Alex Lozado is making the transition from college baseball player to coach. Lozado was a right-handed pitcher at the University of South Florida after serving as a pitcher and infielder at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Fla. In 2021, he made five mound appearances for USF and posted a 3.18 earned run average and 1.06 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) in 5 2/3 innings. The Billy Mohl-coached USF Bulls won the American Athletic Conference tournament and advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals. One thing that stands out about Mohl is the way he cared. When Lozado and his roommates experienced a gas leak at their apartment, the coach was quick to help. “He would always tell us that if we got in any trouble — no matter what time it is — to make sure he is our first call,” says Lozado. “I gave him a call at 2 a.m. He said, ‘I’m going to set up the guest bed rooms for you guys. Come on over and stay at my place.’ “Mol is a great coach, but even a better person.” Lozado, whose playing career was ended by an elbow injury, graduated from South Florida in 2022 with a degree in Communications. At Gulf Coast State, Lozado played in 66 games (63 starts) in 2019 and 2020 and hit .268 with two home runs, 28 runs batted in and 28 runs scored. He also made 18 trips to the mound (nine starts) and went 5-2 with four saves, a 3.77 ERA, 56 strikeouts and 11 walks in 62 innings. During the COVID-19-shorted 2020 season, he was 4-2 with a 2.61 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 42 strikeouts and five walks in 41 1/3 innings. He hurled the first four innings of a combined no-hitter against Faulkner. “I was a big-time change-up guy,” says Lozado. “I got the point with my elbow where I couldn’t bend my slider as well. “Change-up was definitely my pitch.” The Mike Kandler-coached Commodores went 44-28 during Lozado’s two-year stint. “I loved Kandler,” says Lozado. “He pushed you real hard, but at the end of the day he’s going to let you know that he loves and cares about you and is going to do anything for your best interests.” Lozado is glad he went the JUCO route. “Graduating from high school at 17 my dad though junior college was probably the best option for me and it was,” says Lozado. “I saw a lot of progress not only from high school to college and from my freshman to sophomore year but grew as a person and a player.” Alex (22) is the oldest of Willie and Karen Lozado’s two children. Floyd Central, graduate Mia Lozado (19) is a junior at the University of Louisville. Willie Lozado, who comes from a Puerto Rican family, was born in the Bronx and went to high school in Brooklyn. The third baseman/shortstop was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1977, did not sign and was then selected by the Milwaukee Brewers out of Miami Dade College in 1978. He met Karen while playing for Triple-A Louisville. Willie played 43 games for Milwaukee in 1984. His only MLB home run — a three-run shot — came on Sept. 11 against Boston’s Steve Crawford at Fenway Park. Willie later coached at Floyd Central. Born in Louisville, Alex grew up in Sellersburg, Ind. The family moved up the hill to Georgetown, Ind., his junior year at Floyd Central. A former Kentucky Baseball Club travel ball player and 2018 graduate of Floyd Central High School (Floyds Knobs, Ind.), Lozado earned three letters and earned all-area, all-Hoosier Hills Conference and Pitcher of the Year honors (he posted a 1.30 ERA as a junior and 1.80 as a senior) while playing for Highlanders head coach Casey LaDuke. “He has a fire to win that is almost unmatched,” says Lozado of LaDuke. Lozado arrived at the University of Tennessee at Martin in August as a volunteer assistant coach for the NCAA Division I Skyhawks. The connection was made through a relationship between USF pitching coach Karsten Whitson and UT Martin hitting coach Pat Cottrell. Working on a staff led by Ryan Jenkins, Lozado works with outfielders and does a myriad of things, including hitting fungos and pitching batting practice. Lozado is working at the Play’n Sports vendor booth at the 2023 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention which runs Jan. 5-8 in Nashville.
On Thursday, July 16, Wynja (pronounced Win-Yuh) relieved during the CSL All-Star Game at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.
“It felt like baseball again,” says Wynja, who is with the A-Team in the 12-team circuit. “We were on grass and dirt and in front of people.
“It was awesome.”
The CSL came together when other summer leagues were shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most games are played on Mondays and Tuesdays with the option of training at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park Wednesday through Friday.
“It’s not like any summer ball I’ve ever played,” says Wynja. “I like the structure of it, too and that it’s close to home.”
At Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Wynja and the Statesmen were coming off a win against No. 1-ranked Logan A. Logan on March 7 when they learned that the 2020 spring season was over.
A similar storyline has been echoed across college baseball.
“This is our season and people are treating it like that,” says Wynja of the Grand Park league. “Players are extremely motivated. They want to play ball. The level of competition is really, really high.”
It was while training during the quarantine that Wynja heard about the opportunity put together by Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments from ball-playing friends.
“It’s crazy how quickly word traveled,” says Wynja.
Besides working on his pitches, including a four-seam running fastball that is clocked in the low 90’s, a hard-biting slider and four-seam change-up generally coming into at 81 to 83 mph thrown from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Wynja has been carrying a full online college course load.
He’s taking two through Lincoln Trail and two through USF, which is located in Tampa, Fla.
“Art History is kicking my butt,” says Wynja of one South Florida class. He intends to major in Communication at his new school.
Deciding to go the junior college route, Wynja selected Lincoln Trail. But he did not commit before Statesman head coach Kevin Bowers had secured a pitching coach.
That turned out to be Andrew Elliott, who pitched at Wright State University and played two years in the Baltimore Orioles organization and two in independent pro ball.
“We clicked right away,” says Wynja of Elliott. “He was similar to Coach Cribby. He was always motivating you.
“He played pro ball, so he knew what he was talking about.”
Wynja made five mound appearances (four in relief) for Lincoln Trail in 2020, going 1-2 with 17 strikeouts and 18 walks in 13 1/3 innings.
Most of the K’s came courtesy of the slider.
“It’s nasty,” says Wynja of a delivery that is more horizontal than vertical. “That’s my pitch. I love that thing.
“It bites and it bites hard.”
Wynja saw Bowers as a father figure.
“He’s the closest thing to a parent you can have away from home,” says Wynja. “My cousin (Blake Wynja, who is one year older than Hayden) passed away during the season. He told me to go home and spend time with my family.
“It was family, academics then baseball. He always makes sure we’re handling our academics. That’s something I really appreciated. He was always in your corner.”
Hayden is part of a large blended family. There’s mother Kristi, father Brad and siblings Grace Wynja, Bella Wynja, Max Lock, Hunter Drook, Harper Drook and Logan Wynja.
Mom is in pharmaceutical sales. Dad is an accountant. Grace is a 2020 Heritage Christian graduate bound for Purdue. Bella is a 5-foot-11 HC sophomore-to-be on the HC volleyball team. Max is entering eighth grade. Twins Hunter (a boy) and Harper (a girl) are going into sixth grade. Logan is 5.
When Hayden Wynja closes the books on Lincoln Trail, he will have two associate degrees (Sport Management and Science) and a load of baseball knowledge.
“It’s best decision I ever made regarding baseball,” says Wynja of deciding LTC would be his junior college home. “It was amazing. There was great competition.
“Everyone has the same mentality — get better. Everyone wants to be the best versions of themselves.”
Wynja says a big college town can offer many distractions. Not so in tiny Robinson.
“It was baseball and school strictly,” says Wynja. “There’s nothing else.
“Junior college is not for everyone. It’s for people who love baseball and being around the game.
“That’s what made it more enjoyable for me.”
Wynja was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to central Indiana at 2.
He played T-ball then at Billericay Park in Fishers. His first travel ball teams were the Cats and HSE Royals.
During his high school summers, he was coached by Ken Granger with USAthletic and then the Pony Express.
Wynja attended Heritage Christian from kindergarten through eighth grade then transferred to Indianapolis Cathedral High School, where he was cut from the baseball and basketball teams as a 5-foot-10, 110-pound freshman. He went back to Heritage Christian.
It was after he hit a walk-off grand slam in travel ball in the seventh grade that Eagles baseball coach Dan Ambrose sent Wynja a congratulatory letter and he later had him on his team.
“(Ambrose) made baseball fun,” says Wynja. “He was one of my teachers, too.”
Wynja split time between varsity and junior varsity as a sophomore in baseball and basketball then played varsity after that.
Heritage Christian, coached by Corey Jackson, made a run all the way to the 2A southern semistate in basketball with Wynja among the five seniors.
“That’s the favorite team I’ve ever been a part of without a doubt,” says Wynja. “We had great chemistry.
“We broke countless school records and were super, super close.”
HC’s annual senior trip to New York came during regional week and the players opted to miss it for practice. During that week, they got to go on a helicopter ride, go-karting and sat curtsied at an Indiana Pacers game among memorable events.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself and the game,” says Sweeney, who made his last appearance of the GCL season Aug. 28. “I learned how to pitch, control myself out on the mound and stick to the things I know how to do and not try to out-stretch myself.”
Sweeney pitched in 10 mound games (all starts) and went 2-5 with an 8.13 earned run average, 42 strikeouts and 46 walks in 31 innings at Pensacola State before being selected in the 36th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pirates June 5. His 19th birthday was June 14.
His professional debut came on June 28. While he walked two batters in three of his first five outings, he did strike out three in a 13-pitch performance on July 29. After throwing five of his first 24 pitches for strikes, he wound up at 80-of-146 for the season under the guidance of pitching coach and former big leaguer Fernando Nieve.
Sweeney hurled in 13 games (all in relief), going 0-2 with a 3.45 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 15 walks in 15 2/3 innings. After a brief visit with family a friends in northwest Indiana, Sweeney returns to Bradenton, Fla., on Sept. 8 for three weeks of instructional league.
“We’ll have one thing we need to get better at,” says Sweeney of his mission at instructs. “We’ll stick with it and build off of that.”
Sometime after instructional league, Sweeney says he expects to be back in Pensacola to work out in preparation for 2020.
“We had a very short time together,” says Sweeney of Glover. “He’s a great guy.”
As a senior, Sweeney pitched in the 2018 Perfect Game Spring League in Iowa on weekends and attended classes at Hobart during the week. After graduation, he headed to Florida to begin the college experience.
And the experiences have just kept coming for the big left-hander.
Jake Sweeney, who grew up in Hobart, Ind., pitched one season at Pensacola (Fla.) State College in 2019 and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is a 6-foot-7, 240-pound left-hander. (Pensacola State College Photo)