Mark Walther helps run a business dedicated to the improvement of those who move and compete, particularly those in baseball, softball, football and golf. He is the Director of Operations at Pro X Athlete Development, which is at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind. “I wear a lot of hats here,” says Walther, a former collegiate and professional pitcher. “There isn’t much that I don’t do here.” Walther, 33, started as a lead instructor and taught velocity programs for pitchers and position players and gave pitching lessons. As Director of Operations, he is charged with everything from scheduling cages and turf time to making sure machines are in order to the cleanliness of the facility. He makes sure financials and daily reporting lines up with what’s coming into Pro X. After coaching at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and the University of Indianapolis, Walther worked briefly for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park and still helps with that company while also serving as the commissioner of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which had its third season in 2022. The CSL came about out of players needing a place to compete and train (at Pro X) with many leagues being shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of athletes had spring seasons that were cut short or didn’t start at all. “We had a lot of time on our hands,” says Walther. “Both of our businesses were shut down about the time (Indiana) opened up (from the lockdown) is when we were able to open up the league.” Walther says he was one of six people who created the CSL and other people were brought in to make it a reality. “To start up a league like that you want high-profile players,” says Walther. “It’s tough to get high-profile players if they’ve never heard of your league before. “Right way we wanted to be able to compete with the Northwoods, the Prospect and the Coastal Plain. I don’t know if anybody’s ever going to compete with the Cape, but we wanted to be up there.” Walther says getting the amount of players and talent that the CSL did (in 2020) is the whole reason it still exists. “We just want to make sure that the product we’re putting out there is good for college players as a whole,” says Walther. “It’s good for their development in games and while they’re training (at Pro X) and getting better. “We want to meet every ask of a college coach. If they have a redshirt and they need them ready for sophomore year when they return to school then we can get them 30, 40, 50 innings. If they want them to throw 20 innings and two innings a week in relief, we’ll follow that, too. “That’s really what’s set the College Summer League apart.” Over the past two years, Walther’s commissioner responsibilities have included finding and getting commitments from coaches, recruiting and placing players and taking care of everything from payments to jersey sizes to host families. He coordinates gameday operations and hires sports information interns for the eight-team league. Those positions are posted in November and December with interviews coming in January and February. Walther grew up on a farm on the west side of Kankakee, Ill., and is a 2007 graduate of Herscher (Ill.) High School, where his head coach was Eric Regez. His junior year, Walther was the last one to make cuts for the Tigers varsity and helped his team as a right-handed reliever. As a senior, he was a starter. “I played the underdog throughout my entire college career,” says Walther, who worked hard to grow his knowledge base while improving his athletic skill set. “I was a P.O. (Pitcher Only) before P.O. was even a thing. I think I had seven career varsity at-bats. “I just kept working at it.” Mark is the son of Eugene and Beth Walther and is about six years younger than brother Todd Walther. Eugene Walther died of brain cancer when Mark was 18. “Going into college that pushed me forward,” says Walther. “It always gave me something to work for: Trying to make him proud.” Walther showed up at walk-on tryouts at Parkland. “I wasn’t a preferred walk-on or anything,” says Walther. “I found a way to earn a spot.” The Cobras coaching staff changed Walther’s arm slot from overhand to sidearm/submarine. “That gave me a whole new life in college baseball,” says Walther, who was frequently used as a freshman and was on scholarship as a sophomore. The latter team won the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national championship. After two years at Parkland playing for Mitch Rosenthal and Matt Kennedy, Walther transferred to NCAA Division II University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. He came out of the bullpen for Tracy Archuleta’s Screaming Eagles (which won an NCAA Division II national crown in 2010). “I tried to just extend the game and get us to the next guy,” says Walther. “My job was to get us out of jams. There’s not better feeling in the world than coming into the game with the bases loaded and one out and you’re trying to get a ground ball. I lived for those moments. “Being out there when the adrenaline’s pumping, I’ve yet to find anything to match it.” After pitching at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., Todd Walther wound up on the baseball operations side with the Texas Rangers. Mark used the connection to his advantage. “I was able to bounce ideas off of him when thing weren’t going my way in bullpens or games,” says Walther. He got to see video of major league pitchers like Cody Bradford, Darren O’Day and Pat Neshek and could study their mechanics, grips and release points. Walther was on a path to become a Physical Education teacher and high school coach when a curriculum change at USI that would have taken him longer to get his degree caused him to change his major to Sport Management. “I started learning more about facility management and running a sports business,” says Walther, who took classes on sports marketing and sports law — things that help him in his position at Pro X. But Walther did pursue coaching out of college. He was an assistant at Parkland for a year and helped Kennedy with outfielders, operations and recruiting. He started what turned out to be a four-year stint at the UIndy as a volunteer learning from Greyhounds pitching coach Jordan Tiegs and serving for head coaches Gary Vaught and Al Ready. When Tiegs left for Indiana State University, Walther took became pitching coach and recruiting coordinator. Tiegs is now Drector of Pitching Research and Development for the Rangers — Todd Walther’s former job “I loved college baseball,” says Mark Walther. “I loved coaching it. “I really loved the recruiting aspect of college. (Players) need to come to us because we’re going to do a better job of developing them as a player. “I’m very appreciate of Coach Vaught and Coach Ready for everything they did for me.” Walther then went into tech recruiting for three months and decided he wanted to get back into baseball. Pro X has just launched into the travel world with its Phoenix softball teams. While travel baseball organizations, including the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro and Indiana Prospects, partner with Pro X, there is currently no plans to field travel baseball teams under the Pro X banner. “Travel baseball really wasn’t a thing when I grew up,” says Walther. “I played community baseball until I was 16 years old. Shortly after that it began to grow a little more.” His first experience came when the Indiana Bulls and others brought teams to play fall exhibition games his first year at Parkland. Walther notes that he was lucky enough to be on a winning team from age 10 on. But that was not the case in his early community baseball days. “I got put on a terrible team,” says Walther. “I had to find a way to try to help the team win and to help players develop themselves and rely on our coaches to do the same. “Depending on where your talent is you can be put on an elite team and rarely ever have to deal with failure, losing or any kind of adversity and learn to overcome that. “Being on winning teams is also a positive because you learn what it takes to win. Whether you’re on the field or not you can find ways to help the team win.” Walther says travel ball is all about finding the right fit for you as a player. “You want to go where you have a chance to play or have a chance to compete for playing time,” says Walther. “You should never shy away from competing and trying to beat someone out to earn playing time. “In the game of baseball you’re going to have guys on the bench no matter what. It’s what type of bench guys you have. Do you have guys who are going to work and push themselves and the people that are technically in front of them? Or are they going to just roll over and complain until they move on or join another team?” Players should make sure the team will be doing what they want to do. Will it be mostly local tournaments are really hitting the road? Is the coaching staff going to help develop them as a player? Among the things coming up at Pro X are “Hard 90” classes with about 30 minutes each of hitting, defense and speed and agility. In September, the pitching academy and elite training academy for offense and defense cranks up. Pro X — with its staff of instructors including Jay Lehr, trainers and medical professionals and former big leaguer Joe Thatcher as president — is also an off-season place to train for professionals, including major leaguers Tucker Barnhart, Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon and minor leaguers Parker Dunshee and Collin Ledbetter. Rodon came to Pro X while doing rehab from Tommy John surgery. “He learned a lot about the body and how it moves and how to become efficient on the mound and use his lower half to try to stay as healthy as possible,” says Walther. “We just do whatever we can to service them whether that’s completely help them with their program or stay out of their way and let them use the weight room.”
Sebastian Kuhns is growing as a baseball catcher and the northeast Indiana native is doing it in northeast Texas. The 2020 graduate of Carroll High School in Fort Wayne is a “COVID” freshman at Paris (Texas) Junior College, which is about 100 miles from Dallas. Through the Dragons’ first 17 games of 2022, Kuhns was hitting .400 (10-of-25) with five doubles and nine runs batted in over eight games while splitting playing time with freshman Zach Munton. Kuhns, who missed his senior season at Carroll because of the pandemic, Kuhns split his time in the summer of 2020 between the Chad Hines-coached Indiana Prospects travel team (he played for the Prospects in 2019, too) and the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He ended up with the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers. Kuhns was at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., for the 2021 season and hit .268 (11-of-41) with one home run and 13 RBIs in 18 games. He did not play in the summer of 2021, but trained at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind. He did overall and throwing with Greg Vogt, Anthony Gomez and Justin Hancock, hitting with Quentin Brown and Noah Niswonger and strength workouts with Michael Hammerstand, Christian Sullivan and Bram Wood. Kuhns is considering another summer of training at PRP Baseball while possibly playing in the CSL. When Kuhns made it known that he would be transferring from Lincoln Trail, a couple of schools reached out. Among them was Paris, which had three catchers moving on. “I shot Coach (Clay) Cox a message,” says Kuhns. “He responded and now I’m here. I really enjoyed my phone call with him. I could tell everything he said was genuine. “I can’t not say enough about Coach Cox. He’s one of the top motivational coaches I’ve had. He knows what to say to get us fired up. He made it clear what the expectations are. Last year (Paris) had like 3.8 team GPA. They do things right here.” Kuhns signed at Paris — a National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Region 14 member — in mid-June. He he arrived Paris in the fall he was given No. 47. Any significance to to those digits? “Not really. Most of our class had already signed,” says Kuhns. “Maybe my arm’s like an AK-47?” Kuhns is on pace to earn an Associate Degree in Business Management while he hones his skills behind the plate. “There’s so many games within the game that I love,” says Kuhns, who moved from first base to catcher around age 12. “I take pride in picking up mannerisms of all my pitchers. It’s different for every guy.” Kuhns appreciates the engagement of the position. “You’re part of every pitch,” says Kuhns. “My arm is one of the tools that helped me getting into college. I was good at blocking, but my receiving wasn’t great. “(Receiving) is one of the biggest adjustments for me moving from high school to college, where there is a smaller strike zone. You try to steal strikes for your pitcher and keeps strikes as strikes. I’m working on that art. The strike zone in Texas is even smaller.” Kuhns talks about the junior college baseball life. “People throw around JUCO like an adjective,” says Kuhns. “Guys really embrace that. We’re just some gritty guys working hard. That’s one aspect I really like. It really is good baseball. Down here (in Texas) it really is no joke.” Kuhns played at Carroll for head coach Dave Ginder, who stressed all the situational things like first-and-third and bunt coverages. “I didn’t fully appreciate everything he did until I got into college,” says Kuhns. “He knows the game really well and he’s really good at passing it on to his players.” “I see similarities with Coach Cox and Coach Ginder. (Cox) let’s us do our thing. He’s not going to fix it if it ain’t broke.” As a Chargers sophomore, Kuhns was a third-stringer on a catching corps led by Hayden Jones (who is now in the Cincinnati Reds organization). “I can’t say enough about Hayden and what he helped me with in high school,” says Kuhns. “He helped me grow up and mature and with baseball in general. “He comes from a great family. I worked with his dad for a long time.” Kuhns went to Ken Jones (now assistant at Purdue Fort Wayne) at World Baseball Academy for catching and hitting lessons. The player was also at Wallen Baseball Softball and with the Fort Wayne Cubs/Fort Wayne Diamondbacks. Born in Auburn, Ind., Kuhns grew up in the Fort Wayne/Huntertown area. His parents are Brian Kuhns (stepmother Sherri Foster) and Kimberly Kuhns. His siblings are Josh Kuhns, Olivia Kuhns, Kesley Foster, Eric Foster, Chris Kiger, Cassandra Kiger and Kyle Kiger.
Brian Wichman has helped Scottsburg (Ind.) High School to many baseball successes since taking over the Warriors program. When he came on board prior to the 2018 season, Scottsburg had not had not posted a record above .500 since 2004 and high school players were not involved in travel ball in the summer. “We had to get back to the basics and get people interested in ball,” says Wichman. “I’ve tried to really push kids toward travel ball.” Wichman’s Warriors went 15-13 in 2018, regressed to 9-19 in 2019 with a young squad (there were only two seniors and one junior), missed the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic then sported 19-10 mark in 2021 bolstered by the senior and sophomore classes. There were 22 players to take on varsity and junior varsity schedules. Scottsburg (enrollment around 770) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, North Harrison, Salem and Silver Creek). In 2021, the Warriors were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, Madison Consolidated, North Harrison, Salem and Silver Creek (the 2021 host). Scottsburg has won six sectional crowns — the last in 1996. Scottsburg plays on Warrior Field, an on-campus facility that was laser-graded four years ago and has Bermuda grass. “It looks really good, especially when we get to May,” says Wichman. Feeder systems include Scott County Youth League (T-ball through 12U) and a middle school team of seventh and eighth graders that play schools in the MSC and Hoosier Hills Conference. Wichman, who teaches engineering and welding classes and is involved in Project Lead The Way at Scottsburg, has extensive coaching experiences at the high school and travel ball levels. His first season was as a Columbus (Ind.) East High School assistant in 1995 while he was doing his student teaching. Wichman graduated from Ball State University with an Industrial Technology degree. He played baseball for one season (1991) at Indiana University Southeast before transferring to BSU. Wichman served as an assistant at North Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind., in 1996 and 1997 and helped at Columbus (Ind.) North High School in 2007. From 2004-14, he ran the Indiana Blazers travel organization and coached for the Indiana Prospects in 2015 and 2016. Brian and wife Cathy have four sons and all played for the Blazers and other travel teams, including the Indiana Prospects, Cincinnati Flames Evansville Razorbacks and Indiana Bulls, as well as at Columbus East. Left-handed pitcher Brian “B.T.” Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2013) was at Murray State University, Gulf Coast Community College and the University of Indianapolis. Peyton Gray, a 2014 Columbus East graduate now in the Kansas City Royals organization, was a high school and GCCC teammate. Defensive back/catcher Christian Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2014) went to Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Ky., for football and baseball then transferred to play baseball at the University of West Georgia (Carrollton, Ga.). Defensive back Noah Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2016) played football at Taylor University in Upland, Ind. Infielder Jonah Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2019) was on the baseball team at Butler University in Indianapolis in 2020 and 2021 and has transferred to St. Charles Community College (Cottleville, Mo.). The past two summers, Brian Wichman has been an assistant in the College Summer League at Grand Park — in 2020 with head coach Joe Thatcher’s Park Rangers and in 2021 with head coach Kevin Christman’s Moon Shots. A 1990 graduate of Seymour (Ind.) High School, Wichman played one varsity season for Owls coach Bob Bowman.
Jack Firestone is getting his cuts and hitting his cut-off man while preparing for his next college baseball season. A lefty-swinging outfielder, Firestone is playing for the Patrick Morey-coached Local Legends in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and works on his swing at The Barn in Lapel, Ind., with Mike Shirley and Scott French and with current Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School head coach Jered Moore and former ZCHS assistant and current University of Indianapolis volunteer coachJeremy Honaker and lifts weights with Laird Training’s Sean Laird. “I’ve always believed in those guys and they’ve always been there for me,” says Firestone of Moore and Honaker. Firestone smacked a home run and rapped two singles in a CSL game this past week. “I’m just trying to put the bat on the ball the best I can — just put the ball on the ball,” says Firestone. “If it gets out, it gets out.” Firestone was a redshirt freshman at Purdue University in the spring of 2021 and got into 24 games (four as a starter) on a team that had three seniors starting in the outfield — Ben Nisle in left, fifth-year Skyler Hunter in center and Miles Simington in right. “It was a waiting year for me,” says Firestone, a Financial Counseling and Planning major and Management minor. “Just be patient for next year.” Firestone did not see action during the 2020 Boilermakers season that was abbreviated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Greg Goff is Purdue’s head coach. “I love playing for him,” says Firestone. “He’s high energy. I love him. He knows what he’s doing.” He did play in the inaugural CSL season for the Joe Thatcher-coached Park Rangers and was named to the all-star team. While at Zionsville, where he graduated in 2019, Firestone earned three baseball letters playing for Moore. Firestone was named offensive player of the year as a senior. The Eagles won sectional titles in 2017 and 2018 and regional crown in 2017. That was year the year he was named junior varsity MVP. He was the freshmen squad MVP at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., before his family moved to Zionsville. Born in Warsaw, Ind., to golf pro Todd and Purdue alum Jennie, Jack went to Fort Wayne while in kindergarten and played his first organized baseball in Don Ayres Little League. He played travel ball for the Summit City Spartans, Leo Lions and Fort Wayne Diamondbacks then — after moving to Boone County — the Indiana Mustangs. He also played fall ball for the San Francisco Giants scout team. Todd Firestone, the son of Tom Firestone, played golf and basketball at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., served as head golf pro at Tippecanoe Lake Country Club in Milford, Ind., and Fort Wayne Country Club before taking that post at Meridian Hills Country Club in Indianapolis at the start of 2016. Tom Firestone is in the Kosciusko County Basketball and Bethel University Athletic halls of fame and was athletic director at Elkhart (Ind.) Memorial High School. Trey Firestone, Jack’s little brother and a senior at Zionsville Community in 2022, is a football wide receiver getting NCAA Division I offers.
Growing up playing sports in Zionsville, Ind., Michael Tucker knew what it was to be a teammate.
A center in basketball and catcher in baseball, Tulsa, Okla.-born Tucker played at Zionsville Community High School and graduated in 2008. Some of his closest friends to this day played on those squads.
“We had some great teams,” says Tucker, who played for head coaches Dave Ferrell and Shaun Busick in basketball and Darrell Osborne and Adam Metzler in baseball and counted Matt Miller as a mate on the court and the diamond. Miller went on to pitch at the University of Michigan and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
Tucker was a standout hitter while playing catcher and first base for the Ravens and the Hall of Famer they called “Bama” for his first two college seasons followed by two with David Pressley.
Brandon impressed Tucker with his memory.
“He can tell you the situation — who was on the mound and the count — (from most any game),” says Tucker. “He was really fun to learn from.”
Pressley was a first-time head coach at Anderson. Tucker credits him with lessons on and off the field.
“I learned how to be a man,” says Tucker. “(Pressley) is a huge man of faith.
“He taught a tremendous amount of life lessons.”
Tucker also gained knowledge from Brad Lantz, who was an AU senior receiver when he was a freshman and went on to be a high school head coach at Guerin Catholic and Lapel and is now coaching in the Indy Sharks travel organization.
“I learned so much about catching, counts and what to look for,” says Tucker. “I learned more from (Lantz) than anyone else.”
Ground was recently broken for Championship Park in Kokomo, Ind., and that complex will also be used by Bullpen and PBR.
The 2021 summer will mark Tucker’s seventh with Bullpen Tournaments.
Hired by BT president Blake Hibler, whom he knew from working Prep Baseball Report showcases, Tucker started at Bullpen in time to experience Grand Park’s first full summer.
“I did everything,” says Tucker. “I tried to be a sponge. Being in baseball your whole life is completely different from the tournament industry.
“There’s learning the business side and scheduling.”
While at the Incrediplex near Lawrence, Tucker had done scheduling on a smaller scale and had become comfortable with software.
Tucker appreciates that Hibler lets him seek out processes.
“If I can find a better mousetrap, he lets me run with it,” says Tucker.
Bullpen is a very large operation.
“We’re a different beast in a lot of ways,” says Tucker, who notes that on any given weekend the company may have as many as 45 fields under its control, including those on and off the Grand Park campus.
Tucker says the key is getting the word out to teams, families and recruiters.
“You have to be able to communicate,” says Tucker. “Half of scheduling is the communicating of the schedule.”
With Hibler having a large part in brainstorming and development, Bullpen first used the Tourney Machine app and now works with Playbook 365 while also helping develop PitchAware and ScoreHQ.
Bullpen hires scorekeepers for every high school tournament game (15U to 18U) at Grand Park. In 2020, there was also video on six fields.
“It’s huge to have accurate data,” says Tucker. “We can overlay video with stats.
“(A college) coach can recruit from his office.”
But even though Bullpen is dealing with many moving parts, there are only a half dozen full-time employees.
“Guys are tasked to learn a lot of different things,” says Tucker. “But we never feel like this is something I can’t do. Our mentality is we’re going bust our butts and how do we solve this problem?
“Our guys do a tremendous job of being flexible.”
An example of teamwork and flexibility is the creation of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which came about when so many other leagues were canceling the 2020 summer season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With many players reaching out, Bullpen saw the need and went to work to put together what became a 12-team league with most games played at Grand Park with a few at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.
The league was constructed with safety, NCAA and recruiting regulations in mind. Players were placed, umpires were lined up and jerseys were distributed in a very short time frame.
“We had about seven days to do it,” says Tucker. “We’re excited for it to come back (in 2021).”
As a D-III alum, Tucker was especially pleased that the CSL allowed top-flight players like Joe Moran (who pitched for Anderson and has transferred to Taylor University) was able to compete against D-I talent.
While the pandemic slowed the start of the 2020 Bullpen season, Tucker estimates that there were upwards of 80 percent in games played as compared to a normal year.
The fall included more contests than ever.
“Teams couldn’t play in the spring and that baseball hunger was still there,” says Tucker. “They wanted to play a little longer.
“We had a great fall.”
Weather plays a part, but the first games each year at Grand Park with all its turf fields are collegiate in February.
“If we get a warm-weather day our phone blows up,” says Tucker.
Activity starts to ramp up in March with the first 8U to 14U contests the last weekend of that month.
Of course, the pandemic will have a say in what happens in 2021.
“With all the uncertainty it’s tough,” says Tucker. “It’s going to be an interesting spring.”
A perk of Tucker’s position and location is the relationships he gets to build with high school coaches.
Founded in 1991 with play beginning in 1992, the Bulls brought together the state’s elite for top-flight competition and exposure to college coaches and professional scouts and that continues to this day.
Craig Moore coached Blackford High School in Hartford City, Ind., to IHSAA state runner-up finishes in 1977 and 1978.
The East Gary (Ind.) High School graduate also coached Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI) to success while it transitioned from NAIA to NCAA Division I and was a Brownsburg (Ind.) High School assistant.
Moore was brought to the Bulls for the second season.
“Craig is the best talent evaluator I’ve ever seen,” says Dave Taylor, one of the Bulls founders and first coaches. “He had an amazing, uncanny ability to size up talent quickly.
“He’s one of the greatest recruiters I’ve ever seen and had tremendous enthusiasm. I’d run through a wall for that guy. (Players had) great loyalty for him. He was very demanding. But he loved his guys and they loved him.”
Taylor played baseball at Southmont High School and captained the Wabash College team in 1983 then went to law school and began coaching Babe Ruth baseball at the state championship level.
He soon learned something.
“Indiana was not a baseball state,” says Taylor. “It was very provincial and very hometown-based — even American Legion was geographically-limited.
“The baseball world tended to be dominated by towns with size and tradition. There was not a lot of great baseball beyond that. There was nowhere for a great player to go.”
Ohio and Kentucky had elite travel baseball since the 1960’s, but not Indiana.
“We were behind,” says Taylor. “There was no high level of competition in Indiana for the elite.”
Taylor notes that the 1992 Major League Baseball Player Draft had just one selection from Indiana — Jay County High School graduate Shane White in the 24th round by the Chicago Cubs — while Ohio had more than 100 with over half that number out of the Cincinnati area alone.
When a national tournament rolled around, Taylor coached the Indiana representative. Open tryouts were held and there were players from all over the state, though most came from central Indiana.
Indiana lost in the medal round in Tallahassee, Fla., getting beat by eventual champion California but beating Georgia and Texas along the way.
“It was a great experience,” says Taylor, who learned that the players on the Sacramento-based California team had been playing 180 games a year since age 8. “Practicing for two weeks was not how you made better baseball players.
“We would take the top five (players in the state) and fill in with like players.”
As the Indiana Bulls took shape, Taylor gathered men like John Thiel, Bob Lowrie, Bob Stephens and Tony Miller for their business and baseball expertise and also landed Jeff Mercer Sr., Mike Mundy, Dave Mundy and Craig Moore on the coaching staff.
A real estate appraiser for his day job, Moore spent hours away from his profession seeking the right fit for his players.
“He had a really good feel where a guy would have success,” says Taylor. “He would help find the right situation for that kid.
“He was all about the kids. He was tireless man at helping kids get their college scholarships.”
Many times, every senior in the Bulls program was placed by the winter of their final prep year.
Taylor marvels at how Moore was able to make quick fixes during games and set his guys on the right path.
“He didn’t mince words,” says Taylor. “He was very direct. He knew you didn’t motivate everybody the same way.”
As a result of Moore’s drive, the Bulls as a whole moved forward.
“He forced us to get better at everything as an organization,” says Taylor. “He wasn’t going to sit around and wait.
“He was just an amazing guy. He just gave and gave and gave.”
Taylor remembers Lance Moore as his father’s right hand man.
“Lance was a really bright guy — almost a baseball genius,” says Taylor. “He was a gentle giant (at 6-foot-3 and 225). Lance always had a smile. He had no enemies.”
Lance Moore played at Brownsburg, where he graduated in 1988 — brothers Jered Moore (1989) and Quinn Moore (1996) followed.
“He was a good baseball man,” says Quinn Moore of Johnson. “He just wanted to help kids. He never took a dime for it. He always gave back his coaching stipend.
“He he did it the right way. He demanded respect and that we played the game the right way.”
Johnson helped build the current Brownsburg diamond and took pride in its upkeep.
“He built a winning culture in Brownsburg,” says Quinn. “Wayne probably doesn’t get enough credit for building Brownsburg into a baseball power.”
Jered Moore played college baseball at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
“Dad had the desire to help kids reach their dreams and goals,” says Jered, who is now head coach at Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School and will leads the Bulls 12U White squad in 2021. “Back then did not have all the scouting services you have now. He was constantly on the phone. His long distance bill was high.
“He knew the and how to judge talent. Coaches really respected his decisions.”
Jered notes that the first players from Indiana to sign at Stanford University, including future major league infielder Eric Bruntlett, did so based on Craig Moore’s reputation.
Rolen, Zapp, Closser, Whisler, Lind, Richard, Lynn, Meyer, Barnhart and O’Conner have all been honored as Indiana Mr. Baseball.
Grand Park, a complex in Westfield, Ind., with 26 total baseball fields, is home to the Indiana Bulls. The 2021 season is to feature 30 Bulls teams 8U to 17U.
In the 1980’s, it was not unusual for a high school-aged team to play 15 to 20 games in the summer. Now they play around 50.
“This gives them a ton of time on the mound,” says Jered Moore. “They’re just better ballplayers with all that experience. The more games you play the better you become.
“When dad was coaching the Bulls we would host a tournament at IU, Butler, Ball State or Purdue two times a year. At other times, we were traveling. We spent 20 or 21 days in June and July in a hotel.
“Grand Park gives us a chance to give kids more exposure with all the kids in one location.”
Quinn Moore began at the University of South Alabama and finished at Indiana University. He is now in his second year as Indiana Bulls president.
“My dad took the Bulls to another level,” says Quinn. “A Carmel-based organization grew into the statewide Indiana Bulls.”
While his teams earned their share of victories and titles, that was not the bottom line with Craig Moore.
“It was never about winning over exposure,” says Quinn. “A college coach was there to see if the kid could hit the ball in the gap (even if the situation called for a bunt).”
Based on his experience as a college coach, Craig Moore set pitching rotations so college recruiters would know when and where to see Bulls arms.
“He knew what was best for kids at recruitable ages,” says Quinn, who will lead the Bulls 12U Black team in 2021. “The (Bulls) email chain started with him and my brother and I took it from there.”
Quinn says his father tended to carry a larger roster — 18 to 20 players with 10 of those also being pitchers. Now it’s more like 16 with plenty of two-way players. Of course, there are more teams.
When Craig Moore was coaching, he might have three or four pitchers who touched 90 mph. These days, the majority of hurlers on 17U rosters touch 90-plus.
Cerebral palsy likely kept Lance Moore from playing past high school.
“It was important for Lance to be involved with the Bulls and at a high level of baseball,” says Taylor.
When Jered Moore began coaching for the Bulls in 1999, he invited brother Lance to be an assistant.
“It was awesome,” says Jered. “We were best friends.
“He was very quiet, but he knew the game.”
Jered Moore considers himself fortunate to be a in baseball-crazy Zionsville, where 103 players came to a high school call out meeting. During the fall Limited Contact Period, players not in fall sports participated in practices on Mondays and scrimmages on Wednesdays.
“Indiana high school baseball is in a really good place as far as talent and the number of players that are playing,” says Jered, who is also a real estate appraiser.
The sport had long been a family affair and in the summer of 2003 all four Moores — Craig, Lance, Jered and Quinn — coached a 17U team together.
“That’s my favorite year of coaching,” says Jered Moore.
At that time, future big league pitchers Lynn, Lindblom and Hunter toed the rubber for the Bulls.
Before Dan Held left the Bulls to become an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator at IU, it was he and Quinn Moore that controlled social media and a hashtag was created: #BullsFam.
Quinn, who is also a regional sales manager for BSN Sports, enjoys seeing former players now coaching in the organization and having their sons play for the Bulls. Among those is Josh Loggins, Eric Riggs and Rolen (who played on the first Bulls team in 1992).
“The Bulls are family to me,” says Quinn. “It was family to my dad and to my brothers.”
Scott French played for Craig Moore’s Bulls and is now the organization’s director of baseball operations.
“Craig was awesome,” says French, who was a standout catcher at Shakamak High School and Ball State University, coached at BSU and helps with Mike Shirley in teaching lessons at The Barn in Anderson, Ind. “He made it a really good experience.
“Craig could coach in any era in my opinion. He knew when to push buttons and when not to push buttons.
“He was very honest, which is all you could ask of a coach. He was very credible. He didn’t sell players (to coaches and scouts), he just put them in front of people. We have the connections, structure and process (with the Bulls). He was part of starting that process.
“Quinn and Jered have put in a lot of time to help people get somewhere. It’s a passion for them and they got it from their dad.”
Bringing instructors, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning experts under one roof, Pro X Athlete Development serves clients in Westfield, Ind.
Pro X (short for “Professional Experience”) celebrated its grand opening at it Grand Park facility in April 2019 after getting started in a temporary downtown location in 2017.
“We want to provide an all-inclusive training experience for our athletes,” says Joe Thatcher, former major league pitcher, co-founder and president at Pro X. “We provide sports performance so athletes can get bigger, stronger and faster. We have rehabilitation with Dr. Jamey Gordon. We have sports-specific instruction (for baseball, softball, golf and football).”
Thatcher, a Kokomo, Ind., native who worked with Gordon (who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist as well as partner and Director of Athletic Development at Pro X) during his baseball playing career, wanted to replicate what he experienced in the majors.
“Everyday I walked into the clubhouse the coaching staff, training staff and strength staff knew what I was doing,” says Thatcher, who last pitched for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 2016.
“We take any physical limitations barrier and it leads to better success in baseball training,” says Thatcher. “One of the stigmas is that we’re an indoor baseball facility. We are about true athlete development.”
Using the latest innovations in the field, Pro X develops a plan for each athlete while working to keep them healthy.
“We make sure you’re moving the way you’re supposed to while getting bigger, faster and stronger so your body can handle more force,” says Thatcher. “You have to decelerate or you’re going to get hurt.
“That only happens if you’re training the right set of muscles to do that.”
During the winter, Pro X has 10 to 15 professional players working out at the elite facility which features 60,000 square feet in total with over 35,000 square feet of open turf space, 22 batting cages (11 full), 3,000 square-foot weight room, golf simulators and much more.
“The sports rehabilitation/training area is the heart and soul of who and what we are,” says Thatcher of the place where athlete assessments and private-pay rehab sessions are performed. There’s a full strength staff.
“We saw an opportunity,” says Thatcher of a circuit that gave a place for several players displaced by the Coronavirus pandemic shutting down summer leagues. “We threw it together in about a month. It took a lot of work to get it up and running and a lot of flexibility with state regulations and COVID-19.”
About 100 players took advantage of a play-and-train option which allowed them to play in games — usually on Mondays and Tuesdays at Grand Park with occasional games at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis or Kokomo Municipal Stadium on other days — and train at Pro X Wednesday through Friday.
“(The CSL) is centrally-located which can be an advantage for us,” says Thatcher. “We’ve had a lot of really good feedback from college coaches who had kids in our league.
“We’re already starting to work on next year.”
The league has also featured players who graduated from high school in 2020.
“They’ve got to see what (college baseball is) going to be like,” says Thatcher. “They get on the field with the same field of guys you’re going to be competing against.”
The No. 5-seeded Turf Monsters bested the No. 2 Snapping Turtles 5-4 in the inaugural CSL championship game contested Friday, July 31 at Victory Field.
So far he has not gotten to play at the downtown Indianapolis baseball park.
That is set to change Thursday, July 13 when Purdue University righty-swinging outfielder Nisle suits up for the Blue squad in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Boilermakers coaches were looking to find Nisle and other Purdue players a summer baseball home as the COVID-19 pandemic came along and shortened the college spring season and caused many summer leagues to cancel play for 2020.
In 91 games (86 as a starter), he hit .298 (89-of-299) with nine home runs, 57 runs batted in and 54 runs scored. The 2018 season saw Nisle garner Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.
He did not play last summer while rehabbing a back injury that caused him to miss a portion of the 2019 Boiler season. He also took summer classes.
During the truncated 2020 season, Nisle started in all 14 games for the Boilers (7-7) as a corner outfielder and hit .320 (16-of-50) with one homer, six RBIs and 16 runs.
“I have a simple approach,” says Nisle of his hitting philosophy. “Hit the ball hard and what happens from there happens.”
Ticking off his strengths as an athlete, Nisle cites his knowledge of the game and his physical tools.
“I was very blessed with all that stuff,” says Nisle, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder.
When the season was canceled the Boilers were practicing and about to leave for a series at the University of Evansville.
“It was pretty startling,” says Nisle. “I didn’t know how to feel.”
Before long, he was finishing the spring semester via technology.
“I’ve taken online classes before,” says Nisle, a Construction Management Technology major who was named Academic all-Big Ten Conference in the spring. “It wasn’t so bad.”
The 2020 season was Nisle’s first with Greg Goff as head coach after two campaigns with Mark Wasikowski (now at the University of Oregon).
“He’s a great person to be around everyday,” says Nisle of Goff. “He’s about being aggressive, upbeat and positive.
“(Wasikowski) is a very, very good coach. I learned a ton from him.”
Nisle was on the Lake Central varsity for four years — three with Jeff Sandor as head coach and his senior year with Mike Swartzentruber leading the Indians.
“(Sandor) was one of my favorite coaches for sure,” says Nisle. “He was an intense guy. He knew a ton about the game.
“(Swartzentruber) is a good person all-around. He knew what he was doing. He made you see different things.”
Nisle was an all-state player his final two seasons at Lake Central. He was the Duneland Athletic Conference MVP as a junior, hitting .470 with four homers and 36 RBIs. As a senior, he batted .380 with four homers and 38 RBIs and was again chosen all-DAC. As a freshman in 2014, he was LC’s rookie of the year with .474 average. The Indians won IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional titles in 2014 and 2017. They also won a LaPorte Regional crown in 2014.
Born in Munster, Ind., Nisle grew up in Schererville, Ind. He played for the Schererville Shock from age 7 to 15. Dan Bosold was the manager of that team with Dave Lopez, Ron Mihalic and Ben’s father, Gerry Nisle, as coaches.
The professional left-handed pitcher was not willing to settle.
So when the Lafayette, Ind., native became a free agent after the 2019 Major League Baseball season, he decided a transformation was in order after appearing in 275 MLB games (210 as a starter) since 2008.
“My performance was not matching up with what I desire to be,” says Richard, who went 1-5 with a 5.96 earned run average in 10 starts with the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays and was released Sept. 12 (his 36th birthday). “I decided to make a tangible change to improve production.
He established a plan of action and came back to Lafayette and started implementing it. He built a barn next to his house and goes out there every morning.
“I’m throwing into a net quite a bit, which isn’t the most fun,” says Richard. “But the net never lies. It shows you exactly where the ball went.
“A good catcher can manipulate pitches.”
The pitcher also wrote down his plan, painstakingly laying out the details.
“Before the baseball world came to a screeching halt, I was frequently asked ‘What are you doing now?’ by friends and family alike,” writes Richard in the introduction to the project. “Although the question was simple enough, I honestly didn’t feel comfortable enough to delve into exactly what I was doing with my time – mostly due to the fact that I didn’t think the majority of people really care where my spin axis was that week.
“Like most unsigned free agent pitchers in professional baseball, it is much easier to state, ‘just throwing every day and waiting for the right opportunity.’
“The reality is I have been up to a lot more than simply throwing a few baseballs everyday. I have used the last few months to make significant changes this off-season. The effectiveness of my pitching repertoire had changed for the worse over the past two seasons.
“Based on that, I could choose to continue down the same path, one with an aim to execute pitches at a higher rate but likely be relegated to a LHP bullpen role, or veer headfirst into changing how my pitches profiled to RHH in an effort to level out the platoon splits for longer outings.
“I honestly debated the choice many times over – my wife likely got sick of my asking her or talking to myself. Ultimately, I came up with a plan to revamp my arsenal to return in time as the starting pitcher, the role I have worked to become since first pitching in my backyard with my dad squatting behind the plate and my mother standing in the box.”
Clayton is the oldest of Barry and Cindy Richard’s three children ahead of daughters Casey (Davenport) and Taylor (Bumgarner). Barry is a retired Lafayette Police offer and has served as sheriff of Tippecanoe County and the executive director of Lyn Trece Boys & Girls Club of Tippecanoe County. Cindy has worked with troubled teenagers.
Most of Richard’s charitable work in baseball has been centered on at-risk youth. He and his wife have worked with the Lyn Trece BGC and and clubs in San Diego.
“We only get to play baseball for so long,” says Richard. “The impact off the field really lasts.”
Richard was the Padres’ nominee for the Heart & Hustle Award (given out annually the the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association to a current player who not only excels not he field, but also “best embodies the values, spirits and traditions of baseball”) and the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award (given annually to a Major League Baseball player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement”).
“To be honored with those types of things is really humbling,” says Richard. “It shows what’s really important in life.”
“Sept. 12, 2004,” says Richard, who was then a redshirt freshman. “That was the day after Michigan was upset 28-20 against Notre Dame. Sophomore Chad Henne was kept at quarterback for that game and moving forward. “I saw writing on the wall. I knew my football career at Michigan was probably coming to an end.”
Soon after the Rose Bowl, Richard went to the baseball team. He appeared in 21 games and went 0-1 with five saves and a 2.43 ERA. He was selected in the eighth round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox and signed by Anderson, Ind.-based scout Mike Shirley.
Richard made his big league debut with the White Sox in 2008 at 24. He was dealt to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline in 2009. He elected free agency after the 2013 season.
Richard was traded to the Chicago Cubs and returned to a big league mound in 2015. He returned to the Padres in August 2016 and remained with them until he designated for assignment in December 2018. That same month Richard was traded to the Blue Jays.
For his career, he is 69-84 with a 4.51 ERA and 824 strikeouts in 1,284 2/3 innings.
Richard has been described as a contact pitcher.
“You never set out to have guys hit the ball,” says Richard. “Weak contact on contact on the ground is a really good thing.
“Guys who typically have a lower spin rate tend to sink the ball. That creates more early contact and more early outs with balls on the ground.”
As he began “Project 2020” in earnest, Richard met with Driveline founder/owner Kyle Boddy and started working with manager of online training Dean Jackson.
More from 2020 Project:
“I need to use my past as a compass to my future. I am too evolved in my career to think what I have done doesn’t matter while looking to improve.
“My Past: I learned how to throw a football first.
“Why that’s important: If I desire to make some fundamental changes to my delivery, I need to be willing to change in complete, as the foundation of my throwing process was built around throwing a football.
“I had to make arm, body, and mechanical compensations mid-career due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. (TOS: the compression of the brachia plexus that is the highway of nerves, arteries and/or veins that controls and supplies to the arm. In myself it manifested as drastic pain in the anterior shoulder).
“Why that’s important: I need to be aware of why I started to do ‘strange’ things throwing a baseball and understand that it’ll be difficult to kick those old habits.
“I made additional compensations in 2018 to get past knee issues.
“Why that’s important: For very much the same reason as the TOS. My body had compensated to cover up inefficiencies, and I had to retrain myself to get back to my old self.
“The combination of these three athletic factors left me with a delivery that was nonathletic and not overly effective, so I tried to throw the old delivery out the window.
“Getting rid of that old delivery has been much like getting water out of a tire. You can see it. You don’t want it there. Yet, you are forced to keep flipping over that tire again and again because only a small portion comes out with every flip.
“The easier part for me was self-evaluating thru identifying pitches and zones that needed improvement from my past. The info was sadly pretty clear to me that not much of my arsenal was effective vs RHH other than my slider. The worst part of the self evaluation was that the slider was largely ineffective last season also due to a whole host of reasons.
“What I also found was that my sinker at the bottom of the zone – my bread and butter that generated ground balls — had turned from a viable option to one that was generating less and less favorable results.
“My change-up as well had blended into a pitch that too closely mirrored the not so great metrics of my sinker. My analytics study showed my ability to cut and spin the ball was also compromised, due to the lower arm slot and release angle that had been an effective and physically necessary approach a couple of seasons prior.
“A few years ago after another brief self evaluation, I moved to the other side of the rubber, spent the offseason trying to manipulate the change up, and reintroduce a cut fastball into my mix.
“To my naked eye, these worked great and I was oozing with confidence. The ball flight suggested they were good, catch partners loved them, and bullpen catchers were on board. Everything was smooth and positive until a RHH got into the box and took swings at the pitches.
“Going into this offseason, I set the goal of raising my arm angle to create a better four seam fastball vs RHH. This adjustment would change my approach angle, movement profile, and velocity. The new angle would also allow me to differentiate my off-speed from the FB more effectively.
“I felt like I had a good idea of what I wanted to accomplish but didn’t want to lose out on the opportunity to consult specialists in this area of pitching.
“Last year, I worked with a longtime pitching coach that requests to be anonymous. This year I had started to follow Driveline (DL) through social media and been reading up on their research. I decided to reach out to Kyle Boddy. He quickly responded and gave me all the information I needed. I made the trip to Washington to check out Driveline.
“Their information surprised me a bit but offered a roadmap of the last few months: my lower body was not creating much force, and my delivery was not syncing up efficiently enough to create optimized velocity into the ball.”
Richard offered a summary of his Driveline Report:
“Key Notes: Arm action is overall clean and efficient, elbow is a bit low at ball release. However, this is not currently having a negative effect on the rest of the arm action.
“The trunk opening early into foot plant is most likely pulling the arm out of efficient positions too early in the throw.
“Trunk opens early into foot plant. Hip/shoulder separation and timing are inefficient with room to improve.”
Biomechanics details: “Richard’s upper body kinematic positions are within normal to above average ranges for the most part. He does a great job creating above average scap retraction into foot plant (47 degs). Low shoulder abduction at ball release (79 degs). Besides that, no other glaring inefficiencies noted.
“He does a good job staying stacked with good forward (-10 degs) and lateral (4 degs) trunk tilt early into foot plant. However, there are some other inefficiencies noted. Richard’s trunk is opening early into foot plant (21 degs). This is limiting Richard’s ability to create hip/shoulder separation (18 degs) and timing from peak pelvis to peak torso angular velocity (0.0111 secs). This is most likely a product of inefficient trunk/pelvis positions at foot plant making it hard to create separation and sequence efficiently. Hip/shoulder separation drills should be emphasized to work on this by holding counter-rotation and staying stacked with the trunk while the pelvis opens into foot plant.
“With those notes, I had all the information I needed to start down my path of change,” writes Richard of his plan. “Here is a sample formula for a delivery that I will refer to a few times moving forward: Just as 10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10=100, Mindset+Focus+Breath+Feet+Legs+Hips+Torso+Arms+Hand+Sights=Delivery or an Executed Pitch.
“This is an oversimplification pitch delivery to try to illustrate my point. Every pitcher will have a unique equation that reaches their own version of 100.
“When a pitcher changes one small thing in his delivery, he will no longer be at his desired 100.
“Example: I moved my throwing foot to be more flush with the rubber (had to exaggerate to feel as if my toes were pointing at the plate to get there).
Changing that ‘10’ in my foot to an ‘8’ left my solution at ‘98’. Then, I had to go step by step through the rest of my delivery to see what else needed adjusted to get back to 100. In this case, it was just my sights.
“The foot adjustment happened quickly, and my sights adjusted without much issue. Some fixes come relatively easily, but other changes require many frustrating training sessions to find out what was changed and what correlated adjustment needs made.
“Here are a few of the most frustrating parts I encounter when setting out to make a significant change:
“Seeing what is wrong and not feeling it.
“Feeling an adjustment made and not seeing it.
“Expectations not lining up with reality.
“Physical restrictions limiting a faster progression (in my case, blisters).
“I have also figured out you have to go through the frustrating parts to make progress. If you are not getting sore in new places, experiencing blisters, throwing balls off the backstop, then you’re likely not making much of a change at all.
“Making a fundamental change takes hundreds, even thousands of reps, and the outcome revealed is often incremental. My mind and body have worked together so long and over so many reps, it takes a while to break up the chemistry they have going.
“I started working from home while staying in contact with Dean Jackson of DL. We decided to start working from the ground up. Working on my lower half was a very frustrating process.
“Before the past couple of years, I had never put any thought into what my lower body was doing when I was pitching.
“The first part of my lower half adjustment was easy enough: moving my throwing foot flush with the rubber.
“I originally moved my heel off of the rubber to even out my delivery equation when I moved from the other side of the rubber to face RHH two years ago.
“I was having trouble with my command and made a quick fix to change the way by body angled to the plate vs changing something else.
“In getting my heel closer to the rubber, it improved my ability to get into my left hip. What felt good was often wrong and what felt foreign was generally right where I needed to be.
“I spent months trying to get more out of my legs to no avail. I was going back and forth with Dean, almost daily, toiling over changes that could make the positive impact we so desired. He did a remarkable job promptly responding and sending video examples when necessary.
“My mind was totally on my legs, but that is exactly where I was going wrong: I was putting too much emphasis on them. If I think back to when things were going well before the knee issues, there was no thought put into what my lower half was doing.
“Thinking about how it moves, I’m essentially locking it up. I stole a cue from Trevor Cahill, who sent me a video of him getting his foot down before an obstacle (keeping his glove foot on the throwing side of the midline to the plate). “That is what clicked with me after countless attempts to get my lower half moving ‘right’. What I had been doing was putting so much focus into my leg movement that the process of the lower half going down the slope was taking too long for my foot get down. It was just the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish.
“The next step was how my torso was moving in space at a couple of different points through my delivery.
“Closing off my upper half relative to my hips; Hip/Shoulder separation. The elite throwers do this very well. Over time, my natural ability to do this had been compromised by the many adjustments made to command the ball.
“One of the first attempts was to try to ‘glove tap’ at leg lift. Rob Hill suggested it, and this helped a little, but I didn’t feel that it made as drastic of a change as I desired.
“One day, I remembered back to learning to pitch for the first time in the back yard with my father. I originally misunderstood what he meant when he was telling me ‘all the way back’.
“We would play out imaginary at-bats and call ‘balls’ and ‘strikes.’ If I were to fall behind, he would exclaim, ‘Come on Clayton. All the way back!
“Six-year-old me understood this as reaching my glove and ball all the way back towards second base as far as I could before I delivered the pitch. I didn’t understand ‘all the way back’ as a saying to get back into the count until embarrassingly late in my baseball days.
“So, I used the input from Rob and my father to start getting a little more counter rotation with my upper half by driving my hands back at leg lift.
“Getting on top of the ball: One of the biggest obstacles to get the ball to act how I want it to is to get more ‘on top’ of it. My spin axis has gotten pretty low since my return from TOS.
“My spin axis was measured around 9:45. This leads to a terrific amount of arm side run, but in the past couple years it was not enough to keep the RHH at bay. I needed to find a healthy way to raise my hand and effectively raise my spin axis. “One thing I have heard from many pitching coaches and baseball minds more advanced than mine, is that you don’t mess with a player’s arm angle.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t always listen to this wisdom, and I battled to change mine at times earlier in my career, which led to some arm issues. That left me with the challenge to get my hand more vertical without raising my arm relative to my body.
“Enter Torso Tilt: I elected to use my torso to ‘lean’ glove side in an effort to raise ‘arm angle’ and get my spin axis to a more desirable slot. This worked initially, but then proved to be very inconsistent in terms of spin axis.
“The ball was coming out of the same slot consistently, but the axis was very inconsistent.
“I couldn’t figure this out for a long time. I was throwing with RHP Parker Dunshee and took note of his arm slot that is relatively low compared to his 1:00 spin axis.
“We talked it over, and I tried changing the positioning of my thumb on the baseball. Boom. Spin axis at or above 10:30 nearly every pitch following adjustment.
“My thumb was on the side of the ball and I moved it under or essentially polar opposite of my power fingers.
“After my four-seam fastball was starting to profile how I envisioned it, it was time to start commanding that pitch and doing so at higher intensity levels.
“One thing that I have found when implementing changes into a delivery is that I can perform them fairly easily in drill work or super low intensity situations. The real challenge lies in creating my new outcome as soon as a higher level of intensity is introduced and there is more focus on the outcome of the pitch.
“The moment in which I envision a hitter in the box or try to execute a pitch, my mind/body has a tendency to revert back to the form in which it performed that action in the past.”
“Outside of family, there is nothing in my life that has had as much of an impact on my actions and mindset as baseball. I had a high school football coach that would routinely acknowledge ‘pain is a good teacher’.
“There is not much more painful than giving up a home run to give up the lead or lose an MLB game. Those game experiences of pitches that I was beat on are burnt into my mind and body. If I try to tell my body to throw that pitch, my mind will override a poor decision to stay away from that uber painful experience it was once put in.
“It also provides a level of comfort with the delivery that has worked, for the most part, over the course of my career.
“Unfortunately, that delivery that I revert back to is not one I want moving forward while facing RHH. So, I have to make a habit out of making the uncomfortable, comfortable.
“This is where slow-motion video and pitch measuring tools such as Rapsodo really provide an advantage.
“It is impossible to find big league level talent to take swings off you every time you take the mound to work things out.
“The combination of Rapsodo and film have been introduced to somewhat fill that void.
“Nothing can fully replace the feedback of a big-league hitter, but the metrics and video provided from these sources has been a big step forward in seeing the necessary changes, and if I was making the changes the way I had envisioned.
“Now, instead of ‘feeling’ like that was a good pitch, I can look up and check to see if the numbers backed it up. Whenever I think of mental cues and how our mind perceives our body to be moving,
“I recall a conversation with former MLB veteran and fellow Hoosier, Joe Thatcher. I faced him his senior year of high school, and he threw ‘normal’.
“He developed into a Big Leaguer as a guy that dropped down and was very difficult on LHH. I asked him, “When did you start throwing like this?” when we were teammates in SD. He replied, ‘I feel like I’m throwing the same as everyone else, completely normal.’
“It goes to show, no matter how good we are or how far we have come, very rarely is the vision of our mind’s eye 20/20.
“All too often, early in the process, what felt like a great pitch only felt great because it was closer to how I used to throw.
“I wanted to feel weird and make the weird feeling my new normal. This process takes thousands of throws. It can take thousands of throws at each level of intensity.
“Playing catch — Flatground, Side Work, Live BP, Simulated Game, MiLB Game, MLB Game. As I have worked at each level, I have found that there are certain obstacles that pop up because of my body/mind recalling how it used to perform.
“Back to the process – Command: At this point, many of the variables in my delivery equation have been manipulated.
“The only thing remaining is throwing until my new sights line up with where the ball is actually going, without regressing towards what I’m comfortable with.
“This remains easier said than done. Thousands of throws, even a few off the glove were made in this process.
“I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many intelligent baseball minds over the course of my career. In these times of introspection, I will find myself recalling the cues Darren Balsley used to help me improve my sinker, or how Jim Benedict helped get my velo back after the TOS. Whether it was sights under the glove or the concept of throwing it easy and pulling down, I still draw from those interactions and now I have the 4S FB that I desire.
“Unfortunately, I do not throw 101 mph and have the luxury of living off of one pitch. I am forced to incorporate my off speed to compete at the highest level.
“Every time I use a different grip, some part of my delivery is driven back in time due to the muscle memory of that grip. Some grips take weeks to figure out what was not adding up, like my slider (turns out I was failing to drive my hands back at the top of my leg lift like I was with my FB).
“Other grips took just a few throws to iron out the kinks, like my CH. The new hand placement has allowed for the reintroduction of my cutter and curveball, which was kind of like learning new pitches all over again due to the lack of action those pitches have seen over the past few years.”
“I still have some work to do in getting the release points of my off-speed to mirror more closely that of my FB.
“However, they have gradually gotten closer over the last couple of weeks, and I just need to flip that tire a few more times. A couple more flips and the water will likely be out of it – just like I will be back to my ‘new, old self.’”
There is uncertainty about when the Major League Baseball season is going to begin — if at all — and if there will be Minor League Baseball in 2020.
“I’ve learned about dealing with failure,” says Watson, a 6-foot-2 right-hander who went 6-1 with a 0.68 earned run average and 81 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings with his 95-mph heat as an LN senior and is 4-26 with a 7.33 ERA, 129 strikeouts and 95 walks in 210 1/3 innings as a pro. “In high school, I was a big fish in a small pond. I had it pretty easy.
“I’ve had to deal with getting knocked around a little bit. You can’t throw everything by everybody (in pro ball). I’m learning to be competitor.”
At Lawrence North, Watson used a two-seam fastball and slider. The Royals replaced those with a four-seam fastball and curve ball and last season, let him re-learn the slider.
“It’s been a adjustment, but nothing to shy away from,” says Watson, who turns 21 Jan. 25 — on few days before leaving for Surprise, Ariz., to prepare for spring training. “It’s more about learning how to pitch and not just throwing as hard as you can. It’s learning how to throw to the corners and staying consistent.”
For Watson, it comes down to focus, preparation and mental strength.
“It’s not letting your surroundings or your last outing get to you,” says Watson. “You focus on the next pitch that’s being called.”
The right-hander has started in all but four of his 57 pro appearances.
The day after a start includes the bulk of his running and is an optional throwing day. The next day, he throws a bullpen and concentrates on things he did not like about his previous outing ie. fastball command. The next two days are about keeping his arm loose and his legs strong. Everyday includes shoulder care.
Watson landed on the disabled list early in the 2017 season and went to Arizona to rehabilitate his shoulder. He went to Instructional League for more shoulder last fall.
Besides throwing pitches, Watson is going through rehabilitation and pre-habilitation (preventative) shoulder and scapula movements and exercises with bands, medicine balls and weighted balls.
“We make sure I’m not rubbing or stressing the wrong things,” says Watson. “It’s the things that keep you out of the training room and the doctor’s office.”
Most of his development in the Royals system has come under pitching coaches Carlos Martinez and Mitch Stetter (the former big leaguer pitcher is a Southridge High School graduate and Indiana State University teammate of Pro X co-founder and owner Joe Thatcher). They have been getting Watson to concentrate on the direction and follow-through of his delivery.
“They make sure there’s conviction going to the plate and I’m not falling off or flying open,” says Watson. “I could play 20 years in the big league and I still think I could get better at it.”
Watson played travel baseball for the Skiles Test Cobras in Lawrence Township and later for the Todd Bacon-coached Indiana Indians, Eric Dill-coached Indiana Mustangs and Kevin Chrisman-coached San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team.
Making sure he got games and practices and had clean laundry and food to fuel him were parents Perry and Melinda Watson.
“I can never properly thank them for what they did,” says Nolan. “I was always looking up to (older brother Tyler) and he made me what I am today.”
“He told us about not giving up and competing,” says Watson. “We always had trouble with Cathedral. My senior year, we finally got past Cathedral (in the finals of the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A Roncalli Sectional).
“That was a glorious moment. That was a weight off our shoulders. It was an accumulation of not giving up and having heart. It was a great feeling for all of us.”
Watson had been recruited by Vanderbilt University, which won the College World Series in 2014. But he decided to sign with Royals instead.
“Everybody’s dream is to play professional baseball,” says Watson. “They good amount of money. I didn’t want to pass that up.”
Nolan Watson, a Lawrence North High School graduate and former first-round draft selection of the Kansas City Royals, has pitched in the Royals system since 2015. (Lexington Legends Photo)