Tag Archives: Dominican Republic

Valparaiso graduate Suiter adds Mexico to list of baseball experiences

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s funny how life and baseball works.

Jerrick Suiter is closing up shop at a GNC store in Fort Worth, Texas, when he gets a call to join the Mexican Pacific League pennant chase.

Two days later, the former Valparaiso High School and Texas Christian University standout is off to new experiences with the Venados de Mazatlan.

Suiter, an outfielder, corner infielder and designated hitter in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, plays his first game South of the Border Dec. 21 and goes 2-for-3 with a run batted in on Christmas Day.

“This is my first time in winter ball and first time in Mexico — ever,” says Suiter. “It’s been quite an experience. I’ve learned a lot of Spanish.

“It’s going to help me with my Latin teammates. I can feel what they were going through their first time in the States. I have a greater appreciation for that now.”

When he’s not at the stadium or heading to the gym, Suiter has found time to soak up the sun. The team has set him up in a condo 50 yards from the beach.

Recent daytime temperatures have been in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s been around 40 in north central Texas and in the single digits or lower in northwest Indiana.

Suiter, who has been used primarily as a DH since he had not been throwing much in the off-season, would like to be a part of a couple of championship before reporting to 2018 spring training at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., where he is due Feb. 19 — two weeks before his 25th birthday on March 4.

Mazatlan opened its season Oct. 11 and is closing in on the end of the regular season with hopes of winning the league and a berth in the Caribbean Series (which will bring champions from Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela to Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico).

In Mexico, Suiter has been reunited with Gerardo Alvarez, who managed the Bradenton Marauders in 2017.

After hurting his thumb at the end of spring camp, Suiter played briefly in the High Class-A Florida State League before joining the Altoona Curve of the Double-A Eastern League, where the right-handed swinger hit .285 with 10 home runs, three triples, 20 doubles and 58 runs batted in over 347 at-bats and 100 games.

Altoona beat Trenton to win EL title. Sutter had an RBI in the final game.

If the Pirates give him a promotion, Suiter would play Triple-A baseball with the Indianapolis Indians.

Suiter, who was selected in the 26th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after three seasons at TCU, made an adjustment in the batter’s box in 2017.

“I was very wide and kind of low,” says Suiter of his stance. “It was killing any chance I had to put some juice into the ball. Now, I’m pretty tall, kind of (Ken) Griffey-esque with my hands a little lower. I see the ball a little bit longer and use my legs more than the rest of my body to generate some power.”

Suiter, who stands 6-foot-4 and currently weighs around 250 pounds, has been an avid lifter for years, but he is not trying to get too big.

“I don’t need to put on much size,” says Suiter, who usually reports to spring training around 250, drops five pounds by the end of camp and five or 10 more during the season. “Size in baseball doesn’t do you any good. It’s going to make you slow and not very flexible. I know how my body works and that I lose weight very quickly. I’m looking to get stronger while leaning out.”

A football, basketball and baseball standout at Valpo (he was the Northwest Indiana Times Male Athlete of the Year in 2011), Suiter got a chance to spend a lot of time on the gridiron and diamond with coach Dave Coyle.

“He was a big discipline guy,” says Suiter of Coyle. “I loved him as a coach. He wanted to the best for his team and for his players.”

Work ethic was important to Coyle just like it was to Eric Suiter, who coached Jerrick and company as they grew up playing sports.

“My dad was extremely hard on me as well as the rest of the team,” says Jerrick. “It made me into the athlete I am today. I couldn’t thank him more for it.”

Jerrick’s father lives in Valpo and mother Jeanette in Chesterton. His sister Danielle Suiter plays volleyball at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Half-brother Carter just played his first Pop Warner football season in Chesterton. Step-sister Hailey is a student at Purdue University.

Jerrick was working toward a degree in Habilitation of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing before leaving TCU early for pro baseball. He has relatives on his father’s side that are deaf or hard of hearing and knows both basic and American Sign Language.

“I started signs before I was talking,” says Suiter. “I don’t use it every single day like I should, but I know more sign language than I know Spanish, I can tell you that.”

He was planning to go back to school when Bradenton made the playoffs in 2016, which meant he would be too late for the start of the fall semester. Suiter spends his off-seasons in Fort Worth and does some hitting at TCU.

“I love the city,” says Suiter, an Indiana Bulls travel baseball alumnus who was drafted in 2011 by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school but persuaded to play at TCU by former Horned Frogs recruiting coordinator Tony Vitello (who is now on the staff at the University of Arkansas) and played for head coach Jim Schlossnagle.

“He finds a way to win,” says Suiter of Schlossnagle, who now has Kirk Saarloos as a recruiting coordinator. “He brings the right guys in there. They’ve been to Omaha (for the College World Series) every year since my junior year. Something’s going right there.”

While he long wanted to be a pro baseball player, Suiter has an affinity for the hardwood.

“Basketball has always been my favorite sport,” says Suiter. “I’m not a big NBA guy, but I love watching college basketball.”

During winter break his sophomore year at TCU, he helped coach fifth and sixth grade AAU players. Shooting around on the court was one way he warmed up for his workouts.

But he has stopped doing that.

“The Pirates are writing my paychecks every two weeks,” says Suiter. “I don’t need to be roll a ankle or jeopardize my career in baseball.”

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Jerrick Suiter, the former Valparaiso High School and Texas Christian University standout, takes a cut in 2017 for the Altoona (Pa.) Curve, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double-A team. (David Hague Photo)

 

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South Bend’s Wawrzyniak helps ballplayers navigate language, cultural gaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Building better communication bonds between foreign professional baseball players and the club’s that employ them.

That’s what Linda Wawrzyniak is doing for the game with her Higher Standards Academy, LLC. When she started her business it was tied to adult education.

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.”

Three of the many players that Wawrzyniak has a connection with and has watched blossom in professional baseball are Venezuelans Ender Inciarte and Wilson Contreras and Dominican Eloy Jimenez.

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.”

Jimenez, 20, is considered the top prospect in the Cubs system by Baseball America. The outfielder played in South Bend in 2016 and is now at High Class-A Myrtle Beach.

“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.”

Wawrzyniak, featured recently on MLB.com, did her job well enough to receive a big thank you from the Cubs — a World Series ring.

“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.

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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.