Tag Archives: Hitters

Guthrie, Prairie Heights baseball embrace technology for training

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

“Kids just love playing video games. They’re playing video games at practice and they love it.” — T.J. Guthrie, head baseball coach at Prairie Heights High School

Always looking for ways to develop his players, Guthrie added Virtual Reality to the Panthers’ practice regimen by bringing in a WIN Reality system which helps hitters with things like pitch recognition.
Athletes don a headset and get a fully-immersive experience, seeing realistic pitches in what looks like a professional stadium.
“I’m constantly scouring the Internet and social media to see what is out there to better our kids,” says Guthrie, who introduced WIN Reality when players returned from winter break in January. “I like to mix up our training routines.
“Some days we don’t get the gym with the batting cage and we can still get in live work. We’re getting that cognitive intuition we need on a much better scale.”
With the WIN Reality, players go through graduated sequence of eight drills. The first is basic, recognizing fastball, curveball and change-up. They are also tracking the pitch. This is done by asking the hitter to point the controller to where the ball ended up in the strike zone.
Later comes the “disappearing pitch” drill where the pitch might go away at 50 feet or less and hitters are still asked to recognize it.
“It really starts to challenge guys,” says Guthrie. “They see their averages at the end (of drills) and the begin competing against each other.”
Guthrie notes that the technology is not new and is used by numerous pro and college teams. Now it has come to Brushy Prairie, Ind.
Using the VR trainer offers an efficient way to see more pitches in less time than would be possible with the traditional methods alone.
“We’re certainly not taking away from the live BP,” says Guthrie. “We’re adding to it in a risk-free environment.”
While identifying these WIN Reality pitches, no swings are taken. Hitters pull the trigger on the controller. The system tells them when they made that decision and if it was in the optimum window of when they could hit the pitch.
“You’re not training your body,” says Guthrie of the VR work. “We’re using this to train the brain.
“We’re using cage to train the body on the proper fundamentals.”
WIN Reality does include an optional bat attachment and collects data on swings.
Guthrie, a 2011 Fremont (Ind.) High School graduate who had his college career ended by injury, embraces tech.
He uses smart baseballs that track spin rates, velocity and movement. There are Blast Motion sensors on his players’ bats to give feedback.
“We’re getting video of guys all the time,” says Guthrie, who likes to shoot 4K at 60 frames-per-second. “We go frame-by-frame and make sure we’re not missing anything.”
A phone app called Coach’s Eye allows for comparative side-by-side videos. It’s helpful for pitchers trying to make all their pitches look the same coming out of their hand.
Guthrie says that pitch recognition training when he was a player involved a VCR.
“We’d see a one-second clip of a ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand,” says Guthrie. “But it did not mix it up like the real pitcher does.”
Guthrie has used YouTube videos for this purpose. There is also a phone app called GameSense Pitch-IQ.
With Guthrie and varsity assistants Mike Gustin (pitching coach), Tyler Christman and Ryan Fulton, junior varsity coaches Gene Smith (head coach), Dave Priestley (pitching coach), Shane Richards and JV statistician Reese Smith, Prairie Heights is preparing to compete in the Northeast Corner Conference (which also includes Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, West Noble and Westview) and IHSAA Class 2A in 2022.
“The NECC seems to be going in a high-velocity direction,” says Guthrie. “We’ve got a lot of great pitchers in this conference. It was bound to happen because of the push for travel ball. The kids want to get better day in and day out.
“We need to know how we improve at the plate. You’ve got to score runs to win games. The velocity is one thing. It’s the curve balls, sliders and change-ups that are beating us.
“Recognizing the pitch is half the battle.”

Prairie Heights High School baseball uses Virtual Reality technology with a WIN Reality system.
A WIN Reality Screenshot.
A WIN Reality Screenshot.
A WIN Reality Screenshot.

Love lending a coaching hand at Grace College

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Love has been offering his baseball expertise at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., since the spring of 2018 and was doing the same at nearby Warsaw Community High School for the prior 19 years.

As a Lancers assistant, Love is in charge of outfielders and base runners and assists head coach Ryan Roth with hitters. Roth works with pitchers and infielders. Assistant Ryan Moore handles catchers. Graduate intern Josh Thew is also on the coaching staff. Tom Roy is a special assistant to head coach.

Love first served on the Grace staff of Cam Screeton before Roth was promoted.

“I want my outfielders to be aggressive and to understand the game,” says Love, 45. “I want them watching hitters and understanding what pitchers are trying to do to hitters.

By doing this, the outfielders have a good idea of where the ball might go.

“Outfielders very aware of what’s coming (in terms of pitch type and location),” says Love, who leads drills for tracking and footwork. 

At this time of year, much of the work is done indoors. But the Lancers will bundle up and go outside if the weather allows.

“It’s definitely a challenge being an outfielder in northern Indiana,” says Love, who sometimes uses a light in the gym to simulate tracking a ball in the sun.

Love knows that coming from high school baseball, some of his runners are aggressive and some are timid.

He teaches them about getting a good lead-off without getting picked off. He wants them to know what the pitcher and catcher are trying do.

What made Love a good base stealer when he was playing?

“It comes down to confidence and feeling comfortable,” says Love, who instructs his Grace runners in the proper footwork and the mental side of the running game — what pitches and situations are best for stealing.

Love has his runners get a feel for how much time it will take them to get from first to second or second to third once the pitch crosses home plate. Then they calculate the pitcher’s delivery and the catcher’s Pop Time — the time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment it reaches the intended fielder.

For Lancer hitters, Love and Roth go over the mental approach and the mechanical side. It comes down to hitting balls hard as often as possible and having gap-to-gap power.

Grace, an NAIA school, is scheduled to open the 2021 season Feb. 19 against Trinity Christian University at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Love was a standout outfielder at Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind., and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., where he graduated in 1998. He also spent the summer of 1998 with the independent professional Richmond (Ind.) Roosters then began his business management career while also coaching football (three years) and baseball at WCHS — first on the staff of Will Shepherd and then Mike Hepler.

A 1994 Northridge graduate, the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Love earned three letters each in football for Dennis Sienicki, basketball for Tom Crews and baseball for Rollie Schultz and Mike Logan.

Love, who is in the Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame, was a three-time all-Northern Lakes Conference performer in football as well as an IHSAA Class 3A all-stater and team MVP in 1993. He set school records for receiving yards, receptions, interceptions and scoring and was chosen for the Indiana Football Coaches Association North-South All-Star Game. 

He helped Northridge to a basketball sectional title in 1993 — the Raiders’ first since 1975 — and was all-sectional and a team captain and defensive player of the year in 1994.

On the diamond, Love was a two-time all-NLC honoree and was all-state, all-regional and all-sectional as well as team MVP and captain in 1994. He set school records for stolen bases, runs, walks and triples.

Love considered a few offers to play football in college before setting on Ball State University for baseball. He played one season with Pat Quinn as Cardinals head coach and three with Rich Maloney in charge.

A four-year starter at Ball State, Love set a single-season stolen base record in 1997 with 44, leading the Mid-American Conference and helping him earn a spot on the all-MAC team. Overall his junior year, he hit .346 with 71 hits and 67 runs in 59 games.

As a senior in 1998, Love swiped 30 stolen bases to rank second in the MAC. The first-team all-MAC selection led the conference with 62 runs scored and was sixth with 120 total bases and 10th with nine home runs. He batted .344 in 57 games.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Cate was the manager in Richmond when Love hit .288 with three homers and 25 RBI in 95 games.

Love gives a nod to all his coaches — high school, college and pro.

“I appreciate every one of them — the time they put in to help me with my dreams and aspirations,” says Love. “They were passionate for the sport they coached.

“Pat (Quinn) was pretty direct. He knew the game. He had a fiery spirit to him. Rich (Maloney) was very intense, very knowledgable and very caring also.”

Justin and wife Rosemary have three children — Kendra (18), Jordan (16) and Spencer (12). Kendra Love is a senior volleyball and track athlete at Warsaw. Jordan Love is a sophomore soccer player and trackster. Seventh grader Spencer Love is involved with football, wrestling, track and baseball.

Justin Love, a graduate of Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind., and Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., is an assistant baseball coach at Grace College, an NAIA program in Winona Lake, Ind. (Grace College Photo)

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)