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Purdue grad Isom embraces independent pro baseball manager role, wins title with Joliet Slammers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Isom got to do something for the first time in nearly two decades as a professional baseball manager in 2018.

Isom got to hoist the championship trophy as the decision maker for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers — his first title as a pro skipper.

“It only took me 18 years, but I finally got one,” says Isom, a 1990 Lafayette Jefferson High School and 1998 Purdue University graduate who still resides in West Lafayette, Ind. “A lot of teams made the finals and just came up short for one reason or another. Our pitching staff (at Joliet) was outstanding and did not lose guys to major league clubs like some teams did.”

Without Major League Baseball feeding them players, Isom and other independent ball managers go out and found their own players. The Slammers championship squad featured 14 that came from tryout camps.

“I love getting guys that have been overlooked by the draft for one reason or another,” says Isom of his attraction to independent baseball. “Scouting is not an exact science. We work with them and try to continue to make them better players.

“In independent baseball, most teams rely on the manager. I like it that way. I have the ultimate say in who is going to be on our club.

“I value those tryouts. I know the players are hungry if they’re going to a tryout camp.”

The Frontier League is considered a developmental circuit and the maximum age is 27. A couple of top pitchers from 2018 — Nate Antone and Liam O’Sullivan — will age out and Isom intends to help them make connections so they can keep playing either at the independent or affiliated level.

“Indy ball has been a great time for me,” says Isom, a three-time Frontier League Manager of the Year (2002, 2016 and 2018) who turned 46 on Sept. 22. “I loved every minute of it when I was a player and I’ve loved every minute of it as a manager.

“I’ve been fortunate to make a career out of this.”

Isom doesn’t see it as a job. He sees it as an opportunity to pass along what he knows about the game. He soaked up information from the folks in affiliated baseball and he has done the same thing in independent ball.

Besides his current job with the Slammers, Isom’s managing stops have taken him to the Canton (Ohio) Crocodiles, Washington (Pa.) Wild Things, Joliet JackHammers, Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums and Lake Erie (Ohio) Crushers.

In six seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers system, he managed the West Virginia Power, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Brevard County (Fla.) Manatees and Helena (Mont.) Brewers.

As a left-handed pitcher, Isom played for Tony Primavera at Lafayette Jeff then three seasons at Purdue (1991-93) — one for head coach Dave Alexander and two from Steve Green. Isom went 16-4 with five saves and a 3.72 earned run average over his last two Boiler seasons. In 149 1 /3 innings, he struck out 119 and walked 55.

Isom was born in Pullman, Wash., and wound up in West Lafayette when his father was hired at Purdue (Gary Isom is Professor Emeritus of Toxicology in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology).

The southpaw was an all-Big Ten Conference honoree in 1993 along with teammate and future major league Jermaine Allensworth. The Boilermakers were the only college to recruit Isom.

“As a player, (Alexander) instilled discipline in me,” says Isom of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He taught time management skills and how to hold yourself accountable.

“I had to grow up quick.”

Green imparted wisdom and inspiration.

“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without Coach Green,” says Isom. “He’s probably the most influential person I’ve had in my baseball career.”

At age 14, Isom played for a Green-managed Pony League team.

“He taught me how to throw a split-finger fastball (forkball) and my career took off from there,” says Isom. “As a pitching coach/head coach, (Green) instilled a lot of confidence in me. He wanted me to have the baseball in my hand.

“I got drafted because of what he taught me.”

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 18th round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Isom pitched three seasons in the Pirates and San Diego Padres organizations and then four more in indy ball.

While playing in indy ball, he met two managers — Doug Simunic and Andy McCauley — that helped him on what would lead to a career as a manager.

Isom played for Simunic with the independent Northern League’s Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.) RedHawks and was allowed to pick the skipper’s brain.

“I was just trying to learn and he took me under his wing,” says Isom of Simunic, who went on to become the first independent baseball manager to reach 1,000 wins. “I took best from all the managers I had.

“I’m learning everyday.”

MacCauley coached in Fargo-Moorhead and met up with Isom again with the Frontier League’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Kodiaks.

Isom was released eight times during his pro playing career. After three starts and three losses for Kalamazoo, he cut himself from the team and headed home only to be called back by MacCauley to be pitching coach. The two men have bounced baseball ideas off each other ever since.

MacCauley has been the manager of the Frontier League’s Evansville (Ind.) Otters since 2010.

Isom’s best friend in baseball, MacCauley was in his wedding (Jeff and former Purdue volleyball player/current Klondike Middle School physical education/health teacher Lisa Isom have two children at Harrison High School in West Lafayette — senior volleyballer Samantha and freshman baseballer Will) and trades between Joliet and Evansville are common.

When school is out, Will travels with the Slammers and sees the effort that goes into being a pro player.

“In independent baseball, you’ve got to put up numbers or there’s going to be changes,” says Isom. “Hard work will pay off.”

When he’s not away managing professionals, Isom can be found back in West Lafayette spending time with his family and teaching private lessons at On Deck Baseball, a business owned by former pro player Josh Loggins.

“I want to see kids get quality coaching,” says Isom, who coached two seasons at Lafayette Central Catholic High School in the 1990s.

JEFFISOM

Jeff Isom, a graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School and Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., managed the Joliet (Ill.) Slammers to the championship of the independent Frontier League in 2018. (Joliet Slammers Photo)

 

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Competitive approach propels former Penn, Southern Illinois pitcher Whitmer into pro baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like the Tom Petty song, Chad Whitmerwon’t back down” on the pitching mound.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander showed that growing up in northern Indiana and has kept that approach as a collegian and now a professional.

He was selected in the 10th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees.

Whitmer played for the Gulf Coast League Yankees in 2017 and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers organization in June. He is now with the Short Season Class-A Helena (Mont.) Brewers, where Nestor Corredor is the manager and Rolando Valles the pitching coach.

Through July 10, Whitmer had made six appearances (all in relief) and was 2-1 with a 0.00 earned run average, eight strikeouts and three walks in 7 2/3 innings.

Throwing from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Whitmer uses two-seam fastball, “circle” change-up, curveball and slider. His fastball is regularly clocked at 88 to 92 mph.

What about the change in pro organizations?

“I like it here a lot,” says Whitmer of landing with the Brewers in Helena. “They’ve made me feel welcome.

“I’ve adjusted pretty well.”

The next stops in the Brewers system are the Low Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest League, High-A Carolina (N.C.) Mudcats, Double-A Biloxi (Miss.) Shuckers and Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

Born in South Bend, Ind., Whitmer played at Mishawaka Southwest Little League until he was 10 then was part of a core of travel baseball players who spent years with the Todd Marazita-coached Michiana Clippers (Marazita now coaches for the Michiana Scrappers).

Whitmer was a three-time all-Northern Indiana Conference selection at Penn High School, playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos.

“(Dikos) instilled a lot of mental toughness with all the hard work we did,” says Whitmer. “That’s all stuck with me. In the off-season, we had really tough morning workouts. He helped me get to the next level by learning how to work.”

As a sophomore in 2011, Whitmer went 6-2 and led the NIC with a 1.50 ERA. As a junior in 2012, he went 5-4 with 1.44 and .386 batting average. As a senior in 2013, he went 7-1 with a 1.94 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings.

Sean Galiher was the Kingsmen’s pitching coach at the start of Whitmer’s prep career then turned the reins over to Tom Stanton.

Whitmer, who turned 23 in May, credits both men with helping him fine-tune his mechanics and become more fluid on the mound.

In four seasons at Southern Illinois University, Whitmer was a two-time all-Missouri Valley Conference selection (2016, 2017) for head coach Ken Henderson and pitching coach P.J. Finigan. He hurled in 64 games (34 as a starter) and was 15-13 with a 3.70 ERA, 247 strikeouts and 41 walks in 282 innings.

Whitmer became the Friday-night starter for the Salukis midway through his junior season and held that spot through his senior campaign.

In 2017, Whitmer struck out 13 Indiana State batters, the most K’s by any SIU player since Finigan fanned 17 against Chicago State in 2005.

“One thing (Henderson and Finigan) preached a lot was being aggressive in the (strike) zone,” says Whitmer. “They made me a pretty competitor as well. Even if you don’t have your best stuff one day, you can still go out there and compete.

“You knew you were going to get a decent start out of me on Fridays and they knew they were going to get that out of me at the next level.”

After his freshman season at SIU, Whitmer played summer collegiate ball with the Richmond RiverRats (now known as the Richmond Jazz).

Whitmer is close to completing a degree in sports administration.

Chad is the son of Doug and Sara Whitmer. His father is a web developer and mother an accountant. Older sister Valerie Whitmer was a track and field athlete at Penn and graduated in 2011.

CHADWHITMER

Chad Whitmer, a 2013 graduate who pitched four seasons at Southern Illinois University, is now in the Milwaukee Brewers organization with Helena. (Helena Brewers)