Tag Archives: Director of Baseball Operations

Zeese talks about mental performance, championship mindsets

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tapping into potential is what Kelli Zeese does as director of operations and a mental performance coach for Selking Performance Group.
Coming straight from helping the University of Notre Dame softball team, the South Bend, Ind., native shared ideas on the mental game and championship mindset Tuesday, March 29 at the final South Bend Cubs Foundation Coaches Club meeting of 2021-22 at Four Winds Field.
A graduate of Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Zeese has a Psychology degree from Saint Mary’s College, a Masters of Business Administration/Masters of Sports Administration from Ohio University and is pursuing a Masters of Performance/Sport Psychology from National University.
She went to work for Selking Performance Group in 2020 after serving as assistant director of Athletics Facilities and Operations at Boston College.
Among many other experiences, Zeese has been Director of Baseball Operations at Notre Dame, where she had been head baseball student manager and also a football student manager.
Kelli grew up playing sports — her favorite was softball — as the oldest child of Mark and Linda Zeese. She has two younger brothers — Aaron and Kerry. The latter was the starting third baseman on Saint Joseph’s 2017 IHSAA Class 3A baseball state champions and is now a junior infielder/pitcher at Roosevelt University in Chicago.
J.R. Haley, son of South Bend Cubs Foundation executive director Mark Haley, was a senior on that John Gumpf-coached Saint Joe squad.
Zeese (pronounced Zay-zee) said that the purpose of mental performance training is to answer the question: How can I deliver my best, consistently, when it matters most?
“Recognize that (delivering) very best is going to be different from your very best,” said Zeese. “How can I do so consistently whether it’s the first or last pitch of the game, we’re up by 10 or down by 10? We want our mindset to be the same.
“We don’t want to have these (Instagram-like) filters like this is my mindset when we’re up by three, but when we’re down by three this is my mindset.
“How do I respond in pressure situations?”
While her talk was in the context of sport and specifically baseball, she said these concepts have helped in academic, business and life situations, including preparing for a test, presentation, job interview and or difficult conversation.
Zeese talked about brain science and presented tangible training tips, including positive/productive language, perfection vs. excellence and being in the present moment.
Achieving optimum mental performance means to “Know you why.”
“Why do you do what you do?,” said Zeese. “What type of important or legacy do you want to leave? What do I do today to make that happen? Why do you coach? Why are you part of this organization?
“We talk with our athletes about different forms of motivation. Who’s the source of your motivation? What types of rewards are there?”
Zeese gave advice to the coaches/instructors in the room.
“Part of your objective is to create that environment in which they can grow and thrive,” said Zeese. “What a great vehicle sports and baseball is to be able to do that.”
Selking Performance Group — led by Dr. Amber Selking, whose new book is “Winning the Mental Game: The Playbook for Building Championship Mindsets” and is host of the “Building Championship Mindsets” podcast — likes to set itself apart by helping people understand who the brain works.
“It allows people to be more intentional about the training itself,” said Zeese.
She showed this with a hex nut dangling from a string — an activity former Notre Dame soccer player Selking shows in her “Dare to Think Like A Champion Today” TEDx Talk.
The activity demonstrates the brain-body connection and psycho-neuromuscular theory at work.
Participants are asked to hold the string out with the nut dangling and stationary and using only their thoughts they are to think about it going forward and backward then side to side then in a circle and then stopping.
“Our thoughts are sending these electrical signals through our brain to the neurons in the muscles and nerve endings throughout the body,” said Zeese. “That’s how truly powerful our thoughts are.
“The brain-body connection says thoughts affect our emotions which affect our physiological responses which is going to dictate our performance.
“When we were are thinking we don’t want to strike out our emotions are often fear or anxiety. Our physiological response is that our bodies and our muscles are tense and our visions constricts and narrows. Our performance is going to show.”
Zeese said that science shows that 70,000 to 80,000 thoughts enter the mind each day.
“We can’t control that these thoughts are going to enter our brain,” said Zeese. “However, we can control which ones stay.
“We identify whether (a thought is) productive or unproductive. Does it serve us or not. We’re going to release it if it doesn’t.”
The objective is to change a negative into a positive.
It’s a mindset (a patterned way of thinking about anything).
Alex Smith was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 National Football League Draft by the San Francisco 49ers and struggled as a rookie quarterback.
“I felt I just had to be perfect to justify by draft status,” said Smith in a video clip presented by Zeese. “I became my own worst enemy. I constantly strove for others’ approval and and worried about what they were thinking.
“I felt like I couldn’t even make the smallest of mistakes. This became a paralyzing cycle.”
Smith changed his mindset and went to three Pro Bowls with the Kansas City Chiefs and was the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year with the Washington Redskins/Football Team.
“Accept what you cannot control,” said Smith.
“We grow through failure,” said Zeese. “Identify your weaknesses and turned them into strengths”
Zeese interjected the acronym F.A.I.L., which stands for First Attempt In Learning.
“It’s OK to fail, but let’s get better from it,” said Zeese.
She said that most people think you either win or fail and that successful people know you may fail multiple times before winning.
There’s a difference between perfection and excellence.
Society tells us we need to be perfect. Failure is part of the process. It’s OK to fail. But it’s how you respond and how quickly you recover.”
Zeese said being in the present moment and setting ourselves up for success means our mind needs to be where at the same pace as our feet. The body is always present and we want to be strategic about the use of the past and future.
“We’re going to think about past performances and if it was a poor performance, we’re going to learn from it,” said Zeese. “You can create a highlight reel in your head of positive past performances to build up your confidence.”
After showing clip from the ESPN E:60 special on Evan Longoria and his mental approach, Zeese talked about how the major leaguer approaches the game “one pitch at a time” and uses the visual cue of looking at the top of the left-field foul pole to release and re-focus. These cues or triggers can be visual, physical or verbal.
There is an acronym used by Zeese and her colleagues — W.I.N., which stands for What’s Important Now?
“What’s important THIS pitch?,” said Zeese. “Just it matter that you just swung at a ball in the dirt? Does it matter that you just overthrew a ball or that you just walked a batter?
“When we talk about winning games we break it down. We win innings — both offensively and defensively. We win at-bats by winning one pitch at a time.”

“Dare to Think Like A Champion Today” TEDx Talk by Dr. Amber Selking
Kelli Zeese (Selking Performance Group Photo).
Kelli Zeese (University of Notre Dame Photo).

Indiana Elite Baseball stresses development, exposure

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With giving players opportunities to develop and compete at a high level a priority, Indiana Elite Baseball is preparing for the spring and summer travel season.

Started as part of the Center Grove Little League in Greenwood, Ind., Indiana Elite Baseball had one team in 2011 then four teams in 2013 and was up to 10 squads in 2014 and has stayed in that range ever since. IEB will field 10 squads ages 12U through 17U in 2021. Younger players are typically come from central Indiana, but talent comes around the state.

“We started to grow it slowly,” says Indiana Elite Baseball founder and president Mike Chitwood, a former all-city player and 1989 graduate of Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis. “We wanted to do something bigger than a community-based team.

“I have a big passion for doing what I do. I love educating players and families on the process. I tell them to play the game for as long as you can.”

IEB has been a not-for-profit organization since 2013. 

“I try to keep cost as low as possible for our families,” says Chitwood. “You have to do certain things to afford the families and players an opportunity to develop.”

Indiana Elite Baseball can be found taking the field at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo., LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga.

In 2016, the organization got its own indoor training facility on the southeast side of Indianapolis. It’s open year-round only to IEB teams, coaches and instructors.

“It’s been a great addition for the last five years,” says Chitwood. 

Indiana Elite Baseball offers a full winter training program led by director of baseball operations Brian Simmons.

Players train four hours a week November to March. 

“I’m a big advocate of multi-sport athletes,” says Chitwood. “But get to as many (baseball workouts) as you can.”

Younger teams tend to play in 12 events a year, beginning in early to mid-April. Older teams play seven or eight tournaments after Memorial Day.

Simmons is a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis who played at Xavier University and Ball State University and in independent pro ball. He was an assistant at Roncalli to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Wirtz and aided Eric McGaha at Mooresville (Ind.) High School and was head coach at Roncalli and Indianapolis Arlington.

Deron Spink is the other IEB instructor. A California native, Spink coached future big leaguers Ryan Howard and David Freese in the St. Louis area and was head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., and director of baseball operations at Villanova University in Philadelphia before moving to Indiana. 

Spink was a volunteer assistant to Steve Farley at Butler University and is a former director of baseball operations and recruiting for Indiana Elite Baseball who now resides in Evansville while still coming to Indianapolis to give private lessons.

Chitwood, Simmons and vice president Jeff Amodeo make up IEB’s board. Amodeo coaches and does much of the behind-the-scenes work.

Through a relationship with Franklin College the past four years, Chitwood has gotten Grizzlies assistants to coach for Indiana Elite Baseball in the summer. Tim Miller has gone on to become head coach at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va. Former Franklin and IEB coach Tyler Rubasky is Miller’s assistant.

Current Franklin assistants Jake Sprinkle, who played at Franklin Central and the University of Indianapolis, and Trevor Tunison, who played at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., also lend their talents to IEB. 

Chitwood used to have a rule that after 15U, there could be no coaches who had sons on the team. 

“As long as a dad is in it for the right reason and they’re not in it to take care of their son, I will let a dad continue as long as they want to continue for multiple reasons,” says Chitwood. “These days, it’s harder and harder to get a guy to spend his entire summer at the baseball field.”

Mike ceased coaching son Blake Chitwood, who played for Roncalli’s IHSAA Class 4A state champions in 2016 and then at the UIndy, and has regretted the decision.

“There’s a misconception that you had to play collegiately or at a higher level professionally to be a coach,” says Chitwood. “(16U Black head coach) Steve Sawa didn’t play past high school. But he’s a student of the game. He’s a great coach.”

John Curl, a Logansport (Ind.) High School graduate who played at Texas A&M and in the Toronto Blue Jays organization and is a Kokomo (Ind.) High School assistant, helps Sawa.

Paul Godsey (Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Ky.), Dan Sullivan (Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis) and Scott Gilliam (UIndy) and Brian Maryan (Rose-Hulman) are former college players who also have sons on their respective teams. Gilliam is assisted by former Eastern Illinois University pitcher and IEB father/coach Kyle Widegren

Thomas Taylor, Kyle Morford and Ryan Mueller are also current IEB head coaches.

After Blake moved on, Mike Chitwood coached the 17U team. He decided by focusing on one team he was doing the rest of the outfit a disservice so he stepped out of the coaching role.

“I like to see all my teams play,” says Chitwood. “It’s important to build the culture and the family atmosphere.”

The goal of IEB’s high school age players is getting to the next level.

Chitwood stresses education with baseball as a means of getting that education.

He asks each player to take baseball out of the equation.

“It has to be a great academic fit,” says Chitwood. “What are you going to be in the future?

“Even if you get to play pro ball, you still have to provide for your family after your playing career.”

Chitwood wants players to know if a school offers a major that interests them and if — realistically — they can play at that level.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the whole environment of the recruiting process. Many coaches have not been able to attend travel events in-person and on-campus visits have been restricted.

“More than ever, it’s important to perform in these showcases,” says Chitwood. “We want to continue to build our relationships with all these (college) coaches.”

Chitwood keeps college programs up-to-date on Indiana Elite Baseball players through social media and the sharing of data such as Rapsodo

To be proactive, Chitwood has hired an intern to take video of game action this season.

Resources like Prep Baseball Report, Perfect Game and FieldLevel are also tools for exposure.

The pandemic has had another big impact. Many players are coming back for an extra year of eligibility after the 2020 college season was shortened. 

The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was cut from 40 to five rounds last year, keeping many players on the amateur side of the equation.

“It’s a different environment now,” says Chitwood. “Opportunities are much less than they were two years ago.”

Mike Chitwood is the founder and president of Indiana Elite Baseball, a not-for-profit travel baseball organization based in Indianapolis. (Indiana Elite Baseball Photo)

Madia helps manage many moving parts for Purdue baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

John Madia sees a vibrant future for college baseball in general and Purdue University baseball in particular.

“The sport — to me — is on a similar trajectory as college basketball,” says Madia, the director of player development for the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, Ind. — a role created for the 2020 season. “The lights are getting brighter. The stage is getter bigger.

“College baseball has a very good chance to be a healthy revenue generator for universities.”

Madia sees momentum building for the idea of starting the season — at least at the NCAA Division I level — later and playing into July.

“We’re in total favor of that,” says Madia, who earned baseball letters at Purdue in 1975, 1976 and 1978 and came the Boilers to take the new position of director of baseball operations in 2015. “Team would playing in better weather in north and it would level the playing field. We’d have a better chance of keeping top talent in-state.

“It would not surprise me if 6,000 to 8,000 a game at Alexander Field with that model. People in the community to can go out to nice venue at a reasonable price. Purdue is very well-placed. Our ability to add seating is easy. We have very generous concourse areas and room for more seating down the left field line.”

That’s the future. In the present, Madia is helping the program maximize its potential while getting ahead of challenges.

Madia’ efforts complement those of Boilers head coach Greg Goff, assistants Cooper Fouts, Chris Marx and Harry Shipley and supervisor of operations Tim Sarhage.

There’s a planning meeting each morning because there are a lot of moving parts.

“As much as possible we want to anticipate as many scenarios as we can

proactive rather than reactive,” says Madia. “When we’e prepared it takes the stress off our program and student-athletes.

“We want to make sure everyone knows their role and how it can help us be successful on the field, classroom and community.”

In D-I baseball, besides areas like strategic and practice planning, training and travel, there are other things to navigate like NCAA regulations, compliance, player needs and alumni.

“We always boil it down to this: We have to do a great job with our student-athletes,” says Madia. “We them to look back and say I had a great student-athlete experience at Purdue. That’s going to bode well for our future.”

To achieve this goal, the school has assembled high baseball I.Q. personnel and added many resources — academic, cultural, time management and medical (which addresses physical and mental well-being). 

Of course right now, COVID-19 protocols are a major issue. The virus halted the 2020 season after 14 games (the Boilers went 7-7).

“These kids have ever been exposed to anything like that,” says Madia. “Players have had relatives with virus.”

NCAA D-I rules allow a 45-day window for fall practice. Purdue started in September ended in late October. 

“We were plowing new ground,” say Madia. “We never had to plan a fall around a COVID world.

“Following strict guidelines put in place by the university, players are tested every week.

“If there’s an exposure, there’s a very aggressive protocol to get them out of the bubble,” says Madia. “We spent a lot of time as a staff to build natural bubbles within the program/ The ame guys with each other everyday.

“We had to single out baseballs for them. Equipment was wiped down. It was a lot of work and planning but it kept us safe.

“We got through entire fall without any major disruptions.”

Moving back to the individual phase, they’ve gone from 20 hours a week of practice with athletes to eight.

The Boilers have a relatively large number of newcomers. It’s been a challenge to build camaraderie while social distancing.

“Coach Goff really likes to do a lot of team activities and build that rapport and culture of family,” says Madia.

Purdue goes virtual after Thanksgiving. Most students will leave campus next Wednesday and not return until January. 

Madia says they must test negative for COVID before being allowed back on-campus.

“In-season we’ll probably be testing our guys everyday,” says Madia. “It looks like the Big Ten (Conference) will not allow non-conference games. The protocol is same for all conference schools.”

If there are more Big Ten games than usual — say four-game weekend schedules instead of three — Madia wonders if teams will be allowed more than the usual 27-man travel roster.

Prior to returning to Purdue in his operations role, Madia worked in industry as an executive with Dow Chemical and CH2M as a global business and HR leader. 

He has long been on the Purdue Athletic Advisory Board and held various advisory roles to the College of Agriculture. 

He has coached amateur baseball and served on the board of the Indiana Bulls travel organization. He was an associate scout for the Baltimore Orioles.

Former Purdue head coach Doug Schreiber brought Madia on as director of operations. In that role, he was responsible for alumni outreach, player and staff professional/career development and other general marketing/operations duties to advance the program.

“I always viewed Purdue as one of the best decisions I made in my life,” says Madia. “Coming out of Purdue University can definitely open doors for you. It’s up to you to kick them in.

“I’ve always maintained good relationships with coaches and players. This is one way of giving back and staying involved.

“I’ve had a ball with it. With a new position you get to determine what that looks like when you stand it up.”

A lefty swinger and thrower, Utica, N.Y., native Madia played first base for Joe Sexson and Dave Alexander when the Boilers played across campus at Lambert Field. He missed the 1977 season with injury.

“Coach Sexson would make a great mayor,” says Madia. “He knew everybody. He had a great way of communicating with each player as an individual.

“He was a fun guy to be around. He was also ultra-competitive.”

Alexander, who died Feb. 26, 2020 at 79, was the coach for Madia’s last two Purdue seasons and two became close friends after that.

“He took the whole game of baseball to another baseball with his knowledge and I.Q.,” says Madia of Alexander. “He taught you how important it was to appreciate and honor the game.”

Alexander brought intensity to the diamond.

“If you were meek and didn’t want to bring it everyday you weren’t going to be very successful around Coach Alexander,” says Madia. “Everybody saw that side of Alex. the side they didn’t see was how loyal he was to the guys that played for him. He would do anything for you. When you were done playing for hm was the time to build that friendship.”

With Madia’s input, Alexander began recruiting in upstate New York. Many good players come from that area to this day.

“With Dave Alexander there was no gray. It was black and white. If he trusted you, he was with you,” says Madia. “He was very, very passionate about politics and history. I stayed in close contact with him all the way up to the end. He had a big impact on my life.”

Madia was named Distinguished Alumnus by the School of Animal Sciences and the College of Agriculture in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and a Purdue Old Master in 2014.

John and Jean, also a Purdue graduate, have four children and Boiler grads — Megan (2005), Katie (2007), former Purdue baseball player Drew (2010) and Dan (2011).

John Madia, a Purdue University graduate, is the Boilermakers baseball director of player development. (Purdue University Photo)
The Purdue University baseball family is guided by (from left): First row — assistant Chris Marx, director of baseball development John Madia and head coach Greg Goff; second row — assistants Harry Shipley and Cooper Fouts. (Purdue University Photo)
Leading the Purdue University baseball program are (from left): assistants Chris Marx and Cooper Fouts, head coach Greg Goff, director of player development and volunteer assistant Harry Shipley. (Purdue University Photo)
John Madia, a Purdue University graduate, is the Boilermakers director of baseball development. He came back to Purdue as director of baseball operations in 2015. (Purdue University Photo)

French plays to strength as Indiana Bulls director of baseball operations

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott French looks back through the decades and sees all the support his father and mother provided he and sister Jessi when they were growing up near southern Indiana town of Jasonville.

“My parents never said no to anything I wanted to do in athletics,” says French, the director of baseball operations for the Indiana Bulls travel organization since June 2019. “My dad (Steve) was a coal miner and my mom (Pat) a dental assistant. Sports were a priority.

“My dad gave me the opportunity to get better every day.”

Steve French built a batting cage in the back yard of the French home near Shakamak State Park.

“I took a lot of swings in my life,” says Scott. “We didn’t have lessons back then. In that era, we watched more baseball (for French, it was lefty swingers like Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs). Kids get more instruction and more games now.

“I didn’t play more games until I got older.”

French did put his batting cage hacks to use at Shakamak Little League and later Shakamak Junior/Senior High School, where he hit .568 as a junior in 1997 and a state-leading .586 as a senior and was MVP of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All Star Series in 1998.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chip Sweet was the head coach when French played for the Lakers.

“He was a very good example to all of us,” says French of Sweet. “He was very consistent. You knew what you were getting every single day. He threw very good batting practice and he threw it every day.”

Shakamak players also saw plenty of fly balls and grounders in practice. French roamed center field.

Jessi French (now Stanton and a math teacher and dean of students at Linton-Stockton High School) also took advantage of the family cage and paced Indiana in runs batted in during one of her final high school softball seasons.

Scott French was introduced to travel baseball by coach Gary Sylvester and the Indiana Hawks, which were based on the south side of Indianapolis.

When French was 17, Sylvester took he and a few others to the Bulls, where Craig Moore was head coach. The Bulls offer the Craig Moore Memorial Scholarship in honor of the man who died in 2004.

“Craig Moore was awesome,” says French, who helped the Bulls win the National Amateur Baseball Federation High School Division World Series in 1997. “I owe a lot to Gary. I owe a lot of Craig.”

In his Bulls position, French answers to a board of directors with 11U Black head coach Quinn Moore as president, Josh Loggins as vice president, Brent Mewhinney as treasurer and Todd Mewhinney as secretary. Quinn Moore and Jared Moore, head coaches of 11U Black and 11U White teams, respectively, are sons of Craig Moore.

French played for Rich Maloney at Ball State University (1999-2002). The .321 career hitter with a school-record 139 walks played mainly in center or left but was used some in relief and at first base and helped the Cardinals to regular-season Mid-American Conference titles in 1999 and 2001.

He was a volunteer assistant at BSU (2003-07) for head coach Greg Beals and a full-time assistant (2013-18) to Maloney. He holds a degree in Heath and Physical Education/Fitness from Ball State.

At the end of his playing career, French felt the pull of player development.

“I think it’s a strength of mine,” says French. “I’ve got to play to my strength.”

Through Ball State teammate Justin Wechsler, French met instructor/scout Mike Shirley and at 23 went to work for Shirley at his Anderson-based training facility.

While working with Shirley, who is now director of amateur scouting for the Chicago White Sox, French got the chance to instruct players from elementary to college.

“It prepared me for what I’m doing now,” says French. “I was well-rounded.

“I like seeing kids that work hard grow and become something. An average athlete can doing something in baseball through hard work and experience.”

French says the Bulls teach the same concepts and talk about movement patterns with the youngest and oldest players. Once it clicks, they can really take off.

“You can effect a 9-, 10-, 11-year old kid,” says French. “They just have more room to grow.

“We always tell parents, you have to be patient with it. It takes a lot more work than people think it does.”

It ties in with the make-up and dedication of the player and his family.

“That’s life,” says French. “Baseball’s a frustrating game. It gets harder as you get older.

“It takes a certain mentality to play for a long time.”

With the current live baseball shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, French says the Bulls are waiting to see what will be allowed by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb as the state begins to gradually re-open.

“We’re waiting for Grand Park (in Westfield) to find out how they can use their space,” says French. “We’re still a lot of figuring out as far as schedules are concerned.

Bullpen Tournaments works hard. They’re planning to have some baseball.”

It may mean playing deeper into August than is typical for the summer season. The current calendar show the Midwest Prospect League from June 16-21 at Grand Park.

In addition to being director of operations, French coaches 15U Black — one of the Bulls 28 teams for 2020.

French says high school teams typically play seven tournaments, taking one weekend a month off.

It’s not uncommon for some younger teams to play in a dozen events spaced out from April to July.

Bulls tryouts are scheduled for Aug. 1-2.

French says there’s a strong possibility that date will get moved to late August.

Bulls head coaches — screened for baseball knowledge, coaching experience and commitment to developing players — are selected by French and approved by the board of directors. Head coaches choose assistant coaches and players.

All coaches, both head coaches and assistants, are required to submit a background check and take online child protection training. The Bulls use ChekCoach to ensure our coaches are informed of their responsibilities to protect all players.

A resident of Noblesville, Ind., French has a 11-year-old daughter and sixth grader-to-be (Lanie) living in Decatur, Ind.

French talked with Sean Laird and Adam Heisler for the LT Brings The Heat podcast episode that dropped May 14.

SCOTTFRENCHBALLSTATE

Scott French is a graduate of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., where he played baseball and spent two stints as an assistant coach. He is now director of baseball operations for the Indiana Bulls travel organization. (Ball State University Photo)