Tag Archives: Granger

Re-booted Michiana Brewers serve prep seniors, college players and more

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

The Mishawaka (Ind.) Brewers — a baseball team co-founded in the 1990’s by Shawn Harper and Alex Parker — took 2021 off and has rebranded as the Michiana Brewers.
It is an organization works to provide an opportunity for high school seniors, collegiate baseball players and recent college graduates to play competitive ball with home fields in north central Indiana.
With a focus on players in or about to enter college baseball with some former minor leaguers in the mix, the Michiana Brewers — renamed to reflect the wide area where the team gets players — will compete in the National Amateur Baseball Federation’s Major Unlimited Division and play an independent schedule. The South Bend semi-pro league consists of only two teams — the Brewers and South Bend Royals.
Under the guidance of manager Harper and pitching coach/assistant Chuck Bowen, the Brewers plan to play around 30 games from Memorial Day weekend to second week of August in 2022.
There’s typically one weeknight game (often on Friday) and a doubleheader or tournament on Saturday or Sunday.
The season opener is to be a home game with the Fort Wayne Jackers. A home-and-home series is planned with the Chicago Suburban Baseball League’s Beecher Muskies.
The 2022 Charlie Blackburn Major Division NABF World Series is to be played in Battle Creek, Mich.
Harper and Bowen place the level of play on the Brewers’ schedule at just below summer wood bat circuits like the Northwood League.
The Brewers recently secured Rex Weade Stadium at Harris Township Park in Granger, Ind. — home of Indiana University South Bend baseball — as one home field and hopes to also host games at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., and other locales.
Now that a home field has been secured, the recruiting process has begun.
Two John Glenn graduates — Calumet College of Saint Joseph baseball player Michael Machnic and Holy Cross College basketball player Billy Harness — have committed to the Brewers for the upcoming season.
Harper (a 1991 graduate of South Bend John Adams High School who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski then played for and managed the Indiana University South Bend club team) and Bowen (a 2007 graduate of John Glenn where played for John Nadolny and went on to play two years for Joe Yonto at Ancilla College in Donaldson, Ind.) recently met with and received support from IUSB head coach Doug Buysse and South Bend Cubs Foundation executive director, 1st Source Bank Performance Center director and former South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley.
Harper says he plans to carry a roster of up to 25 with some pitcher-only players. In the past, position players paid $200 to participate with pitcher-onlys paying $100. Sponsorships are being sought to cover team expenses.
Commitment is something Harper expects from his players.
“On the day of game, I want them to ask themselves if they are excited and can’t wait to get to the field,” says Harper. “If they are torn. If there’s a conflict at all, don’t play.
“In 16 years I’ve never forfeited one game. I’m very proud of that.”
Harper accepts players to miss 25 percent of the time as long they communicate that with him.
In October, Harper was inducted into the National Semi-Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in Evansville, Ind., after being nominated by former South Bend Senators manager and the man he replaced as South Bend semi-pro league president — Ron Milovich.
The best ways to contact are the Michiana Brewers Facebook page or by calling Harper at (574) 514-2028 or Bowen at (574) 780-0696.

Michiana Brewers (formerly Mishawaka Brewers)

Saint Joseph grad, Morehead State righty Rotkis knows confidence is key

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

Joe Rotkis got just eight outs in his first season as a college baseball pitcher.
Taking the mound for Morehead (Ky.) State University in 2020, the right-hander from South Bend (Ind.) Saint Joseph High School hurled 2 1/3 innings.
“It was the worst 2 1/3 innings I pitched in my entire life,” says Rotkis, who gave up 16 earned runs and 14 hits as an MSU freshman. “It was frustrating in the moment. I knew what I was capable of and I didn’t show it.”
That became the driving force for Rotkis through the rest of the COVID-19 spring and summer and into the 2021 season.
After the 2020 shutdown, Rotkis played for the Midwest Collegiate League’s Whiting-based Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
“That was awesome,” says Rotkis, who pitched well enough in his first two relief stints that he landed a spot in the Oilmen’s starting rotation.”
He also got to work with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko. He took to approach espoused by the former pro moundsman.
“He said I was just over-thinking things and to go out and do what I know I can do,” says Rotkis, 20. “I gained confidence last summer.
“Confidence is the best tool.”
Playing this spring at Morehead State, where Mik Aoki is the head coach and Brady Ward the pitching coach, Rotkis made 13 appearances (all out of the bullpen) and was 2-0 with a 4.05 earned run average. In 26 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked 10.
Rotkis uses four pitches — a two-seam sinking fastball, a four-seam fastball, a “circle” change-up and a slider.
“It plays off the sinker and the same tunnel, working different sides of the plate,” says Rotkis, who throws from a mid-three-quarter overhand arm slot which helps with his sinker and touched 92 mph a few times in the spring while sitting in the high 80s. “I like to throw anything to anybody.
“I just throw what I think’s going to beat them at that point.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Rotkis went for an assessment at the P3 (Premier Pitching Performance) lab in St. Louis and is working this summer with Director of Remote Pitching Mitch Plassmeyer while following a structuring throwing and weightlifting plan near home in Granger, Ind.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” says Rotkis of Plassmeyer. “He filled my head with knowledge.”
In the third week of the program, Rotkis lifts four times a week — two upper body and two lower body. He does mobility moves before lifting and throwing.
Working out with former high school teammate Patrick Farrissee (now on the Clemson University club baseball team) on the practice football fields at Notre Dame, Rotkis long tosses 100 yards or more.
As a sophomore, Farrissee was the starting left fielder when Saint Joseph won the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A state championship.
Rotkis is a 2019 graduate of Saint Joseph, where he and buddies Farrissee, Mitchell Coleman, Nick Dolniak, Surf Sadowey, Michael Schroeder and Brady Gumpf (now at Notre Dame) played for former Indians head coach John Gumpf and former assistant and current bench boss John Smolinski.
“They made practice enjoyable to come to each day,” says Rotkis, who began to get some NCAA Division I offers through the Area Code Games trials at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
He was recruited by Morehead State when Mike McGuire was head coach and Kane Sweeney the pitching coach and then they both left for the University of South Carolina Upstate.
Aoki and Ward convinced Rotkis to still come play for the Eagles.
Born in Elkhart, Ind., Rotkis moved from Bristol, Ind., to Granger around age 5 with parents Mike and Jill and younger brother Andrew (a 2021 St. Joseph graduate bound for Purdue University).
Joe played at what is now Harris Baseball Softball and then Chet Waggoner Little League in South Bend which led to the Michiana Baseball Club travel team. As a high school, he was with the South Bend Cubs travel organization, spending two summers with South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley as coach.
“Mark Haley is one of the smartest and one of the most caring baseball guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to,” says Rotkis. “He’s awesome.
“We were learning the game, the ins and out and the little things.”

Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)
Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)

Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)

Big Head Sports’ Miranda puts love into every glove

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A baseball or softball glove is like a person.

Both need TLC.

A person who provides tender loving care to those fly catchers and grounder grabbers is Joey Miranda. 

He taught himself how to repair his own glove as a ballplayer and he’s been doing it for others as owner of Big Head Sports. His repeat customers include the South Bend Cubs, Notre Dame, Bethel University, Indiana University South Bend and several travel organizations.

“I really enjoy doing glove work. I really do,” says Miranda, an Osceola, Ind., resident. “It keeps me around baseball.”

Miranda, 51, grew up in Woodland, Calif., near Sacramento and went to Oakland A’s game with father Joe Sr., and San Diego Padres with his grandfather (Luis and grandmother Eva lived in Tijuana and had Joey visit each August after his baseball season) and uncle and played lots of ball while tending to his glove and those of his ball-playing buddies.

“I got really good at it,” says Miranda, who moved to northern Indiana in 2008. 

Over the years, he did research and learned how to break in gloves — what to do and not to do.

Miranda says a glove should not be put in the oven, microwave or steamer.

“It causes cracking,” says Miranda. It will also void the warranty at some sporting goods retailers. “Conditioner soothes the outside of the glove and puts moisture back into glove.”

Proper care will also extend the life of the glove.

“It won’t last as long if you don’t clean it with conditioner,” says Miranda. “I used to to use mink or Neatsfoot oil, but I’ve gotten away from that.

“If you use too much it will make the glove heavy. (Oil) doesn’t dissipate.”

Miranda, who sells new and used gloves, gives maintenance information.

“I recommend conditioning twice a year — the middle of the season and the end to protect the glove over the winter,” says Miranda. “I really like it when parents bring their athlete with them. I can inform the player on how to take care of their glove.

“At $200-$400, that’s a little bit of an investment for the parents.”

High-end gloves can have map or steer or some other kind of leather while low end ones are made of average hyde.

Miranda invites customers to shoot him a text and he will walk them through any questions they might have.

“It’s about my customers,” says Miranda. “It’s like an honor for me working on their glove.

“I have some really loyal customers that only come to me.”

Joey and Rebecca Miranda had four children. The oldest — Casey — died a few years ago. Then there’s sons Andrew and Anthony and daughter Jordan. The boys all played baseball.

When Anthony was at what is now Harris Baseball/Softball in Granger, Ind., and his glove broke his father informed him that he could fix it. The laces were swept out for white ones and it was a real attention-getter.

The next thing you know other players and parents are coming to Miranda for his glove TLC.

He started buying lace from a local man and word of his work began spreading like wildfire.

Then came Big Head Sports. The name comes from the inflated egos Miranda saw while he was a player.

“I grew up with guys who were supposed to get drafted and didn’t,” says Miranda. 

Best friend Jeff Moore is a graphic designer in California and crafted Miranda’s logo. The business motto is “Don’t let your head get bigger than the game.”

“That’s what keeps me humble in what I’m doing. I have yet to advertise other than on Facebook (or Twitter). I get new people every year by word of mouth. That feels good.

“I treat each glove as if it was my own. That’s my work that I’m putting out there.”

Joey and Rebecca have talked about one day opening a store and have been collecting old gloves and baseball memorabilia for decor.

Miranda backs up his work. He will replace materials up to four months and offers free glove-tightening.

A relationship with former South Bend Silver Hawks manager and current general manager of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and head of the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel baseball organization Mark Haley got Miranda in with the South Bend Cubs.

Miranda’s turnaround time is often a few days depending on his schedule. Miranda is a material handler at RC Industries in Elkhart and coaches a Hitters Edge 14U travel team.

Sometimes a glove emergency arises. Like this spring when there was a blowout of Notre Dame senior and Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft prospect Niko Kavadas’ first baseman’s mitt during pregame of a game at Frank Eck stadium.

Miranda, who often took glove-related calls from Irish assistant coach Rich Wallace, got a call from the ND staff and he was off to the ballpark — about 10 miles away.

Miranda knew Kavadas from the player’s time at Penn High School and training with Mike Marks at the Hitters Edge in Sturgis, Mich., and had done a small repair on the same beloved glove.

“Niko is pretty superstitious,” says Miranda.

When Joey saw the mitt this time it had zip ties holding it together. Miranda feverishly did his thing and got it to Kavadas in the nick of time.

“I got the glove done as lineups being announced,” says Miranda.

Many folks will use bunny cords or rubber bands when breaking in a glove. Miranda discourages this because it can cause the glove to flex where the cord or band is placed. 

With his wife’s permission, he uses old dish towels and puts a ball in the glove pocket where his has been pounding it with a 5-pound weight or glove mallet.

“There’s no flex point and you’re covering a wide area,” says Miranda. “You want to make the pocket round. 

“The ball is round — not flat or taco-shaped.”

Miranda recommends catching balls off a pitching machine as part of the break-in process.

“You need to get use to the glove,” says Miranda. “A lot of it is feel.

“Also— old or new — you should be squeezing all the time.”

Many players look for the glove to do all the work.

It’s just part of fundamentals — the kind that Miranda teaches as a coach with his travel team or as an assistant to Lawrence “Buster” Hammond at South Bend Washington High School (the Panthers did not field a team this spring because of low participation numbers).

Miranda has been coaching baseball for more than two decades.

“I love coaching because it’s about the kids,” says Miranda. “You make a difference in a young man’s life.

“I’ve been clean and sober for 24 years. That’s my way of giving back.”

To contact Miranda, call 574-855-6332 or email bigheadsports28@gmail.com.

Joey Miranda (left) of Big Head Sports and Eloy Jimenez when the ballplayer was with the South Bend Cubs.
The motto of Big Head Sports — a glove care and re-lacing business owned by Joey Miranda of Osceola, Ind.

Penn grad Yoder assigned to D-III World Series as umpire

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Yoder played for a state championship football team and was part of a competitive baseball program in high school. 

He was on a conference title-winning football team in college.

He served in the U.S. Army and is still attached as a civilian worker. 

Yoder knows about being part of a team. 

He also knows that there are more than two teams on the field or court for each game. 

There are the opponents and there are the game officials.

“Umpiring equates to playing sports and the military,” says Yoder. “On the field, you’re a team.”

Yoder, a 1985 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., who lives in Powhatan, Va., and works at Fort Lee, has earned the right to umpire at the 2021 NCAA Division III World Series June 4-9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 

CWS games will be played at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium — home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels of the High-A Central League (formerly known as the Midwest League).

Yoder has umpired NCAA Division I and Division III colleges along the East Coast from Pennsylvania to North Carolina for 16 years. He works Old Dominion Athletic ConferenceMid-Atlantic Conference, Colonial Athletic Association and Atlantic 10 Conference games and has worked out-of-league Atlantic Coast Conference contests. 

In 2016, Yoder was a D-III regional alternate. He made it onto the field in the postseason in 2017 and 2018 and was a regional and super regional crew chief in 2019 — the year that D-III adopted the D-I postseason model of regional, super regional and College World Series.

Yoder had noticed that super regional crew chiefs tend to be assigned to the D-III CWS the next year. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the 2020 regular season early and took away the postseason.

This past week it was confirmed that Yoder is part of the D-III College World Series crew.

The son of Mishawaka residents Keith (who was on the Penn-Harris-Madison school board) and Virginia Yoder (who was a teacher) and brother of Granger’s Kevin Yoder, Mark was a youngster traveling with his father to basketball referee gigs when he got his first taste for athletic officiating.

At Penn, Mark Yoder was a tight end for Indiana Football Hall of Fame coach Chris Geesman and a junior on the Kingmen’s first state champion in 1983.

A football assistant and head football coach at Penn was Chuck Wegner, also an Indiana Football Hall of Famer.

“I love Geez,” says Yoder. “As a kid you don’t realize what you learn from your coaches. They just instilled such a mentality of teamwork and counting on each other.

“(Geesman) was hard, but he was always fair. I got to play because I worked hard or didn’t get to play because I didn’t work hard.”

Yoder remembers Wegner’s policy with game officials.

“He would never let us mouth off to an umpire,” says Yoder. “That was a huge no-no. He would never tolerate that. 

“Occasionally he would chirp about a pitch. But I don’t ever remember Chuck getting silly with officials.”

Current Penn head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos coached Yoder as a junior varsity player and then led the Kingsmen for much of his senior season while Wegner was away on medical leave.

Through it all, Yoder was able to apply criticism as an athlete and get better.

“It’s no different in umpiring,” says Yoder.

After graduating from Penn in 1985, Yoder played two football seasons at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., for RHIT Hall of Famer Scott Duncan

The Fightin’ Engineers won what is now the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in 1986. 

When an injury ended his gridiron playing career, Yoder transferred to Indiana State University in Terre Haute and earned his degree.

On an ROTC scholarship and commissioned to the Army, Yoder was an intramural basketball official for $10 a game at Rose-Hulman and also worked other sports at Rose and ISU.

Yoder took a hiatus from officiating while focusing on his military career. The last few years of active duty, he found himself in Germany and served Department of Defense high school baseball, basketball and volleyball.

When he arrived back in the U.S. and the Richmond, Va., area Yoder aligned with the Old Dominion Umpires Association — a group that trains and supports baseball officials. 

He contacted ODUA commissioner Greg Walls and was invited to work a fall scrimmage at the University of Richmond in the fall of 2008.

“I had no umpire gear (it was still on a boat coming from Germany,” says Yoder. “I showed up in shorts and a collared shirt.

“They were running three-man. I had never worked in the three-man system. We never did that in Europe.”

Yoder was made the third base umpire.

“I was a fish out of water,” says Yoder, who soon learned three-man mechanics with the help of a veteran umpire.

He also got to polish his two-man techniques at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va.

Yoder spent the winter of 2008-09 honing his skills and worked his first high school game in the spring at the Class 3A varsity level (the highest in Viriginia at the time).

He figured he has earned his way.

“If you have the skills, ability and game management you’re going to work,” says Yoder. “It’s not the good old boys club.

“You can’t hide a good umpire and you can’t hide a bad umpire. I had enough potential to keep an eye on.”

Walls was not only high school commissioner for the ODUA but supervisor of umpires for the D-III ODAC. 

In 2009 and 2010, Walls gave Yoder high school and American Legion ball assignments with umpires who did college baseball. At the same time, the Indiana native attended two-man camps as well as a three-man camp ran by Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Umpires.

Yoder worked junior college games in 2011 and 2012 and his first D-III game in 2013. By 2015 he was doing almost a full conference season. After that came some D-I assignments.

Yoder has four children all living in northern Indiana — Andrew (Southwest), Sarah (New Paris), Zac South Bend) and Matthew (Elkhart). Matthew Yoder just enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Umpires at the 2019 NCAA Division III Super Regional baseball tournament staged at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.: Greg Kiewitt (Baltimore), Jerry Buresh (Quinton, Va.), Dan Miller (Sebring, Fla.) and Mark Yoder (Powhatan, Va.). Yoder is a graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and Indiana State University in Terre Haute and a U.S. Army veteran and current civilian worker
Mark Yoder, a graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and Indiana State University in Terre Haute and a U.S. Army veteran, has been assigned as a baseball umpire at the 2021 NCAA Division III College World Series June 4-9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Rebound season cut short for USC lefty Gursky

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

Selfless.

Relentless.

Blue Collar.

Talented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former Notre Dame captain Chase returns to area, will help South Bend Cubs Foundation, 1st Source Bank Performance Center

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tommy Chase knew he wanted to play baseball at the University of Notre Dame since age 5.

He grew up going to Notre Dame camps when Paul Mainieri led the Fighting Irish. Father Mark Chase (Class of 1978) and sister Jacqueline (2009) Notre Dame graduates.

After graduating from Boston College High School in 2008, Cohasset, Mass., native Tommy Chase did take to the diamond and the classroom at ND

Chase started his Irish career with Dave Schrage as head coach, finished with Mik Aoki and served as a team co-captain with Will Hudgins as senior and was on the academic all-district team in 2012. 

Notre Dame degrees were earned by Chase in both Accounting and Psychology.

After graduation, Chase served as video coordinator at the University of California at San Barbara then was an assistant coach at the U.S. Naval Academy (Navy), Southern New Hampshire University, the U.S. Military Academy (Army) and the University of Dayton.

He is now back in northern Indiana to start a new job at Lippert Components in Goshen, Ind., where he will work with former Elkhart Memorial High School and Purdue University catcher and baseball coach at Knightstown, Mount Vernon (Fortville) and Concord high schools Eric Nielsen, and will put his baseball knowledge to use with the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel board and 1st Source Bank Performance Center at Four Winds Field.

In that role, Chase will be working closely with foundation executive director and Performance Center general manager Mark Haley.

“Hales and I connected and, honestly, I just want to help in whatever way that I can,” says Chase. “I’ve had some experiences — both in my playing career and coaching career. 

“(On the) player development side, I think I can add some value. On the recruiting side, I can help some of the older guys — 15- 16-, 17-year-old guys looking to play in college and get them to understand what the recruiting process is like. It can seem very confusing a lot of times, especially to families who haven’t gone through it. I would just love to provide some clarity with that.”

Chase also has many connections in college baseball and knows where the opportunities lie.

“I really like working with young kids,” says Chase. “Baseball is such a great game from the relationships that you have to the friends that you meet and learning lessons from the game itself.”

Throughout all his coaching stops, Chase has worked with hitters, infielders and outfielders. He was an infielder at Notre Dame. He will help with instruction at the Performance Center, as an advisor in the recruiting process and be a second set of eyes for Haley when it comes to talent evaluation and other matters.

At Dayton, Chase was recruiting coordinator for Flyers head coach Jayson King, who is also a Massachusetts native.

“We went into a program that we both thought had a lot of promise,” says Chase. “There were a lot of positive things. It was a high academic school. The campus was beautiful. A lot of things you can sell to high school kids.

“We really worked hard at it and were able to get Dayton to where we felt it should be — a competitive school in the Athletic 10 (Conference) and getting good players from that area.”

Chase and King had been together as assistants on the Army staff. It was King who brought Chase to West Point, N.Y., having known about him while at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. Chase and coordinator King shared recruiting duties. The Black Knights head coach was — and still is — Jim Foster.

“Coach Foster is a baseball savant. He played many years in the minor leagues as a catcher and he has that kind of brain. He really understands the game. He’s very good at teaching the game to the players.”

Chase says he knew intricacies of the game, but Foster “took it to a whole different level.”

Jacob Hurtubise, a Zionsville High School graduate now in the Cincinnati Reds organization, played at Army when Chase was there.

Scott Loiseau is head coach of the Southern New Hampshire Pennmen. 

“Scott’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around in terms of working with his players and getting them to play at their highest level,” says Chase. “His ability to develop relationships with guys is to the point where the team wants to run through a wall with that guy.

“He really, really cares about his players and his coaches. He allows coaches to develop. He gave me a lot of responsibility when I stepped on-campus as a young kid. He was a great mentor for me.

“Most guys are coaching college baseball out of the passion that they have either for the game or the people that they’re around and — a lot of time — it’s both. There are a lot of things you have to sacrifice to be a college baseball coach.”

Chase was a graduate assistant at SNHU and began work on a Masters of Business Administration with a  concentration in Sport Management.

As a volunteer assistant at Navy, Chase first learned about what it means to coach baseball at a military school by Midshipmen head coach a baseball lifer Paul Kostacopoulos, who was assistant and head coach at Providence (R.I.) College and head coach at the University of Maine before landing at Navy in Annapolis, Md.

“He’s been very successful for a very long time,” says Chase for Kostacopoulos. “He took over at Navy and really turned a program around that had been relatively mediocre in the past, but had a great history. He brought it to being consistently competitive and at the top of the Patriot League every single year and winning 30-plus games.

“That’s a hard job. There’s a lot of things at a military academy you need to uphold. It’s not just winning on the field. It goes beyond that. It goes to understanding what the cadet life is being able to foster both commitments to baseball, academics and their military requirements. He does a great job to do all those things.”

Chase says that players at military academies may not have the time to devote to baseball that other schools do. But they bring a resilient, hard-nosed mentality to the field because they compete in everything they do.

UC-Santa Barbara head coach Andrew Checketts gave Chase his first college baseball job as the Gauchos video coordinator.

“I learned what a College World Series program looks like in the inside from the time commitment to the culture to the player development,” says Chase. “As a kid just coming out of college you don’t see what the coaches do off the field.”

Chase still maintains relationships with former Notre Dame bosses Schrage and Aoki.

Chase played three seasons for the Irish. He appeared in six games (all at second base) as a freshman in 2009 and missed the 2010 season following knee surgery with Schrage as head coach. 

“Coach Schrage gave me a chance to live my dream of going to Notre Dame and playing baseball there,” says Chase. “He was a very personable guy and really cared about the well-being of his players.

“He was always a positive person. He was not a cutthroat-type coach. There’s a lot to be said for that.”

Aoki took over for 2011 and Chase got into 11 games (one as a starter). 

“He’s a New England guy through and through,” says Chase of Aoki. “He allowed me to work my way to a chance to compete on the field and contribute to the team.”

At the end of 2011 season, his teammates thought enough of him to choose him as one of the captains for 2012 as he played in 17 games (four starts).

“It was a great honor,” says Chase of being chosen as a captain. “I enjoyed having a voice to lead the other guys and help them. When you’re a coach, you’re implementing your culture and you’re talking about the things that are important. A lot of times, the thing that’s most important is the leaders on the team saying the same message. 

“A lot of times it’s not what the coaches say, it’s what the leaders among the players say to each other. The players have so much influence over the where the team’s headed and the culture of the team.”

Leaders can handle issues like players coming late to the weight room before it ever becomes big and has to be addressed by the coaching staff.

Chase grew up in Cohasset a few years ahead of Mike Monaco, who went on to Notre Dame and served as a broadcaster for the South Bend Cubs and now counts and has called games for the Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox and the big-league Boston Red Sox.

Tommy and Teresa Chase have three sons — David (2 1/2), Peter (1) and Patrick (5 weeks). They are in the process of buying a home in Granger, Ind. Many friends from Tommy’s Notre Dame days still live in the South Bend area.

Tommy Chase was a Notre Dame baseball co-captain in his senior season of 2012. (Notre Dame Video)
Tommy Chase has joined the South Bend Cubs Foundation travel board and will be an instructor at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center. He is a former baseball co-captain at the University of Notre Dame and has extensive experience as a college coach.

Kansas Jayhawks’ Metcalf wearing Northern Michigan Dune Bears jersey this summer

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Metcalf’s 2020 summer plans had him playing baseball in the Northwoods League with the Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league was reconfigured and the two-year starting first baseman at the University of Kansas is in Traverse City, Mich., as part of a three-team regional pod.

Metcalf, a 2017 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has been assigned to the new Northern Michigan Dune Bears. That team plays games against established Traverse City Pit Spitters and new Great Lakes Resorters at at Turkey Creek Stadium. Players are being housed in cabins at Interlochen Center for the Arts, located between Duck, Geneva and Long lakes and close to Lake Michigan.

“We play every two days,” says Metcalf, who was the designated hitter during a season-opening victory Thursday, July 2 against the Pit Spitters. Former Jackrabbits hitting coach Alex O’Donnell, who played at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and is an assistant at Mercyhurst-North East was made a winner in his managing debut. “I’ve been to the beach a couple of times.”

Before the Kansas season was halted in March, Metcalf appeared in 15 games with 12 starts at first base and hit .244 (10-of-41 with two home runs, two doubles, six walks and 10 runs batted in. He belted his homers against Charleston Southern Feb. 22 and Indiana State March 7.

The Jayhawks, with Ritch Price as head coach and his son Ritchie Price as hitting/infield coach, recruiting coordinator and third base coach, were returning from a series March 10-11 at the University of Iowa when they learned that the Ivy League had canceled its season.

“We practiced the next day and the coaches told us it was not looking good,” says Metcalf. 

Soon after that, the season was canceled and campus was closed. Metcalf finished his spring semester classes via computer back in Granger, Ind.

“I was trying to learn accounting online,” says Metcalf, who is working toward a major in Sport Management with a minor in Business. “I got it done.”

The son of Dave and Leslie Metcalf and brother of Lexie Metcalf quarantined for about a month then began going to the Harris Township fields for daily batting practice with Penn classmate Niko Kavadas, who completed his third season at Notre Dame in 2020. 

Metcalf also resumed lessons with Mike Marks at his Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and began mowing lawns with the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation. 

“I wasn’t super-confident about the summer (baseball season),” says Metcalf, who was told June 15 to report to Traverse City, which is about 250 miles due north of Granger. “Now I’m trying to get back into the swing of things.”

Metcalf expects to split his time with the Dune Bears between DH, first base and catcher.

Last summer he played for the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats of the MINK (Missouri-Iowa-Nebraska-Kansas) Collegiate League. He was named to the all-star team and finished second in the home run derby at St. Joseph, Mo., even though he belted 32 total homers in three rounds.

At Kansas in 2019, Metcalf appeared in 44 games (27 starts) and hit .256 (30-of-117) with four homers, seven doubles and 23 RBIs.

The summer of 2018 had him in the Expedition League with the Western Nebraska Pioneers.

As a Jayhawk freshman, Metcalf got into 14 games (one as a starter) and hit .077 (1-for-14) with one RBI.

Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos at Penn, Metcalf was a career .379 hitter while earning all-state and District Player of the Year recognition and being named to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series as a senior. 

Metcalf was on the High Honor Roll four times. The Kingsmen won four Northern Indiana Conference and IHSAA sectional titles, three regionals, two semistates and a Class 4A state championship (he scored two runs in a 3-2 win against Terre Haute North Vigo in 2015). The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder also played football at Penn.

What’s the difference between high school and college baseball?

“It’s the faster pace,” says Metcalf. “It’s how good every single player is. You have to prepare for every single game like it’s a big game — even the mid-week ones. 

“It’s fun, but hard work.”

Metcalf, a righty swinger, sees his power and his ability to hit to all fields as his strengths as a hitter.

“Hitting veto — guys that throw in the low to mid-90’s — means having quick hands,” says Metcalf. “You need to have a short, steady stroke. (The pitcher) will provide the power.”

From his 7U to 14U summer, Metcalf played travel baseball for the Granger Cubs. Teammates included Kavadas, Trevor Waite, Matt Kominkiewicz and Tony Carmola.

He played for Penn’s summer team after his first two high school campaigns then one summer each with the Eric Osborn-coached Indiana Nitro (17U) and Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U). Prior to his senior year, he played for the Kevin Christman-coached San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team.

Nolan Metcalf, a 2017 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has spent three baseball seasons at the University of Kansas. This summer he is with the Northern Michigan Dune Bears of the Northwoods League, playing all his games in Traverse City, Mich. (University of Kansas Image)

Penn graduate Kavadas carries booming bat for Notre Dame

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Niko Kavadas likes to make noise.

The University of Notre Dame sophomore does it with his baseball bat.

“I’m just trying to make loud contact,” says Kavadas, a 6-foot, 240-pound lefty swinger with a .262 average, 10 home runs, 11 doubles, 35 runs batted in and .869 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) so far in 2019 with the Fighting Irish. “I’m just trying to hit the ball hard. I’m trying to hit the ball 100 mph.”

What are the origins of his power?

“It’s always been there, but I didn’t know how to access it,” says Kavadas. “All through high school, I would show some glimpses of power. But, for the most part, I was just gap-to-gap guy.”

After he produced plenty of run-producing gappers at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., that trend continued into his freshman season at Notre Dame.

Then something clicked.

“All of a sudden I just found something in my swing,” says Kavadas, who hit .299 with five homers, five doubles and 20 RBIs in 2018. “The kinetic chain was in sequence and, all of a sudden, the ball started to fly.”

Add muscle and that helps even more.

“Our strength and conditioning programs here are incredible,” says Kavadas. “Coach Kyle (Jean) does an awesome job of getting us ready to play and take our game to the next level.”

In baseball, it’s not always about maxing out and bench pressing 300 pounds.

“We’re trying to stabilize our cores and promoting good, overall health so those fly balls to the warning track found their way over the fence,” says Kavadas.

At ND, Kavadas works on his hitting with both head coach Mik Aoki and assistant Adam Pavkovich.

When he’s going well, Kavadas is typically on his own. But when he struggles and needs to a tweak, he goes to the coaches and taps into their wealth of knowledge.

“Any time I really struggle I go to my dad,” says Niko of Jim Kavadas. “When I was in high school, I went to an instructor up in Sturgis (Mich.) named Mike Marks and he really helped me. My dad went to every single lesson (at Hitters Edge) with me and absorbed all that information. Any time I struggle, he can see something Mike would have said. It’s just like having Mike there.”

On defense, Kavadas has been primarily a third baseman this season. Last summer with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers of the Northwoods League, he played at first base.

“I’m really comfortable over there as well,” says Kavadas, who has committed to play this summer at first base for the Harwich Mariners of the elite Cap Cod Baseball League.

Kavadas saw that the summer collegiate routine is different from the spring season where he typically plays four games a week (mid-week game and three-game weekend series) with practices plus at least three workouts and, of course, classes and study time (he is enrolled in ND’s Mendoza School of Business).

There are many built-in obligations during the school season and players are on their own during the summer collegiate season.

“It’s a lot of baseball,” says Kavadas of the summer. “We play 70-something games in 70-something days. “You have to be able to manage your time, take care of your body and prepare for each game.

“That was a new experience for me, but I think I came out a lot better.”

Kavadas played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos and his longtime assistant Jim Kominkiewicz at Penn.

“Me and my brother (C.J.) both have had an incredible experience playing at Penn,” says Kavadas. “We’ve had so much fun with our best friends.”

The Kingsmen won an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in Niko’s sophomore year (2015), lost to the semistate his junior year (2016) and finished as state runners-up his senior year (2017).

Kavadas was a an all-state honoree as a junior. He played for Lids Team Indiana during the summers and the San Francisco Giants scout team in the fall.

He started playing organized baseball at Harris Baseball/Softball in Granger, Ind., until 7. Then some fathers, including his own, started a travel team called the Granger Cubs that played 60 games a summer. One of his teammates was Matt Kominkiewicz.

Jim and Robin Kavadas have four children — Abigail, Niko, C.J. and Tess. C.J. Kavadas is a junior on the Penn High School team.

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Niko Kavadas (12) is a sophomore on the Notre Dame baseball team. He is a power-hitting corner infielder. (Notre Dame Photo)

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Niko Kavadas eyes a pitch as a power hitter for the University of the Notre Dame baseball team. The sophomore is a graduate of nearby Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind. (Notre Dame Photo)

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Niko Kavadas gets set at third base during a 2019 baseball game for the University of Notre Dame. He has mostly at the hot corner for the Fighting Irish. He anticipates he will be at first base this summer with the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod Baseball League. (Notre Dame Photo)

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When Niko Kavadas found something in his swing midway through his freshmen season at the University of Notre Dame, his power increased. The sophomore currently has 10 home runs, 11 doubles and 35 runs batted in for the 2019 Fighting Irish. (Notre Dame Photo)

 

After elbow procedure, Penn graduate Szynski working his way back in Athletics system

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Skylar Szynski has not delivered a pitch in a regular-season baseball game for more than a year.

A tear in his right elbow — the first major injury of his diamond life — cropped up near the end of preseason camp.

“I was feeling good all through spring training,” says Szynski, the former Penn High School standout and Oakland Athletics minor leaguer. “I threw my (simulated) game (and the arm began to hurt).

“I’ve been sore. But that’s regular soreness.”

An examination revealed the damage.

As a high schooler, he had originally accepted a scholarship offer to play at Indiana University or the $1 million signing bonus that came with being taken in the fourth round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Athletics.

At Penn, he won 27 career games (20 as a junior and senior), including the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A state championship (a 3-2 win for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos and the Kingsmen against Terre Haute North).

The hard-throwing righty opted to go pro and saw limited action the summer in the rookie-level Arizona League.

On an innings restriction limit coming off his senior high school season, Szynski appeared in seven games (all starts) in a month with the Arizona League Athletics. His professional debut came was June 29. He gave up three hits and four runs in 1/3 of an inning. He went on to log 13 1/3 innings, going 0-3 with an 8.10 earned run average, eight strikeouts and four walks.

After a short break, he went back to Arizona to throw bullpen sessions in the fall instructional league.

It had been hoped that rest would allow him to continue without surgery. But that was not possible.

Now, Szynski had another decision to make.

Would he have right-arm ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) or repair?

Szynski chose UCL repair — which generally has a recovery time half as long a reconstruction.

Decoding against a stem-cell shot, collagen tape was wrapped around the repaired elbow and then the pitcher started on his journey to get back in the game.

The last few months, Szynski has been at Oakland’s spring training complex in Arizona for five-days-a-week rehabilitation program.

“It’s going pretty good,” says Szynski. “I work on shoulder strength and have soft tissue massage on my elbow and forearm.”

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Szynski and a half dozen others are led by Athletics pitching rehab coordinator Craig Lefferts, a former big league pitcher. This week, they moved from 60 to 75 feet to play catch.

Lefferts watches Szynski and company to make sure they are using the proper mechanics and not overdoing it.

“We’re throwing around 65 mph,” says Szynski, who goes through arm care protocol with shoulder and elbow movement after these sessions. That is followed by working out, 10 minutes in the cold tub and a consultation with trainers.

When Szynski is in Indiana (he lives in Granger with parents Brent and Robin and little brothers — sophomore Camryn and eighth grader Bradyn), he is a regular at Sharpley Training in Elkhart.

Former Notre Dame baseball and football player Evan Sharpley pushes Skylar to the limit.

“Everyday is brutal,” says Szynski. “There’s no easy days at Sharpley’s.”

At 6-foot-2, Szynski has been looking to put more weight on his frame and get to around 215 or 220.

“That should help with my durability,” says Szynski, who was at 207 as a Penn senior.

Szynski throws both a four- and two-seam fastball, circle change-up and curve.

“The change is the pitch I need to work on the most,” says Szynski, who turned 20 on July 14. “I need to throw more strikes with that. In high school, I really didn’t need it. Here, you need three pitchers or better to succeed.”

Szynski says the Athletics sees his breaker as more of a slider. He is trying to fine tune the pitch and get more break downward and less sweeping action.

Plans call for Szynski to come back to Indiana for Christmas and New Year before he heads back to Arizona and resumes getting ready for spring training and the 2018 season.

“I should be game ready toward the end of spring training if everything works out,” says Szynski. “I’ll probably be in extended spring training to get some innings in.”

From there, he hopes to be once again standing on a mound in a regular-season game. It could happen close to home. The Athletics’ Low Class-A team is the Beloit (Wis.) Snappers. Beloit is slated to visit the South Bend Cubs July 11-13.

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Skylar Szynski delivers a pitch for the Arizona League Athletics during the summer of 2016. The 2016 Penn High School graduate had elbow surgery and missed the entire 2017 season. He is working his way back for 2018. (Robin Szynski Photo)