Tag Archives: Independent baseball

Columbus native Gray deliver for Milwaukee Milkmen in a big way

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Peyton Gray has spent July and August dodging bats.

The right-handed pitcher from Columbus, Ind., playing independent professional baseball has been dominant in his back of the bullpen role.

As the closer for the American Association’s Milwaukee Milkmen, Gray goes into play today (Aug. 26) with a 2-0 record, 10 saves and a 0.00 earned run average. In 24 innings, he has yet to allow a run and has struck out 41 (15.375 per nine innings) and walked 10.

“For the most part, I try to stay with myself and pitch to my strengths,” says Gray. “I’ve been able to catch some breaks.

“It’s been fun so far.”

A 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, Gray delivers a fastball, slider and change-up from a three-quarter overarm slot. The slider breaks in on left-handed batters and away from righties and the “Vulcan” change sinks.

But it’s his four-seam fastball that’s been his out pitch. It travels 90 to 93 mph and — he learned while working out in the off-season with Greg Vogt of PRP Baseball at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. — that it has an above-average spin rate.

The 2020 season marks Gray’s third in pro ball. He was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2018 out of Florida Gulf Coast University and played rookie-level and Low Class-A ball in the Rockies system in 2018 and 2019.

A 2014 graduate of Columbus (Ind.) High School, where he was a four-year letterman for Olympians head coach Jon Gratz, Gray pitched one season at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo (0-1 with two saves, a 3.58 ERA, 21 strikeouts and 18 walks in 37 2/3 innings in 2015), one at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Fla. (8-1 with one save, a 3.93 ERA, 55 strikeouts and 13 walks in 71 2/3 innings in 2016) and two at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla. (6-5 with one save, a 5.49 ERA, 110 strikeouts and 42 walks in 95 innings in 2017 and 2018).

Gray was both a mid-week starter and weekend reliever at Florida Gulf Coast. He came out of the bullpen in the Rockies organization.

With the Milkmen, he has been used mostly for one-inning outings with two exceptions. He has never faced more than seven batters at a time.

“Throwing’s very crucial,” says Gray. “When you’re sore force yourself to throw and break up whatever’s tight in the body.

Gray uses Driveline PlyoCare balls for recovery both on days he pitches and days he does not.

At 25, Gray is one of the youngest on a roster that features no less than six players with big-league experience — pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Tim Dillard, David Holmberg, Drew Hutchison, A.J. Schugel, and infielder David Washington.

“It’s been really good for me to be around an older crowd like this and learn the game more,” says Gray. “It’s pretty close-knit team. Everybody’s very friendly and down-to-earth.

“I watch how they go about their business. As a professional, you’re in charge of your career. You have to know the ropes if you want that career to last long.”

Gray is now with a team managed by Anthony Barone with Hayden Carter (formerly of the Kokomo, Ind., Jackrabbits) as pitching coach that plays its home games in the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin, Wis.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Association is operating with six teams — Milwaukee, Chicago Dogs, Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks, Saint Paul Saints, Sioux Falls Canaries and Winnipeg Goldeyes — playing a 60-game schedule. When the season began, Milwaukee was one of three hubs. Later on, Chicago and Saint Paul opened back up and began hosting games. Winnipeg has been playing mostly road games.

Milwaukee is about a five-hour trip from Columbus meaning his family has been able to see him play in-person.

“They’re huge baseball fans,” says Peyton of father Billy Gray and older brother Jordan Gray. “They get to live their baseball dream through me. They’ve traveled and supported me through all these years.

“It makes me happy to make them proud.”

Billy Gray played high school baseball at Columbus North and Jordan Gray at Columbus East. 

From 12 to 17, Peyton played travel baseball for the Indiana Blazers. Billy was head coach of that team in the early years and Shelbyville’s Terry Kuhn filled that role in the later ones.

Bowling is a big deal in the Gray family. Billy owns Gray’s Pro Shop in Columbus Bowling Center. Jordan is the men’s bowling coach at Marian University in Indianapolis and his fiancee — Jerracah Heibel — is an associate head bowling coach at MU. Billy Gray is a Knights assistant.

Lisa Gray, wife of Billy and mother of Jordan and Peyton, works for Bartholemew County Youth Services Center.

Peyton Gray holds a Criminal Justice degree from Florida Gulf Coast and goes on ride-alongs with police officers during the baseball off-season. He says he sees himself going into some form of law enforcement in the future.

Peyton Gray, of Columbus, Ind., has been a lights-out late-inning baseball pitcher for the independent American Association’s Milwaukee Milkmen in 2020. He played at Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed by the Colorado Rockies in 2018.

Columbus East, Franklin College grad Claycamp gets pro ball opportunity in The Battle of the Bourbon Trail

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Claycamp began playing baseball at 3.

The Columbus, Ind., native had a pretty good idea might be on the diamond at 23.

But when his workouts before professional coaches and scouts did not yield an offer, he figured his baseball would come in an adult amateur league.

Claycamp played in a few games in one such circuit in Indianapolis when a unique pro opportunity arose.

He completed a paid internship in the purchasing department at Faurecia USA from the fall of 2019 to the spring of 2020. In December 2019, he earned his degree in History.

More than a year after his college eligibility ran out and eight months after getting his degree Claycamp signed to participate in The Battle of the Bourbon Trail — a co-op pro league. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing cancellation of the independent Frontier League and Low Class-A South Atlantic League seasons for 2020, a league was formed with two teams each in Lexington (Legends and Leyengas) and Florence (Y’alls and Freedom).

The Battle rages Aug. 1-Sept. 13 with games contested Wednesday through Sunday at Florence’s UC Health Stadium and Lexington’s Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

Claycamp, who commuted from Columbus to begin the season, has made arrangements for an Airbnb in Lexington. When the Legends play in Florence, he stays with family friends in the Lawrenceburg/Sunman, Ind., area.

Other Indiana players in The Battle include Drew Ellis, Jeff Thompson, Walker Talcott, Will Baker, Joe Dougherty and Nick Floyd.

Ellis, a Jeffersonville High School graduate, played at the University of Louisville and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. The third baseman plays home games only for the Legends and Leyengas.

Thompson (Floyd Central) is a 6-6 right-hander who was at Louisville and in the Detroit Tigers organization. He was in indy ball at Sussex County in 2019.

Right-hander Talcott (McCutcheon) last pitched for Earlham College in 2019.

Outfielder Baker played at Ball State University and was in independent ball in the American Association in 2019 (Texas and Kansas City).

Righty Dougherty (Morgan Township) pitched for Grace College before taking the mound in the United Shores Professional Baseball League in Utica, Mich.

Floyd (Jimtown) was at Ball State University and the righty hurled for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats in 2019.

So far, Claycamp has played left field, third base and first base for the 2020 Lexington Legends, who counts Eddie Brooks as manager with former pro scout Steve Chandler as well as Chad Martin and Dom Fucci as coaches.

While his primary position growing up and through college was shortstop, Claycamp has moved around the field.

“I’ve been a utility player my whole life,” says Claycamp. 

At Columbus (Ind.) East High School, where he graduated in 2015, he was a shortstop as a freshman, shortstop and second baseman as a sophomore, third baseman as a junior and third baseman, shortstop and second baseman as a senior.

He played those same three spots in his one season at the University of Dayton (2016) and then was locked in at short in three campaigns at Franklin (2017-19). He helped the Grizzlies win back-to-back Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference titles in his final two campaigns.

Claycamp was invited to pre-Major League Baseball Draft workouts by the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies in, but was unable to attend with Franklin making the school’s deepest ever postseason run, reaching the regional final in Sequin, Texas.

After getting into eight games at NCAA Division I Dayton (two starts), Claycamp transferred to D-III Franklin and played in 128 contests for the Grizzlies. He hit .354 (174-of-491) with 20 home runs (tied for No. 9 in program history), 46 doubles (No. 5 all-time), 133 runs batted in (No. 6) and 143 runs scored (No. 4).

Lance Marshall is Franklin’s head coach.

“Coach Marshall’s awesome,” says Claycamp. “He’s very much a player’s coach.

“He lives and breathes baseball. He gets very in-depth with a lot of things. He’s talked more about the little things in baseball than anybody I’ve ever been around.”

But as important as the sport is, it’s not the top thing on Marshall’s list.

“From Day 1, he makes it very clear that it’s faith, family, baseball then school,” says Claycamp.

At East, Claycamp played for Olympians head coach Jon Gratz.

“It was a good program,” says Claycamp. “We always had a lot of good talent. They were guys I grew up playing with.”

Among them were Peyton Gray, Cam Curry, Will Anderson, Brian Wichman and Christian Wichman.

Right-handed pitcher Gray went on to Florida Gulf Coast University, the Colorado Rockies organization and is now in independent pro ball with the Milwaukee Milkmen.

Right-hander/outfielder Curry started at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. When SJC school closed, he went to Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Anderson, a 6-foot-8 righty, pitched at Northern Illinois University.

Left-hander Brian Wichman was at Murray State University then hurled for the University of Indianapolis.

Catcher Christian Wichman played briefly at Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Ky., where he was also a football player.

Claycamp played in both Bartholomew County Little League (weekdays) and travel baseball (weekends) until he was in high school. Bartholomew County (now Youth Baseball of Bartholomew County) won a state title when he was 12 and lost in the Great Lakes Regional championship. The winner went on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Early travel ball teams were the Columbus Crush, Indiana Blazers and BCLL All-Stars. In high school, Claycamp donned the jerseys of the Indiana Redbirds, Indiana Outlaws and Johnson County/Indiana Jaguars.

Besides baseball, Sam played football until middle school. He was on the school basketball team through eighth grade then played intramural and church hoops.

His falls were dedicated to deer hunting.

David and Tammy Claycamp have two sons — Sam and Kobbe (22). David Claycamp is machine shop manager at Innovative Casting Technologies in Franklin. Tammy Claycamp is a teacher at Faith Lutheran Preschool in Columbus. Kobbe Claycamp played baseball and football at Columbus East. He was on the IHSAA Class 5A state championship team in 2017 and state runner-up squad in 2016. He also played club rugby in high school.

The Battle of the Bourbon Trail is a baseball co-op between Florence and Lexington in Kentucky. (Florence Y’alls/Lexington Legends Image)
Sam Claycamp played three baseball seasons at Franklin (Ind.) College, landing on the all-time Top 10 in several offensive categories. (Franklin College Photo)
Sam Claycamp played shortstop at Franklin (Ind.) College for three seasons (2017-19). He is a graduate of Columbus (Ind.) East High School. (Franklin College Photo)
Sam Claycamp was a .354 hitter in his three baseball seasons at Franklin (Ind.) College (2017-19). The Columbus (Ind.) East High School and FC graduate is now playing in The Battle of the Bourbon Trail pro league with the Lexington (Ky.) Legends. (Franklin College Photo)

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

Westfield assistant Van Skike accentuates confidence factor

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Confidence and self-assurance was valued by Jason Van Skike as a baseball player and are traits emphasized by him as a coach.

“Baseball is a great teacher of things that happen in your life,” says Van Skike, the second-year pitching coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School. “You focus on the things you can control. There are three things we talk about everyday — work ethic, attitude and confidence.

“You can’t make up for a lost day,” says Van Skike. “You want to always go to bed at night knowing you put in your best effort.”

That’s work ethic.

“You have a choice to have a good attitude or a bad attitude,” says Van Skike. “It’s a mindset. It’s an opportunity to get better.

“If you believe good things are going to happen, good things tend to happen. If you believe bad things are going to happen, bad things tend to happen.”

That’s attitude.

“My job is to make sure (Westfield pitchers) feel that they are the absolute man,” says Van Skike. “That’s all do-able if they’ve done the things they need to do on the days leading to (the game appearance).”

That’s confidence.

Van Skike, who turned 31 in April, was a right-handed pitcher at Gig Harbor (Was.) High School, Treasure Valley Community College (Ontario, Ore.) and Indiana State University before the Chicago White Sox system and the independent professional Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts. He has coached for Federal Way (Was.) High School, the Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits and Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College.

Rick Heller, who is now head coach at the University of Iowa, was ISU head coach when Van Skike was in Terre Haute. Heller had him join the Sycamores after seeing the righty at a sophomore showcase while he was at Treasure Valley.

“(Heller) would preach ‘chest out; a lot of confidence,’” says Van Skike. “I would hear that all the time. I found out that body language plays into the game. If you can trick yourself into thinking you’re the man, you might be the man.

“(Heller) was always talking about body language and confidence.”

Van Skike says it was not until the end of his college career that this lesson really began to sink in.

“I was an excuse maker,” says Van Skike. “If I walked a guy, it wasn’t my fault.”

Tyler Herbst, who is now an assistant at Iowa Western Community College (Council Bluffs, Iowa), was Indiana State’s pitching coach when Van Skike was there.

“(Herbst) made me feel comfortable,” says Van Skike. “He didn’t try to change too much of what I was.”

Herbst went on to help steer Sean Manaea, who is now in the majors.

“He was a baby giraffe at Indiana State and didn’t know how to pitch,” says Van Skike of Manaea.

Van Skike had come a long way by the time he pitched for the Sycamores.

He entered Gig Harbor, he was 5-foot-5 and maybe 135 pounds. He didn’t make the varsity squad until he was a senior.

“They kept me around since I had a sense of urgency,” says Van Skike, who played for Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pete Jansen. “I ran on and off the field. I needed to in order to stand out.”

By the time he was a senior, he had began to fill out and stood 6-3.

He went to Treasure Valley, where Rick Baumann was head coach, with a fastball clocked at 78-82 mph. That’s when he began showing up an hour early for practice every day to do a towel drill. By the end of the fall, he was up to 84 mph. During indoor workouts, he was sitting at 83-86. On a nice day, the team went outside and he was at 88-91 and he was able to sustain that speed.

“I made a 10 mph jump in a four- to five-month span,” says Van Skike. “I needed those extra reps.”

Extra reps is what Van Skike got in junior college, where there is less restriction on the amount of times players and coaches can spend working on the game.

“I loved every moment of it,” says Van Skike of the juco diamond life. “You spend so many hours with your teammates and coaches. You build that brotherhood. Reflecting back, junior college baseball was the most fun for me.”

Van Skike sings the praises of junior college because it also offers a chance to develop. A juco player might get 60 at-bats in the fall between games and scrimmages and around 200 more in the spring. By the end of their sophomore year, they’ve gotten almost 500 at-bats and that doesn’t count summer ball.

Van Skike says a D-I player who does not crack the lineup as a freshman and sophomore — which is often the case — might go into their junior year with less than 100 career at-bats.

“You’ve got to play,” says Van Skike. “You’ve got to get game experience.”

Van Skike left college in 2011 unsure of his baseball future. Scout Mike Shirley (now amateur scouting director) brought him to Madison County for a workout and signed him to a White Sox contract as an undrafted free agent. He hustled to Bristol, Va., of the Appalachian League and picked up an extra-inning victory in his first outing.

His pitching coach at Bristol was Larry Owens, now head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville.

“(Owens) simplified the game for me,” says Van Skike.

Through 2013, Van Skike appeared in 73 games (64 as a reliever) and went 10-8 with a 3.18 earned run average in 150 2/3 innings. He was 3-5 with a 2.80 ERA in 74 innings at Advanced Class-A Winston-Salem in 2013.

“(Winston-Salem pitching coach) J.R. Perdew was a tremendous help,” says Van Skike. “He told me things I had never thought about before.

“The more simple you can keep baseball the better off you’re going to be.”

Perdew is now the White Sox assistant pitching coordinator.

Van Skike learned to use a cut fastball to be effective against left-handed hitters.

He had a six-month lease on an apartment in St. Louis and expected to be in spring training in 2014 when he was released by the White Sox. He went to live with his parents — Ike and Cathy Van Skike — in Arizona and got a job delivering pizzas. Not having a steady catch partner, he threw into a chain link fence. Occasionally, he would work out with a high school team and they had no trouble hitting his deliveries.

Still, an invitation was extended in Wichita. Even though he did not have a stellar spring training with the Wingnuts, he had enough of a resume on affiliated ball to keep him. The 2014 season saw him start 26 games and got 12-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 110 innings. He started the American Association All-Star Game and helped Wichita win the league title.

It tended to be very breezy out to left field in Wichita. Van Skike used it to his advantage.

“A lot of hitters get big egos when the wind blows,” says Van Skike. “I made my living down and away (to right-handed hitters) and got roll-overs to the shortstop.”

The 2015 campaign was not as successful (7-8, 4.89 in 116 innings) and Van Skike retired as a player.

“Getting into college coaching is extremely difficult,” says Van Skike. He went with friend Arlo Evasick, the head coach at Federal Way and the Eagles qualified for the 2016 state tournament.

That summer, Van Skike ended up back in Indiana on the coaching staff of Jackrabbits manager Matt Howard, who is now head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo.

Van Skike was starting to prepare for a chance to play pro ball in Australia when Heller let him know about an opportunity in Des Moines.

“I got extremely lucky,” says Van Skike.

David Pearson was hired as DMACC head coach and soon hired Van Skike as an assistant. The two had to dismantle the roster after the first season and went into the second year (2018) with mostly freshmen.

Near the end of that season, Van Skike began to examine his relationship with baseball.

“It consumed my life and I missed a lot of family events (as a player),” says Van Skike. “I began missing those again as a college coach.

“I need more of a balance. I didn’t know what that was at the time.”

Through a fortunate sequence of events, Van Skike moved to central Indiana and wound up taking a job as an Edward Jones financial advisor in Westfield.

He was at the right place at the right time since Westfield High School head coach Ryan Bunnell was also looking to fill a slot for a pitching coach.

“I’m still heavily involved with baseball and I can still be around my family and friends,” says Van Skike. “That’s what I was searching for.

“I’m extremely lucky I’m at Westfield.”

The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic took away the 2020 season.

“We had an extremely talented group,” says Van Skike of a Shamrocks team that received votes in the Class 4A preseason poll. “We could’ve won state. But there’s nothing we can do to control it.

“It’s an awkward time for these seniors,” says Van Skike. “They almost don’t want to hear about baseball.

“It’s still a little tender.

“We’ve been talking with juniors and saying let’s do it next year for these seniors (in 2021). They shouldn’t complain one day. Don’t ever take things for granted.”

To help fill the baseball void, Van Skike and Bunnell talk about the game almost daily. They are also involved in Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Zoom video conference instructional meetings on Thursday nights.

JASONVANSKIKE1

Jason Van Skike is a financial advisor at Edwards Jones and the pitching coach at Westfield High School, both in Westfield, Ind. The graduate of Gig Harbor High School in Washington  pitched at Treasure Valley Community College Oregon and Indiana State University as well as in the Chicago White Sox organization and in independent professional baseball. (Edwards Jones Photo)

BILLLINDSEYRYANBUNNELLJASONVANSKIKE

Westfield (Ind.) High School varsity baseball coaches in 2020 include (from left): assistant Bill Lindley, head coach Ryan Bunnell and assistant Jason Van Skike. Shamrocks pitchers are led by Van Skike, who played collegiately at Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon and Indiana State University and professionally in the Chicago White Sox system and with the independent Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts. (Westfield High School Photo)

 

As instructor, coach, Basham still endorses narrow offensive focus

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Basham did not have multiple hitting philosophies floating in his head when he stepped into the batter’s box as a Lowell (Ind.) High School Red Devil.

Lowell head coach Kent Hess let Basham do his thing and it paid dividends.

“He was a really positive guy,” says Basham of Hess. “He was hands-off. That made a big difference in terms of my development.

“I was keeping a narrow focus.”

That approach allowed lefty-swinging Basham to hit .539 in three varsity seasons (2001-03), one of the best plate careers in Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association annals.

As a senior lead-off hitter, Basham hit .583, clubbed 15 home runs and drove in 48 runs and was named the 2003 Northwest Indiana Times Player of the Year as well as all-conference and first-team all-state.

Basham’s junior year saw hum hit .538 with seven homers and 33 RBIs and was all-conference and first-team all-state.

As a junior, Basham hit .495 with eight homers, 50 RBI and gathered all-conference and all-state honors.

He went on to play three seasons at Michigan State University (2004-06).

Basham played for the Spartans right away and hit .297 with eight homers, 15 doubles and 27 runs batted in.

“I hit well, but in terms of being a situational hitter, I was leaving a lot of guys on and not driving guys in,” says Basham. “After I made that a primary focus, changed RBI output for the rest of my career.”

MSU head coach Ted Mahan and hitting coach John Young got Basham to see his problem as a hitter with runners on base.

“Early on I put a lot of pressure on myself in those situations,” says Basham. “The pressure is really all on the pitcher with a runner in scoring position. I had zero pressure on me. I relaxed. This is where I want to be.”

His coaches also reminded Basham that scoring a runner from third base doesn’t always require a hit. Sometimes hitting to the right side of the infield or lofting a fly ball will do the trick.

Basham hit ..358 with eight homers, 12 doubles and 43 RBI as a sophomore. As a junior, with David Grewe as head coach, he hit .373 with eight homers, 12 doubles and 53 RBI. He was twice named all-Big Ten Conference and earned a marketing degree from MSU (2007).

The Toronto Blue Jays selected Basham in the 29th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

After an injury kept him from playing in the Blue Jays organization, but he did log five seasons of independent professional baseball with the Florence (Ky.) Freedom (now known as the Florence Y’alls), Windy City Thunderbolts (Crestwood, Ill.) and Joliet (Ill.) JackHammers.

In 420 pro games, Basham hit .285 (195-of-573) with 50 homers, 39 doubles and 123 RBI.

Now owner of Basham Baseball LLC, a training facility in Whitestown, Ind., Basham still endorses the theory that hitters can have too many voices.

Some players can have many different opinions coming at them from the their head coach, hitting coach, travel coach, father, grandfather and so on.

“They’re all trying to tell them different things,” says Basham. “It happens quite a bit.”

As Basham’s playing career was winding down, he became a coach. He was an assistant to Jim Nohos at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind. He knew Nohos through the Hammond Chiefs and Hammond Seminoles travel organizations.

Basham was an assistant to Mike Kahirsky at Robert Morris University in Chicago.

At 13, Basham was an original member of the Playmakers travel team fielded by Dave Griffin. His instruction career began at Dave Griffin’s Baseball School in Griffith, Ind.

He has also worked with Justin Stone of Elite Baseball Academy, and former major leaguers John Cangelosi, Dean Anna, and the legendary Bo Jackson at the Bo Jackson Elite Sports Dome in Lockport, Ill.

Ryan and Jessica Basham (both 35) moved from Plainfield, Ill., to central Indiana in 2013, landing first in Whitestown then last winter in Zionsville. Jessica, who is also from Lowell, is a human resource business partner for Sales Force. The couple has two daughters — Emelia (8) and Clara (5).

After the move, Basham was an instructor at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Wheelhouse Baseball Academy and Zionsville Little League. He coached the Indiana Mustangs prior to his current role as 16U coach with the Indy Titans, an organization that has Justin Kamm as president.

Basham was with the same group in 2019 when they competed in 15U events.

“I love work working up through high school — 15U to 17U,” says Basham. “The continuity year or year is important in their development process.”

While the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic has everyone separated and training on their own right now, the Titans hope to have a 2020 season.

“We want to try to play as much as possible through June and July,” says Basham. “We usually play 6-8 tournaments.”

The tentative schedule includes appearances with Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield and Pastime Tournaments out-of-town.

“I’m going to reach out to families to see comfort level in traveling in a couple of months,” says Basham, who has been communicating with players via email with suggestions for workouts. “It’s almost like going back in time. They have to learn how to train on your own the best you can with what you’ve got.

“You can hit a bucket (of balls) a day if you have the resources.”

The youngest of Jerry and Janice Basham’s four children (following Laurie, Doug and Mike), Ryan fondly remembers spending hours as a kid having Doug throw batting practice on a field in Lowell.

“Throwing and sprinting are the things you can be doing and can do without anybody else there.”

Basham says if this had been a normal year, his team would have been six weeks into training together six days a week.

This quarantine also offers a chance for players to focus on recruiting by reaching out to coaches with notes of interest and videos.

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Ryan Basham, a Lowell (Ind.) High School graduate, played three baseball seasons at Michigan State University (2004-06), twice earning all-Big Ten Conference honors. (Michigan State University Photo)

RYANBASHAMWINDYCITYTHUNDERBOLTSRyan Basham, a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University, swings for the independent professional Windy City Thunderbolts. Basham played five pro seasons and is now a baseball instructor and coach based in central Indiana. (Windy City Thunderbolts Photo)

RYANBASHAMFAMILYThe Basham family of Zionsville, Ind., includes Jessica (35), Ryan (35), Clara (5) and Emelia (8). Ryan and Jessica are both graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School. Ryan is a baseball instructor and coach.

RYANBASHAM4Ryan Basham, a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University, offers baseball instruction. He was a three-time all-state player in high school and twice named all-Big Ten Conference at MSU.

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Ryan Basham, a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University, demonstrates the baseball swing to a young player. Basham was a three-time all-state player in high school and twice named all-Big Ten Conference at MSU.

RYANBASHAM2Ryan Basham is the owner of Basham Baseball LLC in Whitestown, Ind. He is a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University.

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Ryan Basham is the owner of Basham Baseball LLC in Whitestown, Ind. He is a graduate of Lowell (Ind.) High School and Michigan State University.

Chesterton, Goshen College graduate Hoover to be voice of Gary SouthShore RailCats

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Laura Hoover thought her summer would again have her calling baseball play-by-play in Connecticut like she did in 2019 with the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

But not so fast.

Hoover, a 2019 Goshen (Ind.) College graduate, was approached by the independent American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats in February about her interest in club’s vacant broadcaster job.

Having grown up 20 minutes from U.S. Steel Yard in Chesterton, Ind., and a follower of the team, sure she was interested.

Hoover met with general manager Brian Flenner and field manager Greg Tagert and accepted an offer to be broadcaster and media coordinator.

She officially begins her duties April 1. The RailCats open the May 19 at the Sioux Falls Canaries with the home opener May 22 against the Milwaukee Milkmen. Games will air on Michigan City’s WEFM-FM 95.9.

When word got out of Hoover’s hiring, other AA broadcasters reached out.

“I always want to learn,” says Hoover, 23. “I can learn from other broadcasters. I will happily absorb all that information.”

Using the John Chelsenik-ran Sportscasters Talent Agency of America, the RailCats will find an intern to work with Hoover, helping with on-air duties at home and likely selected road games.

“I am extremely young to be in this position,” says Hoover. “I want to learn from them as much as they are going to be learning through me about a broadcast. It will be a 50/50 kind of deal.

“I’m still learning and I will never stop learning.”

Why baseball broadcasting?

“I just love the sport,” says Hoover, who is already doing preparation for the upcoming season, researching players and other personnel, statistics, history and more and figuring out what she wants to put into the team’s media guide and daily media packets.

“The thing that I’m trying to add more to my broadcast is talking more to players and coaches,” says Hoover. “I want to open that line of communication and use that in the broadcast.”

Growing up in an active family with parents Terry (Andrean High School graduate) and Chris (Hammond Gavit High School graduate) and older brother Jordan (Chesterton High School graduate), Laura participated in basketball, cross country, karate, soccer, track and field and volleyball and came to decide that her best sport was swimming. She attended St. Patrick Catholic School in Chesterton before entering public school as a middle schooler.

She swam four seasons for Chesterton coach Kevin Kinel while working at the school’s student-run radio station — WSDO-FM 88.3 — under the supervision of teacher Matthew Waters. She juggled her swim workouts with her studies and her radio duties, which included studio shifts and play-by-play for football, boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and softball.

“I never played baseball and softball,” says Hoover, a 2015 Chesterton graduate. “I’m a student of the game. (Regional Radio Sports Network president/founder) Paul Condry keeps reminding of that.”

Early time spent in the baseball press box was definitely a learning experience for Hoover.

“I did not know how to keep a book,” says Hoover. “I learned that very quickly.”

A drawback of calling baseball for the Chesterton Trojans is that her broadcast partner would sometimes not show up.

That was not a problem in college, where she also took the mic for soccer, volleyball, basketball and softball.

“People showed up to help me broadcast and it just kind of took off,” says Hoover. “I learned how to do it and enjoyed doing it.

“It turned out being one of the sports I love to broadcast the most. I decided to make a life out of it.”

Hoover saw broadcasting as a way to cope with her natural timid nature.

“I was always a really shy kid,” says Hoover. “Speaking behind a mic, you’re never physically face-to-face.

Then came the chance to broadcast.

“I might might as well go do it,” says Hoover. “I tried it out and loved it.

“I decided to pursue a degree in it.”

Hoover chose Goshen for its award-winning communication department, featuring assistant professor Jason Samuel and associate professor Kyle Hufford.

GC has produced many professional sports broadcasters, including Benjamin Kelly (now with the Northwest Naturals in the Kansas City Royals organization and the SEC Network) and Dalton Shetler (who works for the Spartan Sports Network on Michigan State University games).

She worked all four years at WGCS 91.1 FM aka The Globe, serving as student station manager as a senior, and helped re-boot GCTV.

As student station manager, Hoover did many behind-the-scenes things and kept the station and its personnel organized. She was there many late nights and random times day and night.

“I had to make sure I had my time available for everybody else,” says Hoover. “People leaned on me more.”

Her job with the RailCats will mean road trips to nine states (Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas, Wisconsin) and one Canadian province (Manitoba).

“I’m not too worried about travel,” says Hoover. “I’m no stranger to 18-20 hour trips. The Globe goes (by train) to New York every year (for the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System’s Multimedia Conference).

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Laura Hoover, a graduate of Chesterton (Ind.) High School (2015) and Goshen (Ind.) College (2019), has been hired as broadcaster and media coordinator for the Gary SouthShore RailCats. She spent the 2019 season calling games for the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

 

Northridge, Evansville graduate Troyer to play independent pro baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Troyer has changed his swing to add more power and he’s taking it into pro baseball.

A graduate of Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind. (2015), and the University of Evansville (2019), Troyer has been added to the roster of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League’s Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers. The USPBL plays all its games at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, Mich., a northern suburb of Detroit.

“I’m super-excited about going there,” says Troyer, a righty-swinging third baseman/shortstop. “I know I can get signed to an affiliated club.”

Since getting his business management degree in May 2019, Troyer has been splitting his time between work and honing his game. Joined by former Jimtown High School and Ball State University pitcher Nick Floyd, training is done in a friend’s barn. Troyer also works out with the Northridge team.

Troyer has been traveling regularly to the St. Louis suburb of O’Fallon, Mo., to work with hitting coach Kevin Graham, whose son, Kevin, was the 2018 Gatorade Missouri Player of the Year and now plays at the University of Mississippi.

“He’s the best hitting coach I’ve ever had,” says Troyer of the elder Graham.

Troyer met Graham through Ben Bailey, Troyer’s former Indiana Chargers travel baseball coach who now lives in Missouri.

Bailey, Joel Mishler and George Hofsommer founded the Chargers. Troyer played for the organization from 13 to 18, missing his 17U summer for Tommy John surgery.

“I considered (Bailey and Mishler) both my mentors,” says Troyer. “They’ve been there, done that

they have their connections.

“They know what they’re talking about.”

Troyer attended various tryout camps that went nowhere then in January and February, he went to Palm Springs to play in the California Winter League, a showcase for unsigned players. He impressed former big leaguer Von Joshua and the Birmingham Bloomfield manager invited him to join his club. Joshua was a coach for the 1993 South Bend (Ind.) White Sox.

USPBL spring training is scheduled for April 25-May 7 in Utica. The Beavers’ first game is slated for May 9.

Troyer appeared and started in all 53 games for Evansville as a senior in 2019, batting .249 with two home runs, 11 doubles, 25 runs batted in and 27 runs scored. He also stole 21 bases in 25 attempts. He usually hit first or second in the order to take advantage of his speed.

“I was getting on base and creating opportunities for everybody else to drive in runs,” says Troyer.

As a junior in 2018, Troyer played in 42 games (40 as a starter) and hit .220 with two homers, four doubles, 16 walks and 13 stolen bases in 14 attempts.

Wes Carroll is head coach for the Purple Aces.

“He’s very knowledgeable with an extensive background,” says Troyer of Carroll. “He made it to Triple-A.

“He brought a lot of energy, which I like.”

To get Evansville ready for the Missouri Valley Conference, Evansville played teams like Vanderbilt, Indiana, Boston College, Creighton, Florida Gulf Coast and Iowa.

Troyer chose Evansville after two years at Rend Lake College in Ina, Ill.

“It was my best scholarship,” says Troyer, who had a friend sell him on the academics at UE. “I enjoyed my two years (at Rend Lake).”

Troyer played for the Warriors in 2016 and 2017. Tony Etnier was his head coach his freshmen year and Rend Lake player and strength coach Tyler O’Daniel took over the program his sophomore season.

Etnier offered Troyer a full ride on his first day and O’Daniel was high energy.

“The thing I loved about going to Rend Lake, the competition out of high school was no joke,” says Troyer. “I immediately got better. It turns you from a boy into a man real quick.

“(The Great Rivers Athletic Conference with John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois, Wabash Valley) is one of the better junior college conferences in the country.”

As a sophomore at Rend Lake, Troyer was hit by a pitch 22 times and ranked second among National Junior College Athletic Association Division I players in that category.

In two seasons at Rend Lake, he hit .285 with two homers, 59 stolen bases and was hit by 41 pitches.

Summers during Troyer’s college career were spent with the Great Lakes League’s Richmond (Ind.) Jazz in 2016, briefly with the Norhwoods League’s Mankato (Minn.) Moondogs and then-Prospect League’s Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits in 2017 and South Florida Collegiate League’s Pompano Beach Clippers in 2018.

At 15 and 16, Troyer trained with former Notre Dame baseball and football player Evan Sharpley.

Troyer helped Northridge to the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A Elkhart Sectional title while playing for head coach Andrew Brabender.

“He’s intense, but in a good way,” says Troyer of Brabender. “He brought out the best in me.

“He was able to mold me to be ready for college.”

Troyer earned four letters for the Raiders and hit .429 with seven homers and 35 stolen bases as a senior while earning team MVP and best bat awards. He was a two-time all-Northern Lakes Conference honoree and was named all-state and to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series (The North swept the three-game series in Terre Haute in 2015).

As an NHS sophomore, Troyer played alongside two future NCAA Division I players in Shannon Baker and Brock Logan.

Sam is the third of Steve and Shanna Troyer’s four children. Sean Troyer was not an athlete. Scot Troyer played baseball and football in high school. Sara Troyer is currently a diver at the University of Nebraska. In the recent Big Ten meet, she placed fifth in the 3-meter and 10th in the 1-meter.

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Sam Troyer, a graduate of Northridge High School in Middlebury, Ind. (2015) and the University of Evansville (2019), is to play in the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League. He is a righty-swinging third baseman and shortstop. (University of Evansville Photo)

 

Gregor displaying baseball tools, helping others reach their goals

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Conrad Gregor does his best to use baseball’s five physical tools (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average and hitting for power).

As a third baseman, first baseman and left fielder for the New Jersey Jackals of the independent Can-Am League, the lefty swinger has played in 72 games for the 2019 season (through Aug. 9) and is hitting .324 with nine home runs, 15 doubles, four triples, 49 runs batted in, 68 runs scored, 61 walks, 34 stolen bases and a .459 on-base percentage.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has amassed 22 multi-hit games with four in a “friendly” against the Cuba National Team and four three-hit games.

Batting No. 3 for manager Brooks Carey, the graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School (2010) and Vanderbilt UniversityVanderbilt University (2016) went 0-of-3 then 1-for-1 with a double, three runs scored two walks and one stolen base Friday as New Jersey (40-32) beat Sussex County 4-0 and 10-1 at Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, N.J., and moved within 5.5 games of the league-leading Miners.

Besides the tools, Gregor also sees the importance of using mental skills, work ethic, mindset, consistency and a desire for excellence.

“It’s what’s between your two ears,” says Gregor of mental skills. “As a pro, you play on a nightly basis. You have to survive the ups and downs of being a hitter in baseball.

“I have to get my body ready to play 140-plus games a year. You have to be a good teammate at all times — even when things aren’t going well for  you individually. Have a ‘team at-bat’ — no matter what that may be.”

Gregor, 27, grew up playing the Carmel Dads’ ClubCarmel Dads’ Club and for the Carmel Pups.

In middle school, he went with the Indiana Prospects. In high school, he joined the Midland Redskins and helped them to an American Amateur Baseball Congress Connie Mack World Series title in 2009. He played a couple of high school falls with the Kanas City Royals Scout Team.

Eric Lentz was Gregor’s head coach at Carmel High School. They have stayed in contact through the years.

“He’s got a great baseball mind,” says Gregor of Lentz. “I learned a lot from him. He’s about bringing it everyday, keeping the blinders on, doing the little things and playing team baseball to win games.”

“I’ve passed it on to the people I teach.”

During the baseball off-season, Gregor runs Anchor Down Sports Performance in downtown Carmel and many of his clients are junior high, high school and college ballplayers.

“I want to help people the best that I can,” says Gregor, who completed his finance and entrepreneurship degree during fall semesters after beginning his pro baseball career in 2013 and is certified in weightlifting and functional movement systems.

Anchor Down — a name that gives a nod to the Vanderbilt Commodores — has a presence on social media, including Facebook and YouTube.

Gregor was selected in the 40th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox, but opted to go to Vanderbilt. He played three seasons for the Commodores (2011-13), hitting .327 with nine homers, 45 doubles, 115 runs batted in, 117 runs scored, 33 stolen bases and a .444 on-base percentage over 186 games.

“It was a great honor to be able to play and learn from one the best-regarded baseball coaches in the sport,” says Gregor of head coach Tim Corbin, who led Vandy to the College World Series championship in 2019 and is to be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2020. “He provided me with a lot of useful lessons.

“He helped me become not only a great baseball player, but a great person.”

Picked in the fourth round of the 2013 draft by the Houston Astros, Gregor signed that June then had an unforgettable family moment in 2014 in Davenport, Iowa.

Conrad slugged his first Midwest League home run and his father — Marty — caught the ball. Marty and Megan Gregor had made their way out to a restaurant near right field and Marty was there to collect the souvenir.

Gregor was in the Astros system into 2017 then played 69 games with New Jersey before being picked up with the Boston Red Sox organization at the end of 2017. He played 12 games in he Red Sox chain along with five for the independent Atlantic League’s Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers and 98 with the Can-Am League’s Rockland (N.Y.) Boulders in 2018.

The Can-Am League all-star hopes to help New Jersey to a league title in 2019 (the regular season ends Sept. 2 and the playoffs conclude Sept. 15) then come back to Carmel to re-charge and then head out again.

Gregor is currently shopping around for a chance to play winter ball in Mexico, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic.

“I’m at the stage of my career where it’s ‘what have you done for me lately?’ It’s performance-based,” says Gregor. “I’m looking to continue playing.”

Always a righty thrower and lefty batter, Gregor sees advantages in swinging from that side of the plate.

“Being left-handed gives you a head start running to first base and you’re facing a lot of right-handed pitchers so the off-speed pitch is coming into your barrel.”

When teaching hitters, Gregor likes to point to the great left-handed swings — like the sweet one with the high finish used by Ken Griffey Jr. — and encourage his students to use what works best for them.

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Conrad Gregor, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University, is playing professional baseball in 2019 with independent New Jersey Jackals. (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

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Conrad Gregor, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University, is playing professional baseball in 2019 with independent New Jersey Jackals. Gregor has also played in the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox organizations and owns and operates Anchor Down Sports Performance in Carmel.  (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

Southpaw Hougeson experiencing pro baseball with Gary SouthShore RailCats

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seth Hougeson is always looking for a challenge.

The Indianapolis native grew up playing multiple sports, trying to become proficient in each of them.

He competed in soccer, football, tennis, bowling and volleyball and wound up being the best at baseball and that’s what took him to various collegiate levels and now has the left-hander pitching as a professional.

Hougeson (pronounced Ho-geh-sin) is in the starting rotation for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats of the independent American Association. He is scheduled to take the ball today (Aug. 1) when Gary plays host to Winnipeg.

The youngest of Richard and Cara Hougeson’s three sons behind Japheth and Caleb, Seth attended Calvary Lutheran and Trinity Lutheran schools, where his mother was a teacher, before going to high school at Indianapolis Lutheran.

Seth could walk a few blocks from Calvary to participate at the Edgewood youth league on the south side. He later played travel ball for the Adam Robertson-coached Indy Bats.

“That’s where I learned and developed at an early age,” says Hougeson of the Bats. “(Robertson) brought out my competitive side. He was a very awesome coach.

“I owe a lot to him. We still stay in-touch.”

Hougeson says competitiveness is his No. 1 strength as an athlete.

“I never give up,” says Hougeson. “I’m always trying to complete that task in front of me.

“I’m hard-working and always doing the little things right. In college, I always prided myself on PFPs (Pitchers Fielding Practice drills).

“It was about fielding my position as a pitcher and being athletic enough to get off and field that bunt and throw it to first.”

Like a fifth infielder?

“Absolutely,” says Hougeson, who turned 22 on April 25.

Indianapolis Lutheran won four sectional titles with Honor Roll Student-Athlete Hougeson on the team and head coach Dick Alter leading the Saints.

“He expected a lot,” says Hougeson of Alter. “He wanted to push you until he got what he was looking for — the best out of your every single day.

“At first, I was a little standoffish. I didn’t know how to respond to it. But, as a I grew up and I matured, it’s just kind of clicked with me. He’s not against me. He’s for me and wants the very best for me.”

Hougeson came to appreciate Alter’s years of experience and it helped groom him for college and beyond.

“I’m always looking for the most competitive baseball and trying to better myself,” says Hougeson. “I continue to get better with the higher level of competition because it continues to push me to get to that next level.”

Concordia University Wisconsin is an NCAA Division III program. In his freshmen season (2016), Hougeson earned honorable mention on the all-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference and was on the NACC all-freshman year, going 3-3 in nine mound appearances (eight starts) with a 3.35 earned run average. In 40 1/3 innings, he struck out 38 and walked nine.

Next came Dyersburg (Tenn.) State Community College. In his one season with the Eagles (2017), Hougeson was named National Junior College (NJCAA) National Pitcher of the Year after going 14-1 with a 1.49 ERA. The southpaw struck out 107 and allowed just 74 hits and 35 walks in 92 1/3 innings.

Hougeson landed at NCAA Division II Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., for his final two college seasons.

As a junior in 2018, Hougeson went 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA in 12 games (eight starts) for a DSU team that went 42-11 and played in the NCAA Division II South Regional. In 35 1/3 innings, he fanned 39 and walked 22. As a senior in 2019, he made 14 appearances (10 starts) and went 9-0 with three complete games (one shutout) and a 2.44 ERA. In 59 innings, he whiffed 55 and walked 14. The Statesmen went 42-14 and played in the D-II South Super Regional.

Mike Kinnison retired as Delta State head coach at the end of the season and will be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2020.

“He’s one of those old-school, hard-nosed coaches,” says Hougeson of Kinnison. “He’s not going to stop until he gets the best out of you.”

Hougeson began his 2019 summer with the Palm Springs Power in the Southern California Collegiate Baseball League.

“I went out there with no expectations,” says Hougeson. “I was just going to play the best baseball I could possibly do. If I was going to get signed by a team, I was going to be very, very grateful for that.

“If nothing happened out of the summer, I was just going to hang it up and say I gave it all I had.”

He is 15 credit hours plus an internship short of his sports management degree and plans to finish with online classes. He sees himself using his many baseball connections to get job in front office job in baseball which could lead to becoming a general manager.

Or he could follow a long family tradition and go into military service.

“I’d love to join the Air Force and become a fireman,” says Hougeson, noting that his father is currently active in the Air Force and serving overseas. Both brothers (including Caleb Hougeson, who was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as an Indianapolis Lutheran third baseman) are in the Army. A grandfather and uncle served in the Marines and a cousin is currently with that service branch. An aunt is in the Air Force.

But sports management or military service are in the future. Hougeson’s present is focused on baseball.

The southpaw pitched in three Palm Springs games and signed with Gary on June 30. That same day, he made his pro debut, tossing four shutout innings while giving up two hits with one strikeout and one walk in a no-decision start against the Kansas City T-Bones.

Altogether, Hougeson has appeared in six RailCats games (five starts) and and is 1-1 with a 6.65 ERA. In 23 innings, he has racked up nine K’s and issued nine free passes.

A 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, Hougeson possesses a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, “circle” change-up and curve ball. He usually has an over-the-top release, but sometimes drops down a little and gets arm-side run with his fastball.

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Seth Hougeson, an Indianapolis Lutheran High School graduate who played college baseball at Concord University Wisconsin, Dyersburg State Community College and Delta State University, is now with the independent professional Gary (Ind.) South Shore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Lefty Thurston competing with independent Gary SouthShore RailCats

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For the third straight game, Ryan Thurston took the mound for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and for the second time, he nailed down a victory.

The left-hander pitched in his 24th contest for the independent professional baseball team Tuesday, July 30 and set down the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the ninth inning at U.S. Steel Yard.

During his scoreless frame, Thurston yielded a single and ended it with a caught-looking strikeout in helping the RailCats to a 2019 season-high tying fourth straight win.

On Monday in Franklin, Wis., Thurston picked up his first pro save by recording the final two outs with no hits and two walks in a triumph against the Milwaukee Milkmen.

The Sunday game saw Thurston pitch an inning and give up two runs and three hits as visiting Gary topped Milwaukee.

These are situations that Thurston lives for. He’s been drawn to them since he was a kid playing baseball and basketball in southern Indiana.

“I love to compete,” says Thurston. “I may not have the best stuff.”

Thurston has two kinds of fastballs — a four-seamer and two-seamer — plus a change-up, curveball and slider.

“I’d like to think my ball moves,” says Thurston, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder. “(My fastball is) 85-89 (mph), depending what I want to do with the ball — sink it or go up in the zone.

“I’ve tried to develop more as I’ve gotten older. You have to have fastball command. You’ve got to be ready everyday. You need to throw every pitch in every count.

“If it’s 2-0 and it’s their best hitter, you may not still throw fastball. It might be a change-up or curveball away. It’s more of a thinking game.

“I have the same fastball and same slider I had in college, I just think a little more. I adapt a little more as the game goes on.”

Dan Thurston, Ryan’s father and the former Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School head coach, has long been emphasizing mental toughness to his youngest son (Former Madison police chief Dan and Madison Middle School math teacher Jackie Thurston have Trey, Ryan and Trisha).

“You’ve got to keep a level head,” says Ryan. “Baseball’s a game of failure and you have to deal with failure.

“It’s about being mentally-prepared and mentally-ready.”

Ryan Thurston played his earliest organized baseball at the youth league in Madison and then travel baseball with the Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits, coached by Jeff Montgomery. In his 16U and 17U summers, he played for the Cincy Flames.

Thurston’s coach at Western Kentucky University was John Pawlowski.

“He pitched in the big leagues (with the 1987 and 1988 Chicago White Sox),” says Thurston of Pawlowski. “He really knew his stuff.

“He taught me a lot about different pitches and when to throw them and being the the best I can be.”

Thurston graduated from Madison Consolidated in 2014 and Western Kentucky in 2017 with a graduate school year at WKU in 2018 (he played for the Hilltoppers in parts of five seasons and earned a financial management degree).

At Madison, he won four baseball letters at Madison, earning all-state honorable mention as a senior. He was all-conference and team MVP three times. He also garnered three letters in basketball.

At Western Kentucky, he pitched in 66 games (52 as a starter — 14 in each of his final three seasons) with 13 wins, 299 strikeouts (second in program history) and 174 walks in 306 2/3 innings (third in WKU annals).

As a senior, the lefty pitched a career-high 80 2/3 innings while allowing a career-low 15 extra-base hits. He finished the season with a 4.24 ERA, although that mark stood at 3.08 prior to his final two starts. He was the only pitcher in Conference USA to secure wins over both Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.

Thurston signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays organization and pitched in 13 games (nine in relief) in 2018 before being released.

The 24-year-old southpaw signed with the American Association’s Chicago Dogs and pitched two games with that franchise before Gary claimed him off waivers.

With the RailCats, a team he joined May 26, Thurston is 2-0 with a 2.58 earned run average. In 35 1/3 innings, he has 33 strikeouts and 16 walks.

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Ryan Thurston, a 2013 Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School graduate who pitched at Western Kentucky University from 2014-18 and holds a financial management degree from that school, is now a relief pitcher for the independent Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)