Tag Archives: Independent baseball

Gary SouthShore RailCats embrace independent baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Outside the lines, professional baseball in Gary, Indiana, is very much like it is in many places.

Affordable family-friendly entertainment is the goal. Fans are invited to have a good time at the ballpark. The experience at U.S. Steel Yard includes food, giveaways and other forms of fun.

As a member of the independent American Association, the Gary SouthShore RailCats operate differently than Major League Baseball-affiliated clubs.

“It is not a developmental league, but it is an opportunity league — an opportunity for everyone from the radio broadcasters looking to break into professional baseball to groundkeepers to general managers and managers,” says 13th-year Gary manager Greg Tagert. “And, most importantly, it’s an opportunity for players who may have never gotten the opportunity to continue their careers or extend their careers.

“What it’s done for the industry cannot be underrated.”

But the emphasis is on the pennant race (Gary went into play Monday, Aug. 7, at 40-33 and seven games behind first-place Lincoln in the AA Central Division; the RailCats were two games out of the wild card lead in a 100-game season) and not getting a player ready for the next level.

“We make no apology to the players,” says Tagert. “We tell them from the beginning, we are all about winning.

“When a player steps through the door, it’s not about: Is he going to get his at-bats? Is he going to bat third? Is he going to pitch the sixth inning every night?

“Sometimes the players find that out the hard way. They’re used to a different type of format. They are surprised at the level of competition and the emphasis put on winning … It’s not for every player, just like it’s not for every manager.”

Tagert is a native of Vacaville, Calif. He a pitcher at San Francisco State University. He served as pitching coach at the University of New Mexico in 1988 and an associate scout for the Detroit Tigers in 1993-94.

A manager in independent baseball since 1995, Tagert enjoys the challenge of having the ability and the responsibility of building a team.

Unlike affiliated ball where players and coaching staff are assigned to a franchise and are told how to develop the talent with hopes of one day seeing them in the big leagues, Tagert makes all on-field personnel decisions.

“Player procurement and all the player decisions sit at this desk,” says Tagert. “That’s something I would not give up.

“It is the lure of the job for many of us (independent baseball managers) … The challenge is great. But it’s like anything else in life. If it was that easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.”

League rules limit rosters to 23. An additional one player may be on the disabled list during the regular season. Of those 23 players, a maximum of five may be veterans and minimum of five must be rookies. The remaining players will be designated limited service players and of those LS players only six (6) may be LS-4.

Tagert says the classifications create a unique kind of parity in the league and also creates opportunity.

The American Association is full of players with MLB experience and others who played at the Triple-A or Double-A level.

Right-handed pitcher Jorge DeLeon, a reliever for Gary, played for the Houston Astros in 2013 and 2014.

MLB scouts regularly cover the independent leagues.

Notable Gary alums include outfielders Jermaine Allenworth and Nathan Haynes and left-handed pitcher Tim Byrdak.

Allensworth, who played at Madison Heights High School and Purdue University, was a first round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1993 and played in the big leagues with Pittsburgh, the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. He was with the RailCats in 2006 and 2007.

Haynes was a first round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 1997. He played in Gary in 2006 and then with the Los Angeles Angels in 2007 and Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.

Byrdak made his MLB debut with Kansas City in 1998. He played in Gary in 2003 and became the first former RailCats player to play in the big leagues with the 2005 Baltimore Orioles.

Wes Chamberlain, who played six MLB seasons including in the 1993 World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies, was a RailCat in 2003.

Some players to see at least a little MLB time that also wore a Gary jersey include first baseman Randall Simon (2010), third basemen Howard Battle (2003) and Jarrod Patterson (2008), outfielders Trey Beamon (2004), and Bubba Carpenter (2002, left-handed pitchers Tony Cogan (2007-09), Jim Crowell (2007), Brad Halsey (2010), Onan Masaoka (2009), right-handed pitchers Zach McClellan (2010) and Brad Voyles (2008).

Crowell played at Valparaiso High School and the University of Indianapolis. McClellan played at Indiana University.

There’s were Australian first baseman Ben Risinger (2005) and Japanese outfielder Masato Fukae (2016).

Texas Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce was a former RailCats outfielder (2004-05).

The team has retired No. 23 for right-handed pitcher Willie Glen (2005-07, 2010) and No. 45 for Gary native and coach Joe Gates. Glen played at Plainfield High School and the University of Evansville. Gates played at Gary Roosevelt High School and briefly with the Chicago White Sox.

The RailCats were part of former Northern League and began as a road team in 2002 while 6,139-seat U.S. Steel Yard was being constructed along U.S. 20, South Shore rail lines and I-90 (Indiana Toll Road) and very close to the steel mills.

The first RailCats game at U.S. Steel Yard was May 26, 2003.

Chicagoans Pat and Lindy Salvi bought the team in 2008.

Gary was a member of the Northern League through 2010 and won league titles in 2005 and 2007. In 2010, the RailCats joined the American Association and reigned over it in 2013.

The current AA lineup includes Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.), St. Paul (Minn.), Sioux Falls (S.D.) and Winnipeg (Manitoba) in the North Division, Gary, Kansas City (Kan.), Lincoln (Neb.) and Sioux City (Iowa) in the Central Division and Cleburne (Texas), Salina (Kan.), Texas (Grand Prairie) and Wichita (Kan.) in the South Division. Salina is a partial road team in 2017.

Gary takes a bus to all its games. It’s about 16 hours to both Grand Prairie and Winnipeg. There’s usually days off built into he schedule to allow for that kind of travel.

A commuter trip will be added in 2018 when the Rosemont, Ill.-based Chicago Dogs join the league.

RailCats general manager Brian Lyter is in his fifth year on the job after working four seasons in affiliated baseball with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers.

With Tagert handling most of the baseball side of things, Lyter tends mostly to the business side.

Lyter has watched the community embrace the independent baseball model while embracing the amenities at the park.

In a competitive Chicagoland market that offers the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and many other entertainment options, the RailCats draw well with most fans come from northwest Indiana.

Through it’s first 37 openings, Gary was averaging 3,573. That ranked fourth in the league behind St. Paul (8.293), Winnipeg (4,336) and Kansas City (3,984).

Some of the things Lyter appreciates about the American Association is that players have a “little more staying power” and that the product is top notch.

“Some people underestimate the quality of baseball,” says Lyter, who compares the overall level of play to Double-A.

GARYSOUTHSHORERAILCATS

Diamondbacks’ Bryk still learning after decades around baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bill Bryk is a grateful guy.

He has his health and he has a job he thoroughly enjoys.

Bryk began his professional baseball odyssey as a player in 1969.

At 66 and a cancer survivor, the Schererville resident is still in pro ball in his seventh season special assistant to the general manager and major league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I’ve been cancer-free for four years. Thank the Good Lord,” says Bryk, who lost a daughter, Becky, to leukemia and friend and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn to salivary gland cancer. “I’ve been blessed to be in this game as long as I have. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

“It’s time to give back to the game.”

The former Bill Brykczysnki grew up on the south side of Chicago, graduated from Thornridge High School in Dolton, Ill., and pitched four seasons in the Washington Senators organization. He started coaching college ball in 1974 and managing independent teams in 1977.

He worked with the San Diego Padres 1979-82, managing Gwynn in Walla Walla in 1981. When Gwynn was inducted at Cooperstown in 2007, Bryk was his guest.

In 1982, he left the Padres to work for the Pittsburgh Pirates, both in scouting and player development. Over the next 18 years, Bryk would work as a scouting supervisor, special assignment scout, assistant scouting director, assistant farm director, national cross-checker and pitching coordinator.

“That’s where I really learned the business,” says Bryk.

In November 2010, he joined the Diamondbacks.

Almost five decades in, Bryk is still gaining knowledge.

“I’m still learning,” says Bryk, the 2013 Midwest Scout of the Year. “We’ve got sabermetrics, analytics — all this stuff.”

Arizona, where Mike Hazen is executive vice president and general manager, has three major league scouts (Todd Greene and Mike Piatnik are the other two) with duties divided up among the 30 MLB teams.

Based in northwest Indiana where he’s called home since 1988, Bryk goes out to scout the 10 teams in the American League Central and National League Central. He keeps a report on every player, logging their strengths and weaknesses.

“Are they getting better or getting worse?,” says Bryk. “But — most importantly — what’s inside of them? Are they gamers? Overachievers? Underachievers?

“(Major league scouts are) more detectives more than anything else. You’ve got to find everything you can on them. That’s where contacts come in. You have people you trust in every organization. When you get old and gray-headed you know more people.”

One baseball person who Bryk has known for a long time is Mark Haley. He scouted the California native as a player and has maintained a friendship as Haley has coached and managed in the White Sox and Diamondbacks systems (he is now director of training and instruction of the South Bend Cubs Performance Center and coaches travel baseball).

Bryk, who advises on player trades, acquisitions and roster

moves, has seen all his assigned teams once already and is going back for another look. He plans to take in the Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians series and see New York Yankees at Chicago White Sox after that.

“I’m tightening up my reports,” says Bryk, who will meet with other pro scouts in Arizona at the end of June to discuss organizational needs (as the July 31 trade deadline looms). “We used to do it a little bit later. A lot of teams don’t know if they’re going to be buyers or sellers yet.”

Since he is a pro scout, Bryk was not directly involved with the recent Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He did attend a post-draft Pro Day hosted Tuesday, June 20 by the Hammond Lakers.

“There were 65 hungry guys — guys worth seeing,” says Bryk of the free tryout event held by Lakers general manager Anthony Spangler. “We gave everybody a fair chance.”

Bryk notes that independent baseball still brings talent to the majors. Evidence of that is David Peralta. The outfielder played American Association before being signed by the Diamondbacks. He went 4-for-5 Wednesday, June 21 vs. the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

Chris Carminucci, Arizona’s independent league coordinator and pro scout, runs independent league tryout camps during spring training in Arizona and in the Chicago suburbs at the home of the Windy City Thunderbolts. That team just sent several players into affiliated baseball, including pitcher Brady Muller to the Diamondbacks.

Hammond Bishop Noll High School graduate Matt Pobereyko, a former Diamondbacks minor leaguer, just signed with the New York Mets organization after spending time with the independent Florence (Ky.) Freedom.

“I’m glad to see he got another chance,” says Bryk of Pobereyko. “I had more 53rd-rounders make it than high draft picks.”

Rob Mackowiak, a 1994 Lake Central High School graduate, was drafted by Bryk for the Pirates in the Round 53 (when the draft went that deep). The outfielder/third baseman made over 2,600 plate appearances in the majors with the Pirates, White Sox, Padres and Washington Nationals.

“It’s what’s in their heart,” says Bryk in determining who makes it or not. “How much do they want it?”

Even with 40 MLB Draft rounds now, talent is sometimes missed and those players can sometimes get a second chance.

“Scouting is not an exact science,” says Bryk. “You try to make the best decisions you can. Sometimes guys are late bloomers. I ran 20 camps a year as an area scout with the Pirates.”

Bryk also gives back to baseball as an instructor in the winter months at the Morris Baseball and Softball Center inside Omni 41 in Schererville.

Sometimes an agent will send a player to Bryk to straighten out his mechanics.

One such player is Dominican right-hander Ariel Hernandez, who worked with Bryk and his son, Billy Bryk Jr., who has coached in independent and affiliated baseball.

Hernandez has been averaging nearly 99 mph with his four-seam fastball out of the bullpen for the Cincinnati Reds in 2017.

Bryk says he did not charge the agent for his services. It was just a part of giving back to baseball.

BILLBRYK

Bill Bryk began his association with professional baseball in 1969. At 66, the Schererville, Ind., resident is in his seventh season as special assistant to the general manager and major league scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Arizona Diamondbacks Photo)