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Cubs minor leaguer Jordan breaks down principles of infield play

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Levi Jordan, an infielder in the Chicago Cubs organization, holds an economics degree from the University of Washington.

To study economics is to look at efficiency, trends and systems. Jordan sees that transferring to sports and, specifically, baseball.

“There are more efficient ways to play the game,” says Jordan, who played 66 games for the Midwest League champion South Bend Cubs in 2019 and shared aspects of infield play at the monthly South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club session Monday, Dec. 16 at Four Winds Field. “You can master your foot work or perfect mechanics. There are just little things that you can add on to your game that makes you a more efficient player.”

Jordan covered areas such as pre-pitch routine, science and technique, circle of focus, the difference in corner and middle infielders, where and how to practice, communication and infield positioning and shifts.

Pre-pitch routine can go by many names – prep step, set step, de-cleat/re-cleat.

“Essentially, the pre-pitch routine is a way to adapt rhythm and timing,” says Jordan. “We’re trying to optimize range for infielders. We’re trying to give our infielders the best possible chance to make not only the routine play, but expanding their routine play range.”

And it’s another way for players to be on their toes and locked in.

Jordan explained science and technique in four parts:

1. Eyes register an event, message is set to the occipital (visual) lobe in the brain.

2. Message travels from the occipital lobe to the frontal (decision) lobe.

3. Decision is made to take action.

4. Motor cortex sends control signals to the spinal cord and on to the relevant muscles.

“Between .2 and .3 seconds your brain can react to something,” says Jordan. “I’ve been told it’s not humanly possible to react to something visual in less than .2 seconds.”

With the de-cleat/re-cleat, the cleats are literally taken up out of the ground and back into the ground.

“The reason for that is so that .3 seconds of reaction can happen while you’re in the air,” says Jordan. “Many coaches have told me you want to be on the ground at contact. I argue with them all the time. If I’m on the ground at contact, the next thing I have to do is pick my foot up off the ground, which doesn’t make sense.

“If the reaction process happens in air, your decision to move right or left happens before your feet are on the ground. Your feet can move in a way to move in that direction by the time you’re on the way back to the ground.

“That perfect timing is what optimizes our infield range.”

For right-handed throwers, the right foot hovers above the ground, there is a false step and they move to make the play.

Jordan was first introduced to the circle of focus at Washington, where he started as a walk-on out of Puyallup and wound up on the all-Pac 12 team and played for the Huskies in the College World Series before being selected by the Cubs in 29th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The Huskies head coach was Lindsay Meggs, former head coach at Indiana State University.

Mental coaches in the Cubs system explain the focus principle to players.

“As a human being if you really intently focus on something, you can only do it for a certain amount of time,” says Jordan. “We don’t want to always be ready. I know that sounds different, especially for younger kids.

“If your brain focuses for shorter intervals of time, you want to relax your brain when you don’t need to be focused per se.’”

Jordan says the infielders step out of the circle of focus between pitches.

“It’s a time to anticipate the ball being hit to you,” says Jordan. “You’re going over in your head that if the ball is hit to me, I know what to do.”

It’s a time where infielders can communicate the number of outs and “flush” their previous at-bat and focus on the next defensive play.

In between pitches is also a time to present in the moment and be where your feet are, something that the late Dr. Ken Ravizza, one of Jordan’s favorite mental coaches, talked about.

“Once I step into the circle of focus, that’s when the pitcher is in his motion,” says Jordan. “You want to eliminate thoughts at this point. You’re going to have some kind of rhythm with your feet, getting in the ready position and beginning that beginning that process of de-cleating/re-cleating with a clear mind. You’re expecting the ball and ready to make the play.”

Jordan has a lower prep step and will wait until the ball is crossing the contact zone to come off the ground.

To illustrate the difference between corner and middle infielders, Jordan used Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman and Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies.

As a corner, Chapman has a lower head and eye level, a wide base, the glove is his shin or knee. It is the best position for him to move one or two steps left of right.

“At third base and first base, you have less time to react to the ball,” says Jordan. “You’re closer to the plate compared to a middle infielder. You don’t necessarily have time to get into a sprinting position. The majority of your plays are one, two, maybe three steps to your left or right.”

As a middle, Albies stands with a high, upright posture with his hands at his hips and a narrow base. This allows him to be quick to sprint and is the best position to cover more ground left, right, forward or back.

“We’re trying to cut out nonsense movements — things we don’t necessarily need to do – to be more efficient infielders,” says Jordan. “I don’t know that the timing is different between corner and middle infielders. Everybody should be in he air at contact.”

Jordan says players can get better at pre-step routine etc. during batting practice, drill time and speed/agility/weight room time.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important batting practice is for me to take those mental reps at third base, shortstop, second base,” says Jordan. “Being a utility player, it’s important for me to understand the angles and be comfortable in different positions seeing the ball off the bat.

“You can understand the type of pitch and what time does the bat come off the hitter’s shoulder for him to hit me the ball.”

Jordan notes that defensive shifting is growing in baseball cited a definition of a shift by David Waldstein in the New York Times: “It shows how a batter has the propensity to hit the ball to certain parts of the field. Teams will position their infielders accordingly.”

“I personally like it,” says Jordan. “It can really help your team win with team defense.

“It’s inefficient to put a defender where a batter’s never going to hit the ball, in my opinion.”

The pros of shifting including cutting down the size or something else.

“I see that all the time in Low-A ball,” says Jordan. “Some of my closest friends and teammates were left-handed batters who pulled a lot of ground balls.

“They would step up to the plate and see this giant, gaping hole at third base and try to put or lay a ball down the line for a double. All of a sudden, they are down 0-2 (in the count) because they are doing something they don’t normally do as hitters. That’s an advantage of the shift.”

On the negative side, it can put young infielders in uncomfortable positions. They are at places they don’t take practice reps.

“If not practiced enough, (shifting) can work in a negative way,” says Jordan.

There’s also the idea that many younger batters will mis-hit the ball, making the direction of the batted ball very unpredictable.

“It’s probably not worth putting on a heavy shift unless you are in pro ball or late college ball because hitters don’t really know what they’re doing (at the younger ages) and have a decent amount of bat control,” says Jordan.

Shifting can be done with data or by reading tendencies.

Jordan also sees the importance in communication in the infield.

“I was taught at a young age, if you move and you’re vacating a spot, you need to move somebody with you,” says Jordan.

For example: The shortstop takes a few steps to his left and the third baseman moves accordingly. The shortstop lets the third baseman know he is moving toward the middle or wherever.

The first baseman might let the second baseman know he’s playing on the foul line, moving in for a bunt or might need more time to the get to the bag if he’s shifted to his right. Fielders are talking about coverage.

“Communication is key,” says Jordan. “The success of your team defense and lack of errors depends on how successful you are at communicating with your (teammates).

“You’ve got to be vocal on the infield in order to relay those messages.”

Jordan says the Chicago Cubs use a numbering system for infield positioning (0 for straight, 1 for 1 to 3 steps pull side, 2 for 3 to 5 steps pull side and 3 for heavy shift). These come out of the dugout.

Others might use hand signals. That’s what was done when Jordan was in college.

For the past several off-seasons, Jordan has worked with Billy Boyer (who is now infield and base running coordinator for the Minnesota Twins).

Boyer, who says “Defense is nothing but a glorified game of catch,” is what Jordan calls a true teacher of the game.

“There’s a difference between coaching baseball and teaching baseball,” says Jordan. “A lot of organizations these days are moving toward teaching because they’e seeing the results that it develops players a little better. “Players respond better to somebody teaching them something to do rather than the evaluation part of a coach. A coach will be intimidating to some players because they think they are evaluating.”

Jordan will conduct an infield camp for high school players from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20 at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center. For more information, call 574-404-3636.

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Levi Jordan, who played in the infield for the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in 2019, shared principles of infield play with the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Notre Dame’s Wallace explains recruiting process

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wanted: A baseball athlete who projects as a big league candidate who also has the skills to thrive in highly-competitive academic setting.

That’s sums up the wish list of new University of Notre Dame assistant baseball coach Rich Wallace.

Hired by new head coach Link Jarrett on a staff with pitching coach pitching coach Chuck Ristano, volunteer assistant Scott Wingo and director of baseball operations Steven Rosen, Wallace is charged with identifying and landing players that will fit the needs of the Fighting Irish as recruiting coordinator. He will also work with ND hitters and catchers.

Wallace shared his knowledge on recruiting and more at the first monthly meeting of the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club for 2019-20 on Monday, Nov. 18 at Four Winds Field.

“Our goal is to get Notre Dame to the College World Series,” says Wallace, who comes to the Irish from Jacksonville (Fla.) University, where he was Dolphins assistant in 2018 and 2019. “I’ve played against teams who did (go to the CWS). Those teams had (future) big leaguers.

“I’m looking for as many kids who want to be big leaguers as I can — not guys who just want to get drafted.

“It’s my job to find the guys who look like they actually could be big leaguers and mix them with the guys who want to be big leaguers and develop them the best that we can.”

Wallace says it is a necessity playing in a Power 5 league like the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“There’s no way for us to beat Clemson, Florida State, Louisville or Miami with guys that are just OK players,” says Wallace. “Coach (Jarrett) will coach them up. He’ll get them great. But there’s only so much you can do against those guys.”

What is the right kind of player for Notre Dame?

“One with a giant chip on their shoulder who wants to do something that’s really, really hard and they’re excited about that,” says Wallace. “It’s he not, he probably needs to go somewhere else. It’s just not going work.”

Pitchers must be good movers and have fastball command and/or an elite fastball or a premier secondary pitch (both is preferable).

“Give me at least one of the two,” says Wallace. “If you don’t have those in our league, you’ve got no shot.”

Do pitchers have to be big and strong?

“I’d love for the guy to be 6-foot-5 and throw 92 (mph) and have a good breaking ball,” says Wallace, noting that pro ball might snap up that kind of player before Notre Dame ever gets a chance to put them on their roster.

Wallace says that Georgia Tech and North Carolina go after both taller pitchers with heat and shorter hurlers with top-notch breaking balls in case they can’t keep the tall flamethrowers.

“We look for both of those,” says Wallace.

The Irish are after explosive athletes.

Once they are on-campus, it will be up to the staff to make them better.

“You have to trust what you do development-wise,” says Wallace.

As one of the top academic institutions in the country, Notre Dame has admission standards higher than most.

Wallace talked about the basic NCAA Division I requirements.

The floor is a 2.3 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale). All D-I athletes must complete 16 core courses by the end of the their senior year.

Recently, the NCAA has required that 10 of those core courses have to be done before they start their final prep year.

Wallace notes that the top two revenue generators at the NCAA Division I tournament level are men’s basketball and baseball, yet D-I baseball offers 11.7 scholarships (athletic aid) and can carry up to 35 players (no more than 27 athletes on scholarship).

“We’ve got to be really smart about who we are going after,” says Wallace.

Players on athletic aid must receive at least 25 percent.

At Notre Dame, the plan is to carry a maximum of 33 players in the spring (there are 41 on the roster now) on a combination of athletic scholarship and institutional aid.

In addition, NCAA rules no longer allow contact with underclassmen — on or off-campus — until September of their junior year.

There are contact, quiet and dead periods in the recruiting calendar and part of those are at the same time as the season.

Notre Dame tends to play games Friday through Sunday (sometimes traveling on Thursday) with on-campus games Tuesday and/or Wednesday. This means coaches mostly seeing players close to campus on Monday or Thursday (if possible) or missing games or practices to do so.

It’s the high school season — more so than the travel ball season — when Wallace and company want to see players perform.

“We not only want to recruit good players, but winners,” says Wallace. “We want to see them play for their hometown and with their teammates and classmates/

“I’ve got to find guys who really like to compete. That’s hard to do that in a summer setting.”

There’s a one-month recruiting window from mid-September and mid-October and then camps become key to get underclassmen in front of coaches.

Of the nine players who have committed to Notre Dame since Wallace arrived, seven have attend Irish baseball camps. The Irish already have two verbal commitments for the Class of 2023.

“For us, the camps are a huge recruiting tool,” says Wallace. “We’ve got to be smart in the way we use them.”

Wallace notes that campers get a sense of how things are done by ND staff.

“The way we run our program, it’s aggressive. It’s blue collar,” says Wallace. “We present that in camp.

“If the kid is scared off by the way we run things in camp with the intensity and high pace, it might not be the place for him. That’s OK, too.”

Wallace recommends that whatever school a player is considering, it is advisable for them to attend the school’s camp to get a real feel for the program and coaching staff.

“Much of my time is spent on the phone talking to scouts and coaches I trust,” says Wallace. “I build that list so when I do go out I have a plan to go see everybody I need to see.”

Sometimes he likes a player on the other team better than the one he has gone to see.

Such was the case of outfielder Nate Roberts, who went from Northwestern University to Parkland College to High Point (N.C.).

As a High Point recruiter, Wallace got on the phone to head coach Chris Cozart.

“I want the Roberts kid?,” says Wallace of that conversation. “‘He’s playing right field for Parkland. Coach, he’s going to change our program.’

Cozart’s reply: “We need a center fielder. If he’s so good why is he playing right?”

“Wallace: “Because the center fielder is going to play in the big leagues.”

We end up getting the right fielder. He’s a fourth rounder. He led the country in on-base percentage and runs scored. He ended up as a first-team All-American. He pretty much changed the program at High Point.

“The center fielder we couldn’t get was (future big leaguer) Kevin Kiermaier. He turned out to be a pretty good baseball player.”

Notre Dame does not get many junior college transfers since those players must have met requirements to get into ND coming out of high school and have 50 percent of their credits toward Notre Dame degree (the NCAA requires 40 percent) transfer.

The Irish do get graduate transfers.

Wallace says some programs “over-recruit” to prepare for players who sign with pro teams out of high school or might go to another school late in the recruiting process.

“At Notre Dame, we’re not doing that,” says Wallace. “It’s tough to tell a kid to invest in Notre Dame, believe he’s going to get his degree here and before opening day, we chop their legs out (by cutting them from the team).”

When a scout or the player themselves says they are going pro, it’s ways to prepare for that.

“It’s the guy who nobody thinks is going to sign and somebody tries to sneak him in the 29th round for $10,000 and you’re caught,” says Wallace. “I can’t go out in June and find somebody that can get into Notre Dame. It’s not going to happen.”

Being realistic throughout the whole recruiting process is another piece of advice from Wallace.

Can that player really play there?

Does it fit what they want or are able to do academically?

Wallace appreciates the dialogue that he can have with a high school coach who knows the score.

“Some coaches will call and say that guy can play for you,” says Wallace. “I’ll say, ‘have you ever seen us play?’ The answer is no. ‘Have you ever seen us practice?’ The answer is no.”

“Once we get to know you guys as coaches and you’ve seen us play and practice, it’s real easy.”

Another thing that drives Wallace crazy as a recruiter is the campus visit from athletes and parents who are not prepared.

“I’m asking (the athlete) questions and he has no idea what he wants to do,” says Wallace. “Mom is walking around the campus on Facebook. They don’t know any better.”

That’s where coaches can educate them — ask them to do their homework on the school and program, sign up for the NCAA Eligibility Center as soon as they enter high school if they have plans of playing college sports.

“The sooner we can put this in front of kids and their parents the better it is,” says Wallace. “(The Eligibility Center) will give them a free profile.

“If you make your guidance counselor aware, they’ll start sending the stuff in for you.”

It’s also a good idea to send short videos to the top five schools on your wish list.

Wallace says the contacting of coaches should be done by the player and not the parents.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘My son Johnny wants to play for you,’” says Wallace. “Then Johnny probably needs to pick up the computer. I’m sure he’s probably never put his cell phone down. He can send an email.”

Wallace does also not want to see the name of another coach in the league on the subject line.

“They forgot to change the email,” says Wallace. “That one goes right to the trash.”

While taking with coaches on the phone, recruits should let them know what they expect at the end of the rainbow. What are their goals? What degree do they want to pursue?

“At Notre Dame, they have to have some sort of academic goal or it’s just not going to work,” says Wallace.

As a player, Wallace grew up in St. Louis and moved to Orlando for high school. His best college baseball fit was the hometown University of Central Florida, coached by Jay Bergman.

“Pure toughness,” is how Wallace describes Bergman, who won 1,183 games as head coach at Seminole Community College, the University of Florida and UCF. “He still has a giant chip on his shoulder.

“If you didn’t show up everyday ready to work, somebody else will take you job.”

When Wallace arrived at the school and its pro-style atmosphere, there were 62 players on the fall roster. He had to work to find his place with the Knights.

He also saw how much baseball Bergman knew.

“He was magical,” says Wallace. “He would see things a whole other level.”

One time at Clemson, where the Tigers had not lost a non-conference weekend series in about 15 years.

At the end of the game, with UCF down by a run and runners on the corners, Bergman predicts that his first batter will double into the gap to score one run and that the next two batters will safety squeeze to plate two more runs and give his team a two-run lead and that’s just what happens.

Another time against LSU, he asks his No. 2 hitter to bunt a batter to second with one out in the ninth to get scoring position. They did just that and the Knights won.

“He knew how that game was going to play out,” says Wallace of Bergman, who began his coaching career at UCF then served with Cozart at High Point (where he first coached against Link Jarrett), Ed Servais at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and Chris Hayes at Jacksonville.

Wallace graduated from UCF in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies. He and his wife, Alex, have two girls — Easton and Maxx.

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Rich Wallace was an assistant coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University for the 2018 and 2019 baseball seasons before being hired at the University of Notre Dame. (Jacksonville University Photo)

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Rich Wallace (center) was an assistant baseball coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University before being hired at the University of Notre Dame. He is a Central Florida University graduate. He coached at UCF, High Point University and Creighton University before landing at JU. (Jacksonville University Photo)

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Rich Wallace is an assistant baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame on the staff of new head coach Link Jarrett. Wallace is the recruiting coordinator for the Irish and will also help with hitters and catchers. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

 

Hudson helps North Miami Warriors win first sectional

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

How revved up are folks around Denver, Ind., about their North Miami Middle/High School baseball program?

The Warriors just earned the first IHSAA sectional title in that sport in the school’s history.

North Miami (9-16) bested West Central, Caston and Northfield to reign at the Class 1A Caston Sectional and earn a berth in the South Bend Regional on Saturday, June 1 at Four Winds Field. The Warriors take on Washington Township at 11 a.m., followed by Fremont vs. South Central (Union Mills) with the championship at 8 p.m. Washington Township and South Central are tied for No. 4 in the final Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association regular-season poll.

“There’s a lot of excitement going on right now,” says third-year North Miami head coach Troy Hudson. “We had unbelievable support at the sectional championship game.”

Warrior fans stood up at the end of the game which saw North Miami outlast Northfield 1-0 in eight innings.

The day after the championship, the team gave back to the community by helping with tornado damage clean-up.

Hudson says that the roots planted when he took over are beginning to blossom on the field, with the home field and the feeder system.

North Miami goes to South Bend with a pitching staff led by junior right-handers Nathan Musselman, Jackson Green and Braxton Beal.

The lineup features junior lead-off man Eli Henderson plus Green, Musselman, sophomore Tyler Bauer, senior Jackson Holland, freshman Parker Johnson, sophomore Alex Masters and Corey Collins and senior Austin Carter.

Hudson’s assistant coaches are Josh Donathan (pitching), Steve Holland (catching), Jake Green (infielders), Daryl Schanlaub (outfielders) and Steve Frank (head junior varsity).

Warrior Field is North Miami’s on-campus home. The facility has undergone a complete transformation the past three years. Bullpens have been added on each side of the field with a new batting cage on the home side. The mound has been reconstructed. Infield and outfield warning tracks have been installed. The inside of the dugouts have been re-done. The infield has been re-leveled with new grass and the field re-edged.

“It takes a lot of time and a lot of commitment,” says Hudson. “But our school is the baseball of the community and (the field) is a good representation of the community.

“It gets kids excited when they’re playing on something nice.”

Hudson has increased his involvement with the Town & Country baseball program at Denver (which begins with T-ball) and helped get junior high baseball established at North Miami.

A combination of junior high and Babe Ruth, there were 11 players the first year led by Schanlaub and two teams of 12 each the next year, guided by Schanlaub and Shannon Floor. Last summer, the 15U team placed second to New Castle in the Babe Ruth state tournament and participated in regional play in West Virginia.

This year, Floor and Josh Hershberger coach the junior high teams.

This summer brings a high school team schedule.

“It gives the kids a chance at more baseball and more baseball knowledge,” says Hudson.

While there are no college commits on the current team, North Miami has sent Patrick Masters to Manchester University. Shane Holden played a season at Ivy Tech Northeast.

North Miami (enrollment around 290) is a member of the Three Rivers Conference (with Maconaquah, Manchester, Northfield, Peru, Rochester, Southwood, Tippecanoe Valley, Wabash and Whitko).

The TRC features mostly 2A and 3A schools with North Miami, Northfield and Southwood being in 1A. Conference schools play each other once to determine a champion.

The Warriors are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North White, Northfield, South Newton, Southwood and West Central.

Hudson is a 2006 graduate of Peru High School, where he played for Chuck Brimbury. He tries to follow the lead of his mentor and bring those qualities to the North Miami program.

“I learned a lot from him,” says Hudson of Brimbury. “You try to get the best out of your players.”

Hudson is building a culture where the good of the group comes ahead of that of the individual.

“You play for the guy next to you,” says Hudson. “What they should really care about is what the team is doing.”

Troy is dean of students at North Miami Elementary. His wife of 9-plus years, Amy, is an oncology nurse in Rochester, Ind. The couple have two children — son Kolten (9) and daughter Skylar (5).

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North Miami Middle/High School’s baseball team dogpiles after winning the school’s first IHSAA sectional baseball title in 2019.

 

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In his third season as head coach, Troy Hudson led North Miami Middle/High School near Denver, Ind., to its first IHSAA baseball sectional championship. The Warriors raised the 2019 trophy at the Class 1A Caston Sectional.

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For the first time in school history, North Miami won an IHSAA baseball sectional title. The 2019 Warriors won the Class 1A Caston Sectional.

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The Hudson family (clockwise from upper left): Amy, Troy, Skylar and Kolten. Troy Hudson is the head baseball coach at North Miami Middle/High School near Denver, Ind.

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North Miami Middle/High School won the 2019 IHSAA Class 1A Caston Sectional baseball title and earned a berth in the June 1 South Bend Regional.

 

Mental toughness key for Cubs minor league hurler Thompson

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Intellectual resolve helped Riley Thompson excel at high school and college baseball levels and he is hoping it will propel him as a professional.

Thompson, 21, is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher who played at Christian Academy of Louisville and the University of Louisville before being selected in the 11th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs.

He is now with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs of the Low Class-A Midwest League.

Thompson was picked in two previous MLB drafts (2015 in the 37th round by the Cincinnati Reds and 2017 in the 25th by the New York Yankees), but opted to stay in school.

After redshirting in 2016, Thompson appeared in 25 games for Louisville in 2017 and 2018. He started seven of 11 games in 2018.

His head coach for the Cardinals was Dan McDonnell.

“Coach Mac really harps on mental toughness and all the qualities that go along with that,” says Thompson. “It really helped me develop as a man and be ready for pro ball.

“He’s a great motivator. He knows what to say.”

Thompson got into nine games (eight as a starter) and went 0-2 with an 2.84 earned run average for the rookie-level Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds in 2018. He struck out 25 and walked nine in 25 innings.

In his short time in the organization, he has come to appreciate the way the Cubs handle their players from the nutrition and strength staffs to the facilities and accommodations they find for them.

“They really do treat us well,” says Thompson. “For that, I’m really grateful.”

There’s also the mental skills training.

“They do a good job of training our minds and getting us ready for the season,” says Thompson. “For me, it’s the ability to slow down the game.”

Thompson has learned to take a deep breath and realize that he may be just one pitch from an out. The training helps simplify things when chaos could be the rule.

Born in Evansville, Ind., in 1996, Thompson moved to Louisville around age 5.

He was a two-time all-state selection in high school and also played first base when not pitching.

At the end of the his high school career, Thompson played two summers of the travel ball with the Ironmen Baseball Club.

He was named to the all-tournament team at the 2014 Perfect Game WWBA 17U National Championship and was the top-ranked player in Kentucky by Perfect Game in 2015.

Outside of the mental toughness, what are his best qualities as an athlete?

“I feel I’m a pretty athletic pitcher,” says Thompson. “I have a good fastball and a good feel for my off-speed.”

The South Bend Cubs were to play a seven-inning exhibition against Notre Dame at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 3 and open the season at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, April 4 against West Michigan. Both games are at Four Winds Field.

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Riley Thompson (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Berlin sees giving back to the community part of South Bend Cubs’ duty

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“We’re not superheroes here, but we like to use our power for good.” — Andrew T. Berlin, owner and chairman of the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs

Berlin has used the strategies that have made him successful as a businessman, attorney and philanthropist in Chicago and brought about growth in downtown South Bend, where he enters his eighth season of owning a professional baseball franchise in 2019.

In November 2011, Berlin reached an agreement to purchase the South Bend Silver Hawks. He signed a 20-year agreement with the city of South Bend for the use of Coveleski Regional Stadium.

South Bend ended a 17-year affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks and began its first Player Development Contract with the Chicago Cubs beginning with the 2015 season. The current PDC ties South Bend and Chicago together through 2022.

Berlin says the South Bend Cubs have the advantage of being able to leverage the Chicago Cubs brand.

“There’s a lot of interest there,” says Berlin, 58. There has been talk about bringing the South Shore Line and its access to the Windy City to Downtown South Bend with the station a short walk from the ballpark.

Along the way, the park has had a name change to Four Winds Field. Millions of dollars have gone into renovations and other amenities, including the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and apartment buildings — The Ivy at Berlin Place — that are slated for completion this spring (Berlin signed the lease for the first of 121 units and expects to be in town for each homestand during a regular season which goes from April 4 to Sept. 2).

The Midwest League All-Star Game returns to South Bend for the first time since 1989 and three days of events are planned June 16-18.

Berlin and his off-field team, which now includes about 375 full-time and seasonal employees, including president Joe Hart, relish their role in South Bend and the surrounding area.

“The health of the city is something we take seriously,” says Berlin. “We’re not a government entity. We’re a private corporation. But we see the South Bend Cubs is part of the public trust, if you will.

“It belongs to the community in spirt and in soul. For us a happy and successful community is a happy and successful club. The team does better when the city’s doing better.”

Berlin sees it as a duty for his organization to impact areas like education and charity. He’s witnessed good being done by many entities not as high profile as a professional sports team.

“All of us here at the South Bend Cubs see it important to be giving back to the community,” says Berlin. “We want to see the tax revenues growing in the city so the city can invest money in infrastructure and reducing the amount of crime in the area — not just by more policing but providing more opportunities for the folks that are committing the crimes.

“They might see crime as the only path to financial success or relevance.”

Berlin went to California to learn more about the concept of what has been called “conscious capitalism.”

“It is good business to engage the community and help the community around you,” says Berlin. “Some people call it karma. Some people call it you get what you give.

“But as long as we’re a giving organization, the community ends up — whether consciously or subconsciously — rewarding us.

“We’re here to make a profit and support our employees with good wages,” says Berlin. “I delight in the fact that we’ve hired more people. We three times more employees now than there were eight years ago.”

Through games, concerts and other events, the club hopes to bring 400,000 or more people to Four Winds Field which allows more chances to give back.

“We’re helping folks out by doing a lot of philanthropic things,” says Berlin. “Giving money to worthy organizations that do a lot of good work. We do a lot of vetting of those organizations to assure it’s not going toward administrative costs.

“It’s very much a part of the heart and soul of the organization.”

SOUTH BEND CUBS

2019

Thursday, April 4

• Home and Season Opener vs. West Michigan, 7:05 p.m.

Midwest League All-Star Game Festivities

Sunday, June 16

• All-Star Concert at Four Winds Field (artist to be announced in the coming weeks).

Monday, June 17

• Fan Fest with autograph sessions with six former Chicago Cubs players, including Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins and Andre Dawson plus East and West All-Stars. Proceeds from Fan Fest ticket sales will go to one of five charities selected by the fans (Beacon Children’s Hospital. Logan Center, Pet Refuge, South Bend Education Foundation or United Way of St. Joseph County)

• Home Run Derby featuring MWL All-Stars.

• 2016 World Series trophy will be at the park.

Tuesday, June 18

MWL All-Star Game Luncheon at Century Center, 11:30 a.m. with keynote speaker and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

MWL All-Star Game, 7:35 p.m. The game will be broadcast live locally by WMYS (My Michiana) and regionally by WCIU (The U Too in Chicago) for the first time in league history. South Bend Cubs broadcaster Darin Pritchett will have the TV call.

Approximately 3,000 tickets have been sold for the All-Star Game and 500 tickets have sold for the All-Star Luncheon.

Promotions

• Dog Day Mondays. Fans can bring their dogs to the ballpark and fans can enjoy $2 hot dogs, $2 popcorn and $2 peanuts. There will be free Fun Zone wristbands for ages 12-and-under. This excludes May 27 and Aug. 12.

• $2 Tuesdays. Fans may purchase $2 tickets in advance for Tuesday games — online only. The offer is valid for April 14, May 7, May 28, Jine 4 and Aug. 6.

• Bobblehead Nights are scheduled for 2015 South Bend Cub David Bote (Wednesday, June 5) and Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish (Wednesday, Aug. 21).

• New theme nights include Polish Heritage Night (Thursday, April 25), PBS Kids Day (Sunday, June 23 and Sunday, June 30) and Dino Day (July 11). Full descriptions and theme days are available on SouthBendCubs.com.

• Fans are invited to share their photos and videos taken at the ballpark all season long by submitting them on MySouthBendCubs.com.

• Two April Saturday dates will have 4:05 p.m. start times with gates opening at 2.

Food

• The “Sweet Spot” dessert stand, located beside Gates A, is a new concession option. It will feature hand-dipped novelty ice creams and elephant ears and takes the place of the former Burgertopia location. Burgertopia is getting its own separate stand on the first base side concourse. An Italian sausage sandwich with peppers and onions has been added to the menu.

• Loaded tots will be served for $5 at the Waveland and Sheffield stands.

• Fresh Squeezed Lemonade will be available beginning in May.

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ANDREWTBERLINMILB

Andrew T. Berlin, owner and chairman of the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs, has his minor league baseball franchise practicing “conscious capitalism.”

 

IUSB’s Buysse stresses importance of receiving to baseball catching

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Catchers can do this every single day.”

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

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

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

“Catchers can do this every single day.”

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

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

“Protect your neck,” said Buysse.

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

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

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DOUGBUYSSEIUSB

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

 

Haley sees importance of building culture, knowing how players learn

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Every head coach or manager has to find a coaching style and a way he is going to run his baseball team.

Mark Haley, who coached and managed in professional baseball for more than two decades including 10 years as manager of the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks (2005-14), shared his ideas on team management at the monthly meeting of the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Four Winds Field.

Haley, who has talked about the presentation with friend and San Diego Padres manager Andy Green, emphasized the importance of building relationships and communicating with young athletes.

It is helpful to know the background of players.

What’s their family life like?.

What makes a kid the way he is?.

Because of the commitment of money and time, this is critical in professional baseball.

“It’s surprising how mentally fragile and insecure some of the best big leaguers are,” said Haley.

There are many differences in any given locker room.

These include cultural, social, economic, religious and in motor development.

“It’s a melting pot,” said Haley. “We (as coaches) have to dig deep. Give everything to your players and expect nothing in return.

“We’re here to help them. We’re here to develop.”

Haley outlined three primary learning styles (ways of processing information) — Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic.

Once the coach sees how an individual learns, he can find ways to get a message across the way that player will best receive it. The coach’s way is not always the only way.

“We pass judgement on kids because it’s not how we learn,” said Haley.

From working with him in the Chicago White Sox system, Haley knows that Hall of Famer Frank Thomas was a visual learner.

“He’s got to see it,” said Haley of The Big Hurt.

Visual learners want to see a picture and video. They notice things around them. They want information in writing.

A tip for this kind of learner is to use video to exaggerate the area that’s being worked on. Video can be used to anchor something visual and fix it in the player’s mind.

Auditory learners tend to use their voice and their ears. They remember what they hear and say. They want to know the “Why.”

They want no outside distractions.

Instructors need to repeat the information in “their words.”

It is also helpful to give the same instruction but in a different context.

Coaches are encouraged to make these auditory learners talk about the subject with a teammate.

Former White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko was auditory.

“You have to talk his language,” said Haley, noting that Konerko would use lingo that would have most running for a kinesiology book.

Aaron Rowand, a former White Sox outfielder, was kinesthetic. He learned by doing.

“He just wants to do drills,” said Haley.

Kinesthetic learners want to move, touch, create and physically interact.

They will be facially expressive and move around when they are interacting.

They want to know “How” to do something.

“They are the workers,” said Haley of kinesthetic learners. “They are the cage rats.”

With this kind of learner, coaches are advised to go over the area they are teaching with a step-by-step approach.

Haley talked about building a team culture. He defined it as “the formal or informal organizational systems the coach establishes to move the team towards its goal.”

Part of building a productive locker room is having a common goal.

“We have to have a commitment,” said Haley.

Roles include starter, key backup player or reserve/role player.

“Know your role and perform it well,” said Haley. “Clearly understand your role for team success.”

Players should understand complimentary roles.

“It gives them direction so they’ll know exactly where they’re at,” said Haley. “Never evaluate another kid to a player. You’re just creating animosity. Don’t humiliate them by saying ‘you’re not as good as him.’”

Haley accentuated the fact that it’s a performance culture that’s being built.

“Everything is done on how well we do, how well you coach etc.,” said Haley. “Feedback about performance has to be clear.

“It’s got to be productive. Don’t let them float off. Maintain communication.”

It’s important to find inspirational leadership.

Not a believer in naming team captains, Haley said the leader will naturally emerge.

If that leader is also bringing the team down with their attitude, Haley said the coach needs to override them or, perhaps, find another leader.

At the pro level, leaders who are negative need to be weeded out.

Haley wants to build an empowering climate where every player has a say in the fortunes and direction of the team.

There should be a compelling vision.

“We as coaches can keep that to ourselves,” said Haley. “Let the vision be known. Kids like that.”

Haley also believes in shared values. His are Honesty, Trust and Respect.

“Those are the three I preach,” said Haley. “You need to do that non-stop.”

Goal orientation is also a part of the plan.

“We’ve got to accomplish this as a team,” said Haley.

A “Can Do” attitude is a must.

“It radiates through the dugout and the locker room,” said Haley. “Young kids battle the fear of failure. As a coach, I’m never going to do that. Never be afraid to fail.”

For Haley, it’s about baseball development. But it’s also about making better people. That goal needs to be remembered.

Haley said coaches should take advantage of innovation that is constantly being developed in baseball.

“Find new ways of doing things,” said Haley, noting all the new metrics and devices available to coaches these days.

“Kids want instant feedback on everything,” said Haley. “We have to adapt to them. They are not going to adapt to us. We can influence them.”

Haley identifies three types of players on a team. There’s those who are seeking to get to the next level (No. 1’s). There are those who are satisfied with where they’re at (No. 2’s). Lastly, there are the players who are not even sure they want to be there (No. 3’s).

Haley, who is director of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and a South Bend Cubs travel baseball coach, will see the No. 1’s all the time at the Performance Center. The No. 2’s come less often. The No. 3’s are a rare sight.

Having a team of 1’s and 3’s is a recipe for major conflict.

Haley said there are areas that help create cultural identity on a team. Besides common values, symbols will help build the cohesiveness and he likes to see these originate with the players.

Common heroes can also bring teammates together. Maybe they all root for the same big leaguer. That’s something else they have in common.

Rituals — chants, team meals, championship belts — also tell players they are a part of a group.

Coaches should show an interest in each athlete’s achievements and show pride in the team’s accomplishments.

With all of it, there has to be consistency.

“You have to practice it all religiously,” said Haley. “Good coaches don’t just talk. Everything that comes out of their mouth is for a reason.”

Haley said there is no absolute one right way to coach and finding a coaching style comes through trial and error.

Having a mentor helps. Haley’s was Jim Snyder, who spent a lifetime in the game including stints as a coordinator of instruction in the White Sox organization.

The final Cubbies Coaches Club meeting of the off-season is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5. For more information, call (574) 404-3636 or email performancecenter@southbendcubs.com.

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Mark Haley, director of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and a South Bend Cubs travel baseball coach, talked at the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club meeting Tuesday, Feb. 5 about team management. (Steve Krah Photo)