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Baseball odyssey takes many twists, turns for Vincennes native Ashley

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nevin Ashley always wanted to be in charge on a baseball field.

Coach Bill Cary let him play different positions on the North Knox High School team.

But Ashley was always drawn back to catcher.

“He was great because he knew at that age I had a future in baseball,” says Ashley. “He challenged to think about the game in a little bit more of an in-depth way. That really helped me, especially as a catcher.”

Cary, who was on the South staff for the 2006 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches All-Star Series when Terre Haute North Vigo catcher Josh Phegley was MVP, encouraged Ashley to call pitches and manage the game on the field.

“I began taking extra time to read batters and see any adjustments they might make,” says Ashley. “That helped me have the long career that I had.”

The 2003 North Knox graduate went on to play three seasons at Indiana State University (2004-06) and 11 in professional baseball.

At ISU, he learned much from head coach Bob Warn and pitching coach C.J. Keating.

Warn’s last season with the Sycamores was also Ashley’s last in Terre Haute.

“He was definitely an old school baseball coach,” says Ashley of American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Warn. “He was a good influence on my career. I learned his will to win and how important it was.”

Keating and Ashley went over scouting reports so the receiver would know the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. He would study the starters and potential pinch-hitters the night before games.

“I met a lot of good people at Indiana State that I stay in contact with,” says Ashley. “I was fortunate for those years of my life.”

Ashley was selected in the sixth round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and set out on a long minor league journey.

From team to team and organization to organization, he just kept going.

“I had a lot of perseverance and a lot of people in my corner,” says Ashley, the son of Dan and Jamie Ashley, younger brother of Natalie and Nathan, the grandson of Robert and Patricia Ashley and Jim and the late Shirley Cardinal, the husband of Ashley (yes, she’s Ashley Ashley) and father of two boys — Gaige (5) and Aiden (1).

His parents rarely missed a home game while Nevin was in college and came to see him whenever possible when he became a professional.

Not able to travel much, his paternal grandparents followed on the Internet. If the feed went bad or something about their Nevin on-air was incorrect, they were sure to get a phone call.

“She knows best, so you better listen to her,” says Nevin of Grammy Ashley.

Nevin, who was born in Vincennes, began his baseball players tagging along with Nathan at the Vincennes Cub League. Heading into his freshmen year at North Knox, Nevin played American Legion Baseball in Vincennes. His next three summers were spent with the Indiana Bulls. He went back to Legion ball for the summer prior to Indiana State.

Ashley played for the Springfield Rifles in the Central Illinois Collegiate League in 2004, Solano Thunderbirds in the Sierra Baseball League and Horizon Air Summer Series in California in 2005 and briefly with the Eau Claire (Wis.) Express in the Northwoods League in 2006 before signing with the Devil Rays.

Ashley strapped on the catching gear day after day, year after year.

Things he began learning back as a youngster were being reinforced and he was getting acquainted with analytics as part of the scouting report.

“It’s good and a bad thing,” says Ashley. “I’m kind of old school. But (analytics) is very crucial. Stats show that a guy might pull the ball on the ground so we make a shift.”

To stay on the same page, there would be a constant dialogue between innings involving Ashley and his pitching coach and — if he had a catching background — his manager.

“All that being said, it’s still up to the pitcher,” says Ashley. “Those stats go on his baseball card.

“As a good catcher you have to build a relationships with each and every pitcher and build their trust. Some guys you need to coddle a little more. Some you have to push — and maybe even make them a little mad — to get the best out of them.”

In 2007, Ashley smashed 12 of his 66 career minor league home runs for the Columbus (Ga.) Catfish. He played in the 2009 Arizona Fall League with the Phoenix Desert Dogs.

For all his hard work, he finally got called up to the big leagues in as a reserve for the Rays (by this time they had dropped the Devil) during the 2010 playoffs. He did not play.

In 2011 (and again for a short time in 2015), Nevin, Ashley and Gaige went to learn another way of living and about baseball in the Dominican Winter League.

“It was a great experience,” says Nevin, who was with Gigantes de Cibao in 2011 Toros del Este in 2015. “I wanted to submerge myself into their culture. Now I have a better understanding of why Latin players they play the will they do. All that showmanship, fans thrive on it. It’s good for baseball.”

A seven-year run with the Tampa Bay organization ended when Ashley declared free agency and signed with the Cincinnati Reds before the 2013 season. That year, he played not far from where he grew up with the Triple-A Louisville Bats.

He was again granted free agency and signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was assigned to the Indianapolis Indians in 2014. He got called up to the majors again with Pittsburgh in New York. The catcher he was going to replace decided to play through injury and Ashley was sent back to Triple-A.

Once again, he became a free agent after the season and caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers and went to their Triple-A affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

That summer, Ashley was called up to the bigs late in the season. After 870 minor league appearances, he made his MLB debut on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015 in Miami. He was 31 years old. Batting eighth in the Milwaukee order, he collected his first big-league hit — an RBI double in his first at-bat — off Tom Koehler.

Ashley would finish the season with one more hit — an infield single off Carlos Contreras on Sunday, Sept. 20 in Cincinnati — and a .100 batting average. He got into 12 games and drove in one run and scored two.

After the 2015 season, Ashley declared free agency and signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets and played with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51’s in 2016 until being traded to the Texas Rangers organization in June and putting on the colors of the Triple-A Round Rock Express.

Once again a free agent, he joined the Seattle Mariners organization for 2017.

In Arizona for spring training, Ashley suffered a pretty severe concussion that kept him off out of games for the whole season.

“When I first started playing, concussions were not looked as thoroughly as they are now,” says Ashley, who turned 33 in August. “As a catcher, I had my bell rang plenty of times. I shook it off, took a few aspirin and kept going.

“This was different. I had two little ones at home. I started looking at my priorities in life.”

Ashley opted to retire as a player and come home to Evansville to sort out his future.

The tagline on his Twitter profile at @nevin_ashley reads: Baseball is what I do, not who I am.

It is followed by a Bible verse — Philippians 4:13. That passage — “I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.”

“I’m trying to mend,” says Ashley. “I still having constant migraine headaches.

“I’ll move on from there. I don’t know if I’m going to stay in the baseball world. I have a few opportunities. Right now, I’m going to catch up with all the family time I missed.”

Nevin and Ashley grew up together. They were wed early in his professional baseball career and she and the couple’s oldest son have put in plenty of miles together.

“We decided that we were going do this baseball thing together — no matter what,” says Nevin. “We signed up for it. It doesn’t make it any easier. We have had to deal with a lot of ambiguity.

“But she’s independent. I don’t know how any of the baseball moms do it. They go through a lot out there that not a lot of people see. They think it’s glitz and glamour and it’s not.”

While baby Aiden imitates a bowling ball.

“He runs into everything,” says Nevin. “My 5-year-old, he loves baseball.”

Gaige was eight days old when he attended the first of many baseball games.

“I don’t push it at all, but if he wants to play baseball that will be special for me,” says Nevin. “He’s a lefty. He’s going to have to find a different position.”

NEVINASHLEYFIRSTMLBHIT2015

After 10 years in the minors, Milwaukee Brewers catcher Nevin Ashley hits a double in his first Major League Baseball at-bat Sept. 9, 2015 in Miami. The Vincennes, Ind., native began his professional career in 2006 and retired in 2017. (MLB Photo)

 

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Well-traveled Roy returning to Grace staff as chaplain, coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tom Roy did not get to play baseball for as long as he wanted.

But he’s OK with that because by using faith as a fastener, the former pitcher has attached himself to the game all over the globe and his base of operations has been northern Indiana.

“It’s a God thing,” says Roy. “It’s not about me.”

Roy, who founded Unlimited Potential, Inc. — an organization that ministers to baseball programs around the world serving Christ through baseball —  in Winona Lake in 1980.

An autobiography — “Released” — tells about how he eventually started UPI after a career-ending injury. He was signed by the San Francisco Giants as a pitcher at 17.

Fast forward decades and Roy can say he has taught and coached baseball in 67 countries.

“I’m the father of baseball in Uganda,” says Roy, who introduced the sport to a nation who had been playing the bat-and-ball sport of cricket. As part of the lessons, there was prayer, Bible study and baseball instruction. That’s still the way some there still do it.

“That is baseball to them,” says Roy. “It’s part of the baseball culture.”

Roy returns to the baseball coaching staff at Grace College (also in Kosciusko town next to Warsaw) as both assistant coach and team chaplain for head coach Cam Screeton’s team in 2017-18. Roy worked as Lancers pitching coach 1970-73 (earning a bachelor’s degree at Grace in 1974), head coach 1980-83 and was an assistant in 2015.

Roy remembers that spring that at almost every stop around the Crossroads League, he was greeted by hugs from opposing coaches.

“Our players wondered why we were hugging the other team,” says Roy. “I was back, coaching against friends.”

He served as head baseball coach and assistant football coach to Charlie Smith when Tippecanoe Valley High School opened it doors in 1974-75 and has the distinction of leading sectional winners — the first in any sport in school history — that first spring in baseball (1975).

The ace of the Vikings pitching staff was left-hander Keith Hardesty. The team also featured Chris Smalley and Doug Miller.

Roy was an associate scout for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1976-79, pitching coach at Huntington College (now Huntington University) 1987-89 and was an associate international scout for the Atlanta Braves from 1993-99 and for the San Diego Padres from 2000-05.

In his connection with the Seattle Mariners, Roy gained a large audience and began working with Harold Reynolds, Dave Valle, Alvin Davis and others. He took Reynolds on a missionary trip to Thailand and the others on similar trips.

Through the game and sharing of faith, trust relationships were developed and he was introduced to many current players.

“One of the biggest issues for these guys is trust,” says Roy of major league players who have people constantly approaching them. “They would ask me, ‘why do you want to be a my friend?’

“The answer: Jesus.”

Through Sam Bender, Roy began to speak to home and visiting teams around the Midwest.

“I got to know hundreds of players because of Baseball Chapel,” says Roy, who worked with current BC president Vince Nauss and former president Dave Swanson. He also received encouragement from Jack King of Athletes In Action.

Roy became chaplain for the Chicago White Sox organization when Jerry Manuel was manager. He stayed in touch with chaplains for all the White Sox affiliates and filed reports.

“I’ve had all these pivotal moments in my life,” says Roy. “It’s fun when you finally let go.”

By building relationships, Roy has been able to build a library of instructional videos for coaches and players at http://www.upi.org featuring MLB pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy and Luke Hochevar.

While coach at Huntington, Roy helped then-head coach Jim Wilson build Forest Glen Park, helped send hurlers Tim Dell, Jim Lawson, Doug Neuenschwander and Mark Parker into professional baseball and recruited Mike Frame, who is heading into his 34th season as HU’s head coach in 2018.

It was also while at Huntington that Roy got a chance to meet his baseball hero — Hank Aaron. Hammerin’ Hank accepted an invitation to speak at a preseason event and the two got a chance to talk about the game and faith during their drive from the airport.

Roy served 27 years in that role at the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series. Since 1990, the UPI-sponsored Hank Burbridge Award honors the NCCAA’s Outstanding Christian Baseball Player of the Year with potential to Christian service through baseball. The award is named for the long-time baseball coach at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University.

Roy hails from Grafton, Wis. When his playing career to an abrupt halt and he found himself looking for another career, he decided to go into radio. He sent his resumes to other Graftons in the U.S. and wound up at a station in West Virginia — WVVW.

It was also in Wisconsin that he met the woman he would married. Tom and Carin were wed in 1970 and soon found themselves moving to the Hoosier State, where they would welcome two daughters — Amy in 1975 and Lindsay in 1979.

At 6-foot-5, Roy was a strong basketball player and it was through the hardwood that he met a Grace Brethren pastor that suggested he go to Indiana to study and play basketball at Grace.

“It was the spiritual that brought me here,” says Roy. The couple became engaged when Carin visited Tom in West Virginia. They were wed in 1970 and soon found themselves moving to Winona Lake. He became a full-time student with several part-time jobs and she worked full-time.

In his basketball tryout at Grace, he went against Jim Kessler (who is now in his 36th season as Lancers head men’s basketball coach).

Roy was going to be offered a place on the squad when it was learned that he had played some minor league baseball. At the time, NAIA rules did not allow for someone to be a pro in one sport and an amateur in another so he became as assistant coach in basketball and baseball.

Before UPI got off the ground, Tom and Carin welcomed two daughters — Amy in 1975 and Lindsay in 1979.

The only UPI staff member for the first few years, Tom went full-time with the organization in 1983. At first, he made connections in the U.S., and then went international. As a part of the admissions office at Grace, he was in charge of international students and had a stipend for international recruiting.

Besides founder Roy, the UPI team now features former pro players in executive director Mickey Weston (current White Sox chaplain) as well as Brian Hommel (Arizona Diamondbacks chaplain), Tony Graffanino (White Sox spring training and Arizona League affiliate chaplain), Terry Evans (Braves chaplain) and Simon Goehring (missions coordinator based in Germany).

Bryan Hickerson made his MLB debut in 1991 and pitched for Giants, Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies. He began attending UPI Bible studies in 1997 and in 1999 moved to Warsaw and joined the UPI lineup. He was able to forge relationships with both baseball players and military around the world. He moved from there to a minor league pitching coach in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Tom Roy and Jerry Price have co-authored  “Beyond Betrayal” as well as three volumes in the Chadwick Bay Series — “Sandusky Bay,” “Ellison Bay” and “Lake of Bays.” The last three are novels on manhood.

“Our model of manhood is Jesus,” says Roy.

TOMROY

Tom Roy, a former minor league pitcher and founder of Unlimited Potential, Inc., has returned to the baseball staff at Grace College in Winona Lake as team chaplain and assistant coach.