Tag Archives: Fort Wayne Cubs

Brunson productive in final days as Saint Francis player

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Alec Brunson is coming to the end of his college baseball career and he’s doing it with a flourish.
Starting in left field and hitting in the No. 2 hole in the batting order, Brunson has been productive for the University of Saint Francis (25-23 overall and 14-18 in the Crossroads League).
Going into a conference series Friday and Saturday, April 29-30 at Bethel, righty swinger Brunson is hitting .341 (57-of-167) with six home runs, two triples, 17 doubles, 36 runs batted in and 38 runs scored.
The CL tournament is scheduled for May 6-10.
He enjoys the 2-hole behind Xavier Nolan and in front of David Miller and Sam Pesa.
“I get more AB’s (hitting second),” says Brunson, 22. “If I get on, more times than not Miller and Pesa will hit me in.”
Lefty stick Miller has plated 55 and righty Pesa 38.
In 2021 — Brunson’s first season with the Cougars after transferring from Purdue Fort Wayne — he hit .272 (56-of-206) with 10 homers, four triples, nine doubles, 38 RBIs and 51 runs for 56 games (53 as a starter) and was selected all-conference honorable mention.
When deciding to change schools, Brunson went where cousin Kristian Gayday is an assistant coach.
“I’ve hit with him since I was 12,” says Brunson. “There was no better option than playing for him and I’ve had two of the better seasons I’ve had in quite some time.”
Brunson is also enjoying his time with Saint Francis head coach Dustin Butcher.
“His personality is amazing,” says Brunson. “He’s a great guy overall. He’ll do anything for any of his players.
“That’s the type of coach I always wanted to play for.”
A 2018 graduate of DeKalb High School in Auburn, Ind., Brunson was then a catcher. He would up catching and playing in the outfield and at first base at PFW. He was used at first base at Saint Francis in 2021 and third base in summer ball. An outfielder last summer with the Terre Haute (Ind.) Rex, he was named a Prospect League all-star.
“I’ll play wherever they need me,” says Brunson. “My strengths are my hitting and arm. Sometimes I don’t make the best reads in the outfield, but my arm makes up for it. Even when my swing is not perfect it’s still good enough to get a base hit.”
Commencement at USF is scheduled for May 7 and Brunson is scheduled to get a degree in Criminal Justice.
He is pondering his future.
“I’m hoping to play independent (pro) ball before I get a big boy job,” says Brunson, who is also considering considering going into law enforcement but is also feeling the tug of coaching.
“I’ve thought about coaching a lot,” says Brunson, who has helped teams at Auburn Little League and in other capacities. “I’ve helped teammates with their swings. I feel like I really understand swing types and what drills can help.
“I can’t get away from the game yet. There’s something about baseball that keeps bringing me back.”
Brunson plans to be a graduate assistant at Saint Francis in 2022-23 to his foot in the coaching door. He says he will pursue either at Masters of Business Administration (MBA) or an Athletic Administration degree.
Born and raised in Auburn, Brunson played in two stints at Auburn Little League and travel ball with the Fort Wayne Cubs (later known as the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks). As a teenager, his D-backs head coach was Javier DeJesus (now pitching coach at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne).
At DeKalb, Brunson played for Tim Murdock. The 2017 Barons won 19 games and finished as runner-up in the DeKalb Sectional.
“I loved him as a coach,” says Brunson of Murdock. “He allowed us to do us. He knew we had played with each other since we were 12.”
Brunson played in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.
Alec is the son of Jason and Jennifer Brunson and older brother of Bella Brunson.
Before selling in 2021, Jason was co-owner of Captain’s Cabin on Crooked Lake. The business was once owned by former major league outfielder “Jungle Jim” Rivera. Jennifer is in pharmaceutical sales with Bristol Myers Squibb. DeKalb senior Bella plans to attend Indiana University.

Alec Brunson (University of Saint Francis Photo)
Alec Brunson (University of Saint Francis Photo)

Carroll graduate Kuhns honing catching chops in Texas

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sebastian Kuhns is growing as a baseball catcher and the northeast Indiana native is doing it in northeast Texas.
The 2020 graduate of Carroll High School in Fort Wayne is a “COVID” freshman at Paris (Texas) Junior College, which is about 100 miles from Dallas.
Through the Dragons’ first 17 games of 2022, Kuhns was hitting .400 (10-of-25) with five doubles and nine runs batted in over eight games while splitting playing time with freshman Zach Munton.
Kuhns, who missed his senior season at Carroll because of the pandemic, Kuhns split his time in the summer of 2020 between the Chad Hines-coached Indiana Prospects travel team (he played for the Prospects in 2019, too) and the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He ended up with the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers.
Kuhns was at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for the 2021 season and hit .268 (11-of-41) with one home run and 13 RBIs in 18 games.
He did not play in the summer of 2021, but trained at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind. He did overall and throwing with Greg Vogt, Anthony Gomez and Justin Hancock, hitting with Quentin Brown and Noah Niswonger and strength workouts with Michael Hammerstand, Christian Sullivan and Bram Wood.
Kuhns is considering another summer of training at PRP Baseball while possibly playing in the CSL.
When Kuhns made it known that he would be transferring from Lincoln Trail, a couple of schools reached out. Among them was Paris, which had three catchers moving on.
“I shot Coach (Clay) Cox a message,” says Kuhns. “He responded and now I’m here. I really enjoyed my phone call with him. I could tell everything he said was genuine.
“I can’t not say enough about Coach Cox. He’s one of the top motivational coaches I’ve had. He knows what to say to get us fired up. He made it clear what the expectations are. Last year (Paris) had like 3.8 team GPA. They do things right here.”
Kuhns signed at Paris — a National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Region 14 member — in mid-June. He he arrived Paris in the fall he was given No. 47.
Any significance to to those digits?
“Not really. Most of our class had already signed,” says Kuhns. “Maybe my arm’s like an AK-47?”
Kuhns is on pace to earn an Associate Degree in Business Management while he hones his skills behind the plate.
“There’s so many games within the game that I love,” says Kuhns, who moved from first base to catcher around age 12. “I take pride in picking up mannerisms of all my pitchers. It’s different for every guy.”
Kuhns appreciates the engagement of the position.
“You’re part of every pitch,” says Kuhns. “My arm is one of the tools that helped me getting into college. I was good at blocking, but my receiving wasn’t great.
“(Receiving) is one of the biggest adjustments for me moving from high school to college, where there is a smaller strike zone. You try to steal strikes for your pitcher and keeps strikes as strikes. I’m working on that art. The strike zone in Texas is even smaller.”
Kuhns talks about the junior college baseball life.
“People throw around JUCO like an adjective,” says Kuhns. “Guys really embrace that. We’re just some gritty guys working hard. That’s one aspect I really like. It really is good baseball. Down here (in Texas) it really is no joke.”
Kuhns played at Carroll for head coach Dave Ginder, who stressed all the situational things like first-and-third and bunt coverages.
“I didn’t fully appreciate everything he did until I got into college,” says Kuhns. “He knows the game really well and he’s really good at passing it on to his players.”
“I see similarities with Coach Cox and Coach Ginder. (Cox) let’s us do our thing. He’s not going to fix it if it ain’t broke.”
As a Chargers sophomore, Kuhns was a third-stringer on a catching corps led by Hayden Jones (who is now in the Cincinnati Reds organization).
“I can’t say enough about Hayden and what he helped me with in high school,” says Kuhns. “He helped me grow up and mature and with baseball in general.
“He comes from a great family. I worked with his dad for a long time.”
Kuhns went to Ken Jones (now assistant at Purdue Fort Wayne) at World Baseball Academy for catching and hitting lessons. The player was also at Wallen Baseball Softball and with the Fort Wayne Cubs/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks.
Born in Auburn, Ind., Kuhns grew up in the Fort Wayne/Huntertown area. His parents are Brian Kuhns (stepmother Sherri Foster) and Kimberly Kuhns. His siblings are Josh Kuhns, Olivia Kuhns, Kesley Foster, Eric Foster, Chris Kiger, Cassandra Kiger and Kyle Kiger.

Sebastian Kuhns (Paris Junior College Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns (Lincoln Trail College Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns catches for Paris (Texas) Junior College. (PJC Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns catches for Paris (Texas) Junior College. (PJC Photo)
Sebastian Kuhns throws for Paris (Texas) Junior College. (PJC Photo)

Gayday sharing homegrown baseball know-how at Saint Francis

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kristian Gayday was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Ind., and that’s where he learned about baseball and where he continues to share his knowledge.
Gayday, who turns 30 on Dec. 20, is heading into his fourth season as an assistant coach at the University of Saint Francis, located on the Summit City’s west side.
Growing up near Waynedale on the south end of town, Gayday played at Don Ayres Little League, travel ball for the Aboit Braves and Fort Wayne Cubs (coached by Cisco Morales) then played on the last four teams at Elmhurst High School (it ceased to be a high school after 2009-10) and four years at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne). He has coached in the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks travel organization (formerly Fort Wayne Cubs).
Gayday played three seasons for Eddie Fields and his senior year for Zac Pace at Elmhurst, helping the Trojans go 18-7 and win the program’s first sectional title in eight years. A power-hitting shortstop, he was named all-Summit City Athletic Conference and all-area as a senior.
“(Pace) did a good team with a senior-laden team,” says Gayday.
Bobby Pierce was the coach of the IPFW Mastodons and Gayday played shortstop or third base from 2011-14. A righty swinger, he hit .274 (183-of-667) with 16 home runs, two triples, 31 doubles and 104 runs batted in 201 games.
“He’s such a cool person,” says Gayday of Pierce. “He’s figure out a way to develop guys. He’d break down the swing and show different perspectives.
“He taught me most of what I know today and was such a good mentor.”
In 2015, Gayday played mostly as a corner infielder for the Sonoma (Calif.) Stompers of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. That team was managed by Japan native Takashi Miyoshi.
Gayday, who has worked at The Diamond Baseball & Softball Academy in Fort Wayne, was called away from coaching a Fort Wayne Diamondbacks team to play for Sonoma. He anticipates coaching for the Manny Lopez-led D-backs in 2022.
At Saint Francis, Gayday is on the staff of Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher.
“He’s such a likable guy,” says Gayday of Butcher. “You know he has your back.
“I’m grateful to have him around and being a mentor to me.”
Primary duties for Gayday include working with USF hitters and infielders while also aiding in the running game.
One of the keys for Gayday’s hitters is “being athletic.”
To Gayday, swinging a bat requires attention to pitcher’s tendencies and the mental side.
“We want them to stay back instead of trying to force their body to do something,” says Gayday. “We do not want them having a good approach and not being pull happy.
“Instead of pulling, they can hit a curveball to right field and see what happens.”
Gayday stresses a “prep step” for his infielders.
“It’s a nice hop down into our legs so we can stay low,” says Gayday. “We want to set our feet and make a good throw.
“Everyone is progressing the right way.”
It also helps that the hops at Cougar Field are getting smoother.
“We’ve put a lot of time in that field to make it better,” says Gayday.
Saint Francis, a member of the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League, went 34-22 and stole 73 bases in 86 attempts.
Keys to success include reading the pitcher’s delivery (slide step, leg kick etc.) and his pick-off move.
“We want to put momentum into our steal,” says Gayday. “Being a half step quicker is what we’re looking for.”
While its currently a period where athletes are away from the coaching staff, there can be communication through calls and social media.
When the team comes back from break in early January, the Cougars will hit the ground running in preparation for the 2022 season opener Feb. 4 at Bethel (Tenn.) University.
Besides coaching, Gayday runs the shipping and receiving department for McMahon Best-One Tire & Auto Care in Fort Wayne and answers directly to Pat “Bubba” McMahon, who is also head baseball coach at Canterbury School in Fort Wayne.
Kristian lost both parents — Elmhurst graduates Johnny and Christine — in 2020. He has two older siblings — John Gayday and Natasha Nestleroad.

Kristian Gayday (University of Saint Francis Photo)

Fort Wayne’s DeJesus recalls amateur, professional roots

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Javier DeJesus was born in Puerto Rico, shined on the high school diamonds of Texas and excelled collegiately in Louisiana.

Drafted by the Minnesota Twins, his professional baseball career put DeJesus in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1994.

The former left-handed pitcher has been around the Summit City most of the time since toeing the rubber for the Fort Wayne Wizards (now known as the Fort Wayne TinCaps).

Javi met a local girl (Deborah), fell in love, got married and had three sons (Damon, Jordan and Evan) while staying close to his favorite game.

DeJesus’ day job as a health care administator keeps him busy, but he still has time to teach lessons at The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy, where Manny Lopez is director of baseball operations.

Javi DeJesus helps coach Fort Wayne Diamondbacks travel teams featuring Jordan (14U DeJesus) and Evan (12U). Damon DeJesus, who played at Indiana University South Bend and in the independent Empire League, is the 14U head coach.

DeJesus and former WOWO radio personality Charly Butcher founded the Fort Wayne Cubs, which later became the Diamondbacks.

Born in Ponce, P.R., DeJesus moved to Moss Bluff, La., as a boy then Beaumont, Texas, where he was one of only two sophomores to play varsity baseball at West Brook Senior High School (catcher Jason Smith, who went on to the University of Texas-Arlington and the Colorado Rockies organization, was the other).

It was as a 10th grader that DeJesus caught the attention of University of Southwestern Louisiana assistant coach Emrick Jagneaux.

“He said, ‘once you get this thing figured out with the curveball, I’ll come back and pick you up,’” says DeJesus of Jagneaux. “He was true to his word.”

DeJesus went to USL (now known as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette) and went 23-1 in three seasons (1990-92) for the Mike Boulanger-coached Ragin’ Cajuns. 

One of his signature victories was a complete game at Mississippi State University in 1991. That team was coached by American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ron Polk and inside rowdy and intimidating Dudy Noble Field.

The lefty was 22-0 as a starter. He came on in relief against Oregon State University and three crucial errors led to his only college setback.

In his three seasons, the Ragin’ Cajuns went 47-18, 49-20 and 38-23 and won two American South Conference titles and a Sun Belt Conference West crown. 

DeJesus won 13 games for Southwest Louisiana in 1992, was an All-American, co-Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year and selected to Team Puerto Rico. An elbow injury suffered during the Olympic Trials kept him from going to the Barcelona Games, where first-time Olympic baseball qualifier Puerto Rico placed fifth.

In the summer of 1990, DeJesus played American Legion Baseball in Louisiana for McNeese State University head coach Tony Robichaux and assistant Todd Butler.

Robichaux was head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette 1995-2019 (he died after the 2019 season) and won more than 1,100 games in his 33-year career.

The Twins selected DeJesus in the 17th round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He got into just two games in 1992 then went 9-0 at rookie-level Elizabethton, Tenn., in 1993. 

Ray Smith was the Elizabethton manager.

“He’s one of the nicest overall men that has ever graced us with his presence,” says DeJesus of Smith. “His philosophy was very simple: Show us what you can do.”

DeJesus remembers that Smith was very mild-mannered until the morning after an Appalachian League playoff loss at Bluefield, Va., that saw the team get extra-boisterous at the hotel.

Let’s just say the Twins were chewed out before riding back to Tennessee.

Playing at Low Class-A Fort Wayne in 1994, DeJesus encountered manager Jim Dwyer and pitching coach Stew Cliburn.

It was in Fort Wayne that DeJesus, who was in the bullpen at old Memorial Stadium, witnessed the first professional home run for 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez

DeJesus can still see the hanging slider by Shane Bowers, who had a cup of coffee with the 1997 Twins, that A-Rod popped for the Appleton Foxes.

Southpaw DeJesus was 5-2 with two saves, a 0.93 earned run average, 55 strikeouts and 13 walks in 38 2/3 innings at Fort Wayne and was at Double-A Nashville briefly before injury cut his season short.

DeJesus recalls that a Nashville TV station aired a lengthy piece about his injury. Xpress manager Phil Roof and pitching coach Rick Anderson were complimentary, saying how the lefty had the make-up to be a top-flight closer or set-up man. 

“My fastball never came back after surgery,” says DeJesus.

After four games at Double-A New Britain, Conn., in 1995, DeJesus spent parts of that season and all of 1996 in independent pro ball with the Alexandria (La.) Aces and the Rio Grande Valley White Wings in Harlingen, Texas.

DeJesus was with Alexandria again in 1997 and hooked on with the Chicago Cubs system, going 3-1 in eight games in 1997 and 5-5 in 1998 — both for High Class-A Daytona, Fla.

Stan Cliburn, twin brother of Stew and Alexandria manager in 1997, fondly recalls DeJesus.

“Great competitor and a winner when he toed the pitchers mound!,” says Cliburn. “Class act.”

Ricky VanAsselberg, who is now the general manager/field manager of the Acadiana Cane Cutters summer collegiate team in Lafayette, La., was an Alexandria teammate.

“I love Javi,” says VanAsselberg. “What a great guy. Great competitor.

“Warrior on the mound.”

It was Alan Dunn, Daytona pitching coach in 1997, that DeJesus learned the 3-2-1 pitch sequencing method that he employs with his young players to this day.

“He showed me that concept and it’s made a world of difference,” says DeJesus. “It gives you the opportunity to be your own pitching coach.”

The method begins with 12 pitches to various parts of the strike zone — inside and outside — and allows the pitcher to evaluate where is more or less consistent, where he is improving or regressing and where his mechanics can be altered to effect the release point.

DeJesus, who likes to take to Twitter to debunk modern training philosophy, is not a big fan of speed for speed’s sake.

“Look at players’ heart,” says DeJesus. “That can’t be quantified. They don’t play for numbers.

“Velocity is king now. To me that’s not pitching. That’s measurables. You have to integrate velocity and command. 

“If you have no clue where it’s going, what’s the purpose of training.”

When teaching his sons to hit, DeJesus has spent time listening to hitting coaches and it’s also helped him as pitching instructor.

“The more I know about hitting, the more I can help pitchers,” says DeJesus. “We can expose weaknesses.”

Puerto Rico-born Jose Santiago, a former big league pitcher and Daytona’s pitching coach in 1998, tried to get DeJesus to become a coach in the Cubs organization.

“I thought I still had some games to play,” says DeJesus. “I wanted to retire on my own terms and not someone else’s.”

The final three pro seasons for DeJesus were spent in independent ball — Nashua (N.H.) Pride in 1999, Lehigh Valley (Pa.) Black Diamonds in 2000 and Alexandria Aces in 2001.

The 2000 season is memorable because it wound up with the team living in tents when bankruptcy proceedings got them thrown out of area hotels.

New Orleans native Kim Batiste, who played on the Philadelphia Phillies World Series team in 1993, cooked for his teammates.

It was also in the Atlantic League that DeJesus got a valuable baseball lesson thanks to former big league slugger Ruben Sierra.

During a pro career that spanned 1983-2006, Puerto Rican Sierra was with the Atlantic City Surf in 1999 and rapped a few offerings from Nashua’s DeJesus.

Baseball lifer Doc Edwards was the Atlantic City manager. 

“Those are the guys who taught me how to pitch,” says DeJesus, who got a chance to talk baseball with those men deep into the night. “The conversation got me to understand what it is to pitch.

“Today, too many pitchers don’t call their own pitches. They don’t get to think for themselves.”

Javier DeJesus and his sons are involved with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Diamondbacks travel baseball organization.
Javier DeJesus was an All-American baseball player at Southwestern Louisiana University (now known as the University of Louisville-Lafayette).
Javier DeJesus with the Elizabethton (Tenn.) Twins (Classic Best Image).
Javier DeJesus with the Rio Grande Valley White Wings.
Javier DeJesus with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Fleer Image).
Javier DeJesus with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Fleer Image).
Javier DeJesus with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Fleer Image).
Baseball Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman (left) meets with Javier DeJesus. The latter played 10 years in pro baseball and lives in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Fort Wayne’s McKinstry builds Baseball I.Q. at early age, now in Dodgers chain

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach McKinstry started thinking about baseball — really thinking about it — as a youngster in Fort Wayne.

Alex McKinstry started talking with his middle child about the intricacies of the game as he practiced his craft year-round. It was a thrill to be able to swing the bat during the winter thanks to Rich Dunno and his indoor facility.

“Growing up around the game, I felt I was ahead of the kids in Fort Wayne with baseball,” says Zach, now 23 and a middle infielder in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. “I got to play it almost all year-round. That was was really nice.”

Alex McKinstry was Zach’s coach in his final travel ball season and is still a coach with the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks. The instructor at Bill C. Anthis Career Center in Fort Wayne was head baseball coach when Zach played at Fort Wayne North Side High School and is now the junior varsity coach at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School.

Zach’s older brother, Alex McKinstry, played four years of college baseball — two at the University of Northwestern Ohio and two at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne.

Zach was born in Toledo, Ohio, but moved with the family to Fort Wayne before elementary school. He started at Holy Cross Little League then played travel baseball from 10 on. First, there was the Summit City Thunder then Summit City Sluggers, Strike Zone Spiders and Manny Lopez-led Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).

Zach McKinstry played football and baseball at North Side, graduating in 2014. He then played two stellar seasons at Central Michigan University, earning co-team MVP honors in his final season of 2016 after hitting .325 with 10 doubles, two triples, 31 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases. Over two years, he hit .321 with 14 doubles, five triples, 45 RBIs and 20 pilfered bags.

As a draft eligible sophomore, McKinstry was selected in the 33rd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers.

The 2016 season was split between the Short Season Class-A Arizona League Dodgers and Low-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons. He played for Great Lakes, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes and Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers in 2017.

McKinstry started the 2018 campaign at Great Lakes and is now back with Rancho Cucamonga. In a combined 39 games, the left-handed swinger is hitting .388 with three home runs, eight doubles, two triples and nine RBIs.

Mostly a shortstop at Great Lakes, he has seen more action at second base with the Quakes. Rancho Cucamonga has a highly-touted shortstop in Gavin Lux and a top-notch second baseman in Omar Estevez.

Drew Saylor is the Quakes manager and Justin Viele the hitting coach.

LA’s Triple-A affiliate is the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Going back to his younger days, McKinstry counts his Baseball I.Q. as one of his strengths.

“It’s being able to think the game on my own and having a feel for the game of baseball,” says McKinstry. “I understand what’s going on.

“My best tool is on tool and defense. I have the arm for throwing the ball across the diamond.”

As a batter, he’s been used in the Nos. 1, 2, 8 and 9 slots in the order.

“I’m a get-on-base kind of guy,” says McKinstry, who carries a .526 on-base percentage for 2018 and .365 for his pro career. “I get on for guys who can hit the ball hard in the air.”

Steve Jaksa was Central Michigan’s head coach during McKinstry’s time with the Chippewas.

“He had a passion for the game,” says McKinstry. “He carried himself very professionally. He knew what he needed to do to win baseball games and he taught me how to be a winner.

“He also taught how to take your losses and use them to you advantage — learn from what you did wrong and what you could have done differently.”

Though Jaksa did not name captains for 2016, McKinstry was considered one that spring.

“He taught me how to be a leader,” says McKinstry of Jaksa, who led leadership training in the off-season. “I really value him for that.

“He let me carry that team a little bit.”

Coming out of his shell, McKinstry developed the ability to speak to a roomful of ballplayers as well as go one-on-one.

“He could always rely on me to go to a freshman.” says McKinstry.

Besides Zach and the two Alexes, the McKinstry family features wife/mother Tracy (who is employed at James Medical) and daughter/sister Haley. The latter was a soccer player at North Side.

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Zach McKinstry, a Fort Wayne North Side High School graduate who played at Central Michigan University, is now in the Los Angeles Dodgers system with the Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes. (Steve Saenz Photo)

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Zach McKinstry, who went to high school and played youth and travel baseball in Fort Wayne, Ind., was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016 and now plays with the Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes. (Steve Saenz Photo)

Former Adams Central, Huntington U. standout Combs preparing for second season in Giants system

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dalton Combs has gotten a kick out of his many baseball experiences.

This fall and winter, the graduate of Adams Central High School and Huntington University has been crafting a little kick in his left-handed swing as he prepares for his second professional baseball season in the San Francisco Giants organization.

“It’s a different timing mechanism to keep my front side back,” says Combs, a Monroe, Ind., native who has been staying in central Indiana and training at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield. “I’m learning how to use my hips and hands together and staying balanced throughout my swing.

“I’ve been in the weight room everyday working on strength and power.”

RoundTripper trainers have also helped him with improving his speed and agility as he gets ready to head to report to spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., on March 1.

“I want to keep developing as a player,” says Combs, 23.

Primarily an outfielder, Combs led Huntington with a .402 batting average and paced the Crossroads League with a .516 on-base percentage.

The senior rapped out 28 extra-base hits (eight home runs, one triple and 19 doubles) and was second in batting as well as runs scored per game (1.08) and hits per game (1.50) and ranked third in slugging (.654), total bases per game (2.44) and doubles per game (.40).

“I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything else,” says Combs. “I really enjoyed Huntington for four years. I learned advanced baseball techniques there.

“(Coach Mike Frame) was always pushing us to be the best we could.”

Combs cherishes the time he had with teammates and coaches.

“We had a great bond,” says Combs. “Everybody got a long well. That’s what I enjoyed most.”

Home games were played at scenic Forest Glen Park with its taller-than-most right field fence.

“My teammates joked with me that all I had to do was pull the ball for a home run,” says Combs. “But it seems I always hit home runs away (from Huntington).”

Combs, who hit .248, .386 and .355 in his first three seasons as a Forester, was selected in the 35th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Giants and played 23 games for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes of the Class-A Short-Season Northwest League. He hit .208 with one homer, two doubles and 11 runs batted in.

“I had a really good experience,” says Combs of his first season in pro ball. “The biggest thing I could take away is creating myself a routine so I can go and have the most success possible.”

A 2013 Adams Central graduate, Combs played four varsity baseball seasons for coach Dave Neuenschwander and was also coached by him as a football quarterback and defensive back.

“There was a work ethic he instilled in me,” says Combs. “He’d say, ‘you have a lot of talent, you’ve just got to keep working hard and doing your thing.’ He was always pushing me through the good times and the bad

“He taught us things — on and off the field — about being a good man and staying out of trouble. I really respect Coach Neuenschwander. I can call him a friend today. I appreciate what he did for me at Adams Central.”

The Flying Jets won baseball sectional titles in three of his four seasons (2010, 2011 and 2013) with one regional crown (2013).

Dalton, the son of Kurt and Marie Combs and younger brother of Kyleigh, got his baseball start at Monroe Youth League at Don Ray Memorial Park. At 12, his father coached a travel team — Indiana Aquablast — that went to Cooperstown, N.Y.

While in high school, Dalton played travel baseball for Fort Wayne Cubs, Summit Storm and USAthletic.

In the summers at Huntington, he was part of the New York College Baseball League’s Genesee (N.Y.) Rapids in 2014, Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers in 2015 and Northwood League’s Kalamazoo Growlers in 2016.

Combs graduated from Huntington with a sport management degree and can see himself one day running a training facility. He enjoys working with kids and he has helped out at several camps and with Huntington and its trips to Nicaragua.

DALTONCOMBS

Dalton Combs, a graduate of Adams Central High School and Huntington University, is now a left-handed-hitting outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

 

 

Homestead graduate Jernigan enjoying experience as second-year pro

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The key is to hit the pitcher’s mistakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jernigan graduated from Xavier with a degree in finance.

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

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

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

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

Jernigan says Wells recently talked with youngsters at Muncie Central.

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

ANDREJERNIGAN

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

 

Indiana Primetime Sports offers high level baseball with a personal touch

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Working with ballplayers at various levels, Indiana Primetime Sports is looking to make a mark on the travel sports landscape.

Started five years ago, the baseball part of a multi-sport travel and training organization based in central Indiana is now up to 19 teams in divisions 8U to 15U with plans to add older groups.

“We have some very elite teams and some much more developmental,” says Ryan Cole, Indiana Primetime Sports Inc. co-founder and president. “We cater to everybody. Every child deserves a great youth baseball experience. If you want to play and can make a team we can give you that same experience.

“A lot of teams would cut those (non-elite) kids and move on. I didn’t want to be that kind of organization. Let’s see what happens when they get into their man bodies and move into puberty. They may get to be 6-3” even though they are 5-2” as a 12- or 13-year-old.”

“We give them the skills to succeed.”

By pure volume — with 19 teams and a little over 200 players — there are bound to be plenty of hidden gems.

“You never know how somebody’s going develop,” says Brown. “Bodies change and you see them take off.”

To stay on the same page with philosophy and terminology, Cole and baseball director Quentin Brown actively participate in every practice at Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield for all 19 teams.

“We want the key concepts to be the same,” says Brown. “We’re uniform all the way through.

“It’s worked beautifully.”

The approach is expected to help Indiana Primetime players develop at a faster rate in the coming years.

“If they are at 12U and getting that high level instruction now, you don’t have to re-teach when they get to high school,” says Brown. “We coach them up the exact same way.”

The emphasis is on instruction and development. Young professionals coach the travel teams.

“We’ve eliminated ‘daddy ball,’” says Cole, a former Penn High School and Butler University football player who started the company with Brandon Lafferman. “We weren’t into politics.”

To be consistent Cole and Brown coach the coaches — at practices and through clinics and regular email communication.

“We have that personal touch and personal feel with every one of our teams,” says Brown. “We’re in it for the right reasons. We’re both passionate about the game and developing young players.”

Brown is a former coach for the Indiana Pony Express, Indiana Cage Rats and Fort Wayne Cubs (now Fort Wayne Diamondbacks) travel organizations and head coach from 2014-16 at alma mater Western High School (the 2016 Panthers were IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up). As a player, he was a four-year starter at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

Most Indiana Primetime rosters are small (usually no more than 13 players). This is done by design.

“Parents are paying money,” says Brown. “We make sure our coaches know everyone needs to get in and play. You never know what a kid can do when he’s put in the right situation.”

Younger teams have began their season while the older players will begin when their high school seasons are over. Some teams play 35-40 games while others might exceed 50.

Tryouts are held in August, followed by fall ball, where players get a chance to play and Cole and Brown can evaluate their coaches.

Indoor winter workouts are held once a week for up to 10 weeks (depending on age group). During the season, teams practice twice a week outdoors or indoors at Roundtripper (to stay in developmental mode).

“There’s always something you can work on,” says Brown, who joins with a few others in scheduling games and practices. “I want us to be elite in the upper age levels, but never lose our focus on development.”

With his experience as a coach and player, Brown helps parents and players through college selection and it’s not just the juniors and seniors who need to pay attention.

“Recruiting process has changed,” says Brown, who notes that NCAA D-I level teams are now sending coaches to watch 14U tournaments. “There are not of a lot of scholarships (11.7 at D-I). You can’t wait anymore until your junior year. And it’s going to keep getting younger and younger.”

That’s where travel ball exposure and training come in.

“It’s an investment in your child’s future,” says Brown.

RYANCOLE&QUENTINBROWN

Ryan Cole (left) and Quentin Brown run the baseball program for Indiana Primetime Sports. The central Indiana-based travel organization has 19 teams in 2017. (Indiana Primetime Photo)