Tag Archives: Communication

After four seasons at Spalding U., righty Parisi transfers to Indiana State

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

Tell Jack Parisi he can’t do something and that’s just the motivation he needs.
“My whole baseball career — starting in high school, people said I’m never going to play college baseball and I’m never going to throw 90 mph,” says Parisi, a right-handed pitcher who four seasons at NCAA Division III Spalding University in Louisville, Ky. (2018-21), and is now at NCAA Division I Indiana State University for a graduate transfer year in 2022. “I bundled it all up, threw it aside and went to prove all these people wrong.
“Once somebody tells me a goal of mine can’t be achieved I know they’re wrong and I go to work to make it possible.”
Parisi, a 2017 graduate of Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., made 41 appearances (38 starts) for Spalding, going 21-8 with four complete games and a 2.97 earned run average. He produced 269 strikeouts and 107 walks in 218 innings while holding opponents to a .215 batting average.
In 2021, the 22-year-old righty made 12 starts for Eagles head coach Matt Downs and pitching coach Tayler Sheriff and was 8-3 with two complete games and a 1.67 ERA. He racked up 96 K’s and 29 walks in 75 2/3 innings and foes hit .200.
“He is definitely baseball-driven and has a positive mindset,” says Parisi of Downs. “He’s a great friend who I can have trust in.”
“One of my best best qualities as an athlete is I’m goal-driven and willing to put in the work to get better,” says Parisi. “I have a strong mindset — on and off the field. I’m very in-tune with everything happening around me.
“I’m a pretty focused athlete.”
Parisi, a 6-foot, 210-pounder, decided to take his extra year of eligibility granted because the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 season, began getting calls and texts just minutes after entering the transfer portal.
“I let it all come to me,” says Parisi. “Indiana State was one of the first teams to reach out to me.
“They were very interested in me. This is a chance to play for a great coaching staff and great team. I want to prove that I can pitch against the best out there and get my (Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft) stock up and keep my name out there.”
ISU head coach Mitch Hannahs indicated that he wanted Parisi to make a visit to the Terre Haute school’s campus as soon as possible. As a Sycamore, he gets to work with a staff of Hannahs, associate head coach Brian Smiley, assistant Brad Vanderglas and volunteer Justin Hancock while continuing to develop as a pitcher.
Parisi moved to Terre Haute last week — about two weeks before the start of fall classes — to familiar himself with the ISU weight room and athletic trainers.
He earned a Business Administration degree with a focus in Marketing and a minor in Communication at Spalding and plans to pursue a masters in Sport Management at Indiana State.
Throwing from a low to middle three-quarter overhand arm slot, Parisi throws a four-seam cutter, sinker, change-up and two kinds of sliders.
“My junior year of high school someone noticed that the ball was cutting out of my hand,” says Parisi. “I began calling my fastball a cutter.”
His fastest pitch is the sinker, which has been clocked as high as 95 mph and sits at 90 to 93.
He uses a “circle” change. His hard slider has a sharp bite at the end a tops out around 85 mpg. His soft slider is more of a “gyro” ball that moves across the plate like a frisbee and maxes out near 79 mph.
Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Jack played from 4 until 12 at Don Ayres Little League then had travel ball stints with the Mark DeLaGarza-led Summit City Sluggers, AWP and the Javier DeJesus-coached Fort Wayne Diamondbacks.
At Homestead, Parisi played for two Spartans head coaches — Steve Sotir as a freshman and Nick Byall the last three seasons.
“I learned a lot from both of them,” says Parisi. “(Byall’s) a great guy and a great coach. He’s there for his players. He’s one of those teachers you can reach out to.
“He’s looking out for your best interests.”
During his college summers, Parisi has been with the Manatees of the Port Lucie-based Central Florida Collegiate League in 2018, Casey Harms-coached Waterloo (Iowa) Bucks of the Northwoods League in 2019 and trained with Greg Vogt at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., in 2020 and 2021.
He credits his time at PRP last summer with developing his sinker and hard slider.
Casa Restaurants director of operations Tom Parisi and wife Kathy Parisi have two sons — J.T. (28) and Jack. J.T. Parisi played baseball at Homestead then graduated from Indiana University and law school at Vandberbilt University. He is now a lawyer in Chicago.

Jack Parisi (Spalding University Photo)
Jack Parisi (Spalding University Photo)
Jack Parisi (Spalding University Photo)
Jack Parisi (Spalding University Photo)

Woeste sets table for IU Southeast’s first NAIA World Series team

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

Clay Woeste just played in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, where he made the all-tournament team as Indiana University Southeast’s starting second baseman and lead-off hitter.
The NAIA Ball Podcast selected righty swinger Woeste (.374, 8 home runs, 21 runs batted in, 89 runs scored, 38 stolen bases and a 1.053 OPS) as second-team All-America and Grenadiers head coach Ben Reel as National Coach of the Year.
While finishing fifth in its first World Series appearance, IUS went 50-16 overall and 26-1 in the River States Conference.
At 22, Woeste (pronounced Wee-Stee) can look back on many baseball memories.
“It was surreal,” says Woeste of playing in Lewiston. “That’s the best way to describe it.
“That’s all we ever talked about and we were finally there.”
But once the games began, it was all-business for the Grenadiers.
“We would do what you’ve been doing all year,” says Woeste. “Our guys were so special to be around.
“No matter what was thrown our way we found a way to get through it.”
During the season, shortstop Daunte DeCelllo went out with an injury and Woeste moved to that side of the infield. DeCello came back at the end of year then RSC Player of the Year Matt Monahan got hurt and missed the postseason.
Yet IUS just kept going.
“No matter what was thrown our way we found a way to get through it,” says Woeste.
Reel, who just completed his 13th campaign at the school in New Albany, has built a national power with limited resources.
“He has the ability to recruit amazing guys and he does with only one scholarship,” says Woeste. “It’s amazing.
“We work really hard in the fall and when we go out in the spring he just lets us play. We reap what we sow.”
Woeste considers his athletic quality to be the work ethic and durability that has helped him stay on the field day in and day out.
“I keep my body healthy,” says Woeste, a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder.
That body has stolen 89 bases in 97 attempts from 2018-21.
“My sophomore year I came into my own stealing bases (swiping 34-of-34),” say Woeste. “Coach Reel saw that and started leading off all the time and I was pretty much given the green light.”
Woeste was supposed to play in the Coastal Plain League in the summer of 2020 but when the COVID-19 pandemic caused that loop to shutdown he took on with the Thoroughbreds in the Louisville Collegiate League, which played most its games at Trinity High School.
This summer, Woeste is with the CPL’s Holly Springs (N.C.) Salamanders, coached by Kevin Soine.
With a double major (Professional Selling and Marketing) and a minor (Communication) already completed, he plans to return to IU Southeast for his pandemic-related extra year of baseball eligibility.
The diamond has been a big part of his life all these years. But that was not his first sport.
Clay had his hand on the throttle before he really had his hand on a bat. At 5, he was racing 50 cc machines in motocross.
His parents — Matt and Karen Woeste — moved from northern Kentucky to Aurora, Ind., so fourth grader Clay could ride on a track owned by the family of Ezra Hastings (who is now a professional motocross racer).
Since there was no motocross in the winter, Clay played basketball in the winter. His hoops coach — Bill Rose — persuaded him to play in what is now called Aurora Youth Baseball.
“I never really turned back after that,” says Woeste, who raced until 11 and placed in the top three twice and won at the Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., then turned more and more attention to the diamond.
When he reached middle school, Woeste played for the Cincinnati Tribe travel organization.
During his high school years, he was with Reds RBI team coached by Roosevelt Barnes, father of Tribe teammate R.J. Barnes.
“We got close and I went with him,” says Clay of R.J. Roosevelt Barnes is now also the head baseball coach at LaSalle High School in Green Township, Ohio.
Woeste played briefly during his senior summer for the Midland RedHawks and then that fall with the Midland Redskins.
After attending South Dearborn schools for grades 4-8 and transferred to Lawrenceburg (Ind.) High School as a freshman and played four baseball seasons for Tigers head coach Nick Tremain.
“He was a great coach with us,” says Woeste. “My freshmen year he was more hands-on and harder. He developed us so that by the time we were seniors we just went out and played
“That’s why we were so good our senior year.”
In 2017, Lawrenceburg (31-2) won the Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference and IHSAA Class 3A South Dearborn Sectional then topped Boonville 7-5 in the semifinals of the North Harrison Regional before bowing 4-2 to eventual state champion Jasper in the final.

Clay Woeste (IU Southeast Photo)
Clay Woeste hits for Indiana University Southeast during the 2021 NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. (IU Southeast Photo)

Crews roams center field, leads off for Evansville Purple Aces

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like the buffalo that used to roam his family’s farm, Kenton Crews is drawn to the open expanses of the baseball field.

A center fielder since his days at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind., Crews uses the handle @superbuffaloman on Twitter and rambles in the middle of the outfield as a University of Evansville redshirt junior.

“I love playing center field,” says Crews, a 6-foot-1, 187-pounder. “It’s the most fun thing of everything about baseball.”

Crews, 23, tends to play shallow for the Purple Aces and chases balls over his head.

“I feel more comfortable running back and catching balls over my shoulder,” says Crews, who used to do a similar thing as Heritage Hills football wide receiver. 

When Crews reached UE, his favorite number — 5 — was not available. It was the number worn by his father Michael, who was a center fielder and a football player at Ball State University.

Kenton decided to go with 15 in purple, orange and white because that’s the digit donned by fly-chasing center fielder Jim Edmonds with the St. Louis Cardinals. Kenton grew up rooting for the Redbirds and stars like Edmonds, Jasper, Ind., native Scott Rolen and slugger Albert Pujols.

Speed put Crews in the outfield and made him effective in the lead-off slot with the Aces at-bat.

“One thing that we really focus on is that when the lead-off hitter each inning gets on base your chances of scoring go up,” says Crews. “A lot of (lead-off hitters) will take pitches. But if you can get a hittable pitch you should swing at it — especially fastballs early in the count instead of swing at the pitcher’s pitch.

“I’m usually pretty aggressive when I’m hitting lead-off.”

Going into a Missouri Valley Conference series April 23-25 against Illinois State, Crews is hitting .393 (35-of-89) with three home runs, four triples, eight doubles, 22 runs batted in, 21 runs scored and 6-of-9 in stolen bases. He sports a 1.145 OPS (.471 on-baseball percentage and .674 slugging average) in 28 games (24 starts).

For his career — which includes a redshirt season due to injury in 2019 — Crews is hitting .295 (161-of-545) with 11 homers, eight triples, 32 doubles, 79 RBIs, 81 runs and 33-of-42 in stolen bases. His OPS is .793 (.349 on-baseball percentage and .444 slugging average) in 143 games.

The righty swinger has 10 multi-hit games in 2021. He hit for the cycle (homer, triple, double and single) March 21 against visiting Butler. His 4-for-5 day produced four RBIs and two runs scored.

During his cycle, Crews tripled to left center in the bottom of the first inning, doubled to center in the third, homered to left in the seventh and singled in the eighth.

“Teammates were talking about it at a whisper,” says Crews about the Evansville dugout. “People didn’t know how to act.

“I was nervous about it. I didn’t want to let everybody down.”

The first two cycles of Crews’ baseball life came as a grade schooler with a Dale (Ind.) Buffaloes. 

Born in Evansville, Kenton lived with father Michael, mother Kathleen and sister Sienna in a house in Lincoln State Park.

Kenton grew up catching snakes, frogs and turtles for the nature center where his father was — and still is — an interpretive naturalist. He was a football coach at Heritage Hills Middle School was a long stretch.

When Kenton was 7, the family moved to a 100-acre farm, where the Crews raised big, wooly mammals and ran a restaurant — Buffalo Run Farm, Grill & Gifts — for two decades.

Michael coached Sienna’s T-ball team (she is a year older than her brother). After the Buffaloes, Kenton played travel ball with the Southern Indiana Spikes from 8-13. He was with the HHMS and was on a Pony team in Tell City, Ind.

As a high schooler, Crews was an all-stater and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series MVP as a senior in 2016 and also a all-state and all-conference baseball and football players. 

Greg Gogel was then head baseball coach at Heritage Hills.

“I love Coach Gogel with all my heart,” says Crews of a longtime family friend and former teammate of cousin Cole Seifrig (who took a lateral from future pro quarterback Jay Cutler and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Cutler in overtime to lead Heritage Hills to a 27-24 victory against Zionville in the 2000 IHSAA Class 3A state championship game). “He taught me more lessons in life than anyone other than my dad.”

Gogel’s wife, Jenna, is Kenton’s chiropractor.

Crews played for the Louisville-based Ironmen Baseball Club then — the summer following his senior year at Heritage Hills — the Evansville Razorbacks.

After missing his 16U summer with a hamstring injury, Kenton decided to attend college where his sister Sienna ran cross country and track.

He also liked the sincerity displayed by Aces head coach Wes Carroll and his staff during the recruiting process.

“They came to me instead of me chasing after somebody else,” says Crews. “I appreciated that effort and that honesty.

“Coach Carroll knows what he’s talking about. He told me he can make me into a better baseball player. I hope we can be friends and have a relationship the rest of my life.”

Kenton is the fourth NCAA Division I competitor in the family.

“She’s the real athlete in our family,” says Kenton of his mother.

As Kathleen Beumel, she was a 10-time state champion in cross country and track at Apollo High School in Owensboro, Ky. After attending Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, she transferred to the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she was cheer captain. At 20, she experienced a crippling injury.

“She broke her neck and was paralyzed,” says Kenton. “She wasn’t supposed to walk again or have kids.

“It’s a miracle she was able to move again and she was able to run.”

Kathleen Crews is now a program assistant at Heritage Hills and involved in the community.

Kenton graduated from UE in December 2020 with a degree in Communication, Advertising and Public Relations and is now pursuing a Masters in Leadership. All the courses are online.

“We get to work at our own pace,” says Crews. “We’re now learning empathy and showing people better ways to do things.”

Crews spent the summers of 2017 and 2018 with the Northwoods League’s Mankato (Minn.) MoonDogs and after sitting out the summer of 2019 while recuperating he was with the NL’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Mac Daddies, where former Mankato teammate and Indiana State player C.J. Huntley was on the coaching staff and Greg Weyrich was the manager.

“He was a super nice guy and knew a lot,” says Crews, who has another year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2020 spring season. “I’m waiting to see about this summer.

“I’d like to play another season if (Carroll) would have me.”

Kenton Crews (University of Evansville Photo)

Kentucky’s Collett making most of his extra time on diamond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

T.J. Collett was not sure he’d still be playing baseball a year ago and the University of Kentucky slugger is enjoying the opportunity.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, Collett and the rest of the Wildcats were getting ready to leave for a trip to Nashville, Tenn., to play Vanderbilt.

The series with Vandy was postponed. Then the players were sent home for two weeks. Then the season was called off and the rest of the spring semester was completed through online classes.

“For all I knew — for about a month — I’d never play baseball again,” says Collett. “I’m glad the NCAA gave me the chance to come back and finish my career on my terms.”

Offered an extra year of eligibility after completing his undergraduate Communication degree, Collett took it and pursued his Masters in Communication while also playing as a graduate student in 2021. He’s about four weeks from completing his work.

He began his college career as a Finance major, but changed.

“I went with Communication because I love people,” says Collett. “I can interact in a business environment and there’s wide variety of jobs.

“I’m not sure what I want yet.”

In 29 baseball games (all starts), the lefty-swinging first baseman is hitting .301(31-of-103) with nine home runs (including two in his first multi-homer game March 16 against Murray State), one triple, five doubles, 20 runs scored and 36 runs batted in to go with a .425 on-base percentage and .631 slugging average.

Kentucky is 20-9 heading into a Tuesday, April 13 non-conference home game against Bellarmine.

Collett (pronounced Caw-LET) has played in 147 games at UK (120) starts and is hitting .276 (135-of-490) with 35 homers, two triples, 22 doubles, 133 RBIs, 87 runs, a .373 on-base percentage and .543 slugging average.

He sits eighth on Kentucky’s all-time homer list behind John Wilson (50), Terre Haute South Vigo High School graduate and good friend A.J. Reed (40), Aaron McGlone (39), Collin Cowgill (37), Jeff Abbott (37), Randy Clark (37) and Jeff Shartzer (37). 

Most of the time Collett is in the No. 3 or No. 4 slot in the batting order. Recently, he’s been in the 2-hole.

“There’s not a huge difference,” says Collett. “I’ve noticed my at-bats come around a little bit quicker. I like it.

“But responsibilities don’t change. I do anything I can anything to get a run in — anyway we can score.”

Collett was recruited to Kentucky out of Terre Haute (Ind.) North Vigo High School as a catcher. He recovered fine from hip surgery his senior year but four more procedures had him switching to first base. 

He played summer ball for the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Mohawks of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League in 2017, recuperated from surgery in 2018 and was with the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League in 2019 and in the College Summer League at Grand Park in 2020.

At North Vigo, Collett played for IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up teams in 2014 and 2015 and was 2016 Indiana Mr. Baseball. As a Patriot he was coached by Shawn Turner and Fay Spetter

“They were two of the most influential people in my baseball people,” says Collett of Turner and Spetter. “They poured into me as much as they could.”

In travel ball, Collett spent his 14U through 18U summers with the Indiana Bulls and counts former Bulls coach and director of player development and current Indiana University assistant Dan Held as another who made a big impact on his game.

Collett’s first year at Kentucky was also the first for Wildcats head coach Nick Mingione.

“He’s a man of faith,” says Collett of Mingione. “He really has everybody’s best intentions at heart.

“When I first met him he had this insane energy. The past five years that energy has stayed up.”

Collett has put his energies into his studies and his play as well as community service and his a nominee for the 2021 Senior CLASS Award.

“It means a ton to me,” says Collett. “It’s more than just playing the sport.

“Maybe some younger players can be inspired by that.”

UK’s Troy Squires was the Senior CLASS Award winner for baseball in 2018.

“He told me that’s one of the coolest awards he’s ever received,” says Collett, who has spent much of his community service time with the NEGU/Jessie Rees Foundation helping children fighting cancer to “Never Ever Give Up.”

Notre Dame’s Daniel Jung is also on the 2021 Senior CLASS nomination list.

Timothy John Collett, who turns 24 on June 26, is the son of John and Sallee Collett. His older brother is Doug Collett (29).

T.J. Collett (University of Kentucky Photo)

Assistant Pustay preparing for 11th season at DePauw U.

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Pustay has witnessed plenty of winning since he returned to his college alma mater to coach baseball.

The 2009 graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., joined the Tigers for the 2011 season and has been with the program as an assistant ever since. 

In Pustay’s 10 seasons heading into 2021, DePauw is 201-176 and has been as high as No. 11 in the NCAA Division III national rankings (2012).

The North Coast Athletic Conference member Tigers went 4-4 before COVID-19 put an end to the 2020 season. 

As of this writing, the DePauw staff features fifth-year head coach Blake Allen (who is in charge of pitchers and catcher) and Pustay (who is responsible for infielders, outfielders and hitters plus recruiting). 

Pustay asks his infielders in particular to be aggressive. 

“I want them making mistakes on their toes rather than making mistakes on their heels,” says Pustay. “I don’t want them to get in bad position and let ball play them.

“A rule we’ve tried to instill the last two years is for infielders try to say four words between each pitch (encouragement to the pitch or something strategic). It’s so they’re engaged and not waiting for something to happen.”

Outfielders are expected to make the play that’s “smart, controlled and correct.”

“Their aggression is a little more controlled,” says Pustay. “They have to be 90 percent sure to throw to the lead base. Otherwise, cut your losses and get the ball to second base (to keep the double play in order).”

Hitting is based on keeping things simple and playing to the athlete’s strengths.

“You win with who you are a a hitter,” says Pustay. “There’s a million different ways to win a ballgame. We’d like nothing better than putting a bunch of crooked numbers on the board, but there’s noting wrong with winning with a hundred paper cuts.

“We make sure we know ourselves as hitters. We are allowing guys the freedom to swing away if they feel that’s their game and really helps us.

“We want to make a good swing and hit the ball hard. We try to compete like heck on every pitch.”

In keeping the approach simple, the shorter the pre-swing thought the better.

“If you’re speaking to yourself in full sentences, you have to get out of the box,” says Pustay. “We want to use one or two words.”

Former Purdue University Northwest hurler Kyle Flessner was a volunteer coach last spring, but has since become the pitching coach at East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss.

As a two-man crew, Pustay and Allen conducted fall practice in September and October. 

As a social distancing measure and so each student could have a solo dormitory room, only freshmen and sophomores were on-campus while juniors and seniors took online classes. Ballplayers worked out on their own or in small groups away from DePauw.

“It was sort of a blessing and curse all at the same time,” says Pustay. “For the freshmen, it was a great fall. They had a lot of great individual time — one-on-one development with the coaches. 

“We had 12 position players on-campus. It was a nice crash course for freshmen for sure.”

Having the others off-campus was not ideal, but coaches and players made it work with plenty of Zoom meetings and phone calls. Pustay and Allen regularly checked in with their student-athletes.

“What I missed most this fall was the daily interaction with players walking by my office on the way to class or the weight room,” says Pustay. “As (DePauw head men’s basketball coach Bill Fenlon says), it’s a relationship business.

“You have to care for these guys on and off the field. You find out what’s important to them. It’s a mentorship.”

Pustay has been with Allen for the past four seasons after spending six with Jake Martin at the head of the Tigers program.

“The thing I really appreciate about Blake is that character counts with him,” says Pustay. “You win with the right people.

“Personally, not only has he given me a lot of responsibility but he also commands results. We’ve got to keep working. We can’t have time where we’re patting ourselves on the back for too long.”

As a father of three, Allen has also passed along lessons about balancing family life and baseball. Matt and Laura Pustay live in Indianapolis with daughter Ellie (3) and son Joey (1).

“It’s important to take time for your family during a pretty demanding coaching schedule,” says Pustay.

These are the kinds of values put forth by American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Mike Roberts when Pustay served on his Cotuit Kettleers staff in the Cap Cod League in the summer of 2014.

“It was a graduate course — essentially — in baseball,” says Pustay. “I could talk for days about Mike Roberts. He taught myself and the other assistants about how to treat people. He really taught us how to make everybody around the park feel like they were a part of it. That whole community lived for the Kettleers.

“It was a very family-friendly experience.”

Pustay got to know the names of a lot of dogs and kids.

“Mike Roberts taught me how to be a better person and trust myself,” says Pustay. “He’s a class act.”

Through Allen’s Vanderbilt University connections, Pustay has worked four fall camps at the NCAA D-I powerhouse (2015-19). Tim Corbin is the Commodores head coach. 

Pustay has also worked camps at Notre Dame during the tenure of Mik Aoki and and Kentucky when Gary Henderson was head coach.

A native of Granville, Ohio, Pustay graduated from Granville High School in 2005 and earned three baseball letters at DePauw (2007, 2008 and 2009) as a catcher while playing for head coach Matt Walker (who is now head football coach at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls). 

In 2009, seniors Pustay, Jack Gavin, David Morefield, Mike Stout and Justin Weiner were co-captains for DePauw.

The “Palm-Up Award” is given to the most selfless Tigers teammate and Pustay earned it three times.

For two summers during his college career, Pustay played for the Newark (Ohio) Mavericks. 

He holds a Communication degree from DePauw and a Masters of Communication from Indiana State University.

Pustay helped former high school teammate Sean Rainey with the Granville American Legion Post 398 team in the summer of 2009 then became an assistant at NCAA D-III Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and was with the Ryan Grice-coached Crusaders for 2010 spring season.

“Coach Grice gave me a pretty long leash,” says Pustay. “He handed the catching position over to me. It was the best thing to happen to me as a young coach, being given that much responsibility.”

Grice did not nit-pick, he just asked that Pustay keep him posted about what he was doing.

Martin, who was a DePauw assistant when Pustay played for the Tigers, had put in a good word for him at Capital.

When Martin became DePauw’s head coach, he brought Pustay back to Greencastle. The two have remained close even after Martin went down the road to become head coach at Wabash College.

Matt Pustay has been an assistant baseball coach at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., since the 2011 season. He finished his playing career with the Tigers in 2009. (DePauw University Photo)

Bethel U. allows Tubaugh to pursue his love for the game

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Patrick Tubaugh doesn’t pitch, hit or catch the baseball for Bethel University

Having a mild form of Cerebral Palsy, Tubaugh has not played the game since he was a youngster in LaPorte, Ind. His CP causes limited mobility in his knees and chronic spasticity — stiffness — in his legs.

But Tubaugh, who graduated in May as a Business Management major with a minor in Communication, made an impact for Pilots baseball in his four seasons as a student manager for the NAIA program based in Mishawaka, Ind. 

His primary gameday duty was keeping score, including spray charts for the opponents.

Based on the plays Tubaugh was charting, he was able to relay valuable information to Bethel head coach Seth Zartman or assistant Kiel Boynton that could be used against an opponent.

“I do have a part to play in match-ups,” says Tubaugh, who helped the Pilots go 11-0 in the fall of 2019 and 8-7 in the spring of 2020 before COVID-19 put an end to the season. “I take my job vary seriously.

“We took charge as a senior class (in 2019-20). We came together and played team baseball. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball field to this point.”

Tubaugh was also able to point out trends like a foe’s ability to steal bases and or offensive trends. These tendencies were more pronounced in Crossroads League games where teams see each other so often.

“You do anything you can to get a leg up on (conference opponents),” says Tubaugh. “This is a way I can be productive and help the team win.

“It’s a lot of fun and I enjoy that.”

Now working toward a masters degree in Organizational Leadership, Tubaugh has taken on the new position of director of baseball operations. 

“I enjoy the camaraderie of it all and the sense of family,” says Tubaugh. “I’ve grown a lot with the guys and grown close to the coaches as well.

“I just love baseball. I’d do anything to be around the game. I’m blessed to be where I’m at for a fifth year.”

As director of ops, Tubaugh monitors the Internet and social media to help with recruiting leads, facilitates practices with the running of drills and he will continue to keep the book — something he learned while working with Bethel assistant Dick Siler, who was on the staff for 23 seasons and passed away July 20 at 84.

“Coach Siler taught me a lot about keeping the book,” says Tubaugh, 23. “In high school, I did not have a lot of experience with it. I sat next to (Siler) every year for three years and picked up a lot of knowledge of the game.

“I miss him dearly. He lived a great life. That’s what keeps me comforted.”

Tubaugh also looks up to Zartman and Boynton.

“I love him for many reasons,” says Tubaugh of Zartman aka Coach Z. “He’s one of my heroes. He is grounded in what really matters. It’s not a win at all costs mentality with him. It’s how you win — with respect for your opponents and you put God in the center of it all.

“(Boynton) has mild form of cerebral palsy like I do. He’s been a mentor. Coach K and I talk almost everyday. He’s been instrumental in giving me that confidence in my coaching career.”

Tubaugh chose Organizational Leadership for his masters because it clicks with his personality and his aspirations.

“I’m a big people person,” says Tubaugh. “If you treat your employees well, organizational culture goes a long way toward positive productivity.

“Baseball overlays with that. My ultimate goal in life is to start an organization that allows kids with physical disabilities to play baseball. That’s my dream.”

Born in Chicago, Tubaugh moved to LaPorte at a young age and played T-ball and machine pitch until his legs would no longer let him.

In the fall of his junior year at LaPorte High School, Slicers head baseball coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame member Scott Upp approached him about being a student manager and he gladly accepted.

“He changed my life,” says Tubaugh, who now had an outlet for the sport he loved.

Tubaugh appreciates the history of the game and how it relates to this country.

“I remember reading about Jackie Robinson (breaking the color line) and what that meant,” says Tubaugh. “From a game standpoint, It’s really a mental game more than anything. The person who perseveres through adversity will come out on top. It’s about encouraging and being mentally tough.

“And there’s always something going on in the game.”

The pandemic has made baseball look differently at Bethel. All classes are now virtual. In the fall, the Pilots were able to conduct workouts, but they had to pay attention to social distancing.

“We had a lot of intrasquad scrimmages and small-group practices,” says Tubaugh. “It’s not ideal by any means. But it’s what was necessary to stay safe.

“If you want to play baseball that’s what you do.”

Patrick’s parents are Brian Tubaugh and Mary Drewes. His stepmother is Kathie Tubaugh. His stepfather is Steve Drewes. Sister Alli Tubaugh, a LaPorte High grad, earned her Bethel diploma in 2019. Stepbrothers are Dylan Drewes, Gavin Drewes and Owen Drewes. Dylan graduated from Greenwood (Ind.) High School and the other two are still in high school.

Patrick Tubaugh tells why he when to Bethel University. (Bethel University Video)
Patrick Tubaugh, who received his undergraduate degree at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., in May 2020, is now director of baseball operations for the Pilots. (Bethel University Photo)

Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)

Lefty Wynja getting ready for South Florida Bulls

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hayden Wynja hasn’t had far to go to prepare for his next diamond destination.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound left-handed pitcher who graduated from Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis in 2017 has been getting ready to join the mound staff at the University of South Florida by taking part in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

On Thursday, July 16, Wynja (pronounced Win-Yuh) relieved during the CSL All-Star Game at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

“It felt like baseball again,” says Wynja, who is with the A-Team in the 12-team circuit. “We were on grass and dirt and in front of people.

“It was awesome.”

The CSL came together when other summer leagues were shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most games are played on Mondays and Tuesdays with the option of training at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park Wednesday through Friday.

“It’s not like any summer ball I’ve ever played,” says Wynja. “I like the structure of it, too and that it’s close to home.”

At Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Wynja and the Statesmen were coming off a win against No. 1-ranked Logan A. Logan on March 7 when they learned that the 2020 spring season was over.

A similar storyline has been echoed across college baseball.

“This is our season and people are treating it like that,” says Wynja of the Grand Park league. “Players are extremely motivated. They want to play ball. The level of competition is really, really high.”

It was while training during the quarantine that Wynja heard about the opportunity put together by Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments from ball-playing friends.

“It’s crazy how quickly word traveled,” says Wynja.

Besides working on his pitches, including a four-seam running fastball that is clocked in the low 90’s, a hard-biting slider and four-seam change-up generally coming into at 81 to 83 mph thrown from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Wynja has been carrying a full online college course load. 

He’s taking two through Lincoln Trail and two through USF, which is located in Tampa, Fla.

“Art History is kicking my butt,” says Wynja of one South Florida class. He intends to major in Communication at his new school.

Wynja helped Heritage Christian to IHSAA Class 2A sectional titles in 2015 at Park Tudor, 2016 at Heritage Christian and 2017 at Triton Central. He began pitching as a junior and impressed enough to be selected in the 30th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, but did not sign.

“It didn’t make sense,” says Wynja. “I needed more confidence.

“When I get into pro ball, I want to stay there. I want to make baseball a career. It’s about when I’m ready.

“Hopefully my name is called next year (in the MLB Draft) and I can get started in pro ball.”

Thanks to the pandemic, the southpaw still has three years of NCAA eligibility (one added in 2020).

South Florida’s head coach is Billy Mohl. Karsten Whitson is the Bulls’ pitching coach.

Wynja went to Purdue University in the fall of 2017 as a Selling and Sales Management major. He broke his back and was redshirted for the 2018 season.

The lanky lefty helped the Vic Evans-coached Owensboro (Ky.) RiverDawgs to an Ohio Valley League championship that summer. Aaron Biddle was the pitching coach.

Pitching for Purdue in 2019, Wynja got into eight games (all in relief) and went 0-0 with 12 strikeouts and nine walks in 11 2/3 innings.

Mark Wasikowski was then the Boilermakers head coach. Wynja worked closely with then-pitching coach Elliott Cribby.

“I loved Cribby,” says Wynja. “He’s one of the best pitching coaches I’ve ever had. You could talk to him. He was relatable.

“He pushed us really hard, but he was always there. You knew he had your back. That’s important in coaching.”

In the summer of 2019, Wynja wore the jersey of the Washington-based D.C. Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. He relieved in five of eight appearances, going 1-2 with 28 strikeouts and 21 walks in 21 innings.

Michael Barbera is the Grays’ founder, president and chairman.

Deciding to go the junior college route, Wynja selected Lincoln Trail. But he did not commit before Statesman head coach Kevin Bowers had secured a pitching coach. 

That turned out to be Andrew Elliott, who pitched at Wright State University and played two years in the Baltimore Orioles organization and two in independent pro ball.

“We clicked right away,” says Wynja of Elliott. “He was similar to Coach Cribby. He was always motivating you. 

“He played pro ball, so he knew what he was talking about.”

Wynja made five mound appearances (four in relief) for Lincoln Trail in 2020, going 1-2 with 17 strikeouts and 18 walks in 13 1/3 innings.

Most of the K’s came courtesy of the slider.

“It’s nasty,” says Wynja of a delivery that is more horizontal than vertical. “That’s my pitch. I love that thing.

“It bites and it bites hard.”

Wynja saw Bowers as a father figure.

“He’s the closest thing to a parent you can have away from home,” says Wynja. “My cousin (Blake Wynja, who is one year older than Hayden) passed away during the season. He told me to go home and spend time with my family.

“It was family, academics then baseball. He always makes sure we’re handling our academics. That’s something I really appreciated. He was always in your corner.”

Hayden is part of a large blended family. There’s mother Kristi, father Brad and siblings Grace Wynja, Bella Wynja, Max Lock, Hunter Drook, Harper Drook and Logan Wynja.

Mom is in pharmaceutical sales. Dad is an accountant. Grace is a 2020 Heritage Christian graduate bound for Purdue. Bella is a 5-foot-11 HC sophomore-to-be on the HC volleyball team. Max is entering eighth grade. Twins Hunter (a boy) and Harper (a girl) are going into sixth grade. Logan is 5.

When Hayden Wynja closes the books on Lincoln Trail, he will have two associate degrees (Sport Management and Science) and a load of baseball knowledge.

“It’s best decision I ever made regarding baseball,” says Wynja of deciding LTC would be his junior college home. “It was amazing. There was great competition.

“Everyone has the same mentality — get better. Everyone wants to be the best versions of themselves.”

Wynja says a big college town can offer many distractions. Not so in tiny Robinson.

“It was baseball and school strictly,” says Wynja. “There’s nothing else.

“Junior college is not for everyone. It’s for people who love baseball and being around the game. 

“That’s what made it more enjoyable for me.”

Wynja was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to central Indiana at 2.

He played T-ball then at Billericay Park in Fishers. His first travel ball teams were the Cats and HSE Royals.

During his high school summers, he was coached by Ken Granger with USAthletic and then the Pony Express.

Wynja attended Heritage Christian from kindergarten through eighth grade then transferred to Indianapolis Cathedral High School, where he was cut from the baseball and basketball teams as a 5-foot-10, 110-pound freshman. He went back to Heritage Christian.

It was after he hit a walk-off grand slam in travel ball in the seventh grade that Eagles baseball coach Dan Ambrose sent Wynja a congratulatory letter and he later had him on his team.

“(Ambrose) made baseball fun,” says Wynja. “He was one of my teachers, too.”

Wynja split time between varsity and junior varsity as a sophomore in baseball and basketball then played varsity after that.

Heritage Christian, coached by Corey Jackson, made a run all the way to the 2A southern semistate in basketball with Wynja among the five seniors.

“That’s the favorite team I’ve ever been a part of without a doubt,” says Wynja. “We had great chemistry.

“We broke countless school records and were super, super close.”

HC’s annual senior trip to New York came during regional week and the players opted to miss it for practice. During that week, they got to go on a helicopter ride, go-karting and sat curtsied at an Indiana Pacers game among memorable events.

After winning the Speedway Sectional, the Eagles reigned at the Greenfield-Central Regional before being stopped by eventual state runner-up Crawford County in the Richmond Semistate.

Hayden Wynja pitches for the D.C. Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in 2019. He pitched for Lincoln Trail College in 2020 and is bound for the University of South Florida. He is a graduate of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis. He played at Purdue University in 2018. He was the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star for the A-Team. (D.C. Grays Photo)
Hayden Wynja, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound left-handed pitcher, spent his 2020 baseball season at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. He is a 2017 graduate of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis. After a redshirt season, he played at Purdue University in 2019. He has three years of NCAA eligibility remaining as he transfers to the University of South Florida. (Lincoln Trail College Photo)

Evansville Razorbacks promote accountability, communication, commitment

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 18U Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have been a force in the travel baseball world with four Pastime Tournaments national championships and a National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series runner-up finish.

The 2017 team went 40-0.

Established in 2002 by Jeremy Johnson, the Razorbacks have had 336 players sign on with college baseball programs and numerous players have been in pro ball.

“This program sets guys up not only in baseball, but their whole life,” says Johnson. “It’s a fraternity. You’re going to be a Razorback the rest of your life.

“It’s bigger than anybody, including me.”

Johnson is a 1993 Mater Dei graduate. He grew up spending Saturday mornings helping his father groom youth diamonds around Evansville. C.J. Johnson is a 2017 inductee into the Greater Evansville Sports Hall of Fame as a baseball administrator.

At 14, Jeremy severely hurt his right arm and learned how throw serviceably with his left. In high school, he was a successful cross country and track runner.

Johnson networks with college coaches and does his best to educate players and parents on the recruiting process and deciding on the best fit for them.

“My job is to help you find out your ‘why,’’ says Johnson. “What is driving you? If you don’t know that, you can get lost. You need to have a really good grasp on that. If you don’t and everything starts to go south, you’ll start panicking.”

And it doesn’t have to be NCAA Division I or bust. Some are best-suited by going the D-II, D-III, NAIA or junior college route.

“I’m completely over the fact that Division I is the best case scenario (for every player),” says Johnson. “You should pick a school where, if you didn’t play baseball any more, you wouldn’t want to transfer.

“It’s very, very personal thing for each kid. Look at schools that fit you personally. Start putting together legitimate ideas on what you know you want instead of what you think you want.

“High school is very status-orientedYou’re not doing it for your teammates. There’s a 50-50 shot you’ll meet your wife there.

“It’s way more than baseball.”

Johnson says he has watched the transfer portal blow up in recent years in part because of so many early commits (freshmen and sophomore are making verbal commitments these days) and players and parents not doing their due diligence on what they want and what a program has to offer.

“They may be good enough to be a tweener with D-I,” says Johnson. “But they could play more at D-II or go to D-III and be an All-American.

“We don’t want them to have regrets or at least minimize them.”

While he has been involved in most of the 336 college signings, Johnson doesn’t take credit. It’s the players with the talent.

“I’m not the reason any of my kid plays in college,” says Johnson. “I’m just a guy who goes to bat for them. My job is to market them. I’m an avenue.

“The kids are the ones that deserve everything. I didn’t throw a ball, catch a ball or hit it. I’m not the reason for the season.”

A junior college advocate, Johnson says those players tend to play with a chip on their shoulder. Six starters on the Razorbacks’ 2018  team went on to JC ball. The 2017 club was made up mostly of D-I commits.

“It saves money and keeps their options open,” says Johnson. “It makes you grind a little bit. You find out if you really love baseball if you go junior college.”

Johnson says the Razorbacks are well-represented in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference (John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois, Wabash Valley).

Johnson says parents don’t always receive personal feedback when they take their sons to showcases. They get the numbers, but not an idea of what that coaching staff thinks of the player and how they would fit in their program.

Players can go to showcase after showcase and the money spent can add up to the cost of a scholarship.

“Tell me what you’re interested in doing and let me market you,” says Johnson. He will do his best to have college coaches look at the player and let them know what they think.

“College recruiting always in flux,” says Johnson. “(Recruiters) don’t want to tell you yes or no. There’s a lot of maybes. That’s a frustrating thing. I tell parents to build an idea of where their kid really fits.”

In showcases or with private lessons, many times players are told over and over again how good they are.

“Some are honest about good things and bad things,” says Johnson. “There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism. You need it.”

Johnson sees his role with the Razorbacks as driven by relationships.

“I get to know the kids,” says Johnson. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with them.”

While many players come from southern Indiana, southern Illinois and Kentucky, there is no real limit and have come from several states away.

“I’m not afraid to ask anybody,” says Johnson. “We have the ability to house a few kids.”

Many players spend two seasons with the Razorbacks, which Johnson says averages 17 to 20 college commits per year. In any given year, a third to half of the squad goes into the summer uncommitted.

Among the 2019 high school graduates from Indiana schools on the ’19 summer team were Evansville North shortststop/second baseman Alex Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Austin shortstop/right-handed pitcher/third baseman Drew Buhr (Saint Louis University), Castle left-handed pitcher Blake Ciuffetelli (USI), Castle first baseman Brodey Heaton (Belmont University), Evansville Memorial right-handed pitcher Isaac Housman (USI) and Tecumseh outfielder Steven Molinet (USI).

There’s also shortstop/second baseman Alex Adams (Purdue University), catcher Garret Gray (Butler University), right-handed pitcher Trey Nordmann (Howard College in Texas) and left-handed pitcher/outfielder/first baseman Mark Shallenberger (University of Evansville).

Former Ben Davis High School catcher Zyon Avery (Ohio University), Decatur Central right-hander Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and right-hander Garret Simpson (Eastern Kentucky University) are among the recent Razorbacks now playing college baseball.

Razorback alums left-hander Dean Kiekhefer (Oakland Athletics), right-hander Derek Self (Washington Nationals) and outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Boston Red Sox) played at Triple-A in 2019. All three played at the University of Louisville. Kiekhefer appeared in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 and with Oakland in 2018.

There’s also former Backs Easton McGee and Stewart Ijames.

Right-hander McGee played for Bowling Green in the Tampa Bay Rays system in 2019.

Outfielder Ijames, a former U of L player and in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, was with the independent Kansas City T-Bones in 2019.

Clint Barmes, a Vincennes Lincoln High School graduate who recently went into the Indiana State University and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame after a major league career, played for the Evansville Black Sox (1993-2001), which were picked up by the Razorbacks in 2002.

Johnson was an outfielder for the Jim Wittman-coached Black Sox in 1993-94. In a Black Sox alumni game, Johnson’s last pitch resulted in a Barmes home run.

“I hadn’t pitched in two years,” says Johnson. “Didn’t matter. Would happened on my best day.”

Former U of L catcher Jeff Arnold was signed by scout Kevin Christman and played in the San Francisco Giants organization.

Right-hander Morgan Coombs went to West Vigo High School and Ball State University then played independent ball.

Outfielder Sean Godfrey played at New Albany High School and Ball State before time in the Atlanta Braves system and indy ball.

First baseman Jon Hedges played at Indiana State.

Third baseman Kevin Hoef went to the University of Iowa and played indy ball.

Catcher Jeremy Lucas played at West Vigo and Indiana State before time in the Cleveland Indians system.

Black Sox right-hander Stephen Obenchain played at Evansville Memorial and the University of Evansville before stints in the Athletics system and independent ball.

First baseman Derek Peterson, who hails from New Jersey, went on to Temple University and played in Baltimore Orioles organization.

Black Sox right-hander Andy Rohleder played at Forest Park High School and the University of Evansville before tenures with the Florida Marlins organization and indy ball.

Right-hander P.J. Thomas, a Jeffersonville High School graduate who played at USI, was twice-drafted by the Red Sox and played indy ball.

Catcher Kolbrin Vitek (Ball State) played in the Red Sox organization.

Former Black Sox, Heritage Hills High School and University of Dayton catcher Mark Wahl was in the Orioles system.

While the Razorbacks run a full program with off-season training, Johnson says he is a realist and he knows that players have commitments to their hometown teams and work with their own hitting and pitching instructors. He doesn’t ask them to drive several hours to Evansville to hit them grounders.

“I’m not that full of myself,” says Johnson. “I have the utmost respect for high school programs.

“I love travel ball. But a large amount of travel ball is B.S. It’s such a money-driven situation. Travel ball — as a whole — is expensive for families with travel, hotels and all of that. We try to keep that cost down as low as we possibly can.”

When the 18U Razorbacks do travel, the team stays together in the same hotel.

Many of the players are getting close to going away to college. They get to experience curfews, team meetings and learn personal accountability. It’s an early look at their freshmen year and that first taste of freedom. They are responsible for their own laundry.

“The team runs the team,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot to be learned off the field until they go to college.”

Parents are encouraged treat the weekend like a getaway. All they have to do is attend the games and watch their sons play.

The organization expanded this off-season to 10 teams — 8U, 9U, 10U, 11U, two 12U squads, 13U, 14U, 16U and 18U. 8U to 14U is high school prep. 15U to 18U is college prep.

According to Johnson, whose 18U assistant coaches are Bob Davis, Ryan Dills and Buddy Hales, the emphasis is on teaching player accountability at an early age, communication with parents, speed and strength conditioning and commitment to helping the person, then the player.”

Top 18U events in 2020 include June 12-14 in Midland, Ohio, June 18-21 in Louisville, Ky., June 26-28 in Midland, Ohio, June 30-July 1 at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, July 5-9 at Perfect Game World Series (invitation only) in Hoover, Ala., and July 15-19 at the 18U Nationals in Indianapolis.

Jeremy and Christi Johnson married in 2013. There are three children — Seth (18), Ava (14) and Conner (13). Conner Johnson, now an eighth grader, was born in 2007, the same year the Razorbacks were NABF World Series runners-up.

“Spending summers with him with me is what ties it all together,” says Jeremy Johnson of time spent with Conner and Backs baseball.

EVANSVILLERAZORBACKSLOGO

The Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have placed 336 players in college baseball since 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks)

JEREMYJOHNSONEVANSVILLERAZORBACKS1

Jeremy Johnson (center) is the founder of the Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks travel baseball organization. The Razorbacks’ first season was in 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks Photo)

 

Cubs minor leaguer Jordan breaks down principles of infield play

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Levi Jordan, an infielder in the Chicago Cubs organization, holds an economics degree from the University of Washington.

To study economics is to look at efficiency, trends and systems. Jordan sees that transferring to sports and, specifically, baseball.

“There are more efficient ways to play the game,” says Jordan, who played 66 games for the Midwest League champion South Bend Cubs in 2019 and shared aspects of infield play at the monthly South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club session Monday, Dec. 16 at Four Winds Field. “You can master your foot work or perfect mechanics. There are just little things that you can add on to your game that makes you a more efficient player.”

Jordan covered areas such as pre-pitch routine, science and technique, circle of focus, the difference in corner and middle infielders, where and how to practice, communication and infield positioning and shifts.

Pre-pitch routine can go by many names – prep step, set step, de-cleat/re-cleat.

“Essentially, the pre-pitch routine is a way to adapt rhythm and timing,” says Jordan. “We’re trying to optimize range for infielders. We’re trying to give our infielders the best possible chance to make not only the routine play, but expanding their routine play range.”

And it’s another way for players to be on their toes and locked in.

Jordan explained science and technique in four parts:

1. Eyes register an event, message is set to the occipital (visual) lobe in the brain.

2. Message travels from the occipital lobe to the frontal (decision) lobe.

3. Decision is made to take action.

4. Motor cortex sends control signals to the spinal cord and on to the relevant muscles.

“Between .2 and .3 seconds your brain can react to something,” says Jordan. “I’ve been told it’s not humanly possible to react to something visual in less than .2 seconds.”

With the de-cleat/re-cleat, the cleats are literally taken up out of the ground and back into the ground.

“The reason for that is so that .3 seconds of reaction can happen while you’re in the air,” says Jordan. “Many coaches have told me you want to be on the ground at contact. I argue with them all the time. If I’m on the ground at contact, the next thing I have to do is pick my foot up off the ground, which doesn’t make sense.

“If the reaction process happens in air, your decision to move right or left happens before your feet are on the ground. Your feet can move in a way to move in that direction by the time you’re on the way back to the ground.

“That perfect timing is what optimizes our infield range.”

For right-handed throwers, the right foot hovers above the ground, there is a false step and they move to make the play.

Jordan was first introduced to the circle of focus at Washington, where he started as a walk-on out of Puyallup and wound up on the all-Pac 12 team and played for the Huskies in the College World Series before being selected by the Cubs in 29th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The Huskies head coach was Lindsay Meggs, former head coach at Indiana State University.

Mental coaches in the Cubs system explain the focus principle to players.

“As a human being if you really intently focus on something, you can only do it for a certain amount of time,” says Jordan. “We don’t want to always be ready. I know that sounds different, especially for younger kids.

“If your brain focuses for shorter intervals of time, you want to relax your brain when you don’t need to be focused per se.’”

Jordan says the infielders step out of the circle of focus between pitches.

“It’s a time to anticipate the ball being hit to you,” says Jordan. “You’re going over in your head that if the ball is hit to me, I know what to do.”

It’s a time where infielders can communicate the number of outs and “flush” their previous at-bat and focus on the next defensive play.

In between pitches is also a time to present in the moment and be where your feet are, something that the late Dr. Ken Ravizza, one of Jordan’s favorite mental coaches, talked about.

“Once I step into the circle of focus, that’s when the pitcher is in his motion,” says Jordan. “You want to eliminate thoughts at this point. You’re going to have some kind of rhythm with your feet, getting in the ready position and beginning that beginning that process of de-cleating/re-cleating with a clear mind. You’re expecting the ball and ready to make the play.”

Jordan has a lower prep step and will wait until the ball is crossing the contact zone to come off the ground.

To illustrate the difference between corner and middle infielders, Jordan used Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman and Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies.

As a corner, Chapman has a lower head and eye level, a wide base, the glove is his shin or knee. It is the best position for him to move one or two steps left of right.

“At third base and first base, you have less time to react to the ball,” says Jordan. “You’re closer to the plate compared to a middle infielder. You don’t necessarily have time to get into a sprinting position. The majority of your plays are one, two, maybe three steps to your left or right.”

As a middle, Albies stands with a high, upright posture with his hands at his hips and a narrow base. This allows him to be quick to sprint and is the best position to cover more ground left, right, forward or back.

“We’re trying to cut out nonsense movements — things we don’t necessarily need to do – to be more efficient infielders,” says Jordan. “I don’t know that the timing is different between corner and middle infielders. Everybody should be in he air at contact.”

Jordan says players can get better at pre-step routine etc. during batting practice, drill time and speed/agility/weight room time.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important batting practice is for me to take those mental reps at third base, shortstop, second base,” says Jordan. “Being a utility player, it’s important for me to understand the angles and be comfortable in different positions seeing the ball off the bat.

“You can understand the type of pitch and what time does the bat come off the hitter’s shoulder for him to hit me the ball.”

Jordan notes that defensive shifting is growing in baseball cited a definition of a shift by David Waldstein in the New York Times: “It shows how a batter has the propensity to hit the ball to certain parts of the field. Teams will position their infielders accordingly.”

“I personally like it,” says Jordan. “It can really help your team win with team defense.

“It’s inefficient to put a defender where a batter’s never going to hit the ball, in my opinion.”

The pros of shifting including cutting down the size or something else.

“I see that all the time in Low-A ball,” says Jordan. “Some of my closest friends and teammates were left-handed batters who pulled a lot of ground balls.

“They would step up to the plate and see this giant, gaping hole at third base and try to put or lay a ball down the line for a double. All of a sudden, they are down 0-2 (in the count) because they are doing something they don’t normally do as hitters. That’s an advantage of the shift.”

On the negative side, it can put young infielders in uncomfortable positions. They are at places they don’t take practice reps.

“If not practiced enough, (shifting) can work in a negative way,” says Jordan.

There’s also the idea that many younger batters will mis-hit the ball, making the direction of the batted ball very unpredictable.

“It’s probably not worth putting on a heavy shift unless you are in pro ball or late college ball because hitters don’t really know what they’re doing (at the younger ages) and have a decent amount of bat control,” says Jordan.

Shifting can be done with data or by reading tendencies.

Jordan also sees the importance in communication in the infield.

“I was taught at a young age, if you move and you’re vacating a spot, you need to move somebody with you,” says Jordan.

For example: The shortstop takes a few steps to his left and the third baseman moves accordingly. The shortstop lets the third baseman know he is moving toward the middle or wherever.

The first baseman might let the second baseman know he’s playing on the foul line, moving in for a bunt or might need more time to the get to the bag if he’s shifted to his right. Fielders are talking about coverage.

“Communication is key,” says Jordan. “The success of your team defense and lack of errors depends on how successful you are at communicating with your (teammates).

“You’ve got to be vocal on the infield in order to relay those messages.”

Jordan says the Chicago Cubs use a numbering system for infield positioning (0 for straight, 1 for 1 to 3 steps pull side, 2 for 3 to 5 steps pull side and 3 for heavy shift). These come out of the dugout.

Others might use hand signals. That’s what was done when Jordan was in college.

For the past several off-seasons, Jordan has worked with Billy Boyer (who is now infield and base running coordinator for the Minnesota Twins).

Boyer, who says “Defense is nothing but a glorified game of catch,” is what Jordan calls a true teacher of the game.

“There’s a difference between coaching baseball and teaching baseball,” says Jordan. “A lot of organizations these days are moving toward teaching because they’e seeing the results that it develops players a little better. “Players respond better to somebody teaching them something to do rather than the evaluation part of a coach. A coach will be intimidating to some players because they think they are evaluating.”

Jordan will conduct an infield camp for high school players from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20 at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center. For more information, call 574-404-3636.

LEVIJORDAN

Levi Jordan, who played in the infield for the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in 2019, shared principles of infield play with the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club. (South Bend Cubs Photo)