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Evansville Razorbacks promote accountability, communication, commitment

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 18U Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have been a force in the travel baseball world with four Pastime Tournaments national championships and a National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series runner-up finish.

The 2017 team went 40-0.

Established in 2002 by Jeremy Johnson, the Razorbacks have had 336 players sign on with college baseball programs and numerous players have been in pro ball.

“This program sets guys up not only in baseball, but their whole life,” says Johnson. “It’s a fraternity. You’re going to be a Razorback the rest of your life.

“It’s bigger than anybody, including me.”

Johnson is a 1993 Mater Dei graduate. He grew up spending Saturday mornings helping his father groom youth diamonds around Evansville. C.J. Johnson is a 2017 inductee into the Greater Evansville Sports Hall of Fame as a baseball administrator.

At 14, Jeremy severely hurt his right arm and learned how throw serviceably with his left. In high school, he was a successful cross country and track runner.

Johnson networks with college coaches and does his best to educate players and parents on the recruiting process and deciding on the best fit for them.

“My job is to help you find out your ‘why,’’ says Johnson. “What is driving you? If you don’t know that, you can get lost. You need to have a really good grasp on that. If you don’t and everything starts to go south, you’ll start panicking.”

And it doesn’t have to be NCAA Division I or bust. Some are best-suited by going the D-II, D-III, NAIA or junior college route.

“I’m completely over the fact that Division I is the best case scenario (for every player),” says Johnson. “You should pick a school where, if you didn’t play baseball any more, you wouldn’t want to transfer.

“It’s very, very personal thing for each kid. Look at schools that fit you personally. Start putting together legitimate ideas on what you know you want instead of what you think you want.

“High school is very status-orientedYou’re not doing it for your teammates. There’s a 50-50 shot you’ll meet your wife there.

“It’s way more than baseball.”

Johnson says he has watched the transfer portal blow up in recent years in part because of so many early commits (freshmen and sophomore are making verbal commitments these days) and players and parents not doing their due diligence on what they want and what a program has to offer.

“They may be good enough to be a tweener with D-I,” says Johnson. “But they could play more at D-II or go to D-III and be an All-American.

“We don’t want them to have regrets or at least minimize them.”

While he has been involved in most of the 336 college signings, Johnson doesn’t take credit. It’s the players with the talent.

“I’m not the reason any of my kid plays in college,” says Johnson. “I’m just a guy who goes to bat for them. My job is to market them. I’m an avenue.

“The kids are the ones that deserve everything. I didn’t throw a ball, catch a ball or hit it. I’m not the reason for the season.”

A junior college advocate, Johnson says those players tend to play with a chip on their shoulder. Six starters on the Razorbacks’ 2018  team went on to JC ball. The 2017 club was made up mostly of D-I commits.

“It saves money and keeps their options open,” says Johnson. “It makes you grind a little bit. You find out if you really love baseball if you go junior college.”

Johnson says the Razorbacks are well-represented in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference (John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois, Wabash Valley).

Johnson says parents don’t always receive personal feedback when they take their sons to showcases. They get the numbers, but not an idea of what that coaching staff thinks of the player and how they would fit in their program.

Players can go to showcase after showcase and the money spent can add up to the cost of a scholarship.

“Tell me what you’re interested in doing and let me market you,” says Johnson. He will do his best to have college coaches look at the player and let them know what they think.

“College recruiting always in flux,” says Johnson. “(Recruiters) don’t want to tell you yes or no. There’s a lot of maybes. That’s a frustrating thing. I tell parents to build an idea of where their kid really fits.”

In showcases or with private lessons, many times players are told over and over again how good they are.

“Some are honest about good things and bad things,” says Johnson. “There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism. You need it.”

Johnson sees his role with the Razorbacks as driven by relationships.

“I get to know the kids,” says Johnson. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with them.”

While many players come from southern Indiana, southern Illinois and Kentucky, there is no real limit and have come from several states away.

“I’m not afraid to ask anybody,” says Johnson. “We have the ability to house a few kids.”

Many players spend two seasons with the Razorbacks, which Johnson says averages 17 to 20 college commits per year. In any given year, a third to half of the squad goes into the summer uncommitted.

Among the 2019 high school graduates from Indiana schools on the ’19 summer team were Evansville North shortststop/second baseman Alex Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Austin shortstop/right-handed pitcher/third baseman Drew Buhr (Saint Louis University), Castle left-handed pitcher Blake Ciuffetelli (USI), Castle first baseman Brodey Heaton (Belmont University), Evansville Memorial right-handed pitcher Isaac Housman (USI) and Tecumseh outfielder Steven Molinet (USI).

There’s also shortstop/second baseman Alex Adams (Purdue University), catcher Garret Gray (Butler University), right-handed pitcher Trey Nordmann (Howard College in Texas) and left-handed pitcher/outfielder/first baseman Mark Shallenberger (University of Evansville).

Former Ben Davis High School catcher Zyon Avery (Ohio University), Decatur Central right-hander Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and right-hander Garret Simpson (Eastern Kentucky University) are among the recent Razorbacks now playing college baseball.

Razorback alums left-hander Dean Kiekhefer (Oakland Athletics), right-hander Derek Self (Washington Nationals) and outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Boston Red Sox) played at Triple-A in 2019. All three played at the University of Louisville. Kiekhefer appeared in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 and with Oakland in 2018.

There’s also former Backs Easton McGee and Stewart Ijames.

Right-hander McGee played for Bowling Green in the Tampa Bay Rays system in 2019.

Outfielder Ijames, a former U of L player and in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, was with the independent Kansas City T-Bones in 2019.

Clint Barmes, a Vincennes Lincoln High School graduate who recently went into the Indiana State University and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame after a major league career, played for the Evansville Black Sox (1993-2001), which were picked up by the Razorbacks in 2002.

Johnson was an outfielder for the Jim Wittman-coached Black Sox in 1993-94. In a Black Sox alumni game, Johnson’s last pitch resulted in a Barmes home run.

“I hadn’t pitched in two years,” says Johnson. “Didn’t matter. Would happened on my best day.”

Former U of L catcher Jeff Arnold was signed by scout Kevin Christman and played in the San Francisco Giants organization.

Right-hander Morgan Coombs went to West Vigo High School and Ball State University then played independent ball.

Outfielder Sean Godfrey played at New Albany High School and Ball State before time in the Atlanta Braves system and indy ball.

First baseman Jon Hedges played at Indiana State.

Third baseman Kevin Hoef went to the University of Iowa and played indy ball.

Catcher Jeremy Lucas played at West Vigo and Indiana State before time in the Cleveland Indians system.

Black Sox right-hander Stephen Obenchain played at Evansville Memorial and the University of Evansville before stints in the Athletics system and independent ball.

First baseman Derek Peterson, who hails from New Jersey, went on to Temple University and played in Baltimore Orioles organization.

Black Sox right-hander Andy Rohleder played at Forest Park High School and the University of Evansville before tenures with the Florida Marlins organization and indy ball.

Right-hander P.J. Thomas, a Jeffersonville High School graduate who played at USI, was twice-drafted by the Red Sox and played indy ball.

Catcher Kolbrin Vitek (Ball State) played in the Red Sox organization.

Former Black Sox, Heritage Hills High School and University of Dayton catcher Mark Wahl was in the Orioles system.

While the Razorbacks run a full program with off-season training, Johnson says he is a realist and he knows that players have commitments to their hometown teams and work with their own hitting and pitching instructors. He doesn’t ask them to drive several hours to Evansville to hit them grounders.

“I’m not that full of myself,” says Johnson. “I have the utmost respect for high school programs.

“I love travel ball. But a large amount of travel ball is B.S. It’s such a money-driven situation. Travel ball — as a whole — is expensive for families with travel, hotels and all of that. We try to keep that cost down as low as we possibly can.”

When the 18U Razorbacks do travel, the team stays together in the same hotel.

Many of the players are getting close to going away to college. They get to experience curfews, team meetings and learn personal accountability. It’s an early look at their freshmen year and that first taste of freedom. They are responsible for their own laundry.

“The team runs the team,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot to be learned off the field until they go to college.”

Parents are encouraged treat the weekend like a getaway. All they have to do is attend the games and watch their sons play.

The organization expanded this off-season to 10 teams — 8U, 9U, 10U, 11U, two 12U squads, 13U, 14U, 16U and 18U. 8U to 14U is high school prep. 15U to 18U is college prep.

According to Johnson, whose 18U assistant coaches are Bob Davis, Ryan Dills and Buddy Hales, the emphasis is on teaching player accountability at an early age, communication with parents, speed and strength conditioning and commitment to helping the person, then the player.”

Top 18U events in 2020 include June 12-14 in Midland, Ohio, June 18-21 in Louisville, Ky., June 26-28 in Midland, Ohio, June 30-July 1 at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, July 5-9 at Perfect Game World Series (invitation only) in Hoover, Ala., and July 15-19 at the 18U Nationals in Indianapolis.

Jeremy and Christi Johnson married in 2013. There are three children — Seth (18), Ava (14) and Conner (13). Conner Johnson, now an eighth grader, was born in 2007, the same year the Razorbacks were NABF World Series runners-up.

“Spending summers with him with me is what ties it all together,” says Jeremy Johnson of time spent with Conner and Backs baseball.

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The Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have placed 336 players in college baseball since 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks)

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Jeremy Johnson (center) is the founder of the Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks travel baseball organization. The Razorbacks’ first season was in 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks Photo)

 

Learning mentality drives baseball coaching vet Bell

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a running debate in baseball coaching about the Old School vs. the New School.

The Old School represents the long-used methods.

The New School includes emerging technology and its application to the game.

“We’re always learning,” says Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, who has decades of experience as a professional hitting instructor — most recently working in affiliated baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers organization 2018 and 2019. “Technology is very important. That’s where we are today.

“We are not Old School or New School, We’re In School. If we don’t continue to be In School, we’re going to hurt these kids. Period.”

As Bell teaches lessons and clinics across the country as well as in Noblesville, Ind., at Jason Taulman’s Indy Sharks training facility and will soon in Lafayette at Jeff Isom’s new On Deck Training building, he looks to share he’s learned and shares it with his pupils.

“There’s all this information,” says Bell. “I’m not saying its detrimental. It’s confusing. (Technology) can be a great thing.”

Bell, 56, is adaptinhg to the new tools so he can understand and get players to understand.

“I’ve learned it my way instead of some guy telling me how I must learn it,” says Bell, who has worked with Blast Motion sensors and looks forward to using Rapsodo motion detection.

“Humans see in 2D,” says Bell. “Technology sees in 4D. It’s another set of eyes. It can be a great thing.

“You will see great strides in that kid’s progression if it’s utilized the right way.

“You can’t quantify the movement from the left to the right hemisphere You have to combine (technology) with what he’s thinking, how he’s thinking and why he’s thinking. I understand the importance of it all coming together. I really do.”

Knowing that each player is different, Bell does not expect everyone to have the same movement patterns and to reach them you’ve got to get to know them.

“The individual needs to be an individual,” says Bell. “We want them to be short and direct to the ball. We don’t worry about things we don’t control. We control the (strike) zone and get a good pitch to hit. It sounds like a cliche, but you’re only as good as the pitch you hit.

“We try to keep it as simple as possible. Pitching is too good. They throw so hard.”

Bell wants to relate to his hitters on a personal basis.

“I want to establish a relationship with that player,” says Bell. “That’s the key. This guy’s there for him whenever he needs them.”

Bell is a 1981 graduate of Lafayette Jefferson High School. His head baseball coach was Mark Strader, who had been a Bronchos standout for and assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul “Spider” Fields.

“(Strader) was one of the best baseball players to come out of Tippecanoe County,” says Bell.

Concepts he associates with Strader are intensity, tenacity, competitiveness, work ethic and doing the little things right.

In the summers, Bell played for Lafayette American Legion Post 11. Manager Eric Harmon became his mentor at a young age.

“He did a lot of things for me,” says Bell, who credits Harmon for getting his a place on Team USA in the 1982 World’s Fair Games in Knoxville, Tenn., and a place in college baseball. “He is a phenomenal man.”

Bell played two seasons at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., where his head coach was Rich Alday and Jim Fleming directed Aztecs hitters.

“(Fleming) was one of the best hitting teachers in the country,” says Bell, who would meet up with him again years later.

From Pima, Bell played two seasons at Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) for head coach Byron Wiehe. Jamie Hamilton was an assistant coach for the Mavericks.

Bell signed as a minor league free agent with the California Angels and played three seasons in the Halos’ system 1986-88, primarily as a righty-swinging catcher with Palm Springs or Quad Cities.

Sometime after his playing career ended, Bell moved back to Lafayette. Isom asked him if he wanted to get back into baseball.

“Absolutely not” was Bell’s reply. But Isom asked again later and got Bell to be his hitting coach with the Joliet Jackhammers in the independent Northern League.

Bell went to be hitting coach in the Northern League with the Andy McCauley-managed Schaumburg Flyers in the independent Frontier League with the Jason Verdugo-managed Evansville Otters.

Then comes a call from John Mallee, then hitting coordinator for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins that leads to another call from then vice president of the Marlins Jim Fleming — the same man who was Bell’s hitting coach back in college.

“I actually hung up,” says Bell. “I didn’t think it was Coach Flem.”

Mallee called Bell back and set him straight and Bell was hired by the Marlins and was hitting coach for Greensboro Grasshoppers (2009), Jupiter Hammerheads (2010) and Gulf Coast League Marlins (2011-14).

He was out of organized baseball for a few years and still offering instruction including at Kiwanis International baseball camps for troubled teens in Alaska at the invitation of David Hall.

By this time Mallee was with the Phillies. He called to say that the Brewers were in dire need of a hitting coach. There was one week left in spring training.

But Bell took the gig and spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon, N.C. Coincidently, the Mudcats vice president/general manager is Lafayette native Joe Kremer. Bell and Kremer had never met until Bell arrived with the club.

The past five years, Bell has been traveling up from Florida to share his knowledge with Taulman and the Indy Sharks.

“I love everything he does for all those kids,” says Bell. “They’ve progressed extremely.”

Bell has been spending more time in Indiana to be closer to daughter Bobbi, a junior at Purdue University. Bell also has four sons — Brandon and Keaton in Colorado, Zion in California and Kai in North Dakota.

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Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, was a hitting coach in the Florida/Miami Marlins system for six years.

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Bobby Bell, a 1981 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, has been instructing baseball hitters for decades. In 2018 and 2019, he was a coach in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He works regularly with the Indy Sharks travel organization.

 

Lowery fondly recalls Maloney’s first tenure at Ball State

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Maloney has been a head coach in college baseball coach for 24 seasons with 22 campaigns of 30 wins or more and 832 total victories.

Maloney has developed dozens players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

John Lowery Jr. was there at the beginning, serving as assistant coach to Maloney throughout his first stint at Ball State University and two seasons into his tenure at the University of Michigan.

Lowery, who was the West Virginia high school player of the year in 1988 and four-year right-handed pitcher at the University of Minnesota, was in his third season of coaching collegians when Maloney was hired at BSU in the summer of 1995.

After finishing his playing career, Lowery was on Joe Carbone’s staff at Ohio University heading into the 1995 season when Mike Gibbons left the Ball State staff to pursue a scouting job and Pat Quinn, a good friend of Carbone, was looking for a pitching coach for what turned out to be Quinn’s final coaching season. Lowery was hired in January.

When Maloney, who had been an assistant at Western Michigan University, was named Cardinals head coach he inherited Lowery.

“He gets his first head coaching job at 30 years old and he has to keep an assistant for a year,” says Lowery, who was in attendance at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville. “He was open-minded about it but he told me you need to be able to recruit and evaluate players and you’ve got to be loyal.

“We did have some good players over the years.”

While Lowery was on the BSU staff, the Cardinals produced four players that went on to be drafted in the first round — right-handed pitcher Bryan Bullington (No. 1 overall by  Pittsburgh in 2002), outfielder Larry Bigbie (No. 21 overall by Baltimore in 1999) and left-handers Luke Hagerty (No. 32 overall by the Chicago Cubs in 2002) and Jeff Urban (No. 41 overall by the San Francisco Giants in 1998).

Hagerty hails from Defiance, Ohio. The rest are Indiana high school products — Bullington from Madison Consolidated, Bigbie from Hobart and Urban from Alexandria-Monroe.

There was also catcher Jonathan Kessick (third round to Baltimore in 1999), right-handers Justin Wechsler (fourth round to Arizona in 2001) and Paul Henry (seventh round to Baltimore in 2002) and left-hander Jason Hickman (eighth round to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000). Wechsler prepped at Pendelton Heights.

In addition, MLB came calling in the first 20 rounds for left-hander Sam McConnell (11th round Pittsburgh in 1997), catcher Doug Boone (15th round to the Florida Marlins in 2001 and 36th round to the New York Yankees in 2002), left-hander Adam Sheefel (17th round to Cincinnati in 2000), right-hander Bruce Stanley (18th round to Kansas City in 1997) and shortstop Shayne Ridley (19th round to Baltimore in 2000).

Tapping into Indiana high school resources, Boone went to Providence and Stanley Shenandoah.

“He was definitely energetic,” says Lowery of a young Maloney. He was about getting after it. That’s for sure.

“He was aggressive. He could recruit. He understood projectability of players. That’s why he had so many first-rounders. He could look at guys who were sort of under-valued. We can do this, this and this with this kid and he has a chance to be pretty good.”

Lowery says Bullington was undervalued because he was such a good basketball player. He just hadn’t played a lot of baseball.

“For whatever reason he chose to play baseball instead of basketball in college even though his father (Larry Bullington) is one of the best basketball players ever to play at Ball State,” says Lowery. “(Bryan Bullington) really got good at the end of his senior year (of high school in 1999) to the point that he was offered to sign (by Kansas City) and did not.

In three seasons at BSU, Bullington went 29-11 with 357 strikeouts in 296 2/3 innings was selected No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates with a $4,000,000 signing bonus.

Lowery recalls that Hagerty’s parents moved into a smaller house so he could come to Ball State. He ended up being a first-round “sandwich” pick.

Urban was a 6-8 southpaw who got better.

“He could always throw strikes but he couldn’t throw very hard,” says Lowery of Urban. “All of a sudden, he got a lot stronger, did a lot of long toss and started throwing in the lower 90s.”

Urban was also first-round “sandwich” pick.

In their seven campaigns together in Muncie, Lowery and Maloney were part of 256 wins along with three Mid-American Conference titles and four MAC West crowns.

Lowery followed Maloney to Ann Arbor and those first two Wolverines teams won 64 contests and placed in the top three in the Big Ten Conference.

Top MLB draftees during those two years were Indianapolis Cathedral product Jake Fox (third round to the Chicago Cubs in 2003, Carmel graduate Jim Brauer (ninth round to Florida in 2005), Derek Feldkamp (ninth round to Tampa Bay Rays in 2005) and Brock Koman (ninth round to Houston in 2003).

“He’s a great communicator,” says Lowery of Maloney. “He has a vision. He’s intense.

“Kids like to play for him.”

At the end of his second season at Michigan, John and Tricia Lowery had three children under 6 — Abbee, Beau and Brooks — and he decided to leave college coaching and went back to West Virginia.

Lowery has a unique distinction. He turned 50 in 2019 and his high school and college head coaches — father John Lowery Sr. (a founder of the West Virginia High School Baseball Coaches Association and WVHSBCA Hall of Famer) at Jefferson High School in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va. and John Anderson at Minnesota — are still serving in the same positions as when he played for them.

For seven seasons, Lowery was head coach at Martinsburg High School. The Bulldogs’ arch rivals are the Jefferson Cougars, coached by his father.

Martinsburg won a state title in 2009 and Jefferson bested Martinsburg on the way to a state crown in 2011. The Lowerys won a state championship together when John Jr., was a player.

The younger Lowery, who now teaches at Jefferson, coached travel ball and softball on and off the next few years then became head baseball coach for four years at Mercersburg Academy, a boarding school in south central Pennsylvania that is about 40 miles from Martinsburg.

Last spring, he traveled often to see Beau Lowery play as a walk-on left-handed pitcher at West Virginia University.

How did Lowery end up going from the Mountaineer State to Minnesota?

Rob Fornasiere, who ended up as a Golden Gophers assistant for 33 years, was a good friend of Bernie Walter, who coached Denny Neagle at Arundel High School in Gambrills, Md., and had gotten the pitcher to come to play at Minnesota.

Fornasiere was at the 1987 Olympic Festival watching Dan Wilson and John Lowery Sr., approaches him to say that his son is talented and would consider playing for the Gophers.

“To Rob’s credit, he didn’t blow my father off,” says Lowery. “Rob was always very organized. At another recruiting even later that year, John Anderson saw me play. I was good enough.”

His first recruiting visit was also his first time on an airplane. He attended Game 7 of the 1987 World Series (St. Louis Cardinals at Minnesota Twins).

In the lunch room, Lowery sat the lunch room at the table next to Reggie Jackson (who was on the ABC broadcast crew).

In his four seasons at Minnesota, Lowery played with six future big leaguers — Neagle, Wilson, Jim Brower, Brent Gates, Kerry Lightenberg and Brian Raabe.

Lowery spent a short time in the Giants organization at Everett, Wash., and Clinton, Iowa, after signing for $1,000 as a free agent with scout Mike Toomey on a car trunk in Huntington, W.Va. His pro debut was memorable.

“I was nervous as all get out,” says Lowery. “I come in with the bases loaded. I balk all three runs in because the balk rule is different in college. You can basically change direction. In pro ball, you had to set.”

Lowery pitched for the Minneapolis Loons of the independent North Central League. The team was managed by Greg Olson. Teammates included Lightenberg and Juan Berenguer.

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John Lowery Jr., was an assistant baseball coach at Ball State University 1995-2002 and the University Michigan 2003-2004 — all but the first year as an assistant to Rich Maloney. Lowey is a former West Virginia high school player of the year who pitched at the University of Minnesota. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Harber sees movement as key for baseball players

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Harber was a left-handed pitcher at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, Butler University and in the Florida Marlins system. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and played five minor league seasons.
He has taken his experiences as an athlete, student and 17 years as a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach at Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Sports Performance (he works out of the Carmel location) to help athletes in many sports, including baseball.
Harber shared his knowledge on “Assessing the Overhead Athlete” at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.
The pyramid for “ideal athlete” development as Harber presents it has movement at the base with performance in the middle and skill at the top.
“Every athlete should have a wide range of movement,” says Harber.

Movement involves the ability to squat, lunge, bend, extend along with single-leg stability, shoulder mobility, trunk stability and rotary stability.
“It’s everything Greg works on in his program,” says Harber. “It’s everything a strength coach works on.”
Performance includes speed, strength, power, agility, endurance, reactivity and quickness.
Skills are sport-specific, such as working on throwing mechanics or taking cuts off the tee.
“Where we get out-of-balance is when we focus too much on the skills and the performance and not enough on your fundamental movements,” says Harber.
“This movement becomes dysfunctional when you have poor range of motion, or a lack of stability.”
Harber says among his goals is to minimize injuries and maximize potential.
“You can’t make the team if you’re stuck in the training room,” says Harber. “You’re not going to help the team if you can’t stay healthy.
“Your durability is more important than your ability.”
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from a difficult condition.
“Everything you do in life is managing risk,” says Harber. “You guys took a risk, getting out of the house, getting in your car and coming over here. You could have got into an accident.
“What did you do to minimize that risk? You put your seat belt on.”
Harber says the system as it currently stands does not work in players’ favor.
At 43, Harber came up before travel baseball became what it is today.
There was some American Legion and Connie Mack ball in the summer.
“You guys play 50, 60, 70 games a year right now just in travel ball,” says Harber. “On top of that comes your high school season. Then you may take three weeks off in August right around tryouts for the next travel ball season then you go play fall ball.
“It’s too much. Your bodies can’t handle that at this age.”
Harber says most pain — outside of direct blows or trauma — will seem
to appear suddenly.
“In fact, it’s been building up for years,” says Harber. “Your body is able to compensate and adapt.
“The day that your pain shows up is simply the day that your compensation ran out. Try to start thinking of pain as a request for change. It’s your body’s way of saying, ‘I can’t do it anymore.’”
Harber presented findings from the American Journal of Sports Medicine:
If a pitcher pitches while fatigued, there’s a 36 times increased risk of injury.
• Pitchers lose 6-18 percent of rotator cuff strength after one game.
“Recovery is important,” says Harber.
• Pitchers lose 3-4 percent of rotator cuff strength over the course of one season.
• Throwing more than 75 pitches in a game yielded a 2.5 times greater chance of shoulder pain.
What is the cumulative effect (according to the AJSM)?:
• Pitching for greater than eight months out of the year results in
five times as many injuries.
• Pitching greater than 100 innings in one year results in three times as many injuries.
• Pitching showcases and travel leagues significantly contributed to increased injuries.
• Throwing more than 600 pitches per season yielded a 3.5 times greater chance for elbow pain.
In addressing performance, Harber notes the following:
• The peak age for a baseball player is 27.
“It’s not 18 or 21,” says Harber. “It takes time to develop these players.”
• Typical MLB pitcher is 6-5, 250 pounds.
• Starters 200-plus innings per year.
• Starters throw 3,500 pitches.
• There make 30-35 starts.
• They throw 35 bullpens.
“Injuries are going to happen,” says Harber. “Every pitcher has been hurt, is hurt, will be hurt at some point in their career.
“To be able to withstand that, you have to train. You have to manage that fatigue. You have to recover. All that stuff’s important.”
Harber also talked about the importance the Central Nervous System plays in the whole equation.
“Central Nervous System is king,” says Harber. “It controls everything.
“Without proper motor control, your nervous system doesn’t feel safe.
If it detects a threat it will not give you freedom of movement. It will not let you put force through a joint.”
CNS grants strength and mobility.
“Potential strength is always there, but the brain won’t give it to you if it feels vulnerable,” says Harber. “The brain is always asking itself, ‘Is giving you more strength right now a good idea?’ If the
answer is no, you aren’t getting it no matter how much you want it.
“Your nervous system will only let you go as fast, hard and heavy as it knows you can slow.”
Harber says there is no such medical definition for a “dead arm.”
“It’s the nervous system,” says Harber. “Your brain detects an instability somewhere and it’s not going to let you put force through that.”
Addressing mobility (the ability to move or be moved freely and easily) and stability (the resistance to movement) can help diagnose many issues.
With poor scapular stability, the body locks down the thoracic spine and should range of movement.
When there’s poor core stability, the body locks down the SI joint to find stability/strength.
If there’s poor mid-foot stability, the body collapses the arch and up the joint to create a rigid structure to push off of.
“You were born with all the mobility in the world,” says Harber. “You earn stability and we mess it up along the way due to poor posture, past injuries and faulty movement patterns.
“I’ve got a 7-month old baby at home. He’s like Gumby. I can bend him, and he won’t break. He’s trying to figure it out developmentally.
“I can stand him up and he becomes a Starfish. He locks out his legs and
his shoulder blades. That’s his body trying to create artificial stability.”
During a five-year period of working with youth players while in Atlanta, Harber collected data and found a number of players with shoulder mobility asymmetries with at least a 6 inch difference
between the right and left.
The number of asymmetries went up as the players got to be 16, 17, 18.
“Why?,” says Harber. “More games. The more you throw, the more imbalances are going to happen.”
On top of that, older players are beginning to get into the weight room, lifting heavier loads and getting tighter.
“If they don’t have somebody addressing mobility and stability along the way, they are going to create more issues,” says Harber.
A joint by joint feet-to-fingertip assessment (going up the kinetic chain) includes:
• Foot stability.
• Ankle mobility.
• Knee stability.
• Hip mobility.
• Lumbar stability.
• Thoracic spine mobility.
• Scapular stability.
• Shoulder (gleno-humeral) mobility.
• Elbow stability.
• Wrist mobility.
“Mobile. Stable. Mobile. Stable,” says Harber. “They stack on top of
each other.
“When that pattern is broken, injuries happen.”

RYANHARBER

Ryan Harber, who pitched at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, Butler University and in the Florida Marlins organization, has been a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach with Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Sports Performance for 17 years.

 

IUSB’s Buysse stresses importance of receiving to baseball catching

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Catchers catch the baseball. It is in the title of the position.

And yet Doug Buysse often sees an emphasis placed elsewhere when it comes to the player who wears the mask, chester protector and shinguards.

“A lot of people want to talk about the sexy stuff — blocking and throwing,” said Buysse, the Indiana University South Bend head baseball coach and a former Saint Joseph’s College catcher. “That part’s awesome. But far more important — the day-to-day stuff — is receiving and the true catching part.”

Buysse and IUSB junior catcher Jordan Moore gave a demonstration on catching Tuesday, March 5 for the South Bend Cubs Foundation’s Cubbies Coaches Club at Four Winds Field.

“In a game, we may have 130 pitches and Jordan may block it 10 times,” said Buysse. “He maybe throws a guy out at second three or four times. He catches the ball 130 times.

“That’s what we’re going to spend the majority of our time on. Receiving is the most-important part.”

Buysse has a simple goal for his catchers: Keep strikes strikes, turns three balls a game into strikes and balls out of the strike zone are kept there.

“If you can’t receive and keep strikes strikes, you need to go play first base,” said Buysse. “We spend more time doing this than anything else.”

The coach noted that there are umpires who call he pitch where it is caught and not where it crosses the plate.

“Nothing’s worse than watching a kid throw a really good pitch and our catchers catches it and because of the way he caught it, it’s (called) a ball,” said Buysse.

IUSB pitchers generally do not have swing-and-miss stuff.

“Our staff has got to pound the zone, work down and work ahead (in the count),” said Buysse.

That makes it important to have a catcher that can accommodate their needs and strengths.

When he is recruiting receivers, the first Buysse looks at is the player’s hips.

“Some kids are genuinely blessed with good hips,” said Buysse. “But it’s one of the things we can work on.”

Buysse has his catchers go through a position-specific daily stretching routine that takes 10 minutes or less.

“You can’t expect your catchers to use the exact same stretches that outfielders do because they’re using different muscles,” said Buysse.

The routine helps with the flexibility in the ball and socket joint and get hips used to moving in the desired direction.

The coach said catchers who are doing squats and cleans in the weight room need this daily stretching or else they will be too tight in the hips to be an effective receiver.

“Jordan’s probably going to catch 40 to 45 games for us so he’s got to keep himself really loose,” said Buysse. “The looser he is, the quicker he’s going to recover.”

Buysse noted that since the chair came along people don’t squat like they once did. He has noticed many young catchers who are not comfortable in their stance.

“One way we eliminate that is to put the left knee down (with no runners on base),” said Buysse.

Moore does this more than half the time when catching for IUSB.

Buysse said the benefits are twofold — it saves his legs and he can work a little bit lower.

“It took a long time for me to be OK with this,” said Buysse. “I’ve accepted it. It helps and he can give a lower target.”

On pitches with a lot of run, it helps having the knee out of the way with the zone opened up.

“We’re looking to give our catchers freedom to move and give our guys the best possible scenario to keep a strike a strike,” said Buysse.

Buysse went through receiving drills using tennis and plyo balls. He fed the ball to Moore, who received it with the idea of being quiet and efficient.

After listening to Tim Cossins (former minor league catching coordinator with the Florida/Miami Marlins, field coordinator with the Chicago Cubs and now major league field coordinator/catching instructor with the Baltimore Orioles) speak a few years ago at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, Buysse has been having his catchers start with their glove hand on the ground.

“We want our catchers to work up to catch the ball and stick the pitch instead of chasing it out of the zone,” said Buysse. “There’s less movement.

“For for a long time, I was a ‘drive the wheel’ guy. Now we start down and we work up.”

Buysse insists that his catcher’s head and eyes follow the ball as if a string was tied from their mask to the their middle finger.

On high pitches, the instinct for many younger guesses is for their head to go down and hand to go up.

“Now I’m guessing,” said Buysse. “It’s sounds simple and it sounds easy. But you’d be surprised how many kids don’t watch a ball all the way into their gloves.”

Buysse said the wrist — not the arm — is to be kept soft when receiving a pitch. The throwing hand should be kept out of harm’s way.

Buysse called Twitter a great resource for baseball drills. He found a reaction drill where one person stands behind the catcher and throws tennis balls off the wall which a catcher must receive with the proper technique.

Buysse said one way to build confidence for catchers is to receive balls from a pitching machine (or a coach) from shorter and short distances. One example might be 75 mph at 45 feet.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment with things and try to make them better,” said Buysse.

When it comes to throwing, Buysse said catchers should use the time when they’re playing catch to work on things like transfers and footwork for throwing to bases.

“It’s right to left, left to target and throw,” said Buysse. “When you make a bad throw, it starts with your feet.

“Catchers can do this every single day.”

At the college level, Buysse has his catchers do a lot of throwing during fall practice. During the season, he does not want too much extra throwing, considering all the times the catcher must throw the ball back to the pitcher, down to second after warm-up pitches and around the horn after strikeouts etc.

When it comes to throwing, Buysse said catchers should use the time when they’re playing catch to work on things like transfers and footwork for throwing to bases.

“It’s right to left, left to target and throw,” said Buysse. “When you make a bad throw, it starts with your feet.

“Catchers can do this every single day.”

Buysse wants his catchers to block balls to the field and not to the plate. The former keeps the ball in front of them with their momentum going into the direction they’re throwing.

He also insists that “the chin has to dig into my chest protector.”

“Protect your neck,” said Buysse.

The Cubbies Coaches Club is done meeting for the off-season but 1st Source Bank Performance Center director and South Bend Cubs travel team coach Mark Haley encourages area coaches to continue to call on the baseball community centered in South Bend if they have questions.

The Performance Center is at 525 S. Lafayette Blvd., South Bend. The phone number is 574-404-3636.

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DOUGBUYSSEIUSB

Doug Buysse is the head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend. He was a catcher at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind.

 

Howard believes in keeping it simple for his Forest Park Rangers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball doesn’t have to be complicated.

Just ask Jarred Howard, who just completed his 18th year as head baseball coach at Forest Park High Senior/Junior High School in Ferdinand, Ind.

“In high school, you need to three things very well. It’s simple — throw strikes, make plays and put the ball in play.

“We do our very best to keep things as simple as we can. If we do the simple things, then we’re pretty successful.”

The Forest Park Rangers have found themselves ranked among the top IHSAA Class 2A schools in many of the seasons where they grasped and executed the simple concepts emphasized by Howard.

At a school of about 400, there are occasional downs mixed in with the ups. But Forest Park has won about two-thirds of games.

A member of the Pocket Athletic Conference (along with Gibson Southern, Heritage Hills, North Posey, Pike Central, South Spencer, Southridge, Tecumseh and Tell City), the Rangers and other PAC schools play each other once.

Forest Park competed in 2018 in the 2A Tell City Sectional (which also featured Evansville Mater Dei, North Posey, Perry Central, South Spencer plus host Tell City).

Schools in that field have made 11 state championship game appearances and won it all seven times — South Spencer 4, North Posey 2 and Mater Dei 1.

Forest Park has won four sectionals (1975, 1976, 1984 and 2002) and one regional (1976).

The 2018 squad went 10-11 and featured Trever Zink, who was team player of year, co-Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association district player of the year and participated in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.

Senior Daniel Lusk earned a defensive and mental attitude awards. Freshman Gage Hasenour took the lowest earned run average/pitching award. Sophomore Gavin Knust gathered the hitting award for the highest batting average and was named most improved.

Zink and Lusk were all-PAC and Knust gained honorable mention all-conference.

The Rangers gave Howard his 300th career coaching victory April 30, 2018 against Evansville Bosse.

With proximity and Howard’s ties to Kentucky, Forest Park played some of its games against schools from the Bluegrass State.

Howard says it often makes scheduling easier than in Indiana since a statewide assigner matches umpires with games in Kentucky.

Being a smaller school, Forest Park relies on many multi-sport athletes. Baseball players are asked to get in their work when they can and the coaching staff, which also includes former Howard players Kyle Greulich, Brent Wendholt and Jesse Hagedorn plus volunteers Darren Weisheit and Andy Rohleder are all willing to help.

Greulich played at Oakland City University, pitching coach Wendholt at Vincennes University and then at the University of Southern Indiana, Weisheit at Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg, Ill. and Rohleder at the University of Evansville and in the Florida/Miami Marlins organization and with independent Gary Southshore RailCats.

“Our player development has been very good,” says Howard. “The summer time is a big deal. We do as much as we can.”

Howard has sent nearly 20 players on to college baseball. The most recent ones are Zink to Olney (Ill.) Central College and Eli Knust, who played at Vincennes University and is now at Huntington University.

Forest Park fields varsity and junior varsity teams with about 24 to 26 players in the program.

Both squads generally practice together.

“I want them to be able to understand what I’m doing,” says Howard. “I want them to get used to how I handle situations.”

Ranger Field, located on the school campus, sports Bermuda grass.

“Our playing surface is phenomenal — very fast,” says Howard, who reports that the program is looking into updating the backstop and adding visitor seating to get a chance at hosting a sectional or regional.

Feeding the high school program are the Forest Park Youth Sports. In this summer’s Indiana Little League tournaments, FPYS advanced its 10- and 11-year-old teams to the state semifinals while the 12-year-olds bowed out in the district finals. The latter group took the state title when they were 10.

There are seventh and eighth grade baseball teams at Forest Park in the spring.

“We’re excited about the next four or five years coming,” says Howard.

The 2018 Rangers had two seniors. On many days, there were as many as seven freshmen and sophomores in the lineup.

A 1993 McLean County (Ky.) High School graduate, Howard played for Rockport American Legion Post 254 then coaches John Hayes and T-Ray Fletcher at Oakland City. Howard was an assistant to Fletcher for two years before going to Forest Park.

The holder of a business education degrees with two masters (business management and school administration), Howard’s day job is as director of the Patoka Valley Career and Technical Cooperative. He has an office in Jasper, Ind., but spends much of his time on the road overseeing the 17 programs based at 10 high schools.

Jarred and Natalie Howard have three children — sons Drew and Reid and daughter Bree. Drew is heading into the ninth grade, Reid the seventh and Bree the second.

Both boys play for Ironmen Baseball travel organization.

FORESTPARKRANGERS

JARREDHOWARDDOUGLOUDEN

Forest Park Senior/Junior High School head baseball coach Jarred Howard (left) accepts a plaque commemorating his 300th career victory from Forest Park athletic director Doug Louden.

Former Valpo U. catcher Kapers now receiving in Rangers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott Kapers has a reason to show his choppers and it’s not just because his father is a dentist.

The oldest child of Dr. Scott A. Kapers, DDS, and Melissa Kapers, who both work at Creating Smiles PC in St. John, Ind. (across the Lake Central High School), Scott T. Kapers is enjoying his first taste of professional baseball with the Spokane (Wash.) Indians of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League.

Kapers, right-handed-hitting catcher and Schererville, Ind., native, was selected in the 17th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers after three seasons at Valparaiso University.

After attending Forest Ridge Academy and Grimmer Middle School in Scherville, Kapers crossed the nearby state line and went to Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School.

A middle infielder going into a high school, Kapers converted to catcher to get a chance at playing time on a Caravan team that featured a shortstop (Jerry Houston Jr.) two years ahead of him and a second baseman (Ako Thomas) in his class. Houston went on to the University of Oregon and Thomas to the University of Michigan.

During his sophomore year (2013), Kapers finally cracked the varsity lineup at playoff time and helped coach Brian Hurry’s Caravan to a Illinois High School Athletic Association Class 4A state title (Mount Carmel edged Libertyville 2-1 in Joliet).

Two other Mount Carmel seniors in 2013 — Jason Gasser (Northern Illinois University) and Jeremy Kravetz (University of Kansas) — also went on the NCAA Division I baseball.

Kapers, who played for numerous travel teams over the years (Region Redbirds, Futures Baseball, Northwest Indiana Shockers, Indiana Bulls, Team DeMarini, Grinders Baseball and Cincinnati Reds Fall Scout Team), emailed five college programs a week before being approached by Valpo at a Prep Baseball Report showcase.

He made a verbal commitment in the fall of his junior year and signed his letter of intent with the D-I Crusaders as a Mount Carmel senior.

The Redbirds were a team coached by Scott A. Kapers and other fathers.

John Mallee, who is now the hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies and formerly served in that role with the Florida Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, was a Shockers founder and talked to Kapers about attending Mount Carmel.

At VU, Kapers played head coach Brian Schmack and learned about “playing the game the right way” and following routines from him and assistant Ben Wolgamot.

As a catcher, he did much drill work with Nic Mishler. He credits Kory Winter with aiding in improving his physical and mental strength. Kapers played in 45 games as a freshman, 52 as a sophomore and 50 as a junior before being drafted. In 2018, he hit .263 with four home runs, nine doubles and 28 runs batted in.

He also played 92 summer collegiate baseball games for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League in 2016 and 2017.

Through July 6, Kapers had played in seven pro games — two with the Arizona League Rangers and five with Spokane — and was hitting a combined .217 with no homers, two doubles and two RBIs.

Kapers’ approach in the batter’s box revolves around having competitive at-bats.

“It’s about being a smart hitter and not just a swinger,” says Kapers. “Quality at-bats are huge. You string quality at-bats to score runs and that’s how you win games.”

Rangers minor league stops above Spokane, where Kenny Holmberg is the manager, Jared Goedert the hitting coach and Jono Armold the pitching coach, are the Low Class-A Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads, High-A Down East (N.C.) Wood Ducks, Double-A Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and Triple-A Round Rock (Texas) Express.

Following in his older brothers’ footsteps as a catcher at Mount Carmel and heading into his freshman year at Valpo U. is Jake Kapers (18). Sister Madison Kapers (20) will be a junior at VU. She played softball at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Ill.

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Scott Kapers gets ready to fire the baseball for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott Kapers seeks “quality at-bat” for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Texas Rangers system. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott Kapers grew up in Northwest Indiana and played baseball in Indiana and Illinois. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Pacific Northwest with the Spokane (Wash.) Indians in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott T. Kapers, son of Dr. Scott A. Kapers, DDS, is all smiles as he gets set to take the baseball field for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)