Nick Floyd played baseball at Ball State University for four years. The 2015 graduate of Jimtown High School in Elkhart, Ind., pitched for the Cardinals from 2016-19 then experienced independent professional ball with the American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, The Battle of the Bourbon Trail’s Florence (Ky.) Y’alls (part of a COVID-19 pop-up circuit) and Pioneer League’s Idaho Falls Chukars. Now he’s seeing the college game from a coach’s perspective. Floyd, 24, leads pitchers for Indiana University-Kokomo. The Cougars are in the River States Conference (NAIA). He earned his Finance degree at Ball State in 2019, but was offered the opportunity to play pro ball then to coach when Drew Brantley was building his IUK staff and says it suits his temperament. “All the philosophies are still the same,” says Floyd, comparing his time as a college player and coach. “But now I better understand the little things that my college coaches tried to convey to us.” Floyd says he now appreciates those team rules set in place by Ball State head coach Rich Maloney. “Now I step back and look at the program as a whole and value the little things — like going about things the right way, being early to practice and everyone wearing the same thing on the road,” says Floyd. “Every player is supposed to get water only. Pop is not good for them. Everyone wearing the same color (at practice) is important for team unity. We want to be one cohesive unit instead of a bunch of individuals. “Not everyone’s the same. A little bit of individuality is totally fine. But it also needs to be structured and adding value to the group as a whole.” Maloney believes in building team culture. “That’s something he stresses a ton,” says Floyd. “He showed through his actions how I wanted to be as a coach.” As IUK pitching coach, Floyd reflects the two men who were his pitching coaches at BSU — Chris Fetter (now Detroit Tigers pitching coach) and Dustin Glant (now Indiana University pitching coach). Glant was head coach at Anderson (Ind.) University when Brantley was an assistant. “The No. 1 thing is attack,” says Floyd, who made 34 mound appearances (14 starts) for the Cardinals. “We want to pitch with the mentality of being the aggressor. I’m going to beat you on this pitch. It starts from the mental side of things. You have to have confidence in your own ability.” Floyd wants his pitchers to get ahead in ball-strike counts. He would rather they give up a bomb pounding the zone then walking the bases loaded and giving up a squib hit to score multiple runs. “We always go down in attack mode,” says Floyd. “Coach Glant taught me that.” Drey Jameson fanned a Ball State and Mid-American Conference-record 146 batters — 14.66 per nine innings — and was named MAC Pitcher of the Year before being selected in first round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. “Drey definitely attacked,” says Floyd. “He knew he was better than you and he was going to go out and show it. “That kind of mentality filtered through everyone (on the Ball State pitching staff).” As IUK prepares for a non-conference doubleaheader against Shawnee State today (March 1) and a three-game RSC series against Ohio Christian, Floyd and graduate assistant Justin Reed (a former IUK player who is also Cougars catchers coach) are working with about 20 pitchers including a few two-way players. “Right now we’ve built up about four starters,” says Floyd. “Other guys in longer relief could potentially starts. “One mid-week starter could come out of the pen on the weekend.” Jeremy Honaker (a Connersville High School graduate who has coached at Zionsville and Martinsville high schools, the University of Indianapolis and in the Indiana Bulls and Canes travel baseball organizations) and student assistant Nate James (a Castle High alum who played at Kankakee Community College before transferring to IUK) are the team’s other coaches. The Cougars play home games at Kokomo Municipal Stadium — a downtown park it shares with the summer collegiate Kokomo Jackrabbits and Kokomo High School. “Not many NAIA teams have access to a facility like that,” says Floyd. “We try to get outside any time it is remotely close to being good weather. “Last week we were shoveling snow for two hours just to get outside.” When getting outside is not possible, the team can use Cougar Gym, located downtown. The weight room is at the on-campus Student Activities and Events Center. Floyd accepted the job last summer while he was pitching for Idaho Falls and learning from Chukars field staff of manager Billy Gardner Jr. (a pro manager since 1995), pitching coach Bob Milacki (who pitched in the big leagues) and hitting coach Billy Butler (who was also a major leaguer). A few days after the season, he was in Kokomo. A former NCAA Division I player, Floyd compares that level to NAIA. “There isn’t a huge difference,” says Floyd. “The top-end guys on each are pretty comparable. “Most D-I lineups and pitching staffs are deeper talent-wise.”
Tab Greenlee is trying to change the way baseball is perceived at Liberty Christian School in Anderson, Ind. “It’s all about culture change and getting them excited,” says Greenlee, who was hired before the 2020 season taken away by the COVID-19 pandemic, finished the 2021 campaign with 14 players and is preparing now for 2022. “I have 100 percent buy-in from the parents and it’s amazing.” How much buy-in? A recent field day brought out 50 people. “It was the coolest thing to watch,” says Greenlee. Baseball began at the school in 2006 and the Lions have yet to post a record over .500 or win a sectional title. “There’s been no consistency in coaches throughout the years,” says Greenlee, who spent 2021 setting the tone for the Lions, presenting a detailed practice plan while insisting the players also achieve in the classroom. “You get an F, you don’t play,” says Greenlee, who had to let five go last spring because of grades. “If you can’t be excellent in the classroom, I can’t trust you to be excellent on my field.” Greenlee, who teaches high school biology and middle school math, gets players the help they need to excel in academics. While four Lions graduated last spring, Greenlee is seeing progress. “We will be a lot stronger this next spring,” says Greenlee. “We have a foundation on how we play this game. We’re understanding the why.” An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. Off-season workouts were drawing up to 13 and that’s with soccer and cross country going on this fall at Liberty Christian (enrollment around 130). The Lions are part of the Pioneer Conference (with Anderson Preparatory Academy, Bethesda Christian, Central Christian Academy, Greenwood Christian, Indianapolis Crispus Attucks, Indianapolis Shortridge, International, Muncie Burris, Park Tudor, Seton Catholic and University). In 2021, host Liberty Christian was part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Anderson Prep, Cowan, Daleville, Southern Wells, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. Greenlee, who is assisted by Jamie Woodyard, has two seniors who have been drawing interest from college baseball teams — Beckham Chappell and Tyler Houk. Both are three-sport athletes — soccer, basketball and baseball. “We encourage that,” says Greenlee. “Scouts want to know grades and they want to know if they play other sports. College sports in year-round.” At a school the size of Liberty Christian, multi-sport participation and cooperation is vital. “We are at each others’ games,” says Greenlee. “We’re there to support each other.” Besides boys soccer, boys and girls cross country and volleyball in the fall, LC has boys and girls basketball, boys and girls swimming and boys and girls archery in the winter and boys and girls track track and softball in addition to baseball in the spring. Liberty Christian plays its home games on a field rented from the city that’s adjacent to the Columbus Avenue campus where grades 7-12 meet. Preschool through Grade 6 meet in a building on Hillcrest Drive. To help feed the high school, Greenlee established a junior high baseball program at Liberty Christian last spring with 13 players – many of whom had never played the game. The plan is to add fifth and sixth graders this spring and third and fourth graders in the future. Greenlee, a 1985 Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School graduate who played baseball for Mike Klauka at Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing, Mich., was at Toledo (Ohio) Christian prior to coming back to Indiana to be closer to family and to be a pastor at Tri-County Christian Church in Middletown. In seven years at Toledo Christian, he was head baseball coach for five and football offensive coordinator for four. When he took over in baseball he was the fourth head coach for the seniors. That team went 21-7 and won sectional and district titles. The next year, the Eagles won 24 games and also took sectional and district championships. Tab and wife Heather have three children — Taylor (26), Zach (22) and Calyb (12). Taylor and husband Christian Beck have a daughter, Harper Grace. Calyb is a Liberty Christian sixth grader who plays soccer, basketball and baseball.
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
Athletic director Richelle Viront wanted him to establish culture with the Eagles.
VanArsdale, a 2013 ECA graduate who had played baseball, golf and basketball at his alma mater, was a baseball assistant in 2017 and came back to lead the program in 2019.
“I’ve been preaching to the guys to stay humble and work hard,” says VanArsdale. “Humility is so valuable in a team sport.”
VanArsdale, who had also coached many of these same athletes as junior high basketball players, does not put the emphasis on personal statistics but the team.
“We talked about distractions,” says VanArsdale. “One huge one is pride.”
VanArsdale wants his players to know that “everyone matters” and that seniors with experience respect freshmen with little to none.
“When I see someone who is toxic to that culture, we’re addressing it head-on right away,” says VanArsdale. “At the end of the day, ECA baseball is about life development.”
VanArsdale saw the Eagles go from 1-11 in 2018 — a year he stayed out of coaching with the birth of his daughter (Bethel College graduates Tyler and Brittany welcomed Clara on their wedding anniversary of May 10, 2018 at 10:18 p.m.) — to 8-8 in 2019 with him in charge.
“It’s a mindset thing — a change in thinking,” says VanArsdale. “That’s a great turnaround.”
Elkhart Christian lost 4-0 to Fremont in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 1A Fremont Sectional.
“It was intense and competitive,” says VanArsdale. “I was proud of the guys.”
Two seniors — Bailey Petty and Mark Stevens — were on that squad. Many players return for 2020. Stevens has joined a coaching staff that also includes Tony Tice and Chad Viront.
VanArsdale started his high school athletic career at nearby Penn.
As a sophomore, he transferred to ECA. He was allowed to play junior varsity basketball. The Eagles did not have a JV baseball team, but an arm injury ended his travel season early.
VanArsdale played basketball as a junior and season for squads that won 13 and 14 games.
His senior spring saw ECA go 21-8 and win the school’s first baseball sectional title, reigning at Hamilton and advancing to the finals of the 1A Caston Regional.
That team featured Caleb Stayton (who went on to a standout career at Ball State University) and Tanner Watson (who excelled at Taylor University) and VanArsdale keeps in-touch with many of his former teammates.
A former golf mate of Alec Dutkowski, VanArdale was also able to juggle the links and the diamond in the spring at ECA. He anticipates that he will have some baseball players also competing in track and field this spring.
During the IHSAA Limited Contact Period, the Eagles have been practicing on Tuesdays and Saturdays with weight workouts on other days.
Players and coaches are communication via group chat and VanArsdale, who is also account manager for Legacy Fire Protection, has lunch with his seniors — a group that will have at least six.
“I’m excited,” says VanArsale. “1 through 9, we’ll be stronger at the plate.
“With pitching, we lost Bailey Petty. But we’ll be more diverse and may use three pitchers in a game.”
To keep his pitchers healthy, VanArsdale has them using J-Bands, lifting weights and stretching in the off-season.
For those players who have their sights on the next level, the coach has advice.
“If you have a goal to play college ball, I preach prospect camps,” says VanArsdale. “You don’t want to get worn out on travel ball.”
While ECA (enrollment around 170) is an independent in all sports but soccer now, the school will be part of the Hoosier Plains Conference (with Argos, Bethany Christian, Lakeland Christian Academy, South Bend Career Academy and Trinity at Greenlawn), beginning in 2020-21. It will come with a double robin schedule and end-of-season recognition.
“It’s going to be really good,” says VanArsdale. “It’ll give each school something to shoot for.”
McClain, a redshirt senior and graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School, is Tech’s all-time hit leader with 337. He goes to Idaho hitting .431 with 17 home runs and 54 runs batted in.
Heritage High School graduate Dossen carries a .370 average with five homers and 49 RBIs.
Castaneda hails from Miami, Fla., has made 70 assists and participated in 11 double plays on defense.
Wichita, Kan., product McBroom is in the mix to start of relieve in Lewiston. He is 6-3 with a 3.58 earned run average. Tech’s other top pitchers include redshirt junior right-hander Seth Sorenson (9-1, 2.22), junior left-hander Charles Dunavan (9-3, 2.60) and freshman right-hander Hayes Sturtsman (4-1, 5.47).
Sorenson is from Payson, Utah, Dunavan from Sterling Heights, Mich., and Sturtsman is a Manchester High School graduate.
During the run up to the World Series, the lineup has featured junior right fielder Jacob Alvidrez (.315-3-30) at lead-off, followed by junior center fielder Reese Olden (.323-0-28), catcher McClain, third baseman Dossen, freshman first baseman Jake DeFries (.368-3-42), junior designated hitter Spenser McGhee (.338-3-17), second baseman Castaneda, redshirt junior shortstop Jake Ritson (.299-0-30) and junior left fielder Jashaun Simon (.209-1-11).
Alvidrez is from Sacramento, Calif., Olden from New Haven, Ind., DeFries from Crown Point, Ind., McGhee from Virginia Beach, Va., Ritson from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Simon from Kennewick, Wash. Kennewick is less than three hours from Lewiston.
McWilliams, who is in his 12th season at the Fort Wayne school, credits his assistant coaches who take the time to work with the athletes and build trust in the player/coach relationship.
Brent Alwine is in charge of infielders and is key to the Warriors’ defensive positioning.
Marshall Oetting is the pitching coach and works closely with McWilliams on that aspect of the game.
Miguel Tucker leads the outfielders, helps with recruiting and puts together a scouting report for the rest of the coaching staff. McWilliams says the data helps with positioning and pitch calling and sequencing.
Gordon Turner also helps with infielders and recruiting and is the junior varsity coach.
Tech was one win away from getting back to the World Series in each of the past three seasons, but bowed out in the NAIA Opening Round.
The Warriors have used that as motivation for getting to the next level.
McWilliams, who has long used visualization in his training, has asked players to “close their eyes and remember the last game they played.”
Unless the season ended with a championship, they are know about the heartache of the last-game loss.
“When postseason baseball comes around, there’s only going to be one winner,” says McWilliams. “Even the incoming freshmen can take that feeling and feed off it, using it in their workouts.”
The coach also asks them to go back to their earliest days of baseball.
“Everyone was a star in Little League,” says McWilliams. “Just relax, go out there and have fun.”
It’s all about positivity.
“We have a question for them: What are they feeding their dog?,” says McWilliams. “Is it positive or negative?”
McWilliams was on the Marian University coaching staff the last time Tech made it to Lewiston, but he does maintain contact with former players.
“I’ve received several phone calls and texts,” says McWilliams. “I want them to know they are not forgotten.
“They’re the foundation of where we are today.”
McWilliams has brought in Ivy Tech Northeast head coach Lance Hershberger (who took the Warriors to the World Series in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003), former Indiana Tech athletic director Dan Kline and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and current Grand Valley State University assistant Sam Riggleman to address the 2019 team.
Riggleman was a head coach for 40 years and won 1,023 games at Wesley College, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Southern Illinois University, Bethel College, Dallas Baptist and Spring Arbor University.
As motivation, there’s also the images in McWilliams’ office.
Each time the Warriors has been fortunate enough to win a championship of some kind, a team photo has been taken.
“The poses are almost always the same,” says McWilliams. “They see (those photos) everyday. It’s hilarious. That’s a visual thing for them.”
It links everything together and helps feed the culture.
And culture is what it’s all about for the Indiana Tech Warriors.
Javier Castanedia and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Glen McClain and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Head coach Kip McWilliams and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Javier Castaneda and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)
Every head coach or manager has to find a coaching style and a way he is going to run his baseball team.
Mark Haley, who coached and managed in professional baseball for more than two decades including 10 years as manager of the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks (2005-14), shared his ideas on team management at the monthly meeting of the South Bend Cubs FoundationCubbies Coaches Club Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Four Winds Field.
Haley, who has talked about the presentation with friend and San Diego Padres manager Andy Green, emphasized the importance of building relationships and communicating with young athletes.
It is helpful to know the background of players.
What’s their family life like?.
What makes a kid the way he is?.
Because of the commitment of money and time, this is critical in professional baseball.
“It’s surprising how mentally fragile and insecure some of the best big leaguers are,” said Haley.
There are many differences in any given locker room.
These include cultural, social, economic, religious and in motor development.
“It’s a melting pot,” said Haley. “We (as coaches) have to dig deep. Give everything to your players and expect nothing in return.
“You have to talk his language,” said Haley, noting that Konerko would use lingo that would have most running for a kinesiology book.
Aaron Rowand, a former White Sox outfielder, was kinesthetic. He learned by doing.
“He just wants to do drills,” said Haley.
Kinesthetic learners want to move, touch, create and physically interact.
They will be facially expressive and move around when they are interacting.
They want to know “How” to do something.
“They are the workers,” said Haley of kinesthetic learners. “They are the cage rats.”
With this kind of learner, coaches are advised to go over the area they are teaching with astep-by-step approach.
Haley talked about building a team culture. He defined it as “the formal or informal organizational systems the coach establishes to move the team towards its goal.”
Part of building a productive locker room is having a common goal.
“We have to have a commitment,” said Haley.
Roles include starter, key backup player or reserve/role player.
“Know your role and perform it well,” said Haley. “Clearly understand your role for team success.”
Players should understand complimentary roles.
“It gives them direction so they’ll know exactly where they’re at,” said Haley. “Never evaluate another kid to a player. You’re just creating animosity. Don’t humiliate them by saying ‘you’re not as good as him.’”
Haley accentuated the fact that it’s a performance culture that’s being built.
“Everything is done on how well we do, how well you coach etc.,” said Haley. “Feedback about performance has to be clear.
“It’s got to be productive. Don’t let them float off. Maintain communication.”
It’s important to find inspirational leadership.
Not a believer in naming team captains, Haley said the leader will naturally emerge.
If that leader is also bringing the team down with their attitude, Haley said the coach needs to override them or, perhaps, find another leader.
At the pro level, leaders who are negative need to be weeded out.
Haley wants to build an empowering climate where every player has a say in the fortunes and direction of the team.
There should be a compelling vision.
“We as coaches can keep that to ourselves,” said Haley. “Let the vision be known. Kids like that.”
Haley also believes in shared values. His are Honesty, Trust and Respect.
“Those are the three I preach,” said Haley. “You need to do that non-stop.”
Goal orientation is also a part of the plan.
“We’ve got to accomplish this as a team,” said Haley.
A “Can Do” attitude is a must.
“It radiates through the dugout and the locker room,” said Haley. “Young kids battle the fear of failure. As a coach, I’m never going to do that. Never be afraid to fail.”
For Haley, it’s about baseball development. But it’s also about making better people. That goal needs to be remembered.
Haley said coaches should take advantage of innovation that is constantly being developed in baseball.
“Find new ways of doing things,” said Haley, noting all the new metrics and devices available to coaches these days.
“Kids want instant feedback on everything,” said Haley. “We have to adapt to them. They are not going to adapt to us. We can influence them.”
Haley identifies three types of players on a team. There’s those who are seeking to get to the next level (No. 1’s). There are those who are satisfied with where they’re at (No. 2’s). Lastly, there are the players who are not even sure they want to be there (No. 3’s).
Haley, who is director of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and a South Bend Cubs travel baseball coach, will see the No. 1’s all the time at the Performance Center. The No. 2’s come less often. The No. 3’s are a rare sight.
Having a team of 1’s and 3’s is a recipe for major conflict.
Haley said there are areas that help create cultural identity on a team. Besides common values, symbols will help build the cohesiveness and he likes to see these originate with the players.
Common heroes can also bring teammates together. Maybe they all root for the same big leaguer. That’s something else they have in common.
Rituals — chants, team meals, championship belts — also tell players they are a part of a group.
Coaches should show an interest in each athlete’s achievements and show pride in the team’s accomplishments.
With all of it, there has to be consistency.
“You have to practice it all religiously,” said Haley. “Good coaches don’t just talk. Everything that comes out of their mouth is for a reason.”
Haley said there is no absolute one right way to coach and finding a coaching style comes through trial and error.
Having a mentor helps. Haley’s was Jim Snyder, who spent a lifetime in the game including stints as a coordinator of instruction in the White Sox organization.
The final Cubbies Coaches Club meeting of the off-season is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5. For more information, call (574) 404-3636 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Haley, director of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and a South Bend Cubs travel baseball coach, talked at the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club meeting Tuesday, Feb. 5 about team management. (Steve Krah Photo)
It has morphed into a service for teams who have increased their international investments and built baseball academies in Latin American countries but did not have an effective system to integrate players in ways that include more than balls, strikes and outs.
Based in South Bend and traveling extensively in the U.S. and Latin America, the bilingual Wawrzyniak works to help athletes navigate language and culture gaps.
She teaches English classes and so much more.
Wawrzyniak and HSA had a contract with South Bend Community School Corp., when she was approached about a decade ago by the South Bend Silver Hawks, then a Low Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. That’s where she met South Bend field manager Mark Haley and D-backs executives. They wanted her to teach a few language classes.
“My son was in baseball at the time,” says Wawrzyniak. “I thought it would be fun. Then I realized that they didn’t have a great system to do this. Guys didn’t have a lot coming in and when they left, I didn’t know what they were going to. There were a lot of holes.”
Immersing herself into the world of baseball and figuring out how to help these young foreigners pursuing their diamond dreams, Wawrzyniak created a necessary niche.
“There’s just a ton of need,” says Wawrzyniak. “The broad brush stroke of English doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s so much that happens behind the scenes when they’re with us. It’s trust. We’re a different kind of coach, really.
“We’re not just teaching English, we’re teaching a few other things. It’s the heart. It’s the cognitive processes of learning. It’s having another person to lean on emotionally.”
Wawrzyniak notes that it takes 500 hours in a classroom setting to learn conversational English.
“We don’t have 500 hours, so we have to do it faster,” says Wawrzyniak. “You develop some systems and methodologies.”
Many contractors work in-season only. Wawrzyniak trains them and oversees their programs.
“We take a lot of time to find good people,” says Wawrzyniak.
Major League Baseball requires all its teams have an integration program in the Dominican Republic. Some hire teachers and others have someone on staff.
By investing much time and energy, Wawrzyniak has learned how to get the conversation started and how to build relationships.
“With what I do, you’ve got to know those kids,” says Wawrzyniak. “You’re not just supplying paper and pencils. You know lives. You’re directly involved with player development. I know those kids and I know the teachers that know those kids.”
Inciarte, 26, played in South Bend in 2010 and 2011, broke into the big leagues with Arizona in 2014 and is now with the Atlanta Braves. The center fielder was recognized as one of baseball’s best defenders in 2016.
“To see him win the Gold Glove, I cried,” says Wawrzyniak. “I was overjoyed for him. I knew the struggles he went through. He struggled with losing his father. For awhile, it really slowed him down but it didn’t stop him.”
Contreras, 25, played in the Midwest League in 2013 with Kane County and made his MLB debut with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. A versatile player, he has played most of his pro games as a catcher. He played in Game 7 when the team finally snapped its 108-year world championship drought.
“He just learned to temper himself,” says Wawrzyniak. “He’s a neat person. You watch these players figure out who they are. You see them mature. He learned to make the most of who he was.”
“He’s just a naturally joyful person who loves to play,” says Wawrzyniak, who has faced the rising star in ping pong and basketball. “That’s neat. You don’t see that very often.
“He’s paying attention to every aspect of his career.”
When the Cubs started expanding into the Dominican Republic a few years ago, they sought out Wawrzyniak to help them smooth the transition.
“By that time, I was already working in the D.R. and the U.S.,” says Wawrzyniak. “I already had that international experience and understood what that required.”
She understands that culture is an all-encompassing concept.
“Let’s break that down,” says Wawrzyniak. “Culture is defined as societal norms. But because America is a melting pot, we don’t have one culture. Navigating that is one thing. There’s also gender cultures and age cultures.
“Culture’s a lot of things. Until you’ve had to teach it, you don’t really realize how big that is.”
College-age people today have a different verbiage and values from those of 30 years ago.
“It’s basically a difference in generations,” says Wawrzyniak. “Slang in the United States changes every five years. The reason it changes is that it’s driven by pop media.”
A typical baseball clubhouse is full of multiple generations. The references that a staffer in his 50’s makes may not connect with a player of 20.
“You might have coach who grew up with The Terminator and this new generation who has never seen The Terminator, and the coach says “I’ll be back!” and the Latin goes are going “What?” The Korean guys are going “Huh?” It doesn’t carry.
“If you haven’t integrated social media and pop media into what you’re doing, you’re behind the times. You have to be able to help kids understand those things.”
“The Cubs are an amazing organization — world class,” says Wawrzyniak. “They didn’t have to give me a ring. But they did because I think they saw the value in working with all these Latin players, which is such a huge percentage of their minor league system.
“Huge progress was made. They saw that and acknowledged that.”
In the Cubs organization, South Bend represents the first full-season team for its minor leaguers. They play 140 regular-season contests compared with about half that at Eugene, Ore., in the short-season Northwest League.
“It’s hard,” says Wawrzyniak. “It’s more games than they’re used to playing. There’s a little more traveling than before. It’s a higher level of competition.”
It’s also “not their first rodeo.”
By the time they come to South Bend, they’ve usually already been in the U.S. three or four times. First there’s a month in the fall instructional league. They go home and then come back for spring training or extended spring training. They return home and then come back the next year for another spring training or extended spring training session before heading to Eugene.
While the Cubs have a nutritionist and many meals are provided, players usually are responsible for one meal a day and they crave foods from back home. Many grocery stores carry Latin American brands like Goya and there’s some chains that are attractive.
“They love Chipotle,” says Wawrzyniak. “That’s as close to home as they can get.”
Of course, it all comes down to the game.
“I’ve learned more baseball than I ever thought I would know,” says Wawrzyniak. “I now see the game within the game. I ask questions of coaches all the time. We build that into our programs.
“It’s not like what you learn in the first year of high school Spanish — Donde Esta La Biblioteca? (where’s the library?). They don’t want to know that. We have to give them words that make sense in their environment. We create materials that correspond to that.”
Wawrzyniak has made it a point to know what it feels like to throw a pitch, swing a bat, make a slide. She watches baseball on TV each night and breaks it down. She has devoured history and statistics.
“It’s not something you can do without knowing,” says Wawrzyniak. “I’ve spent a lot of my time just learning. You’ve got to know all of it. If you want to be effective, you have to. Any field you’re in, you have to know it.”
HSA teaches players how to interact with reporters. Normal conversation-starting questions revolve around who, what, when, where, how and why. But many times it comes across as very open-ended and sets the player up for failure.
“Speaking to the media, to me, is one of the hardest things and it’s not because they don’t have the words,” says Wawrzyniak. “It often comes down to how the question is formulated. There are a variety of ways reporters ask questions and they’re not always the same. One is ‘tell me about …’ That’s so vague.
“Most men don’t like opened-ended questions. (It’s the difference between) ‘tell me about what you envision for Mother’s Day vs. ‘what do you think we should do for Mother’s Day?’ Most guys struggle with that, regardless of their nationality. It’s kind of a sneak attack on these guys because they don’t really know what you want.
“It’s better, when you’re dealing with an international player, to be more specific.”
Wawrzyniak’s advice: The reporter should know what they want from the interviewee when they pose the question.
It’s all about communication and making a connection.
Linda Wawrzyniak is helping the baseball community integrate foreign players with her Higher Standards Academy, LLC. The Chicago Cubs recently said thank you with a World Series ring.