Tag Archives: Chicagoland

Conner teaching lessons about baseball, life at Concordia University Chicago

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

Kolin Conner is doing his best to get Concordia University Chicago back to the lofty heights the Cougars baseball program had become accustomed.
From 2008-19, CUC posted an average record of 35-11 including 40-15 in 2018 and 42-10 in 2019. Conner was the Cougars head assistant (2016-19) — years in which the school won four Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference regular-season titles and made NCAA Division III World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. During the span, CUC was ranked No. 1 in the nation and Conner was named 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year.
A graduate of Indianapolis North Central High School (2009) and Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2013), Conner took over as head coach at the private school in River Forest, Ill., in the summer of 2019. The Cougars went 5-5 during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 11-25 in 2021.
NCAA D-III rules allow for 19 total weeks of organized baseball activity — four in the fall and 15 in the spring. Concordia practiced four times a week during the fall.
“We did a lot of teaching. developing and evaluating where our guys are on the depth chart,” says Conner. “After last year, there was a little bit of re-establishing priorities for us.
“The work we put in now leads to success in the spring. It’s about holding everybody accountable. The overall success is much bigger than one individual.”
Conner says the most-important time comes when players are away from coaches in between fall and spring and must motivate themselves and stay on top of their academics.
“Here’s a 17-year-old freshman,” says Conner. “How’s he going to be when no one’s watching? That’s when good leaders and good people are made.”
Conner and his coaching staff of head assistant/pitching coach Matt Smith, assistant Abe Paz Agudello, assistant Connor Nelson and graduate assistant Kevin Garcia are getting players to create lifelong habits that will transfer into their lives beyond college.
“They get into the world world and (employers and co-workers) can trust these guys,” says Conner, who is currently busy recruiting, doing office work and getting ready for the return of players to practice after the Christmas break.
CUC baseball earned an ABCA all-academic team certificate, sported seven players with a 4.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale last spring while posting a 3.2 team GPA — the best among the school’s nine male sports. The Cougars typically have 10 to 12 academic all-conference selections.
The roster — currently at 36 — has 22 from the Chicagoland area plus Indiana’s Ben Collins (Chesterton), Elijah Hickman (Rensselaer Central), Brody Mariotti (Yorktown) and Westin Stutzman (Fairfield), six from Arizona (CUC recruits there each fall), two from California and one each from Colorado and Utah.
“We get a lot of good and smart kids that don’t have schools to go to,” says Conner. “(Chicago recruits) are used to cold weather and facilities and proud of the city they’re from.”
Conners says most players get some sort of aid — packages largely being dependent on grades and test scores — that takes away around half of the annual $42,000 tuition.
“It’s important that we’re getting the good character kid who wants to work and wants to win,” says Conner. “Those type of kids are usually pretty good academically.
“It’s no coincidence that are best players are usually are best students.”
A typical recruiting class is 10 players and Conner says he likes to have five or six signees around Christmas.
Conner played for Phil McIntyre at North Central, making varsity as a sophomore and representing the Panthers either as a catcher or outfielder and making long-time friendships.
He credits assistant/teacher Andy Noble for helping him in the classroom.
“He helped me find my way and who I was as a kid,” says Conner of Noble.
Conner was a catcher and first baseman in college. He played two seasons at National Community College Athletic Association member Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for Statesmen head coaches Mitch Hannahs (2010) and Kevin Bowers (2011).
Hannahs, who is now head coach at Indiana State University. was “very, very good at getting you conditioned mentally and getting the most out of people as players.”
Current LTC head coach Bowers brought Conner into the program.
“He really, really cares about the kids,” says Conner of Bowers. “He’s got a strong relationship with everybody he recruits.”
At Saint Joseph’s, Conner earned an Educational Studies degree with a Communications minor and played two seasons (2012 and 2013) for Pumas head coach Rick O’Dette.
“He’s the greatest guy ever,” says Conner of O’Dette, who became head coach at Saint Leo University in Florida when SJC closed its doors after the 2017 season. “He’s the reason I have a job in college baseball.
“He’s an unbelievable guy, a great mentor and cares about people.”
Conner played two summers of independent professional baseball after college with the 2013 Mike Braymen-managed Joliet (Ill.) Slammers and 2014 Andy McCauley-managed Evansville (Ind.) Otters — both in the Frontier League.
Kolin met future wife Lyndsey at Lincoln Trail. The Conners now have two children — son Leo (3) and daughter Layla (4 months).

Kolin Conner (Concordia University Chicago Photo)

It’s all about ‘family’ for Nowakowski, Calumet College of St. Joseph Crimson Wave

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

Calumet College of St. Joseph — a private four-year Catholic institution with about 380 undergraduates in Whiting, Ind., embraces a close-knit community.
“It’s a family-oriented school and we have a family-oriented team,” says Brian Nowakowski, head baseball coach for the Crimson Wave since the fall of 2012. “We do everything together (including community service, meals and study tables). We don’t single out a single player for any misdoing.
“When someone hurts we all hurt.”
When Brian and Jeannine Nowakowski’s son, Bryce, required two open heart surgeries in the first year of his young life and then a heart transplant at 2, the CCSJ family rallied with support. Part of the cost of tickets to the Midwest Collegiate League (now rebranded as the Northern League) All-Star Game held at the Crimson Wave’s home park — Oil City Stadium — were given to the Nowakowski family.
When Bryce was prepared for, underwent and recovered from his July 30, 2014 transplant at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the school allowed the head coach to stay there while his assistants — younger brother Scott Nowakowski and Juan Alonso — led the CCSJ baseball team.
“The school let me work from home and I never skipped a beat,” says Nowakowski, whose son is now 9. “I could never re-pay them back.”
With Bryce’s medical condition and his mother recovering after beating cancer, Nowakowski decided it was best not to travel much during a 2021 season effected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If I had COIVD I would not be able to go home,” says Nowakowski, who resides with his wife of 11 years and child in Dyer, Ind.
The 2021 Crimson Wave only played games in the NAIA-affiliated Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
“Competing in the CCAC is hard,” says Nowakowski. “We’re fighting for same kids in recruiting. All the teams are very competitive.”
Olivet Nazarene University finished atop the ’21 conference standings.
One feather in the Crimson Wave’s cap is Oil City Stadium, located on 119th Street in downtown Whiting with a unique oil refinery backdrop in the outfield.
“It’s a great stadium,” says Nowakowski. “The City of Whiting does a great job keeping it up. It helps in recruiting.”
Eight Calumet of St. Joseph players — Michael Biegel, Julian Espino, Kevin McCune, Thomas Montes, Cody Plebanski, Shaun Quinn, Glenford Wagner and Luke Woodward — made the 2021 CCAC all-academic team.
A typical mix, the current Crimson Waves roster consists mostly of players from Chicagoland and the Calumet Region with some international students.
“We find the best players we can,” says Nowakowki. “If you want to be a part of the school we’re going to take you.
“We have affordable tuition. There’s no in-state, out-of-state or intentional. It’s all the same.”
Located on New York Avenue in Whiting, CCSJ has an agreement with The Illiana, located across the street. In Oct. 1, the school broke ground on its first residence hall.
In 2022, CCSJ is to open the season Feb. 25 at Hannibal (Mo.)-LaGrange.
The following weekend the Crimson Wave plays a series at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga.
From there CCSJ goes to Lake Wales, Fla., to play in the Warner University Invitational and other games, including at Southeastern.
CCSJ finished outdoor fall practice about two weeks ago. The Crimson Wave did drill work four days a week and competed in intrasquad games on the fifth day.
Right now, players are at the Rittenmeyer Center four days a week conditioning with weightlifting and stability exercises.
Besides Scott Nowakowski (in his seventh year at Calumet College of St. Joseph), the coaching staff also features Nick Relli, Nestor Carillo and Rocco Mossuto. Elli played for Nowakowski at CCSJ. Carillo (Morton Community College in Cicero, Ill.) and Rocco Mossuto (Saint Xavier University in Chicago) are both former head coaches.
Nowakowski grew up on Chicago’s East Side and graduated in 1997 from St. Francis de Sales High School, a member of the vaunted Chicago Catholic League.
“It’s tough competition,” says Nowakowki. “There’s no easy games in the Chicago Catholic League.”
Nowakowski played for Pioneers head coach Al Lodl and was good enough as a right-handed pitcher to sign a free agent contract with the Minnesota Twins organization in 1997 and reported to spring training in 1998. He pitched in the minors that year and 1999 and then was employed in private sector jobs.
But the diamond beckoned.
“I’ve been a baseball guy most of my life,” says Nowakowski. “I missed the game.”
Nowakowski got into coaching as an assistant to Pat Montalbano at Hammond Clark High School and was a Crimson Waves assistant to Tony Myszak for one year before becoming head coach.
A few years into the job, Nowakowski earned an Organizational Management degree from CCSJ.

Brian Nowakowski (Calumet College of St. Joseph Photo)

Northwest Indiana adult baseball league lets men continue to play boys’ game

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fun, camaraderie and competition is on display at diamonds around The Region when the men of the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league come to play the game they enjoyed as boys.

Line drives and laughter filled the air Aug. 3 as the league gathered at Robertsdale Complex — home of Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth League — in Whiting for the NWINBA’s 16th annual all-star game.

Hours before teams managed by Luis Gonzalez and Geovanny DeJesus took the field, a home run derby was staged. Twenty-one players entered for $10 each. Danny Garcia of the Brewers took the $210 first prize, besting Theo Owens of the Cubs in a five-pitch swing-off.

The league, established in 2003 by Steve Carpenter, is for players 28-and-over but there is a plus-3 rule that allows for three players per team that must turn 25 by the start of the season.

The oldest player in the league in 2019 is the Yankees’ Hector Tellez, 63. He joined the Diamondbacks in the loop’s second season while working in East Chicago. Mike Bochenek and Wally Bochenek were in the league then and still are playing. He now travels from his home in Coal City, Ill., which is more than 60 miles from Whiting.

“This league has developed so much since it began,” says Tellez. “We’ve all improved — myself included.

“I’m fortunate to be on the field with so many good players.”

The season goes from late April through September. This year, there are 18 regular-season games plus playoffs. Most contests are on the weekends, but there are some Wednesday night games.

“We’ve played just about any place in northwest Indiana,” says NWINABA president Astros player Jeramy Ortiz. The main fields this season have been at Robertsale, Dyer Babe Ruth, Kenny Lofton Field in East Chicago and Heartland Park in St. John. Each team plays two games at U.S. Steel Yard, home of the independent professional Gary SouthShore RailCats.

Teams used Major League Baseball names and wear replica jerseys. The 2019 NWINABA sports 210 players that come northwest Indiana, Chicagoland and the South Bend area and features the Astros, A’s, Brewers, Cubs, Mariners, Marlins, Nationals, Pirates, Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees.

By league choice, players swing BBCOR metal or wood bats.

Ortiz is in his ninth NWINABA season. Why does he play?

“I love baseball,” says Ortiz, who is 38 and lives in Munster. “I played in high school (at Hammond Bishop Noll for Craig Pavlina and Doug Ferry Jr.) and college (at Muscatine Community College in Iowa and Culver-Stockton College in Missouri) and was looking for something different than softball.

“It’s Little League for adults. We have players who played just played Little League to guys who played in the pros.”

There are a number of former college players, including those from NCAA Division I schools.

Pitching varies widely.

“There are guys who bring it and those who use control and junk,” says Ortiz.

Will Lanter, 45, is manager of the Mariners and in his 10th season.

“I don’t want to give up the game yet,” says Lanter. “This is family. It’s friends.”

Many games feature full bleachers. There are cookouts on Father’s Day weekend. Little League players come out and watch the older generation.

Like Ortiz, Lanter is involved at Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth. They have helped with field maintenance, fundraisers and more.

“We need to keep the program going,” says Lanter of the youth league. “Without these programs, these kids have nowhere to go.”

In his 10th season, Mike Gerlach, 53, lives in Crown Point and is Red Sox manager. He is a former youth coach. He once coached his son, Mitchell, and now father and son are teammates. Mike’s brother, Keith, also plays for the team.

“It’s one big family in this league,” says Mike Gerlach.

Kyle Hon, 28, resides in Cedar Lake and is manager of the Mariners. This is his third NWINABA campaign. He is a Lake Central High School graduate. He did not play baseball for LC, but has been involved with travel ball or town ball since age 5. He played in a now-defunct adult league in Crown Point.

“I love the game,” says Hon. “I want to play until Father Time tells me I can’t.”

Ken Henriott, 43, played for legendary LaPorte High School coach Ken Schreiber.

“He was probably the best coach in the country,” says Henriott of the man inducted into 13 different halls of fame.

Henriott played for Schreiber’s Slicers and then at Southwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University.

In his first season in the league and an all-star representing the Yankees, Henriott enjoys playing in front of his two children.

“It means a lot to me,” says Henriott. “They get to see what they couldn’t see back in the day.

“I’m a pitcher and I can still hang with these guys. You always keep the batter guessing. It goes back to the basics. You use your fastball and change-up and then the curveball or slider.

“It’s the pitcher against the hitter — always. It’s a chess game. It’s tough to fool these guys. They’re all good players.”

Luis Gonzalez, 35, is manager of the Yankees. The Hammond resident is in his third season in the league. He played at George Washington High School in Chicago.

“I like this league because it caters to older players,” says Gonzalez. “I can’t keep up with the high school kids.

“It’s competitive and a lot of fun.”

Gonzalez says adult baseball for someone married with children is ruled by two things.

“It’s what you’re family is willing to let you do and if your body can keep it up,” says Gonzalez.

Chris Evans, 32, lives in Hammond and is manager of the Nationals. He is in his fourth NWINABA season.

He entered the league as White Sox infielder, managed the Diamondbacks for one season then spent the off-season recruiting players for the Nationals.

“Last year we had a pretty good team,” says Evans, who currently skippers an 8-5 squad.

Ortiz says the league is looking to expand and may create a 38-and-over division in 2020. The NABA, headquartered in Littleton, Colo., allows for flexibility in local leagues and sponsors events for various age divisions, including 50-and-over, 60-and-over and 65-plus.

For more information on the Northwest Indiana League, email NWINABABaseball@gmail.com.

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James Frasure (Cubs) swings for the fences during the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star home run derby Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Theo Owens (Cubs) competes the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star home run derby Aug. 3 in Whiting. Danny Garcia (Brewers) beat Owens in the finals. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Derrick Goad (Tigers) smack the ball during the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star home run derby Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Jeremy Ortiz (Astros) gets loose for the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star game Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)LUISGONZALEZCHRISEVANSNWINABA

Luis Gonzalez (Yankees) and Chris Evans (Nationals) consult prior to the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The patch for the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league all-star game Aug. 3 in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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The Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league has a close relationship with the Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth League and held its all-star festivities Aug. 3 at Robertsdale Complex in Whiting. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Jeramy Ortiz (Astros) is president of the Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league.

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The Northwest Indiana National Adult Baseball Association league held its all-star festivities Aug. 3 at Robertsdale Complex in Whiting. (NWINABA Photo)