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Helping Michigan pitchers know their strengths mission of Fetter

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the know.

That’s what University of Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter wants the hurlers in his charge to be.

“First and foremost, I want them to be knowledgeable with who they are as pitchers,” says Fetter, who is guiding to Wolverines staff this weekend in the NCAA regional at Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State, Creighton and Cincinnati are three other competing teams). “Our eyes can deceive us. I want them to be as informed as possible about what they do and own what they do instead of just guessing.”

With Fetter leading the process, Michigan pitchers have access to many resources, including video analysis, Rapsodo and TrackMan to help them devise a plan of attack.

It becomes a combination of approaches that leads to what that player does on the hill.

“It’s not based entirely on technology, a coach or what the player thinks,” says Fetter. “But we marry all those together.”

Fetter assists his pitchers in developing an arsenal and it starts with the fastball.

“What kind of fastball do you throw?,” says Fetter. “Then, how do we attack other teams?

“It all stems with developing a relationship with the player and getting them to buy in to being learners of who they are.”

In his second second at U of M, Fetter has helped produce a number of capable pitchers.

In 2018, Tommy Henry made the all-Big Ten Conference second team while Karl Kauffman was on the third team and Ben Dragani the third and all-freshmen teams. Four Wolverines were signed by Major League Baseball teams — Will Tribucher, Jayce Vacena, Alec Rennard and Troy Miller.

The 2019 all-conference squads include Michigan’s Jeff Criswell (first team), Kauffmann (third team) and Willie Weiss (freshmen). The MLB First-Year Player Draft is June 3-5.

Fetter is a 2004 graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School, where he played two seasons for Tom Linkmeyer and two for Eric Lentz.

“Tom is great baseball mind, great baseball man,” says Fetter of Linkmeyer. “We still talk quite a bit.

“He took a chance on young kid. He always gave it to you straight. You always knew where you stood. He was always in your corner. I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Fetter remembers Lentz for his positive approach and knowledge of X’s and O’s.

From his 15U to 18U summer, Fetter played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls. His coaches were Dennis Kas, Craig Grow, Jeff Mercer Sr. and C.J. Glander.

“I couldn’t have played for a better summer organization,” says Fetter. “When you’re going up agains the best competition game in and game out, it helps you make the jump to the next level.

“It was a special group. There are some of the best summers of my life.”

One of his Bulls teammates was Jeff Mercer Jr., who is now head coach at Indiana University.

After a redshirt season as a freshman, the 6-foot-8 right-hander played for Michigan and head coach Rich Maloney and pitching coach Bob Keller from 2006-2009.

“From the moment Rich recruited me, he instilled a great sense of confidence in me as a player,” says Fetter of Maloney. “He really takes an interest in his players and coaching staff.

“He’s a great motivator.”

Fetter says Keller was at the forefront of teaching pitchers to be athletic and stressed pre-throwing routines and properly warming up.

As a pitching coach, Fetter works on helping his starters develop a consistent routine between appearances while monitoring the workload of the relievers. He pushes them on some days and lets the recover on others.

Fetter pitched in 51 games for the Wolverines (40 as a starter) and was 24-8 with a 3.32 earned run average. He struck out 248 and walked 72 in 278 innings. He also pitched for Cotuit Kettleers of the summer collegiate Cape Cod Baseball League in 2007.

When the 2009 MLB Draft came, Fetter was selected in the ninth round by the San Diego Padres. He pitched for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2009 and 2012. His manager at Eugene in 2012 was former Notre Dame head coach and current Milwaukee Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy.

After 51 appearances (37 as a starter), Fetter played his last pro season in 2012 and began coaching in the Padres system in 2013.

Fetter was an assistant coach for the San Antonio Missions and former big leaguer Rich Dauer was the manager and Jimmy Jones the pitching coach.

“They were a great couple of mentors,” says Fetter of Dauer and Jones. “(Dauer) taught me overall game management. From (Jones), I learned about the art of teaching the delivery — rhythm, balance, timing.

“Those are two of the countless people along the way.”

Fetter went from the Padres to becoming a scout for the Los Angeles Angels.

“I go to watch the game from a different perspective,” says Fetter. “I was able formulate opinions on what players do well.”

For the 2016 season, Fetter was reunited with Maloney as his pitching coach at Ball State University, where he got to apply things he had learned as a pro coach and scout.

Three of Fetter’s standout BSU pitchers were Colin Brockhouse, B.J. Butler and Zach Plesac. This past week, Plesac made his MLB debut with the Cleveland Indians.

He then worked in player development with the Los Angeles Dodgers, learning how that organization uses analytics.

That led him to joining the staff of Michigan head coach Erik Bakich.

“He is all-in 24/7,” says Fetter of Bakich. “He’s completely energetic. He lifts everyone up around him. He’s very positive and very prepared.

“He pushes all these guys to play their best and get 100 percent better in their own process of development.”

Fetter, 33, and wife Jessica have a son named Cole. He turned five months next week.

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Chris Fetter is in his second season as pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team in 2019. He pitched for the Wolverines from 2006-09. (University of Michigan Photo)

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As pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team, Chris Fetter (center) wants his players to be as knowledgeable as possible about what they do and bring it to the mound. Starting May 31, the Wolverines are in the NCAA regional at Corvallis, Ore. (University of Michigan Photo)

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Chris Fetter, a 2004 Carmel (Ind.) High School graduate and former Indiana Bulls, pitcher in the San Diego Padres organization and assistant at Ball State University, is in his second season as pitching coach for the University of Michigan baseball team in 2019. (University of Michigan Photo)

Norton looks for Butler Bulldogs pitchers to be aggressive

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Norton wants his Butler University arms to go after hitters.

The third-year baseball pitching coach is not interested in nibbling at the corners of the plate.

“The whole staff has to buy into throwing strikes,” says Norton. “We want to to get (hitters) out in four pitches or less, always be aggressive and have the utmost confidence in yourself.

“If you don’t think you’re better than the hitter, you might as well get off the mound.”

As the NCAA Division I Bulldogs get ready to open the 2019 season Feb. 15 against Rider in Lexington, S.C., there are 17 pitchers on the roster. That number includes right-handers Ryan Pepiot (who went 6-0 with 12 starts in 2018 and is a preseason all-Big East Conference honoree in 2019), Jack Pilcher (10 saves and 20 relief appearances), Sam Hubbe (15 games, including eight starts) and Connor Schultz (16 games with three wins and one start) and left-hander Joe Graziano (13 games with three wins and four starts).

With Norton in charge, Butler had 405 strikeouts and 209 walks in 451 2/3 innings 2017. There were 454 K’s and 211 free passes in 481 innings in 2018.

Ideally, Norton would like to see his starters go deep into games and have one or two relievers finish it off.

“I want the best pitcher on the mound,” says Norton. “We have to be creative with match-ups. Sometimes we might us a right-hander who has a great change-up vs. a lefty.”

Pitchers at the bottom of the depth chart may not rack up a lot of innings, but they are given a chance of developing so they can help the team in the future.

When Norton greeted his pitchers during fall workouts, the emphasis the first three or four weeks was getting arms in shape with consideration about how much they might have been used in the summer.

“It’s always good to have the blood flowing to the muscles and ligaments so they don’t tighten up,” says Norton. “It’s getting everything to fire.”

After early weeks of the fall came intrasquad games plus two contests against outside competition now allowed by the NCAA at the D-I level (Butler played the Great Lakes Canadians and Indiana University Kokomo).

“We were competing for jobs,” says Norton. “After the fall, we went into individual work.”

Some pitchers looked to add a third or fourth pitch to their repertoire.

Players were away for five weeks during the holiday break and were scheduled to pitch their first pre-season bullpen sessions Tuesday, Jan. 15.

“Right now I want them to be healthy — first and foremost,” says Norton. “We don’t want to pitch them too much too early.

“It is a long season.”

The goal is to build up arm strength so that starters can pitch 60 to 70 pitches live the weekend before the opener and be able to go five or six innings in a game. Relievers are trying to progress so they can recover and pitch every other day.

Norton expects his pitchers to throw five times a week this week and next and then five or six times a week depending on who they are.

“Older guys have more freedom to not do as much throwing,” says Norton. “They understand their body a little bit better.”

Norton wants all pitchers to have an understanding of how they move as the deliver the baseball.

“You don’t have to know biomechanics, you need to know how your body works,” says Norton. “I ask a lot of questions about how they feel.

“I want them to make adjustments as they go instead of overhauling.”

Besides guiding the pitchers, Norton participates in recruiting. Those duties are shared by head coach Dave Schrage, assistant Andy Pascoe and Norton (Brian Meyer is a volunteer assistant).

“I recruit all positions,” says Norton. “I try to see every pitcher we recruit — on film or live games. I evaluate how they fit into the program and also what their potential could be.”

Norton says Butler’s recruiting philosophy is to start local and work their way out, meaning go for Indiana players if possible but go where there are players who fit the program.

Besides the Bulldogs, the Big East’s baseball-playing members are Creighton, Georgetown, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Villanova and Xavier.

A former right-handed pitcher, Norton played for coach Larry Windmiller at Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, graduating in 2003. His older brother David Norton (Dwenger Class of 1999) also played for Windmiller.

“He was a great coach,” says Norton. “He built that field (at Shoaff Park). He was well-rounded in the game of baseball.”

He played at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., for coach Rob Fournier then at the University of Evansville for Schrage. He won nine games each in 2006 and 2007 and was selected in the 24th round of the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He pitched one season in the Royals system before suffering a career-ending shoulder injury.

“I enjoyed playing for (Fournier),” says Norton. “He’s high intensity. He wants the best for everybody and pushes them hard. He has connections throughout the baseball community.”

His career has intersected several times with current Butler head coach Schrage. Norton played for and later coached for Schrage at Evansville and was on his staff at South Dakota State University.

Playing for him was great,” says Norton of Schrage. “He always cared about you on and off the field. Coaching for him, I have a lot of freedom with the pitching staff

“He’s been a mentor. He’s taught me to keep positive throughout the year as the season goes up and down.”

It was Schrage and Jackrabbits bus driver Rod Josephsen that introduced Norton to the woman that is now his wife. Nicole Norton is Josephsen’s daughter.

Norton began his coaching career at Evansville, spending the fall of 2008 as an assistant with the Purple Aces. He was an assistant at Indiana Tech in the spring of 2009. He moved on to the University of Illinois-Springfield for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, serving as an assistant the first spring and interim head coach for the second. He moved on to Lincoln (Ill.) College as an assistant for 2012 then went to South Dakota State as an assistant for four seasons (2013-16).

Norton was on the staffs of Kip McWilliams at Indiana Tech, former South Dakota State assistant Brian Grunzke at Illinois-Springfield and Tony Thomas at Lincoln.

“(McWilliams) is knowledgable about every position,” says Norton. “He allowed me to take over the pitching staff. He’s always on the phone trying to get players and get better.

“(Grunzke) is a high-energy guy. He’s always willing to work with guys and very personable. With recruiting, he does his dilligence on the phone and scouting on the road. It was good for me to learn from him as a young coach.

“(Thomas) does a good job of coaching guys up. It was a unique situation (when I went to Lincoln). I was was looking for a place to coach. I came in the middle of the season and took over the pitching staff.”

Fort Wayne’s Jim and Joan Norton have three children — David, Kyle and Ben.

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Butler University baseball versus Valparaiso University March 23, 2017.

Ben Norton is the pitching coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Butler University Photo)

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Ben Norton, the pitching coach at Butler University in Indianapolis, played at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School, Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., the University of Evansville and in the Kansas City Royals organization. (Butler University Photo)

 

Enthusiasm follows Schrage to Butler

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Schrage does not smile 24 hours day.

It only seems that way.

An upbeat demeanor has followed him through life and a lengthy baseball coaching career.

“I don’t think you can accomplish anything if you are not excited and enthusiastic about it,” says Schrage, who turns 56 this month. “I love going to my job everyday.”

Schrage is in his 29th overall season and first at Butler University in Indianapolis. He has been a head coach in more than 1,500 games and recently won his 750th.

“I feel really fortunate to still be coaching,” says Schrage. “It’s been a fun journey.”

A head coach since 1988, Schrage served at Waldorf (Iowa), Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Notre Dame and South Dakota State before landing in Indy.

“Butler is a great fit for me,” says Schrage. Daughters Katy (a Butler graduate) and Bri (a Ball State graduate) both live and work in Indianapolis. “For five years, I was 14 hours away (in Brookings, S.D.).”

Schrage played for Jim Hendry at Creighton University and got his start in coaching when Hendry sent him to St. Thomas University in Florida to be a graduate assistant on the staff of Paul Mainieri.

After that, Schrage was an assistant at Creighton and also was a player/coach for the Queensland Rams Club Team in Australia.

Hendry, the former Chicago Cubs general manager and current special assistant to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, has a son (John) playing baseball at the University of Indianapolis and has been able to catch up with Schrage when he’s in town.

Schrage followed Mainieri as Notre Dame head coach. The friends see each other every year at the American Baseball Coaches Association national convention (the event is coming to Indy Jan. 4-7, 2018). Mainieri is now head coach at Louisiana State University.

With the Bulldogs, Schrage embraces The Butler Way — a set of principles established many years ago by famed coach Tony Hinkle.

Barry Collier has been credited for resurrecting the concepts of humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness when he was the school’s head basketball coach and has continued to promote The Butler Way for all sports as athletic director.

“These are the same ideals I have,” says Schrage. “We are developing our players as human beings. They are learning to deal with adversity and overcoming it and becoming a positive influence — on and off the court (or field).”

While Schrage, who is assisted by Ben Norton, Andy Pascoe and Brian Meyer, inherited the current Butler roster (which features 11 players from Indiana hometowns), he was well aware of the diamond talent produced in the Hoosier State.

When he steered Evansville to 43 wins, Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles and advancement to the NCAA Charlottesville Regional finals in 2006, the Purple Aces had several state-trained players.

“That spoke well of the quality of high school baseball (in Indiana),” says Schrage. “The coaches do a tremendous job in running their programs.”

Schrage says the exposure that Indiana players receive at places like Grand Park in Westfield and through the evaluation efforts of Prep Baseball Report are growing the game here.

When he was still coaching in Iowa, Schrage worked at one of the first Perfect Game showcases and now that company is touting itself as the world’s largest baseball scouting service.

“In this media world with Facebooking and all this information out there, it’s very helpful (to college coaches),” says Schrage. “When I first got into coaching, I had to beat the bushes and find players in the small towns. Now, there’s no more secrets. It’s opened up tremendous opportunities for the student-athletes. It’s nothing but advantageous to coaches, kids and their families.”

Butler plays in the Big East Conference with Creighton, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova and Xavier. The conference tournament is scheduled for May 25-28 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., the same stadium as the College World Series. The Big East tournament winner will receive an automatic bid into the NCAA Division I tournament.

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Butler University baseball versus St. Louis University March 19, 2017.
Butler University baseball versus St. Louis University March 19, 2017.

Dave Schrage (left in blue sweatshirt) follows a play in his first season as head baseball coach at Butler University in Indianapolis. This is his 29th overall season as a head coach. (Brent Smith Photo)

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A head coach since 1988, Dave Schrage (middle) served at Waldorf (Iowa), Northern Iowa, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Notre Dame and South Dakota State before landing at Butler. (Brent Sm)