Tag Archives: Little League World Series

Former Columbus North, Louisville player Mann making his way in the Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

At 6-foot-3, first-year professional Devin Mann is not a typical second baseman.

Of the 30 second sackers in the No. 1 slot on the latest Major League Baseball depth charts, just two are listed as taller than 6-3. Colorado’s D.J. LeMahieu and Milwaukee’s Travis Shaw are both 6-4. Eleven current 2B starters are shorter that 6-foot. And that doesn’t count two stars on the disabled list — 5-6 Jose Altuve of Houston and 5-9 Dustin Pedroia of Boston.

Pedroia is Mann’s favorite player.

Why?

“I just like how he plays the game,” says Mann. “He plays the game really hard.

“He goes about his business everyday. That’s what they taught at (the University of) Louisville. I love that about him.”

Mann, 21, was a shortstop during his four seasons at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, which concluded in 2015.

When Mann arrived at the Louisville, he was moved to second base by Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell.

That was the position played by McDonnell at The Citadel and he put Mann through enough reps on that side of the infield that it became his natural defensive spot.

“(McDonnell) helped mold me (at second base) everyday,” says Mann. “Every kid deserves to play for a coach like that — the things he does for you as a baseball player and a person off the field don’t compare to anyone else.”

Mann also learned to flourish with the bat.

The right-handed swinger hit .303 in 39 games with no homers, nine doubles, 17 RBIs and one stolen base in 2016, .268 in 64 games with eight homers, 11 doubles, 44 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 2017 and .303 in 69 games with seven homers, 17 doubles, 52 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 2018. He hit in the No. 3 slot for the Cards this past spring.

Mann earned Atlantic Coast Conference honors in each of his three college seasons — all-freshman in 2016, third team in 2017 and all-tournament in 2018.

During that span, the Cardinals combined to go 148-45 with NCAA tournament appearances each season. U of L went to the College World Series in 2017. Louisville had eight players drafted each year, including first-rounder Brendan McKay and Jeffersonville’s Drew Ellis in 2017 and Batesville’s Bryan Hoeing (who’s announced he’s returning to Louisville for 2018-19) and Mann in 2018.

Mann was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After two games with Arizona League Dodgers, Mann has logged 38 with the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons in Midland, Mich., and is hitting .252 with one homer, eight doubles, 14 RBIs and five stolen bases. He consistently hitting from the third or fourth hole in the Great Lakes lineup.

Mann’s first professional long ball — a two-run shot — came July 8 in Midland against Dayton.

John Shoemaker is the Loons manager. The hitting coach is Jair Fernandez.

Mann says he has gained an awareness as a hitter. He recognizes the pitches he can do damage on and aggressively pursues those pitches.

“I’ve trained myself to see pitches early and have an awareness of the strike zone,” says Mann. “It’s paid dividends for me.

“I’ve definitely worked hard at it.”

Watching his power numbers go up at the end of his college career, Mann credits the increase too good mechanics and hitting his preferred pitch more times than not.

“It’s about not missing the pitch you’re getting each at-bat,” says Mann. “The rest might be pitcher’s pitches which are tougher to hit.”

Told the importance of finding a daily routine in pro baseball, where games are played nearly everyday, Mann says he was able to find one early.

Mann more of less re-wrote the offensive record book at Columbus North, finishing his prep career as the Bull Dogs’ career leader in average (.449), runs (118), hits (150), doubles (36), triples (10), home runs (20), RBI (111) and stolen bases (92). The right-handed swinger batted .410 with nine homers and 35 RBIs as a senior, earning all-state honors. He hit .433 average with 14 doubles and 24 RBIs as a junior. He set single-season records for average (.532) and stolen bases (30) as a sophomore.

His head coach was Ben McDaniel.

“He’s similar to Coach McDonnell,” says Mann of McDaniel. “He cares about you as a person off the field and knows the game.

“He demands the most out of you everyday. That’s what a team needs. He treats everybody the same — varsity, JV and freshmen.”

Devin, an only child, calls McDaniel “a second father” and says he and his parents — Bill and Diana Mann — are close friends. Bill owns Moore’s Roofing and Diana works for an asset management company.

Growing up in Columbus, Devin played early travel baseball for the Indiana Blazers. His 12-year-old summer, he was at Bartholomew County Little League as it attempted a run at the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

Mann also played travel ball for the Indiana Nitro and then the Indiana Bulls leading into his junior and senior years at Columbus North.

Dan Held was his head coach with the Bulls.

“He taught us about work ethic and getting the most out of each day,” says Mann of Held, who is now on the baseball staff at Indiana University.

Mann was a sport management major in college and is a semester shy of graduation. He says he plans to finish his degree this year or next.

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Devin Mann, a Columbus, Ind., native is playing with the Great Lakes Loons in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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A shortstop at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, Devin Mann was moved to second base at the University of Louisville and that’s where he plays much of the time in his first professional baseball season. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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Devin Mann, who played at Columbus (Ind.) North High School and the University of Louisville, smacks a pitch as a member of the Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League. (Great Lakes Loons)

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Devotion to routine has Jeffersonville’s Ellis excelling in Diamondbacks system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drew Ellis has displayed baseball talent from an early age.

With father Derek Ellis as his coach, Drew was part of the Jeff/JRC team that won a Great Lakes Region championship and went to the 2008 Little League in Williamsport, Pa. His team went to make the Final Four of the 2010 Junior League World Series in Taylor, Mich.

Drew — the oldest of three Ellis boys — turned heads at Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School and in travel baseball with the local Indiana Elite and Indiana Bulls. He graduated from Jeff in 2014 after being honorable mention all-state three times in baseball and twice in basketball.

He excelled in two seasons at the University of Louisville. After redshirting in 2015, Ellis hit .309 with three home runs, six doubles and 22 runs batted in over 47 games his first collegiate season of 2016.

Then came 2017.

Ellis, who was born in Louisville, helped the Dan McDonnell-coached Cardinals (53-12) by hitting .355 with 20 homers, 18 doubles and 61 RBIs in 65 games for the 2017 College World Series qualifiers.

American Baseball Coaches Association, Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, D1 Baseball and Perfect Game all named Ellis a First Team All-America. He was on the Baseball America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Second Team All-America squads along with being a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and Golden Spikes Award. He was also all-Atlantic Coast Conference first team on the diamond and the ACC Baseball Scholar-Athlete of the Year as a sports management major.

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Ellis in the second round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

After hitting .227 with eight home runs, eight doubles and 23 runs batted in over 48 games for the Short Season Class-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in 2017, Ellis moved up to the High-A Visalia (Calif.) Rawhide in 2018 and is hitting .267  with 10 homers, 26 doubles and 52 RBIs through 73 games.

The links’ in the Diamondbacks minor league chain above Visalia of the California League are the Double-A Jackson (Tenn.) Generals and Triple-A Reno (Nev.) Aces.

In his last 10 games, he’s at .341 with one homer and 10 RBIs through July 4.

MLB Pipeline calls the 6-foot-3, 212-pound righty-swinging third baseman the No. 8 prospect in the D-backs organization. Three of the top seven are pitchers.

In his second minor league season, Ellis compares professional and college baseball.

“Professional baseball is a lot more on your own,” says Drew Ellis, 22. “You’re told what to do in college. In professional baseball, you’re held accountable for what you do. If you don’t do the things you need to do to get ready for each day, you’re not going to have success.

“In college, everybody does the same thing because you’re on a schedule. When you get to professional baseball, you’re on your own and you create your own destiny with that.”

To keep contributing to his team, Ellis has found a way to prepare that suits him.

“I have my own routine,” says Drew Ellis. “You have to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s all about making adjustments and sometimes you have to make adjustments on the fly.

“But it starts with your routine.”

With 52 homers and 82 doubles since his junior year of high school, many would call Ellis a power hitter.

“I guess you could say that,” says Drew Ellis. “I look at myself as a professional hitter, whether I’m going up and seeing six or seven pitches or barreling up every ball I see. I like to see myself as a really good hitter.

“I’ve stayed with my approach this year and have not strayed away from it. I recognize the pitch and put a good swing on it.”

Derek is not hesitant to agree with Drew’s employer in labeling him a power hitter.

“The Diamondbacks think he’s a power hitter and is going to hit 25 or 30 homers a year as he progresses,” says Derek Ellis. “He’s doing great. I’m not going to bet against him.”

Derek Ellis has been on the Jeffersonville High coaching staff since the 2008 season and the Red Devils head coach since 2013. He watched Drew play shortstop for four seasons at JHS and then move to Louisville, where McDonnell made him an everyday third baseman.

“What a blessing for Drew to play for a guy like that,” says Derek Ellis of McDonnell. “What you see is what you get. He’s genuine. He’s a great motivator. He’s one of the best coaches in the country.

“The U of L program is really regimented. It really helped him make the transition to pro ball.”

In December 2017, Derek opened the Ellis Baseball Academy in Jeffersonville. The training facility takes up half of an 8,000-square foot building and has three batting and one pitching tunnel. Several area travel teams have asked to use the space.

All three of Derek and Jennifer Ellis’ three sons are baseball players.

Ian Ellis (20) is a right-batting third baseman/second baseman/right-handed pitcher who finished his second year at Olney (Ill.) Community College in 2017 and transferred to Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Jack Ellis (17) is heading into his senior season at Jeffersonville and has already committed to play college baseball at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. This summer, the lefty-hitting third baseman is with the Indiana Bulls Black 17U team, which went to the Perfect Game 2018 Grads or 17U World Wood Bat Association National Championship at the LakePoint Sports Complex in Cartersville, Ga.

Derek Ellis played for three Hall of Fame coaches — Don Poole at Jeffersonville, Jerry Blemker at Vincennes University and Bob Warn at Indiana State University.

“Those two are instrumental in who I am,” says Derek Ellis of Poole and Blemker. “(Poole) expected you to show up and play hard and taught me a lot about game strategy.

“(Blemker) taught me how to be a man. I was a boy going into junior college and thought I knew everything.”

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Drew Ellis shows the batting form that has him hitting .267  with 10 home runs, 26 doubles and 52 RBIs through 73 games for the High Class-A Visalia Rawhide. Ellis is a Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate and former All-America at the University of Louisville. (Visalia Rawhide Photo)

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Drew Ellis, a former Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School and University of Louisville standout, is now enjoying baseball success in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. (Visalia Rawhide Photo)

New Albany graduate Rogers stays in control as pitcher in Yankees organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh Rogers gets paid to throw a baseball now.

But the left-handed pitcher in the New York Yankees system is still following the advice of his head coach at New Albany High School.

Rogers was advised by Chris McIntyre to focus on the mental side of the game and things he can control and not to worry about those he can’t.

“It’s stuck with me,” says Rogers, who counts McIntyre as a good friend. “It’s like wanting to move up the ladder in the Yankees organization. I had been playing well in Tampa for so long.”

But Rogers knows that is the Yankees’ call.

After going 4-3 in eight starts with a 2.22 earned run average, 51 strikeouts and eight walks in 52 2/3 innings with the High Class-A Tampa Yankees (recently renamed the Tarpons), the southpaw starter did get the call in late May of 2017 to advance to the Double-A Trenton Thunder.

Before a bone spur ended his season on June 28, Rogers went 4-2 in seven starts with a 4.62 ERA, 29 K’s and eight walks in 39 innings.

“It’s been a long off-season for me,” says Rogers, who has been working out at the Katy Hearn Gym in New Albany and resumed throwing about three weeks ago in preparation for a Jan. 12 arrival at spring camp in Tampa. “I’m definitely going early. I’m comfortable with the Yankees staff. I hope to get an invite to big league camp this year.”

As a youngster, Rogers played in the New Albany Little League. Prior to his days at New Albany High School, his team came within one win of going to the Little league World Series in Williamsport, Pa., losing in the finals of the 2007 Great Lakes Regional.

For the next three summers, he played for the Indiana Prospects elite travel ball organization.

As a New Albany High Bulldog, he went 24-2 with a 1.07 ERA and 259 strikeouts.

He had already chosen the University of Louisville over Vanderbilt University prior to his senior season, which wound up lasting only a few innings in the first game of the season.

Rogers felt a twinge in his left elbow.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” says Rogers, who wound up having Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He graduated from New Albany June 2 and enrolled in summer school at Louisville the next day. He worked out twice a day and rehabbed his arm.

“It was a real grind,” says Rogers. “But it paid off. I came back sooner than we expected.”

The 6-foot-3 lefty was able to pitch for the Cardinals about a month into the 2014 season. He made 14 mound appearances (nine starts) and went 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA, 47 strikeouts and 12 walks in 52 innings.

Rogers then spent the first of two straight summers with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League.

“That’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball,” says Rogers, who was a combined 4-1 in nine starts with a 3.60 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 18 walks in 45 1/3 innings in 2014 and 2015. “The best players in college baseball are all in that league.”

Rogers earned second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and his second all-Louisville Regional selection in 2015, going 8-1 in 16 starts with a 3.36 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 25 walks in 93 2/3 innings.

At the Louisville, Rogers played for head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

Rogers credits McDonnell for his leadership and getting him ready for the challenge of pro baseball.

“It’s impressive the way he lives his life,” says Rogers of McDonnell. “He takes advantage of every single minute to make people better.

“When you go to the University of Louisville, you know what you’re getting into. It’s not an easy journey. You’ve got to earn that playing time.

“You also learn how to eat right, work out right and sleep right. These are things that have gone a long way into helping me with my career to this point.”

Rogers retired many a high school hitter with his breaking ball. In college, Williams convinced him that was not the way to go at higher levels.

“He’s the No. 1 reason I chose the University of Louisville,” says Rogers of Williams. “Hitters were at such a disadvantage when I threw a curve in high school. I thought that would carry over to college or professional baseball. (Williams taught me) a well-located fastball is the best pitch in baseball. Coach Williams really taught me how to pitch.”

Being draft-eligible after his sophomore season, the lefty was selected in the 11th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Yankees and signed with area scout Mike Gibbons.

Rogers split the 2015 season with the short-season Staten Island Yankees and Low Class-A Charlestown (S.C.) RiverDogs then 2016 with Charleston and Tampa. In those first two pro seasons, he went 14-6 in 29 appearances (24 starts) with a 2.71 ERA, 131 strikeouts and 25 walks in 139 2/3 innings.

Josh (23) is he oldest child in a family of five. Bobby and Eldora also have Haley (21) and Chase (12). The family was able to watch Josh pitch in-person plenty when he was at Louisville and they have gotten to see him a few times in each of his pro seasons.

Rogers is 38 credits shy of a sport administration degree at Louisville.

“I promised my parents and Coach Mac that I will get my degree,” says Rogers. “I’ll keep chipping away at it.”

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Rogers looks to command his pitch selection of fastball (thrown as a four- or two-seamer or cutter), slider and change-up. When he was moved up to Double-A, he was convinced to throw the fastball even more frequently — maybe 65 percent of the time.

Rogers spent many an hour in the bullpen with Tampa pitching coach Tim Norton learning to develop the change-up and making mechanical delivery tweaks. The two also battled it out on the golf course.

“It’s a pretty cool relationship,” says Rogers. “You don’t call them ‘Coach’ in pro ball, just their name.”

While the Yankees certainly take an interest in the development of a player, he knows the responsibility ultimately lies with that player.

“It’s your career,” says Rogers. “If you’re not ready and slacking, it’s up to you.

“The Yankees do a lot of job of giving people equal opportunity. It just may take longer to someone that is a higher draft pick that they’ve given more money to.

If you control what you can control and focus on helping your team win every time out, the chips will fall where they’re supposed to.”

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Josh Rogers, a 2013 New Albany High School graduate who pitched two seasons at the University of Louisville and was drafted in 2015 by the New York Yankees, delivers a pitch in 2017 for the Double-A Trenton Thunder. (Trenton Thunder Photo)

 

 

McIntyre gives back to the game as North Central coach, IHSBCA leader

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

North Central High School of Indianapolis competes in a conference and sectional loaded with baseball talent.

The Panthers — with Phil McIntyre as head coach — take on opponents in the mighty Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, Pike and Warren Central). North Central is grouped in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional with Carmel, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville and Westfield.

“Our kids play at a very high level,” says McIntyre, who enters his 13th season on East 86th Street in 2017-18. “I think we play in the toughest sectional.”

The MIC plays 14 home-and-home conference games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The Panthers are also in the 16-team Marion County Tournament, which takes four wins to earn the championship — something NC did in 2016. Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis — site of the IHSAA State Finals — plays host to the championship games for the county and city tournaments. Being inside or outside the I-465 corridor determines the tournament for Indianapolis area teams.

“It’s almost tougher than winning a sectional,” says McIntyre of the county tournament. “(The tough schedule) that just gets our kids motivated. All our kids have the goal to play college baseball.”

And that’s not all.

North Central is renowned for its high academic standards and was one of the state’s first to offer an International Baccalaureate program. School policy dictates that all athletes must carry at least a 2.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale to be eligible.

NC baseball regularly posts a of 3.4 or better and has many academic all-state honorees.

“There’s a lot of opportunities,” says McIntyre, who teaches health and physical education in addition to his coaching duties. “We have more (Advanced Placement) courses than (many schools). It makes (our athletes) well-rounded.”

“Coach Mac” has built his program on the principles of respect for the game, selflessness and mental toughness.

“Our kids work very hard in what they do,” says McIntyre. “It’s a lot of fun to see their growth.”

The Panthers emphasize things like the hit-and-run, sacrifice and quality at-bats.

“They do that without having to be told,” says McIntyre. “It’s been a growing process when it comes to that.”

McIntyre is also proud to see alums come back to support current players.

“That shows something about our program,” says McIntyre.

North Central had a proud baseball moment this summer when outfielder Roy Thurman III was selected as MVP of the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie. The 2018 series will be played in South Bend at Four Winds Field.

McIntyre, who served as South head coach for the 2013 series, was there in his role as assistant to IHSBCA director Brian Abbott.

In his role, former association president McIntyre heads up the Junior Showcase at the all-star series and helps form and facilitate committees. Among those are North/South All-Star Series, State Clinic, Academic All-State, Media Relations, Top 10 Polls, Districts (there are 16 of them) and Umpire of the Year.

McIntyre enjoyed his experience with the American Baseball Coaches Association (which will hold its 2018 national convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis) when he was an assistant to Bret Shambaugh at Marian College (now Marian University) and Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI).

When McIntyre entered the high school ranks as an assistant to Steve Strayer at Boone Grove, he became acquainted with Bill Jones, the executive director and one of the IHSBCA founding fathers. He became hooked on the fellowship and the cooperation in the association.

“I just love being around coaches and learning,” says McIntyre. “It just means something to me — learning from those coaches and giving back.”

McIntyre gained passion for baseball while playing for head coach Charles Tait at Rensselaer Central High School. Phil graduated in 1990 and became the first in his family to go to college. He played for Shambaugh at Marian and got his degree in 1994.

“I learned so much about what I did not know (from Shambaugh),” says McIntyre. “(He is) why I wanted to be a coach.”

Shambaugh taught lessons about fundamentals and discipline which McIntyre still uses.

After a year at Boone Grove, McIntyre spent nine seasons as a varsity assistant for Wayne Johnson and then Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg. He was there when the community send teams to the Little League World Series in 1999 and 2001 and when the BHS Bulldogs had future major leaguers Lance Lynn, Drew Storen and Tucker Barnhart.

Brownsburg went to three straight IHSAA state championship games — finishing as runners-up in both 2003 and 2004 and going 35-0 as champs in 2005.

McIntyre took over a North Central program that had been struggling and won a sectional crown the first season (2006).

Getting the Panthers ready for 2018 will be McIntyre and his coaching staff of Scott King, Gabe Hoffman, Chad Cunningham, Nick Birch, Seth Hoffman, Tim Short and Katie Cluver. With Philip Webb leaving the staff to become head coach at Western Boone, McIntyre is sorting out roles. He has named Cluver as NC’s head freshmen coach.

“It’s a great opportunity for her,” says McIntyre of Cluver, the daughter of a coach who went to high school and college in Illinois. “The association has been very supportive.”

One season into the new IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days), McIntyre has a few observations.

“It was a learning experience this year when it came to our pitch count rule,” says McIntyre.  “Some teams had to take players out of (tournament games) because they reached their pitch limit. But that’s part of the game.”

McIntyre, who would like to see the IHSAA lengthen the season and add games (right now teams play 26 plus a tournament) and have championship series rather than a single-game title contest, says arm care is the most important thing and the rule forces teams to develop pitching depth.

“I kind of like that myself,” says McIntyre. “It really effects JV and C-team during the regular season. They have (a lower pitch limit and) more games in a shorter amount of times and need more pitchers. Do you have enough arms at the smaller schools? It becomes a numbers game.”

The number in the McIntyre household is four. Phil and wife Marlene have two children — Grace (17) and Ty (14).

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Phil McIntyre is the head baseball coach at North Central High School in Indianapolis and assistant to the executive director for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association.

 

Technology meets training at Teddy Ballgames

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Taking technology and using it to train and entertain.

That’s what owner Mike Branch is doing with his baseball and softball training facility in South Bend called Teddy Ballgames.

Opened in 2016, the place features six indoor batting cages.

One cage is set up with the HitTrax Baseball Simulator, a state-of-the art video capture system capable of tracking the path of a batted ball and displaying it on a big screen monitor.

“This generation is visual,” says Branch. “They don’t realize how cool this is. For somebody our age, we didn’t have this when we were growing up. We didn’t have video. We didn’t have the information that made us better hitters. You either hit or didn’t.”

Branch said the system takes instruction and training from the old “keep your eye on the ball” and allows the player to see what the mechanics of a swing look like.

With patent pending HitTrax technology feedback data telling them the location and speed of the pitch and their average exit velocity plus distance and location of hits (spray chart), they learn things like taking the outside pitch the other way and what pitch they can strike with the biggest probability of getting a hit.

“Eventually, they become their best hitting coach,” says Branch. “My son is 13 and I still work with him quite a but I’ll have him go through some of his swings and assess himself.”

HitTrax users start out with a baseline assessment and can be tracked for progress over a period of time.

Branch notes that not all players and coaches will embrace the technology, preferring to stick with age-old methods.

“Men have egos,” says Branch. “The fact is you can’t see everything at full speed.”

But the lifelong baseball fan (the Bridgman (Mich.) High School graduate roots for the Detroit Tigers) says this is where the game is going.

“This is how the pros train (with video),” says Branch. “They use video of the pitcher and they use video of their own swing to determine what they’re doing so they can make those small adjustments.”

Because of the considerable investment in the system (there are not that many available to the public in Indiana), Branch charges more for the HitTrax cage, but has tried to keep it just a little higher than bowling alley fees.

HitTrax offers a data plan subscription where registered users can flag their videos and have access to them on a mobile device. Branch charges $12 a month for this service. Otherwise, players can see their videos at the facility.

Branch and Teddy Ballgames instructor Greg Harris (head coach at South Bend Riley High School) are both certified through the Mike Epstein rotational hitting program (TB throwing instructors include John Coddington and Jeff Jackowiak).

In teaching with HitTrax, Branch has learned a few things about working with young hitters.

“You can use cues positively now so they can start to make those improvements,” says Branch. “And you want them to become engaged. If I’m showing a kid this video and he’s staring at the ground, he’s really not picking it up.

Every kid is different in how they take coaching. You want to try to make it a positive thing.”

Branch emphasizes that this tool is being used to make them better and to identify where improvement is needed.

“‘I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I’m trying to make you understand what you’re doing wrong,’’’ says Branch is repeating his message to his players.

Staying positive is important. The idea is to uplift and not discourage.

“You can’t be all negative, especially with younger hitters,” says Branch.

Similar to golf simulators that allow players to tee it up at Augusta or Pebble Beach, HitTrax entertainment features include the ability to hit in any Major League Baseball park and even the site of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Sessions can be set up for birthday parties, where attendees can go for the fences in a “Home Run Derby.”

Remote games can be played. Teddy Ballgames recently got 12U and 14U players to take on C-Side Sports in Washington, Pa., another facility with HitTrax.

Leaderboards are kept in-house and on the regional level to let players see how their scores — mostly tied to exit velocity — stack up with others. A Quality Hit Club competition is underway that pays $250 to the winner.

Branch started going to the batting cages for therapy after an accident about 15 years ago and began wondering where his solid strikes would have landed. He then did extensive study into video analysis technology, including discussions with Wayne State University about developing such a system.

“I knew it was going to take cameras, but then it got out of my wheelhouse,” says Branch.

Cost and the time it would take to process feedback caused him to back off. Then came word from his brother that the technology had been advanced by HitTrax.

“When I found out about it, I got very excited about it,” says Branch. “They took it a little farther on the training side.

“I was thinking more of the entertainment side. I wanted to be able to do remote tournaments and leaderboards and those things.”

Branch says the technology expedited his decision to transition from the rental business to the baseball training business.

The name of his facility pays homage to Hall of Famer Ted Williams aka “Teddy Ballgame.” The cages are surrounded with photos and books on Williams and others from baseball’s storied past.

“When we were kids, we listened to baseball on the radio,” says Branch. “Today, a lot of kids don’t follow the game. There are a lot more distractions for kids. I wanted to educate the younger generation on players like Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig.”

Of course it’s his business, but Branch sees the real worth in having a place to train — not just during the winter months — but spring, summer and fall, too.

“This may be a little controversial, but I believe the people in the south work at it harder than we do in the north,” says Branch. “We continually give the excuses that it’s nice year-round down there.

“Why are there more indoor facilities in the south than there are here? We go to our team practices and our games, but we don’t go back to our individual work. That’s just my opinion.”

Branch notes that one family visiting from the south came to him during Christmas break, saying their son could not go two weeks without batting practice because all the kids where he came from were still practicing.

“It has to be a cultural change,” says Branch. “We have to  get out of our paradigm of what we think is enough. I look at this and I’m excited about, but not everybody has that reaction to it.”