Tag Archives: Indiana Playmakers

Griffin oversees transition as Purdue Northwest baseball coach

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

Dave Griffin is heading into his 10th season of coaching college baseball in northwest Indiana in 2023.
After six seasons in charge at Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond (the Warriors won an IHSAA Class 2A state title in 2004 and were 2A state runner-up in 2006), Griffin established the Purdue Calumet program and coached the Peregrines for three seasons (2014-16).
Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central merged to form Purdue Northwest and Griffin has led the Pride since the 2017 season.
The first alumni game was played in October 2022.
“Overall it’s gone pretty well,” says Griffin of the merger. “The big challenge was you had a couple of coaching staffs and a lot of players you had to mold into one.
“Taking the program to (NCAA) Division II was another challenge.”
The 2018 campaign marked PNW’s first in D-II after starting out as an NAIA member. The Pride are part of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“If you’re an established program it won’t take as long, but we hadn’t been that long so it took a little time,” says Griffin of the level change. “It’s been a journey to say the least.”
The 2017 team went 30-18. PNW posted a 18-25 mark in 2018, 21-24 in 2019, 4-5 in 2020 (a season shortened by COVID-19), 11-22 in 2021 and 21-23 in 2022.
For 31 years, the coach has operated Dave Griffin Baseball School. The past 25 years it has been located in Griffith. The organization will field 11 travel ball squads — the Indiana Playmakers — in 2023. Griffin coaches the 17U/18U squad, which helps him with recruiting.
“I get to go out and see kids play,” says Griffin. “That’s always been a good formula for me.”
Griffin says when it comes to recruiting, there’s more to it than the numbers hyped on social media.
“When you say velocity that doesn’t equate to being a good pitcher,” says Griffin. “When you say exit velocity that doesn’t equate to being a good hitter. At some point you’ve got to be able to play.
“It think they tried the same thing in football at the (NFL) Combine. If he ran real well or lifted real well they drafted him high. A lot of times those didn’t work out too well.
“Nobody cares about how they perform. What are their metrics? Don’t get me wrong. Metrics are good, but you’ve got to be able to perform. The challenge we all encounter is finding kids that have metrics that match the ability on the field.”
Griffin notes that even professional scouts often get player evaluations wrong.
“You try to do your homework on a kid as much as you can. We’re talking about scholarship kids,” says Griffin. “On walk-on kids you might take a flier. He might not be fully-mature physically. He might be a late bloomer. Those kids come along, too.”
More 1,500 DGB alums have gone on to college baseball and over 70 have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including Sean Manaea, Kody Hoese, Ryan Basham and Nick Podkul. Chad Patrick pitched for PNW and is now in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
“I’ve put a lot of time into both jobs,” says Griffin. “I wake up early and I come home late.
“It’s fun. I like watching the development of players.”
Because of the talent in The Region and the low cost of education at the school where most student takes classes on the Hammond campus (there is a Westville site), PNW gets some bounce-backs from other institutions.
“Kids see that we are starting to build a solid program here,” says Griffin. “It checks a lot of boxes for them.”
The bulk of the current roster comes from Indiana and Illinois. There are players from Michigan, California, Iowa and Texas.
D-II teams are allowed to give up to nine scholarships. PNW is short of that number.
“We’re working our way up,” says Griffin, who currently has 47 players on his roster. Of that number, 35 will be on the travel squad.
As well as overseeing the whole team, Griffin works primarily with hitters and defense.
Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate and former University of South Carolina hurler Brandon Murray is the pitching coach. Former PNW player Anthony Agne is in charge of infielders and former Robert Morris University (Lansing, Ill.) assistant Adam Pasko outfielders.
PNW plays its home games at Laborers’ Local 41 Field in Hammond’s Dowling Park.
“I like the turf and the ambiance of it, being in a neighborhood,” says Griffin. “It’s a good place to play. The sight lines are tremendous.”

Dave Griffin. (Purdue Northwest Photo)

Traina building team chemistry with Merrillville Pirates

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

Joe Traina has three main points of emphasis as the new head baseball coach at alma mater Merrillville (Ind.) High School — commitment, playing together and team chemistry.
“We’re making sure we’re there everyday,” says Traina, who was born in Merrillville, graduated from MHS in 2013 and has been teaching and coaching in the school system since 2017-18. “We were not weightlifting and conditioning very much. We have a strength and conditioning coach at Merrillville now (Brady Willard) so they can lift even when I’m not around.”
There is a text group chat that keeps the team communicating and Traina emphasizes staying in constant touch with parents.
Team chemistry is built through activities that require athletes coordinating to accomplish a goal.
Paul Wirtz was Pirates head coach when Traina joined the staff. Wirtz instituted “Animal Kingdom” workouts where there were stations for throwing, baserunning, conditioning etc., and teamwork was necessary.
Traina has had his athletes doing the same.
“They have to work step by step together to accomplish the goal,” says Traina. “That’s going make us a much stronger team.”
Merrillville (enrollment around 2,100) is a member of the Duneland Athletic Conference (with Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Michigan City, Portage and Valparaiso).
The Pirates are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2023 with East Chicago Central, Gary West Side, Hammond Central, Hammond Morton, Hobart, Lake Central and Munster. Merrillville has won 13 sectional crowns — the last in 2001. The Pirates were state runner-up in 1996.
Traina, who has taught at Merrillville Intermediate, Clifford Pierce Middle School and now Biology for freshmen at Merrillville High, was a junior varsity assistant to Connor Buxton then a varsity assistant when Buxton became head coach at Merrillville.
When Buxton stepped away Traina became head coach over the summer.
“It’s been a career goal to be the head of a program,” says Traina, 28. “I want to turn things around.”
The Pirates went 8-15 overall and 3-9 in the DAC in 2022.
Traina’s coaching staff counts Jose Carbajol as varsity assistant, Terrance Grayson as JV head coach and Juan Maldonado as JV assistant.
Merrillville started middle school baseball workouts at Bill Metcalf Field in July and games were played in the fall with Traina as head coach. High school players helped out.
“They were like bench coaches,” says Traina.
The first game was at Hanover Central, where Wirtz was serving as middle school coach.
Traina says the plan is for middle school baseball to continue as a fall sport.
Noting that Merrillville Little League no longer exists, Traina wants to work his way down the youth baseball ladder while building a feeder system for his program.
“We want to make sure kids have the opportunity to be exposed to the sport and get better,” says Traina. “We want to put a stop to getting pushed further behind (in development).”
Traina expects to have a young squad in 2023 with freshmen on the varsity.
Among the older players with college baseball aspirations are seniors Colin Early and Robert Richardson, who played both play varsity as freshmen, and junior Josh Magallon.
Pirates moving on to the college diamond since Traina has been coaching include Class of 2018’s Max Govert (Indiana University South Bend), Class of 2019’s Maldonado (Indiana Tech), Brandon Lucero (Earlham College) and Sven Strom (Saint Xavier University) and Class of 2021’s Dylan Coty (junior college).
Traina’s summer maintenance job includes taking care of the baseball field, where recent projects have included fixing the bullpens, adding dirt to mounds, turf to plate areas and dugout racks.
Traina played at Merrillville for Mark Schellinger.
“He’s one of the my favorite teachers and coaches,” says Traina of Schellinger. “When I got this job he reached out to offer any help I need. That meant a lot coming from a guy who had my back for four years here.”
He played at Merrillville Little League then travel ball for the Dave Griffin-led Indiana Playmakers then an Indianapolis-based team called the Indiana Irish. His parents — Frank Sr., and Michele — saw that he was shuttled two hours to Indy every week so he could have a new baseball experience and meet new people.
“I can’t thank them enough,” says Joe, the youngest of three children.
Frank Traina Sr., is retired from Siemens as an electronic engineer. Michele Traina is a school nurse secretary.
Ashley (Traina) Kendera (Merrillville Class of 2006) played softball for the Pirates, graduated from Ball State and now works as a page designer for The Times of Northwest Indiana. Her husband, Jason Kendera, is a former Merrillville girls soccer coach.
Frank Traina Jr., (Merrillville Class of 2010) played soccer and was a baseball manager for the Pirates during the Schellinger era. He now works as a bank teller.
After high school, Joe Traina went to Ball State University where he was a Sport Administration major and Coaching minor.
“I always wanted to go down the athletic director route,” says Traina, who got transition to teaching credentials through Calumet College of Saint Joseph. “Once I was in the classroom I decided to stick with teaching.”
He is also the head eighth grade boys basketball coach at Clifford Pierce.

Joe Traina. (Merrillville High School Photo)

Rutherford takes over reins of Region’s Griffith Panthers

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

Jeff Rutherford takes over as head coach at Griffith (Ind.) High School with plans to have the same kind of emphasis he has put forth throughout his coaching career.
“I like the offensive side,” says Rutherford, who takes over for Brian Jennings who retired at the end of the 2022 season. “I like to run a lot, hit-and-run and bunt-and-run.
“We’ve always been offensive-minded. We get a guy on and we’re going to do what we can to get him over.”
Rutherford was on the Griffith staff in 2019 and has also assisted Dave Griffin at Purdue Calumet and Purdue Northwest and coached travel ball with the Indiana Playmakers and a Cal Ripken all-star team.
The 45-year-old played baseball for East Chicago (Ind.) American Legion Post 266 and graduated from Hammond (Ind.) High School.
Two sons — Julian Rutherford (Class of 2018) and Jaylen Rutherford (Class of 2025) — have played baseball for Jennings at Griffith.
“What Jennings has done there has been great,” says Rutherford. “He’s been a big staple at Griffith. It was hard to see him leave (the baseball post). I watched him coach both of my kids and couldn’t be happier with the coaching he’s done.
“Jennings always been a great guy. I wish him all the best.”
Julian Rutherford played at Wabash (Ind.) College and is now employed by U.S. Foods. Jaylen Rutherford was on the Panthers varsity as a freshman outfielder and sometimes lead-off hitter and is one of the few non-upperclassmen expected to represent the program in 2023.
Griffith (enrollment around 600) is a member of the Greater South Shore Conference (with Boone Grove, Hammond Bishop Noll, Hanover Central, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, South Central of Union Mills, Wheeler and Whiting).
The Panthers were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional in 2022 grouping with Andrean, Calumet New Tech and Gary West Side Leadership Academy. Griffith has won 18 sectional titles — the last in 2021.
“It’s a great opportunity and I look forward to continuing the tradition of success,” says Rutherford. “I can’t wait to get started.”
He is looking to build his coaching staff, tapping into some of his younger former players. He also hopes to have players come to IHSAA Limited Contact Period activities Aug. 29-Oct. 15.
“I plan on some long toss,” says Rutherford. “We can get a few of the players familiar with each other. Most of the (2022) team comes back. Quite a few starters are playing another sport.”
Rutherford believes in the multi-sport athlete.
“I think they should play as much as they can,” says Rutherford. “Holding them to one sport doesn’t benefit them.”
Recent graduates Bubba Davenport (Calumet College of Saint Joseph) and Kyle Iwinski (Kankakee Community College and headed to Purdue University) are playing college baseball.
Rutherford says he wants to have camps for Griffith Youth Baseball players.
“(GBL) is basically the only feeder system,” says Rutherford. “We have to pull from our own town.”
Outside of coaching, Rutherford is a public works supervisor for the City of Hammond. Besides sons Julian (22) and Jaylen (15), he and wife Heather have a daughter Jaesela (11).

Jeff Rutherford.
Julian and Jeff Rutherford.

Indiana University lefty Bothwell keeps on going despite setbacks

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

Ty Bothwell sees himself as a diamond survivor.
Bothwell struck out 12 and was the winning pitcher in the 2018 IHSAA Class 2A state championship game as Boone Grove topped Southridge 5-4.
Almost immediately, the pitcher headed to Indiana University to take summer classes. He was dealing with homesickness when fall practice rolled around. On the first day, the 5-foot-8 Bothwell tipped the scales at 158. He just knew was going to be sent packing.
Instead, the left-hander was redshirted for the 2019 season.
“Freshmen year was a rough one to survive,” says Bothwell. “I hope to keep a level head and hope that everything pays off in the end.”
The southpaw spent the summer of 2019 with the Jimmy Turk-coached Western Nebraska Pioneers of the Expedition League.
Bothwell made his IU debut in 2020, getting into three games and tossing three innings. The COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short. The pitcher reunited with Turk in the summer with the Coastal Plain League’s Macon (Ga.) Bacon.
The fun seeker even found time to play in the LeRoy Wiffle® Association.
“It’s not a lob league,” says Bothwell. “But I was not trying to throw my arm out. I would flick my wrist.”
The 2021 baseball season at Indiana saw Bothwell — by this time up to 5-10 and 190 — make 11 mound appearances (four starts) and go 2-1 with one save and a 2.73 earned run average. In 33 innings, he struck out 43, walked 15 and held opponents to a .174 batting average. In his two seasons at IU, his ERA is 3.00 and he has 48 K’s and 19 walks in 36 innings while foes have hit .168.
Between redshirting and getting an extra COVID year, Bothwell has three years of eligibility left.
“It just now got out of my freshman year,” says Bothwell. “It took me three years.”
“Hopefully I’ll get drafted (by Major League Baseball in 2022). But I’m not concerned with that right now.
“I want to help my team win as many games as possible and go as far as we can.”
Bothwell’s progress is tied to his desire and ability to take in knowledge and apply it.
“My best quality as an athlete? It’s my my ability to learn,” says Bothwell. “I try to soak in as much as I can and learn from other people.”
Bothwell observed other Hoosiers pitchers like Matt Litwicki, Braden Scott, Tommy Sommer, Cal Krueger and Grant Sloan.
“These are guys I looked up to,” says Bothwell. “It’s a combined knowledge of all those dudes.”
Bothwell’s pitching coach his first three years at IU was Justin Parker (who recently left for the University of South Carolina).
“He believe in me from the beginning,” says Bothwell of Parker. “It’s not like I came in as the best pitching prospect. I’ve grown so much under his wing. I wouldn’t be where I am without him and the rest of the coaching staff at Indiana.”
That staff has been led by Jeff Mercer.
“He just wants to win,” says Bothwell of Mercer. “It got that impression from the second I met him. You can tell he’s got so much baseball knowledge. He knows what he’s doing.
“He’s super honest (in his assessments) and that’s all for the betterment of the team.”
Bothwell prefers to be a positive person.
“I like to brighten people’s days,” says Bothwell. “I’m more on the happy-go-lucky side.”
He’s also has drive to keep going through the adversity.
“I don’t want to be told I can’t do something,” says Bothwell, who is back in the CPL this summer with the Jesse Lancaster-coached Morehead City (N.C.) Marlins. His four-seam fastball has been up to 94 mph. His spin rate with the pitch has been up to 2550 rpm.
“It has a rising action and goes up and in to lefties,” says Bothwell of the four-seamer. “A lot of bats have been broken because of that.”
The lefty also has a change-up, curveball and slider that he throws from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot.
“The change-up sometimes has a horizontal fade and sometimes a drop,” says Bothwell. “The vertical is better than the horizontal.
“My change-up is equal to my fastball in terms of an ‘out’ pitch.”
Bothwell has worked this summer to make his curve more of a 12-to-6 with vertical break. The “cut” slider moves on a horizontal plane with late break.
“On day where there’s a true four-pitch mix it’s pretty good,” says Bothwell.
Born in Merrillville, Ind., Dec. 8, 1999, Bothwell grew up on a ranch near Hebron, Ind. He attended Porter Lakes Elementary School then went into the Boone Grove system for middle school and high school.
His family hosted a memorial rodeo for a grandfather who died when Ty was very young. Mother Mikki Bothwell, who was once nationally-ranked in barrel riding, is preparing to compete in that sport at the Lake County Fair, which opens Aug. 5 in Crown Point, Ind. Father Todd Bothwell also likes to rope with his horse. Mikki Bothwell works at American Inter-Fidelity Exchange. Todd Bothwell owns A&B Manufacturing. Both are Crown Point High School graduates.
Power-hitting younger brother Trevor Bothwell (16) is heading into his junior year at Boone Grove.
Ty Bothwell says he did not take baseball seriously until high school though he did play travel ball for the Lake of the Four Seasons-based Warriors and Indiana Playmakers before spending four summers (14U to 17U) with the Hammond Chiefs — three with head coach Jim Tucker and one with head coach Dave Sutkowski. He has fond memories of time spent at Hammond’s Riverside Park, the former home of the Chiefs.
At Boone Grove, Bothwell played three seasons for Rollie Thill and his senior year for Pat Antone.
“He was in my corner,” says Bothwell of Thill. “He was a great coach to have.”
Antone came to the Wolves talking about winning a state title. He got players into the weight room and doing Driveline training.
“He preaches that we are going to win,” says Bothwell of Antone. “That dude embedded it in our brains.
“He introduced so many aspects of the game that we never had as a team. The guys really invested themselves and you could see the growth. It was crazy how far we were able to grow in that one little season.”
Bothwell is an Animal Behavior major at IU. He sees a future in animal husbandry.
“It’s like a zookeeper,” says Bothwell. “I’m into reptiles and amphibians. It’s been my thing since I was young.”

Talking Hoosier Baseball with Ty Bothwell.
Ty Bothwell (Indiana University Photo)
Ty Bothwell (Indiana University Photo)

Podkul’s path takes him to Yinzer Baseball Confederacy

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

Frank Podkul’s baseball journey has taken him to many places in North America.
The trek began in northwest Indiana. Podkul’s first organized experience came at Schererville Little League. That was followed by a Lake Central travel team, Northwest Indiana Shockers (coached by John Mallee), Indiana Playermakers (coached by Dave Griffin), Hammond Seminoles (coached by Ryan Pishkur, Tyler Oche and Matt Pobereyko), Hammond Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
Podkul graduated from Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., in 2014. He helped the 59ers (steered by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur) win an IHSAA Class 3A state title that year.
Younger brother Nick Podkul played up on most of Frank’s teams, including Andrean. Nick went on to Notre Dame and is now with Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
“We talk just about everyday,” says Frank. “We’e really close.”
Frank and Nick grew up in a neighborhood with kids who played many different sports — football, basketball, baseball, tennis etc.
“When you build that culture growing up you get a better appreciation for everything,” says Podkul, who turned 26 June 3. “:earn to be an athlete first. Everything else falls into place after that.
“It hurt when people want to specialize early. Let kids be kids.”
After he thought he might be a pitcher in college since he didn’t swing a potent bat in high school, Podkul played four seasons in the infield for Lance Marshall at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18).
“He’s just the best,” says Podkul of Marshall. “He would do anything for any of his players — no matter what. The way he’s built that program over the years it is one big family.
“On the baseball side of it, he let guys be themselves and got the best out of everybody.”
A corner infielder for the Grizzlies (mostly third base his last two years), Podkul appeared in 132 games and hit .290 (134-of-462) with 29 home runs, 25 doubles, 122 runs batted in, 109 runs and a .946 OPS (.414 on-base percentage plus .532 slugging average).
In 2018, Podkul hit .327 (53-of-162) with 16 homers, 10 doubles, 57 RBIs, 52 runs and a 1.129 OPS (.444/.685) while Franklin went 39-5 and ending the season at the NCAA Division III Central Regional.
“We had a ridiculous lineup,” says Podkul. “The amount of times we scored four or five runs in the first inning was almost comical.”
With baseball workouts and games, classes and his duties as a student athletic trainer, Podkul felt like a two-sport athlete as a senior. In the fall, he would awake at 5 a.m. for soccer practice, followed by classes, baseball practice and weightlifting then football practice and staying on top of his homework.
“At Franklin you have to be a good student,” says Podkul. “There’s no gimme classes.
“Everything is challenging.”
In his first two college summers, Podkul played for the Midwest Irish in 2015 and in the Virginia Beach (Va.) Collegiate Baseball League in 2016.
Podkul got a kickstart to his senior season at Franklin by spending the summer of 2017 with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks of the Western Canadian Baseball League.
“It was amazing,” says Podkul. “There’s really good competition in that league. Learning some stuff from those guys helped me in my senior year.”
One of his fond memories is playing a game in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which is 890 kilometers (428 miles) north of Medicine Hat and seeing the sun out at 1 a.m.
After graduating from Franklin as an Athletic Training major with minors in Exercise Science and Coaching, Podkul went through some workouts in the independent pro Frontier League. Nothing came of those and he went to the California Winter League where he landed a spot with the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers in 2019.
In the fall of that year, Podkul contacted Joe Torre (not that Joe Torre) of Torre Baseball Training LLC in Ridgewood, N.J. He runs an independent ball spring training camp in Palm Beach, Fla.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and much of baseball was shut down, a four-team league — the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy — was established with all games played in Washington, Pa., run by Torre and Washington Wild Things president/general manager Tony Buccilli.
Podkul split his time between the Road Warrior Black Sox and Baseball Brilliance Sox. The Frontier League put in the two other teams — the Wild Things and Steel City Slammin Sammies.
The YBC is back for 2021 with the Road Warrior Black Sox, Baseball Brilliance Sox, Killer Bees and Wolfpack. Players are not paid. They are reimbursed clubhouse attendant dues if they are picked up by another league.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Podkul is with the Carson McCurdy-managed Black Sox — playing corner infielder and occasionally in the outfield. Through 32 games, he was hitting .284 (27-of-95) with five homers, 10 doubles, 13 RBIs, 16 runs and a .981 OPS (.433/.547).
The Yinzer league provides the opportunity for players to stay sharp and build up their numbers while looking to catch on in independent leagues. Rosters are set a month at a time.
“It’s real games,” says Podkul, who plays daily — either afternoon or night — at Wild Things Park. “It’s not a showcase.
“You’ve got to play and get in front of (coaches and scouts). You go where you’re going to be a good fit.”
Since January, about 60 Yinzer league players have moved to other clubs.

Frank Podkul with Andrean High School.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with Franklin (Ind.) College.
Frank Podkul with the Medicine Hat (Alberta) Mavericks.
Frank Podkul with the Road Warrior Black Sox of the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy.

Benedictine’s Castillo enjoying summer opportunity in Illinois Valley

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

Playing with and against players from bigger schools, Damen Castillo enjoys showing what he can do on a baseball diamond.
Castillo, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound righty-swinging/throwing first baseman, plays during the spring at NCAA Division III Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. This summer, the Highland (Ind.) High School graduate is with the Prospect League’s Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp in the team’s first season in Peru, Ill.
“It’s the competition level,” says Castillo, 21. “The pace of play is faster than what I come from.
“It’s fun being around guys from different schools like that.”
Of the 31 players listed on the team’s online roster, 18 are from Illinois with eight from California and one each from Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Castillo is one of six players from NCAA D-III schools (the others are pitchers Jake Dahl of Rockford University, Chandler Kerr of Concordia University Chicago and Justin Rios and Jason Shanner of North Central College and infielder Garry Maynard of Concordia University Chicago).
There are 20 from NCAA D-I, two from NCAA D-II and three from National Junior College Athletic Association institutions.
Teams on Illinois Valley’s schedule, which consists of squads from the Wabash River, Great River, Prairie Land divisions, boasts no less than 105 D-I players.
The Pistol Shrimp are owned and managed by John Jakiemiec, who co-owns a player development academy in Naperville, Ill., Evolution Athletics.
“He’s been great,” says Castillo of Jakiemiec. “When we play, it’s real serious.
“You get your work in and still try to win at the same time.
“It’s been a fun summer.”
Jakiemiec, who played baseball at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., uses his Ivy League education to throw out random facts during bus trips.
“We don’t always know what he’s talking about,” says Castillo. “But we laugh.”
Through 25 games with the Pistol Shrimp, Castillo was hitting .280 (23-of-82) with five home runs, four doubles, 14 runs batted in and 10 runs scored.
“One of my best qualities as a hitter is the ability to drive the ball to the right side of the field,” says Castillo. “I get pitched away and I get a lot of off-speed. Over the years I’ve gotten good at hitting the outside pitch.”
Adam Smith is the head coach at Benedictine.
“He’s been real supportive,” says Castillo of Smith. “He come to me with things he think I can change.”
Castillo appreciates how Smith keeps practices loose and competitive.
“Our team tends to do better when things are like that,” says Castillo, who helped the Eagles go 29-13 overall and 15-5 in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference in 2021. “We do competition things in practice. It’s better than taking mass ground balls or BP.
“It makes it fun.”
In 42 games (all as a starter), Castillo hit .347 (61-of-176) with nine homers, one triple, 18 doubles, 51 RBIs, 35 runs and a 1.009 OPS (.395 on-base percentage plus .614 slugging average).
The 2021 season was his third at Benedictine. In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he started all seven games and hit .217 (5-of-23) with one extra-base hit (a double), four RBIs, three runs and a .557 OPS (.296/.261).
As a freshman in 2019, Castillo played a little bit of third base before becoming a full-time first baseman. In 28 games (24 as a starter), he hit .323 (32-of-99) with four homers, six doubles, 21 RBIs, 16 runs and a .885 OPS (.380/.505).
With two years of eligibility left, Castillo is a year away from earning a degree in Management of Organizational Behavior through the Goodwin College of Business.
Castillo and his Eagles teammates are to report back to campus in late August and will get right to work for about eight weeks of workouts before “captain’s practice” where NCAA D-III rules limit contact by the coaching staff.
Born and raised in Highland to Damen and Jodee Castillo with little sister Angelica (a volleyball and softball athlete entering her senior year at Highland High in 2021-22), “D” played travel ball around his hometown until 12 and then went with the Dave Griffiin-coached Indiana Playmakers, Morris (coached by Jim Tucker), Chiefs (coached by Dave Sutkowski) and Midwest Irish (coached by Shane Brogan).
When the Midwest Collegiate League shut down and Castillo was not able to play for the Southland Vikings in 2020, he assisted Brogan with the Irish.
“He has been the closest coach to me,” says Castillo of Brogan. The two talk every other day.
This year, Castillo helps Brogan out in practice when his schedule allows.
John Bogner was Castillo’s coach at Highland and had the third baseman on the varsity since early in his freshmen year with the Trojans.
“He was a great high school coach and I learned a lot from him,” says Castillo, who stays in touch with Bogner and dropped by practice during the end of 2021 season to hit with the Highland team.

Damen Castillo (Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Photo)
Damen Castillo (Benedictine University Photo)
Damen Castillo (Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp Photo)

An infielder much of his life, Dawson roams Schaumburg Boomers outfield

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

Chase Dawson was an elementary school student the last time he was a regular in the outfield.
At that time he was with the Zuni’s House of Pizza, a travel team that went 44-4 during Dawson’s 8U and 9U travel ball seasons and played in the Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series.
Now 24, Dawson is back in the outfield for the independent Frontier League’s Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers in his second professional baseball season. He’s been mostly in center field or left field during the team’s first 35 games in 2021.
“It’s been a fun little transition,” says Dawson, a 5-foot-9, 185-pounder. “Going into the 2020 season (Boomers manager) Jamie (Bennett) said to be ready for it so I trained my arm a little more.
“I did well the first couple of days of spring training and we brought in some pretty good infielders. Jamie trusted me that I’m athletic enough to make the switch.
“It might sound goofy but one of my best qualities as an athlete is my athleticism. I can do just about anything in any sport.”
Dawson played four years of baseball (two varsity), three years as a soccer midfielder and one as a football defensive back and kicker at Andean High School in Merrillville, Ind., where he graduated in 2015.
A lefty batter and righty thrower, Dawson was the starting second baseman for the Dave Pishkur-coached 59ers’ back-to-back IHSAA Class 3A state champions in 2014 and 2015 (he batted second and scored a run in a 6-0 win against Gibson Southern in ’14 and led off and went 2-of-3 with a triple and tallied the first run in a 2-1 triumph against Jasper in ’15) and was a second sacker the majority of the time in his four seasons at Valparaiso (Ind.) University (2016-19), playing for head coach Brian Schmack.
Dawson says Pishkur has a knack of teaching the fundamentals and getting talented to players to reach their potential.
“It seemed like he out-coached any team we ever played,” says Dawson of Pishkur. “He was definitely hard on us and it stunk at the time, but it’s starting to add up for him.”
Pishkur has more than 1,000 career victories, seven state titles and currently has former players Sean Manaea and Mike Brousseau in the big leagues.
Schmack’s lessons about leadership and tenacity stuck with Dawson, who earned a Business Management degree at Valpo U., in 2019.
“He’s such a good role model,” says Dawson of Schmack. “He brought a lot out of me in my four years.
“He made mentally-tougher player.”
Dawson played in 199 games (152 starts) at VU, hitting .276 (199-of-722) with seven home runs, 13 triples, 30 doubles, 88 runs batted in, 145 runs scored and 28 stolen bases in 37 attempts.
He was named to the Horizon League all-tournament and all-freshman team in 2016 and was all-Missouri Valley Conference second team in 2019.
The summer of 2018 was spent with the Coastal Plain League’s Martinsville (Va.) Mustangs, where he hit .395 and was all named all-CPL first team and the CPL select team that competed against the USA Collegiate National Team in a midseason all-star game.
In 13 contests with the 2019 Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, Dawson’s primary position again was second base.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the RailCats in 2019 and Dawson did not play.
“I shut down baseball activities for five or six months,” says Dawson. “It was a good decision. I came back twice as eager.
“I’ve tried to find positives out of the situation.”
Pat and Lindy Salvi own both the Gary and Schaumburg franchises and RailCats manager Greg Tagert and Schaumburg skipper Bennett are good friends (Bennett pitched for Tagert with the Dubois County Dragons and the RailCats and was Tagert’s pitching coach at Gary). Dawson landed with the Boomers.
“It’s been a very good fit,” says Dawson, who has come to appreciate Bennett’s approach. “He’s very easy to play for because of how relaxed he is.
“He’s very positive and a go-get-the-next-one type of guy.”
Dawson was born in Munster, Ind., and moved to Chesterton, Ind., at a young age. He attended St. Thomas More School in Munster for Grades K-8 then entered Andrean.
Dave Griffin’s Indiana Playmakers were Dawson’s travel team from 10U until high school when he went to Shane Brogan’s Midwest Irish.
Chase is the son of Rick Dawson and Tonia Michalski.
“My dad’s my biggest idol,” says Dawson. “He works his butt off so I can play baseball.
“My little brothers (Kingston, 10, and Maverick, 6) mean more than anything to me. It’s fun to hang out and teach them baseball and basketball.”

Chase Dawson (Valparaiso University Photo)
Chase Dawson runs the bases for the 2021 Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers. (Tom Anson Photo)

Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)

Competitive drive fuels Indiana right-hander Manous

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Manous has experienced gains during his three baseball seasons at Indiana University.

Manous, a right-handed pitcher, graduated from Munster (Ind.) High School in 2016 at 165 pounds.

“I was pretty skinny,” says Manous, who Manous earned four baseball letters and three monograms in basketball with the Mustangs. 

Through weightlifting, proper eating and maturity, the 6-footer now weighs 195.

Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan, he struck out 106 batters in 64 1/3 innings and threw five complete games with a 0.76 earned run average as a Munster senior in 2016. He was Post-Tribune Player of the Year as a senior and a three-time all-Northwest Crossroads Conference selection. 

As a junior, Manous went 6-1 with an 1.56 ERA and 57 strikeouts. His sophomore season for the Mustangs produced a 7-1 mark, 0.48 ERA and 54 strikeouts.

“He was a real good mentor,” says Manous of Shinkan. “He was a good person I was able to talk to if I ever needed anything.

“You’re always able to have fun when you’re playing with him.”

Mike Hackett was head basketball coach during Manous’ Munster career.

Manous spent June to December of 2016 at the University of Miami (Fla.), transferred to IU and sat out the 2017 season.

At the start of his collegiate career, Manous threw a fastball that sat around 88 to 91 mph and occasionally hit 92 or 93.

Since Justin Parker joined the Hoosiers staff as pitching coach, he has helped make adjustments that has the righty sitting at 90 to 93. In 2019, he lit up the radar at 96.

“I’ve learned so much about pitching from him,” says Manous of Parker, who was brought in when Jeff Mercer was hired as head coach in the summer of 2018, making 2019 their first campaign in Bloomington. “He’s changed a lot of my career. He’s made me advance a lot more than I ever before.

“My velo jumped when he got to school. My curve ball got better. Growing up and maturing as a person — he helped with that, too.”

In three seasons on the mound for Indiana, Manous has made 40 appearances (three starts) with a 2-3 record, two saves, a 2.81 earned run average, 49 strikeouts and 20 walks in 67 2/3 innings. 

In the COVID 19-shortened 2020 season, the righty relieved in six of IU’s 15 games and was 0-0 with an 0.00 ERA. In eight innings, he fanned 12 and walked three.

What’s it like playing for a Mercer-coached team?

“It’s a lot of hard work and trust in the process,” says Manous. “Each day you’ve got to get better.

“You see results six months, a year later — as a lot of us have seen.”

During quarantine, Business major Manous tended to his online studies and worked out at the house then started training at Thrive Sport and Fitness Solutions — a facility co-owned by Mark Banter, Gloria Banter and Jesse Wilkening in Cedar Lake, Ind.

It was through Parker’s connections to Macon (Ga.) Bacon head coach Jimmy Turk that Manous landed with the Coastal Plain League team this summer. After logging a few innings with the Tropics in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., the hurler reported to Macon June 25.

In six relief appearances, Manous is 0-0 with one save, an 0.00 ERA, 13 strikeouts and four walks in 8 2/3 innings. A recent four-seam was clocked at 94 mph and he’s had a spin rate as high as 2,450. Throwing from a high arm slot, he also uses a 12-to-6 curveball and a “circle” change-up.

Like he’s done the past two seasons at Indiana, Manous has been working at the back of the bullpen.

His mindset — no matter where he gets into the game — is the same.

“Just be yourself and compete,” says Manous. “You don’t want to give up a run. That’s how I am in the first or the ninth inning. I don’t really change.

“You’ve got to be composed. The ball is going to be taken deep if you don’t execute your pitches.”

Manous, 22, cites his drive as his top athletic strength.

“I hate to lose in anything,” says Manous. “I’m always super competitive, It’s how I grew up.

“I hated losing to my dad or brother.”

Perry Manous is a computer software developer. Outfielder Garrett Manous (20) just completed his freshmen season at Indiana and plays for the Tropics in the Grand Park league this summer. Kelly Manous, wife of Perry and mother of the two boys, is a personal trainer.

Connor became the fourth Indiana pitcher on the Macon team, joining Ty Bothwell, Matt Litwicki and Braden Scott

Left-hander Bothwell (a Boone Grove High School graduate) is among the CPL’s strikeout leaders with 21 in 14 1/3 innings. Right-hander Litwicki (Lake Central) has whiffed 10 in seven innings. Southpaw Scott (Shakamak) has fanned 15 in 9 1/3 innings. The Bacon pitching coach is Josh Teichroew.

Manous did not play baseball last summer, but stayed at IU and worked to get stronger. In 2018, he played for the Cape Cod League’s Brewster Whitecaps with Jamie Shevchik as head coach and Scott Landers as pitching coach. The summer of 2017 was spent with the Northwoods League’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers with Cody Piechocki as head coach.

Born in Dyer, Ind., Manous played his first organized baseball at Munster Little League. He went on to play for many travel ball teams, including the Indiana Playmakers and, during three high school summers, Prairie Gravel. His manager was Sam Sorce. Al Oremus is the organization’s founder.

Connor Manous, a 2016 graduate of Munster (Ind.) High School, has pitched three baseball seasons (2018-20) at Indiana University, is this summer is with the Macon (Ga.) Bacon of the Coastal Plain League. (Indiana University Photos)
Connor Manous, a Munster (Ind.) High School graduate, has pitched three baseball seasons at Indiana University and this summer is with the Coastal Plains League’s Macon (Ga.) Bacon. (Indiana University Photo)

Julian, Bishop Noll Warriors building ‘culture of togetherness’

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball at Hammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute has a history full of hardware.

Noll, a Catholic-based college preparatory school, has won 27 sectional titles — the last in 2018. State championships were earned in 1968 and 2004.

The Warriors lost to eventual sectional champion Whiting in the first round of the 2019 tournament.

“We’re looking to get that sectional (title) back this year,” says second-year Noll head coach Ryan Julian. “We had 13 seniors last year. It slipped through our fingers.”

Ryan Bradtke was a four-year varsity starter for Noll and senior in 2019. The pitcher/center fielder is now on the team at Wabash College.

Jake Fuehrmeyer, a 2019 salutatorian and four-year Warriors starter at shortstop, is now at Notre Dame and was expected to be involved with baseball at least at the club level.

Noll is part of an IHSAA Class 2A sectional grouping with Bowman Academy, Gary Roosevelt, Lake Station Edison, Wheeler and Whiting.

Julian enters his fourth season in the program in 2020 with veterans leaders, including seniors Devin Padilla, Hunter Laurincik and Nico Calzonzi and junior Aiden Companiott, and plenty of talented youngsters to contribute to building a “culture of togetherness.”

Catcher Padilla will be a fourth-year varsity player. Center fielder Laurincik is heading into his third year with the varsity. Calzonzi is a relief pitcher and outfielder. Third baseman Companiott is already a three-year starter who is expected to bat in the middle of the order.

Julian, who counts director of admissions Jeff Stur (Noll Class of 1998) as his varsity assistant and math teacher Eloy Melero (Noll Class of 2014) as his junior varsity coach, says he expects to have 30 to 35 players in the program — varsity and JV. Many of those being freshmen and sophomores.

“There will be a lot of learning, but we are talented at the younger levels,” says Julian. “We’ll practice as one big unit.”

The Warriors practice at Irving Park near the BNI campus. The first two home dates of the season are scheduled there with the rest at either Hammond’s Dowling Park (home to Purdue Northwest baseball) or Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard (home of the Gary SouthShore RailCats).

Noll gets players from local youth leagues such as Hammond Optimist as well as travel organizations like the Hammond/Morris Chiefs, Indiana Playmakers and Northwest Indiana Shockers. Players are also involved with Region Legion Expos.

As a 2A school, Noll has several multi-sport athletes. Julian says preparation for baseball begins in earnest in January with workouts from 6 to 7:30 a.m.

“I like to go in the morning,” says Juilan. “That way they can take care of their academics after school and finish up (other winter sports).”

Julian notes that as a spring sport, baseball contends with things like prom and graduation and at the end of a long academic/sports year.

“Once you get to May, it’s hard to keep kids focused,” says Julian. “By spring, they’re pretty burned out.”

Noll (enrollment around 440) is a member of the Greater South Shore Athletic Conference (with Calumet, Griffith, Lake Station Edison, River Forest, Wheeler and Whiting are baseball-playing members).

Each conference team meets twice in a home-and-home series on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Warriors will also play Catholic teams across the Illinois line, including Marian Catholic and Mount Carmel.

Julian is a 2007 Mount Carmel graduate, where he played baseball for Caravan head coach Brian Hurry.

“For him, it’s all about team,” says Julian of Hurry. “I want to bring this idea of family (at Noll).”

He also wants to put the ball in play on offense and keep pressure on the opposition.

“No easy outs,” says Julian.

At Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, Julian was part of a baseball program led by Carl Tebon.

He credits Tebon for emphasizing having fun with the game while also working hard and seeing the mental side of it.

“It’s a thinking man’s game as well,” says Julian, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Loras in 2011 and a master’s in history from Valparaiso (Ind.) University in 2018. He teaches history and economics at BNI. He was head baseball coach for four years at Oregon-Davis High School in Hamlet, Ind., before coming to Noll.

Ryan and Kaitlin Julian reside in Munster, Ind., and have a daughter named Isabelle (3). Kaitlin Julian is a registered nurse in Chicago.

ELOYMELEROHammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute graduate Eloy Melero is junior varsity baseball coach at his alma mater. (BNI Photo)

JEFFSTURHammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute graduate Jeff Stur is varsity assistant baseball coach at his alma mater. (BNI Photo)

RYANJULIANRyan Julian, a graduate of Mount Carmel High School in Illinois, is varsity baseball coach at Hammond (Ind.) Bishop Noll Institute. (BNI Photo)