Tag Archives: Generation Z

Purdue Fort Wayne’s Birely helps pitchers navigate a world of knowledge

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Blending various talents into a cohesive unit, helping them navigate a world of knowledge and encouraging a flow of ideas.

This is what Grant Birely gets to do as pitching coach at NCAA Division I Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne).

Birely, 36, has been on the job since the 2009 season. The Mastodons are scheduled to open the 2019 campaign Feb. 15-17 with four games at Alabama A&M.

The Purdue Fort Wayne roster features 14 active pitchers with two who will likely be medical redshirts.

“I make an individual plan with each of them to become the best they can,” says Birely. “As they get older and go through the program, they take a lot of ownership of their own development and I become a consultant for them. With the young guys, it’s about teaching them what it takes to pitch at this level.”

Birely says the cornerstone of Mastodons pitching is throwing and learning to spin pitches.

“In some form or fashion, there is throwing each day,” says Birely. “It might be 60 feet one day just to get loose. It might be 350 feet if they’re going to long toss that day. I don’t put a distance restriction on them. We tell them to listen to their arm and see how it feels each day.”

The point is, collegiate pitchers are asked to throw a lot.

“There’s no better way to learn to throw than to throw,” says Birely. “We’re working on their craft every single day.”

Playing baseball at the college level, especially Division I, is a major commitment between school work and hours spend getting ready for and playing games.

“We spend everyday with them and they spend so much time on it, they have to love baseball and showing up everyday and working on it,” says Birely. “One thing they’ll leave with is time management when they head into the real world.”

Purdue Fort Wayne pitchers do a hybrid training program that includes band work, stretching and some weighted-ball movements.

“We don’t dive straight into a full weight-ball program because these guys are competing the minute they get on-campus,” says Birely. “They never really have that down time to solely focus on velocity or anything like that. We’re always trying to work on command (of the strike zone) and commanding a second pitch.”

When the weather keeps the Mastodons off the frozen tundra, they do their throwing in a spacious fieldhouse large enough to make tosses of up to 250 or 260 feet.

“We’re very lucky to have that,” says Birely. “It’s just high enough so they can get a little bit of air under the baseball.”

The top two pitchers from 2018 in terms of innings pitched and victories are gone. Right-hander Brandon Phelps, a Fort Wayne Snider High School graduate, pitched 83 innings and won five games as a redshirt senior. Left-hander Damian Helm worked 73 1/3 innings with four victories in his senior season.

As the Mastodons head into the only four-game series of 2019, Birely says junior right-hander Chase Phelps (Brandon’s brother and also a Fort Wayne Snider graduate), junior right-hander Cameron Boyd (Fishers) and redshirt senior right-hander Shane Odzark will get the first opportunity to be starting pitchers.

The bullpen is being built with establishing strength in the late innings as a priority.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are excited to try to go and finish games,” says Birely, who counts freshman left-hander Justin Miller (Homestead), sophomore right-hander Sean Ferguson (New Haven) and freshman right-hander Jarrett Miller in the closer mix.

Other right-handers include sophomore Trevor Armstrong (Fort Wayne Snider), sophomore Nathan Hefle, freshman Garrett Hill (University), junior Tyler Kissinger, junior Duane Miller, sophomore Brian Skelton (Westfield) and redshirt freshman Cade Willard (Eastside).

Another lefty is sophomore Spencer Strobel (Avon).

Birely says two freshmen right-hander — Grant Johnston (Hamilton Southeastern) and Drew Pyle (Hagerstown) — have had injuries that will likely make them redshirts.

The pitching coach has learned that he is dealing with players who have different ways of learning. They might be visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.

“We have some guys who like to see themselves on video and they can make adjustments based off that,” says Birely. “Some guys I have to put in a position kind of in a kinesthetic way so they can feel it.

“It’s definitely a challenge to figure out each guy.”

And figuring it out is key.

“Anyone who is teaching might be the smartest person in the world but if they can’t get that information to the players, it doesn’t really work and it doesn’t help,” says Birely. “It’s been fun finding different ways to teach and different ways to convey information that I have to them.”

Birely notes that the current generation — Generation Z — gets a bad rap for asking so many questions.

“They have all this information at their finger tips,” says Birely. “Some of it is good and some of it is not good.

“I’d rather have them ask me a question or to try to figure something out than to just go and do it on their own.”

Group chats are a way that information is exchanged.

A pitcher will see a video in social media and ask, “what do you think of this, Coach?.”

Birely asks his hurlers to identify their favorite major league pitcher.

“That gives me some insight of who they’re going to watch,” says Birely. “My favorite pitcher to watch growing up was Greg Maddux. I was never the big velocity guy. Watching him throw a baseball looked like watching a wiffleball.”

He also followed the fortunes of another future Hall of Famer. Roy Halladay went to high school just a few years before Birely in nearby Denver suburb of Arvada.

Birley is a graduate of Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, Colo. He played for current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Bobby Pierce at Central Arizona College (the Vaqueros won the 2002 National Junior College Division I World Series) then finished his collegiate career at the University of New Orleans. That’s where he met his future wife, Bonnie. The two were living in the Big Easy when Hurricane Katrina hit and they moved closer to Grant’s family in Denver.

Retired as a player after one season of independent baseball with the Mesa Miners, Birley went into the business world when a friend asked him to help with freshmen tryouts at Regis Jesuit High School, figuring it would just be for a few hours on a Saturday.

“From the moment I walked out there, I was hooked,” says Birely, who spent two seasons at Regis Jesuit in Aurora, Colo. When Pierce became head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver, he invited Birely to become Roadrunners pitching coach. When Pierce moved to Indiana to lead the IPFW Mastodons, he asked Birely to come with him.

“I wouldn’t have this opportunity without him,” says Birely of Pierce. “He’s been a mentor and a great person to learn from.

“The best thing about him is that he lets everybody in the organization from players to staff go do their job

he gives them the freedom and creativity to make the program better.”

Pierce promotes a spirit of working together for a common goal.

“He’s very positive,” says Birley. “He’s great to work for. He’s awesome to play for. He allows the players the freedom to exchange ideas.

“Let’s figure it out together.”

Grant and Bonnie Birely have figured out how to balance baseball and family life. The couple has two children — Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School senior Tyler (who is active in theater and show choir) and sixth grader Kaylee.

“Like everyday says you’ve got to have a very understand wife,” says Grant. “She’s on this journey with me. Otherwise, I couldn’t do this.

“She keeps the fort going at home.”

Purdue Fort Wayne plays in the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). That makes for a good deal of travel. When the Mastodons go to the Dakotas, they often leave campus on Wednesday night and return at noon Monday.

“(Players) do a great job of doing their schoolwork on the road,” says Birely. “It’s not uncommon to walk through a hotel lobby and there’s 25 or 30 guys doing their homework.

It’s not uncommon for players to ask for the movies to be turned off on the bus to study for an upcoming test.

“We’ve had guys who understand what it means to be a true student-athlete,” says Birely. “It goes back to time management. They have to rely on themselves a lot to make sure they’re getting their work done.”

Coaches will proctor tests for professors, who email the exam and set the time limit and have the coaches sent it back. Other take online classes to allow flexibility and no requirement to be in a classroom.

Christine Kuznar is Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics and meets with players each semester to them on-track toward getting their degree as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“She’s the rock star behind the whole thing,” says Birely.

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Purdue Fort Wayne was formerly known as Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. In its new branding, the Mastodons have adopted black and gold as school colors with a hint of blue as homage to the IPFW brand. (Purdue Fort Wayne Image)

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Grant Birely, the baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne, is a native of Colorado who played and coached for Mastodons head coach Bobby Pierce before following him to Indiana. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

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Grant Birely has been baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) since the 2009 season. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

 

 

Purdue pitching coach Cribby builds relationships with Generation Z

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Elliott Cribby has knowledge to share about throwing a baseball.

But the main reason the Redmond, Wash., native became a coach was to build relationships and have a lasting impact on young men.

“I want to help them achieve their dreams,” says Cribby, the first-year pitching coach at Purdue University. “I get more joy doing that than I ever did when I was playing.”

The former University of Washington closer has learned how to communicate with Generation Z.

“They have a lot of questions,” says Cribby, 33. “They want to know why on a lot of things.”

Teaching methods have changed since Cribby was pitching for Lake Washington High School, Columbia Basin College, Washington and the independent professional Rockford (Ill.) RiverHawks.

“It can’t be all tough love or you’ll lose them,” says Cribby. “You have to be able to communicate the way they communicate today.”

The current generation is more visual and they take in information by doing rather than listening to a long lecture.

Cribby gets players to understand concepts like mechanics, mentality and strategy by sharing videos he’s seen on social media and by letting them see what they can do with the baseball in their hand.

A presenter at the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis, Cribby emphasizes communication and scheduling, maximizing time efficiency, bullpen work, simulating a game-like environment, “turning up the heat,” setting expectations, sticking with a plan, consistency and training the arm for strength and health as he gets the Boilermakers ready for the 2019 season opener on Feb. 15 at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Cribby insists that his athletes know what they’re going to be throwing in advance and posts a weekly schedule.

He cautions high school coaches about time.

“Understand your time is precious,” says Cribby. “March to May is three months.

“You must get creative to maximize the limited hours you have to get your pitchers the work that you need.”

Cribby says pitchers need their work everyday. They can build “feel” and confidence with 15 pitches per day in practice. They should work basic locations first. Down and away is thrown most at the high school level.

“Flat grounds are the best way to get the most reps in with the limited practice hours,” says Cribby. “However, they must be intentfull! You as coaches must control that. A miss up in the zone is not OK!”

If weather dictates, game-like conditions can be simulated in the cage with a mobile mound.

“Pitchers need to have hitters in the box as much as possible when they are throwing live or in a flat ground,” says Cribby.

Coaches should make their voices heard to create pressure.

“Don’t be afraid to get vocal!,” says Cribby. “Pitchers need to practice being ‘under fire.’ These environments in practice should be difficult.”

It’s key to teach them what creates success on the mound. That’s how to pitch.

Cribby insists that coaches do not deviate from the plan.

“Stay consistent with your mission,” says Cribby.

At Purdue, pitchers do a lot of throwing.

“The arm must be conditioned to the point where it can withstand the violence of throwing explosively through each start/appearance,” says Cribby.

For about 10 weeks since November, the Boilers have been ramping up and throwing long toss to build arm strength.

“Our guys throw twice a week and get after it,” says Cribby. “We want them to get adequate rest between throwing days. The number of throws is managed.

“The goal is to throw a little father each time out.”

Cribby has seen velocity increase as players are able to increase the distance of their long toss.

After long toss come two max-effort pull down throws.

They throw it on a line as hard they can,” says Cribby.

Then comes several arm care exercises. There are explosive movements with medicine balls along with core, forearm and shoulder work.

“We want to build up the whole arm and not just the shoulder,” says Cribby.

He has been on the job since July and Purdue pitchers have been competing since the fall. The first scrimmage of the preseason phase of practice was last Sunday. Cribby expects mound roles for the season to be defined in the next 10 days or so.

“The strength of the pitching staff is we have a lot of options,” says Cribby. “1 to 16, I’m pretty comfortable with the group we have.”

Among the arms is right-handers Andrew Bohm, Trevor Cheaney, Bo Hofstra, Trent Johnson, Dalton Parker and Drew Peterson and left-handers Ryan Beard and Hayden Wynja.

Redshirt sophomore Bohm started the Big Ten Tournament championship game against Minnesota and an NCAA Regional game against Houston in 2018. Purdue went 38-21 overall and 17-6 in the Big Ten.

Junior Cheaney made 29 appearances for the ’18 Boilers. Sophomore Hofstra got into 28 games (27 in relief). Sophomore Johnson, a Crawfordsville High School graduate, started half of his 18 appearances. Junior Parker was in the bullpen for all 18 of his contests, but he could find himself starting this spring.

Freshman Peterson (Chesterton) reminds Cribby of former teammate Tim Lincecum (he played with the future big leaguer during summer ball in high school and at Washington).

But not because of stature — Peterson is 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds and Lincecum 5-11, 170.

“They’e both happy-go-lucky,” says Cribby. “When they get on the mound, they are bulldogs. Play time is over. When the outing is over, they go back to their fun-loving selves.”

When Cribby met Lincecum, the latter was about 5-5. But he made the summer team and went on to have that dominating stretch for the San Francisco Giants (he went 61-26 with a 2.80 earned run average and 977 strikeouts in 881 innings from 2008-11).

“He always had an unorthodox approach with torque from the lower hips to the upper half,” says Cribby of Lincecum. “He loads up and (the pitch is) like a bullet coming out of a gun.”

Senior Beard started 11 times in 15 games last spring. Redshirt freshman Wynja (Heritage Christian) sat out the season and got stronger. the 6-8 southpaw was drafted out of high school by the Atlanta Braves but did not sign.

Cribby notes that Purdue’s 2018 closer, Ross Learnard, threw his fastball around 82 mph but came at the batter from the left side with a “funky” slot.

Seattle lefty submariner Will Dennis led the country in ground ball ratio and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 2015. He was still in pro ball in 2018.

“(Dennis) got outs,” says Cribby. “And that’s what it’s all about.”

Cribby likes his pitchers to have clean, repeatable motions and have mastery of a fastball, breaking ball and change-up to both sides of the plate. They must also have the ability to hold runners and understand counts.

While it seems that every reliever in the bullpen throws 95 mph-plus, college pitchers can excel with the right arm angle and a change of speeds.

Pitchers should be their own best coaches.

“We can’t be with our guys when they get to professional baseball where they’ll be competing with elite talent from all over the world,” says Cribby. “They need to know their mechanics better than anybody else.

“Do you want to be taken seriously? Be consistent everyday.”

At Purdue, that means in the classroom and on the field.

Cribby uses the stock market as a metaphor with his pitchers.

“I want to invest in you,” says Cribby. “With 18- and 19-year olds, it takes time

“Success creates confidence which creates a career.”

Cribby was brought to West Lafayette by Boilermakers head coach Mark Wasikowski, who played at the University of Hawaii and Pepperdine University in California and was an assistant at Southeast Missouri State, Florida, Arizona and Oregon before taking over at Purdue prior to the 2017 season.

“Coach Wasikowski is one of the best and brightest baseball minds I’ve been around,” says Cribby, who pitched against his Arizona teams and got to know ‘Waz’ when he was coaching at Oregon. “The detail is tremendous. He sees it in different ways.”

Wasikowski learned much about baseball on the staffs of Arizona’s Andy Lopez (a American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) and Oregon’s George Horton.

Cribby, who made 36 appearances with 10 wins and 13 saves in three seasons as a righty reliever at Washington, earned a sociology degree then a masters in intercollegiate athletic leadership from the Pac-12 Conference school. His father, Ed, was a four-year letterman for the Huskies (1974-77) and retired last year after 38 years at Boeing. His mother, Pam, also retired from the Aerospace and defense manufacturer.

Done as a player and working in a Trader Joe’s, Cribby coached with Baseball Northwest and at Columbia Basin and was asked by a friend to coach the junior varsity squad at Eastside Catholic High School near Seattle.

Former Seattle Mariners slugger Jay Buhner recommended Cribby for the head coaching job at Mount Si High in Snoqualmie, Wash., 30 miles east of Seattle. The Wildcats won a Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Class 3A state championship in his first season (2011) and were successful the second year.

Cribby went to Abilene (Texas) Christian University for the one season (2013) on the coaching staff of Ken Knutson, helping to lower the Wildcats’ team ERA from 6.35 the previous year to 4.38, then returned to the Pacific Northwest and was pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Seattle University (2014-18) on a staff led by Donny Harrel. He helped lead the Redhawks to 30-plus wins in 2015, 2016 and 2018. Seattle won a program-record 37 games and the Western Athletic Conference title in 2016.

Elliott and Shannon Cribby have been married six years and have two dogs.

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Elliott Cribby, a native of Redmond, Wash., who pitched at the University of Washington, enters his first season as baseball pitching coach at Purdue University in 2019. (Purdue University Photo)