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Hootons bring ’special vibe’ to Fort Wayne TinCaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A husband-and-wife team with decades in baseball has been making an impact on a team and a city since making it their home in the spring and summer for the past six seasons.

Burt Hooton has been the pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps, a Low Class-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres since 2013.

In 2018, he is one a Fort Wayne coaching staff led by manager Anthony Contreras and also featuring hitting coach Jonathan Mathews and fielding coach Jhonny Carvajal.

Like she’s done throughout most of their marriage, wife Ginger Hooton has been there in-person to lend support to her husband and — through her personality — uplift those around her.

And not just because of her mouth-watering desserts like chocolate chip cookies, caramel brownies and Tres Leches cake.

“She’s a people person,” says Burt, who met Ginger in late 1970 when they both attended the University of Texas at Austin, got engaged in September 1972 and married Dec. 30, 1972. “She loves people. She likes pleasing people. She’s extremely friendly.”

TinCaps president Mike Nutter seconds that sentiment.

“She is such a motivator,” says Nutter of Ginger Hooton. “I’ve never heard a negative thing come out of her mouth.

“She has a unique perspective and outlook.”

The Hootons live right next to Parkview Field in the CityScape Flats. When Nutter and his crew were keeping their eye on the radar and dealing with rain delays Thursday, Aug. 16, Ginger sent him an encouraging text from her balcony.

She wanted him to know she had seen a rainbow over the field and wanted to see how he was doing.

“This is my 27th season in Minor League Baseball,” says Nutter. “Along the way, there are a handful of special people that come into your life.

“Ginger and Burt are certainly in that group. It’s a really special connection they have made. They want to work and make an impact in those young kids’ lives. They just have this special vibe.”

Both native Texans, Burt was a broadcast journalism major from the coastal city of Corpus Christi and art major Ginger hailed from the small farming community of Wharton.

The two met through a campus service organization — the Texas Cowboys. Their first date was at the group’s formal dance.

“I never knew he played baseball,” says Ginger. “I wasn’t a big baseball fan.”

She found it odd that so many people were shaking his hand. She learned years later that he had just thrown a no-hitter for the Longhorns.

Burt Hooton began his professional baseball career in 1971.

A standout at UT, the right-handed pitcher was selected in the first round of the 1971 amateur draft (second overall pick) by the Chicago Cubs and went on to pitch until 1985, winning 151 games and racking up over 2,600 innings.

On April 16, 1972, Burt tossed a no-hitter for the Cubs in his fourth MLB game and went on to be an all-star and the National League Championship Series MVP for the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers (who went on to win the World Series). He was known to possess a wicked knuckle curveball.

Even with all his accomplishments, Nutter marvels that Burt Hooton has no ego.

“He has a great gift of working with these young men,” says Nutter. “Anthony Contreras calls it a ‘feel’ for what will work for them.”

After taking the time to complete his college degree (he promised his mother he would finish it after leaving Texas at the end of his junior year), Burt launched into a coaching career in 1988 and has been a pitching coach at every level of organized professional baseball plus three collegiate seasons with the Texas Longhorns. He was the pitching coach for the big-league Houston Astros 2000-04.

Along the way, Ginger has been making friends in the stands and around the towns where Burt played or coached. When he was coaching in Round Rock, Houston and Oklahoma City, there were enough wives around for Ginger to lead a Bible study.

With younger players (the oldest players on the current Fort Wayne roster is 24 and there are nine teenagers), there is no opportunity with player wives.

“I just really prayed about it and God told me to feed my sheep so I just feed them,” says Ginger. “It’s mostly sweets.”

Pre- and post-game meals are provided by clubhouse manager Sam “Swirley” Lewis.

And it’s not just the players and and coaching staff that have sampled Ginger’s baked goods. Most everyone who works at Parkview Field — front office personnel, ushers, parking lot attendants — has gotten a taste.

The downtown stadium doubles as a public space when a game is not in progress. Many people walk around the perimeter of the field for exercise. Ginger walks there and greets those she encounters along the way.

When Burt and Ginger’s children — Gene and Layne — were very young, they would come to spring training with their parents and be tutored by their mother. As they grew older, they would visit spring training during spring break and then come to whatever baseball city their father called home.

“She always saw to it that she and the kids were wherever I was,” says Burt. “Now, it’s easy. We don’t have any kids (at home). I certainly don’t want to leave her home by herself (in San Antonio).

“I want her here. She wants to be here. We both enjoy it. It’s almost like a five-month vacation.”

This season has seen a steady stream of visits from family and friends. Sometimes when Burt is away, Ginger will go to help daughter Layne with her San Antonio-based store.

“I’ve been entertaining a lot,” says Ginger. “This season has flown by.

“I don’t know what I do, but I stay busy.”

Before moving into CityScape Flats, the Hootons lived next to Parkview Field at The Harrison. For the first few years in Fort Wayne, they resided in places across the city — far enough away that Ginger would sit in the one car they brought from Texas to pick up Burt after games.

Now, he can just walk home.

“I can get stuff done at home,” says Ginger.

The Hootons have gotten to know Fort Wayne and the surrounding area, checking out sites, museums and restaurants.

“Fort Wayne is a great town,” says Burt, the keynote speaker at the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association banquet in May. “The people we have met here have been great.”

Ginger and Burt also drive together on some of the TinCaps’ closer road trips.

“We enjoy traveling around together and being together,” says Burt. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The (Midwest) League is small enough that we can hop in the car and go places like Lansing, Grand Rapids, Dayton, South Bend and Midland, Mich.

“We’re having fun together.”

At 68, Burt takes his coaching career one season at a time.

“As long as I’m still healthy and enjoy it, somebody wants me and she’s OK with it,” says Burt. “When they ask me, I say I’ll ask Ginger and see what she says, She usually says whatever you want to do is fine with me.

“When she says ‘no’ that’ll probably be the end of it.”

Ginger sees the satisfaction her husband gets by helping to launch the pro careers of young pitchers.

“I think his greatest joy is getting to move these young kids up,” says Ginger. “It’s like our own children getting to make it.”

The past few weeks, the Hootons have been watching the Padres on TV and seeing players who once played in Fort Wayne.

“It’s so fun to get to see them experience that,” says Ginger.

And this husband and wife are experiencing so much together.


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Burt (left) and Ginger Hooton share a moment outside Parkview Field, where Burt is in his sixth season as pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps. The couple was married Dec. 30, 1972. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Former Columbus North, Louisville player Mann making his way in the Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

At 6-foot-3, first-year professional Devin Mann is not a typical second baseman.

Of the 30 second sackers in the No. 1 slot on the latest Major League Baseball depth charts, just two are listed as taller than 6-3. Colorado’s D.J. LeMahieu and Milwaukee’s Travis Shaw are both 6-4. Eleven current 2B starters are shorter that 6-foot. And that doesn’t count two stars on the disabled list — 5-6 Jose Altuve of Houston and 5-9 Dustin Pedroia of Boston.

Pedroia is Mann’s favorite player.

Why?

“I just like how he plays the game,” says Mann. “He plays the game really hard.

“He goes about his business everyday. That’s what they taught at (the University of) Louisville. I love that about him.”

Mann, 21, was a shortstop during his four seasons at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, which concluded in 2015.

When Mann arrived at the Louisville, he was moved to second base by Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell.

That was the position played by McDonnell at The Citadel and he put Mann through enough reps on that side of the infield that it became his natural defensive spot.

“(McDonnell) helped mold me (at second base) everyday,” says Mann. “Every kid deserves to play for a coach like that — the things he does for you as a baseball player and a person off the field don’t compare to anyone else.”

Mann also learned to flourish with the bat.

The right-handed swinger hit .303 in 39 games with no homers, nine doubles, 17 RBIs and one stolen base in 2016, .268 in 64 games with eight homers, 11 doubles, 44 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 2017 and .303 in 69 games with seven homers, 17 doubles, 52 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 2018. He hit in the No. 3 slot for the Cards this past spring.

Mann earned Atlantic Coast Conference honors in each of his three college seasons — all-freshman in 2016, third team in 2017 and all-tournament in 2018.

During that span, the Cardinals combined to go 148-45 with NCAA tournament appearances each season. U of L went to the College World Series in 2017. Louisville had eight players drafted each year, including first-rounder Brendan McKay and Jeffersonville’s Drew Ellis in 2017 and Batesville’s Bryan Hoeing (who’s announced he’s returning to Louisville for 2018-19) and Mann in 2018.

Mann was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After two games with Arizona League Dodgers, Mann has logged 38 with the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons in Midland, Mich., and is hitting .252 with one homer, eight doubles, 14 RBIs and five stolen bases. He consistently hitting from the third or fourth hole in the Great Lakes lineup.

Mann’s first professional long ball — a two-run shot — came July 8 in Midland against Dayton.

John Shoemaker is the Loons manager. The hitting coach is Jair Fernandez.

Mann says he has gained an awareness as a hitter. He recognizes the pitches he can do damage on and aggressively pursues those pitches.

“I’ve trained myself to see pitches early and have an awareness of the strike zone,” says Mann. “It’s paid dividends for me.

“I’ve definitely worked hard at it.”

Watching his power numbers go up at the end of his college career, Mann credits the increase too good mechanics and hitting his preferred pitch more times than not.

“It’s about not missing the pitch you’re getting each at-bat,” says Mann. “The rest might be pitcher’s pitches which are tougher to hit.”

Told the importance of finding a daily routine in pro baseball, where games are played nearly everyday, Mann says he was able to find one early.

Mann more of less re-wrote the offensive record book at Columbus North, finishing his prep career as the Bull Dogs’ career leader in average (.449), runs (118), hits (150), doubles (36), triples (10), home runs (20), RBI (111) and stolen bases (92). The right-handed swinger batted .410 with nine homers and 35 RBIs as a senior, earning all-state honors. He hit .433 average with 14 doubles and 24 RBIs as a junior. He set single-season records for average (.532) and stolen bases (30) as a sophomore.

His head coach was Ben McDaniel.

“He’s similar to Coach McDonnell,” says Mann of McDaniel. “He cares about you as a person off the field and knows the game.

“He demands the most out of you everyday. That’s what a team needs. He treats everybody the same — varsity, JV and freshmen.”

Devin, an only child, calls McDaniel “a second father” and says he and his parents — Bill and Diana Mann — are close friends. Bill owns Moore’s Roofing and Diana works for an asset management company.

Growing up in Columbus, Devin played early travel baseball for the Indiana Blazers. His 12-year-old summer, he was at Bartholomew County Little League as it attempted a run at the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

Mann also played travel ball for the Indiana Nitro and then the Indiana Bulls leading into his junior and senior years at Columbus North.

Dan Held was his head coach with the Bulls.

“He taught us about work ethic and getting the most out of each day,” says Mann of Held, who is now on the baseball staff at Indiana University.

Mann was a sport management major in college and is a semester shy of graduation. He says he plans to finish his degree this year or next.

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Devin Mann, a Columbus, Ind., native is playing with the Great Lakes Loons in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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A shortstop at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, Devin Mann was moved to second base at the University of Louisville and that’s where he plays much of the time in his first professional baseball season. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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Devin Mann, who played at Columbus (Ind.) North High School and the University of Louisville, smacks a pitch as a member of the Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League. (Great Lakes Loons)

Power, positivity propel Terre Haute’s Reed in baseball career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Reed is known for hitting the baseball very hard and for long distances.

How does the Terre Haute, Ind., native do it?

“I’m always looking for a heater,” says Reed of his approach at the plate. “I don’t want to let any fastballs in the zone go. I feel that’s the pitch I do the most damage on.

“If I can hit the fastball to left-center, I’m able to stay on the off-speed and hit it to right-center.”

Reed, a 6-foot-4, 260-pounder lefty-swinging first baseman, uses his dimensions to challenge the dimensions of ballparks.

“My size plays to my advantage really well,” says Reed, who lost about 15 pounds last off-season. “For other guys it’s bat speed.

“I feel like I can get away with a little bit more missing the barrel because I’ve got more behind the ball.”

Folks are still talking about Reed’s 2017 blast at Southwest University Park in El Paso, Texas.

“It cleared their Jumbotron,” says Reed. “It probably would have cleared these lights (at Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio).

So Reed has light-tower power?

“On that particular swing, yeah,” says Reed, who was a slugging star at Terre Haute South Vigo High School and the University of Kentucky before being selected in the second round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Houston Astros.

He was in Columbus this week as a representative of the Pacific Coast League’s Fresno Grizzlies in the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game.

Reed, who swings a 34/32 Victus bat, was hitting .264 with 19 home runs, 11 doubles, three triples, 73 runs batted in and a .903 OPS (on-base plus slugging) average through games of July 12.

Reed, who turned 25 in May, led all of Minor League Baseball in home runs with 34 in both 2015 and 2017, winning the Joe Bauman Home Run Award. Bauman socked 72 for the 1954 Roswell (N.M.) Rockets.

To date, Reed has 114 circuit clouts in the minors plus three in 131 at-bats at the big league level with the Astros (his first one came July 2, 2016, off David Robertson of the Chicago White Sox). He clubbed 40 in three seasons at Kentucky (2012-14) and before that walloped 41 for Terre Haute South. He was named Indiana Mr. Baseball in 2011.

He stacked up honors at UK. In 2014, he was chosen for the Golden Spikes Award, Dick Howser Trophy and John Olerud Two-Way Player Award as well as national college player of the year by Baseball America, Perfect Game USA, ABCA, Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger. He was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year.

“We decided for my junior year that we were going to do something special,” says Reed, who credits former Kentucky hitting coach Brian Green for his offensive approach. “If I could set a good example, everybody was going to follow and that’s what happened. It was a really good year.

“I owe him a lot.”

UK went 36-26 and played in the NCAA tournament in 2014. Green is now head coach at New Mexico State University.

Reed went 26-10 on the mound at Terre Haute South Vigo and was selected in the 25th round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the New York Mets, but opted to play as a two-way player at Kentucky, where Gary Henderson was head coach and also led the pitching staff.

“He’s one of the best pitching guys in the country,” says Reed of Henderson, who went on to be pitching coach then interim head coach at Mississippi State University. “He was a really good coach for me for three years.”

Southpaw Reed made 46 mound appearances (35 starts) for Kentucky and was 19-13 with a 2.83 earned run average, 174 strikeouts and 53 walks in 247 1/3 innings.

Two men that had a big impact on Reed’s development as he grew up in Terre Haute are South Vigo head coach Kyle Kraemer and American Legion Post 346 manager John Hayes.

“Coach Kraemer and I are still very close,” says Reed. “I started working with him well before I was in high school. I guess he saw something in me.

“He spent a lot of time with me working on my swing. That’s where it really started to pay off for me. He’s a very big part of my baseball career.”

Reed played Dixie Bee and Riley baseball then Legion ball with Post 346 and Hayes (who led that highly-successful program from 1985-2015) before turning it over to brother Tim Hayes.

“(John Hayes) is one of the most positive guys I’ve ever been around in the game of baseball,” says Reed. “He cared so much for his players.

“He’s a very influential person in my career.”

The bonds with the Hayes family were strengthened through Reed’s friendship with Jacob Hayes (son of Tim and Gail). A year ahead of A.J. in school, Jacob went on to play baseball at Indiana State University.

Darryl Robinson has been Reed’s hitting coach in three of his four seasons in pro baseball — High-A and last two years in Triple-A.##

“He’s kind of the same way as Kraemer,” says Reed of Robinson. “He’s just a very positive guy. He feeds your head with so much positive energy that you’re up there just knowing you’re going to be successful. That really works for me.”

Upbeat is the way Reed (#AJReed on Instagram) likes to approach baseball.

“I like to have fun,” says Reed. “You can’t play this game without having fun. There’s too much failure.”

Reed has observed plenty of success on his home state’s baseball scene.

“Baseball’s a big deal in Indiana,” says Reed. “They produce a lot of really good players. It’s obviously tough to compete with Florida, California and Texas where they get to play year-round outside. But we produce talent in Indiana for sure.

When Reed was at Terre Haute South, the Braves played in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference.

At the time, the MIC feature both Terre Haute schools — South Vigo and North Vigo — as well as Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence North, Indianapolis North Central and Warren Central

“You saw a lot of good talent in those Indianapolis schools,” says Reed.

A.J. and wife Shelby Reed have been married for nearly three years and are proud owners of cockapoos Moose and Buck. The Reeds recently bought a house in Terre Haute to be close to her family. A.J.’s mother, Debbie, lives in Florida. He also has two older sisters — Leslie and Carrie.

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A.J. Reed, a former star at Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School and the University of Kentucky, is now playing in the Houston Astros organization. He has three home runs in 131 at-bats at the big-league level and 114 long balls in the minors since 2014. (Houston Astros Photo)

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Terre Haute’s A.J. Reed signs autographs for fans at the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. He played first base and batted No. 4 for the Pacific Coast League while representing the Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies. (Steve Krah Photo)

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A.J. Reed, a Terre Haute, Ind., native, represented the Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies in the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. Through July 12, he had clubbed 19 home runs and knocked in 73 runs. (Fresno Grizzlies Photo)

Former Valpo U. catcher Kapers now receiving in Rangers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott Kapers has a reason to show his choppers and it’s not just because his father is a dentist.

The oldest child of Dr. Scott A. Kapers, DDS, and Melissa Kapers, who both work at Creating Smiles PC in St. John, Ind. (across the Lake Central High School), Scott T. Kapers is enjoying his first taste of professional baseball with the Spokane (Wash.) Indians of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League.

Kapers, right-handed-hitting catcher and Schererville, Ind., native, was selected in the 17th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers after three seasons at Valparaiso University.

After attending Forest Ridge Academy and Grimmer Middle School in Scherville, Kapers crossed the nearby state line and went to Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School.

A middle infielder going into a high school, Kapers converted to catcher to get a chance at playing time on a Caravan team that featured a shortstop (Jerry Houston Jr.) two years ahead of him and a second baseman (Ako Thomas) in his class. Houston went on to the University of Oregon and Thomas to the University of Michigan.

During his sophomore year (2013), Kapers finally cracked the varsity lineup at playoff time and helped coach Brian Hurry’s Caravan to a Illinois High School Athletic Association Class 4A state title (Mount Carmel edged Libertyville 2-1 in Joliet).

Two other Mount Carmel seniors in 2013 — Jason Gasser (Northern Illinois University) and Jeremy Kravetz (University of Kansas) — also went on the NCAA Division I baseball.

Kapers, who played for numerous travel teams over the years (Region Redbirds, Futures Baseball, Northwest Indiana Shockers, Indiana Bulls, Team DeMarini, Grinders Baseball and Cincinnati Reds Fall Scout Team), emailed five college programs a week before being approached by Valpo at a Prep Baseball Report showcase.

He made a verbal commitment in the fall of his junior year and signed his letter of intent with the D-I Crusaders as a Mount Carmel senior.

The Redbirds were a team coached by Scott A. Kapers and other fathers.

John Mallee, who is now the hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies and formerly served in that role with the Florida Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, was a Shockers founder and talked to Kapers about attending Mount Carmel.

At VU, Kapers played head coach Brian Schmack and learned about “playing the game the right way” and following routines from him and assistant Ben Wolgamot.

As a catcher, he did much drill work with Nic Mishler. He credits Kory Winter with aiding in improving his physical and mental strength. Kapers played in 45 games as a freshman, 52 as a sophomore and 50 as a junior before being drafted. In 2018, he hit .263 with four home runs, nine doubles and 28 runs batted in.

He also played 92 summer collegiate baseball games for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League in 2016 and 2017.

Through July 6, Kapers had played in seven pro games — two with the Arizona League Rangers and five with Spokane — and was hitting a combined .217 with no homers, two doubles and two RBIs.

Kapers’ approach in the batter’s box revolves around having competitive at-bats.

“It’s about being a smart hitter and not just a swinger,” says Kapers. “Quality at-bats are huge. You string quality at-bats to score runs and that’s how you win games.”

Rangers minor league stops above Spokane, where Kenny Holmberg is the manager, Jared Goedert the hitting coach and Jono Armold the pitching coach, are the Low Class-A Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads, High-A Down East (N.C.) Wood Ducks, Double-A Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and Triple-A Round Rock (Texas) Express.

Following in his older brothers’ footsteps as a catcher at Mount Carmel and heading into his freshman year at Valpo U. is Jake Kapers (18). Sister Madison Kapers (20) will be a junior at VU. She played softball at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Ill.

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Scott Kapers gets ready to fire the baseball for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott Kapers seeks “quality at-bat” for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Texas Rangers system. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott Kapers grew up in Northwest Indiana and played baseball in Indiana and Illinois. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Pacific Northwest with the Spokane (Wash.) Indians in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott T. Kapers, son of Dr. Scott A. Kapers, DDS, is all smiles as he gets set to take the baseball field for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

Lanky lefty Roberts displaying ‘will to win’ as Mariners minor leaguer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Max Roberts wants to be a winner.

He says that’s what drives him as an athlete.

“Competing is the biggest thing. It’s the will to win,” says Max Roberts. “It’s just who I am.”

That drive was instilled by his father — long-time Washington Township Middle/High School head baseball coach and fifth grade teacher Randy Roberts and grandfather Norman Roberts — and has followed Max throughout his diamond life.

“Between the two of us, Max probably acts more like his grandfather than he acts like me,” says Randy Roberts. His father lives in Warsaw, Ind., where Randy grew up. Randy played baseball for Jim Miller (who an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee) at Warsaw Community High School, graduating in 1978. From there, he played for Tom Roy at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. “My dad gave me the love for baseball. He was an incredible worker.”

From a very young age, Max showed the ability to throw a ball where he wanted.

“When he was 2 or 3 years old and we would play catch, he had good location and good aim,” says Randy Roberts, who has won eight IHSAA Class 1A sectionals in 22 seasons at Washington Township. “He’s always been pretty good at locating his pitches. He’s never been the hardest thrower on his team. He’s always been the best at getting outs.

“He’s a strike thrower.”

His father also admires Max’s lack of fear with throwing inside to batters.

“Most kids at the lower levels — when they get two strikes — they’re looking to go away,” says Randy. “It’s humiliating to hit a batter with two strikes. He’s always been good at coming inside. He has confidence in doing that.”

Max Roberts, who turns 21 on July 23, graduated from Valparaiso (Ind.) High School in 2016, played one year at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and was selected in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

The 6-foot-6, 190-pound left-hander made 10 appearances (seven starts) in 2017 and went 1-1 with a 5.18 earned run average, 18 strikeouts and nine walks in 24 1/3 innings the rookie-level Arizona League Mariners.

In 2018, he has pitched in three games (all starts) and is 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA, 17 strikeouts and three walks in 15 innings with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League.

How has he improved the last year?

“By having a feel for every pitch in any count,” says Max Roberts, who throws a four-seam fastball (consistently thrown at 87 to 89 mph and occasionally touching 91 to 92), curveball and four-seam “circle” change-up from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot.

“I definitely have some arm-side run,” says Roberts, who credits much of what he knows about pitching to his father and a relationship Randy has with Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. “They bounce ideas of each other.”

When Max was still in grade school, Randy attended the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago and invited Strom to extend his trip and spend a few days with Roberts in Valpo. Over the years, Randy and Max have visited Strom when he was nearby, sent video for for his analysis or texted questions. He has always been swift with his replies.

“There’s no better human being in baseball than Brent Strom,” says Randy Roberts.

Roberts was a late recruit at Wabash Valley, committing less than a month before arriving on-campus in the fall. By the third weekend of the spring, Roberts was the Friday starter for head coach Rob Fournier.

“(Fournier) was big on competing,” says Roberts. “He he didn’t care who you were — just go out and throw strikes and win games.”

Roberts went 10-1 with one save for WVC. Under the guidance of Fournier and pitching coach Jeff Bolen, he sported a 1.44 ERA, 98 strikeouts and 28 walks in 94 innings. Of his 17 appearances, 13 came as a starter. His lone loss was in relief.

Todd Evans was Roberts’ head coach at Valparaiso High.

Roberts got his formal baseball start in the Valpo Americans League before playing travel ball with the Boone Grove Wolves and then the Valpo Sting.

In high school, he was with the Indiana Chargers for four summers, working with coaches Joel Mishler, Justin Barber and Ryan Marken.

“I was in an environment with guys who wanted to play baseball,” says Max Roberts of the Chargers experience. “They cared.

“As a former college coach, (Mishler) knew what it took to compete at the next level. The biggest thing there was the winter workouts. That’s when you can see the biggest improvements in your game.”

The lanky Roberts put about 20 pounds last fall at the Mariners’ high performance training camp and has kept it on by consuming 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day.

“In the past, I had a hard time gaining and maintaining weight,” says Roberts. “This this year, it hasn’t been a problem.”

Vancouver hitters had a problem against Roberts in a June 20 game before a capacity crowd of 6,412 at Nat Bailey Stadium in British Columbia. The lefty retired the first 18 Canadians before allowing the first hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The next steps on the Mariners’ minor league ladder are the Low Class-A Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings, High Class-A Modesto (Calif.) Nuts, Double-A Arkansas Travelers and Triple-A Tacoma (Wash.) Rainiers.

Max is the oldest of Randy and Anne Roberts’ three children. Sophia just graduated from Indiana University-Bloomington in the spring. Baseball-playing William will enter his senior year at Washington Township in the fall.

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Max Roberts, a Valparaiso (Ind.) High School graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. He is now a starting pitcher with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Everett AquaSox)

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Max Roberts delivers a pitch for the 2018 Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

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Max Roberts, who played at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Wabash Valley College in Illinois, looks in for the sign as a pitcher for the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox in the Seattle Mariners system. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

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Left-hander Max Roberts delivers the ball from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot. He was drafted in 2018 by the Seattle Mariners and assigned to the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

 

Process among points of emphasis for Brabender, Northridge Raiders baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seeing the value in the process, staying with trends and building relationships.

That’s what baseball coaching is all about for Andrew Brabender, who enters his 11th season in charge at Northridge High School in 2018.

“I believe in the little things, the process of things,” says Brabender. “It’s getting kids to buy into doing the things that need to happen for the end result to happen. We’re not not looking toward the end result, but the little wins that happen throughout the process to get us to the end.

“I believe in staying current. It’s a great time to coach baseball. At the tips of your fingers you have Twitter, YouTube videos, apps and other gadgets.

“The guys on my staff are eager to learn and they really want to be current. What is the best stuff out there? What are the elite hitters doing? What are the elite throwers doing? What are the elite infielders doing and how do we make our kids do that?”

One way Brabender and his assistants — James Greensides, Dyrk Miller, Mike Miller, Blake Fry and Arick Doberenz — get players to focus on the path itself and not its end is the Raider Process Index, a system modified from Justin Dehmer and his 1 Pitch Warrior teachings.

“If we do this, this and this, the end result is going to take care of itself,” says Brabender, who has helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional championship (2015) and numerous conference titles.

The first section in the Raider Process Index is the Freebie War, which counts Northridge totals vs. opponents for errors, walks, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, strikeouts, stolen bases and dead-ball reads.

The second section is Pressure (or Press). Point totals are given for:

• Producing a big inning (10 points).

• Rally scored. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Eliminated rally scores. If Yes (2 points each time).

• Scored first. If Yes (10 points).

• Scored with two outs. If Yes (5 points).

The game goal is 30 points.

The third section is Quality At-Bats. QAB points can be given for a hard-hit ball (fly ball), freebie (walk, hit-by-pitch, error, catcher’s interference), moving a runner with no outs, a base hit or extra base hit, a six-pitch at-bat not ending in a strikeout and an nine-pitch at-bat even ending in a strikeout.

The overall RPI target is 48 points.

“We want to put pressure on the other team,” says Brabender. “We want to score first. We always want to have a shutdown inning after a big inning.

“This Raider Process Index is way for our kids to stay with the process. If we do that, the winning will take care of itself.”

Brabender regularly posts the RPI and QAB in the dugout.

“We don’t show our kids batting average,” says Brabender. “We just show them Quality At-Bats.

“They may have went 0-for-3 hitting, but went 2-for-3 in Quality At-Bats. That’s a good day. We’ve got lots of things in place for kids to value the process. You can’t just say it. You have to have things that will show them that we all value the process.”

For years, the Raiders have employed the mental training methods of sports psychologist Brian Cain.

The past five years, all Northridge players have been on a Driveline weighted ball throwing program.

Brabender says there are many benefits but the top ones are that is that it force feeds good arm action as well as arm development and the ability to throw with intent.

This year marks the second year that the Raiders are using a weighted Axe Bat regimen and the first year they’re really “diving into head-first, full speed ahead.”

The Axe Bat features overloaded and underloaded bats, which teaches intent and body positioning.

“With every kid in our program, exit velocity is up from the first time that we tested,” says Brabender, who has seen gains in hitting and throwing.

Exit velocity is measured with radar guns and with Blast Vision motion capture technology, which keeps track of all the post-contact metrics (things like launch angle, exit velocity and the distance the ball traveled). Blast Motion is used for pre-contact measurements.

Brabender has employed Blast Motion for three years and this is his first using Blast Vision.

Video analysis is also done with a RightView Pro app.

The Raiders boss was not talking about Launch Angle a decade ago.

“Now that’s all we talk about,” says Brabender, who had his youth campers hit on an upward plane. They were competing Saturday to get as many balls above a line on the curtain in the NHS fieldhouse. Below that line of 20 degrees or so was a groundout. Too far above it was a fly ball out.

“That’s what we call result-oriented training,” says Brabender. “That’s straight from (former Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs and current Philadelphia Phillies hitting coach) John Mallee. He does a ton of that.

“It forces kids to put their bodies in the right position to make something happen. If it’s not happening, they’re not doing it correctly.”

Northridge (enrollment around 1,400) belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasee). It is a double-round robin 14-game slate. Except for the final week of the NLC season, conference games will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Raiders are grouped at 4A sectional time with Concord, Elkhart Central, Elkhart Memorial, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

What about the pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days)?

“We’ve always believed in it,” says Brabender. “One of the things that’s always made our program strong is the amount of depth we’ve created in our pitching. Most of the kids in our program are going to pitch.

“I don’t think you can have enough arms at this level. In my 11 years, we’ve only had a handful of kids go over 100 pitches.

“Unless you’ve got someone with plus velocity — I’m talking 85 mph plus — you’re just asking for trouble. Getting a new guy in there just gives (the opponent) a different look anyway.”

Andrew’s father talked about the “24-hour rule.” A pitcher’s rest would go an hour by number of pitches thrown. That makes 24 hours if he throws 24 pitches and so on.

It comes down to the welfare of the player.

“It’s important that if kids want to play at the collegiate level, they’re healthy enough to do that,” says Brabender

Former Northridge players currently on college rosters include Shannon Baker and Brock Logan at Fort Wayne, Sam Troyer at Evansville, Matt Miller and Andy Ross at Indiana University South Bend and Andrew Kennedy at Taylor.

So far, current Raiders seniors Cody Bible (Indiana University Kokomo) and Dylan Trick (Spring Arbor University) have made college commitments.

Many Northridge players are part of travel baseball organizations like the Indiana Chargers, Michiana Scrappers and Middlebury Mavericks. Brabender and company also conduct coach clinic and player camps for Middlebury Little League.

Andrew is the son of Tom and Dorothy Brabender. Tom, who died in 2015, played football at Western Illinois University for Lou Saban and was a baseball coach in central Illinois for 40-plus years.

“The biggest thing from my dad was the way he related to his players,” says Andrew. “For them to follow what you want to accomplish, there has to be some likability.”

Brabender sees it as his duty to figure out a way to relate to each athlete in some way. He saw his father do it. Tom Brabender coached American Legion baseball into his late 60’s and was still relating with teenage players.

“That’s not easy,” says Andrew. “I hope I’m doing that here. I feel like I am. I want them to value the relationship with me more than baseball and for them to know that I’ve always got their back no matter what.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids.”

Before becoming head coach at Northridge, Brabender served one season as an assistant to Troy Carson — a man he also coached with in the Raiders football program.

Before Northrdge, Brabender spent three seasons as a baseball assistant to Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central High School.

Prior coming to Elkhart County, Brabender followed his last two seasons as a baseball player at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri with two seasons on the Trojans coaching staff.

His coach and then his boss was Scott Ashton, who brought Brabender to the NAIA school after he played two seasons of junior college ball at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill., following his graduation in 1996 from St. Teresa High School in Decatur, Ill.

“He was a huge influence in my life — spiritually, baseball-wise,” says Brabender of Ashton, who is now Mid-Missouri director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes and team chaplain for University of Missouri baseball, football and softball. “He taught me how to be a man We’re still close. We talk as much as we can.

“He’s a mentor me not just with baseball but my walk with the Lord.”

Ashton came along at a rough time in Brabender’s life.

In 1998, Andrew was playing in a wood bat tournament in Evansville and his parents and girlfriend (later wife) Marcie were there to watch. When they got home, they learned that Jason Brabender — Andrew’s brother — had been killed in a car accident.

“It was devastating,” says Andrew. “It was a crossroads in a lot of different avenues in our lives.”

Marcie, who Andrew met at Lake Land, had committed to play basketball at the University of Southern Mississippi. Hannibal-LaGrange was one of the few schools that was recruiting both Andrew and Marcie.

“We just took that leap and that’s where we ended up,” says Brabender. “It worked out great. I met some dear lifelong friends there. Marcie was part of the national tournament team in 2000. Two of my buddies from Lake Land ended up transferring there. It was cool.”

Andrew and Marcie married in the summer of 2000. They have four children — Emma (16), Beau (12), Kate (8) and Luke (6). Andrew grew up with an older sister, Mindy, and months ago found out he has another sibling named Lisa.

During the school day, Brabender teaches physical education for Grades K-5 at two Middlebury Community Schools buildings — Jefferson Elementary and Heritage Intermediate.

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Andrew Brabender is entering his his 11th season as head baseball at Northridge High School in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer Hawkins knows the importance of being nice

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Only nine men in the history of Major League Baseball made more pitching appearances that LaTroy Hawkins.

From 1995-2015, the lanky right-hander took the mound 1,042 times for 11 different MLB organizations — Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies (twice), New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.

Originally signed by Daniel Durst, the 1991 Gary West Side High School graduate made a minor league stop with the Fort Wayne Wizards in 1993 and went on to won 75 games and save 127 in the big leagues.

Along the way, “The Hawk” met thousands of folks.

Hawkins always tried to treat them with kindness — the way he was taught growing up in Gary, Ind., by mother Debra Morrow and grandparents Lesley Cannon and Eddie and Celestine Williams.

“I always wanted to do the right thing,” says Hawkins, who will be inducted into the Indiana High Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January. “Part of that is having a positive impact on others.

“I learned at a young age that trouble easy to get into and hard to get out of. I didn’t want to be a thorn in my (mother or grandparents’) side. I wanted to put a smile on people’s face.”

LaTroy’s mother still resides in Gary as do Mr. and Mrs. Williams. Grandmother Lesley died more than a decade ago, but her words and actions still ring true with LaTroy.

“She taught me about caring about people,” says Hawkins. “It didn’t matter what color they were.

“She had this uncanny way of opening up her home to everybody. You could always get three hot meals from her. She had a real sweet presence about her.

“She told me to always be willing to help people. You never know when you might need help. You always nice to people. Show them that you care. That always stuck with me.”

Lesley asked her grandson to always be that way.

“I try to be nice 99 percent of the time,” says Hawkins. “It’s hard to be nice 100 percent of the time. You come across more good people than (bad people).”

Maybe he didn’t always know your name.

“Hey, Big Fella!”

But Hawkins had — and still continues to have — time for everyone in his sphere that has revolved around a little white sphere. That might be folks on the grounds crew, security staff or on the loading dock.

“I made it my business to get to know everybody around me that made my day a little smoother once I left my front door and went to work,” says Hawkins.

When he learned about his Hall of Fame selection, he saw it as recognition for hard work and good character.

“It’s also the things you’ve done to grow the game of baseball in Indiana and around the world,” says Hawkins. “That’s having a positive impact I think.”

Now retired from his 21-year playing career, Hawkins is back with the Twins as a Special Assistant to Baseball Operations. His responsibilities include: contributing to the development of the organizational pitching philosophy used in the selection and development of all players. He will occasionally serve as an analyst for Twins games on Fox Sports North.

In working with the organization’s minor league pitchers, he gets them to set realistic goals and to help with both the mental and mechanical sides of their trade.

He talks about throwing high fastballs, pitching inside or down and away and when to use the curve ball.

But he also stresses the importance of data — something he paid little attention to as a player.

“It won’t work for everybody, but they’ll be some careers saved because of it,” says Hawkins. “It was a thing (when I played), but I didn’t want to know it.”

“When I started to 1995, analytics had a very small imprint.”

People relied on the human element and scouting.

“All we had to go on back then was the eye test,” says Hawkins. “Either you could do it or you couldn’t. Now there’s a reason for that and a program that can help you do it.”

Hawkins, who turns 45 on Dec. 21, helps hurlers change their grip to get a higher spin rate on their deliveries. After hanging out with Twins video personnel last March and seeing TrackMan data from spring training games and and also the numbers from his last three seasons (2013-15), he saw how spin rate either helped or harmed his own performance.

“That’s when I really got interested,” says Hawkins. “I saw what made me the pitcher I was. I didn’t care how hard I threw. Coming up in the Twins organization it was about command. That’s why I lasted so long. When I started throwing harder, I had still had command.”

It was also helpful that Hawkins possessed loose wrists, long fingers and strong hands.

“You’ve got to have two out of three to be able to do some of those things with the baseball,” says Hawkins.

Before going to spring training in 2018, Hawkins plans to travel to Indianapolis for the Jan. 28 Indiana Hall of Fame banquet at the Sheraton at the Keystone at the Crossing. The rest of the induction class includes coaches Rich Andriole (Indianapolis Cathedral/Guerin Catholic) and Pat Murphy (Valparaiso High School/retired), contributor Colin Lister (Fort Wayne/deceased) and Veteran’s Committee selection Howard Kellman (Indianapolis Indians broadcaster).

LaTroy and Anita Hawkins (who is a Gary Roosevelt High School graduate) celebrated their 17th year of marriage Nov. 25. The couple have a 16-year-old daughter — Troi — and reside in the Dallas area.

Westin Hotels & Resorts, Justin Tuck, LaTroy Hawkins And Rocco DiSpirito Launch "Make Monday Better" Campaign With Surprise Giveaway At A.C.E. High School In Canarsie, Brooklyn

LaTroy Hawkins began his 21-year Major League Baseball career with the Minnesota Twins and now works in the team’s front office. The 1991 Gary West Side High School graduate is part of the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. (Yahoo Photo)