Tag Archives: Joel Mishler

Gongaware serving baseball community with Prospect Select, Indiana Chargers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Gongaware coached college baseball.

Now he’s serving both college coaches and players who want to get to the collegiate level.

As event coordinator for Prospect Select Baseball — a Florida-based national tournament company — Gongaware is helping to get players exposure in front of the right college coaches and scouts.

Gongaware, who is based in Fort Wayne, Ind., seeks answers to baseball questions.

“What are the greatest needs of those college coaches that are trying to identity who those players are?,” says Gongaware. “How can we utilize our events as a meeting place for that to happen?

“We want to create what we would consider the greatest value-added events for everyone that shows up — players, parents, umpires, college coaches, pro scouts. How are they getting their particular needs met?

“What are we doing as a tournament company to facilitate the greatest opportunities for them to play at the next level, which is ultimately what everybody in travel baseball in trying to do?”

Gongaware notes that not all exposure is equal exposure and the aim is to have close to a 1:1 ratio of players to college coaches and scouts at events.

Emphasizing quality over quantity, Prospect Select has 13 high school tournaments on its 2019 calendar. There are events in Florida, the Carolinas and Boston as well as the Midwest — Kansas City, St. Louis, Quincy, Ill., and Fort Wayne.

“We’re not going to oversaturate and try to do 15 different things,” says Gongaware. “We look to find a great host venue city with great baseball complexes.

“People will mark their calendars every year and say, ‘I can’t wait to come back.’”

The idea is to provide great competition and the opportunity to get better while being seen by a coach who could realistically add a player to his program.

The 2019 Fort Wayne Classic for 16U and 18U teams is July 25-29 at World Baseball Academy, a facility on the west side of town with three turf fields for high schoolers.

WBA was the site of the Great Lakes Fall Invitational in 2018.

“I’ve worked with (Director of Operations/Tournaments) Andy (McManama) and (CEO) Caleb (Kimmel) here at World Baseball (Academy) and they’re fantastic,” says Gongaware. “It’s a great partnership. They clearly care for the student-athletes at a much higher level than what they do on the baseball field.

“We believe in the same thing as a company (at Prospect Select).”

One of the fun parts of Gongaware’s job is experiencing baseball culture in other parts of the country.

“We’re all connected through this awesome game,” says Gongaware. “But it’s different everywhere. It’s just like language and dialects.”

Gongaware says a point of pride is that all full-time PS staff have played or coached at the college or professional level and have strong relationships in that area.

“We can facilitate networking,” says Gongaware. “We try to build very strong relationships with college and travel coaches so that when we make a recommendation for a college coach or travel team to attend one of our events, we have strong confidence that it’s going to meet their needs.”

After labrum tears ended his playing career at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before it began, Batavia (Ill.) High School graduate Gongaware became interested in coaching.

“At the time I was getting bigger and stronger, I got hurt,” says Gongaware. “Let’s be honest, it was from inefficient body actions and mechanics. How I could help other players not go through that?”

Recruited while Rich Benjamin (now head coach at Indiana Wesleyan University) was pitching coach, Gongaware was at ONU as Elliot Johnson moved on as head coach and Todd Reid took over.

After graduating from Olivet in 2010, he was in youth ministry for three years and then became volunteer assistant pitching coach to Andy Gossel at Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis.

The two met when Gongaware was officiating an Upward Basketball game featuring one of Gossel’s sons.

“I’m forever indebted to him with getting me involved in the game of baseball as a coach,” says Gongaware of Gossel — aka “Goose.”

Gongaware went to Quincy (Ill.) University to become a graduate assistant in baseball at the same time his wife, Steph, was a graduate assistant in women’s basketball. The former Stephanie Wagner, a graduate of Jimtown High School in Elkhart, Ind., finished her playing career at Quincy.

Josh Rabe was the head baseball coach at Quincy and the Hawks were on the cusp of becoming an NCAA Division II power.

“Coach Rabe took a huge risk on me with not having college playing experience,” says Gongaware, who earned a masters degree in Educational Leadership at QU in 2016. “There was so much knowledge he was willing to share with me.”

Matt Stembridge was then pitching coach at Quincy. He later became a Midwest tournament coordinator for Prospect Select and helped connect Gongaware as well as teaching him much about strength and conditioning.

“He’s one of my closest friends in the game of baseball,” says Gongaware of Stembridge. “He’s challenged me — not just on the baseball side — why do I believe what I believe? He’s really got me to ask a lot of questions.”

Stembridge is also general manager of the Hannibal (Mo.) Hoots and co-owner of the Normal (Ill.) CornBelters in the summer collegiate Prospect League.

Gongaware’s next stop after Quincy was as pitching coach at Hannibal-LaGrange University. Then he became pitching coach and recruitment/placement coordinator at Inspiration Academy, a high school and post-graduate institution in Bradenton, Fla.

When he got back to the Midwest, Gongaware was hired by Joel Mishler as an assistant operations director for the Indiana Chargers travel organization.

“He’s been such an awesome influence for me,” says Gongaware. “He’s been around this game so long. It’s so easy for guys like that to get caught up in this is the way it’s always been.”

Gongaware says Mishler continues to learn and get better and promotes the same thing with his staff, including taking them to the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention.

The Chargers have training facilities in Goshen and Fort Wayne. Younger players are based closer to home while the best high school players come together for the travel tournament season. Gongaware helps coordinate the staff in in Fort Wayne while coaching younger players on a volunteer basis.

In his two roles, he enjoys getting to be on both sides of the travel ball equation.

Gongaware knows that travel baseball and college recruiting is big business so he wants to make the experience worthwhile for all parties in his role with Prospect Select.

“If kids are going to pay money to play in one of our tournaments, we need to be honest and fair with them about where they are and what level of baseball they’re playing,” says Gongaware. “We need to be very open and honest with the college coaches about who they should come see and how they watch.”

With this in mind, Prospect Select tournaments are structured so equal-level teams are playing each other in each pool.

“Typically college coaches are attending the first two or three days because there are more teams playing,” says Gongaware. “It’s pool play. Everyone’s still in the tournament. Once it gets to bracket play and there’s only five or six teams, they’re not getting as much bang for their buck.

“If my ceiling is I’m a right-handed pitcher and I throw 82 (mph), I don’t need to go against the No. 1 prospect in the country who every time he faces me is going to hit it out of the park.

“If I’m a D-III hitter I don’t need to go against Daniel Espino, the No. 1 prospect last year, throwing 100 mph. It’s not going to do me any good. It doesn’t help his coach recruit him.”

Tony and Steph Gongaware will be married six years in June. The couple have two children — Ella (3) and Abram (who turns 1 in July).

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Tony Gongaware, who resides in Fort Wayne, Ind., is an event coordinator for Prospect Select Baseball — a Florida-based national tournament company. He also works operations and coaching for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Tony Gongaware will help stage Prospect Select Baseball’s Fort Wayne Classic at World Baseball Academy July 25-29, 2019.

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Mishler brothers always had baseball coaching in their blood

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Get the Mishlers — father Joel and sons Nic and Zac — together and the conversation turns to the same topic.

“It’s always baseball,” says Nic Mishler. “It drives my mom (Kim) and sister (Hannah) nuts when we are at home.

“We grew up in a college baseball dugout. We live baseball. That’s our family.”

Joel Mishler played and coached college baseball and his boys grew up around the game.

When the elder Mishler established JNZ Baseball and Softball Academy in Shipshewana, Ind., after his days at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Mich., Nic and Zac were always around.

They were working on their own skills, but they were also helping others. The brothers got to work with future Ball State University players Matt Eppers, Nick Floyd and Caleb Stayton and Northwestern Oklahoma State University lefty slugger Judah Zickafoose when they were youngsters and pick the brain of major league hitting coach and frequent visiting clinician John Mallee and former University of Michigan and current Ball State head coach Rich Maloney at his camps in Ann Arbor, Mich.

After Glen Oaks, Joel Mishler was head coach at Westview High School near Shipshewana and established the Indiana Chargers travel organization. The Chargers now train in Goshen, Ind., and has helped several players move on to college baseball.

Nic Mishler (Class of 2009) and Zac Mishler (Class of 2011) both played at Westview and became college players — Nic at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich., and Zac at John A. Logan College in Carterville, Ill., and then Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

What did the Mishler brothers do after their playing days?

Become baseball coaches, of course.

Nic Mishler, 27, has just begun as pitching coach at Des Moines Area Community College in Boone, Iowa, after five seasons at Valparaiso (Ind.) University. Before that, he was a student assistant for two years at his father’s alma mater, Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz.

Zac Mishler, 25, is heading into his third season as hitting/infield coach and recruiting coordinator at NCAA Division II Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, W.Va. Before landing at ABU, he was at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., where he was in charge of infield play, base running, and recruiting and scheduling.

“I don’t know what else I’d do,” says Zac Mishler of baseball coaching. “I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a little kid.”

Nic Mishler pitched in the Division II Junior College World Series while at Kellogg and appreciates the world of juco baseball.

“To me, what makes junior college so attractive is you are able to recruit very talented players who could use a couple years to get bigger and stronger and develop their craft.

“I want them to know what it means to dogpile. It’s something you never forget. They can work toward a World Series (the 2019 National Junior College Athletic Association D-II Championship is in Enid, Okla.) before moving on to the next level.”

Since junior colleges are two-year institutions and athletes are aiming for four-year schools or the professional ranks, Nic sees the spark in all of them.

“The drive is second to none,” says Nic Mishler. “They’re all fighting for something.

“These are guys who may have been looked over and have a chip on their shoulder.

“I get to help these guys reach their goals. To me, that’s really exciting.”

With this common bond, Nic has witnessed close relationships forming among juco.

“Some of my best friends are from when I was at Kellogg,” says Nic Mishler. “We’re a real close group.”

After working at NCAA Division I Valparaiso, Zac returns to Division II at Alderson Broaddus.

“I really do like D-II baseball,” says Zac Mishler. “There’s a ton of talent and it’s very, very competitive.

“We get a lot of kids who are athletic and just want to chance to play.”

Zac also appreciates that he gets a chance to spend time on teaching and development, passing along the things he’s learned in time as a player and coach.

Jerry Halstead (John A. Logan) and Bobby Pierce (IPFW) were Zac’s head coaches while he was a college player and he coached with Rick O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s before joining the staff of Matt Yurish at ABU.

“(Halstead) taught me a toughness I never knew I had in me,” says Zac Mishler. “(Pierce) taught me more than anybody how to be the same person everyday and how to stay consistent.

“It’s something I try to do in life. He had a big influence on me.”

Yurish has passed along lessons on communication and motivation.

“You get out and meet people and make a good name for yourself,” says Zac Mishler. “And you have to know how how to handle different types of people.

“A common misconception is that everybody needs to be coached the same. You want to tap into each kid and see what makes him tick.

“Coaching is getting people to play at the best of their abilities.”

After playing for Eric Laskovy at Kellogg, Nic and soaked up wisdom from Andy Stankiewicz at Grand Canyon and Brian Schmack at Valpo U. His boss at DMACC is David Pearson.

“(Stankiewicz) gave me my shot at coaching,” says Nic Mishler. “I can’t thank him enough.”

He worked with the Antelopes pitching staff and served as bullpen coach for a team that went to the NCAA Division II World Series. A member of the GCU staff — Nathan Choate — is now an assistant at NCAA Division I Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

One summer, Nic was pitching coach and also worked with infielders and outfielders for the East Texas Pump Jacks in the Texas Collegiate League.

Nic led Valpo catchers and helped Schmack with the pitching staff. He was the catching coach for three-year starter Scott Kapers, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers. Mishler also got to help Trey Ferketic, who found his way from California to pitch in the Midwest for the Crusaders.

“I was in a pretty good situation at Valparaiso,” says Nic Mishler. “They have something good going.

“I have full control over a pitching staff here. This offered me a real good opportunity.”

Pearson — with his NCAA Division I background (he was associate head coach at North Dakota State University) and high energy — also drew Nic.

“I’m a high-energy guy,” says Nic Mishler. “I’m so excited to get to go to work for him everyday.”

Nic and Zac communicate just about everyday by call or text and often speak with their father. Now that Nic is at a junior college, he can recruit Zac’s players and has already had a few conversations.

“It’s cool for me to watch (Zac) chase his dream,” says Nic Mishler. “He works extremely hard. That motivates me to work hard as well.”

DMACC is scheduled to play about a dozen games this fall and was at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., recently for the Prep Baseball Report juco event.

Zac says he was attracted to coaching in because he can work with players throughout the year.

“It’s different mentality (than high school),” says Zac Mishler.

Looking down the line, Zac could see himself as a head coach or an assistant to his big brother.

What if Zac becomes a head coach first?

“(Nic) will be my first call,” says Zac Mishler.

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Nic Mishler, a 2009 Westview High School graduate, is an assistant baseball coach at Des Moines Area Community College in Boone, Iowa.

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Zac Mishler, a 2011 Westview High School graduate, is an assistant baseball coach at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, W.Va.

Lanky lefty Roberts displaying ‘will to win’ as Mariners minor leaguer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Max Roberts wants to be a winner.

He says that’s what drives him as an athlete.

“Competing is the biggest thing. It’s the will to win,” says Max Roberts. “It’s just who I am.”

That drive was instilled by his father — long-time Washington Township Middle/High School head baseball coach and fifth grade teacher Randy Roberts and grandfather Norman Roberts — and has followed Max throughout his diamond life.

“Between the two of us, Max probably acts more like his grandfather than he acts like me,” says Randy Roberts. His father lives in Warsaw, Ind., where Randy grew up. Randy played baseball for Jim Miller (who an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee) at Warsaw Community High School, graduating in 1978. From there, he played for Tom Roy at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. “My dad gave me the love for baseball. He was an incredible worker.”

From a very young age, Max showed the ability to throw a ball where he wanted.

“When he was 2 or 3 years old and we would play catch, he had good location and good aim,” says Randy Roberts, who has won eight IHSAA Class 1A sectionals in 22 seasons at Washington Township. “He’s always been pretty good at locating his pitches. He’s never been the hardest thrower on his team. He’s always been the best at getting outs.

“He’s a strike thrower.”

His father also admires Max’s lack of fear with throwing inside to batters.

“Most kids at the lower levels — when they get two strikes — they’re looking to go away,” says Randy. “It’s humiliating to hit a batter with two strikes. He’s always been good at coming inside. He has confidence in doing that.”

Max Roberts, who turns 21 on July 23, graduated from Valparaiso (Ind.) High School in 2016, played one year at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and was selected in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

The 6-foot-6, 190-pound left-hander made 10 appearances (seven starts) in 2017 and went 1-1 with a 5.18 earned run average, 18 strikeouts and nine walks in 24 1/3 innings the rookie-level Arizona League Mariners.

In 2018, he has pitched in three games (all starts) and is 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA, 17 strikeouts and three walks in 15 innings with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League.

How has he improved the last year?

“By having a feel for every pitch in any count,” says Max Roberts, who throws a four-seam fastball (consistently thrown at 87 to 89 mph and occasionally touching 91 to 92), curveball and four-seam “circle” change-up from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot.

“I definitely have some arm-side run,” says Roberts, who credits much of what he knows about pitching to his father and a relationship Randy has with Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. “They bounce ideas of each other.”

When Max was still in grade school, Randy attended the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago and invited Strom to extend his trip and spend a few days with Roberts in Valpo. Over the years, Randy and Max have visited Strom when he was nearby, sent video for for his analysis or texted questions. He has always been swift with his replies.

“There’s no better human being in baseball than Brent Strom,” says Randy Roberts.

Roberts was a late recruit at Wabash Valley, committing less than a month before arriving on-campus in the fall. By the third weekend of the spring, Roberts was the Friday starter for head coach Rob Fournier.

“(Fournier) was big on competing,” says Roberts. “He he didn’t care who you were — just go out and throw strikes and win games.”

Roberts went 10-1 with one save for WVC. Under the guidance of Fournier and pitching coach Jeff Bolen, he sported a 1.44 ERA, 98 strikeouts and 28 walks in 94 innings. Of his 17 appearances, 13 came as a starter. His lone loss was in relief.

Todd Evans was Roberts’ head coach at Valparaiso High.

Roberts got his formal baseball start in the Valpo Americans League before playing travel ball with the Boone Grove Wolves and then the Valpo Sting.

In high school, he was with the Indiana Chargers for four summers, working with coaches Joel Mishler, Justin Barber and Ryan Marken.

“I was in an environment with guys who wanted to play baseball,” says Max Roberts of the Chargers experience. “They cared.

“As a former college coach, (Mishler) knew what it took to compete at the next level. The biggest thing there was the winter workouts. That’s when you can see the biggest improvements in your game.”

The lanky Roberts put about 20 pounds last fall at the Mariners’ high performance training camp and has kept it on by consuming 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day.

“In the past, I had a hard time gaining and maintaining weight,” says Roberts. “This this year, it hasn’t been a problem.”

Vancouver hitters had a problem against Roberts in a June 20 game before a capacity crowd of 6,412 at Nat Bailey Stadium in British Columbia. The lefty retired the first 18 Canadians before allowing the first hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The next steps on the Mariners’ minor league ladder are the Low Class-A Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings, High Class-A Modesto (Calif.) Nuts, Double-A Arkansas Travelers and Triple-A Tacoma (Wash.) Rainiers.

Max is the oldest of Randy and Anne Roberts’ three children. Sophia just graduated from Indiana University-Bloomington in the spring. Baseball-playing William will enter his senior year at Washington Township in the fall.

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Max Roberts, a Valparaiso (Ind.) High School graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. He is now a starting pitcher with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Everett AquaSox)

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Max Roberts delivers a pitch for the 2018 Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

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Max Roberts, who played at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Wabash Valley College in Illinois, looks in for the sign as a pitcher for the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox in the Seattle Mariners system. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

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Left-hander Max Roberts delivers the ball from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot. He was drafted in 2018 by the Seattle Mariners and assigned to the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

 

Westview’s Rahn knows little things can go a long way in baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Attention to detail.

Sweating the small stuff because it can lead to big results.

Understand that there is more than one way to do something better.

These are some of the concepts that Jason Rahn brings to his players as the head baseball coach at Westview High School in LaGrange County, Ind.

“You’ve got to be good at that stuff to be able to play at a high level,” says Rahn, who enters his eighth season as Warriors head coach after serving three years as an assistant to Joel Mishler. “We’re fortunate at Westview to be good with things that often get overlooked.”

One area where Rahn looks for improvement is on the basepaths— not just stealing bases, but being aggressive and knowing how to make a dirt-ball read to take an extra base.

“I learned quickly in college that if you know how to run bases you were going to be effective,” says Rahn, who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Mike Frame at Huntington University and graduating from Huntington North High School, where he was on squads led by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Sherman and then Chad Daugherty. “You can steal a bag or catch a guy sleeping with the ball in his hand.”

Rahn expects his pitches to throw strikes. But not just pitches in the strike zone.

“Where do you want the strike thrown?,” says Rahn, who knows some strikes can’t be barreled up and others can be crushed.

Rahn goes into each practice with a plan. There is a playbook (written in a way that high school players who have many other things in their life besides baseball can understand).

“It’s repetition and building muscle memory,” says Rahn. “We break down moments and tell why we’re doing it this way. When you see the light bulb come on, you see a huge transition in the kid.”

Mishler, who has experience as a college player, college and high school coach and pro scout and is the founder of the Indiana Chargers travel organization, gets credit from Rahn for his way of teaching game situations.

“He makes it make sense for the kids. You have to realize that some of these kids are 15-year-olds.”

Another dynamic Rahn enjoys is seeing olders players explain things to the younger ones.

“You see who your leaders are just by posting the practice schedule and seeing what happens,” says Rahn.

As a young player on Sherman-coached team, he saw how he interacted with upperclassmen.

“He would push them, but he was also working alongside them as a teammate,” says Rahn. “He was teaching the game as a fan of them.”

Sherman coached the Huntington North baseball team for 38 years until he retired in 2001.

Rahn said some of his best conversations with Sherman came over the fence when first baseman Rahn was playing in college and Sherman was there to watch.

Those moments almost didn’t happen.

In high school, Rahn was all-in for basketball and thought that would be his path in college. He didn’t go out for baseball as a sophomore then watched best friend Thad Frame (Mike’s son) start at shortstop as a freshman.

An ankle injury helped Rahn decide to switch his focus away from the hardwood and onto the diamond.

He was part of a large senior class who enjoyed a special final season in 2003.

He recalls the enthusiastic words of a teammate who said he should be grateful for the opportunity to play and be outside under the blue skies.

As a Huntington University player, Rahn got close with his teammates got to know Mike Frame even better.

“When you sweat and cry next to a guy long enough, you have these tight relationships,” says Rahn. “(Coach Frame) was leading that.

“There has always been a level of intensity about Coach Frame in all aspects of life. He has never been one to not wear his emotions on his sleeve. He’ll always let you know how much he loves you. Coming from a guy who is pushing you physically and mentally, that goes a long way.”

Rahn also gained knowledge from HU assistant coaches Dennis Kas, Brian Abbott and Dave Kennedy. Kas is an IHSBCA Hall of Famer. Abbott is the IHSBCA Executive Director.

At Westview, Rahn guided the Warriors to an IHSAA Class 2A LaVille Sectional title in 2011. His team enjoyed a memorable 2014 season that included a Westview Sectional championship and 18-inning marathon loss to Lafayette Central Catholic championship game of the Whiting Regional.

Five of those Warriors had played for the Indiana Chargers.

Three of them are in college baseball — Judah Zickafoose (Northwestern Oklahoma State University), Tarrin Beachy (Huntington U.) and Jamar Weaver (Huntington U.).

“I knew they were being taught well,” says Rahn, who has also had travel ball players with the Michiana Scrappers, Hitters Edge and Elkhart Titans.

A direct feeder program is Warrior Youth Baseball, which has been overhauled and has Rahn’s thumbprint on it more than ever.

“They use more of my verbiage,” says Rahn, who will have the 12U Warriors (coached by former Westview head coach Mark Engle) playing around 60 games by July 4. There will also be a limited travel scheduled for a 13U/14U team.

Westview is a member of the Northeast Corner Conference (along with Angola, Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights and West Noble).

Rahn’s 2018 high school coaching staff his a family feel to it. Varsity assistants include Steve Christner, Adam Christner and Nate White. Derrike Johns is the junior varsity coach.

Steve Christner’s is Rahn’s father-in-law and Adam Christner his wife’s brother.

Jason, who is employed at Jayco in Middlebury when not coaching, and Whitney Rahn first met at Huntington University.  They got to know one another better when Jason was living in Fort Wayne and Whitney was attending Indiana Purdue at Fort Wayne. The couple has three children — son Brigham (6), daughter Preslee (6) and son Sullivan (1 1/2).

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Jason Rahn, a product of Huntington North High School and Huntington University, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Westview High School in LaGrange County, Ind.

Former big leaguer Stults explains importance of mental game to campers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

To pitch at high levels — college or pro — the space between the ears becomes even more important than the arm.

That’s one of the big lessons Eric Stults absorbed in his 14 seasons of professional baseball (2002-2015).

“It’s the mental part of the game,” Stults said after leading a pitching camp for youngsters Saturday, Feb. 25 at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen. “A lot of guys can physically throw a baseball and throw it hard and well. But what separates the guys who excel or do so at the next level is their ability to mentally make adjustments and stay focused.

“It’s somebody I probably didn’t learn until college. More than physically, I needed to be mentally sharp. (After learning that,) I was practicing that as much as I was throwing the baseball.

“The earlier some of these players can get that, it’s only going to help them along the way.”

Stults played at Argos High School and Bethel College before being  drafted in 2002. The left-hander’s pro baseball odyssey took him through experiences with five different Major League Baseball clubs (Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves) as well as several minor league teams and in Japan (Hiroshima Toyo Carp).

While working toward the big leagues (he made his debut in 2006), Stults was introduced to the importance of the mental side.

“I got in a rut and was searching for something,” Stults said. “Someone said, ‘have you ever thought of the mental side of the game?’ I said, ’Not really. I just go out there and throw the baseball and hope for the best.’”

Stults started his Indiana Chargers camp remarks by focusing on enjoyment of the game.

“This is a game,” Stults said to 45 pitchers of varying ages and their parents. “We want to have fun.”

Then comes learning how to pitch — not just throw.

Even the hardest throwers can’t rely on velocity alone.

Stults, who resides in Middlebury, enjoyed longevity in the game not from gas but his ability to focus on the game within the game — pitcher vs. hitter. He was able to change speeds and the eye levels of hitters by moving the ball around.

After a Tommy John surgery early in his career — before he really knew the importance of arm care — he stayed relatively healthy.

While campers went from station to station for Crossover Symmetry Band work for rotator cuff and scapular strengthening, throwing and recovery drills with the help of ECBSA’s Joel Mishler, Justin Barber and George Hofsommer, Stults also took time to tell them about concepts like routine.

Stults, who worked with many coaches and sports psychologists throughout his diamond days, said his routine changed throughout his career, but having one helped with the mental side of the game.

One pre-pitch routine that he had was taking a deep breath and letting it go along with all of the tension.

“It can be that simple,” Stults said. “I also had a key word — FOCUS. It let me focus on the catcher’s glove and take the distractions out of my head. That allows you to get back into a good mind frame.”

Learning the mental side also helped Stults to keep from dwelling on the negative things and focus on his next pitch or next outing.

“The mindset is you’ve got to forget about it,” Stults said. “It’s easier said than done. But that comes through practice and mental part of the game. Let’s move forward.”

In discussing mechanics, Stults noted that not everyone delivers the ball in the same way or has the same arm slot.

“As an individual, you have to figure out what works for you,” Stults said. “When I talk about different grips and throwing different pitches, it’s trial and error.

“You have to be willing to try new things and be coachable.”

Stults encouraged players to learn how to “self-coach” and diagnose their own problems and find solutions.

He emphasized always having a purpose even when playing catch (throw to a target) and developing tempo and rhythm while using nice loose grip on the baseball.

As Stults, 37, looks back on his lengthy career, it’s the relationships that stand out.

“What was gratifying was the people I met,” Stults said. “You can sit there and talk about victories and this and that. But it’s the people I met along the way. It’s that clubhouse camaraderie I was able to have in baseball.”

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Former big leaguer Eric Stults demonstrates a grip during a camp at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen. (Photo By John Sadowey)

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Eric Stults throws at a camp at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen. He was helped by ECBSA’s Justin Barber (from left on right side of photo), George Hofsommer and Joel Mishler. (Photo By John Sadowey)

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A pitching camp by former big leaguer and Middlebury resident Eric Stults brought out several youngsters to Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen. (Photo By John Sadowey)

Development is Job 1 for Indiana Chargers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

By exposing players to the latest training methods, the Indiana Chargers are getting them ready for the next level.

Doing indoor work at the Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen, young athletes learn what it’s like at the collegiate level.

Founded by Joel Mishler, George Hofsommer and Ben Bailey in 2008 and now led by general manager Mishler, director of operations Justin Barber and strength and conditioning coach Evan Jurjevic, the Indiana Chargers has sent more than 135 players on to college baseball, several at the NCAA Division I level.

“It’s all about development,” Mishler said. “That’s why we exist.”

A former head coach at Glen Oaks Community College and Westview High School and a longtime professional scout, Mishler wants to give his players a clear picture of what it takes to the play college game through tools as well as physical and mental development.

The acronym C.H.A.R.G.E.R.S. stands for Commitment, Heart, Attitude, Respect, Grateful, Energy, Relentless, Servant Leaders and those core values are expressed at practices.

With the experience of the staff, players are also helped through the college recruiting process, finding the best fit for them based on their needs and talents.

“There’s never any guarantees (of high school playing time or a college scholarship),” Mishler said. “It’s something you have to earn. But we will give them the information of what it takes.

“It’s a culture of getting better and working hard.”

During the off-season (November to March), high school players have been attending optional three-a-day workouts (three hours on Sunday afternoons and up to 2 1/2 hours on Tuesdays and Fridays).

Jurjevic, who excelled on the diamond at LaPorte High School and Carson-Newman University, takes the Chargers through the warm-ups and exercises that get them ready to play the game.

The use of bands and weighted Drive Line plyo balls is prevalent for building up muscles and recovery.

One way to build arm strength is through a program the Chargers adopted two years ago — a pulldown drill which has players take a running start a throw into a net with a radar gun clocking the velocity.

“We call it the ‘run-and-gun,’” Barber said. “It’s like a crow-hop on steroids. You won’t see anything like that during a game, but it allows more momentum and bigger effort level.”

After getting warmed up, players will do the “run-and-gun” once a week to see if they can top their personal best.

On Sunday, Jan. 29, the facility high school record of 99.2 was set by Plymouth High School junior and Valparaiso University verbal commit Jeremy Drudge. The previous mark was held by Marian High School senior/University of Dayton-bound Riley Tirotta. Three dozen have joined the 90/95/100-plus club since November 2014.

There were several BP stations, including one where Jurjevic bounced the ball to the plate. The idea was the stay back with the hands and be ready for a curve or off-speed pitch.

Mishler and his staff are continually consulting with high level college and professional baseball people to stay at the forefront of technology. Mishler has attended 23 of the past 25 American Baseball Coaches Association national conventions (it will be in Indianapolis in 2018) and goes annually to the Pitch-a-Palooza in Nashville.

“We’ve always been of the mindset that we have to get better as coaches,” Mishler said. “These kids are getting a lot of information that they are going to get at the college level.”

Barber was a star left-handed pitcher at Inter-City Baptist High School and Spring Arbor University — both in Michigan. He notes that the Chargers will field nine teams 11U through 18U in 2017 (tryouts were in August 2016). The younger teams will play from late April to early July with high schoolers taking the field in June and July with the possibility of fall ball in September and early October.

While the Chargers do take part in travel events, including those organized by Bullpen Tournaments and Pastime Tournaments — many at Grand Park in Westfield — it’s not always about the games.

“We’re more focused on the developmental side,” Barber said. “We started a league with like-minded travel organizations and play three-game series (on a weekend with a single game one day and a doubleheader on the other) with pregame infield and batting practice. You don’t get that in most travel tournaments.

“It’s just games, games, games.”

Coaches 13U and above have college playing or many years of coaching experience.

“All of them are getting the same information and most recent and best available,” Mishler said.

It’s all about develop and getting better.

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(from left): Justin Barber, Joel Mishler and Evan Jurjevic of the Indiana Chargers.