Tag Archives: Kenosha

Walther lends his experience to Pro X Athlete Development, College Summer League

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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.”

Mark Walther, Director of Operations at Pro X Athlete Development and commissioner of the College Summer League at Grand Park, both in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

Fun important part of baseball for Mikolajczyk, Munster Mustangs

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As part of Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan’s coaching staff at Munster High School, Mike Mikolajczyk saw the importance of keeping the sport fun for players.
“You’ve got to be loose,” says Mikolacjzyk, who enters his 24th year in the program and first as head coach in 2022. Only IHSBCA Hall of Famer Mike Niksic and Shinkan have held that title before Mikolajczyk, who was Mustangs freshmen coach for 20 seasons and varsity assistant for three.
He is a 1989 graduate of Bremen High School in Midlothian, Ill., where he played four years of baseball for Braves coach Tom Johnson and earned all-conference and all-area honors as a junior and senior and was a team captain. He spent a half year with the baseball team at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in Teaching from Purdue University Calumet and a master’s degree in Arts and Language Arts from Governors State University.
Mikolajczyk (Mick-O-Lie-Check) teaches sixth grade Reading and Language Arts at Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster.
In 2021, the Mustangs were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with East Chicago Central, Hammond Morton, Highland, Lake Central and Merrillville (host). Munster won its 13th sectional title — the first since 2016.
“We have 11 guys coming back from last year’s team,” says Mikolajczyk. “We will be pretty senior strong.”
The Class of 2022 includes right-hander Brady Ginaven (Indiana State University commit), left-hander Jake Thometz (uncommitted) and right-hander Will Moell (Johns Hopkins University commit) at the top of the mound rotation.
“I’m pretty excited about our top three pitchers,” says Mikolajczyk. “I could put those guys against anybody in northwest Indiana and we’ll be competitive.”
Another key senior is outfielder/first baseman Tyler Lukowski. Juniors drawing D-I attention are outfielder Kozy Denham and outfielder/shortstop Kevin Hall.
Recent graduates moving on to college ball include 2020 graduates in right-hander Costa Sirounis (Indiana University), right-hander Will Melby (Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs) and infielder Ronnie Nowak (Marshalltown, Iowa, Community College). From 2021, there’s right-hander/third baseman and IHSBCA North/South All-Star Bryce Schaum (Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.), second baseman/catcher Ben Greiner (DePauw University) and middle infielder/outfielder Derrick Wiening (Purdue Northwest).
Munster (enrollment around 1,600) is located in Lake County and a member of the Northwest Crossroads Conference (with Andrean, Highland, Hobart, Kankakee Valley and Lowell).
The Mustangs plan to field three teams — varsity, junior varsity and freshmen — in 2022 — and Mikolajczyk estimates there will be 45 to 50 in the program. The first time Munster had paid assistants was four years ago.
Mikolajczyk’s assistants include Matt Backs, volunteers Brian Boliek and Adam Musielak with the varsity, Mark Dye with the JV and an as-yet-to-be-named freshmen coach.
Backs, who coached one year at Thornton Fractional North High School in Calumet City, Ill., and 27 years as Munster JV coach, will handle infielders and outfielders and coach first base. The Illinois State University graduate is a Project Lead The Way teacher at Wilbur Wright.
Boilek, who enters his fifth year on the staff who has more than two decades experience of coaching travel and American Legion ball, is a bench coach and handles strength and conditioning. He works in banking and finance.
Musielak was head coach for six years at Whiting (Ind.) High School and took the Oilers to the IHSAA Class 2A Final Four in 2019. He has 10 years of coaching experience for baseball, basketball and football. The Indiana University alum teaches Physical Education at Munster.
Dye is a Munster graduate who played at Earlham College In Richmond, Ind., and served a freshmen coach at Portage (Ind.) High School for six years. He teaches Social Studies at Munster. Infielders and catchers will be part of Mikolajczyk’s responsbilities.
Munster had 10 IHSAA Limited Contact Period sessions in September and early October with nearly 60 participants (not involved in fall sports). There were open fields and gyms with activity on Mike Niksic Field (which has a turf infield and grass outfielder), diamonds at Community Park, located next to the school and the home to Munster Little League and Munster Babe Ruth or the turfed football field.
“In fall workouts, we get an idea of who’s really dedicated to you and who’s not,” says Mikolajczyk.
An off-season weight program is baseball-specific and is geared toward flexibility and mobility.
“What we’re trying to emphasize is bigger, faster, stronger,” says Mikolajczyk. “We’re not trying to bulk up. It’s about maintenance and an injury-prevention type of thing.”
For the first time in program history, a 500-pound club (total for bench press, clean and jerk and deadlift) has been established to promote bonding and buy-in. Just before break, all 13 who attempted to qualify for a club made it and got a T-shirt. Qualifying is planned again in January and February.
Mikolajczyk says strength and conditioning training has drawn 30 to 35 participants each time without freshmen.
Little League (T-ball to age 12) and Babe Ruth (13-15) feed players to Munster High School. Several players are in travel ball with Morris Baseball, which is run by alum Bobby Morris.
Hal Morris, Bobby’s brother, is a Munster graduate who made it to the big leagues primarily as a first baseman (1988-2000) and is also in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. More recently, outfielder Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University (2014-17) and is now in the Chicago White Sox organization.
The Manous brothers — right-hander Connor (Class of 2016) and outfielder Garrett (Class of 2019 — were both on the IU roster in 2021.
An avid golfer, Mikolajczyk is a 7-handicap on the links. He also enjoys hunting. He lives in Frankfort, Ill., with significant other Maribel Soto Piccinini. She has a son named Troy (26).
Tanya Mikolajczyk, who was married to Mike, died of colon cancer in 2019.

Mike Mikolajczyk with 2021 sectional trophy earned by Munster (Ind.) High School.
Mike Mikolajczyk (left) and Maribel Soto Piccinini.

Bickel’s baseball track takes him to Bismarck Bull Moose

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jarrett Bickel just arrived with his third baseball team of summer 2020.

After splitting time with the Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League’s Mishawaka (Ind.) Brewers and the College Summer League at Grand Park’s Snakes, the middle infielder is with the Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose.

The Shawn Harper-managed Brewers lost this week to the Jackers in the tournament finals and the Grand Park league wrapped last week. Snakes manager Jake Martin and the rest of the team witnessed a home run by righty-swinging Bickel that TrackMan measured at 436 feet with a 103 mph exit velocity.

“I feel like I can do everything well on the baseball field,” says Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and a member of the Palm Beach (Fla.) State College squad. “I hit for power. I have speed. I am smooth in the field with a strong arm.”

“It all comes back to my work ethic and how hard I train.”

Bickel, who is primarily a shortstop but can play second base or third base, got to North Dakota’s capital city after a 14-hour drive from South Bend. He reached out to Bull Moose manager Mitchell Gallagher, sent video and stayed in-touch with the Xavier University assistant.

“He brought me aboard when they had a need for an infielder,” says Bickel, who joins a team that is 6-26 playing in the COVID-19-induced pod system. The North Dakota Region consists of three teams all playing at Bismarck’s Dakota Community Bank & Trust Field — the Bull Moose, Larks and Mandan Flickertails. Players are housed in a hotel two-to-a-room. The season is to continue until Sept. 1.

“Hopefully, I can put up so good numbers here since I won’t get much exposure this fall,” says Bickel, alluding to the fact that junior college baseball canceled its fall season, meaning the loss of more than 20 games at the Palm Beach State Pro Day. 

Online classes for the Business Management major begin Aug. 31. The school is closed until January, meaning Bickel will come home to South Bend after his time in North Dakota. Bickel’s 21st birthday is Jan. 21, 2021.

Born and raised in South Bend, Bickel got his organized baseball start at Chet Waggoner Little League, where he played until 9.

At 10 and 11, he played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers — first for Andy Biskupski and then Bill Petty.

After that came two summers with the Brian West-coached South Bend Baseball Factory. 

Longshots Baseball — based in Downers Grove, Ill. — was Bickel’s baseball home away from home. He played with that Rob Rooney-led organization in fall (weekday games and weekend doubleheaders).

Bickel was a three-year varsity player at Marian, playing for Knights head coach Joe Turnock — 2015, 2016 and 2018. 

His junior year, Bickel played in the Hitters/Prep Baseball Report Spring League in Kenosha, Wis.

His collegiate career began at San Jacinto College in Texas. After the fall semester, he transferred to Miami Dade College in Florida.

He struggled at the plate with the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Sharks and opted to take off 2019-20 to re-tool his swing. Bickel was offered a scholarship by head coach Kyle Forbes to join the Palm Beach State program. The Panthers are NJCAA D-I members and part of the Florida College System Activities Association

Jarrett, 20, is the middle child of Joe and Megan Bickel. Joe owns a lawn care service. Tyler Bickel is 23. Xavier Bickel is 17.

Jarrett Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., swings the bat in 2019 for Miami Dade College in Florida. He is now on the baseball roster at Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. (Miami Dade College Photo)
Jarrett Bickel (left) takes a throw while playing for Miami Dade during the 2019 baseball season. The 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., is now on the roster at Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. (Miami Dade College Photo)
Jarrett Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., played baseball at Miami Dade College in Florida in 2019 and is now on the roster of Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. (Miami Dade College Photo)
Shortstop Jarrett Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., played at Miami Dade College in 2019 and is now on the baseball roster at Palm Beach (Fla.) State College. This summer, he has played for the Mishawaka Brewers and Snakes of the College Summer League at Grand Park and just joined the Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose. (Miami Dade College Photo)