Tag Archives: Florida State League

IHSBCA Hall of Fame 2020 class ballots due Oct. 31

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The ballot for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Class of 2020 has been sent to the membership.

Each year at the state clinic in January, the IHSBCA inducts five into its Hall of Fame — four by vote of the members and one through the veterans committee.

The ballot, which appears in the October 2019 IHSBCA newsletter, features Doug Greenlee, Mark Grove, Dean Lehrman, Gary Rogers, Lea Selvey, Tim Terry, Tony Uggen and Scott Upp as coaches and Brian Abbott, Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Wallace Johnson, Ray Miller and James Robinson as players/contributors.

Greenlee, retired from Kankakee Valley, coached 28 seasons (25 at KV) with 503 victories, seven conference championships, three Indiana High School Athletic Association sectional titles and two regional crowns.

He was the 2013 IHSBCA North All-Star head coach, served on several IHSBCA committees and has served as athletic director for 16 years at four different high schools. He is currently AD at Greencastle.

Greenlee is a graduate of South Putnam High School (1977), Indiana State University (B.S., 1981) and Ball State University (M.A., 1985).

He officiated basketball for more 25 years and worked four State Finals. He coached nine IHSBCA North All-Stars and had numerous players go on to college baseball. Three times his KV teams were ranked No. 1 in the state.

Grove, retired from Churubusco, earned 513 wins, nine IHSAA sectional titles, four regional crowns and a 1995 semistate runner-up. His teams won nine Northeast Corner Conference championships (four tournament titles) and two Allen County Athletic Conference crowns.

Grove sent 40 players on to college and one was drafted. He coached 25 all-staters, six IHSBCA North All-Stars and was District Coach of the Year several times.

A long-time IHSBCA member, he has served on several committees and is currently helping out at the state clinic registration table.

Grove has been a mentor to many coaches and is always a willing participant/organizer for clinics and youth baseball events.

He is a graduate of Bluffton High School and Ball State University.

Lehrman, head coach at Heritage for the past 33 years after nine at Woodlan, has posted 602 victories with 12 Allen County Athletic Conference championships, eight sectional title, three regional titles, one semistate crown, three Final Four appearances and state runner-up finish in 2007.

Lehrman is an eight-time ACAC Coach of the Year. He has also been an IHSBCA District Coach of the Year and twice served on the IHSBCA North All-Star coaching staff.

He coached football for 39 years and was head coach for six (40-26).

Dean and Janice Lehrman have three children — Camryn, Derek and Ryne — plus three grandchildren. Dean Lehrman teaches math at HHS.

Rogers, head coach at Leo the past two years after 32 at Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, has 513 career wins. At Luers, his teams won four sectionals titles, one regional crown, one semistate championship and were state champions in 2008.

He was a State Coach of the Year in 2008 and was twice IHSBCA District Coach of the Year. He has served on numerous committees and is very active in the Fort Wayne baseball community. He has been a volunteer assistant at Indiana Tech for many seasons, worked with the Wildcat League for 33 years and serves on the board of the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association and is a Hall of Fame member of that organization.

Rogers is a graduate of Merrillville High School and Huntington College (now Huntington University).

Selvey, head coach at Jay County the last 31 years after five years as a JC assistant, is 502-333 with seven sectional titles and three regional championships. He won five Olympic Conference titles and was that league’s coach of the year three times. The Patriots have also won one Allen County Athletic Conference title.

The graduate of Redkey High School and the University of Evansville with a Master’s degree from Ball State University has been very active with the IHSBA, serving as president, a regional representative, on numerous committees and was twice an assistant for the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.

Selvey has coached 14 All-Stars and many players who went on to college with three taken in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and two others playing professional baseball in independent leagues and overseas.

He has been involved in baseball in the community, starting the junior high program at Jay County. He has been active with the Summit City Sluggers for nine years.

Lea and Denise Selvey have three children — Josh, Kyle and Kristen — and teaches science at Jay County.

Terry, head coach at South Vermillion the past 38 years after one season at Turkey Run, is 605-357 with nine Wabash River Conference titles, eight sectional championships and one regional crown. He has won 20-plus games 10 times, coached six IHSBCA All-Stars, been named District Coach of the Year twice and served as North/South All-Star Series coach and participated in numerous IHSBCA committees.

Terry is a 1973 graduate of Clinton High School, where he played football, basketball and baseball. He received his B.S. from Indiana State University in 1978 and M.S. from ISU in 1982.

Terry has helped with Little League, Pony League, Babe Ruth and American Legion teams.

He coached girls basketball at South Vermillion for 34 years with two conference titles, five sectionals and 295 wins.

Currently the South Vermillion athletic director, Tim has been married for 23 years to Kim (SVHS Science teacher). The couple has four sons — T.J. (22), Canton (20), Cooper (18) and Easton (14).

Uggen, head coach at Blackford the past six years after 20 at Northfield, has 476 victories, 13 conference titles, seven sectional championships, four regional crowns, two semistate titles, Class 2A state championships in 2001 and 2012 and a 2A state runner-up finish in 2013.

He has coached six IHSBCA North All-Stars, 15 all-state players and 20 have gone on to the next level.

A two-time 2A Coach of the Year, he was IHSBCA North All-Star head coach in 2006 and seven times a District Coach of the Year. He has served on several IHSBCA committees.

Tony and Lisa Uggen have five children — Stephanie, Christian, Brandon, Brendan and Elly. After teaching for 11 years, he served the past 16 as athletic director.

Upp, head coach at LaPorte the past 21.5 years, is 472-197 with five Duneland Athletic Conference titles, eight sectional championships, three regional crowns, two Final Four appearances and one state championship in 2000.

He is a six-time IHSBCA District Coach of the Year, the State Coach of the Year, and District 4 National Coach of the Year. He has been IHSBCA president and served on its board of directors and numerous committees. He is a member of the IHSBCA, American Baseball Coaches Association and National High School Baseball Coaches Association.

Upp coached the 1997 IHSBCA North All-Stars and has sent several players on the college baseball with four making it to the professional ranks.

A graduate of LaPorte, where he played and later coached with 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber, played at and earned his bachelors degree from Missouri State University. He has a Masters in Administration from Indiana University and is in his 28th year in education, currently serving as associate principal at LPHS.

Scott and Pam Upp have three sons — Kevin (who played baseball at Valparaiso University), Kyle (who played baseball at Purdue University) and Travis (who currently plays at Purdue Fort Wayne).

Abbott, IHSBCA executive director since 2012, spent 21 years as a high school coach, serving at Eastbrook and Huntington North. He amassed more than 300 wins, seven county championships, four conference titles, three sectional crowns, one regional title and a Final Four appearance in 1999.

He is also the pitching coach at Huntington University and has been on the baseball coaching staffs of Manchester University and Indiana Wesleyan University.

Barmes, a retired major league infielder/outfielder and graduate of Vincennes Lincoln High School (1997), played one season each at Olney (Ill.) Central College and Indiana State University, the latter for Hall of Fame coach Bob Warn.

While at ISU, Barmes was voted all-region and all-conference after hitting .375 with 93 hits, 10 home runs, 18 doubles, seven triples, 37 runs batted in, 63 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.

He was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 10th round in 2000. He played eight seasons with the Rockies (2003-10), one with the Houston Astros (2011), three with the Pittsburgh Pirates (2012-14) and one with the San Diego Padres (2015), hitting .245 with 89 homers, 415 RBI, 932 hits, 434 runs scored and 43 stolen bases.

Barmes appeared in the postseason twice (2009 and 2013) and hit .286 in the 2013 National League Division Series.

Clint and Summer Barmes have two children — Cole and Whitney.

Carroll, a retired major league infielder/outfielder and graduate of Castle High School (1992), played for Dave Sensenbrenner in high school and was an IHSBCA South All-Star as a senior. He played at the University of Evansville for coach Jim Brownlee, graduating in 1996 and earning All-American that same year. His name appears 27 times in the U of E’s baseball record book.

Carroll was chosen in the 14th round of the 1996 draft by the Montreal Expos and played 12 seasons in the the bigs with the Expos (2002-04), Washington Nationals (2005), Colorado Rockies (2006-07), Cleveland Indians (2008-09), Los Angeles Dodgers (2010-11), Minnesota Twins (2012-13) and Kansas City Royals (2013).

Some career numbers are: 16.6 WAR, 1,000 hits, 13 homers, .272 average, 560 runs scored, 265 RBI, 74 stolen base, .349 on-base percentage and .687 On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS).

Carroll scored the last run in Expos history, led National League second basemen in fielding percentage in 2006 and in 2007 he scored Matt Holliday with a sacrifice fly to win the NL Wild Card game.

He currently works in the front office for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jamey and Kim Carroll have 11-year-old twins —  Cole and Mackenzie.

Johnson, a retired major league infielder/outfielder and graduate of Gary Roosevelt High School (1975) and Indiana State University (1979), also played for Sycamores legend Warn.

A co-captain on ISU’s first Missouri Valley Conference championship team and first squad to qualify for the NCAA postseason.

Johnson led the nation in hitting in 1979, hitting .502 for the regular season and .422 for his career.

He was selected in the sixth round of the 1979 draft by the Expos and was Florida State League MVP and a member of Triple-A championship teams in Denver (1981) and Indianapolis (1986).

Johnson played nine seasons in the MLB (1981-84, 1986-90) and is the Expos all-time leader in pinch hits (86). He hit .255 with five homers and 59 RBI in 428. He spent part of 1983 with the San Fransisco Giants and was also in the Oakland Athletics organization.

After his playing career, Johnson was a third base coach with the Chicago White Sox for five seasons.

Miller, an amateur baseball ambassador who died in 2017, managed the Portland Rockets for more than 30 years beginning in 1972 and won over 900 games with state titles in 1985, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004 and 2006.

More than 30 former Rockets went into coaching at the high school or college ranks. In 2000, the team’s field was named Ray Miller Field and in 2002 he became the first inductee into the Indiana Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame.

Robinson, a retired umpire of 35 years beginning in 1980, worked 33 sectionals, 25 regionals, 14 semistates and six State Finals. He umpired the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series six times times and was voted IHSAA Umpire of the Year on five occasions.

In 1994, Kokomo resident Robinson was elected to the National Federation Baseball Rules Committee and served 1995-98.

In 2002, he was named IHSAA/NFOA Baseball Official of the Year and was selected as the National Federation Distinguished Official of the Year.

He has coached Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball for 10 years.

The graduate of Wood High School in Indianapolis (where he played one year of baseball) and Indiana University of Kokomo has also been a high school and college football referee, working six years in NCAA Division II and seven in the D-I Mid-American Conference.

He became replay official for the MAC and moved to the Big Ten. He was relay official in the national championship game in 2014. That Rose Bowl featured Florida State and Auburn.

James and wife Nada (deceased) have one daughter, Chiquita, and one grandson, Kameron.

Voting deadline is Oct. 31.

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Mt. Vernon (Posey), Southern Indiana product Brown contributing in Braves system at bat, behind the plate

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Logan Brown takes pride in being a contributor on both offense and defense.

Take a recent game for the Florida Fire Frogs at the Daytona Tortugas.

The lefty-swinging Brown produced the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning and then went behind the plate in the bottom half to guide his pitcher and the team to victory.

“I got a change-up and doubled over the right fielder’s head and we went ahead 2-1,” says Brown. “We won with our closer (Daysbel Hernandez).

“It’s always nice to help the pitchers out. In the end of the day, they’re the one making the pitches. But I hope they feel comfortable throwing to me. That’s always a big priority to me.”

When his son was age 3 or 4, Kevin Brown noticed that the boy was turning into a lefty. Being a professional catcher himself (the elder Brown was a receiver for the Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox between 1996-2002), he let his boy keep swinging from left side but changed him to a right-handed thrower.

Logan Brown, who was born in Evansville, Ind., grew up in nearby Mount Vernon and played Mount Vernon Youth Baseball and travel ball for the Mount Vernon Wildbats (coached by Dan McNamara and including future high school and college teammate Drake McNamara), Southern Indiana Sharks (coached by Kevin Brown, J.D. Mobley and Kevin Krizan and featuring teammates Cody Mobley and Austin Krizan) and Evansville Wolfepack (coached by former big league infielder Joe Lis) and for Mount Vernon (Posey) High School.

Along the way, he played some in the infield. But his primary position was catcher and his high school coach — Paul Quinzer — trusted him to call pitches.

“(Quinzer) was a great coach,” says Brown, who was an all-Southwest Indiana Conference performer after batting .384 as a senior. “He knows you have that kind of potential.”

The trend of letting him call pitches continued for Brown at the University of Southern Indiana, where Jeremy Kuester was the pitching coach and Tracy Archuleta the head coach.

“He’s a fantastic coach,” says Brown of Archuleta. “He wants what’s best for every single player. He knows how to run a program.

“If he knows you can do better, he’s going to let you know. He knows you have that potential. He’ll say things like ‘I know you have more in your tank.’”

Archuleta has led the USI to two NCAA Division II national championships. The Screaming Eagles went 106-63 during Brown’s time on the team (2016-18) as he hit .313, .276 and .338 with 127 starts. USI won regional titles in 2016 and 2018.

Brown notes that many of his minor league teammates and opponents played D-II baseball.

Selected in the 35th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Braves, Brown has continued calling pitches as a professional.

“It’s a lot of reading the hitters and things like that,” says Brown. “It’s more than just throwing pitches. You see how the hitters react to it. You see their swing path.”

The Kissimmee- based Fire Frogs play in the 12-team Advanced Class-A Florida State League. Seeing a team one time is enough for Brown to pick up on hitters’ strengths and weaknesses.

“You can’t get repetitive or they’ll sit on pitches,” says Brown. “It can’t be the same rhythm for every at-bat.

“Throw a throw a question mark in there to confuse them. A 3-2 curve ball is enough to get them guessing.”

Brown’s background in the infield also serves as catcher.

“It translates,” says Brown. “The pitcher may spike a curve ball or slider. You stay through it and pick it.”

With a bat in his bands, Brown looks to make adjustments.

“I know the movement on baseballs is a little better (each step up the minor league ladder),” says Brown. “I’m sticking to my approach. I like to think ‘drive the ball the other way.’ But it depends on what the pitcher is doing as the game and the at-bat goes on.

“To be a good hitter, you’ve got to make adjustments throughout the at-bat.”

Brown, who turns 23 on Sept. 14, began the 2019 season with the Low Class-A Rome (Ga.) Braves and played in 51 games, hitting .301 with one home run, 11 doubles and 26 runs batted in.

In his first 35 games with the Fire Frogs, Brown is hitting .272 with three homers, five doubles and 16 RBI. He his hitting .289 with six runs driven in over his last 10 games.

Brown says he likes to emphasize his strengths and work on what he understands to be his weaknesses during the off-season.

The next two stages in the Braves system are Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett (Ga.).

Though he is not yet sure what the Braves have in mind for him at season’s end, Brown says expects to be in Mount Vernon at some point and helping his father at the Kevin Brown Baseball & Softball School.

Kevin Brown played baseball at USI while Logan’s mother, Rachel (then Murray and now Daniel) played tennis (Logan also played the sport in high school). Logan’s parents have remarried and he has seventh brothers and sisters in the Mount Vernon/Evansville area, ranging from 2 to 20.

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Logan Brown, a Mount Vernon (Posey) High School graduate and former University of Southern Indiana player, is now a catcher in the Atlanta Braves system. (Florida Fire Frogs Photo)

 

Fort Wayne native Reith sharing knowledge as pitching coach in Rays system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Reith played professional baseball for 13 seasons with parts of three in the majors (2001, 2003 and 2004 Cincinnati Reds).

Reith, a 1996 Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School graduate, has plenty to impart to young players as pitching coach for the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods.

But it’s not just about what goes on between the white lines.

“This is about more than just baseball for me,” says Reith. “It’s about young men. The game’s going to be over at some point and, hopefully, they can have a sound future somewhere else.”

Reith, 40, encourages players to approach him about anything.

“They can come to about off-the-field stuff and on-the-field stuff,” says Reith. “I try to be stern, but I try to be a friend to them as well.”

With his young pitchers on the mound, he emphasizes something that helped him during his pro playing career.

“What I focus on mostly is fastball command and getting them to understand the four quadrants of the (strike) zone, how effective that can be and how it sets up their other pitches,” says Reith. “By doing this, starters can also help relievers later in the game.”

Reith says it’s a matter of mechanics for some pitchers and — for others — confidence in their fastball.

“Fastball command was extremely important for me,” says Reith, a 6-foot-5 right-hander who graduated from Concordia in 1996 and was selected in the sixth round of that years’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees. “I first learned that in the (High Class-A) Florida State League. In Double-A, I had catchers who forced me to use my fastball. It really opened up a lot of doors for me.”

In the majors, his first manager was former big league catcher Bob Boone. Former MLB pitcher Don Gullett was the pitching coach.

“I had a lot of conversations with Bob Boone about pitch selection and different hitters and what to look for,” says Reith. “(Don Gullett) taught me a lot about work ethic.”

Dave Miley later took over as Reds manager. He ended up as head coach at Franklin County High School in Brockville, Ind.

Reith pitched for the Indianapolis Indians in 2005. Trent Jewett was the manager and Darold Knowles, who won 66 games and save 143 in 765 big league appearances, the pitching coach.

From 2007 to 2009, he played independent ball — first with the Somerset (Mass.) Patriots and then the Camden (N.J.) Riversharks and Joliet (Ill.) Jackhammers.

Sparky Lyle, who pitched in 899 big league games with 99 wins and 238 saves, was the manager and Brett Jodie, who made eight MLB appearances in 2001 with the Yankees and San Diego Padres, the pitching coach his first season in Somerset.

“(Sparky Lyle) stayed back and let us do our thing,” says Reith. “I was pitching pretty well while I was there.

“Brett Jodie helped me out quite a bit. I played with Jodie in the Yankees organization.”

The 2018 season marks Reith’s fourth in the Tampa Bay Rays system. He spent the past three years as pitching coaches with the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League’s Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades.

There are many former Hudson Valley pitchers on the current Bowling Green staff and Reith sees the value in the continuity.

“It’s always good to have a base and knowledge of how they learn and what they’re working on to start a season off,” says Reith. “It’s definitely helped.”

Reith recalls his time in the Midwest League with Dayton in 2000 and relates those experiences to his Hot Rods.

“It wasn’t that long ago I was in their same shoes,” says Reith. “I try to remember what I was going through and what my mind was like.”

Everyone shares in the grind.

“Travel is pretty brutal for us,” says Reith. “But the guys deal well with it.”

According to Google Maps, the distance between the stadium in Bowling Green and MWL sites are as follows: Beloit (Wis.) Snappers 510; Burlington (Iowa) Bees 494; Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels 561; Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings 530; Dayton (Ohio) Dragons 279; Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps 389; Great Lakes Loons (Midland, Mich.) 616; Kane County Cougars (Geneva, Ill.) 479; Lake County Captains (Eastlake, Ohio) 477; Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts 524; Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs 436; Quad Cities River Bandits (Davenport, Iowa) 512; South Bend (Ind.) Cubs 392; West Michigan Whitecaps (Comstock Park, Mich.) 493; Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Appleton, Wis.) 621.

Toward the end of his playing career, Reith earned on online degree in business management from the University of Phoenix. When he retired as a player, he went to work in the corporate world and landed with Champs Sports in Bradenton, Fla.

At the same time, Reith was coaching 14- to 18-year-olds in Sam Marsonek’s SCORE International program — combination travel baseball organization and ministry.

“I really enjoyed teaching the young kids,” says Reith. “That really sparked my interest in what I could do at a different level.”

When the Rays came calling, he started coaching professionals.

Reith’s early diamond days were spent at Wallen Baseball League in Fort Wayne, where teams played by American Amateur Baseball Congress rules and runners could lead off at a younger age the Little League. The league turned 50 in 2008.

He played travel ball for the Fort Wayne Seminoles and Fort Wayne Warriors and four years as a pitcher and outfielder at Concordia for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Massucci.

“He’s an extremely hard worker and a very knowledgeable guy,” says Reith of Massucci. “I didn’t know too much about situational baseball and he taught me a lot.”

Massucci is well-known around Fort Wayne for his long-time association with the Wildcat Baseball League.

Brian is the son of Steve and Nancy Reith, who live in the Fort Wayne area along with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Brian’s sister, Stacey, resides in Fishers, Ind.

Bowling Green has made two visits to Fort Wayne this season and is due for another July 6-9.

Brian, wife Kellie and their children reside in the Bradenton/Sarasota area in Florida. The family — parents, son Dixon (7) and daughter Kinsie (6) — have been together most of the season in Bowling Green. Recently, Kellie went back to Florida to ready to give birth to a second daughter in about two weeks.

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Brian Reith makes a mound visit as pitching coach for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. The Fort Wayne native is in his fourth season of coaching in the Tampa Bay Rays system. (Bowling Green Hot Rods Photo)

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Brian Reith signals his approval as pitching coach for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. He is a 1996 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Concordia Lutheran High School and played 13 professional baseball seasons, including parts of three in the majors. (Bowling Green Hot Rods Photo)

 

Former Indiana Mr. Baseball, MLB first-rounder O’Conner lands with independent St. Paul Saints

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin O’Conner was a highly-touted professional baseball prospect when he wore the uniform of Cowan Junior/Senior High School.

As a sophmore at the Muncie, Ind., school, he helped the Camden Pankhurst-coached Blackhawks earn an IHSAA Class 2A state runners-up finish in 2008.

In 2009, O’Conner put up head-turning numbers as a shortstop and pitcher: .521 average, 19 home runs, 61 runs batted in, 7-0 record, 0.30 earned run average, 101 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.

That summer, he won the Home Run Derby at the Perfect Game National Showcase at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and was invited to the Perfect Game Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego.

In 2010, he was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball and selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays right out of Cowan.

As a pro, O’Conner became a catcher. He played 48 games with the Gulf Coast Rays in 2010.

In 2011, he played at rookie-level Princeton threw out 16 of 45 base stealers.

He helped Hudson Valley win the New York-Penn League championship in 2012.

O’Conner played at Low Class-A Bowling Green of the Midwest League in 2013.

That winter, he played for the Brisbane Bandits of the Australian Baseball League.

“It was awesome,” says O’Conner of his time Down Under. “It was a chance to go to another country, live there for three months and get to see their culture and also get to play baseball.”

In 2014, O’Conner played at Charlotte and was an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star and Florida State League All-Star, FSL Post-Season and Baseball America High Class-A All-Star.

He played in the Arizona Fall League and was placed on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster in November.

O’Conner spent the entire 2015 season at Double-A Montgomery and led the Southern League in total chances (91) and threw out 29 of 60 base stealers.

“For me, it’s big part of the game,” says O’Conner. “Being able to control the running game can keep runners off of bases in scoring position and keep them from scoring runs. If the pitcher can give me a good time to the plate, mix his looks in.

“It’s really more on the pitcher and the infielder making a good tag along with me making a good throw. It’s just not me, it’s everybody involved.”

In 2016, he began the season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League because of a back injury. He was promoted to Double-A in August.

It was discovered he had a herniated disk and he had two back surgeries in October and November and and was removed from the 40-man roster in December.

“I’m all good now,” says O’Conner of his procedures. “The back pain really wasn’t the issue, it was the sciatica down my leg. I needed to get it fixed.”

O’Conner started 2017 at Double-A and was promoted to Triple-A Durham in August. The Bulls won the Triple-A National Championship.

After the season, he was granted his free agency and signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants in November 2017. The Giants released him in April 2018 and he inked a deal with the St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association, a circuit which also features the Gary SouthShore RailCats.

The Saints got off to a 5-1 start and O’Conner is coming off a 3-for-3 game with two RBI and two runs scored Wednesday, May 23 at home against the Chicago Dogs.

He belted home runs May 18 at Gary and May 23 in St. Paul.

O’Conner quickly learned the difference between high school and professional baseball while with the Rays and Giants organizations and it holds true with St. Paul.

“It’s a grind,” says O’Conner, 26. “You’re playing baseball, but it’s also a job. You’ve got to come out and try to win everyday.

“You learn that right away. You’re playing every single day. It takes a toll on your body and it’s something you’ve got to get used to.”

O’Conner played for a number of travel baseball organizations growing up then spent two years while in high school with coaches Dan Held and Quinn Moore and the Indiana Bulls.

Justin is the son of Muncie’s Randy and Kim O’Conner and has an older brother and a younger sister.

Jacob O’Conner is in law school in Cincinnati. Kirsten O’Conner, a former Ball State University softball player, is a nutritionist in Illinois.

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Justin O’Conner, who was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball at Cowan Junior/Senior High School and a first-round draft selection of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, is now with the independent St. Paul Saints. Released by the San Francisco Giants organization, the catcher signed with the team shortly before the beginning of the 2018 season. (St. Paul Saints Photo)

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)

 

Work ethic leads Riggins to long coaching career

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Diligence and determination learned as a teenager in southern Indiana has sustained Mark Riggins throughout a long baseball career.

Riggins, who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tim Nonte on the diamond and Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Jack Butcher and assistant Nonte on the hardwood as part of the Loogootee High School Class of 1975, went on to pitch at Murray (Ky.) State University and logged five seasons in the minors with the St. Louis Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles organizations.

He has been in player development since 1984 and has been pitching coach for the Mike Quade-managed Chicago Cubs (2011) and Bryan Price-managed Cincinnati Reds (2016) as well as a minor league pitching coordinator and pitching coach for the Cardinals, Cubs and Reds.

Riggins, who was inducted into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame himself in 2016, is now charged with developing pitchers for the Dunedin Blue Jays.

“The work ethic I gained at Loogootee has carried me on,” says Riggins, who was a part of the Lions’ state runner-up basketball team as a senior. “Success and winning doesn’t come easy. We were very successful because of our dedication and hard work that we learned from the people that taught us.

“I still preach the work ethic to these players.”

Dunedin is a member of the talent-rich High-A Florida State League.

“We have quite a few good prospects,” says Riggins, 60. “We have really good arms trying to find the stroke zone and learn a second and third pitch.”

This season, while the team has earned a playoff berth (Game 1 vs. Tampa is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 5), Riggins has helped eight pitchers move up to Double-A or beyond.

“It’s very rewarding to see these kids get better,” says Riggins.

Each Major League Baseball organization has its own philosophy on developing players.

Like the St. Louis Cardinals when Riggins was a part of system, the Toronto Blue Jays tend to be patient with their prospects.

“Other organizations move them along rather quickly,” says Riggins. “That’s a problem in baseball. (Players are rushed to the big leagues and) not prepared to handled that level of talent. We want to make sure the guy is ready to move to the major league level.”

Riggins guides a staff with a five-man starting rotation that rare has a hurler go over 100 pitches in a game.

Relievers rarely pitch on back-to-back days or go more than two innings at a time. Starters tend to pitch 120 to 150 innings during a 140-game season while relievers go 50 to 60.

“We’ve had a really successful year in keeping guys healthy,” says Riggins. “We pick the starters out of spring training. They are best arms with the best chance to be a starter at the major league level.”

Of course, that could change along the way and the pitcher might be deemed better-suited to a bullpen role.

The use of analytics has steadily increased in baseball and they come into play in the FSL.

“We do have scouting reports on every team we play,” says Riggins. “I simplify those reports to what I feel (my pitcher) can handle. Some pitchers can’t do it as well as others.

“But the guys at this level are pretty advanced in being able to execute pitches. We always pitch to their strength vs. a hitter’s weakness. Having reports at A-ball was unheard of five years ago.”

Riggins welcomes the advancements in information and training methods.

“I like new things,” says Riggins. “I have to see how it applies. You have to be open-minded.

“Everybody is getting the information now. If you’re not, you’re way behind. It’s what you do with it that makes each individual organization different.”

The Blue Jays organization has a plan for each one of its player. That plan is reviewed every two weeks during the season and is tweaked as necessary.

The player’s input is always considered.

“If they’re on board, they work hard at their efficiency and trying to make it better,” says Riggins. “Players have changed a lot. They’re smarter. They’re pretty sharp at gaining information from other sources.”

It’s up to Riggins to help them get the most out of the info and their ability.

“I dissect what they do best,” says Riggins. “They are not sure. They are just throwing the baseball.

“The difference is consistency. How often can you execute pitches? Once they can do it on a consistent basis, they can cut hitters apart.”

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Mark Riggins, a 1975 Loogootee High School graduate, began his career as a professional baseball coach in 1984. He is now the pitching coach for the Florida State League’s Dunedin Blue Jays. (Dunedin Blue Jays Photo)