hensley at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Roman Kuntz and Bryce Lesher at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Mich., Michael Payne at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., Hunter Robinson at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, Ind., Cole Steveken at Ancilla, Chantz Stover at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Tony Valle at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., Cameron Waters at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Community College and Gabe Yonto at BCA College Post Grad in Knoxville, Tenn.
Both 151 teams played about a dozen regular-season weekday games in 2021.
Thursday, July 15 at 5 p.m. and following and Friday, July 16 at 5 (if necessary), South Bend Post 151 hosts Bristol Post 143 in best-of-3 Regional 3 at Jim Reinebold Field for a berth in the eight-team State Finals Friday through Tuesday, July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo.
Other feeder regionals are slated at Highland Post 180 Regional 1-2 (with Valparaiso Post 94, East Chicago Post 369/Lake Station Post 100 Region Legion Expos and South Haven Post 502), Regional 4 at Kokomo Post 6 (with Lafayette Post 11 and Muncie Post 19), Regional 5 at Terre Haute Post 346 (with Crawfordsville Post 72 and Sullivan Post 139), Regional 6 at Jasper Post 147 (with Washington Post 121) and Regional 7 at Rockport Post 254 (with Newburgh Post 44 and Boonville Post 200). As State Finals host, Kokomo will represent Regional 4 with the other highest finisher also advancing. The top two at Highland and the winner at the other sites will move on.
Vera Cruz Tree Service has tended to customers in the South Bend, Ind., area for four decades. Recently, Tony Jr. took over the running of the family business from his father.
Not long after the Legion season ends comes the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp (the instructional league is heading into its 27th year).
Between seasons and conditioning, Cruz is involved with baseball about 10 months a year.
The diamond — and what it represents — is his passion.

Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr. (Steve Krah Photo)
Tony Cruz Jr. and daughter Neveah.
Neveah and Tony Cruz Jr.
A regional title was won by South Bend American Legion Post 151 in 2018.
Tony Cruz Jr. battles COVID-19 in 2020. He was hospitalized 25 days in May, including nine in Intensive Care.
Tony Cruz Jr. had to go on high-flow oxygen during his battle with COVID-19 in 2020.
Out of the hospital after his COVID-19 battle, Tony Cruz came “home” to Jim Reinebold Field, home of South Bend Clay High School and South Bend American Legion Post 151 baseball.
Jim Treadway (left) and Tony Cruz Jr. bond over American Legion, high school baseball.

Broadcaster Monaco to make first MLB call for ESPN

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mike Monaco, who began his professional baseball broadcast career with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in 2015, is scheduled to be the play-by-plan man for his first ESPN-produced Major League Baseball broadcast.
Monaco, a 2015 University of Notre Dame graduate in Film, Television and Theatre with concentration in TV, is to pair up with Doug Glanville and Tim Kurkjian on the San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks game at 9:40 p.m. EST on Thursday, July 1.
It will be Monaco’s first game working with veterans Glanville and Kurkjian.
“With those guys as accomplished as they are, it will be my job to feed off them,” says Monaco. “They’re the real stars of the show.
“I think the world of them as baseball minds and broadcasters.”
Working remotely from his Chicago home studio, Monaco will tell the audience what is happening for Giants-Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
“It’s very different. That’s for sure,” says Monaco of not being on-site. “It’s a credit to ESPN that they’ve built this model. It’s amazing to see how they’re able to pull this off on such a large scale.”
Monaco and his partners will have access to multiple camera angles and a statistician and work with a production crew.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Monaco had experience calling baseball remotely from the Big Ten Network offices in Chicago.
“It’s not as much of a culture shock for me,” says Monaco, who has trained himself to watch various monitors to convey the action.
The example he likes to cite is a ball hit into the right-center gap with a runner at second base.
“The camera might be showing you the ball landing in the outfield,” says Monaco. “You train our eyes to find another camera that might be showing you the runner.”
There’s also the judging fly balls off the bat, which is a skill even for in-person broadcasters.
“It’s the more reps you do the more familiarized your mind and your eyes get,” says Monaco.
While calling baseball or other sports, Monaco reminds himself that he is part of a team of commentators, graphics people etc., and that fans can see what’s happening on their sets and devices.
“It’s on us to accentuate, inform and entertain,” says Monaco. “In radio, you have to describe every pitch and every swing. You paint a picture.
“In baseball, you have time to break down swings and pitch sequences and tell stories. We make you care about a guy you’ve never heard of before, the stakes of a live competition and why the participants care so much and why the fans at home care so much.”
Hired by ESPN in November 2019, Monaco has called college basketball and college baseball the most for the network with some lacrosse, volleyball and football.
At the end of 2019, he filled in on New England Sports Network (NESN) for Boston Red Sox TV broadcasts, working with Jerry Remy and Baseball Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. He is scheduled to be pair with Ellis Burks for road series July 2-4 against the Oakland Athletics and July 5-7 against the Los Angeles Angels.
“Growing up a Red Sox fan it’s been special to be a small part of that operation,” says Monaco, who once dressed up for Halloween as Nomar Garciaparra, counts Jason Varitek as his first autograph and graduated from Cohasset (Mass.) High School in 2011. “It’s an honor to fill the chair of (lead play-by-play man) Dave O’Brien.”
Having watched and listened to Remy and Eckersley, Monaco came to appreciate their blending of hitting and pitching knowledge. He even knows the language of Eck.
“Cheese” is an excellent fastball.
“Educated cheese” is a well-located fastball.
“Hair” is a fastball with late movement.
“Moss” is what grows on a person’s head.
“Salad” is stuff thrown by a finesse pitcher.
“Going Bridge” is a home run.
“Johnson” is an important home run.
“I laugh as hard as anyone,” says Monaco of Eckisms.
Monaco called Cape Cod Baseball League games in the summer of 2013 and 2014.
He is grateful for the opportunity he had with the 2015 South Bend Cubs, where he worked with Chris Hagstrom-Jones.
In 2016, he was on the air for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps where his regular partner was Mike Maahs and counts Broadcasting & Media Relations Manager John Nolan, Team President Mike Nutter and Vice President of Marketing & Promotions Michael Limmer among friends in baseball.
Monaco did play-by play for Western Michigan University men’s and women’s basketball in 2015-16.
His first BTN games came in the winter of 2017-18 and he moved to Chicago more than three years ago. He broadcast for the Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox for three seasons.
Monaco’s resume also includes productions for the ACC Network and FOX Sports.

Mike Monaco

Whitehead promotes lifelong lessons with Park Tudor Panthers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s about baseball and beyond for Courtney Whitehead as head coach at Park Tudor School on the north side of Indianapolis.

Whitehead is in his 19th season leading the Panthers program. He is also the Upper School athletic director at the private K-12 school (Grades K-5 in the Lower School, 6-8 in the Middle School and 9-12 in the Upper School – 9-12). The institution, which has about 375 in the Upper School, sports a 100 percent college placement rate.

“We’re big on education-based athletics and helping shape these young men and prepare them for their future,” says Whitehead. “It’s about having them learn lifelong lessons through baseball and what it means to be a good teammate, be focused, win and lose with grace and learn how to compete.

“Pretty soon they’ll have to compete in the game of life and it’s pretty tough out there.”

As far as the baseball part of the equation?

“We want to be fundamentally sound, have a high baseball I.Q., throw strikes (as pitchers) and make the right play,” says Whitehead. “We play fundamentally well and we execute.”

Park Tudor has 21 players in the program in 2021 and plays both a varsity and junior varsity schedule. That means players are asked to play multiple positions and many get a chance to pitch.

“Guys have to be ready for their turn in the rotation,” says Whitehead, whose Panthers compete in the Pioneer Academic Athletic Conference (with Anderson Prep, Bethesda Christian, Greenwood Christian Academy, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Liberty Christian, Muncie Burris, Seton Catholic and University). 

The baseball-playing schools see each other once each during the season.

The Panthers are part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Cascade (the 2021 host), Covenant Christian, Monrovia, Speedway and University. Park Tudor has won seven sectional titles — the last in 2013. A 1A state championship was earned in 1999 (Bob Hildebrand was head coach).

Among the other teams on the PT schedule are Brebeuf Jesuit, Bishop Chatard, Crawfordsville, Knightstown, Lapel, Scecina, South Putnam, Waldron and Wapahani.

Micah Johnson, a 2009 Park Tudor graduate, was a standout at Indiana University and played in the majors for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. He is now blossoming in the art world, frequently traveling back and forth from Indy to LA.

Current Panthers senior C.J. Richmond has committed to Western Illinois University. Whitehead says he expects that underclassmen will have a chance to play college baseball.

Park Tudor plays its home games on its campus located on College Avenue — about three miles northwest of Bishop Chatard High School and three miles northeast of Butler University.

A large backstop/net system was just installed at the Panthers’ field, which typically hosts IHSAA sectional and regional tournaments but with the construction of a new wellness center those events will be hosted in 2021 by Cascade.

In a non-COVID-19 year, Park Tudor will usually field a sixth grade team and a seventh/eighth grade squad that take on area independent and public middle schools.

“This is not a normal year,” says Whitehead. “(Grades 6-8) are practicing but not competing due to the pandemic.”

Whitehead is a 1996 graduate of Crawfordsville High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge and longtime assistant Rhett Welliever and was a teammate of current Athenians head coach Brett Motz.

“My four years we won a lot of ball games,” says Whitehead. “Coach Froedge was a big fundamentals guy. We were the start of Crawfordsville being really good.

“We went 30-3 and lost to Portage in semistate my junior year. That’s when there was one class.”

A celebration honoring Froedge was postponed in 2020 and is slated for Saturday, May 15 when Park Tudor plays at Crawfordsville. Bruce Whitehead, Courtney’s father, was Athenians AD for many years.

Courtney Whitehead played three seasons of college baseball — two at Indiana University Purdue University (IUPUI) for Bret Shambaugh and one at Goshen College for Todd Bacon

Purdue University presented Whitehead with a Secondary Education degree in 2000. He earned a masters in Athletic Administration from Western Kentucky University in 2013. Whitehead is also in charge of awards for the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

As AD at Park Tudor, Whitehead oversees an athletic department that has 20 varsity teams, including baseball, boys golf, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, girls softball, girls tennis, boys track and field and girls track and field in the spring.

“I’ve got good people to help me to manage events and good set of coaches,” says Whitehead. “We communicate well.”

Whitehead began his coaching career at Lowell (Ind.) High School, assisting Kirk Kennedy in football and Mike Magley in basketball.

He was then a football assistant to Sean Tomey at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the same school year that he helped Jamie Sailors with Harrison High School (West Lafayette) baseball.

Assisting Whitehead at Park Tudor in 2021 are Toby Rogers, Fred Pinch and Madison Foster with the varsity and Brent Smith and Lane Waters with the JV. Rogers played high school ball at Bloomington South then at IUPUI for Shambaugh. Pinch is from the Washington D.C. area. Foster, a 2012 Park Tudor graduate, played for Whitehead and was on three consecutive semistate teams before playing at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois.

Brent Smith is the father of former Whitehead player Calvin Smith. Harrison graduate Waters played baseball for the Raiders then basketball at Calvin University in Michigan.

Courtney and wife Beth have two sons and a daughter — all attending Park Tudor — freshman Nolan (as in Nolan Ryan), sixth grader Camden (as in Camden Yards in Baltimore) and second grader Addison (as in Clark and Addison, site of Wrigley Field in Chicago). 

“My wife is a big sports and baseball person,” says Courtney Whitehead.

Many of Whitehead’s relatives are in the Nappanee/Bremen area.

A.J. Whitehead, who was a basketball standout at NorthWood High School in Nappanee and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is associate director of strength and conditioning at Purdue.

Courtney Whitehead is head baseball coach and athletic director at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis.

Crossroads Baseball Series helps talent connect with next level programs

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connecting baseball players who wish to play at the next level with coaches seeking talent is something that the Crossroads Baseball Series has been doing for more than a decade.

Started in 2008 by former Indiana University and professional infielder Eric Blakeley as an outgrowth of his Diamond Kings training business in northwest Indiana, CBS has grown to include showcases, tournaments and fall leagues in numerous states.

Blakeley ran Diamond Kings — former Griffith (Ind.) High School and Tulane University standout and current Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer Kody Hoese was one of his early pupils — for about a decade. 

Crossroads Baseball Series began as a way for “Region” area players to have exposure events without traveling to Indianapolis or Chicago. 

The first CBS event held at Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard include future big league pitcher Sean Manaea. Blakeley notes that 85 of the 87 players involved went on to play college baseball.

At Crossroads Baseball Series showcases, players work out in front of college coaches and play in prospect games against top recommended players.

There are 17 tournaments on the 2021 calendar with events in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. Many of these are for 14U to 18U players.

“We’re on the verge of growing our tournament space,” says Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series. “There’s a high demand for quality tournaments that don’t cost $2,000. We try to stay around $1,000 price point.”

Blakeley says college coaches can get on an RSVP list and attend events and receive information from them.

Rosters are collected and each player fills out an information form. Coaches have full access to this for free.

CBS provides social media coverage for recruiters and players’ families to share.

“We pride ourselves on educating the families,” says Blakeley. “We can get your names out there.

“The players have to do their research and count the schools that match (their choices).”

What Crossroads Baseball Series does, according to Blakeley, makes it easier for players to communicate with college coaches and do their research.

Blakeley emphasizes that college coaches will know if a player has done his homework on his program. 

It is even more important now that the competition for roster spots has become even more fierce with many players staying in college baseball longer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the smaller MLB Draft.

“It’s become a lot more competitive to get into these schools — academically and athletically,” says Blakeley.

The words of former Indiana University and current Arizona State University head coach Tracy Smith ring true with Blakeley.

“If you want to play college baseball, there’s a place for you,” says Blakeley. “You just need to do your research and go to camps.”

Travis Keesling, former head coach at Pendleton Heights High School, is Vice President of Baseball Operations for CBS after starting out as a coach selecting players for a showcase.

“Travis has a very good baseball background,” says Blakeley. “He knows the game very well.”

Keesling deals with finding on-field personnel, RSVPing college coaches and the overall vision of the company. He and Blakeley talk on a daily basis.

Nelson Gord, a former minor league opponent to Blakeley who resides in Illinois and is Director of Baseball for NCSA (Next College Student Athlete), is also Director of Recruiting Education for Crossroads Baseball Series.

“He’ll come to events and speak to parents about the recruiting process,” says Blakeley of Gord.

NCSA had purchased a platform called Coach Packet and CBS now has its own app that incorporates video, social media and results to the same player profile. College coaches are given access to this information.

The Crossroads Baseball Series staff also features field coordinators include Rob Fay, Craig Cotter and Austin Green.

Blakeley was a four-sport athlete at Greenville (Ohio) Senior High School.

“I was fortunate to have good coaches for high school and summer ball,” says Blakeley. “I got hit by pitch and broke my arm and did not play junior year of high school.”

The righty-swinging infielder wound up at Indiana through a relationship his coach had with Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan.

“He taught you some things about life,” says Blakeley. “There’s nothing easy about getting through a practice with Bob Morgan.

“He taught you accountability and taking care of yourself.”

As much as the process has changed over the year, one things has remained constant.

“It was word-of-mouth then and it’s still that way today,” says Blakeley. Coaches want to hear from coaches who they consider trustworthy and whose opinion they respect. “What has changed is technology. There is accessibility and instant updates now.”

Another change is the age of those being seriously pursued by recruiters.

“Recruiting has gotten a lot earlier,” says Blakeley. “When we started Crossroads in 2008, every single of the players had not made their college choice yet and were juniors going into their senior year. Ten years later, eighth graders were (verbally) committing going into their freshmen year.”

A shortstop for much of his four seasons at IU (1999-02), Blakeley was selected in the 21st round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners as a second baseman.

After his first pro season, Blakeley had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. He was in Class-A ball in 2003 and 2004 and made it up to Triple-A in 2005.

Released by the Mariners in 2005, Blakeley played for the independent Joliet (Ill.)JackHammers and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats before retiring as a player after the 2008 season. 

“I wasn’t trying to go back into affiliated ball,” says Blakeley. “I had my business and had gotten married (to Lake Central High School graduate Laura).”

Gary won the Northern League title in 2007 and were runners-up in 2008.

RailCats manager Greg Tagert invited him back for 2009, but Blakeley decided to focus on his business and having a family. 

Eric and Laura Blakeley now resides in Fishers, Ind., with daughters Isabella (10) and Gianna (8). Eric coaches both girls on the Fishers Cats.

“Sports can teach kids for the future — about adversity and how to overcome it,” says Blakeley. “Don’t think what might happen bad. Think what might happen good. 

“Failure is going to help you where you want to be. They just don’t understand that yet.”

Eric Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series