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Rebound season cut short for USC lefty Gursky

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Gursky’s bounce-back baseball season was getting rave reviews when the curtain came down much sooner than expected.

A left-handed pitcher at the University of Southern California, the Indiana native started against visiting Xavier University on Wednesday, March 11.

Gursky recalls the unusual atmosphere when he took the mound at Dedeaux Field.

“Only essential personnel were allowed in the stands,” says Gursky. “It was like a travel ball game. Only parents were there.”

Gursky tossed the first two innings, facing eight batters with three strikeouts and yielding one hit as the first of seven USC pitchers.

“The next day I wake up and my phone is blowing up,” says Gursky of what turned out to be a COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. 

Thinking the situation would blow over, he spent about a week at his uncle’s house in Orange County then came home to Granger, Ind.

“I had not been in Indiana in March in years,” says Gursky. “We were having a great start to the year then comes the sad news. We worked so hard in the fall.”

The Trojans were 10-5 when the 2020 slate was halted. Southpaw Gursky was 1-1 in four appearances (three starts) with a 0.00 earned run average. He fanned 12 and walked three in 12 innings. Opponents hit .105 against him. On March 3, he pitched the first six innings against UC Irvine and held the Anteaters hitless with seven strikeouts.

USC coaches talked about placing Gursky in the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer. But that league canceled its season and with all the uncertainty, Gursky opted to take 15 weeks away from throwing and reported to USC this fall fully-refreshed. 

An online accounting class taken this summer will help Gursky on his path to graduating with a Business Administration degree next spring.

Gursky played three seasons for head coach John Gumpf at South Bend St. Joseph High School (2014-16).

“That was a fun time,” says Gursky of his days with the Indians. “I have a lot of great teammates.”

Some of Gursky’s pals were Danny Torres, Tony Carmola, J.R. Haley and Carlos Matovina.

In his senior year (2017), Gursky played for former major leaguer Chris Sabo at a IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Gursky enjoyed a solid inaugral campaign at USC in 2018, but struggled in 2019.

“I had a good freshmen year and a disaster of a sophomore year,” says Gursky. “I was in a bad place.”

Playing for then-Trojans head coach Dan Hubbs, Gursky made 22 appearances (two starts) as a freshman, going 3-1 with a 4.93 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings.

His second college appearance was at Cal State Long Beach’s Blair Field, where played for the Brewers in the 2015 underclass Area Code Games and was named to the upperclass game in 2016 but did not play because of a forearm injury.

As a sophomore, Gursky got into 12 games (five starts) and was 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA. He struck out 18 in 22 innings.

“I thank (Hubbs) so much for getting to come to the school of my choice,” says Gursky.

In the summer of 2019, the lefty played for the Newport (R.I.) Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, where Kevin Winterrowd was the manager and pitching coach.

“I was kind of inconsistent,” says Gursky. “I working on stuff at the same time I was competing and trying to win games.

“But that was a the beginning of the turnaround. It set up a good fall and spring.”

Back in Los Angeles, Gursky had a new head coach (Jason Gill) and pitching coach (Ted Silva) in the fall of 2019.

“(Gill) has continuous energy,” says Gursky. “We all love playing for him. We feed off that energy.

“(Silva) helped me out. He saw something in me. He’s straight forward like Sabo.”

Gursky appreciates the approach of Sabo, the former Cincinnati Reds third baseman and current University of Akron head coach.

“He never sugar coated anything,” says Gursky. “He was a great guy to talk with in general.”

Another ex-big leaguer — Steve Frey — was the IMG Academy pitching coach.

“He was great communicator,” says Gursky of Frey. “We connected very well. 

“We’re both lefties  so we felt the same way.”

Back in northern Indiana, Gursky has gotten pitching pointers from Curt Hasler, who pitched for the 1988 South Bend White Sox and is now the bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox. Son Drew Hasler has pitched in the White Sox system.

“He’s great with the mental game,” says Gursky of Curt Hasler. “I like that he’s been around guys who’ve pitched at the highest level possible.”

A 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who played basketball through his freshmen year at St. Joseph describes his aggressive athletic mindset.

“I’m an attacker,” says Gursky. “Either I’m attacking the basket or attacking the strike zone.”

Delivering the baseball with a three quarter-plus arm slot, Gursky throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball.

His four-seamer has a high spin rate and occasionally touched 94 mph in the spring.

His two-seamer sinks and run and was usually 88 to 91 mph.

“My change-up is very slow,” says Gursky of a pitch clocked at 76 to 78 mph. “It’s been my main strikeout pitch the last two years. 

“I grip it petty deep and pretty hard. It’s not in my palm.”

His sweeping curve comes in 79 to 82 mph and breaks left to right — away from left-handed batters and into righties.

Born in Bloomington, Ind., Gursky moved to Granger at 5 and attended Saint Pius X Catholic School. His first baseball experience came at 10 or 11 at Harris Township Cal Ripken.

He played for Rob Coffel with the Michiana Scrappers at 12U and for Ray Torres (father of Danny) with the South Bend Rays at 13U.

After that, Gursky was with a number of travel teams around the country.  Locally, he did a couple stints with the South Bend Cubs and manager Mark Haley (father of J.R.). 

“He knows the bigger picture,” says Gursky of Mark Haley, who played at the University of Nebraska, coached at the University of Tennessee and was a manager in professional baseball for 12 years, including 10 with the South Bend Silver Hawks (2005-14) before becoming general manager of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and executive director of the South Bend Cubs Foundation. “He’s big on development.”

Gursky’s grandfather, Will Perry, was a pitcher at the University of Michigan. A broken leg suffered in a car accident kept him from a starting role with the 1953 national champions. He was later sports information director and assistant athletic director for the Wolverines.

Uncle Steve Perry played baseball at Michigan and was selected in the first round of the 1979 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-5 right-hander advanced to Triple-A in 1983 and 1984.

“He taught things when I was younger,” says Gursky. “Now I get what he was saying.

“When you have a growth mentality, you take what other people are saying and apply it to yourself.”

Perry was one of three first-round draft picks for Michigan in 1979. Outfielder/first baseman Rick Leach and left-handed pitcher Steve Howe both went on to play in the majors. 

University of Notre Dame employees Matt and Susan Gursky have three children — Elena (24), Brian (22) and Natalie (18). Westland, Mich., native Matt Gursky is a mathematics professor. Ann Arbor, Mich., native Susan Gursky is a pre-medicine advisor. Elena Gursky played softball at St. Joe. Natalie Gursky is an equestrian.

Brian Gursky pitches for the University of Southern California.
Brian Gursky, an Indiana native who played high school baseball at South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph High School and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., has pitched for three seasons at the University of Southern California. (USC Photo)

Peru’s Beauchamp eager to get back to pitching in Phillies system

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cam Beauchamp was in Clearwater, Fla., last spring, getting ready for what was going to be his first full season of professional baseball.

The left-handed pitcher had been selected in the 36th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies out of Indiana University and pitched in five games. The first — on Aug. 5 — he pitched the eighth inning as five Gulf Coast Phillies East hurlers combined on a no-hitter.

“It was a super good experience,” says Beauchamp. “The players were friendly. 

“They welcomed me with open arms.”

Pitching four more times through Aug. 29, the southpaw went 0-0 with a 1.23 earned run average. In 7 1/3 innings, he struck out five and walked two. He threw 36 of 47 pitches for strikes.

Then came spring training for 2020.

Beauchamp, a 6-foot-2, 221-pounder, was in camp and one day away from the first exhibition game when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and things were shut down.

After close to two weeks, he returned home to Peru, Ind., and found a job while trying to stay sharp for baseball.

When he’s not working at Rock Hollow Golf Club in Peru, Beauchamp finds a partner and plays catch at Peru High School, where he graduated in 2016 and Chuck Brimbury is in his second stint as head coach. Or he will throw his weight PlyoCare Balls into a concrete wall at home.

A four-time all-Three Rivers Conference selection at Peru, Beauchamp went 16-6 on the mound with 244 strikeouts in 159 1/3 innings during his Tigers career. He was 5-1 with 95 strikeouts and 13 walks in 44 1/3 innings as a senior. As a hitter, his career mark was .389 with 21 home runs and 94 RBIs.

Beauchamp pitched three seasons at Indiana (2017-19) — two for former Hoosiers head coach Chris Lemonis and former IU pitching coach Kyle Bunn and one for current head coach Jeff Mercer and current pitching coach Justin Parker.

In 41 mound appearances (27 in relief), Beauchamp went 5-3 with a 3.88 earned run average. In 88 2/3 innings, he struck out 70 and walked 57. 

Beauchamp pitched in nine games (five starts) in 2019 with a 3.00 ERA. In 15 innings, he fanned 14 and walked 14.

Beauchamp took a liking to Lemonis for the way he talked to him and his parents — Jody and Robin.

“He’s a real great guy,” says Beauchamp of Lemonis. “I could talk baseball with him all day.”

Beauchamp was impressed by Bunn’s knowledge of the game and then found out he was also a fisherman and hunter like himself.

“That seals the deal even more,” says Beauchamp, who took his first deer last year in southern Indiana and has landed a largemouth bass around six pounds in a local pond and a 45-pound baby Tarpon on a charter boat in Florida.

Beauchamp got a chance to see how Mercer and Parker operate and sees that they are using even more technology in assessing players than when he was with the program.

“They’re definitely the new wave of coaching that’s going across the United States,” says Beauchamp of Mercer and Parker. “They definitely know baseball.”

One year from a Sports Marketing & Management degree, Beauchamp went into pro baseball.

During his time away from the Phillies, the organization has been sending him workouts through a phone app and every two weeks he gets an email about throwing program recommendations.

Beauchamp, who turned 22 in March, was throwing his four-seam fastball at 91 to 93 mph and occasionally touching 94. 

“I feel I can get up to that 96/97 range,” says Beauchamp, who has also mixed in a two-seamer, 12-to-6 curveball and “circle” change-up. Recently, he’s been tinkering with a cutter.

“It typically has the same amount of break as the two-seam and goes the opposite way,” says Beauchamp, who lets his two-seamer run in on a left-handed batter and away from a righty. This is all done from a high three-quarter arm slot.

It’s an old saying that left-handers always have movement with their pitches.

Beauchamp buys into that theory.

“I can’t put my hat on straight,” says Beauchamp. “I can’t put my belt on straight.

“I can’t throw a ball straight. It always moves.”

Beauchamp was born and raised in Peru. He played in what is now known as the Peru Cal Ripken League until he was 12. First there was the Marlins in T-ball. Later, the Indians in Junior Farm (coach pitch) and the Rockies in Major League.

“Those were the sweetest jerseys ever,” says Beauchamp, who then played for Cam Brannock and Justin Brannock with the Summit City Sluggers travel ball organization through 17U.

Cam comes from a baseball-loving family. Uncle Chris Beauchamp is a Slugger board member and former Wabash (Ind.) High School assistant coach. Cousin Shea Beauchamp, son of Chris, played at Huntington (Ind.) University and is now a Foresters assistant coach.

Jody Beauchamp works as a quality checker at Haynes International in Kokomo.

Robin Beauchamp is a director of nursing consultant for Golden Living Centers. 

Cam is an only child. What’s that like?

“That’s a loaded question,” says Beauchamp.

Cam Beauchamp, a Peru (Ind.) High School graduate, pitched three baseball seasons at Indiana University (2017-19) and was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019. He is a left-hander. (Indiana University Photo)

Cy Young, 1980 Phillies latest in author Freedman’s long list of books

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Prolific author Lew Freedman has had two titles released during the summer of 2020.

The common thread is baseball. The subjects and the way he researched the books are very different.

“Phillies 1980!: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Philadelphia’s First World Series Championship (Sports Publishing)” came out in June and “Cy Young: The Baseball Life and Career (McFarland Books)” hit the market in August.

Freedman, a newspaperman for 50 years living in Columbus, Ind., serving as sports editor of the Seymour (Ind.) Tribune, has authored or co-authored about 110 books in the past three decades — about 60 on sports with two-thirds of them being on baseball. 

He lived the Phillies story as a Philadelphia Inquirer staffer in 1980 assigned to write the sidebar on World Series MVP and future Hall of Famer Schmidt. The journalist was able to draw from what he witnessed at the time plus research. Philadelphia topped the Kansas City Royals in six games as Schmidt hit .381 (8-of-21) with two home runs, seven runs batted in and six runs score. 

The seed that grew into the Cy Young book was decades in the making.

“I had it in my head for years and years and years — almost 30 years,” says Freedman. “I was getting more and more interested in baseball history.”

Even though he was serving as sports editor at the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News at the time, Freedman made a trip to the research library at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., and gathered information on the man with 511 career pitching victories — far more than anyone in big league annals and wrote a column about Denton True Young — first known as Cyclone for clobbering a wooden fence with his pitches and then Cy.

“Nobody will ever come close,” says Freedman of durable right-hander Young’s win total. “There have been some Cy Young books, but not a lot. 

“This is the first time in 20 years there’s been a new look at Cy Young.”

With the advantage of being a better writer and researcher since writing “Dangerous Steps: Vernon Tejas And The Solo Winter Ascent Of Mount McMcKinley (Stackpole Books)” in 1990, Freedman went head-long into more Young research.

“(Cy Young is an) old story, but he never gets old,” says Freedman. “I wanted to get Cy Young’s voice as much as possible and get into what kind of guy he was.

“He was not a controversial guy. He did not get into trouble. He didn’t keep late hours. He didn’t party.”

Except for his time on a baseball field, Young spent his time as a farmer in northeast Ohio. 

Since Young’s 22-year-old career spans from 1890 to 1911, finding the pitcher’s voice was not easy.

“When Cy Young was playing sportswriters did not go to the locker room right after the game and get quotes,” says Freedman. The scribes were focused on getting play-by-play details into their stories and then meeting deadlines and often racing for the train station for the team’s next game. “Contemporaneous reports are missing.”

Luckily for Freedman and other baseball researchers, Young lived to be 88 and shared his thoughts freely for decades after the end of his career.

“His brains were picked about his highlights,” says Freedman. “That stuff was golden material for a guy like me.”

Young spent much of his Hall of Fame career with two primary catchers — Chief Zimmer and Lou Criger. The latter is an Elkhart, Ind., native who was with Young in Cleveland, St. Louis and Boston from 1896 to 1908.

The Cy Young Award was first presented to the top pitcher in Major League Baseball in 1956 in honor of a man who not only won 94 more games than the second man on the list (Hall of Famer Walter Johnson), but tossed an astounding 7,356 innings with 29,565 batters faced and 749 complete games. Both the American and National leagues have handed out the Cy Young Award since 1967.

“I love baseball history,” says Freedman. “I learn something all the time when I do the research.

“I was very happy when I held the Cy Young book in my hand.”

Freedman’s newspaper career started when he was in high school in the Boston suburb of Newton, Mass.

He was with the Inquirer when an Alaskan vacation turned into 17 years as a sports editor there. He later was on the staff at the Chicago Tribune and Florida Times-Union and was sports editor at The Republic in Columbus, Ind. He has won more than 250 journalism awards.

Along the way, Freedman kept researching and writing books. There are many related to Alaska, even one that ties baseball to the remote 49th state.

One of his early baseball works is “Hard-Luck Harvey Haddix and the Greatest Game Ever Lost (McFarland Books).” The book chronicles the story of the Pittsburgh Pirates 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves in 1959 only to lose the perfecto, no-hitter and the game in the 13th.

In recent years, Freedman has seen the publishing of “Red Sox Legends: Pivotal Moments, Players & Personalities (Blue River Press)” in 2019, “Warren Spahn: A Biography of the Legendary Lefty (Sports Publishing)” in 2018 and “Connie Mack’s First Dynasty: The Philadelphia Athletics, 1910-1914 (McFarland Books)” in 2017.

Freedman, who has been featured multiple times on the Baseball by the Book Podcast hosted by Jeremy McGuire, has also contributed books on the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians‘, Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees and more.

“Once I moved to Chicago, it was easier to write sports books,” says Freedman, who has created many titles on the Chicago Bears. He’s also written about basketball, hockey, auto racing, boxing, pro wrestling and even competitive lumber-jacking.

“As long as I can come up with a great topic in my mind and (a book publisher) also thinks it’s a good idea,” says Freedman.

When his books come out is not entirely up to Freedman. Done and awaiting editor’s approval is a something tentatively called “1930: When Everybody Was Babe Ruth.”

To Freedman, 1930 was the “Year of the Hitter” the way 1968 is referred to as the “Year of the Pitcher.”

“Hitting went crazy and pitching was atrocious,” says Freedman. “That year the seams were raised on the ball. Pitchers could not control it. (Hitters) had the years of their lives.

“After that, they changed the rules so it didn’t happen again.”

Lefty-swinging outfielder George “Showboat” Fisher played four major league seasons — hitting .261 in 1923, .220 in 1924 and .182 in 1931. His 1930 mark was .374 as a reserve for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Fisher lived to 95.

“He got to talk about (the 1930 season) for the rest of his life,” says Freedman, who notes that ’30 was the year of the National League’s last .400 hitter (Hall of Fame first baseman Bill Terry of the New York Giants at .401).

All eight position players in the St. Louis Cardinals regular starting lineup hit .300, including outfielder George Watkins at .373. 

It was hoped that the Phillies book would come out as part of a 40th-year anniversary and a celebration was planned during spring training in Clearwater, Fla.

Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic and that changed everything about 2020. 

On March 16, Freedman was on his way home from a western trip to cover rodeo (he once spent three months in Wyoming researching a book on rodeo). He literally had businesses shutting down behind him as he drove back toward southern Indiana. 

One day he ate in a restaurant, the next day they were putting chairs on top of tables at a truck stop.

More recently, Freedman has been able to cover high school football for his paper and has been contemplating his next baseball book project.

First baseman Johnny Mize was a star for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants and New York Yankees in the late 1930’s through early 1950’s.

“He’s been under-covered,” says Freedman of the Hall of Fame. 

He’s a Hall of Famer. “He was overshadowed with the Yankees (teammates included Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto plus Hank Bauer and Billy Martin). “He was a tremendous player.”

Lew Freedman has authored or co-authored around 110 books since 1990. Around 60 of those titles have been on sports. The 50-year newspaperman is now sports editor at the Seymour (Ind.) Tribune. He has won more than 250 journalism awards.
Prolific author Lew Freedman had two books come out this summer — “Phillies 1980!: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Philadelphia’s First World Series Championship (Sports Publishing)” and “Cy Young: The Baseball Life and Career (McFarland Books).” He has authored or co-authored about 110 books in the past 30 years. Of that number, about 40 are on baseball. He lives in Columbus, Ind., and is sports editor at the Seymour (Ind.) Tribune.

South Bend Clay graduate Parkhurst enjoys baseball culture at Gardner-Webb

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gardner-Webb University head baseball coach Jim Chester likes his Runnin’ Bulldogs players to check these boxes.

Selfless.

Relentless.

Blue Collar.

Talented.

Keiji Pankhurst, a 2016 graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School and a redshirt senior entering his second year at GWU after three years and two playing seasons at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach Fla., appreciates the culture of the NCAA Division I program based in Boiling Springs, N.C.

“Any junior college kid — in my mind — has an aspect to their game that is blue collar,” says Parkhurst, 22. “I don’t know if gritty’s the word. We have a lot of junior college transfers this year with the mentality of going to work everyday.

“We have a strong, strong senior class. We’re such a tight-knit group. Once the core guys decided to come back we knew some special could happen here. We have a bunch of good character guys who play hard.

“It makes going to practice fun. It makes the weight room fun. The intensity that’s brought everyday is second to none.”

In-person classes began Aug. 19, baseball conditioning started Aug. 24 and fall practice got underway Sept. 1 for a Gardner-Webb squad that could wind up with as many as 16 seniors thanks to the NCAA allowing an extra year of eligibility to players who had their 2020 seasons cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re doing individual group things,” says Pankhurst. “We getting back in the swing of things. It’s been since March since many guys have seen (live) pitching or been on a field.

“Coach Chester is very detail-oriented, which I like. You know exactly what you’re getting into when you sign up. 

“Practice is his time. In games, you go play.”

GWU’s last contest was March 10 at the University of North Carolina.

On March 4 at GWU’s Bill Masters Field at John Henry Moss Stadium, Pankhurst was a single shy of a single with three RBIs, three runs and a sacrifice fly in a 4-3 win against Ball State University.

On a full count in the seventh inning, Parkhurst smacked the ball to right center and it bounded off the brick scoreboard and plated a run.

One pitch was delivered in the bottom of the ninth inning and Parkhurst launched it over the center field wall for a walk-off homer.

Parkhurst, who started all 16 games last spring at first base with 117 total chances, one error, nine assists, 12 double plays and a .991 fielding percentage plus a .220 average (11-of-50) with two home runs, 11 runs batted in and 10 runs scored as a righty batter, counts among his teammates outfielders Cam Pearcey and Mitch McLendon and infielder Eric Jones

Pearcey played four seasons at Coastal Carolina University (including for the 2016 College World Series champions) and in 2020 for Gardner-Webb. McLendon has already logged four seasons with the Bulldogs. Jones has been with the program since 2016, having taken 2017 as a medical redshirt.

Chester, the latest guest on the Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV hosted by former Saint Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, Ind.) assistant and current Georgia Gwinett College head coach Jeremy Sheetinger, asked players to read a book over the summer and participate in Monday Zoom meetings.

Suggested by former Indiana Chargers travel coach Justin Barber, Parkhurst had already read “Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall in Love with the Process of Becoming Great” by Joshua Metcalf.

“(The book) says you build your own house,” says Pankhurst. “Everyday’s an opportunity to improve yourself.

“It was a good reminder of when we get back to campus that everyday is an opportunity. Keep working and you’ll see the product come to fruition.”

During the quarantine, Parkhurst came home to Granger, Ind., to work and to hone his baseball skills. He also took an online class and is one pace to graduate with a Business Administration degree in the spring.

Parkhurst, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, landed at Gardner-Webb after playing in a junior college all-star game in Lakeland, Fla. He was recruited by former Bulldogs assistant Ross Steedley and agreed to join a program led by Rusty Stroupe. When he arrived in North Carolina, Stroupe had retired and Chester was in charge.

With a grandfather living in Florida, Parkhurst had attended camp at Daytona State and was offered a chance to make the Falcons team. He redshirted as a true freshman behind a returning starting catcher, did much of the team’s receiving as a redshirt freshman and split his time between catcher and first base as a redshirt sophomore.

He hit .305 with four homers and 27 RBIs in 33 games in 2018 and .261 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 38 games in 2019.

“I wouldn’t trade my junior college experience for the world,” says Parkhurst. “Coach (Tim) Touma set me up to be the player and person I am today.”

Parkhurst entered the fall of 2019 at GWU as a catcher then transitioned to first base for the spring of 2020 and expects to be at that position this fall and next spring.

Born in South Bend, Parkhurst and played at South Bend East Side Little League before joining the Barber-coached Chargers around 15.

He played at South Bend St. Joseph High School as a freshman then was a varsity player for three seasons at Clay. Teammates included Aaron Bond, Joey Lange, Trenton Stoner and J.P. Kehoe.

“There were guys you loved to play for,” says Parkhurst. “Everybody played hard for each other.”

Parkhurst played for Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold and assistants Bill Schell and John Kehoe. Reinebold took over at his alma mater and where father and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Reinebold had success after the death of Chad Hudnall due to cancer in October 2013.

“His baseball mind and passion for Clay baseball is outstanding,” says Parkhurst of Joel Reinebold. “All the coaches — whatever you needed, they were there for you with personal advice or baseball advice. They’d go to bat for you no matter what.”

Riley Tirotta, who played at Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and at the University of Dayton, is a friend and sometime workout partner of Parkhurst.

Keiji is the second of RV company vice president Scott Parkhurst and a golf pro Kasi Hornback’s four sons and only one to go by his Japanese middle name. The other boys are Robert Toshio (25), who is in the U.S. Navy, David Morio (14) and Tommy Touji (12). 

Keiji Parkhurst’s first baseball season at Gardner-Webb University was 2020. (Gardner-Webb U. Video)
Keiji Parkhurst, a graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School, hit a walk-off home run March 4, 2020 to lift Gardner-Webb University to a 4-3 baseball victory against Ball State University. (Gardner-Webb University Photo)
Keiji Parkhurst, a 2016 graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School, was at Daytona State College for three years and is entering his second with the baseball program at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C. (Gardner-Webb University Photo)

Columbus native Gray deliver for Milwaukee Milkmen in a big way

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Peyton Gray has spent July and August dodging bats.

The right-handed pitcher from Columbus, Ind., playing independent professional baseball has been dominant in his back of the bullpen role.

As the closer for the American Association’s Milwaukee Milkmen, Gray goes into play today (Aug. 26) with a 2-0 record, 10 saves and a 0.00 earned run average. In 24 innings, he has yet to allow a run and has struck out 41 (15.375 per nine innings) and walked 10.

“For the most part, I try to stay with myself and pitch to my strengths,” says Gray. “I’ve been able to catch some breaks.

“It’s been fun so far.”

A 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, Gray delivers a fastball, slider and change-up from a three-quarter overarm slot. The slider breaks in on left-handed batters and away from righties and the “Vulcan” change sinks.

But it’s his four-seam fastball that’s been his out pitch. It travels 90 to 93 mph and — he learned while working out in the off-season with Greg Vogt of PRP Baseball at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. — that it has an above-average spin rate.

The 2020 season marks Gray’s third in pro ball. He was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2018 out of Florida Gulf Coast University and played rookie-level and Low Class-A ball in the Rockies system in 2018 and 2019.

A 2014 graduate of Columbus (Ind.) High School, where he was a four-year letterman for Olympians head coach Jon Gratz, Gray pitched one season at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo (0-1 with two saves, a 3.58 ERA, 21 strikeouts and 18 walks in 37 2/3 innings in 2015), one at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Fla. (8-1 with one save, a 3.93 ERA, 55 strikeouts and 13 walks in 71 2/3 innings in 2016) and two at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla. (6-5 with one save, a 5.49 ERA, 110 strikeouts and 42 walks in 95 innings in 2017 and 2018).

Gray was both a mid-week starter and weekend reliever at Florida Gulf Coast. He came out of the bullpen in the Rockies organization.

With the Milkmen, he has been used mostly for one-inning outings with two exceptions. He has never faced more than seven batters at a time.

“Throwing’s very crucial,” says Gray. “When you’re sore force yourself to throw and break up whatever’s tight in the body.

Gray uses Driveline PlyoCare balls for recovery both on days he pitches and days he does not.

At 25, Gray is one of the youngest on a roster that features no less than six players with big-league experience — pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Tim Dillard, David Holmberg, Drew Hutchison, A.J. Schugel, and infielder David Washington.

“It’s been really good for me to be around an older crowd like this and learn the game more,” says Gray. “It’s pretty close-knit team. Everybody’s very friendly and down-to-earth.

“I watch how they go about their business. As a professional, you’re in charge of your career. You have to know the ropes if you want that career to last long.”

Gray is now with a team managed by Anthony Barone with Hayden Carter (formerly of the Kokomo, Ind., Jackrabbits) as pitching coach that plays its home games in the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin, Wis.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Association is operating with six teams — Milwaukee, Chicago Dogs, Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks, Saint Paul Saints, Sioux Falls Canaries and Winnipeg Goldeyes — playing a 60-game schedule. When the season began, Milwaukee was one of three hubs. Later on, Chicago and Saint Paul opened back up and began hosting games. Winnipeg has been playing mostly road games.

Milwaukee is about a five-hour trip from Columbus meaning his family has been able to see him play in-person.

“They’re huge baseball fans,” says Peyton of father Billy Gray and older brother Jordan Gray. “They get to live their baseball dream through me. They’ve traveled and supported me through all these years.

“It makes me happy to make them proud.”

Billy Gray played high school baseball at Columbus North and Jordan Gray at Columbus East. 

From 12 to 17, Peyton played travel baseball for the Indiana Blazers. Billy was head coach of that team in the early years and Shelbyville’s Terry Kuhn filled that role in the later ones.

Bowling is a big deal in the Gray family. Billy owns Gray’s Pro Shop in Columbus Bowling Center. Jordan is the men’s bowling coach at Marian University in Indianapolis and his fiancee — Jerracah Heibel — is an associate head bowling coach at MU. Billy Gray is a Knights assistant.

Lisa Gray, wife of Billy and mother of Jordan and Peyton, works for Bartholemew County Youth Services Center.

Peyton Gray holds a Criminal Justice degree from Florida Gulf Coast and goes on ride-alongs with police officers during the baseball off-season. He says he sees himself going into some form of law enforcement in the future.

Peyton Gray, of Columbus, Ind., has been a lights-out late-inning baseball pitcher for the independent American Association’s Milwaukee Milkmen in 2020. He played at Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed by the Colorado Rockies in 2018.

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

Bickel’s baseball track takes him to Bismarck Bull Moose

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Bickel just arrived with his third baseball team of summer 2020.

After splitting time with the Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League’s Mishawaka (Ind.) Brewers and the College Summer League at Grand Park’s Snakes, the middle infielder is with the Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose.

The Shawn Harper-managed Brewers lost this week to the Jackers in the tournament finals and the Grand Park league wrapped last week. Snakes manager Jake Martin and the rest of the team witnessed a home run by righty-swinging Bickel that TrackMan measured at 436 feet with a 103 mph exit velocity.

“I feel like I can do everything well on the baseball field,” says Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and a member of the Palm Beach (Fla.) State College squad. “I hit for power. I have speed. I am smooth in the field with a strong arm.”

“It all comes back to my work ethic and how hard I train.”

Bickel, who is primarily a shortstop but can play second base or third base, got to North Dakota’s capital city after a 14-hour drive from South Bend. He reached out to Bull Moose manager Mitchell Gallagher, sent video and stayed in-touch with the Xavier University assistant.

“He brought me aboard when they had a need for an infielder,” says Bickel, who joins a team that is 6-26 playing in the COVID-19-induced pod system. The North Dakota Region consists of three teams all playing at Bismarck’s Dakota Community Bank & Trust Field — the Bull Moose, Larks and Mandan Flickertails. Players are housed in a hotel two-to-a-room. The season is to continue until Sept. 1.

“Hopefully, I can put up so good numbers here since I won’t get much exposure this fall,” says Bickel, alluding to the fact that junior college baseball canceled its fall season, meaning the loss of more than 20 games at the Palm Beach State Pro Day. 

Online classes for the Business Management major begin Aug. 31. The school is closed until January, meaning Bickel will come home to South Bend after his time in North Dakota. Bickel’s 21st birthday is Jan. 21, 2021.

Born and raised in South Bend, Bickel got his organized baseball start at Chet Waggoner Little League, where he played until 9.

At 10 and 11, he played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers — first for Andy Biskupski and then Bill Petty.

After that came two summers with the Brian West-coached South Bend Baseball Factory. 

Longshots Baseball — based in Downers Grove, Ill. — was Bickel’s baseball home away from home. He played with that Rob Rooney-led organization in fall (weekday games and weekend doubleheaders).

Bickel was a three-year varsity player at Marian, playing for Knights head coach Joe Turnock — 2015, 2016 and 2018. 

His junior year, Bickel played in the Hitters/Prep Baseball Report Spring League in Kenosha, Wis.

His collegiate career began at San Jacinto College in Texas. After the fall semester, he transferred to Miami Dade College in Florida.

He struggled at the plate with the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Sharks and opted to take off 2019-20 to re-tool his swing. Bickel was offered a scholarship by head coach Kyle Forbes to join the Palm Beach State program. The Panthers are NJCAA D-I members and part of the Florida College System Activities Association

Jarrett, 20, is the middle child of Joe and Megan Bickel. Joe owns a lawn care service. Tyler Bickel is 23. Xavier Bickel is 17.

Jarrett Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., swings the bat in 2019 for Miami Dade College in Florida. He is now on the baseball roster at Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. (Miami Dade College Photo)
Jarrett Bickel (left) takes a throw while playing for Miami Dade during the 2019 baseball season. The 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., is now on the roster at Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. (Miami Dade College Photo)
Jarrett Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., played baseball at Miami Dade College in Florida in 2019 and is now on the roster of Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. (Miami Dade College Photo)
Shortstop Jarrett Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., played at Miami Dade College in 2019 and is now on the baseball roster at Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. This summer, he has played for the Mishawaka Brewers and Snakes of the College Summer League at Grand Park and just joined the Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose. (Miami Dade College Photo)

Confidence grows for Butler left-hander Graziano

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Graziano has learned lessons in confidence during his baseball career.

The left-handed pitcher built up a sense of determination that took him to weekend starter in his third season at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Years before, a surge of assurance had helped Graziano make the transition from the freshmen team to varsity as sophomore at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind.

Graziano credits Butler head coach Dave Schrage for giving him the courage to advance as a Bulldog.

“He wants to get the best out of you,” says Graziano of Schrage. “He definitely helped me settle in by instilling that confidence in me. 

“I feel like I was ready to throw pretty well.”

As a Butler freshman in 2018, Graziano made 13 mound appearances (four starts) and went 3-0 with a 4.70 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 innings.

Primarily a mid-week starter in 2019, the lefty appeared in 15 games (seven starts) and went 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 17 walks in 44 innings.

The Bulldogs were 8-7 and coming off a March 11 victory against Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) in Port Charlotte, Fla., when the team found out the 2020 season had been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were sitting at the pool,” says Graziano. “We thought we were coming back in two weeks.

“We were optimistic.”

It soon turned out that the rest of the campaign was canceled and student-athletes were sent home.

Graziano went back to northwest Indiana having gotten into four games (all as a starter) and went 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA, 15 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 1/3 innings. His first start was on a Saturday and the rest came on Sunday.

“I worked all fall to get there,” says Graziano of his role. “I finally got it. I really liked pitching on the weekend.

“Everyone’s locked in and there’s a little bit of pressure.”

When the 2020 shutdown happened, Graziano had already secured an internship and was looking to find a baseball team for the summer.

A double major in Finance and Risk Management, Graziano is doing his internship with Chicago-based Aon and pitching on weekends with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

Butler business school requires two internships,” says Graziano. “That’s 240 hours. You also take a class, write a paper and do interviews.

“It’s kind of a lot.”

For his first internship, Joe is on the clock online at his house in Schererville, Ind., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. He is upstairs while his mother, Roxanna, does her sales job with U.S. Steel, is in the basement. 

When Joe is done with his internship duties, he does his band and weighted ball work and heads across the street to Autumn Creek Park to play catch with younger brother Joshua. 

At 21, Joe is two years older than his brother. Joshua is enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Their father, Joseph, is a manager at the BP Whiting Refinery, which is very near where Joe is in his second stint with the Oilmen.

The summer right after he graduated from Lake Central in 2017, Joe appeared in seven Northwest Indiana games (five starts) and went 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA, 39 strikeouts and six walks in 31 innings.

“It was the first time I faced college hitters,” says Graziano. “I was playing with kids out of The Region. We were  finally on a friendly surface and can be teammates.

Manager Adam Enright, a Munster (Ind.) High School and University of Southern Indiana graduate, also worked closely with Oilmen pitchers.

In 2020, he is being used strictly as a reliever.

“I didn’t want to rush back into it,” says Graziano. “I’m pitching 2-3 innings at a time. I want to build my stamina and pitch count back up.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound southpaw took off about a week off when the 2020 spring season shut down then began training, lifting weights and throwing while reaching out to the Oilmen.

“I want to keep my spot when I get back to Butler,” says Graziano.

The Oilmen are managed by Chris Cunningham. Graziano spends most of his time with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko.

“I’ve been trying to take in as much information as possible,” says Graziano. “He’s been teaching me this forkball/splitter. I have pretty big hands.

“I like how (Pobereyko) thinks on the mound. You’re better than the hitter. Never lose confidence. I definitely like Po’s mentality.”

In the summer of 2019, Graziano pitched for the Coastal Plain League’s Fayetteville (N.C.) SwampDogs

It was a struggle at first.

“I started doing well toward the end,” says Graziano. “I got a lot better out there. I had a little adversity and I battled through it.”

Fayetteville was managed by David Anderson

Lefty Graziano was with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2018. There, he enjoyed living with a host family and got to play with Butler teammate Connor Schultz.

“You make a lot of new friends in summer ball,” says Graziano, who played for a Lafayette team managed by Will Arnold. Future Butler assistant Jake Ratz was also on the Aviators coaching staff.

Ben Norton is Butler’s pitching coach. He has taught Graziano a slider and helped instill confidence.

“He’s helped me develop into a great pitcher,” says Graziano of Norton. “He helps everyone

“If you struggle, he’s not going to give up on you.”

At Lake Central, three-year letterman Graziano went 20-7 (with a pair of perfect games), including 8-4 against Duneland Athletic Conference opponents. As a senior, he went 6-3 with a 2.11 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 13 walks in 60 innings and helped the Indians to an IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional title

He was all-DAC, all-area (Northwest Indiana Times) and Academic All-State.

Jeff Sandor was LC’s head coach for Graziano’s sophomore and junior seasons. Mike Swartzentruber took over the program in his senior year.

“(Sandor) is the craziest coach I’ve played for and one of the best coaches I’ve played for,” says Graziano. “He was tough on guys. But he had to be be. He demanded that level of play.

“You knew what you had to bring to the table.”

Graziano says Swartzentruber’s strength came in team building.

“Swartz was more calm than Sandor,” says Graziano. “We all knew what we wanted to do. We had a lot of good players. Swartz did a good job of bringing the team together.”

At Lake Central — a school with about 3,300 students — it is not uncommon for close to 100 players to try out for baseball. The high school is fed by three middle schools — Clark, Grimmer and Kahler].

“There’s a lot of competition,” says Graziano, who came through Grimmer. “You feel bad when your friends don’t make the team. The school is so big.”

While the rivalries among the middle schools is fierce, they become one team at LC.

While at Lake Central, southpaw Graziano used a curve ball that was “a little loopy and slow” that fooled many high school hitters.

When he got to Butler, he left the curve for a slider that has a tighter spin and has more horizontal than vertical break.

From his three-quarter overhand arm slot, Graziano also throws a tailing four-seam fastball and a “circle” change-up.

“It’s really good against righties,” says Graziano. “It has depth and tails away.”

Born in Munster, Ind., Graziano spent the early part of his life in nearby Hammond before settling in Schererville.

While playing for the Schererville Shock — coached by Dan Bosold and Dave Lopez — he made close friends. Among those are current Purdue players Ben Nisle and Bo Hofstra as well as Jarrett Lopez (who went to Purdue Northwest).

Grazing played for Apex Baseball in the summers leading into his last two years in high school. Marc Escobedo was the head coach. Brett Summers was his pitching coach/instructor.

“(Summers) always helped me,” says Graziano. “He was always patient.”

Graziano also enjoyed his time on the basketball court. At Lake Central, he played for head coach Dave Milausnic whom he salutes for getting the Indians ready for their demanding schedule.

“Our senior year, we didn’t have a big superstar,” says Graziano. “(Milausnic) had us prepared for every game. 

“I was the point guard as a senior. I was calling the plays and handling the ball a lot.”

Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons for Butler University in Indianapolis (2018-20). The left-hander was a weekend starter during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. (Butler University Photo)
The summer of 2020 is the second for Joe Graziano on the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Olimen. He played for the Whiting, Ind.-based team in 2017, right after his senior year at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. He has pitched three seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Northwest Indiana Oilmen Photo)
Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. The left-hander was a weekend starter in 2020. (Butler University Photo)

Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)

Former McCutcheon, Purdue hurler Wittgren finds his groove in Cleveland bullpen

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A change of baseball addresses meant a change in change-up approach for Nick Wittgren.

The 6-foot-3 right-handed reliever was traded from the Miami Marlins to the Cleveland Indians in February 2019.

The Tribe made a request of the former Purdue University closer and three-sport standout at McCutcheon High School — also in West Lafayette, Ind.

“When I got to Cleveland they told me my change-up plays pretty well and to throw it more to right-handers than I did in the past,” says Wittgren, who recorded a career-high 12 holds in 55 appearances and 57 2/3 relief innings. His 2.81 earned run average was 19th-lowest among American League relievers. “Roberto Perez was behind the plate and loved calling it.

“I almost felt like I threw my change-up more than I did my slider.”

Close.

According to Statcast data, Wittgren’s pitch arsenal included four pitches in 2019. He threw his four-seamer 66.4 percent of the time, slider 18.8, change-up 14.7 and curve 0.1.

“I was in my groove last year,” says Wittgren, who turns 29 on May 29. “I had my head where I needed it.”

With Miami in 2018, Statcast actually has Wittgren with a higher percentage of change-ups (15.7) as compared to sliders (12.8). Besides the four-seamer (62.7), there was also the sinker (7.5) and cutter (1.3).

With all the movement, Wittgren refers to his pitch repertoire as fastball, change-up and breaking ball.

Wittgren pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle. He throws across his body with his glove flaring out and whips around to deliver the baseball.

“I don’t know when I started,” says Wittgren of his mechanics. “In college I did it. It just works for me. I get the most force toward home. It’s really tough to pick up the baseball.

“To a righty I’m started with my arm behind them. It works in my favor.”

Wittgren favors sliders and four-seamers in on the hands with change-ups down and away.

“I started manipulated that pitch a little more last year,” says Wittgren of the change-up.

Indians pitching coach Carl Willis, assistant pitching coach Ruben Niebla and bullpen coach Brian Sweeney will often remind Wittgren to use that pitch.

With Cleveland, he occasionally got a chance to deliver that pitch and others to a familiar target.

Kevin Plawecki, a college teammate, was a back-up catcher with the Indians in 2019 (the Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox in January).

“It was kind of cool taking it back to the good old Purdue says,” says Wittgren. “We still clicked.

“I didn’t have the change-up in college. I didn’t need it.”

Wittgren played shortstop and pitched at McCutcheon for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

As a Mavericks senior, Wittgren was an MVP in tennis in the fall and earned the same recognition for basketball in the winter.

Following brother Kyle’s lead, Nick took up tennis as a freshman.

“It was a good way to stay active for basketball and baseball,” says Wittgren. “It helped with footwork and conditioning and hand-eye (coordination).”

Rick Peckinpaugh was Wittgren’s head basketball coach.

“(Peckinpaugh) brought the most energy and talent out in you,” says Wittgren. “We had a group that played together really well. He was there for every single person, trying to get us better.

“It was a pleasure and a joy playing for him.”

With no college baseball offers coming in, he was thinking about bypassing his senior year on the diamond and focusing on basketball.

“I was just looking for a way to pay for college,” says Wittgren. “I was not looking at the whole picture.”

Wittgren had his sights on teaching math and coaching — either at the high school or college level.

“My mom (Lisa) is a (fourth grade) teacher,” says Wittgren. “I love kids. I love numbers.”

Burton let Wittgren know that he had baseball potential past high school.

He said, ‘you have something special, don’t waste it,’” says Wittgren of Burton’s advice.

Besides that, Burton emphasized that Wittgren was part of a large senior class and he owed it to the guys he’d been playing with since sixth grade to finish high school strong (born in Torrance, Calif., and raised in Long Beach and Cypress, Nick moved to Indiana as a sixth grader; father Andy lives in San Juan Capistrano; Nick’s other brother is Jack).

“If Jake didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here,” says Wittgren. “He saw something in me.”

A few days ago, the player and his former coach connected via FaceTime and Burton got to see Nick and Ashley Wittgren’s 14-month old son Jackson.

At McCutcheon, shortstop/pitcher Wittgren’s velocity topped out around 85 mph for most of the his senior season.

“I never took reps off in high school,” says Wittgren. “I need to do this to get better.”

His arm was tired from the workload.

With a few days off prior to sectional, Wittgren was touching 90.

Wittgren pitched in the Colt World Series in Lafayette and was scouted by McCutcheon graduate Matt Kennedy, then head coach at Parkland College. He got Wittgren to come to the junior college power in Champaign, Ill.

Seeing that the Cobras were in need of a Sunday starter, Wittgren pitched an idea to Kennedy.

He wanted to only pitch.

Wittgren recalls the response of the man he calls “KY.”

“He said that might be one of the best decisions you ever make,” says Wittgren a decade later. “I brought you in as a pitcher. I wanted you to figure it out.”

The lanky right-hander went 10-0 with 54 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings for a Parkland that placed fifth in the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.

In the fall of his sophomore year at Purdue, Wittgren had an ulnar nerve transfer.

Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber wanted him to be the team’s closer in the spring of 2011.

“Whatever puts me out on that field is what I want to do,” says Wittgren, who finished 24 games and appeared in 29 with a Big Ten Conference-leading 12 saves to go with 55 strikeouts in 51 innings.

Schreiber (who later was head coach at McCutcheon and is now head coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) and assistants Ryan Sawyers and Tristan McIntyre (now head coach at McCutcheon) implored him to “trust your stuff and pound the strike zone.”

“They got me to throw certain pitches in certain counts,” says Wittgren.

He could change the batter’s eye level with fastballs up and sliders down. If he  pitched up and in, hitters would not be able to extend their arms.

Wittgren was named second-team all-conference and then went to play for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks that summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Schreiber asked Wittgren to be a closer again in 2012.

He pitched in 26 games, finishing off 25 and racked up 10 saves, setting a new Purdue all-time high with 22. He fanned 39 batters in 41 innings and was named third-team all-Big Ten. His two-year earned run average for the Boilers was 2.54.

Wittgren selected in the ninth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Marlins and made his major league debut for Miami in 2016.

On the Cape is where Wittgren first met Ashley Crosby. She was part of the media department for the elite summer circuit.

A few years later, strength trainer Ashley did an internship with Cressy Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and she began dating Nick, who was training in south Florida with the Marlins. The relationship blossomed. The married couple now lives near Miami.

During the COVID-19 quarantine, Wittgren works out in his garage gym.

“It’s a full set-up,” says Wittgren. “There’s anything you need.

Eric (Cressy) writes my program. My wife implements them.”

Ashley Wittgren has wealth of knowledge with an MS (Master of Science) degree and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Precision Nutrition (Pn1) and TPI accreditations. She is there to help her husband correctly perform the movements and get the most out of them.

“She could apply for a big league strength job if she wanted,” says Nick of his wife. “She walks and talks me through a lift so I can get as strong as I possibly can.”

During quarantine, Wittgren throws into a backyard net. On bullpen days, he throws to catchers living in the area brought together by CSP.

During the off-season, Wittgren long tosses. But as the season approaches, he gets dialed in to pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches.

“I want my release point during the season to stay the same on everything,” says Wittgren. “I keep it on a line the whole entire time and hit (the catcher’s) knees every single time.”

NICKWITTGRENINDIANS

Nick Wittgren, a McCutcheon High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University, is now a reliever for the Cleveland Indians. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 2016 with the Miami Marlins. (Cleveland Indians Photo)

NICKWITTGRENMLB

Nick Wittgren, who played at McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, delivers the baseball for the Cleveland Indians. He excelled as a set-up reliever for the Tribe in 2019. (MLB Photo)