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Lefty Thurston competing with independent Gary SouthShore RailCats

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For the third straight game, Ryan Thurston took the mound for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and for the second time, he nailed down a victory.

The left-hander pitched in his 24th contest for the independent professional baseball team Tuesday, July 30 and set down the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the ninth inning at U.S. Steel Yard.

During his scoreless frame, Thurston yielded a single and ended it with a caught-looking strikeout in helping the RailCats to a 2019 season-high tying fourth straight win.

On Monday in Franklin, Wis., Thurston picked up his first pro save by recording the final two outs with no hits and two walks in a triumph against the Milwaukee Milkmen.

The Sunday game saw Thurston pitch an inning and give up two runs and three hits as visiting Gary topped Milwaukee.

These are situations that Thurston lives for. He’s been drawn to them since he was a kid playing baseball and basketball in southern Indiana.

“I love to compete,” says Thurston. “I may not have the best stuff.”

Thurston has two kinds of fastballs — a four-seamer and two-seamer — plus a change-up, curveball and slider.

“I’d like to think my ball moves,” says Thurston, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder. “(My fastball is) 85-89 (mph), depending what I want to do with the ball — sink it or go up in the zone.

“I’ve tried to develop more as I’ve gotten older. You have to have fastball command. You’ve got to be ready everyday. You need to throw every pitch in every count.

“If it’s 2-0 and it’s their best hitter, you may not still throw fastball. It might be a change-up or curveball away. It’s more of a thinking game.

“I have the same fastball and same slider I had in college, I just think a little more. I adapt a little more as the game goes on.”

Dan Thurston, Ryan’s father and the former Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School head coach, has long been emphasizing mental toughness to his youngest son (Former Madison police chief Dan and Madison Middle School math teacher Jackie Thurston have Trey, Ryan and Trisha).

“You’ve got to keep a level head,” says Ryan. “Baseball’s a game of failure and you have to deal with failure.

“It’s about being mentally-prepared and mentally-ready.”

Ryan Thurston played his earliest organized baseball at the youth league in Madison and then travel baseball with the Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits, coached by Jeff Montgomery. In his 16U and 17U summers, he played for the Cincy Flames.

Thurston’s coach at Western Kentucky University was John Pawlowski.

“He pitched in the big leagues (with the 1987 and 1988 Chicago White Sox),” says Thurston of Pawlowski. “He really knew his stuff.

“He taught me a lot about different pitches and when to throw them and being the the best I can be.”

Thurston graduated from Madison Consolidated in 2014 and Western Kentucky in 2017 with a graduate school year at WKU in 2018 (he played for the Hilltoppers in parts of five seasons and earned a financial management degree).

At Madison, he won four baseball letters at Madison, earning all-state honorable mention as a senior. He was all-conference and team MVP three times. He also garnered three letters in basketball.

At Western Kentucky, he pitched in 66 games (52 as a starter — 14 in each of his final three seasons) with 13 wins, 299 strikeouts (second in program history) and 174 walks in 306 2/3 innings (third in WKU annals).

As a senior, the lefty pitched a career-high 80 2/3 innings while allowing a career-low 15 extra-base hits. He finished the season with a 4.24 ERA, although that mark stood at 3.08 prior to his final two starts. He was the only pitcher in Conference USA to secure wins over both Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.

Thurston signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays organization and pitched in 13 games (nine in relief) in 2018 before being released.

The 24-year-old southpaw signed with the American Association’s Chicago Dogs and pitched two games with that franchise before Gary claimed him off waivers.

With the RailCats, a team he joined May 26, Thurston is 2-0 with a 2.58 earned run average. In 35 1/3 innings, he has 33 strikeouts and 16 walks.

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Ryan Thurston, a 2013 Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School graduate who pitched at Western Kentucky University from 2014-18 and holds a financial management degree from that school, is now a relief pitcher for the independent Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Jimtown, Ball State grad Floyd starts pro career with Gary SouthShore RailCats

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nick Floyd was a dependable pitching option for the Ball State University baseball team.

Especially his last two seasons, the right-hander was able to throw all his pitches for strikes and was often able to put out the fire.

As a senior, he was named to the all-Mid-American Conference first team. He made 24 mound appearances (19 in relief) in the spring of 2019 and went 7-0 with five saves and a 2.19 earned run average. In 56 1/3 innings, Floyd used his two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, curveball, slider and change-up to amass 55 strikeouts and 18 walks. He fanned a single-game career-high eight batters May 10 against Ohio University.

Floyd was 5-1 in 22 games with 48 strikeouts and 17 walks in 49 2/3 innings as a junior. For his BSU career, the Jimtown High School graduate was 14-3 with six saves, a 3.47 ERA, 131 K’s and 81 walks in 158 innings.

The Elkhart, Ind., native has taken those qualities with him into professional ball on the staff of the independent American Association‘s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. He signed June 15 with Gary, where Greg Tagert is the manager and Alain Quijano the pitching coach, and made his debut June 16. He pitched the first two innings and retired all six St. Paul Saints batters he faced with two strikeouts.

“Consistency is the main thing for me,” says Floyd, 22. “I finally put it together at the end of my college career.

“My goal is summer is to keep working out to get stronger and keep competing. The only way to get better is the compete. I want to carry over my success against college hitters to pro hitters.”

Floyd’s change-up has arm-side sink and been known to devastate right-handed batters.

“When I throw it right I can get a lot of movement on it,” says Floyd. “It’s my go-to pitch.

“I’ve always thrown a change-up. But it got good during my college career.”

Ball State pitching coach Dustin Glant helped Floyd adjust his grip on the pitch which he throws like his fastball.

“It’s almost like a screwball,” says Glant. “He caught the spin axis just right. He can throw the change-up to both righties and lefties.”

Glant got to work with Floyd for his last three seasons with the Cardinals.

“I watched him progress as a pitcher and as a young man with his maturity and competitiveness,” says Glant.

Floyd says Glant has all his pitchers taking on a mentality and attitude of confidence.

“You know you’re better than the hitter and you’re going to get them out every single time,” says Floyd.

That competitive fire was especially evident in Drey Jameson, who was an All-American and the MAC Pitcher of the Year and selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

“We saw that and fed off that,” says Floyd, speaking for the rest of the BSU mound crew.

Glant saw Floyd morph into a relief role and embrace it.

“It’s give me the ball late and I’ll win this game for you,” says Glant. “He has ice water in his veins.

“His stuff got better and he became aggressive on the mound.”

Floyd has found comfort in chaos.

“I like getting thrown right into the fire,” says Floyd. “Adrenaline kicks in right away.”

Floyd admires Ball State head coach Rich Maloney.

“He cares about all his players — on and off the field,” says Floyd. “He’s steady. He’s got a lot of years of experience.”

While earning a degree in Finance this spring, Floyd made his third straight all-MAC academic team.

“I’m really good with numbers,” says Floyd, who carried a 3.39 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale during the spring semester.

He is now learning to adjust to pro ball with its long road trips and individualized training.

“There’s no school,” says Floyd. “For the first time, I can solely focus on baseball day in and day out.”

Floyd played three sports at Jimtown — four years varsity in baseball, three in basketball and two in tennis. His head baseball coach was Darin Mast. He gave up tennis after his sophomore year to play fall baseball.

The only child of Mill and Diana Floyd, Nick says he was fortunate that both parents could attend his games as he grew up while other families had to divide and conquer to follow their children.

Nick started at Baugo Little League in Elkhart. In his 11U summer, he began to play travel ball and was with the South Bend Predators, Michiana Clippers and Indiana Bearcats before landing with the Indiana Chargers during his high school years.

“That’s where I really got college contact,” says Floyd of the Chargers.

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Nick Floyd made his professional baseball debut June 16, 2019 with the Gary SouthShore RailCats. (Gary SouthShore RailCats/Adrien Hall Photo)

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Nick Floyd, a graduate of Jimtown High School and Ball State University retired all six Saint Paul Saints batters he faced June 16 at U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. It was his pro baseball debut. (Gary SouthShore RailCats/Adrien Hall Photo)

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Nick Floyd, a Jimtown High School graduate, pitched for Ball State University from 2016-19. (Ball State University Photo)

 

Homestead graduate Jernigan enjoying experience as second-year pro

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andre Jernigan grew up in Fort Wayne watching young baseball players chase their professional dreams in the Midwest League.

Jernigan, 23, is now doing the same as an infielder with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

A Homestead High School graduate in 2012 and Louisville Slugger All-American at Xavier University in 2016, Jernigan was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 14th round of the ’16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after being named Big East Conference Player of the Year.

At spring training this year, Jernigan enjoyed picking the brains of former Minnesota Twins who were Fort Wayne Wizards coming through the minors — LaTroy Hawkins (with Fort Wayne in 1993) and Torii Hunter (1994).

“It’s incredible to play on the same fields and in the same league as them,” says Jernigan, who played 36 games for Elizabethton (Rookie-level Appalachian League) after the draft and four contests for the E-Twins in ’17 before being assigned to Cedar Rapids June 29.

“We’re lucky to come out here and just play,” says Jernigan. “I just like to take it day by day and enjoy the experience. It’s that fun and excitement you had when you were a kid that made you want to become a professional baseball player.

“It’s very easy once you get out there to lose sight of that. You start to think of it as a job. My main goal is to come out and learn something new and get better each and everyday.”

Playing so many games, pro baseball can become a mental and physical grind. But Jernigan chooses not to see it that way.

“You don’t think I have to play today, I get to play today,” says Jernigan. “It’s really just a blessing to be out here.”

Jernigan grew up playing shortstop and accept for being moved to third base by then-Homestead head coach Steve Sotir during his sophomore year, he was an everyday shortstop until he became a pro. The Twins have used him at second base, third base, shortstop and even one game at catcher.

“A ground ball’s a ground ball though the ball gets too you faster at third base,” says Jernigan. “The Twins talk about (playing multiple positions). I’ve always been told the more versatile you are, teams can get you more playing time.”

Jernigan is thankful for a foundation laid by Sotir, who now works at The Base in El Paso, Texas, and current Homestead head coach Nick Byall.

“They run a great program,” says Jernigan of Sotir and Byall. “I look back on the drills and some of the things we did. I can’t thank them enough with helping me with my development.”

Scott Googins, who became head coach at the University of Cincinnati after the ’17 season, was head coach at Xavier during Jernigan’s days as a Musketeer.

“Coach Googins made sure that we put together a tough schedule and faced the Vanderbilts and the Arizona States and some high-power arms,” says Jernigan. “Playing those teams in those series definitely helped in the sense that I’ve seen the velocity and the breaking balls.

“I seen some of that electric stuff. The biggest thing (in the minors), everyone you face now is a Friday night guy.”

The key is to hit the pitcher’s mistakes.

“I want to find a pitch and drive it,” says Jernigan. “You must be ready for the fastball at all times. You can adjust to the off-speed after that.”

Andre was born to Frankie and Stacey Jernigan in Muncie and the family landed in Fort Wayne around the time Andre was starting school.

Frankie Jernigan graduated from Muncie Central High School and earned a baseball letter at the University of Nebraska (1989). He passed along his knowledge and love of the game to sons Andre and Austin (who played baseball at Homestead and is now a senior student at Ball State University).

“I can’t thank him enough for all those days when he threw us BP and hit us ground balls,” says Andre of his father.

Andre played travel in younger days with the Mavericks and then with the Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).

In one of those small world phenomenons, The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy owner/senior baseball instructor and director of player development Manny Lopez was a minor league teammate of Ramon Borrego when both played in the Twins organization. Borrego is now manager of the Gulf Coast League Twins.

Jernigan graduated from Xavier with a degree in finance.

“I’ve always been good with numbers,” says Jernigan. “It’s one of those things that I find interesting.”

Another interesting family connection is former NBA standout Bonzi Wells. He is connected in Andre’s mother’s side.

Wells shined on the hardwood at Muncie Central and Ball State and then played with the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets before stints in China and Puerto Rico.

At 40, Wells now plays in the new BIG3 pro 3-on-3 league.

Jernigan says Wells recently talked with youngsters at Muncie Central.

“He has that inner drive that keeps you going,” says Jernigan.

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Andre Jernigan, a graduate of Homestead High School and Xavier University, is in the Minnesota Twins organization with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. (Steve Krah Photo)