Tag Archives: Cincy Flames

Sutkowski, Hammond/Morris Chiefs marking three decades of baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A celebration is being planned by the Hammond/Morris Chiefs.

The northwest Indiana-based baseball baseball organization is celebrating its 30th season in 2020.

Founder/coach Dave Sutkowski wants all former players to come to a get-together this some summer (time and place to be determined).

When Sutkowski fielded his first Hammond Chiefs team in 1991.

“At that time there was no travel ball,” says Sutkowski. “There was a lot of baseball for kids until 15 in their local leagues and organizations.

“When they would hit 16, the only thing out there for them was (American Legion) ball. Most Legion teams were affiliated with a high school. Some high schools had no affiliations with Legion teams. We wanted to extend the playing time for kids in the summer once they turned 16.”

Sutkowski coached players at ages 14 and 15 in Babe Ruth League that was a basis for the first 16U Hammond Chiefs team.

The next few years, there were 16U and 17U/18U squads.

The Chiefs won a Senior Babe Ruth World Series championship in 2003.

Five years ago, the Hammond Chiefs merged with Morris Baseball. The Morris Chiefs now field teams from 10U to 17U.

High school age kids play a summer and fall season.

“We’re always teaching,” says Sutkowski. “We are in it to teach the game of baseball and help kids with their skills no matter how young or how old.”

There is year-round training opportunities at Morris Baseball based in the Franciscan Health Fitness Center in Schererville, Ind.

As players become older, exposure for college becomes part of the equation and contacts are made with those coaches.

“When we started, college coaches were always at high school games,” said Sutkowski. “College coaches rarely come to high school games (these days) because of the nature of the season.

“Come summertime, they’re all over the place. We try to go to venues where these kids going to have an opportunity to be seen and recruited.”

The Chiefs have regularly traveled to Perfect Game tournaments near Atlanta and to Prep Baseball Report events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

There were more than 400 teams in the 17U division in 2019 at a Perfect Game tournament.

“Not all kids are (NCAA) D-I players and some kids understand that sooner than others. We as coaches have to put a kid in a position where we think he might have the most success.

“We tell kids that there’s nothing wrong with going to play baseball at a Division II, Division III or NAIA school. In Indiana, there are a lot of good programs that are not Division I. We have to find venues that meet the needs of those kids, too.”

Many events are played on college campuses. Sutkowski notes that the Cincy Flames host an event with games played at schools of various levels.

“Someone from that program is out there running event on their field,” says Sutkowski. “That helps out when you’re able to do that.”

The Chiefs have two alums currently in Major League Baseball — Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) and Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays).

Manaea and Brosseau both spoke at a Chiefs banquet during the recent holiday break held at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith.

At 14, Manaea’s parents brought him from Wanatah to play in a fall league in Hammond and he was with the Chiefs through high school.

Sutkowski is an American Baseball Coaches Association member and has attended more than 20 national conventions, including the one that just wrapped in Nashville.

“The first year I went I fell in love with it. We’ve just made it a point to come every year.

“The speakers are outstanding.”

Pro, college, high school, youth and travel ball coaches are all represented in formal meetings and clinic sessions.

There are also several informal discussions throughout the hallways of the convention.

“They’re all talking baseball,” says Sutkowski. “A lot of times you’ll learn just as much in those little sidebar sessions as you will listening to the speakers.”

The 2020 ABCA drew more than 7,100 coaches to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The 2021 convention is Jan. 7-10 at Gaylord National in Washington, D.C.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, which will hold its annual State Clinic Jan. 16-18 at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis, is also a regular stop for Sutkowski.

After playing at Hammond Edison Little League, Sutkowski graduated from Hammond Gavit High School in 1978. He is in his 33rd year as a teacher in School City of Hammond. He leads physical education classes for about 600 K-5 students at Lincoln Elementary School.

He stayed involved with baseball after high school as an umpire and a youth coach.

His baseball coaching career at the high school level began as an assistant to George Malis at Hammond. He was also football assistant to Marty Jamrose and Bob Hansen at Hammond Gavit.

Sutkowski then became head baseball coach at Hammond Morton in 1996. The first team was a veteran squad and the second team had only one returning senior and very little varsity experience.

Sutkowski and his players talked about expectations talked about expectations before the season.

“No matter what happens, we never quit at what we do — whether it’s something we’re working on at practice or something during the game,” says Sutkowski. “No matter how frustrating things may become for us, we never lay down and quit. That was our motto.”

At the beginning of the season, the young Governors took their lumps.

“But our kids were getting better,” says Sutkowski. “They never quit. They worked as hard as they could in practice and games.”

One day against Hammond Bishop Noll, Morton got into an early hole.

“I could look at my kids and see they’re done,” says Sutkowski. “We got 10-runned in five (innings).”

Sutkowski did not address his team at the field. They got on the bus and went home.

“I figured I’ve got to do something to remind these kids that we’re not quitters,” says Sutkowski. “I painted our bench pink.

“The players saw it and all understood it.”

Players were responsible for carrying equipment and his lone senior — Justin Hornsby — was made to carry a can of red paint and a brush.

“When we prove that we are no longer going to quit at what we’re doing, you will be the first guy to paint that bench back to red,” says Sutkowski of his remarks to his senior. “That was it.

“The kids all bought into it.”

While the players understood the motivational tactic, it was picked up in the press.

“Since we were using the color pink they thought we were discriminating against females and softball,” says Sutkowski, “It had nothing to do with it — Nothing.”

Sutkowski says former head coach Greg Jancich supported the idea of reinforcing the no-quit rule with the players.

Though he was given no specific reason, the administration opted not to bring Sutkowski back for a third season.

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Dave Sutkowski is the founder of the Hammond/Morris Chiefs travel baseball organization. The 2020 season will be the 30th for the group based in northwest Indiana. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Lefty Thurston competing with independent Gary SouthShore RailCats

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For the third straight game, Ryan Thurston took the mound for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and for the second time, he nailed down a victory.

The left-hander pitched in his 24th contest for the independent professional baseball team Tuesday, July 30 and set down the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the ninth inning at U.S. Steel Yard.

During his scoreless frame, Thurston yielded a single and ended it with a caught-looking strikeout in helping the RailCats to a 2019 season-high tying fourth straight win.

On Monday in Franklin, Wis., Thurston picked up his first pro save by recording the final two outs with no hits and two walks in a triumph against the Milwaukee Milkmen.

The Sunday game saw Thurston pitch an inning and give up two runs and three hits as visiting Gary topped Milwaukee.

These are situations that Thurston lives for. He’s been drawn to them since he was a kid playing baseball and basketball in southern Indiana.

“I love to compete,” says Thurston. “I may not have the best stuff.”

Thurston has two kinds of fastballs — a four-seamer and two-seamer — plus a change-up, curveball and slider.

“I’d like to think my ball moves,” says Thurston, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder. “(My fastball is) 85-89 (mph), depending what I want to do with the ball — sink it or go up in the zone.

“I’ve tried to develop more as I’ve gotten older. You have to have fastball command. You’ve got to be ready everyday. You need to throw every pitch in every count.

“If it’s 2-0 and it’s their best hitter, you may not still throw fastball. It might be a change-up or curveball away. It’s more of a thinking game.

“I have the same fastball and same slider I had in college, I just think a little more. I adapt a little more as the game goes on.”

Dan Thurston, Ryan’s father and the former Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School head coach, has long been emphasizing mental toughness to his youngest son (Former Madison police chief Dan and Madison Middle School math teacher Jackie Thurston have Trey, Ryan and Trisha).

“You’ve got to keep a level head,” says Ryan. “Baseball’s a game of failure and you have to deal with failure.

“It’s about being mentally-prepared and mentally-ready.”

Ryan Thurston played his earliest organized baseball at the youth league in Madison and then travel baseball with the Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits, coached by Jeff Montgomery. In his 16U and 17U summers, he played for the Cincy Flames.

Thurston’s coach at Western Kentucky University was John Pawlowski.

“He pitched in the big leagues (with the 1987 and 1988 Chicago White Sox),” says Thurston of Pawlowski. “He really knew his stuff.

“He taught me a lot about different pitches and when to throw them and being the the best I can be.”

Thurston graduated from Madison Consolidated in 2014 and Western Kentucky in 2017 with a graduate school year at WKU in 2018 (he played for the Hilltoppers in parts of five seasons and earned a financial management degree).

At Madison, he won four baseball letters at Madison, earning all-state honorable mention as a senior. He was all-conference and team MVP three times. He also garnered three letters in basketball.

At Western Kentucky, he pitched in 66 games (52 as a starter — 14 in each of his final three seasons) with 13 wins, 299 strikeouts (second in program history) and 174 walks in 306 2/3 innings (third in WKU annals).

As a senior, the lefty pitched a career-high 80 2/3 innings while allowing a career-low 15 extra-base hits. He finished the season with a 4.24 ERA, although that mark stood at 3.08 prior to his final two starts. He was the only pitcher in Conference USA to secure wins over both Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.

Thurston signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays organization and pitched in 13 games (nine in relief) in 2018 before being released.

The 24-year-old southpaw signed with the American Association’s Chicago Dogs and pitched two games with that franchise before Gary claimed him off waivers.

With the RailCats, a team he joined May 26, Thurston is 2-0 with a 2.58 earned run average. In 35 1/3 innings, he has 33 strikeouts and 16 walks.

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Ryan Thurston, a 2013 Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School graduate who pitched at Western Kentucky University from 2014-18 and holds a financial management degree from that school, is now a relief pitcher for the independent Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)