BY STEVE KRAH
Jeff Mault affirms that the body’s lower half is the foundation of baseball.
When instructing pitchers or hitters at Extra Mile Baseball in a pole barn next to his rural home near Kimmel, Ind., the former college and professional player talks a lot about the important part played by biggest muscle groups.
“I’m a mechanics guy,” says Mault, who had close to 20 lessons on his schedule this week and counts third baseman/second baseman and Wright State University commit Jake Shirk (Fort Wayne Carroll High School Class of 2020) and left-handed pitcher/first baseman and University of Kentucky commit Carter Gilbert (Northridge Class of 2022). “Hips is where it’s at with pitchers. I don’t care about the arm slot. If you can do what I want you to do, your arm will not hurt. Period.
“When your arm is sore baseball is not fun.”
Mault, who has a degree in Health and Human Performance from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville Tenn., has his athletes — first graders through college — doing different drills that emphasize hip, core and trunk rotation.
“I come up with some weird drills,” says Mault. “Everybody learns different.”
He uses a football pad to protect himself while asking hitters to thrust their knee at him.
Mault, 39, began teaching lessons in Fort Wayne, Ind., with Rich Dunno shortly after graduating from West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., in 1999.
Dunno is the inventor of King of the Hill, Queen of the Hill and King of the Swing training devices for Ground Force Sports.
“I had one of the very first ones,” says Mault. “It’s awesome.
“I wish I had it when I was playing.”
A right-handed pitcher and right fielder in high school then pitcher-only after that, Mault played for Tim Schemerhorn at West Noble (the Chargers won the IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional in 1998 then lost 7-5 to Northridge in the first round of the Wawasee Sectional with smoke-throwing Mault and Doug McDonald as the top two pitchers).
Mault got the ball up to 92 mph in high school.
“I didn’t have anything else,” says Mault. “I had a curve that curved when it wanted to. I couldn’t throw a change-up.
“My theory was throw hard in case they missed it. That’s how I pitched.”
Mault began his post-high school career with head coach Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College.
“It seemed like home,” says Mault. “It’s out in the middle of nowhere with cornfields.”
Mault grew up on a farm and still tends to chores at his in-law’s place in Wawaka, Ind., besides a full work week as parts/service advisor at Burnworth & Zollars Auto Group in Ligonier and having a half dozen lawns to mow.
Mault was a medical redshirt his freshmen year at Olney Central after a hairline tear was found in his ulnar collateral ligament, which is similar to the injury that leads to Tommy John surgery.
“(Surgery) was not even suggested,” says Mault. “Tommy John doesn’t make you throw harder. It’s the rehab (which for Mault took about nine months).
“The next year was a mental block. I just didn’t feel comfortable throwing hard.”
In his third year at OCC, Mault was back to normal and the Blue Knights won 39 games.
“We lways made it to (conference) championship game and got beat — usually by John A. Logan or Wabash Valley,” says Mault.
Olney played in a fall tournament at Austin Peay State. Governors head coach Gary McClure was looking for a closer so Conley used starter Mault to finish two games.
Once at Austin Peay State, Mault set the single-season school record with 10 saves in 2003. In his senior year (2004), he alternated closing and starting until he accumulated the three saves he needed for what made him at the time the Governors’ career saves leader.
Springfield/Ozark Ducks manager Greg Tagert offered Mault a chance to play with that independent professional team. He instead went for what turned out to be a very brief stint with the Gateway Grizzlies.
“I pitched in one game and they let me go,” says Mault. “When there’s money involved, it’s cut-throat.
“But if not for that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. Everything works out.”
That winter, Mault attended a camp in Florida run by Brad Hall (who has worked with Stephen Strasburg) and Matt Stark and learned mechanics.
Mault’s velocity went from sometimes touching 92 mph to 96.
“My arm never hurt again,” says Mault, who was 6-foot, 158 pounds as a pro player. “I was using the lower half. My floor work. I was using my hips and keeping my body straight.
“I pitched like Tim Lincecum all through high school and college.”
Seattle Mariners scout Stark signed Mault and after short stints in extended spring training and Everett, Wash., he went to High-A ball in San Bernadino, Calif. (Inland Empire), where he made 14 relief appearances, struck out 13 and walked 13 in 20 1/3 innings with a 3.10 earned run average.
Mault was released the following year in spring training.
“I worked out with Triple-A,” says Mault. “I was on the field for two hours and got called back in and they let me go. That was rough.
“But I was still going to play.”
He came back to Noble County and worked on the farm then finished college in fall of 2004.
In 2006, Tagert was in his second season as manager of the Gary SouthShore RailCats and brought Mault aboard. The righty went 0-2 in eight games (six in relief) with five strikeouts and five walks in 18 1/3 innings with a 4.91 ERA.
Mault was reunited with former Olney Central assistant Andy Haines in 2007. At that point he was manager of the Windy City ThunderBolts in Crestwood, Ill., and is now hitting coach with the Milwaukee Brewers. The pitcher went 3-0 in 11 contests (eight in relief) with 21 K’s and 17 walks in 24 1/3 innings and a 3.70 ERA before his pro career came to a close at 26.
Jeff and Abbey Mault have two children — daughter Cora (9) and son Casyn (6). Abbey is an Arts teacher at Central Noble Junior/Senior High School in Albion, Ind.
Jeff Mault, who pitched at West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., Olney (Ill.) Central College and Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn., was signed by the Seattle Mariners and pitched in Everett, Wash., in 2005. (Everett AquaSox Photo)
Jeff Mault, a former college and professional pitcher, offers instruction at Extra Mile Baseball in Kimmel, Ind.