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Baseball helps Grace College grad Grigsby get around globe

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Logan Grigsby has seen many parts of the world and baseball has been his helped punch his ticket.

Born in Riverside, Calif., on July 11, 1995, Grigsby attended Rim of the World High School in Arrowhead Lake, which is near San Bernadino and 80 miles east of Los Angeles.

“Going into my senior year of high school I had no idea of the processes for recruiting,” says Grigsby “My dad was my scout. He researched showcases.”

After attending a showcase in northern California, sending out a video produced by his father (Brock Grigsby) and meeting financial planner who specializes in finding places to play, Logan was sent a list of college baseball candidates that fit his profile.

I really wanted to play baseball

“If I had just wanted to go to college, I might have went to school in California,” says Grigsby, who narrowed his preferences to Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. 

Gordon and Messiah are NCAA Division III schools and do not offer athletic scholarship money. NAIA-affiliated Grace does.

Grigsby visited to all three campuses. Though it was a cold, wintry day in northern Indiana, he came away impressed by Grace and the right-handed pitcher joined the Lancers.

Eric Gonzalez recruited Grigsby, but was not still on campus when the Californian joined the Lancers.

A versatile player, he was a pitcher, shortstop and center fielder in high school.

At Grace, Grigsby was a valuable pinch runner at the beginning of his career who worked his way to one of the top pitchers by the end.

In all, he played in 118 games. He made 50 mound appearances (24 as a starter) and won nine games while striking out 135 and walking 65 in 148 2/3 innings. All five of his complete games came in his final two seasons with the Lancers.

He played four seasons — three with Bill Barr as head coach and one for a program led by Cam Screeton — and earned a Business Administration degree in 2017.

That summer Grigsby played for the SoCal Bombers in the Southern California Collegiate Baseball League and looked for more diamond opportunities. 

Through a conversation between the Bombers general manager Tony Gonzalez and former big league pitcher Mike Hartley, who played and coached in Germany, Grigsby found himself pitching professionally in that country.

While at Grace, he also became familiar with Tom Roy, who wore various hats during Grigsby’s time on the Grace campus, including pitching coach, team chaplain and mentor. Roy was co-head coach at Grace with Ryan Roth in 2019. Roth was made the lone head coach for 2020.

“Tom is awesome,” says Grigsby of Roy. “He’s been a huge influence in my life.”

It turns out that Roy was also good friends with Heidenheim catcher Simon Gühring, whom he knew through Unlimited Potential, Inc. The baseball-based ministry was founded by Roy.

“God was good enough to put these people in my life,” says Grigsby. “It just made sense. I always wanted to live in Germany. Growing up, I had visited there. I have a lot of family there — all on my mom’s side.”

Logan’s mother — Maren Poetshick Grigsby — was born in Hamburg, Germany and European Union passport-holder Logan played for Heidenheim Heideköepfe in the German Baseball-Bundesliga in 2018 and 2019.

Brock and Maren Grigsby have four sons — Fritz (29), Cody (27), Logan (25) and Leif (23).

The Bundesliga’s regular season is around 40 games typically running from April to September plus the finals in October. The team played mostly on Saturdays and Sundays.

Heidenheim won the South Division, competed in the Champions Cup in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and lost in the German championship in 2018. 

Grigsby also coached a 12U youth squad. 

At the end of the 2019 season, he was invited to go with the German national team for training camp in Japan and then helped win a German title.

After two weeks in the U.S., he went to play for the Ipswich Musketeers of the Greater Brisbane League in Queensland, Australia. He was there from early October 2019 through February 2020.

Grigsby had planned to return to Germany for the spring and summer when Nettuno Baseball Club 1945 in the Italian Baseball League made him a generous contract offer to join Nettuno’s lanciatori (pitchers) and get a chance to log more innings than he did the previous two summers.

He is the lone American on the team.

As was the case in Germany, Nettuno pays for Grigsby’s flights, lodging (he lives in a flat with three other players) and the use of a car. 

Games tend to be on weekends and maybe once during the week. This has given him time to take the train to Rome (Nettuno, also in the Lazio region, is 37 miles or 60 kilometers south) for sightseeing. 

The beach in Nettuno — a resort town on the Tyrrhenian Sea — is a 5-minute walk from from Grigsby’s flat. 

Grigsby signed with Nettuno in February, returned home for brother Leif’s wedding and then came the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

He finally arrived in Italy on July 1. 

“Of course there were doubts,” says Grigsby. “The season should’ve started the first week of April.”

While waiting a phone message, Grigsby moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., moved in with childhood friend Jacob Ochs and worked as a carpenter for his father’s cousin, Byron Beck.

“It was the ideal situation,” says Grigsby. “I had a job, a private gym and a personal throwing partner.”

The Italian season started Saturday, July 18.

“Once-in-a-lifetime has turned into a regular occurrence for me,” says Grigsby.

When Grigsby played in Germany, family and friends would would did not know the language ask him to translate. He does not speak Italian. He points them to tools like Google Translate.

Two of his roommates in Italy are Dominicans, including Ariel Soriano.

“I might learn more Spanish than Italian,” says Grigsby.

Nettuno Baseball 1945 games are streamed on the team’s YouTube Channel.

Logan Grigsby, a 2017 graduate of Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is now playing professional player in Italy with Nettuno Baseball Club 1945. (Nettuno Baseball Club 1945 Photo)
Logan Grigsby, a 2017 graduate of Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., played professional baseball in Germany in 2018 and 2019 for Heidenheim Heideköepfe. He is now in Italy with Nettuno Baseball Club 1945. (Nettuno Baseball Club 1945 Photo)

South Bend’s Wawrzyniak helps ballplayers navigate language, cultural gaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Building better communication bonds between foreign professional baseball players and the club’s that employ them.

That’s what Linda Wawrzyniak is doing for the game with her Higher Standards Academy, LLC. When she started her business it was tied to adult education.

It has morphed into a service for teams who have increased their international investments and built baseball academies in Latin American countries but did not have an effective system to integrate players in ways that include more than balls, strikes and outs.

Based in South Bend and traveling extensively in the U.S. and Latin America, the bilingual Wawrzyniak works to help athletes navigate language and culture gaps.

She teaches English classes and so much more.

Wawrzyniak and HSA had a contract with South Bend Community School Corp., when she was approached about a decade ago by the South Bend Silver Hawks, then a Low Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. That’s where she met South Bend field manager Mark Haley and D-backs executives. They wanted her to teach a few language classes.

“My son was in baseball at the time,” says Wawrzyniak. “I thought it would be fun. Then I realized that they didn’t have a great system to do this. Guys didn’t have a lot coming in and when they left, I didn’t know what they were going to. There were a lot of holes.”

Immersing herself into the world of baseball and figuring out how to help these young foreigners pursuing their diamond dreams, Wawrzyniak created a necessary niche.

“There’s just a ton of need,” says Wawrzyniak. “The broad brush stroke of English doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s so much that happens behind the scenes when they’re with us. It’s trust. We’re a different kind of coach, really.

“We’re not just teaching English, we’re teaching a few other things. It’s the heart. It’s the cognitive processes of learning. It’s having another person to lean on emotionally.”

Wawrzyniak notes that it takes 500 hours in a classroom setting to learn conversational English.

“We don’t have 500 hours, so we have to do it faster,” says Wawrzyniak. “You develop some systems and methodologies.”

Many contractors work in-season only. Wawrzyniak trains them and oversees their programs.

“We take a lot of time to find good people,” says Wawrzyniak.

Major League Baseball requires all its teams have an integration program in the Dominican Republic. Some hire teachers and others have someone on staff.

By investing much time and energy, Wawrzyniak has learned how to get the conversation started and how to build relationships.

“With what I do, you’ve got to know those kids,” says Wawrzyniak. “You’re not just supplying paper and pencils. You know lives. You’re directly involved with player development. I know those kids and I know the teachers that know those kids.”

Three of the many players that Wawrzyniak has a connection with and has watched blossom in professional baseball are Venezuelans Ender Inciarte and Wilson Contreras and Dominican Eloy Jimenez.

Inciarte, 26, played in South Bend in 2010 and 2011, broke into the big leagues with Arizona in 2014 and is now with the Atlanta Braves. The center fielder was recognized as one of baseball’s best defenders in 2016.

“To see him win the Gold Glove, I cried,” says Wawrzyniak. “I was overjoyed for him. I knew the struggles he went through. He struggled with losing his father. For awhile, it really slowed him down but it didn’t stop him.”

Contreras, 25, played in the Midwest League in 2013 with Kane County and made his MLB debut with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. A versatile player, he has played most of his pro games as a catcher. He played in Game 7 when the team finally snapped its 108-year world championship drought.

“He just learned to temper himself,” says Wawrzyniak. “He’s a neat person. You watch these players figure out who they are. You see them mature. He learned to make the most of who he was.”

Jimenez, 20, is considered the top prospect in the Cubs system by Baseball America. The outfielder played in South Bend in 2016 and is now at High Class-A Myrtle Beach.

“He’s just a naturally joyful person who loves to play,” says Wawrzyniak, who has faced the rising star in ping pong and basketball. “That’s neat. You don’t see that very often.

“He’s paying attention to every aspect of his career.”

When the Cubs started expanding into the Dominican Republic a few years ago, they sought out Wawrzyniak to help them smooth the transition.

“By that time, I was already working in the D.R. and the U.S.,” says Wawrzyniak. “I already had that international experience and understood what that required.”

She understands that culture is an all-encompassing concept.

“Let’s break that down,” says Wawrzyniak. “Culture is defined as societal norms. But because America is a melting pot, we don’t have one culture. Navigating that is one thing. There’s also gender cultures and age cultures.

“Culture’s a lot of things. Until you’ve had to teach it, you don’t really realize how big that is.”

College-age people today have a different verbiage and values from those of 30 years ago.

“It’s basically a difference in generations,” says Wawrzyniak. “Slang in the United States changes every five years. The reason it changes is that it’s driven by pop media.”

A typical baseball clubhouse is full of multiple generations. The references that a staffer in his 50’s makes may not connect with a player of 20.

“You might have coach who grew up with The Terminator and this new generation who has never seen The Terminator, and the coach says “I’ll be back!” and the Latin goes are going “What?” The Korean guys are going “Huh?” It doesn’t carry.

“If you haven’t integrated social media and pop media into what you’re doing, you’re behind the times. You have to be able to help kids understand those things.”

Wawrzyniak, featured recently on MLB.com, did her job well enough to receive a big thank you from the Cubs — a World Series ring.

“The Cubs are an amazing organization — world class,” says Wawrzyniak. “They didn’t have to give me a ring. But they did because I think they saw the value in working with all these Latin players, which is such a huge percentage of their minor league system.

“Huge progress was made. They saw that and acknowledged that.”

In the Cubs organization, South Bend represents the first full-season team for its minor leaguers. They play 140 regular-season contests compared with about half that at Eugene, Ore., in the short-season Northwest League.

“It’s hard,” says Wawrzyniak. “It’s more games than they’re used to playing. There’s a little more traveling than before. It’s a higher level of competition.”

It’s also “not their first rodeo.”

By the time they come to South Bend, they’ve usually already been in the U.S. three or four times. First there’s a month in the fall instructional league. They go home and then come back for spring training or extended spring training. They return home and then come back the next year for another spring training or extended spring training session before heading to Eugene.

While the Cubs have a nutritionist and many meals are provided, players usually are responsible for one meal a day and they crave foods from back home. Many grocery stores carry Latin American brands like Goya and there’s some chains that are attractive.

“They love Chipotle,” says Wawrzyniak. “That’s as close to home as they can get.”

Of course, it all comes down to the game.

“I’ve learned more baseball than I ever thought I would know,” says Wawrzyniak. “I now see the game within the game. I ask questions of coaches all the time. We build that into our programs.

“It’s not like what you learn in the first year of high school Spanish — Donde Esta La Biblioteca? (where’s the library?). They don’t want to know that. We have to give them words that make sense in their environment. We create materials that correspond to that.”

Wawrzyniak has made it a point to know what it feels like to throw a pitch, swing a bat, make a slide. She watches baseball on TV each night and breaks it down. She has devoured history and statistics.

“It’s not something you can do without knowing,” says Wawrzyniak. “I’ve spent a lot of my time just learning. You’ve got to know all of it. If you want to be effective, you have to. Any field you’re in, you have to know it.”

HSA teaches players how to interact with reporters. Normal conversation-starting questions revolve around who, what, when, where, how and why. But many times it comes across as very open-ended and sets the player up for failure.

“Speaking to the media, to me, is one of the hardest things and it’s not because they don’t have the words,” says Wawrzyniak. “It often comes down to how the question is formulated. There are a variety of ways reporters ask questions and they’re not always the same. One is ‘tell me about …’ That’s so vague.

“Most men don’t like opened-ended questions. (It’s the difference between) ‘tell me about what you envision for Mother’s Day vs. ‘what do you think we should do for Mother’s Day?’ Most guys struggle with that, regardless of their nationality. It’s kind of a sneak attack on these guys because they don’t really know what you want.

“It’s better, when you’re dealing with an international player, to be more specific.”

Wawrzyniak’s advice: The reporter should know what they want from the interviewee when they pose the question.

It’s all about communication and making a connection.

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Linda Wawrzyniak is helping the baseball community integrate foreign players with her Higher Standards Academy, LLC. The Chicago Cubs recently said thank you with a World Series ring.