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West Vigo baseball’s DeGroote wants to be role model to his players

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the son of coach and middle of three athletic brothers, Culley DeGroote soaked in plenty of knowledge on his way to becoming head baseball coach at West Vigo High School. He has led the West Terre Haute-based Vikings since the 2014 season after eight seasons serving under father Steve DeGroote.

The elder DeGroote was an assistant at Indiana State University to American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Warn 1980-85 joined the coaching staff at West Vigo and led the program from 1993-2013. His teams went 441-118 with 11 Western Indiana Conference titles, 10 sectional champions, five regionals, one semistate and one state runner-up finish (2009). In 2017, he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

“Ninety-five percent of what I do I learned from (my father),” says Culley. “I learned how you treat players. Dad was a master motivator. He got them to buy into something bigger than themselves.”

While the rules were the same for all players, Steve DeGroote knew how to relate to each one as an individual, something he picked up from his athletic career and his days as an ISU recruiter.

“They say that coaching is not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes and dad got the most out of those Jimmys and Joes,” says Culley. “He was genius at reading talent. He was one of those who could see a kid come in as freshmen and see the finished product. He could see potential in a kid that very few people could see.”

Culley saw his dad attracted to the student and the athlete who was on a straight path.

“He had that ability to read people,” says Culley. “He could pick up on people’s habits and their priority in life. He navigated toward kids who had their priorities straight like him. Dad doesn’t drink, smoke or party. His faith is important to him. He was the (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) director at West Vigo. He lived a clean life and lived by example.

“I’ve tried to role model that with my players. I know you’re not going to be perfect, but you need to be striving for perfection.”

Steve DeGroote’s boys — Cory (West Vigo Class of 1991), Culley (1995) and Casey (1998) — were all three-sport athletes for the Vikings. Cory and Culley are both in the West Vigo Athletic Hall of Fame.

Cory DeGroote went to The Citadel to play basketball and baseball and then transferred to Indiana State, where he played baseball for three seasons. He coached multiple sports at North White High School and then served 12 seasons as head baseball coach at Mattawan (Mich.) High School. He is now president of Peak Performance, a travel sports organization based in Mattawan.

Casey DeGroote was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched as a professional until 2004. He served as general manager of the Terre Haute Rex in the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League and is now a train engineer.

Culley DeGroote earned the McMillan Award as the top male athlete in Vigo County and was an IHSBCA All-Star as a senior. He was a three-year starter in football, basketball and baseball and went on to be a three-year starter on both the hardwood and diamond at Franklin College.

His last baseball season was his junior year (he transferred to Indiana State to finish his degree). It was also the first as head coach for Lance Marshall, who still guides the Grizzlies.

“He cared about us as people,” says Culley. “He wanted to know your story and your background. I told myself that when I become a head coach, I hope my players in some way feel about me the way they felt about Coach Marshall.

“He was quiet and no-nonsense, but a super positive guy. You felt good about yourself after talking to Coach Marshall.”

Culley began his coaching career with a four-year stint on the staff of Scott Spada at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School. Before Spada, Derek Jeter played baseball for the Maroon Giants and went on to be captain of the New York Yankees. Future Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings did play for Spada.

Also the school’s head boys soccer coach, Culley heads in the 2018 baseball season with Zack Kent (varsity) and Kyle Stewart (junior varsity) as assistant coaches.

Steve DeGroote is still helping the Vikings baseball program as middle school director. The feeder program fielded two squads last spring — sixth and seventh graders combined and eighth graders. Playing 15 to 20 five-inning doubleheaders, the middle schoolers are heading into their third season in 2018.

“It’s an awesome thing,” says Culley. “It gives you a lot of flexibility and unity. It’s closed the gap between middle school and high school ball. We teach the same things. Getting coached in a lot of the little things that can win you a championship at a younger level.

“(Middle schoolers) get to play on the high school field and they love that.”

At a cost of more than $10,000, that field was upgraded in the fall of 2016 with more than 100 tons of infield dirt and artificial turf around the mound and home plate areas.

“That was the best idea I ever had,” says Culley. “We were getting in games (in 2017) we never got in before.”

Culley teaches physical education at the middle school and gets a chance to have a relationship with athletes as sixth graders.

West Terre Haute Little League, where Steve Shaffer is president, has three fields and four leagues (T-ball, minor and major).

“They are the lifeline of our program,” says Culley.

All of it has gone to help numbers at the high school. There were 15 freshmen baseball players at West Vigo in 2017 and 19 the year before that.

The varsity Vikings went 17-9 and lost to Edgewood in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 3A Northview Sectional.

West Vigo is in the West Division of the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam and Sullivan. Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley comprise the WIC East Division.

With about 1,023 students, Northview is the biggest school in the 2A/3A league with Cloverdale (370) as the smallest. West Vigo (581) is in-between.

Conference games are played five straight Tuesdays with a crossover game on the sixth Tuesday.

Since 1998, the Vikings have sent eight players on to NCAA Division I baseball and had three players drafted out of high school (Casey DeGroote by the Yankees in 1998, infielder Lenny Leclercq by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round in 2005 and Jeremy Lucas by the Cleveland Indians in the 12th round in 2009).

Right-hander Morgan Coombs, a 2006 graduate, played at Lincoln Trail College and Ball State University and went un-drafted before three seasons with the independent Gary SouthShore RailCats. He was the Australian Baseball League’s Pitcher of the Year in 2015 with the Adelaide Bite.

Middle infielder Tyler Wampler, a 2010 graduate, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Indiana State in the 17th round in 2014. He was head coach for the Terre Haute Rex in 2016-17.

Three of Culley’s players are currently at the D-I level — pitcher Davie Inman (West Vigo Class of 2015) at Coastal Carolina University, middle infielder Jordan Schafer (2016) at Indiana State and first baseman/pitcher Ty Lautenschlager (2017) at Northern Illinois University.

CULLEYDEGROOTE1

Culley DeGroote, a 1995 West Vigo High School graduate, is entering his fifth season as Vikings head baseball coach in 2018. Before that, he was an assistant to father Steve DeGroote, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

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Malcom using baseball to give back to Elkhart community

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cory Malcom wants to give back to his hometown. Naturally, that gift to the community will involve baseball.

St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguer Malcom and Cleveland Indians farmhand Tanner Tully — co-MVPs on Elkhart Central High School’s 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state championship team — are conducting a pitching camp 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5 at Elkhart Sports Center. They will teach about mechanics, arm care and more.

“It’ll be good for the town,” says Cory, who will be assisted by father Jimmy Malcom. “He knows a little bit about the game.”

Jimmy Malcom teaches about 35 lessons a week out of ESC with his Walk-Off Warehouse. An all-stater at Elkhart Memorial High School and then at the College of Central Florida and Bradley University, he has coached youth baseball for decades.

Cory Malcom grew up in Elkhart with a group of friends, including Tully, while being taught the game by Jimmy. The traveling Rip City Rebels enjoyed lots of diamond success.

“One of the problems we have now is we don’t really have a feeder system (for Elkhart schools),” says Cory, now 22. “It would be nice to see a whole group go together like we did.”

Cory was a Rebels fixture from age 8 to 14. At 15, he took advantage of an opportunity at experience and exposure on the travel ball circuit with the Indiana Bulls, playing with the high-profile organization in the famed East Cobb tournament in Georgia. At 16 and 17, he was a regular with the Dan Held-led Bulls.

Playing on a team that had nearly 20 players earn scholarships to NCAA Division I school, including Zionsville High School’s Parker Dunshee (Wake Forest University and then the Oakland Athletics system). Cory landed an invitation from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.

Playing four seasons of D-I baseball for the Chris Curry-coached Trojans, the 6-foot right-hander made 61 mound appearances (44 as a starter) and struck out 273 and walked 84 in 287 innings. The summer before his junior year, he played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the prestigious Cap Cod League.

Malcom made the dean’s list all but one semester and graduated from UALR with a degree in health promotions with a minor in health exercise and sports management. He was selected by the Cardinals in the 34th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

With the short-season Gulf Coast League Cardinals in Florida, Malcom went 0-0 with a 3.18 earned run average. He pitched in 12 games (all in relief) and whiffed 14 batters (with just two walks) and 11 1/3 innings before coming back to Elkhart, where he is following prescribed exercises on a phone app. He plans to begin throwing again in mid-November and go back to Little Rock to work out with the college team in January. Before leaving, he will also teach the game at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen.

His understanding of kinesiology has helped Malcom and his teammates identify areas of soreness and know which exercises to use.

Throwing mostly from a three-quarter arm slot in high school, Malcom was asked to go “way over the top” as a freshman by then-UALR pitching coach Chris Marx (now at Campbell University in North Carolina).

“I was not getting much movement so I started going higher on top,” says Malcom. “If I have (downhill) angle on my fastball and hit my locations like I normally do, I should have success.”

Malcom credits Curry for life lessons.

“He taught you how to present yourself in public and how to go about your business,” says Malcom of Curry, a man who played at Meridian (Miss.) Community College and Mississippi State University followed by seven years of pro baseball. “He also helped me through the draft process.”

Leading up to the draft, Malcom would come to the field hours early to meet with scouts, who were trying to get to know potential picks better.

It was while charting pitches a day before his scheduled start that Malcom got acquainted with the Cardinals scout that would sign him — former Little Rock assistant Dirk Kinney.

After turning pro, Malcom adapted to a relief role.

“In college, I considered myself a starter,” says Malcom. “You have to save your bullets because you hope to get six or seven innings of our yourself. There’s a leeway there if you give up a couple runs. You get to find a groove. The bullpen is cut and dried. You either get the job done or you don’t and you don’t have time to time about it.”

In short order in the Gulf Coast League, Malcom went from middle relief and setting up and finishing games while getting his fastball, breaking ball and change-up over for strikes.

“It was kind of a weird year,” says Malcom. “I was coming off of a lot of innings during the college season. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do (in the future), I think I could be a quality guy out of the bullpen.

“It’s a fun thing to go right at them with everything you have. You can go max effort.”

In most games, his fastball was topping out at 93 mph from that downward angle.

Some organizations take a hands-off approach for the first 90 days after drafting a player and that’s the way it was with the Cardinals. GCL Cards pitching coach Giovanni Carrara was very encouraging to Malcom and others and told them not to put too much pressure on themselves.

But they did not really address mechanics.

“They gave you some free time to figure out things for yourself,” says Malcom. “I was used to feedback all the time at Little Rock. They treat you like a grown man (in pro ball). Baseball is your job and take it seriously.”

For more information, on the Elkhart Sports Center camp, call ESC at 574-294-5050 or Jimmy Malcom at 574-215-5612. To set up a session with Cory at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy, call 734-751-3321.

CORYMALCOMCARDS2017

Cory Malcom, a graduate at Elkhart Central High School and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, is coming off his first professional baseball season in the St. Louis Cardinals system. He plans a pitching camp with friend and former high school teammate, Tanner Tully, Sunday, Nov. 5 at Elkhart Sports Center.

 

A tip of the cap to the career of Bethany Christian’s Bodiker

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

To say Dan Bodiker has worn many hats as a fan of baseball and other sports is quite the understatement.

Bodiker, 75, came to northern Indiana from northwestern Ohio in the early 1960’s to attend Goshen College, where he represented the Maple Leafs on the baseball diamond and the soccer pitch.

In the fall of 1964, he was hired just up the road at Bethany Christian High School to coach an entire athletic department.

He led BC in boys soccer, boys and girls basketball, baseball and track.

By the time Bodiker retired, his overall mark in all sports was 918-719-39 and he served terms as athletic director. He was taken into the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007 and is also a member of the Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame.

His last season as head baseball coach was 1995-96. After one season under Jason Leichty, Brent Reinhardt led the program through 2017. The new coach for 2017-18 is Jim Kraft.

The first BC baseball team wore white T-shirts and blue jeans and only played a handful of games (but only lost one of them).

Starting out as an associate member of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, the school could attract some good athletes who did not have to sit out or be restricted to junior varsity play. The trade-off is that BC was not eligible for tournament play.

That changed when the school became a full member in the early 1970’s.

Today, baseball, soccer and softball teams play on Bodiker Athletic Fields, located across the railroad tracks behind the school.

For years, the baseball team used a field with no fence and surrounded by a cinder track. It was BC’s home when they earned the lone baseball sectional title in school history in 1987.

Dan’s wife, Diane, has preserved the memory of that championship and many other moments in the pages of scrapbooks housed in the couple’s Goshen home.

Bethany — then known as the Braves and later the Bruins — rallied for six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat Goshen 9-8 for the Goshen Sectional title.

With the scored knotted 3-3, Goshen had scored five in the top of the seventh.

In the bottom of the frame, Eric Risser and Scott Bodiker (the oldest of two Bodiker sons; Mike is the youngest) began the comeback with a pair of singles.

Doug Horst, the No. 9 hitter in the BC order, took a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and cleared them with a bloop hit. The decisive run was scored from first base by Gary Chupp (who is now athletic director at the school).

“Of all the sports I coached, I thought baseball was the toughest,” says Bodiker. “You have to make so many tough decisions and you have to live with those decisions.”

Bodiker was faced with choices like whether or not to stick with his top pitcher who was not throwing strikes when he knew his No. 2 was not nearly as good.

“What do you do?,” says Bodiker.

There is also the case of a freshman — a poor bunter — being up in the last inning with runners or first and second base and less than two outs.

Bodiker could let him try to bunt or swing away. He chose the latter and the frosh hit into a double play.

The same player came up in the same kind of situation as a senior. He was a better as a bunter and hitter. This time, Bodiker called for the bunt.

The result: Another double play.

“True story,” says Bodiker. “It’s that tightness.”

When the coach wanted to call for a squeeze bunt he would give a verbal cue — “Bust that apple” — so all players could hear.

Sign stealing — sometimes with the help of technology — has been a hot topic in Major League Baseball.

As a regular part of clean play, Bodiker and some of his players were sometimes able to figure out the opposing signs.

“I’d ask (the batter) if you want me to call the pitches if I see them,” says Bodiker. “I might say their first name for a fastball and their last or their number for a curve.”

It’s about making decisions in critical moments.

“There’s a lot of that in baseball that you don’t get in any other sport,” says Bodiker.

It was as a boy in Lima, Ohio, where he was born in 1942, that Bodiker learned baseball and became a lifelong fan of the Cleveland Indians.

“I never like to brag on the Indians because it’s never over until that last out,” says Bodiker, who recalls Cleveland’s World Series teams of 1948 and 1954 and counts many Tribe replicas in his collection of more than 390 big league and minor league caps. He started the collecting hobby in the 1980’s.

As a youngster, Dan and his train engineer father would walk to games of Lima teams in the Class D Ohio State or Ohio-Indiana leagues — like the Red Birds, Reds, Terriers, Chiefs and Phillies.

One of his replica caps pays tribute to the old Lima Pandas.

Dan would grow to be a catcher at Lima Senior High School (which had 1,500 students in the top three grades) and with the local American Legion team. Lima Senior placed second in the Ohio state tournament in Bodiker’s senior year of 1960.

When Bodiker was a junior, he was a back-up to Gary Moeller (who went on to become head football coach at the University of Michigan and with the Detroit Lions).

“What little I got to play, I enjoyed,” says Bodiker.

The Joe Bowers-coached Spartans beat Massillon Washington in the ’60 state semifinals and lost to Cincinnati Elder in the championship — both played in Columbus.

“He knew his baseball,” Bodiker said of Bowers.

Dan Matthews was the Legion ball manager who also took a team to the State Finals and placed third.

“I patterned a lot of my coaching after him,” says Bodiker of Matthews, a former New York Yankess minor leaguer. “If I didn’t block a ball behind the plate, he would pull me aside rather than chewing me out.”

Pitchers were led by former Brooklyn Dodgers farmhand Ed Oley. He had been a travel roommate of Hall of Famer Duke Snider.

Many of the blue caps worn by Bethany baseball have had that Brooklyn “B.” It seems to be no small coincidence.

“B” for Brooklyn.

“B” for Bethany.

“B” for Bod.

DANBODIKER

Dan Bodiker started the whole athletic program at Bethany Christian High School when he began working there in the fall of 1964. That includes a long stint as baseball coach. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Wagner continues to hone his baseball broadcasting craft

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A baseball broadcaster’s life is more than calling the action on the field.

Relationships must be built with players, coaches and managers.

Ben Wagner, a graduate of Fairfield High School (1999) and Indiana State University (2003) who is in his 11th season as the play-by-play voice of the Triple-A International League’s Buffalo Bisons, says it is in the relationships area where he has made his greatest improvement.

“I have a little bit more of a feel of how to operate a clubhouse,” says Wagner. “It’s been one of my major strengths in the last few years. That took awhile by learning and doing. There’s no road map. Every clubhouse is different.

“To do a baseball job really, really well, you’re going to have to know the dynamic of that clubhouse and the people that are within those walls so you can relay that on the air.”

Wagner has learned to be sensitive as he prepares to inform and entertain his radio or TV audience.

Every player has a different backstory.

“Some are excited to be at Triple-A and will talk to you until they are blue in the face,” says Wagner. “There are guys who fight for that 25-man job at the end of the bench coming away from spring training that are so disappointed that they are at Triple-A.”

Others are caught in the numbers crunch and are not happy about it. Rosters are constantly in flux between a Triple-A and major league team (in Buffalo’s case, the Toronto Blue Jays).

“There’s a certain feel, I think, and broadcasters and media people have to have to be respectful of that buffer zone,” says Wagner. “But, at the same time, you have to do a job.”

It’s all about mutual respect.

Take the case of Joe Biagini, who pitched out of the bullpen for Toronto in 2016 and started in 2017 before being sent to Buffalo, where he made his debut Monday, Aug. 7.

Wagner had never met the 6-foot-5 right-hander.

“You don’t want to ambush a guy in the middle of the clubhouse,” says Wagner.

The play-by-play man introduced himself to the pitcher before the game in Indianapolis. In a brief conversation, Wagner learned about Biagini’s travels and his expectations for the outing.

“I knew he was going to throw less than 50 pitches,” says Wagner. “I got little nuggets where I could have credibility on the air.”

In the case of Wagner and his broadcast partners (Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Duke McGuire and Pat Malacaro), they are not digging for dirt, but those interesting details to share with listeners and viewers on various platforms, including ESPN 1520 AM (the team’s flagship), WGGO 1590 AM, WOEN 1360 AM, Spectrum Sports in Buffalo or online.

“We don’t break news,” says Wagner. “We’re not a broadcast network. We’re employees of the team. We’re respectful of all that stuff.”

Wagner operates with sensitivity and clarity.

“Sometimes guys’ careers are in the balance and it’s what you may know ahead of time,” says Wagner. “You have that access to the team day in and day out. You’re the eyes and the ears and you have to tie it all together.”

Wagner wants the Bisons broadcast to be a “constant and enjoyable listen.”

Consistency and quality is helped by familiarity. Wagner and analyst McGuire have been paired for a decade.

“I know when Duke wants to talk,” says Wagner. “That goes a long way in how our broadcast sounds. There’s a certain comfortability in the way the Bisons broadcast sounds.

“That makes it sustainable whether it is the excitement of Opening Day; it’s April and where we’re coming out of the gate strong all the way to those 8-23 June games that I’ve had to endure … You can’t get too high. You can’t get too low .. You hopefully show up, call a good game, you’re mechanically sound and people enjoy all 27 outs.”

The aim is for a first-class product each time the Bisons take to the air or the net.

“I’m trying to treat it like a major league broadcast every night because that’s where I want to be,” says Wagner. “I want to be in a big league booth. Finding things that are interesting for them hopefully reinforces what I’m trying to do.”

The mediums for Bisons baseball have changed since Wagner called games for the Single-A Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws in 2004 and even since he did his first Bisons game in 2007.

“We were sending box scores and game stories via fax,” says Wagner of his early days. “Now, if you’re a reporter or a news agency, you’re not waiting on a box score. You’re  looking at my Twitter feed (@benwag247) or the team’s Twitter feed (@BuffaloBisons).”

Wagner has also watched analytics become more important and technology expand with the advent of TrackMan, which allows teams to measure and quantify things like the release point of a pitcher, number of revolutions of a pitch and a hitter’s tendencies.

“We have guys that travel with us that cut up every at-bat, every pitching sequence and are uploading it to major league sites,” says Wagner. “They’re harnessing all this data.”

When calling games, Wagner often writes the question “Why?” at the top of his scorebook.

He puts himself in the listener’s place.

Why are you supposed to be listening to this game?

Why are you still tuning in to this game?

Why is this at-bat important?

Why is this pitch important?

“I remind myself and then remind the listener,” says Wagner. “I’m trying to harness their attention in a world that has no attention span. Especially in baseball, we have to keep rehashing why these things are important.”

Wagner catches himself asking these questions while watching afternoon Major League Baseball games that have turned one-sided.

“How would I keep the game interesting?,” says Wagner. “That’s my challenge.”

While he occasionally has time for a longer story, he keeps things flowing.

“I look at it as though everything out of my mouth has to be condensed to 140 characters,” says Wagner. “Every little nugget about a guy, every play — in terms of description — has to be short and concise and really to the point.”

Wagner has been with Buffalo through three affiliations — Cleveland Indians, New York Mets and now Toronto.

Canadians often come to Buffalo to shop, dine or go to sporting events like Bisons baseball. The Peace Bridge is 5 minutes from Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field and it’s less than 100 miles from Coca-Cola Field to Rogers Centre, home of the Blue Jays.

The relationship with the Mets provided wide exposure on SportsNet New York.

“There were days the Mets were off and the Bisons were home and they’d broadcast our games and (viewers) could see the prospects and get an idea of what’s going on down on the farm,” says Wagner. “We were trying to get some excitement built around the young players coming up.”

Rogers Communications owns the Blue Jays and has several media platforms to broadcast games for Canada’s lone big league team.

Wagner is a frequent contributor to Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto.

“Guys on the Blue Jays broadcast — Jerry Howarth, Joe Siddal and Mike Wilner — have been stalwarts when it comes to supporting the affiliation. Because of that, they bring me in.”

Wagner and Howarth jockey emails back and forth all the time.

“I may know a guy is on the move, but he has no idea because he is focused in on the 25 men who are on the roster in Toronto that day,” says Wagner.

When Taylor Cole was called up to pitch the Jays, Wagner was able to provide some interesting perspective on the 6-1 right-hander.

“I’ve seen him pitch six times already,” says Wagner of a player who had been hurt then moved through the Toronto system. “I was able to share that information.”

Wagner does speaking engagements on behalf of the Bisons during the off-season and also does play-by-play for college football and basketball.

BENWAGNER

Ben Wagner, a graduate of Fairfield High School and Indiana State University, is in his 11th season at play-by-play voice of the Buffalo Bisons. Buffalo is a Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

West Terre Haute ‘good guy’ Lucas continues to learn the pro baseball life

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Lucas wants to move up to the big leagues just like any other Triple-A baseball player.

Lucas is not like every minor leaguer in the way he involves himself with the community.

The West Terre Haute, Ind., native is known to spend hours signing autographs or visiting children in the hospital. He has done it as he’s moved up the chain in the Cleveland Indians organization and he does it as a catcher/first baseman for the International League’s Columbus Clippers.

“It’s always good for me to get a perspective and worry less about my problems,” says Lucas, who plans to get even more involved in the community as he and wife Kelsey (the couple was married in Terre Haute in December 2016 and former Indiana State University teammates were part of the wedding party) spend the off-season in Columbus.

On the field, Lucas is soaking up as much knowledge as he can while making the most of his chances as a bench player. Through games of July 20, the sixth-year professional has appeared in 16 games during the 2017 season. He appeared in four games for Columbus after 95 with Double-A Akron in 2016.

“There’s a lot to learn,” says Lucas, 26. “There’s lot of veteran guys here. I see how other guys go about their business.”

Lucas began learning the business in 2012. After earning ISU’s first Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year award in the spring of ’12, he was taken by the Indians in 12th round of that summer’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and made his first pro stop in the New York-Penn League at Mahoning Valley.

A catcher much of his baseball life, Lucas has learned to play other places on the diamond.

“Once you start moving up in levels, versatility is a big thing,” says Lucas. “When I get my opportunities, I need to take advantage of them.

“I just try to go about my work the same everyday. I catch bullpens, take BP, do whatever I can keep up with the speed of the day, which can be difficult when you’re not playing everyday.”

Even used on the mound five times this season, Lucas is 1-0 as a pitcher.

Lucas was a West Terre Haute Little League all-star prior to high school, played with various travel baseball teams including the Indiana Bulls and one summer for Terre Haute American Legion Post 346.

The 2009 West Vigo High School graduate played his prep baseball for Steve DeGroote, a 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee.

“He taught me a lot of things about the game and lot of things about life,” Lucas says of DeGroote. “He was one of the most inspirational guys I’ve had in my career along with my dad (Mike Lucas).

“It was an honor that I got to play for (Coach DeGroote). I owe a lot of what I am now.

You knew what he wanted out of his players. He treated us like men even though some of us might not have been yet.

“He taught us how to play the game right. He was all about being a good person.”

Lucas fondly recalls his final high school season and how DeGroote pushed the Vikings to an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish with Lucas being named L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner.

“Every year he would tell us the same thing: This is the best team I’ve ever had on paper,” says Lucas. “My senior year — the best year we’ve ever had in West Vigo history — he never once said it. He was harder on us that year than any of my four years. He was hard on us. But he knew we had a special team and he wasn’t going to take it easy on us. He wasn’t going to let us get big heads.”

Lucas remembers the 2009 team showing up at the school each morning at 6:30 and working to get better even after the regular season was underway.

Mike Lucas, an accountant and lawyer in Terre Haute, has also taught work ethic to his ball-playing son.

“Nothing’s going to be given to you. You have to go out and take it,” says Jeremy of his father’s advice. “I wouldn’t be where I am today with all my dad’s done for me.

“He’s always been there for me.”

Lucas played three years of college baseball at ISU in Terre Haute. Then-Sycamores head coach Rick Heller (now head coach at the University of Iowa) taught his standout receiver about being a good teammate.

It is a lesson he practices in pro baseball, where things are very competitive at the upper levels with players fighting for playing time and the right to move up.

Lucas says it took him some time to adjust to the team dynamic in the minors.

“What I’ve learned is if you’re making your teammates better and you’re making yourself better, that’s the best of both worlds,” says Lucas. “I’ve been on teams that don’t have a lot of guys that do that and I been on teams that do

“It’s a lot more enjoyable when all the guys have the same mindset.”

The nature of Triple-A baseball is plenty of roster moves caused by injuries, trades and on-field performance. That’s given Lucas a chance to meet new faces and to begin pulling with that player.

“When guys move up or down, they just fit right in,” says Lucas. “It’s about being a good teammate and being a good guy.”

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Jeremy Lucas, a 2009 West Vigo High School graduate, began his professional baseball career in 2012 and his now at Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland Indians organization. (Columbus Clippers Photo)

 

Pro baseball vet Grube looks at 2017 as ‘tale of two tapes’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A change of scenery can be just what a ballplayer needs.

Even if that scenery is familiar territory.

Jarrett Grube — traded from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Cleveland Indians organization in mid-June — is pushing the baseball re-fresh button in a return engagement with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers.

Grube, who grew up in Corunna, Ind., and graduated from DeKalb High School (where he played for head coach Chris Rhodes) in 2000, was the Opening Day starter for the International League’s Buffalo Bisons and made 11 starts with that Toronto affiliate before becoming Cleveland property for the third time in his career.

The 6-foot-4 right-hander played for Columbus in 2015 after a stint with Quintana Roo in the Mexican League in 2015 and again in 2016 after time with the Pacific Coast League’s Tacoma Rainiers in the Seattle Mariners organization.

Going into a start Saturday, July 22, Grube was 3-5 overall with a 4.70 earned run average in 16 starts, including 1-2 and 1.69 in five starts for the Clippers. He came off the 7-day disabled list July 16 (right-hand discomfort).

“Things weren’t going my way for whatever reason,” says Grube. “I just call it the ’tale of two tapes.’ Now I’m back over here doing what I’ve always done.”

What Grube has done when successful is keep the opposition off-balance.

“I’m not even thinking about mechanics,” says Grube. “It all just happens fluidly and easily. I’m throwing a lot of strikes and mixing my pitches and keeping the hitters guessing on what’s coming in different counts.”

As a free agent veteran, the Indians brought Grube back because of his track record at the Triple-A level.

“They support you and give you info about the hitters so you can have success,” says Grube. “When you’ve been around for awhile, they let you keep doing your program. As long as you communicate, they support you.”

Between starts, Grube does a longer running session with stretching, some weightlifting and works with a trainer on Day 1. The second day includes long toss, a bullpen session and heavier total-body lifting with two days of recovery before the start. Day 3 is about stretching things out and getting rid of built-up lactic acid. Day 4 is devoted to rest and stretching.

Grube, who played at Vincennes University for head coach Jerry Blemker (who died in 2012) and at the University of Memphis for for head coach Dave Anderson, was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 10th round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and made his lone MLB appearance with Los Angeles Angels in 2014 (he retired Josh Donaldson and gave up a three-run home run to Yoenis Cespedes).

One thing that’s kept Grube from being predictable is his ability to change arm angles.

It all just flows.

“When I’m at my best, I’m not really thinking about anything,” says Grube. “I’m throwing every pitch I want to throw in any count and getting a lot of weak contact, maybe strikeout an inning for however many innings I pitch.”

As a 14th-year professional, Grube has learned plenty.

“You learn to grow as a player,” says Grube. “Sometimes you have to take lumps and be able to turn the page pretty quick. You sit and dwell on things, I know that. There’s going to be a lot of things that are out of your control that.

“You just keep on with what you’ve got pictured in your mind that you want to accomplish.”

Grube has been a starting pitcher in Triple-A. If he gets called up to the big leagues, his role would likely be out of the bullpen.

“I’ve got the stuff to relieve, too, for sure,” says Grube.

Born in Fort Wayne (where he lives in the off-season with wife Alyssa and daughter Ensley), Grube’s early diamond days were spent in the Tri-County Little League and in AAU ball. He was a member of the Aboite Braves, coached by Brett Ratcliffe (who is now head coach at Garrett High School).

Grube credits Blemker helping to make him mentally tough, something that has helped him ever since.

“He’d say some things that would make you upset or frustrated,” says Grube, who won 12 games and struck out a then-school-record 172 batters in two seasons with the VU Trailblazers. “He was kind of like a drill sergeant. But he was doing it in a fatherly way. He was trying to get the best out of me. He was lying the foundation for me to go to D-I and then pro ball.”

Grube gained wisdom from Anderson, who played 10 MLB seasons including with the World Series-winning 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers and went on to coach and manage in pro baseball.

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Jarrett Grube, a 2000 DeKalb High School graduate, is in his 14th professional baseball season in 2017. (Columbus Clippers Photo)

 

Fans keep turning out to see Fort Wayne TinCaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Downtown Fort Wayne has become a destination and TinCaps baseball is a big reason.

The minor league team welcomed a franchise-record 413,701 fans to Parkview Field for 68 dates in 2016 and was only slightly behind that pace in 2017 — the ninth at the ballpark on Ewing Street.

Fort Wayne, a San Diego Padres affiliate, drew 252,305 for its first 45 dates, including a single-game record 9,266 on July 4.

“The city has embraced us,” says TinCaps president Mike Nutter. “The people keep coming. It’s been an unbelievable 8 1/2 years and we just want to keep it going.”

A combination of exciting, young talent and ballpark amenities attracts fans from around the region.

“It’s an incredible sports market,” says Nutter, who notes that folks who who root for the Cubs, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Reds and Cardinals agree that the TinCaps are their local team.

Before the streak was stopped in 2016, Fort Wayne had made the playoff seven straight seasons — a mark not matched in the minors or the majors.

Some people come to the park for the food and the promotions, but others want to see a winner and fondly recall the first season at Parkview when Fort Wayne, managed by Doug Dascenzo, won the 2009 Midwest League championship. Led by right-hander Mat Latos, 19 of those players landed in the big leagues.

Nutter has been with the franchise since the fall of 1999. The Fort Wayne Wizards played at the former Memorial Stadium from 1993-2008 and were affiliated with the Minnesota Twins through 1998.

“We were doing that and thought it was great,” says Nutter of the Memorial Stadium days. “We had a hard-working group.”

Current vice presidents David Lorenz, Brian Schackow and Michael Limmer were with the club in those days.

Before coming to the Summit City, Nutter had been in Nashville and watched that ownership have trouble getting a new ballpark (which eventually happened in 2015) so he knew new digs in Fort Wayne were not a sure thing.

“We didn’t know how realistic it was,” says Nutter. “Then it started to get legs and it started to move.”

The TinCaps are run by Hardball Capital. Jason Freier is chairman and CEO of that group, which also runs the Chattanooga Lookouts and Columbia Fireflies.

One idea TinCaps management had when they moved across town is still in place.

“When we came downtown we said lawn seats would be 5 bucks. We liked the way that sounded,” says Nutter. “At the old ballpark — again, not being criticial of it — the cheapest ticket was $6.50. Here was are in Year 9 and they’re still 5 bucks.”

Whether paying $5 or for more-expensive seats, patrons can see a TinCaps team that features three 18-year-olds in the starting infield, including Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop, Hudson Potts at third base and Reinaldo Ilarraza at second base.

Tatis, son of former MLB player Fernando Tatis Sr., has already been MWL Player of the Week twice in 2017 — the first Fort Wayne player to do that since Rymer Liriano in 2011. Baseball Prospectus ranks the young Tatis No. 22 among its Midseason Top 50 prospects.

“On a nightly basis, he stands out as the most-exciting player on the field,” says Sam Geaney, Padres director of player development. “From his raw ability and a lot of his performances, there’s a lot of positives.

“I love the way he plays. It seems like he enjoys playing the game.”

The Padres organization has definitely turned to teens to turn things around and that includes Fort Wayne.

“We are one of the youngest teams in the league,” says Geaney. “We understand there are going to be some growing pains.

“We had a lot of international signings. We have two 17-year-olds (Luis Almanzar and Justin Lopez) and an 18-year-old (Kelvin Melean) at (rookie-level) Tri-City playing on a nightly basis.

“When you sign guys from Latin America, for the most part those guys will be younger — 16 or 17 years old. It’s very clear with our staff that we’re trying to find the best players.”

Slugging first baseman Brad Zunica is a returnee from 2016.

“He’s just continuing to mature,” says Geaney of Zunica. “He had his first full professional season last year. There’s a maturing process that comes with that. He continues to tighten up his swing.

“With the combination of mechanical things and professional development, we’re going to see some results this year.”

With a re-worked pitching staff nurtured by veteran coach Burt Hooton, Fort Wayne manager Anthony Contreras had his team off to a 12-7 start in the second half after a league-worst 26-44 performance in the first half.

Michel Baez, a 6-foot-8 Cuban right-hander, made his first start in front of a paying crowd on American soil in the July 4 game and impressed by pitching five innings of two-hit shutout baseball with nine strikeouts

“The future is bright I think for the TinCaps in the second half and I know for the Padres in the future,” says Nutter.

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