By STEVE KRAH
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.”