Tag Archives: Craig Grow

Former North Central (Farmersburg), Evansville right-hander Strain now pitching in Dodgers system

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Strain’s baseball journey began in west central Indiana and it currently has him playing near the thumb in Michigan’s “mitten.”

Strain, who grew up in Sullivan County, Ind., played three varsity seasons at North Central High School in Farmersburg and five seasons at the University of Evansville, is now a Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand and a reliever for the Great Lakes Loons of the Low Class-A Midwest League.

A 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-hander, Strain regularly hits 92 to 95 mph on the radar gun with his sinking two-seam fastball. He also has a change-up and a “slurve” (combination slider and curve).

“I’m working on a true slider,” says Strain, 23. “I’ve been throwing 35 to 40 pitches on two days rest, depending on the situation.”

Strain was selected in the ninth round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers, but did not make it into a regular-season minor league game until 2018.

Going into play June 27, he was 2-0 with a 1.40 earned run average with 16 strikeouts and eighth walks in 19 1/3 innings. After suffering a groin injury in his second spring training outing, he was kept in Glendale, Ariz., for extended camp until making his Loons debut May 17.

“I’ve been focusing on keeping my body healthy,” says Strain, who was a starting pitcher at Evansville. “I’m working on getting a feel for my pitches during catch.”

What strikes him about the Midwest League?

“I was surprised with how nice the parks are in this league,” says Strain, who plays home games with the Loons at Dow Diamond.

Midland, Mich., is also closer to his hometown Shelburn, Ind., (about 450 miles) than Glendale.

Strain credits UE head coach Wes Carroll and pitching coach Cody Fick for advancing his development.

“Coach Carroll taught me the mentality of being comfortable while I’m uncomfortable,” says Strain, who pitched for the Purple Aces 2013-17 with 51 appearances (42 as a starter). “Throughout my college years I grew and learned how to handle things and how to compete and attack everything with the right mindset.”

Strain calls Fick the “biggest competitor I’ve ever been around.”

“He has an absolute will to win in everything he does,” says Strain of Fick. “He cares about the game about as much as anyone I’ve seen in my years in baseball.”

Done with class work as an accounting/business management major, Strain says he plans to do an internship in the off-season to complete his college degree. More than once, he was named to the Missouri Valley Conference Honor Roll.

At North Central, Strain lettered as a sophomore for Thunderbirds coach Darin Simpson then played his last two prep seasons for Craig Grow.

“(Grow) taught me how to enjoy the game,” says Strain. “He is one of the absolutely nicest human beings I’ve been around. He always has a smile on his face. He taught me to treat people the right way.”

As a North Central senior in 2012, Strain posted an ERA of 1.30 for 30 innings and he hit .398. As an all-stater, he had a 1.54 ERA in 70 1/3 innings and hit .451 as a junior. The Thunderbirds went 25-7 and were 2011 IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up.

Strain got his baseball start at Northeast Youth League and then played travel ball for the Farmersburg Outlaws.

Connor’s parents are Jeff Strain and Paula Strain. He has two brothers — fraternal twin Tyler Strain and Callan Strain.

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Connor Strain, a product of North Central (Farmersburg) High School and the University of Evansville, is now pitching in the Los Angeles Dodgers system with the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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Connor Strain delivers a pitch in 2018 for the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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As Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand, former North Central (Farmersburg) High School and University of Evansville pitcher is playing for the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons in Midland, Mich. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

 

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Alum Steimel now pointing way for Sullivan Golden Arrows baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A man who has been leading at the developmental levels of community baseball is now the head coach at Sullivan High School.

Tony Steimel, a 1990 Sullivan graduate, has spent the past decade in charge of the recreational Sullivan Baseball League, which begins with 4-year-olds who swing against pitches from coaches and play in games where outs are counted.

“We want to get kids used to real baseball as young as possible,” says Steimel, the SBL president. “We don’t challenge kids enough. They can handle more than we give them credit for.”

For the last five years, the owner of Steimel Communications in Sullivan has been a volunteer, spending much of his time coaching seventh and eighth graders in games all around west central and southern Indiana.

“That’s as key and important as anything we’ve done around here,” says Steimel of a non-school affiliated group which plays as far north as South Vermillion territory, as far south as Barr-Reeve and as far east as Edgewood. “What they do going into high school is really critical to your program.”

Those teams played “A” and “B” five-inning doubleheaders while using up to 10 different pitchers with an eye on the future.

“Anybody who has the mental capacity and the desire should be put on the mound,” says Steimel. “That’s the same way it is at the junior varsity level.”

This spring, Sullivan has schedule 20 dates for its junior high-aged teams and Shawn McKinney will coach those kids when not working with the junior varsity or varsity squads at the high school.

“It’s in good hands,” says Steimel of the junior high program. “We’ll be on the same field. We’ll definitely be talking.”

Steimel, who will also be assisted by newcomer Josh Wood and local baseball veterans Tom Hannon, Tom Hanks, Brian Pirtle and Brian Schulze, takes over a Golden Arrows high school program with a history of success.

Since 1985, Sullivan has gone 534-357-1 with 10 seasons of 20 wins or more.

Matt McLaren guided the Arrows for six seasons (2012-17) and went 110-62. The last three squads were 21-9, 20-9 and 21-6. He is now head baseball coach at Richland County High School in Olney, Ill.

Bob Mirkovich (1964 to 1981, 238-150-3) and Craig Grow (1995 to 2004 and 2010; 194-112-1) are two of the winningest Sullivan coaches over the years.

Current Sullivan athletic director Otto Clements was Steimel’s head coach in his senior season.

Mirkovich coached in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in 1976 and 1982 and Craig Grow coached the All-Stars in 2002.

Sullivan players in the series have been shortstop Jack Smith (1976), pitcher Charley Noble (1977), outfielder Greg Bender (1982), shortstop Greg Wood (1986), pitcher Jon Boothe (1987), shortstop Michael Rinck (1998), shortstop K.C. Grow (2001), pitcher Devin Jones (2002) and third baseman Korey Grow (2004).

Sullivan has won 16 sectionals (1970, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 2015), three regionals (1976, 1987, 1991) and one semistate (1976) and had one state runner-up finish (1976).

Thirteen times, the Arrows have reigned as conference baseball champions (1973, 1976, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1997, 1998  and 1999 in the old Tri-River Conference and 2017 in the Western Indiana Conference).

Sullivan is the WIC West Division with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam and West Vigo.

The East Division features Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley.

In 2018, WIC teams will again play a home-and-home series against divisional foes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with the first game counting toward conference standings. Crossover games will be played at the end with the top teams in each division meeting for the championship.

The Arrows are in an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brown County, Edgewood, Owen Valley and West Vigo.

Sullivan heads into the spring with a few familiar varsity faces and some new ones. There were around 24 players on the first day of practice Monday, March 12.

Some of those have less baseball experience than others. But Steimel welcomes them.

“There are teams that need players and players that need teams,” says Steimel. “We want to include kids that need to be part of something positive. There’s a lot of negative things kids can get into.

“It should set a good example for our star players as well.”

While graduation took six seniors in 2017 and five of nine position players and three of five starting pitchers are gone, the Arrows still have senior right-handed pitcher/shortstop Sam Steimel (a University of Evansville commit) and senior catcher Shane Garner. Both have been starters since they were freshmen.

Senior outfielder/left-hander Chris Taylor and junior corner infielder Jack Conner also returns.

“We’ve got a really young group,” says Tony Steimel. “Our sophomores are solid but unproven. Kids that played JV last year will be asked to step up this year.”

Sophomore right-hander Bray Foster slots in as Sullivan’s No. 1 pitcher behind Sam Steimel. Sophomore first baseman Max Mize is also in the mix.

While Sam Steimel has been playing for the Indiana Bulls, his father says many of his top players have played travel baseball with organizations based in Terre Haute, including the Indiana Havoc (a group Tony Steimel has coached) and Mad Dog. There’s also Sullivan American Legion Post 139.

Sullivan plays its games on-campus at a field that got new lights a few years ago. Plans have been drawn up and budgets made for upgrades in the next few years. That includes 35-foot high netting to replace the backstop and new handicap-accessible bleachers.

Tony and Alison Steimel, a Sullivan graduate, will be married 20 years in 2018. Besides Sam, they have another son. Freshman Eli is a left-handed pitcher and first baseman.

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The Steimels (from left): Alison, Tony, Eli and Sam. Tony Steimel is the new head baseball coach at Sullivan High School. Sam Steimel is a senior and Eli a freshman for the Golden Arrows.