Tag Archives: Communication

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.

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

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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.

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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)

 

Indiana Wesleyan’s Benjamin affirms priority of coaching communication

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin has been the head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University since the 2016 season.

His Wildcats have gone 123-105-1 overall and 62-47 in Crossroads League play during Benjamin’s tenure with a CL tournament title in

2016 and a 2018 CL Regular Season Championship leading to two NAIA Opening Round appearances in 2016 and 2018.

A big part of the culture revolving around the IWU program involves improving communication each year.

Benjamin, who was head coach at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., for eight seasons, winning eight championships before taking over in Marion, addressed communication’s impact on coachability at the American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler University.

The full presentation can be ordered through the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics Video Library.

“Guys come in on Day 1 and they seem very coachable,” says Benjamin.

Benjamin says coaches may notice some players that are a little standoffish or hard to influence while others are coachable throughout the entire experience.

In many cases, players have a personal instructor, adding more voices to the room.

“You’re trying to navigate all those variables,” says Benjamin. “The vision is the allow the player to play competent-unconscious.”

That vision comes with a set of values.

The first is asking open-ended questions (coach to coach, coach to player, player to coach and player to player) and minimizing statements.

Why is this done?

“I’m trying to develop the awareness and self-awareness of the player by asking him an open-ended question.

 “By slowing things down, conversations with players become much more of a dialogue instead of a one-way statement.

“You know a lot more about your players because you’re getting a lot more feedback.”

The player is given a chance to do some self-discovery by answering the open-ended questions.

Benjamin says if a player doesn’t have awareness (knowing what is going on around you) and self-awareness (knowing what you are experiencing), they cannot effectively implement information.

“If anytime they’re stuck  they’re looking for a statement, they will have the inability to self-diagnosis pitch-to-pitch during competition.” says Benjamin.

“It’s Strike 1 and they look down to third base and say, ‘Coach, what now?’ You can’t do that. You’ve got to learn how to talk to yourself.

“Most young players talk to themselves in statements instead of open-ended questions. Most statements are negative and not positive and solution-driven.”

Benjamin has found that as players develop they ask themselves open-ended questions, they find a solution the vast majority of the time.

“The coach is there as a sounding board, a facilitator, a counselor, awareness raiser and available when the player gets ‘stuck’ to offer a suggestion,” says Benjamin, who wants his players to own the process.

“If they own it, the ceiling is them. If I own it, their ceiling is me. If their ceiling is me, they’re never going to hit a curveball because I couldn’t do it.”

The relationship becomes a partnership.

“It’s not a threat and it’s not a power struggle,” says Benjamin.

The additional value of communication helping coachability is the coaching staff being aware of the person before the player. Assistant coaches are vital in this area as the front lines of knowing the room.

“There’s death in the family,” says Benjamin. “Girlfriends, adjusting academically, or something going on in the home.

“Nobody on the coaching staff should ever be surprised about what’s going on in a player’s life; it gives you a clearer picture of all the influences in that person’s life when they enter training.”

As a coaching staff, There are typically two individualized meetings a week in which, as a staff, we go down each name on the roster discussing who has what needs that we may be able to meet through various aspects of the program.”

The Indiana Wesleyan staff has players focus on one objective at a time (approach, plan or skill). By showing restraint, they can avoid information overload.

“It is impossible to play unconscious and knowledgeable if we’re carrying all these different things into our performance time,” says Benjamin. “If you’re trying to balance two or three different things, it becomes impossible to execute one.”

At IWU, that one thing for a player might take the entire fall. They focus on the objective, they achieve it and then they move on.

Benjamin desires the coaching staff to over communicate with each other, to be open and always seeking growth.

Benjamin admits that investing in assistants development was not a strength earlier in his coaching career.

Having operated during the first half of his career with just one volunteer assistant, who worked during the day, Benjamin’s ability to understand the value and importance of investing into his assistants was behind. “The last two years, I’ve grown in the ability to delegate, mentor, and invest daily in our assistant coaches.

By doing so, the atmosphere and the productivity is up.”

Benjamin looks to provide a safe atmosphere for his assistants to ask questions.

“That’s how we get better,” says Benjamin. “We talk about players needing to be coached-up, but so do coaches.”

“As a coaching staff, we have blind spots. But if we ask each other open-ended questions, it’s not a threat. It’s an opportunity to grow.”

Benjamin says, “In coaching, time is maybe the most valuable aspect.”

As a coaching staff preparing for this Fall training season, Benjamin and his staff noticed that the areas in which we failed the most in coaching, was coaching a player inside too tight of a time restraint.

Benjamin says a coaching session must provide clarity by the coach and the player, because that often requires time, coaches needed to decide when the best time was to address a coaching opportunity.

Because it negatively impacts trust, the idea is to avoid “Drive-By coaching.”

IWU coaches witnessed this the most in the side cages during Batting Practice rotations.

Rotations may be 8-15 minutes depending on the day.

If four hitters arrive in the side batting cages with limited time, then we found ourselves making a lot of statements since we did not have the time capacity to create the amount of clarity as you would in a different segment of training, early work, or post work.

Now, if we get a coaching opportunity in the cages, we ask ourselves if the player has the foundational awareness and self-awareness to find a solution in the limited amount of time without transferring ownership of the hitter’s development.

If there is not enough time to effectively coach that player in that session, we will act on the coaching opportunity post practice or early work the next day.

“We want to create opportunities for growth so there’s time to land that plane,” says Benjamin.

Practices for the Wildcats are divided into training zones and performance zones.

Training zones entail many reps and a lot of teaching.

“Nothing’s really being measured,” says Benjamin. “It’s a zone where you can make mistakes and experiment.”

Benjamin notes that baseball players in general are training now more than ever.

“Guys are hitting all the time. They’re training all the time,” says Benjamin. “They become really, really good at training.”

That’s where the performance zone comes in, where there is competition with some kind of award or consequence.

“You have to win,” says Benjamin. “We’re transitioning from the training zone where you’re allowed to think, to the performance zone where you shut this thing (points to head) off, get unconscious and just try to win the moment.

“You just try to go beat the other guy.”

This fall, a typical Wildcats practice has three competitions (performance zones) and one learning moment (training zone), in addition, early work is designed as a training zone.

IWU also emphasizes peer-to-peer competere.

“It’s the Latin word for competition and it means to strive together,”

says Benjamin. The personal best comes out by competing with another person.

It does not happen overnight, but it can be healthy for two players to be vying to be the starting shortstop.

It’s often been found that one wins the job and the other ends up starting, too, perhaps at second base or third base.

“Competition is an opportunity and not a threat,” says Benjamin. “We have to have competition. It’s the only way we’ll find out what our personal best is.”

Benjamin invites players to join the IWU program based on three factors — humility, motor and skill.

“They have the confidence to say ‘I’m really good’ and the humility to say ‘I need to get better.’ That’s vital.

“In psychology, they say your self-confidence shows up before your self-awareness does.”

Motor means the ability to work hard with intention each day.

“Skill can always be developed if the first two exist.” says Benjamin.

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Rich Benjamin is the head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion. His first season leading the Wildcats was 2016. (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)

 

Kleine making MLB impact in Milwaukee Brewers front office

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Contract negotiation, data analysis and event management are three skills Matt Kleine wields in his role with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Dating back to his first summer as an associate scout (2007), Kleine has held various roles in scouting and baseball operations for the Brewers and completed his first year as director of player operations for the Major League Baseball club in October.

While still in high school, Kleine saw that his on-the-field time was not likely to extend past college. So he began to look for ways to stay involved in baseball.

“I knew I really wanted to pursue a career on the front office side of things,” says Kleine, who graduated from Hamilton Southeastern High School in 2004.

Kleine, who was born in Indianapolis and moved to Fishers, Ind., prior to kindergarten, enjoyed his time as a baseball player.

Swinging and throwing from the left side, the outfielder played travel ball during his high school and college summers for USAthletic and coach Rob Barber (one of Kleine’s teammates was Jeff Mercer, now head baseball coach at Indiana University).

Kleine competed at Hamilton Southeastern for former University of Texas pitcher Curry Harden and at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for Matt Walker.

Harden taught Kleine and the other HSE Royals about discipline and approaching each game with a tenacious attitude.

“You had to bring your ‘A’ Game’ everyday,” says Kleine.

His off-field baseball career got a boost when writer Will Carroll came to speak at DePauw. A relationship was formed that led to a three-plus years as an intern with Baseball Prospectus for Kleine, who produced Carroll’s weekly radio show.

On the diamond, Kleine was a four-year letterwinner and three-time team MVP and all-conference selection for DePauw. He was team captain as a senior. He knocked in 120 as a Tiger. At the time his career wrapped that was a school record.

Kleine was a Management Fellow and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication in 2008.

He became an associate scout with the Brewers before his playing days were even complete. Kleine had taken pitching lessons as a youngster from Mike Farrell so he approached the then Brewers area scout (Indianapolis resident Farrell now scouts for the Kansas City Royals) to learn the ropes and evaluated players between his summer collegiate games.

Kleine also served as a media relations intern with the Houston Astros.

Once in Milwaukee, he earned a Juris Doctorate from Marquette University Law School and his certification in Sports Law from the National Sports Law Institute.

He has was the president of Marquette’s Sports Law Society, a member of the Sports Law Review and a volunteer in the school’s legal clinic.

Through his research, he found that the common denominator for most of the baseball jobs that interested him were held by people with a law degree or other post-graduate education.

Knowing about analysis and critical thinking has helped Kleine in salary arbitration for the Brewers.

Since earning his law degree, Kleine has served as volunteer judge for the Marquette University Law School Intramural Sports Law Negotiation Competition and Tulane International Baseball Arbitration Competition.

According to MLB, “Players who have three or more years of Major League service but less than six years of Major League service become eligible for salary arbitration if they do not already have a contract for the next season.

“Players who have less than three but more than two years of service time can also become arbitration eligible if they meet certain criteria; these are known as ‘Super Two’ players. Players and clubs negotiate over appropriate salaries, primarily based on comparable players who have signed contracts in recent seasons.

“A player’s salary can indeed be reduced in arbitration — with 20 percent being the maximum amount by which a salary can be cut — although such instances are rare.”

Management will use comparable players — aka “comps” — as well as statistics and performance data their evaluation.

“We try to tell the people side of the story,” says Kleine. “We don’t get overly complicated or get caught up in fancy (sabermetric) acronyms. “Who is this player and where do they fit within the market?.

“We have a dialogue with the players’ agent. Hopefully, we arrive at a compromise. A very small percentage of arbitration eligible players end up in a hearing room.”

If an arbitration hearing is necessary, the proceedings will be attended by several people.

“It’s certainly a unique process,” says Kleine. “It’s like performance review in front of up to 50 other people.

The hearing features a panel of three arbiters (judges) who listen to the arguments of both sides and come to a decision.

The session will also be attended by representatives of the involved club, league office, players association, support staff and other observers, including reps from other clubs.

“By and large, the are respectful and professional proceedings,” says Kleine.

As baseball’s Winter Meetings approach (Dec. 9-13 in Las Vegas), the Brewers and MLB’s 29 other franchises are focused on free agency or possible trades while finalizing their major league and minor league staffs for 2019.

“That’s one thing about the MLB calendar, there’s always something going on,” says Kleine. “It just depends on the time of the year.”

In season, baseball operations and field staff like manager Craig Counsell and bench coach Pat Murphy collaborate with the help of advance scouts.

“We’re attacking opponents weaknesses and identifying our own strengths,” says Kleine. “Once the game starts, it’s up to Craig and the coaching staff how to deploy the roster.”

Mike and Toni Kleine are Matt’s parents. His father runs a State Farm Insurance agency in Fishers. His mother is retired from teaching in the Carmel school system. Matt has a younger sister — Jordan.

Matt and wife Samantha live in St. Francis, Wis. The couple is expecting their first child in early 2019.

MATTKLEINE

Matt Kleine, a graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and Marquette University Law School, is director of player operations for the Milwaukee Brewers.

 

Huttie impacting Fort Wayne baseball community in multiple ways

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

From a young age, Zach Huttie knew baseball was about more than just balls and strikes, safe and out.

It could be used to help teach important concepts.

When he was wrapping up his college studies, he felt the call of the diamond.

“I realized I didn’t ever want to leave baseball. I wanted baseball to be part of my life — some way, some how,” says Huttie. “What better way to teach life lessons than through the game of baseball?

“You do fail a ton of times, but it’s how you overcome that failure.”

Huttie is getting the chance to have an impact on the Fort Wayne area community in multiple capacities — all tied to the game he loves.

He came to the Summit City to be an assistant baseball at Indiana Institute of Technology — aka Indiana Tech — and has since added roles at Hoosier Classic Baseball Tournaments director/instructor for the World Baseball Academy and commissioner of the Indiana Summer Collegiate Baseball League.

“I like being able to change lives,” says Huttie, who is changed with Indiana Tech’s defense. “I like being able to see the kids overcome the adversity.”

Huttie also witnesses a growth in maturity.

“They come in as young men and see them become better men as they leave,” says Huttie. “One thing we preach at Indiana Tech is high character.”

Glen McClain, a redshirt junior first baseman and catcher for the Warriors in 2018, stands as an example of that growth.

“I’ve seen Glen blossom not only on the field but off and become a leader and help to mentor the young guys coming in as freshmen,” says Huttie. “It’s a team-first culture. It’s not just a ‘you’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing. It’s something we’ve installed.”

During the recruiting process, the Tech staff — led by head coach Kip McWilliams — does research on the player’s personality by talking with people like coaches, umpires and guidance counselors.

“We want to get a feel on who are those men of high school character who will help impact our program at Indiana Tech,” says Huttie.

Growing up in Raleigh, N.C., the son of Joe and Lonnie Huttie, Zach identified Denison University in Granville, Ohio, as the college for him as a sophomore at Athens Drive High School.

Before and after getting his diploma at ADHS in 2006, Huttie gained much from mentors like hitting instructor Brian Ward (who played for the Fort Wayne Wizards in 2000 and was later on the North Carolina State University coaching staff) and the Baseball Factory’s Kelly Kulina then played four years for the Big Red.

He earned a bachelor’s degrees in Environmental Studies and Communication from Denison and then a master’s degree in Sports and Recreation Sciences with a concentration in Coaching Education from Ohio University. He was a graduate assistant coach for the Bobcats.

It was a recommendation from OU head coach Rob Smith that helped Huttie land at Indiana Tech.

Smith, who played at Vincennes University and Indiana University Southeast, graduated at Indiana University and was an assistant coach at Purdue University, knew McWilliams was looking for an infield coach and sent Huttie his way. He was offered and accepted the job right after the interview.

“You never know who you know and that’s how I got the position up here,” says Huttie.

At the WBA, headquartered in the ASH Centre, Huttie gets to teach the game and also help young people.

“The World Baseball Academy uses baseball as a platform to develop young leaders,” says Huttie. “We work with at-risk youths in the community.”

The ASH Centre has three diamonds with artificial turf infields and natural grass outfields used by players 9U through college and there is plans for more. Huttie organizes and runs the tournaments played there and other area venues.

He works with a WBA leadership group that includes CEO/instructor Caleb Kimmel, director of baseball operations/instructor Andy McManama, senior lead instructor Ken Jones, scholarshipo baseball instructor Tim Petersen, scholarship director Linda Petersen, director of development Linda Buskirk and marketing director Kristen Kimmel, outdoor campus maintenance man Bud Wolf and Dominican Republic trip coordinator Jamie Frazier.

“We’re blessed as a non-profit to do a lot of good for the community,” says Huttie.

The ISCBL was organized a few years ago by McWilliams, Mark DeLaGarza and others to give area collegians a place to play and develop in the summer.

The 2018 season opens Saturday, June 2 and there are three league teams — Fort Wayne Panthers, Northeast Kekiongas and Summit City Sluggers.

The Panthers, with University of Saint Francis assistant Miguel Tucker, will be based on at Cougar Field on the USF campus. The Kekiongas, with head coach Indiana Tech assistant Pat Collins-Bride, will call Indiana Tech’s Warrior Field home. The Sluggers, with Jay County High School assistant Todd Farr as head coach, will be a rover.

In addition to Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders and weekday games with league and area men’s teams, Huttie says the ISCBL will conduct mid-week practices as a large group.

“It’s a developmental league,” says Huttie. Rosters tend to be filled with younger players — freshmen and sophomores.

Through all his baseball involvement in Fort Wayne, Huttie remains very close to his folks.

“My mom and dad our my world,” says Huttie. “They’re my bread and butter.

“I’m an only child. I talk to my parents every single night.”

ZACHHUTTIE

Zach Huttie is involved in the Fort Wayne baseball community in multiple ways. He is an assistant coach at Indiana Tech, Hoosier Classic Baseball Tournaments director/instructor at the World Baseball Academy and commissioner of the Indiana Summer Collegiate Baseball League. (Steve Krah Photo)