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LaVille, Grace graduate Herbster’s baseball odyssey takes him to Czech Republic

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Quentin Herbster has bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Management as well as Marketing and a Masters of Business Administration degree and could pursue many biz-world or other opportunities.

But he’s not done with his baseball journey.

And what a journey’s it has been.

As father Dave Herbster says: “It’s a story of perseverance.”

Herbster, a graduate of LaVille Junior/Senior High School in Lakeville, Ind., and Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is in the Czech Republic, where the outfielder hit a blistering .613 in the first half of the split season with Hluboka Baseball Club.

Before going to the central European nation through Baseball Jobs Overseas networking, the 6-foot, 210-pounder played at LaVille, Grace and independent pro ball in the U.S.

Herbster, who was born in Goshen, Ind., was a four-year varsity player and two-time all-conference performer at LaVille, where his coaches were Gene Baker at the beginning and Dan Jones for the last two seasons.

He hit .333 as a freshman, broke his ankle a week into his sophomore year then .395 as a junior and .450 as a senior.

“(Jones) was perfect for me because his thing was personal fitness,” says Herbster. “This kind of lit the first spark in value of personal health and it helped me rehab back from a broken ankle.”

At Grace, Herbster was part of a program led by head coach Bill Barr. After being on the junior varsity his first two seasons, Q hit .320 as a junior and kept on working to get better.

“I literally treated it like a full-time job in college,” says Herbster. “It was over 40 hours a week in the off-season (fall). My senior year, the game felt easy that fall in scrimmages so I graduated early to find better competition.”

After graduating early, he went to the Pecos League and played in the spring league with the 2016 Houston Apollos. After pulling his hamstring three times, he came back to Indiana to rehab and get a job.

“I didn’t want to be done playing because I knew why I had failed and knew I could fix it,” says Herbster. “But it meant I had to wait a whole year before playing and I had to get a job because I was newly-married (to Katrina).

“Looking back, I’m not sure how I got through that summer because I worked each weekday at the Menards in Warsaw from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., had physical therapy in Mishawaka on Tuesdays and Thursdays, played in South Bend for the South Bend Cardinals on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (I was only cleared to jog, but it was still live at-bats), cleaned medical buildings at night for two hours, lifted (weights) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and all while finishing up my masters work online.

“That summer I lived on four hours of sleep and Rockstar Energy. But I had to because we were poor. I had therapy to pay for and a dream so couldn’t give up.:

Herbster went back to the Pecos League in 2017, hit .360 in the spring league with the Bisbee Sea Lions and was signed for the summer league by the Hollywood Stars. After a 1-for-7 start a a pinch hitter for the expansion team that played all its games on the road and Herbster was cut.

“I began the 28-hour drive back to my wife with the same problem again: workout for another year and wait for another opportunity,” says Herbster. “I couldn’t quit because I didn’t feel I had failed. After 10 months of lifting, working delivery, going to a speed guy and taking at-bats against my buddy that pitched with me in college, I got an email from (the Czech Republic) for this opportunity and I took it.”

Not only has Herbster been productive on the field, he enjoys the treatment he’s getting from his team.

“The thing that I like most is that for the first time in a long time I’m wanted and being taken care of,” says Herbster. “It’s not like I’m being paid well, but they are taking care of my housing and most my food, transportation, gym membership and then paying me a little bit on the side which covers supplements, food and a little bit left to help with student loans.

“They even forced me to take a nice litter two day vacation to Prague.”

When he’s not playing, working out or seeing the sights, Herbster is often giving lessons.

“It’s the same game and kids are the same everywhere, but the emphasis is different here then in the States,” says Herbster. “These differences promote different flaws.

“For example, the emphasis in pitching is to throw strikes so most kids do not let the arm ride up the kinetic chain and have an arm -irst approach that cuts down on velocity.

Emphasis on hitting was power so most kids dipped, stayed connected well, but pulled off. In the U.S., we emphasize — for the most part — to put it in play and play defense so we play much better defense and make better contact but rarely do you see people get connected and get true power out of themselves.”

Herbster’s team of 22 players was one of top squads in the lower tier and will play against the lower teams in the top division in the second half of the season.

“It’s like the bottom 4 MLB teams playing the top 4 AAA teams to earn their way back or to the majors,” says Herbster. “We’re the best of the second level so some games some players won’t show.”

Herbster is the only actual import on his team, but there is one player from the Ukraine and another from Cuba. The top four teams in the upper division have about four imports each.

There is a language barrier, but it isn’t awful.

“Most speak some English,” says Herbster. “Fortunately, a couple players speak it well. The struggle is in lessons. There’s three ways to learn: auditorial, visual and aesthetically. I can usually work with two-and-a-half.”

It also helps that Katrina has joined Quentin. He left for the Czech Republic in early April but she had a stay behind to finish her duties as a teacher at LaVille Elementary.

The language barrier was more frustrating during those two months,” says Herbster. “She really enjoys fitness and is currently studying through (the National Academy of Sports Medicine) to be a certified personal trainer, so she studies when I’m preoccupied.”

Herbster says his best qualities as an athlete probably also helped him as a student (he carried a 3.47 GPA as an undergrad and 3.62 while earning his masters).

I work hard and learn quickly,” says Herbster. “You work out six days a week and work at your game, you’ll get better.

“It’s all about stacking days. In high school, I was barely 6-foot, benched 135 (pounds), squatted 225. Now, I Bench 325, squat 575 and deadlift 555.

“I’m a good gap-to-gap hitter (from the right side).

“The rest of my game plays pretty average. I run a 6.8 to 6.7 60-yard dash time and top out at 88 (mph) from the outfield. I’m hoping to be able to do some of the Top Velocity program to gain some real arm strength this fall.”

What are Herbster’s long-term baseball goals?

“I’m hoping to find my ceiling,” says Herbster. “I want to see at what level I can play. I’m hoping to get to Australia or Japan to keep playing but have no idea how to get there yet.

“I just want to see how far I can push this.”

Herbster can see a job as an athletic director or coach in his future.

“I want to help kids reach there potential,” says Herbster. “Looking back, I really didn’t know what to do or how to do it. A lot of kids work hard but they just don’t know or have plans to help them improve. They don’t know the best way to do it.

“I’d also love to start a nutrition company that focuses on customizable, workout-goal based nutrition. I feel like these companies are inefficient and structurally backward.”

Quentin (24) is the oldest of Dave and Shawn Herbster’s five children. There’s also Hannah Herbster (22), Isaiah Herbster (16), Chloe Herbster (12) and Naomi Herbster (11).

Hannah graduated in the spring from Grace, where she played softball and finished her career as the Lancers’ all-time leader in stolen bases. The 6-foot-4 baseball-playing Isaiah is heading into his junior year at LaVille.

The first baseball camp Quentin ever attended was at 10 with Mark Haley, who was then manager of the South Bend Silver Hawks and now runs the South Bend Cubs Performance Center. Herbster has been an instructor at the facility located at Four Winds Field.

“(Haley) also worked with me between my junior and senior season in college, fixing a fundamental flaw to give me more power involving staying connected longer. He was like my swing mechanic in that I started to go to him when I needed a tune-up.”

Herbster also practiced year-around with Jeff Rinard at Chasing A Dream in Lakeville and later with Jeff Jackowiak.

From 13U to 18U, he played travel ball with the Elkhart Titans.

“(Titans coach) John Drew definitely cares about his players and that atmosphere was nice for me,” says Herbster. “He also game me the freedom to work on aspects of my game during games as well and even allowed me to continue to use their facilities in college and beyond.”

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Quentin Herbster, a LaVille High School and Grace College graduate, is playing baseball in the Czech Republic. (Hluboka Baseball Club Photo)

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Quentin Herbster hit .613 in the first half of the split baseball season with Hluboka in the Czech Republic. (Hluboka Baseball Club Photo)

Technology meets training at Teddy Ballgames

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Taking technology and using it to train and entertain.

That’s what owner Mike Branch is doing with his baseball and softball training facility in South Bend called Teddy Ballgames.

Opened in 2016, the place features six indoor batting cages.

One cage is set up with the HitTrax Baseball Simulator, a state-of-the art video capture system capable of tracking the path of a batted ball and displaying it on a big screen monitor.

“This generation is visual,” says Branch. “They don’t realize how cool this is. For somebody our age, we didn’t have this when we were growing up. We didn’t have video. We didn’t have the information that made us better hitters. You either hit or didn’t.”

Branch said the system takes instruction and training from the old “keep your eye on the ball” and allows the player to see what the mechanics of a swing look like.

With patent pending HitTrax technology feedback data telling them the location and speed of the pitch and their average exit velocity plus distance and location of hits (spray chart), they learn things like taking the outside pitch the other way and what pitch they can strike with the biggest probability of getting a hit.

“Eventually, they become their best hitting coach,” says Branch. “My son is 13 and I still work with him quite a but I’ll have him go through some of his swings and assess himself.”

HitTrax users start out with a baseline assessment and can be tracked for progress over a period of time.

Branch notes that not all players and coaches will embrace the technology, preferring to stick with age-old methods.

“Men have egos,” says Branch. “The fact is you can’t see everything at full speed.”

But the lifelong baseball fan (the Bridgman (Mich.) High School graduate roots for the Detroit Tigers) says this is where the game is going.

“This is how the pros train (with video),” says Branch. “They use video of the pitcher and they use video of their own swing to determine what they’re doing so they can make those small adjustments.”

Because of the considerable investment in the system (there are not that many available to the public in Indiana), Branch charges more for the HitTrax cage, but has tried to keep it just a little higher than bowling alley fees.

HitTrax offers a data plan subscription where registered users can flag their videos and have access to them on a mobile device. Branch charges $12 a month for this service. Otherwise, players can see their videos at the facility.

Branch and Teddy Ballgames instructor Greg Harris (head coach at South Bend Riley High School) are both certified through the Mike Epstein rotational hitting program (TB throwing instructors include John Coddington and Jeff Jackowiak).

In teaching with HitTrax, Branch has learned a few things about working with young hitters.

“You can use cues positively now so they can start to make those improvements,” says Branch. “And you want them to become engaged. If I’m showing a kid this video and he’s staring at the ground, he’s really not picking it up.

Every kid is different in how they take coaching. You want to try to make it a positive thing.”

Branch emphasizes that this tool is being used to make them better and to identify where improvement is needed.

“‘I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I’m trying to make you understand what you’re doing wrong,’’’ says Branch is repeating his message to his players.

Staying positive is important. The idea is to uplift and not discourage.

“You can’t be all negative, especially with younger hitters,” says Branch.

Similar to golf simulators that allow players to tee it up at Augusta or Pebble Beach, HitTrax entertainment features include the ability to hit in any Major League Baseball park and even the site of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Sessions can be set up for birthday parties, where attendees can go for the fences in a “Home Run Derby.”

Remote games can be played. Teddy Ballgames recently got 12U and 14U players to take on C-Side Sports in Washington, Pa., another facility with HitTrax.

Leaderboards are kept in-house and on the regional level to let players see how their scores — mostly tied to exit velocity — stack up with others. A Quality Hit Club competition is underway that pays $250 to the winner.

Branch started going to the batting cages for therapy after an accident about 15 years ago and began wondering where his solid strikes would have landed. He then did extensive study into video analysis technology, including discussions with Wayne State University about developing such a system.

“I knew it was going to take cameras, but then it got out of my wheelhouse,” says Branch.

Cost and the time it would take to process feedback caused him to back off. Then came word from his brother that the technology had been advanced by HitTrax.

“When I found out about it, I got very excited about it,” says Branch. “They took it a little farther on the training side.

“I was thinking more of the entertainment side. I wanted to be able to do remote tournaments and leaderboards and those things.”

Branch says the technology expedited his decision to transition from the rental business to the baseball training business.

The name of his facility pays homage to Hall of Famer Ted Williams aka “Teddy Ballgame.” The cages are surrounded with photos and books on Williams and others from baseball’s storied past.

“When we were kids, we listened to baseball on the radio,” says Branch. “Today, a lot of kids don’t follow the game. There are a lot more distractions for kids. I wanted to educate the younger generation on players like Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig.”

Of course it’s his business, but Branch sees the real worth in having a place to train — not just during the winter months — but spring, summer and fall, too.

“This may be a little controversial, but I believe the people in the south work at it harder than we do in the north,” says Branch. “We continually give the excuses that it’s nice year-round down there.

“Why are there more indoor facilities in the south than there are here? We go to our team practices and our games, but we don’t go back to our individual work. That’s just my opinion.”

Branch notes that one family visiting from the south came to him during Christmas break, saying their son could not go two weeks without batting practice because all the kids where he came from were still practicing.

“It has to be a cultural change,” says Branch. “We have to  get out of our paradigm of what we think is enough. I look at this and I’m excited about, but not everybody has that reaction to it.”

Jackowiak devoted to teaching baseball fundamentals

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Jackowiak has dedicated his life to teaching the fundamentals of baseball.

The former Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-stater and 31st overall pick by the Detroit Tigers in the 1977 Major League Baseball draft pick does not do his teaching on a field.

Jackowiak offers indoor lessons year-round. He currently rents space across the state line at the School of Hard Knocks facility in Niles, Mich.

Jackowiak grew up on the west side of South Bend, played for coach Dan Cunningham at St. Joseph’s High School (the Indians lost 2-0 to LaPorte in Jeff’s senior year of 1977) and in the summer for American Legion Post 357.

In 1978, the right-hander pitched for the Lakeland (Fla.) Tigers managed by Jim Leyland.

Since 1993, he’s been passing along his knowledge as an independent instructor.

“We must teach the fundamentals,” says Jackowiak. “They are the things in sports that allow you do things correctly more times than not.”

Recently, Jackowiak sat down for an IndianaRBI Q&A session.

Q: What is “old school”?

A: “I consider myself a dinosaur. Even though I’m only 57, I’ve been through a lot of guys who played a lot of baseball without a lot of gimmicks. They just played hard, play with a lot of heart and figured out their game at the park in competition with their neighbors. They kept playing everyday during the summer. That’s where you really were made as a youngster … You can’t chance progress, but ‘old school’ is people who made it by playing everyday.”

Q: Can you throw too much?

A: “I don’t think you can throw too much from a certain distance. You have to look at how hard and what pitches you’re throwing. How many curve balls are you throwing? … Growing up, I threw a lot of baseballs and it didn’t hurt me one bit. It strengthened me. But I wasn’t infatuated with a lot of things that could have hurt my arm …There are all kinds of ways to throw a baseball. First of all, you have to have elasticity and be loose when you throw a baseball. You can’t be weight-bound.”

Q: Why is baseball such a great game?

A: “Because of failure. As a batter, you fail and you have to wait eight more guys to hit again. You miss a ground ball and you don’t know when the next one’s coming to you. As a pitcher, you can have a great game and the next game you can get shelled or walk a lot of guys and get pulled early … It helps in life. Life is ups and downs. That’s what baseball is.”

Q: What would you change about baseball?

A: “We have to understand that baseball is not instant gratification. Kids need to know that you must play a lot, play catch a lot , play sand lot a lot and do a lot of things. That’s the key to it … They know themselves if they’re getting better.”

Q: What gives you the most satisfaction about teaching the game?

A: “The satisfaction comes from seeing a kid that isn’t very good who improves and does what you ask him to do … Teaching is a process. If the process continues and the parent allows the process to continue and the kid says I like this guy, the process will continue and that’s how teaching evolves. It doesn’t happen in a week’s or half hour’s time … Teaching is about information … You have to prepare for a lesson. You have to impress me. In impressing me, you’re going impress yourself. I’m not easy on kids. Sports is about performance. Guys who don’t perform, don’t play. They sit the bench … Keep at it or you’ll regress. Use it or lose it.”

Q: Here’s a two-parter: Can you work too much at baseball and do you believe in burnout?

A: “Burnout occurs when there is so much going on and you have to pick and choose where you spend your time. Life presents a lot of things that kids want to do … You can get burned out if there’s not a balance in your life. You have to work a lot, but there has to be a balance in time management … I ask the kids to work out 5 minutes a day because that’s achievable. I don’t think you can get burned out by doing that. Make it a priority.”

Q: Did you ever imagine there would be so many training facilities?

A: “I owned Grand Slam USA (in Elkhart) from 1993-99 and that was a training facility. It was really neat. Kids really took to it. We had hitting leagues and a lot of things that promoted repetition. But it wasn’t like today … We need to allow kids to learn and not think they’re pros. They’ve got to learn fundamental, easy ways to start the process … There are so many training facilities because of travel baseball.”

Q: What did you learn while playing for Jim Leyland?

A: “Jim Leyland was a very cognitive manager. He was thinking all the time. That’s what he wanted you to do. I learned from him that you go out and give it your best because that’s why you’re here … Jim Leyland did not teach me how to pitch, he gave me the confidence to go out and pitch … Jim Leyland gives people the opportunity to go out and spread their wings … He’ll sit on you if you go beyond what he thinks is right … He was the kind of guy that was hard on you, but you knew he had your back.”

Q: What’s the current state of Indiana baseball?

A: “Being in a cage for 24 years, I don’t see a lot of games and I teach all ages … But I know the coaches that want to win state championships, those are the ones who are successful. Don’t say sectionals, regionals and semistates. If you have state championships in mind, you’re going to do something better. Why lower your expectations? High schools have to understand that it’s hard game, a dedication game … How do you put all players on the same page? … And the talent starts in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade, not high school.”

Q: Can you tell me about American baseball the way it was when you played for South Bend Post 357?

A: “When you were picked for American Legion Baseball, you were considered an all-star … The coaches were not parents … American Legion is great baseball and I hope it takes off again.”

Q: How fierce was baseball competition when you were growing up?

A: “It was real fierce. Everybody loved baseball and that was their ego …. We wanted to win, no matter what we did growing up … It was about coaches like Lenny Buczkowski, Jim Reinebold, Ric Tomaszewski and Ken Schreiber. They brought that to high school baseball. They were pretty tough guys … There was that edge.”

Q: Can you tell me about your HotZones throwing system?

A: “In 2008, I developed what I thought was the best target for kids to throw to and better their technique. They can throw the ball high, low, inside or outside within the strike zone … I also developed it for (non-pitchers) because if you can’t throw a baseball, you can’t play this game. Defense comes first before hitting and all good coaches know that.”

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Jeff Jackowiak with his HotZones target throwing system.