Tag Archives: Damon DeJesus

Fort Wayne’s DeJesus recalls amateur, professional roots

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Javier DeJesus was born in Puerto Rico, shined on the high school diamonds of Texas and excelled collegiately in Louisiana.

Drafted by the Minnesota Twins, his professional baseball career put DeJesus in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1994.

The former left-handed pitcher has been around the Summit City most of the time since toeing the rubber for the Fort Wayne Wizards (now known as the Fort Wayne TinCaps).

Javi met a local girl (Deborah), fell in love, got married and had three sons (Damon, Jordan and Evan) while staying close to his favorite game.

DeJesus’ day job as a health care administator keeps him busy, but he still has time to teach lessons at The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy, where Manny Lopez is director of baseball operations.

Javi DeJesus helps coach Fort Wayne Diamondbacks travel teams featuring Jordan (14U DeJesus) and Evan (12U). Damon DeJesus, who played at Indiana University South Bend and in the independent Empire League, is the 14U head coach.

DeJesus and former WOWO radio personality Charly Butcher founded the Fort Wayne Cubs, which later became the Diamondbacks.

Born in Ponce, P.R., DeJesus moved to Moss Bluff, La., as a boy then Beaumont, Texas, where he was one of only two sophomores to play varsity baseball at West Brook Senior High School (catcher Jason Smith, who went on to the University of Texas-Arlington and the Colorado Rockies organization, was the other).

It was as a 10th grader that DeJesus caught the attention of University of Southwestern Louisiana assistant coach Emrick Jagneaux.

“He said, ‘once you get this thing figured out with the curveball, I’ll come back and pick you up,’” says DeJesus of Jagneaux. “He was true to his word.”

DeJesus went to USL (now known as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette) and went 23-1 in three seasons (1990-92) for the Mike Boulanger-coached Ragin’ Cajuns. 

One of his signature victories was a complete game at Mississippi State University in 1991. That team was coached by American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ron Polk and inside rowdy and intimidating Dudy Noble Field.

The lefty was 22-0 as a starter. He came on in relief against Oregon State University and three crucial errors led to his only college setback.

In his three seasons, the Ragin’ Cajuns went 47-18, 49-20 and 38-23 and won two American South Conference titles and a Sun Belt Conference West crown. 

DeJesus won 13 games for Southwest Louisiana in 1992, was an All-American, co-Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year and selected to Team Puerto Rico. An elbow injury suffered during the Olympic Trials kept him from going to the Barcelona Games, where first-time Olympic baseball qualifier Puerto Rico placed fifth.

In the summer of 1990, DeJesus played American Legion Baseball in Louisiana for McNeese State University head coach Tony Robichaux and assistant Todd Butler.

Robichaux was head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette 1995-2019 (he died after the 2019 season) and won more than 1,100 games in his 33-year career.

The Twins selected DeJesus in the 17th round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He got into just two games in 1992 then went 9-0 at rookie-level Elizabethton, Tenn., in 1993. 

Ray Smith was the Elizabethton manager.

“He’s one of the nicest overall men that has ever graced us with his presence,” says DeJesus of Smith. “His philosophy was very simple: Show us what you can do.”

DeJesus remembers that Smith was very mild-mannered until the morning after an Appalachian League playoff loss at Bluefield, Va., that saw the team get extra-boisterous at the hotel.

Let’s just say the Twins were chewed out before riding back to Tennessee.

Playing at Low Class-A Fort Wayne in 1994, DeJesus encountered manager Jim Dwyer and pitching coach Stew Cliburn.

It was in Fort Wayne that DeJesus, who was in the bullpen at old Memorial Stadium, witnessed the first professional home run for 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez

DeJesus can still see the hanging slider by Shane Bowers, who had a cup of coffee with the 1997 Twins, that A-Rod popped for the Appleton Foxes.

Southpaw DeJesus was 5-2 with two saves, a 0.93 earned run average, 55 strikeouts and 13 walks in 38 2/3 innings at Fort Wayne and was at Double-A Nashville briefly before injury cut his season short.

DeJesus recalls that a Nashville TV station aired a lengthy piece about his injury. Xpress manager Phil Roof and pitching coach Rick Anderson were complimentary, saying how the lefty had the make-up to be a top-flight closer or set-up man. 

“My fastball never came back after surgery,” says DeJesus.

After four games at Double-A New Britain, Conn., in 1995, DeJesus spent parts of that season and all of 1996 in independent pro ball with the Alexandria (La.) Aces and the Rio Grande Valley White Wings in Harlingen, Texas.

DeJesus was with Alexandria again in 1997 and hooked on with the Chicago Cubs system, going 3-1 in eight games in 1997 and 5-5 in 1998 — both for High Class-A Daytona, Fla.

Stan Cliburn, twin brother of Stew and Alexandria manager in 1997, fondly recalls DeJesus.

“Great competitor and a winner when he toed the pitchers mound!,” says Cliburn. “Class act.”

Ricky VanAsselberg, who is now the general manager/field manager of the Acadiana Cane Cutters summer collegiate team in Lafayette, La., was an Alexandria teammate.

“I love Javi,” says VanAsselberg. “What a great guy. Great competitor.

“Warrior on the mound.”

It was Alan Dunn, Daytona pitching coach in 1997, that DeJesus learned the 3-2-1 pitch sequencing method that he employs with his young players to this day.

“He showed me that concept and it’s made a world of difference,” says DeJesus. “It gives you the opportunity to be your own pitching coach.”

The method begins with 12 pitches to various parts of the strike zone — inside and outside — and allows the pitcher to evaluate where is more or less consistent, where he is improving or regressing and where his mechanics can be altered to effect the release point.

DeJesus, who likes to take to Twitter to debunk modern training philosophy, is not a big fan of speed for speed’s sake.

“Look at players’ heart,” says DeJesus. “That can’t be quantified. They don’t play for numbers.

“Velocity is king now. To me that’s not pitching. That’s measurables. You have to integrate velocity and command. 

“If you have no clue where it’s going, what’s the purpose of training.”

When teaching his sons to hit, DeJesus has spent time listening to hitting coaches and it’s also helped him as pitching instructor.

“The more I know about hitting, the more I can help pitchers,” says DeJesus. “We can expose weaknesses.”

Puerto Rico-born Jose Santiago, a former big league pitcher and Daytona’s pitching coach in 1998, tried to get DeJesus to become a coach in the Cubs organization.

“I thought I still had some games to play,” says DeJesus. “I wanted to retire on my own terms and not someone else’s.”

The final three pro seasons for DeJesus were spent in independent ball — Nashua (N.H.) Pride in 1999, Lehigh Valley (Pa.) Black Diamonds in 2000 and Alexandria Aces in 2001.

The 2000 season is memorable because it wound up with the team living in tents when bankruptcy proceedings got them thrown out of area hotels.

New Orleans native Kim Batiste, who played on the Philadelphia Phillies World Series team in 1993, cooked for his teammates.

It was also in the Atlantic League that DeJesus got a valuable baseball lesson thanks to former big league slugger Ruben Sierra.

During a pro career that spanned 1983-2006, Puerto Rican Sierra was with the Atlantic City Surf in 1999 and rapped a few offerings from Nashua’s DeJesus.

Baseball lifer Doc Edwards was the Atlantic City manager. 

“Those are the guys who taught me how to pitch,” says DeJesus, who got a chance to talk baseball with those men deep into the night. “The conversation got me to understand what it is to pitch.

“Today, too many pitchers don’t call their own pitches. They don’t get to think for themselves.”

Javier DeJesus and his sons are involved with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Diamondbacks travel baseball organization.
Javier DeJesus was an All-American baseball player at Southwestern Louisiana University (now known as the University of Louisville-Lafayette).
Javier DeJesus with the Elizabethton (Tenn.) Twins (Classic Best Image).
Javier DeJesus with the Rio Grande Valley White Wings.
Javier DeJesus with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Fleer Image).
Javier DeJesus with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Fleer Image).
Javier DeJesus with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Fleer Image).
Baseball Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman (left) meets with Javier DeJesus. The latter played 10 years in pro baseball and lives in Fort Wayne, Ind.

IU South Bend finding its way in second college baseball season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Working through the growing pains that come with a new program, Indiana University South Bend is looking to make its mark on the NAIA baseball landscape.

In their second year and with Mike Huling in his first year as head coach, the Titans are on a quest to be competitive in the tough Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference this spring.

At the same time, IUSB looks to keep making progress as numbers and talent increases.

“It’s been a struggle, but right now we feel that we have the kinds of guys that we need moving forward,” says Huling, who was a Titans assistant in 2015-16. “They buy into our system. They believe in the vision that we have of winning baseball games.

“We want to play hard in our conference.”

The top two teams in the CCAC will earn an NAIA regional berth. Huling says the the teams to beat look to be Judson and Saint Francis (Ill.).

There are just five seniors — Trey Bickel (Mishawaka), Damon DeJesus (Fort Wayne), Luke Gaboury (South Bend), Chris Mangus (Niles, Mich.) and Sammy Nieves (Canovanas, P.R.) — on the IUSB current roster of 28 (down from around 45 at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year).

“Early in the season, we haven’t been good teammates and we’ve haven’t been playing for each other,” says Huling. “As a coaching staff, we’ve been trying to get them to buy into that type of thing because those things help you win baseball games. The good thing is we faced that adversity early when the games didn’t matter (before conference play). We feel we’re headed in the right direction.”

The Titans are off to a 9-10 start to the 2017 season, including 2-0 in the CCAC. An injury to right-hander Kyle Rago has depleted the pitching staff. Other hurlers have been asked to step forward and focus on throwing strikes.

“You definitely have to have pitching in this conference,” says Huling. “We play five conference games every week. We’re struggling to find five starting pitchers.”

Huling said details of a contract is being worked out to move to Newton Park in Lakeville and IUSB may be able to call that home within a few weeks.

The Titans have been practicing on and opened the season at South Bend’s School Field — a facility the Titans have been sharing with varsity and junior teams from South Bend Adams High School as well as Jefferson Intermediate School baseball and football.

“We had to juggle all those schedules,” says Huling. “Those are the kinds of things we had to deal with early on. It’s tough when we show up to the field and there’s a football practice in right field or we have to practice from 8 to 10 at night.”

As for the future, 17 recruits have already been signed for next season.

“We’re definitely excited about next year,” says Huling. “But I don’t believe in the ‘rebuilding year.’ We always want to compete every single year.”

Using his relationships while playing at the University of Southern Indiana (the Screaming Eagles won the NCAA Division II national title in 2010) and being an assistant coach at NCAA Division I Bowling Green State University has given Huling some recruiting ties around the country.

Huling says IUSB is able to pull some out-of-state student-athletes carrying a minimum 3.0 grade-point average to earn a Chancellor’s Merit Scholarship that brings fees close to in-state tuition.

Recruiting in the South Bend area has been adversely affected because of the field situation. Most Indiana recruits have come from he Indianapolis area, but there have been signees from California, Texas, Ohio and Michigan.

“There’s so much unseen talent in California and Texas, it’s crazy,” says Huling, who has family in California and couples visits with recruiting. “Believe it or not, some of these kids want to come to the Midwest. If a major Division I institution doesn’t offer them anything, they don’t have anywhere to go.”

Huling, a 2006 Mishawaka High School graduate, had to work hard to been noticed as a player. He earned a spot at NCAA Division I Illinois State University, where he redshirted before transferring and playing two seasons at Glen Oaks Community College before landing at Southern Indiana for two seasons (2010 and 2011). USI is coached by Tracy Archuleta.

“He is one of my mentors,” says Huling. “He was an under-the-radar guy as a coach as well. He’s win two NCAA Division II national championships at the Midwest school (USI also won it all in 2014). I’ve learned a lot from him. Just his whole demeanor, strategy, on-the-field, off-the-field, discipline — all that sort of stuff.

The spring marks Huling’s third coaching in the NAIA. He was an assistant at NAIA Holy Cross College in 2015 before that program folded and he moved over to join the brand new IUSB program.

His coaching staff includes NAIA veteran Jon Koepf, who a graduate assistant the last two seasons at the University of Rio Grande (Ohio). Koepf played for former major league pitcher Len Barker at NCAA Division II Notre Dame College.

Other IUSB assistants include Matt Schwitz, who pitched at Holy Cross, and Chris Woodruff, who played outfield at Holy Cross and IUSB. Schwitz, who was also an assistant at IUSB in 2016, played at South Bend St. Joseph High School and Woodruff at Adams.

If he has his way, the NAIA will fall in line with the NCAA and do away with the re-entry rule and courtesy runners.

“It’s kind of like high school rules,” says Huling.

MIKEHULING

Mike Huling is in his second season on the Indiana University South Bend baseball coaching staff — his first as head coach. He is a Mishawaka High School graduate.