Tag Archives: Grand Rapids

Chicago-born lefty Djuraskovic takes circuitous baseball route

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

Cal Djuraskovic has had short daily commutes.
And one very long one.
Born in Chicago and raised on the city’s southeast side, Cal attended nearby Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, Ind. — the alma mater of his mother.
Before he could drive, Cal got to school by boarding the South Shore Line at the Hegewisch station. The train trip took a little over 30 minutes each way.
A few years later, Djuraskovic (pronounced Jur-Oss-Coe-Vich) found himself studying and playing baseball at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Not wishing to sign a long-term lease during the uncertainty of COVID-19 pandemic, Cal drove back and forth to school everyday. That’s a roundtrip of about 330 miles or five hours of windshield time.
“I did not want to get stuck,” says Djuraskovic. “I gave pitching lessons after practice to make up the money for gas.”
And that’s when gas could be had for about $2 a gallon.
A left-handed pitcher, Djuraskovic took a circuitous route to Davenport and wound up close to home as a professional ballplayer.
After a stint with the independent American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, he finished the 2021 season with the Windy City ThunderBolts and is back with that indy Frontier League club in the Chicago suburb of Crestwood, Ill., in 2022.
“My whole life I wanted to be a pro ball player,” says Djuraskovic, 26. “By college I knew I can make it happen.”
Cal played outfield and had a little mound time at Bishop Noll before to his senior season, but it was that spring of 2014 that he blossomed as a pitcher. He threw a perfect game, a no-hitter and was named first-team all-Greater South Shore Conference.
His head coach for his first three seasons with the BNI Warriors was Paul Wirtz.
“He didn’t mess around,” says Djuraskovic of Wirtz. “It was a good thing. If you want to get better you have to take this game seriously.
“If you want to be a Warrior, you’ve got to act like one.”
He played travel ball with the Michigan Jets and competed against teams like Michigan Jets like the Indiana Bulls and Top Tier.
The southpaw of Serbian descent’s first college experience was at NCAA Division II Tiffin (Ohio) University. Deciding that wasn’t the right fit for him, he transferred to D-I Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Going from the D-II to a D-I, he was required to sit out a season as a “grayshirt” for 2016 and retained all his eligibility.
It was at CMU while building strength in the weight room that he broke knee cartilage that led to micro-fracture surgery. Then his scholarship was cut.
Cal landed on his feet with the D-II DU Panthers.
“By the grace of God I had Davenport,” says Djuraskovic, who played four years for head coach Kevin Tidey (Eric Lawrence was the pitching coach at the end of his DU days) and earned his degree in Sport Management with a minor in Business.
Used primarily out of the bullpen, Cal went 6-4 with a 4.04 earned run average at Davenport. It was in 2021 that he enjoyed his best season. He made 25 mound appearances and produced a 2.62 ERA with eight saves. In 44 2/3 innings, he struck out 61 and walked 16 and was named first-team all-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
He spent three summers in the Northwoods League — two stints in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., and one in Traverse City, Mich.
Along the way, Cal picked up a pitching mentor. It was during his time in the National Team Identification Series at USA Baseball headquarters in Cary, N.C., that he met Jim Hall.
Djuraskovic later went to his Hall’s house in Lockport, Ill., and he still occasionally gets pointers from him. Hall stays in-touch with Cal’s family.
“This man has definitely changed my life for the better,” says Djuraskovic of Hall, who is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association and Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame.
Cal’s mother is Allison Saberniak. Her father is Albert Saberniak, who turned Cal into a South Side baseball rooter.
“I’m a diehard White Sox fan,” says Djuraskovic. “I get that from my grandfather. We went to a couple of playoff games in ’05 (the year the White Sox won the World Series). We watch Cubs games to see them lose.
“But don’t get me wrong. If the Cubs gave me a contract I’d sign it in a heartbeat.”
Cal pitched in three games with Gary (one as a starter) and five with Windy City (all in relief) in 2021, going a combined 0-2 with two saves, a 1.59 ERA, 11 strikeouts and eight walks in 11 1/3 innings.
As a middle to late reliever for the ’22 ThunderBolts, Djuraskovic has no decisions and a 1.80 ERA in five games. He has eight strikeouts and three walks in five innings.
At 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds — he has trimmed down from 240 — Djuraskovic uses a three-quarter arm slot to deliver a four-seam fastball, slider, splitter and two-seam fastball.
His four-seamer has been clocked at 97 mph and sits at 92 to 94 mph.
Cal’s slider breaks “a little late and sharp.”
In his second full season of throwing it consistently, Djuraskovic learned his splitter from teammates and began doing as former splitter-throwing White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras by using a softball to stretch out the distance between his index and middle fingers.
“It has a mind of its own,” says Djuraskovic of the pitch that serves as a change-up. “Sometimes it gets a little knuckeballish. Sometimes it dives. The best I can do is try to spot it up.”
Lefty Cal’s two-seamer runs in on left-handed hitters.
Windy City, which is managed by Brian Smith, plays at Ozinga Field.
Djuraskovic has also enjoyed some Frontier League trips. He especially liked visits to the Florence (Ky.) Y’alls and Evansville (Ind.) Otters.
“I like the (Florence) area and they have a really nice ballpark,” says Djuraskovic. (Evansville’s Bosse Field) is so historic. You can feel the presence of greatness.”

Cal Djuraskovic (Windy City ThunderBolts Photo)
Cal Djuraskovic (Davenport University Photo)
Cal Djuraskovic (Windy City ThunderBolts Photo)

Cal Djuraskovic (left) embraces with catcher Manny Garcia after Djuraskovic “shut the door” June 15 to close out the game for the victorious Windy City ThunderBolts. (Windy City ThunderBolts Photo)

Mysliwy focused on Whiting baseball development

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

Tim Misliwy has a plan as he guides baseball at Whiting (Ind.) High School.
“My main point of emphasis of the program is to focus on player development,” says Misliwy, who led the Oilers for the first time in 2021 after serving as an assistant on the staff of Adam Musielak. “I believe my job is to try to get the best out of every player. We focus a lot on drill work and skill development to try to help every player improve.
“I want to put my players in the best position to continue playing baseball at whatever level they want.”
Recent Whiting graduates Nicholas Semancik (Class of 2020) and Austin Crocker (Class of 2021) are on the baseball roster at Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting.
Whiting (enrollment around 475) is a member of the Greater South Shore Athletic Conference (with Bishop Noll Institute, Boone Grove, Calumet New Tech, Griffith, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, South Central of Union Mills and Wheeler).
Hanover Central was the IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up in 2021.
Also in 2021, Whiting was part of a Class 2A sectional grouping with Bishop Noll Institute, Bowman Leadership Academy, Illiana Christian, Lake Station Edison and Wheeler. The Oilers have won four sectional titles — the last in 2019 (when they advanced to semistate before losing to eventual state champion Alexandria-Monroe).
“We have some big goals at Whiting,” says Misliwy. “We have goals of getting back (to semistate) and beyond that.
“We still have a few players from that (2019) team who are seniors now and they got a taste of that success and would like to recreate (in 2022).
“We were a very young program last year, which was my first season, and this year I’m hoping the guys develop and mature into a very successful team.”
Misliwy’s 2021 assistants were Steven Taylor and James Martinez and he hopes they will return in 2022.
The Oilers share a ballpark with Calumet College and the summer collegiate Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
“I love getting to play at Oil City Stadium,” says Misliwy of the diamond on 119th Street and very near Lake Michigan. “It’s a great facility and we are very lucky to get to call that our home field. A lot of teams want to schedule games with us mainly to come play at our park. The crew that takes care of the field does a great job making sure it is in great condition every year.
“I honestly think it’s one of the nicest home parks in the state of Indiana and we are obviously very proud to call it home.”
Oil City Stadium was host to the 2016 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period ends Oct. 16. With many players in football and other fall sports, Whiting did not have baseball activities this fall.
While the Oilers don’t have any official feeder systems, players tend to come from area leagues (including Lakeshore Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth) and travel ball organizations.
Misliwy is in his 13th year of teaching — all at the high school level. He instructs Advanced Placement Stats, AP Calculus, Pre-Calculus and Business Math at Whiting. He formerly taught math and coached baseball and bowling at Bishop Noll Institute.
A 2002 graduate of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, where played baseball for Caravan coach Brian Hurry, Misliwy went on to earn a bachelor’s degree as a Mathematics/Business Administration double major at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., a Secondary Education degree from Calumet College and a masters in Sports Administration from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Tim Misliwy

Righty Ledbetter’s route leads to Indiana

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

Collin Ledbetter was born and raised in Arizona, but the Midwest has also been pretty good to him as he has pursued higher levels of education and baseball.
In the summer of 2021, the right-handed pitcher experienced his first opportunity to play for pay in the United Shores Professional Baseball League.
The 25-year-old arrived this week back in his adopted hometown of Indianapolis where he will plot his future.
Ledbetter is a 2015 graduate of Northwest Christian School in Phoenix. He arrived at the same time as head baseball coach and former Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Rod Bair and was with the varsity for four years.
“We’re still great friends until this day,” says Ledbetter of Bair. “He had a great impact on me as a player and on my growth as a man as well.”
Starting out his college baseball journey in the Valley of the Sun, Ledbetter joined the Dave Grant-coached Glendale (Ariz.) Community College team and pitched for the Gauchos in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
“(Glendale) has a great reputation — not only in Arizona — but around the country,” says Ledbetter. “I remember being intimidated going into the program. Coach Grant was a real encourager.
“He always gave guys a chance to prove themselves and was always there for help when you needed it.”
Ledbetter was recruited out of high school by Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Mich. David Mitroff was the Golden Eagles head coach at the time. In Ledbetter’s second year at Glendale, Mitroff moved to Phoenix and became a reference for the pitcher’s next move.
Mitroff connected Ledbetter with coaching friend Rich Benjamin at Indiana Wesleyan University. After visiting the IWU campus in Marion, the player decided that it was the best fit for him and came to the Midwest.
“(Indiana Wesleyan) was an up-and-coming NAIA program looking to add pitching depth,” says Ledbetter. “It was the right place for me. It is Christian and a private school. My faith is very important to me.
“Coach Benjamin focused on creating an atmosphere where Jesus was first before baseball. Obviously, he wanted to win. He wanted us to use our talent to the best of our ability to God’s glory.”
Kris Holtzleiter was the Indiana Wesleyan pitching coach during Ledbetter’s time with the Wildcats.
“He’s one of the best encouragers I know,” says Ledbetter of Holtzleiter. “There’s nobody that doesn’t like him. He focuses on the positives, never the negatives.
“As someone who is hard on myself and expects a lot out of myself, I appreciated that.”
Ledbetter herniated a disc in his back that required surgery and redshirted in 2018 – his junior year — after playing in just six games.
At about the same time, Collin’s parents Paul and Deb and younger siblings Lauren and Carson moved from Arizona to Indianapolis to be closer to extended family.
Collin pitched for IWU — getting into eight games (five in relief) with a 0-2 record, 8.47 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 innings – and received a bachelors degree in Sports Management in 2019.
Wishing to pursue a Masters in Sport Management on an accelerated timeline with cost in mind, Ledbetter opted to transfer to Campbellsville (Ky.) University and used his redshirt senior season with the NAIA Tigers in 2020.
“(Head coach Beauford Sanders and pitching coach Brett Neffendorf) loved to win more than anyone I’ve ever played for,” says Ledbetter, who pitched in three games and 2 2/3 innings with a 0.00 ERA during the truncated 2020 campaign. “That’s a great thing. That was important to me.”
Ledbetter said the coaches were no-nonsense and helped players focus on short-term and long-term goals.
After his time at Campbellsville was there more baseball for Ledbetter?
He sure hoped so.
“The goal was always to play professional baseball and keep playing as long as I can,” says Ledbetter.
But there was plenty of uncertainty. Minor League Baseball canceled its 2020 season and many independent leagues followed suit.
Ledbetter kept himself in shape and began training with Jay Lehr at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.
“Jay really took me under his wing,” says Ledbetter, who had the chance to play catch with former big league pitcher Drew Storen and central Indiana minor leaguers like Parker Dunshee and Nolan Watson. “I saw a lot of development as a pitcher.
“I started showing signs of improvement and that I had the stuff to play at the next level.”
Ledbetter reached out to teams and leagues, including the four-team, Utica, Mich.-based USPBL (Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Eastside Diamond Hoppers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Woolly Mammoths).
It was only a matter of hours when director of operations Jason Orenduff replied to his email and he soon found himself headed to Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, about 25 miles north of Detroit.
Assigned to the Woolly Mammoths, the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder Ledbetter was a relief pitcher for a team co-managed by John Dombrowski and Taylor Grzelakowski.
“They definitely had our best interests in mind at all times,” says Ledbetter. “It was a fun atmosphere at the field every day.”
USPBL games were played Thursday through Sunday. There was no practice on Mondays and it was an optional weight room day. There were practices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We were split into position groups,” says Ledbetter. “Pitchers went through an extensive stretching routine. As a reliever I had to be ready at all times. Tuesday was usually my bullpen days with 20-25 pitches and weights. Wednesdays I’d play catch and work on off-speed grips from 60 feet.”
Ledbetter said gameday routines were based on the individual needs of each player. Some recovered faster than others.
“We would hold each other accountable,” says Ledbetter, who made 21 mound appearances (20 in relief) with a 2-4 mark, three saves, 2.78 ERA, 23 K’s and 22 walks in 27 2/3 innings.
While Ledbetter has received an invitation to return to the USPBL in 2022, the league does have a two-year cap.
“Their goal is to push guys out of their as quickly as they can,” says Ledbetter. “They want everybody to be signed my an affiliated team.
“They saw a lot of growth in me as a player. They want the best for everyone. They’ve encouraged me to look at my other options.”
Taking a break to re-set physically and mentally, Ledbetter does not plan to begin throwing again for three or four weeks.
Meanwhile he will pursue a part-time job and may give private lessons.
He will also take the time to enjoy family. Paul Ledbetter is in the insurance business. Deb Ledbetter is a former flight attendant. Lauren Ledbetter (21) is a radiology technician. Carson Ledbetter (19) is attending trade school to become an electrician.
Collin is not related to twins Ryan and David Ledbetter, but he has formed a relationship with the former pitchers at Heritage Christian High School, Cedarville (Ohio) University and the Texas Rangers organization.
Ryan Ledbetter works for a company that has done business with Paul Ledbetter’s firm. Over time, Collin got to know both Ryan and David.
“We hit it off,” says Collin. “We’ve kept in-touch ever since.”

Collin Ledbetter (USPBL Photo)
Collin Ledbetter (United Shores Professional Baseball League Photo)
Collin Ledbetter (United Shores Professional Baseball League Photo)

Valparaiso Post 94 fielding two American Legion teams in ’21

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

Valparaiso Post 94 is doing its part to keep American Legion Baseball in Indiana thriving.
In 2021, Post 94 counts Wayne Coil as Senior team field manager and Dan Sherman in the role of general manager/director of operations. Brian Niksch is head coach of the Valpo Juniors.
“We’re hanging in there,” says Sherman, who has been involved with the Valpo program for almost 10 years. Son Jake Sherman, a 2017 Andrean High School graduate, played for Charles Pratt Post 94. “Last year with the (COVID-19) pandemic and Indiana American Legion shutting down (its tournament series) hurt.
“We’re probably down 10 teams in Indiana (which fields 19U senior and 17U junior squads). The strongest programs are in Rockport (Post 254), Terre Haute (Post 346) and Kokomo (Post 6).”
As Post 94 GM/Director of Ops, Sherman helps raise funds, orders equipment and sets schedules. He’s even filled in as an umpire.
Artificial turf is going in at Valparaiso High School. That means that the VHS Vikings were “Road Warriors” (Senior Night was held at Valparaiso University) in the spring and the Post 94 is playing an all-away schedule.
Featuring many recent Valparaiso High graduates from the 2021 IHSAA Class 4A Chesterton Sectional champions, the Senior team plays American Legion and a few travel teams. Most games are within a 60-mile radius of Valpo.
In Indiana, there’s Crawfordsville Post 72, East Chicago Post 100/369, Highland Post 180, Hobart Post 502, Kokomo Post 6, South Bend Post 151, South Haven Post 502 (the Blaze is based in Hobart and draws high school players from Hobart, Portage, Boone Grove, Wheeler and River Forest) and, possibly, Bristol Post 143.
Michigan Legion opponents include Stevensville Post 568 and Three Oaks Post 204. There’s even Napoleon (Ohio) Post 300.
Valpo, which has a Senior (19U) and Junior (17U) squad, has or will see the Midwest Rockets, Morris Chiefs, Northwest Indiana Shockers and two Indiana Playmakers squads.
There will be regionals at sites to be determined for Senior and Junior teams. Junior regionals are July 8-11 with the State Finals July 15-18 at Terre Haute. Senior regionals are July 15-18 with the State Finals July 23-27 at Highland Park in Kokomo. The 94th American Legion Baseball World Series is slated for Aug. 12-17 in Shelby, N.C.
Valpo placed third in the 2019 senior tournament staged in Rockport, Ind.
“They play on bluegrass,” says Sherman of Joe Hargis Field, which Post 254 shares with South Spencer High School. “An army of guys to do maintenance and there’s covered stands.
“It’s top quality.”
Sherman, a former teacher and coach and a longtime attorney, played baseball at South Haven (Mich.) High School and Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., then until age 29 in an adult league.
He has an affinity for promoting amateur baseball and particularly likes the American Legion brand.
“Baseball has almost become an elitist sport for some that have the money,” says Sherman. “ $250 donation (per player) pays for everything.
“A big part of promoting baseball is having good facilities that are fan-friendly.”
When the Post 94 Seniors traveled to River Valley High School in Three Oaks, Mich., Thursday, June 16 to play the Post 204 Oakers he knew that J.C. German and son Jason German would have the field prepped and fans would be there to cheer.
Coil, a music teacher at Ben Franklin Middle School in Valparaiso who joined the Post 94 coaching staff in 2018, also coaches the junior varsity at Valpo High under varsity head coach Todd Evans, who encourages all his Vikings to play Legion ball in the summer.
One of Wayne’s sons, Alex Coil (VHS Class of 2018), played for Post 94 as well as the Northwest Indiana Rippers in the Babe Ruth World Series.
A broadcast intern this summer with the independent professional Frontier League’s Florence (Ky.) Y’alls, Alex is heading into his senior year in Sports Journalism at Arizona State University.
Nolan Coil, another of Wayne’s sons and a 2021 Valpo graduate heading to Calvin University in Grand Rapids to study and play baseball, is on the current Post 94 Senior squad. Four other Post 94 players — Nick Koprcina (Calvin), Kyle Lawrence (Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio), Jake Nightingale (Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich.) and Lucas Siewin (Kankakee, Ill., Community College) — are headed to college baseball programs in the fall.
The Post 94 Senior roster also includes Josh Brinson, Nate Guzek, Adler Hazlett, Erik Kallen, Matt Levenda, Matt Nightingale, Chris Rahn and Griffey Zborowski.
Three 2021 Valpo grads who have made college commitments not playing Legion ball this summer are Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association District Player of the Year and North/South All-Star Series selection Grant Comstock (Northwestern University), Ty Gill (Purdue University), Carter Kosiara (North Central College in Naperville, Ill.) and Elan Reid (Manchester University).
“I like the competition (of American Legion Baseball),” says Wayne Coil. “Many players have just finished their first year of college (at the senior level). The pitching is usually excellence.
“The distance to travel and expense is less than when my boys were in travel ball. We get to know the (other Legion) coaches a lot better. They are all volunteering their time. It’s a bunch of great guys.”
Coil sees Legion ball making a comeback.
“The enthusiasm is greater for it,” says Coil. “If only more high school coaches would become aware of what American Legion is all about.”
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gene Bottorff was infielder/pitcher Coil’s coach at Muncie (Ind.) Central High School.
“He was a great mentor,’’ says 1984 MCHS graduate Coil of Bottorff. “My older brother (Class of ’82’s Neal Coil) and I learned quite a bit from him.”
Wayne Coil graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and played in a summer baseball league after college.
Niksch, a 1997 Valpo High graduate, is the freshmen baseball coach and a business teacher at VHS as well as an IHSAA-licensed umpire. Son Jake Niksch (Class of 2023) has played for the Post 94 Juniors and Seniors this summer.
While most Post 94 Juniors players go to Valpo High, New Prairie, Portage and South Central (Union Mills) are also represented on a 14-player roster.

Valparaiso American Legion Post 94 in 2020 after a road game against Bristol Post 143.
Valparaiso American Legion Post 94 with coach Dan Sherman at the 2019 State Finals in Rockport, Ind.
Valparaiso American Legion Post 94 players prepare for a 2019 State Finals game in Rockport, Ind.
Nick Caputo (Valparaiso High School Class of 2018) bats for Valparaiso American Legion Post 94 during the 2017 State Finals in Terre Haute. Dan Sherman is in the third base coach’s box.
Nolan Coil (Valparaiso Class of 2021) delivers a pitch for Valparaiso American Legion Post 94 during the 2020 CB Memorial Tournament in Stevensville, Mich.

VanOeveren, Hamilton Heights Huskies ready to go

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A former all-Big Ten Conference and professional infielder was hired in the fall of 2019 as head coach of the baseball program at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind., and was getting the Huskies ready when the 2020 season was placed on hold and — eventually — canceled because of the pandemic.

Ryan VanOeveren, who was a standout at the University of Michigan and was selected by the Montreal Expos in the 26th round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, is now leading some Hamilton Heights players through twice-a-week IHSAA Limited Contact paces and is optimistic to really get rolling in 2021.

The Huskies have also been conditioning for the spring.

“It’s been pretty good,” says VanOeveren. “There’s been a good turnout. The kids have good attitudes and are hungry to get back on the field.

“We met Monday and the intensity level went up.”

VanOeveren, who was an assistant at Otsego (Mich.) High School after his playing career and more recently a coach in the Indiana Primetime Baseball travel organization, places an emphasis on fundamentals. Defense and pitching will be important to the Huskies.

“Making the routine plays on defense is absolutely critical to playing successful baseball,” says VanOeveren. “It’s about executing the fundamentals of the game.

“We’re building guys on the mound — Knowing when to push the envelope and when to back off. They’ve responded really well.”

Hamilton Heights (enrollment around 750) is a member of the Hoosier Athletic Conference (with Benton Central, Lafayette Central Catholic, Lewis Cass, Northwestern, Rensselaer Central, Tipton, Twin Lakes, West Lafayette and Western).

The Huskies are part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Delta, Guerin Catholic, Jay County, New Castle and Yorktown. Hamilton Heights has won two sectional titles — 2006 and 2012.

Recent Hamilton Heights graduates playing college baseball include Sam Fulton (Chattanooga, Tenn., State Community College), Alex Hewitt (Butler University in Indianapolis), Ike Peterson (Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.) and Reese Wills (Marian University in Indianapolis. VanOeveren says some current players are weighting their options.

“Recruiting is challenging for everybody because of COVID,” says VanOeveren. “I was recruited to numerous schools all over the Midwest. My advice: Don’t select the school just based upon baseball.

“Baseball comes to an end at some point for all of us.”

A 1991 graduated of Grandville (Mich.) High School near Grand Rapids, VanOeveren was initially recruited by Michigan assistant Ted Mahan (who went on to be head coach at Michigan State University) and Wolverines head coach Bill Freehan got involved near the end of the process. VanOeveren committed in May of his senior year.

VanOeveren knew about Freehan’s catching with the Detroit Tigers, but was at school in Ann Arbor when he learned about his exploits in baseball and football at Michigan.

“Coach Freehan was a genuinely caring person,” says VanOeveren. “He’d give you the shirt off his back.”

In his first fall, shortstop VanOeveren got to take infield instruction from volunteer assistant Moby Benedict

“Moby made me such a better infielder,” says VanOeveren.

Other U-M assistants during his career included Ace Adams and Steve Merriman.

“Ace was great to be around,” says VanOeveren. “He would not hesitate to get on you, but we were better for it.”

VanOeveren counted Merriman, who is expected to return to Michigan as pitching coach for 2021, as a friend back then and today.

“He’s a quality human being,” says VanOeveren of Merriman. “He shows that he cares about you if you work hard for him. 

“The baseball stuff falls into place after that.”

VanOeveren went to Michigan as an undersized player and continued to work.

“I was fortunate to have coaches that were patient for me growing up,” says VanOeveren.

After a strong junior season in 1994, teammates voted outfielder Rodney Goble and infielder VanOeveren as co-captains for 1995.

“It lead by example,” says VanOeveren. “I was not that verbal.”

As an Expos minor leaguer, VanOeveren played 49 games for the 1995 Class-A Albany (Ga.) Polecats. Several future big leaguers were on the team — among them Vladimir Guerrero, Brad Fullmer and Javier Vazquez.

VanOeveren was invited to spring training in 1996. At the end of camp, he was not assigned to a team as an infielder but was given the option of transitioning to a pitcher.

“I had a little too much pride back then,” says VanOeveren. “I asked for my release.”

VanOeveren went back to finish his college degree and moved on.

He was at Otsego for two seasons then did not coach again until the late 2010’s. By this time he had moved to central Indiana.

As an Indiana Primetime coach, VanOeveren gets to work with Quentin Brown and Ryan Cole and his players get to train at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.

“(Indiana Primetime) is good to the kids at Hamilton Heights, giving them the opportunity to play really competitive baseball,” says VanOeveren.  “I love Finch Creek. We’re spoiled getting access to that place.

“We’re very fortunate to live in this area and have those opportunities.”

Besides VanOeveren, the 2021 Husky coaching staff features varsity assistants Brian Clancy and Brad Pitts, junior varsity head coach Adam Hughes and JV assistant Cole Meyer. Clancy, who played at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., was on the 2000 staff. Pitts, who had coached at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, is a newcomer to Hamilton Heights.

Husky Ballpark has received laser-leveling and upgrades to the irrigation system from Marschand’s Athletic Field Service and a new backstop is going up. VanOeveren says new dugouts and other improvements could come this summer.

Ryan VanOeveren is head baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Brad Pitts is an assistant bseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Cole Meyer is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.
Brian Clancy is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.
Adams Hughes is an assistant baseball coach at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind.

Indiana Tech’s Alwine gains new perspective on coaching

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana Tech’s 2019 season ended in Lewiston, Idaho, at the NAIA World Series. The Warriors went 42-16-1.

Tech concluded play in 2020 much sooner than planned because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

With a win against Viterbo March 11 in Georgia, the Warriors finished at 11-5.

Since then, the Tech team and coaching staff have been moving forward while social distancing.

“Everybody’s numb to how it happened,” says second-year assistant coach Brent Alwine of how the season was rolling and then came to a screeching halt. “We’ve got (players) doing workouts. We’re hoping a lot of guys get to play this summer.

“So much is unknown.”

What is known for Alwine is that he is not the same coach at 36 and married with three sons and with many different diamond experiences behind him than he was at 23 and just out of college.

“I used to think there was only one way to teach,” says Alwine, who works with infielders and hitters. “You learn to adapt to the personnel you have rather than philosophy that’s cut and dried.”

It has also become relational vs. transactional. It’s a point that has become clearer since Brent and Brandi Alwine, a physician’s assistant for Parkview Health in Fort Wayne, have had Beckett (7), Bode (5) and Brooks (8 months). All three have baseball ties to their names.

There are four reasons for Beckett — the sports card magazine, the ballplayer (Josh Beckett), the brand of boilers his father, Jim, sells, and the town in Massachusetts where he worked at a camp with former Indiana University head baseball coach Bob Morgan. The boy’s full name is Beckett Steven James Alwine. Brandi’s father Steve passed away in 2001. The other middle name to to honor Brent’s father, who has coached high school baseball at North Miami and Peru.

Bode’s middle name is Maddux as an homage for Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.

Brooks is a nod to former Western Michigan University catcher Brooks Beilke.

“I’m coaching someone’s kids,” says Alwine. “I want to win. But I would rather win and 10 years down the line have a relationship with the players I coached.”

Alwine joined head coach Kip McWilliams in Fort Wayne, Ind., having been an assistant to Billy Gernon at Western Michigan (2011 and 2012), Ed Servais at Creighton University (2009 and 2010) and Gernon at alma mater Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (2007 and 2008). He holds a bachelor’s degree from IPFW (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and a master’s degree from Indiana University.

He was head coach at Perry (Mich.) High School (2013) and a director for Prep Baseball Michigan and has coached with the Summit City Sluggers, leading 12U, 13U and then 17U travel teams and served as an associate scout for the Texas Rangers.

“You learn a lot when you coach younger kids,” says Alwine. “You have to really explain things and get them to buy into it.”

An attribute that Alwine appreciates about McWilliams is that he values the opinions of his assistants.

“He lets his assistant coach,” says Alwine. “He doesn’t micro-manage and he looks for our input.

“I trust him. In today’s world, it’s hard to trust everybody.”

Alwine has a few points of emphasis with his infielders.

“I want them to be athletic and take good angles to the baseball,” says Alwine. “It starts with our throwing program. Throwing and catching is the main thing in baseball.”

He makes it a point to observe when his fielders are playing catch to see that they are getting their footwork right and taking it seriously.

“When the pressure’s on, a good throw is going to win you a game,” says Alwine, who has his infielders practicing double players during between-innings warm-ups.

Alwine observes how organized McWilliams is, something that is vital when you carry a roster of more than 60 players — varsity and developmental.

“You have to be organized to get everybody involved,” says Alwine. “Year 2 helped me see that a little better than Year 1.”

The Warriors make a point of hustling all the time — even the coaching staff runs on the field.

“That’s the way it should be,” says Alwine. “(On game day), it sets a tone for your own team and the team you’re getting ready to play.

“These guys are here for business.”

Alwine says having the season stopped is likely to make the players more appreciative of the opportunity to play when fall camp rolls around.

“Fall can be a tough time to motivate because there’s nothing on the line,” says Alwine. “(Players) should be excited. They had baseball taken away from them.”

Alwine says 10 of 14 seniors this spring have opted to come back for an extra year of eligibility granted by the NAIA.

With the Indiana Tech campus closed to all but essential workers, students have been finishing their spring term online.

“It’s new to a lot of these professors, too,” says Alwine. “Everybody’s going through the same thing. It’s brought a sense of community back.”

To stay connected the to the baseball community,  Alwine says Tech coaches have regular Zoom meetings. These have been done by class and within the staff, which also includes Gordon Turner, Miguel Tucker and Marshall Oetting, and will also include positions, incoming freshmen and transfers.

Alwine was born in Peru, Ind., and grew up in Mexico, Ind. He played soccer, a little basketball and baseball North Miami Middle/High School. John Burrus was the head coach for basketball and baseball. Alwine was a shortstop on the diamond.

At IPFW, he played second base for Gernon.

“He does things the right way,” says Alwine of Gernon. “He demands a lot of his players. He care for his players, too.”

Alwine went to Creighton to be a volunteer coach. Within a month of arriving in Omaha, Neb., a paid assistant position opened up and he took it. There, he was in charge of outfielders and catchers.

“It made me a better coach,” says Alwine. “I had to learn those positions in detail to make players better.”

Servais displayed an attention to detail and stressed the fundamentals.

“That’s why Creighton — year in and year out — leads the country defensively.”

Servais, the uncle of former big league catcher Scott Servais, did not get too high or too low.

“He’s very level-headed,” says Alwine. “He thinks forward — next player, next pitch, next at-bat.”

The Bluejays skipper has been rewarded with 745 career victories.

More than 20 players that have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including two at Creighton that made it to the majors — San Franciso Giants first baseman Darin Ruf and Baltimore Orioles left-handed pitcher Ty Blach.

Alwine coached infielders and hitters at Western Michigan. He was in the fall of his second year with the Broncos when he got into a very bad car accident on I-94 near Kalamazoo, Mich.

He was put into an induced coma with a traumatic brain injury. After a couple weeks at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, he was transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich. After about three weeks, he regained consciousness.

Among the first requests he had was for a second opinion on the plastic surgeon.

“I am very, very fortunate to be alive,” says Alwine. “God was looking out for me that day. The biggest thing is the amount of people who prayed for me.

“I had very positive people around me who supported me and got me through it. I get to coach baseball and see my kids grow up.”

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Brent Alwine (left) observes players during Indiana Tech’s 2019 NAIA World Series appearance. It was Alwine’s first season on the Warriors baseball coaching staff. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Brent Alwine (center) is in his second season as an assistant baseball coach at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2020. He is a graduate of North Miami High School and Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. (Indiana Tech Photo)

 

Fort Wayne native Glant’s baseball odyssey lands back in Muskegon

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nate Glant’s personal and baseball odyssey has taken him far and wide.

The 2002 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wayne High School graduate pitched at Muskegon (Mich.) Community College and Aurora (Ill.) University.

After his playing career, Glant was a commercial fisherman and a rancher and spent time in Alaska, Wyoming and Oklahoma.

Drawn back to baseball, Glant became a coach. He owned and operated Trident Baseball Academy in Ardmore, Okla.

He served as pitching coach at Dawson Community College in Glendive, Mont. Catcher Reynoso Pichardo, who is now in the Texas Rangers system, was at Dawson when Glant was there.

One summer, Glant was associate head coach/pitching coach for the Cortland (N.Y.) Crush of the New York Collegiate Baseball League, where he coached Philadelphia Phillies draftee and 6-foot-7 right-hander Jake Kinney.

The 2018 and 2019 seasons saw him work as pitching coach/recruiting coordinator at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. Before he shined at the university of Michigan and was drafted by the Houston Astros, outfielder Jordan Brewer played at Lincoln Trail.

The 2020 season marks his first as head coach at Muskegon CC. The Jayhawks are NJCAA Region XII members and in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association Western Conference.

Gaskill played for Dave Fireoved then two years for Tim Gaskill (with assistants Adam Swinford and Timon Pruitt) as a Wayne General.

“(Coach Gaskill) is one of my biggest influences,” says Glant. “His practices were individualized and focused on results. He was ahead of his time. He showed that each player is different. It was not a cookie cutter system.

“You also don’t have to do fire and brimstone to get results.”

As a Muskegon player, Glant spent two seasons with head coach Carl “Cap” Pohlman, who played in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

“Coach Pohlman taught me a ton about doing things the right way,” says Glant. “We would work work on mental side of things. You don’t worry about things you can’t control.”

Aurora coach Shaun Neitzel took a combination of players from differing background — junior college transfers and NCAA Division I kick-backs — and got them to jell.

“They would buy into the culture pretty quickly to have success,” says Glant. “It was knowing the recipe to cook things up.”

Glant learned the think outside the box in Montana.

“Weather changes tremendously,” says Glant. “You had to make sure guys were still doing something to get better. It was quality over quantity.”

He cites Marc Rardin at Iowa Western College for showing the way to success in a cold weather state.

“It’s more of a mindset and practice planning and having your guys doing something productive,” says Glant. “Midwest teams must have a little more of a chip on their shoulder and a blue collar work ethic.”

At Lincoln Trail, Statesman head coach Kevin Bowers gave Glant much latitude while finding and developing players to compete in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference.

“It’s the toughest Division I JUCO conference in the Midwest,” says Glant, who sent Lincoln Trail against Wabash Valley, John A. Logan, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Kakaskia, Southwestern Illinois, Southeastern Illinois, Shawnee and Lake Land. “We would shake the trees and find the diamond in the rough.

“With the pitching staff, Coach Bowers let me sink or swim,” says Glant. “Fortunately, we had success. It set me up for where I am now, being a head coach.”

At Muskegon, Glant is a one-man band.

“We do not a big recruiting budget,” says Glant. “It’s good to have friends int he coaching industry and to bounce ideas off of them.

One resource for Nate is older brother Dustin Glant, who was pitching coach at Ball State University before taking a job in the New York Yankees organization after the 2019 season.

“Having Dustin as a brother is nice,” says Nate. “I can pick his brain and thoughts on things. He had a heck of a year at Ball State (the Cardinals went 38-19 and Drey Jameson was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks).”

When recruiting, Glant prefers to see players in-person.

“I want that eye test,” says Glant. “I can see the intangibles and how they interact with teammates.

Most players come from Michigan and many hails from the Grand Rapids and Traverse City areas.

“To me, it’s all about a fit,” says Glant. “I don’t like people writing off divisions because of the perception.”

He likes to have recruits work out for him and learn what makes them tick.

“I like the JC level,” says Glant. “I like the developmental side of it.”

Going to a junior college allows a player to grow athletically and academically.

While the NCAA has to abide by care hours, junior college players can work on their craft throughout the school year. They can play 20 games in the fall and 56 in the spring.

“They get a lot of game experience right away, which I think is big,” says Glant. “They are facing some of the best 17, 18, 19 year olds in the country.”

All his outposts have led Glant to be the coach he is.

“I’ve kind of been all over the place,” says Glant. “Getting into the coaching game so late has shaped my perception of connecting with a person regardless of age and working at a common goal.

“There’s no hierarchy here.”

Glant currently has 14 pitchers on his roster and would like to have 16 or 17 since he will take his arms into MCCAA doubleheaders on Fridays and Saturdays and mid-week non-conference games.

He is focused on arm care and keeping his hurlers healthy so they can go on to pitch at four-year schools and, perhaps, beyond.

“We don’t burn them up here,” says Glant. “We now know how the human body functions. Some guys are flexible. Some guys are not.”

Glant says he wants his players to understand the “why.”

“We want to execute,” says Glant. “Do not give an at-bat away. Control the running game. You’re trying to win games and get better. Throwing strikes and getting guys out is the name of the game

“How you do that shouldn’t matter.”

But it’s not all about the game for Glant.

“I want to mold these kids to be a good husbands, fathers, people down the road,” says Glant. “I want them be respectful and say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no mam’ and be productive members of society.”

It’s like the late University of Louisana-Lafayette head baseball coach Tony Robichaux often said: “Baseball is what they do. It’s not who they are.”

NATEGLANT

Nate Glant began his college baseball career at Muskegon (Mich.) Community College and he is now heading into his first season as the Jayhawks head coach.