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Notre Dame’s Ristano expects his pitchers to be aggressive

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Chuck Ristano sees it, delivering a baseball from 60 feet, 6 inches is not passive.

That’s why the pitching coach in his 10th year at the University of Notre Dame takes an active approach with his young athletes.

“Pitching development is a fight,” says Ristano, who was a presenter at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville hosted by Greg Vogt. “It’s aggressive.”

Ristano uses an assessment with his ND arms he calls MMA — Mechanics, Metrics, Arm.

Ristano’s priorities for mechanics:

Establish an efficient/repeatable delivery.

“If you can repeat in an efficient manner we can, hopefully, keep you healthy and put the baseball where you want it,” says Ristano. “There’s not a lot of starts and stops. Once we start, we go.”

“To me, it lacks pauses and slow deliberate actions. Speeding the delivery up is usually one of the adjustments we make before we talk about arm path, hip and shoulder separation and what we look like at foot strike.”

Ristano uses the analogy of riding a bike to talk about funneling energy to home plate.

“I want the energy to go forward,” says Ristano. “If I ride slow and deliberate, I wobble.

“If I ride that line with some pace and stay in control, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to stay on a straight line.”

• Establish dynamic balance.

• Pitch athletically.

“You don’t want to take the venom out of the snake,” says Ristano. “You’re a good athlete and you need to pitch that way.

“The worst label you can get as an amateur or a high school player is the P.O. (pitcher only). It’s the most disgusting verbiage you can have for a pitching coach.

“The game doesn’t go until (the pitcher) decides it does. You start to label yourself into the P.O. mentality, you limit your athleticism.

“We want guys to behave and move athletically and pitch accordingly.”

• Glove in front of chest at release (proper blocking technique).

“We think about breaking the body in half,” says Ristano. “The front side is the steering wheel. The back side is the accelerator.”

Ristano teaches a “shadow sequence” where the delivery is broken down into six phases:

• Low balance. It’s the beginning of the leg lift.

• Dynamic balance. It comes at the peak.

• Hand separation. When the pitcher starts to come down toward the belt buckle.

• Power position/foot strike. Achieve symmetry with the lead and throwing arms.

• Release. Tension on the back side become energy on the front side.

• Finish. This is where the blocking technique comes in. The back foot comes off the ground and front side is firmed up.

In practice, pitchers of drills were they get to each of the phases to test their strengths and weaknesses and gain a feel for their delivery.

“If you want to find where the inefficiency in the delivery is, do it backward (finish to release to power position/foot strike to hand separation to dynamic balance to low balance),” says Ristano. “It’s a little weird. We call it ‘back shaping.’

“Some of these are monotonous, but they can really help if you do it right.”

Ristano also has his hurlers do three core drills:

• 3-pump balance. The quad is lifted three times before a throw is made. It helps to hit delivery check points. Energy is collected. The front foot comes off the ground. It is done at the pace of the delivery.

• Trace/retrace. There is a toe tap, the ball is brought back to the middle and then the throw is made. A trace is made from balance to power to balance. The energy stays over the back quad at landing. At toe tap, the throwing arm should be at peak height to be one time in the release zone.

• Kershaw’s/Houston’s. Based on social media visuals, including those of Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, pitchers doing this drill get to the lowest point in their delivery and pause before they go forward. After that, the front hip goes and the sequencing toward home plate begins. The cues are: Hip, heel, toe, knee.

There’s also a drill that Ristano has called “El Duque’s” based on the delivery of former big league pitcher Orlando Hernandez.

“We throw from the ground up,” says Ristano. “We use the ground to go forward.

How quickly can I get that lower body going and force my upper body to catch up.”

Additional throwing drills (with purpose):

• One-hop drill (extension, release point and athleticism).

• Softball catch (extension and manipulation of spin).

• Maestro (Scap load, hand speed and opposite/equal).

• Weighted glove (stable front side and back side).

• Figure-8’s (hand speed).

Ristano says he has become a real believer in mechanical development via strength and share some statistics.

Reading an MLB.com article from two years ago, Ristano saw that the average height of an American male was 5-foot-10, yet 14 MLB teams didn’t have a pitcher under 6 feet tall.

The New York Yankees had one pitcher under 6-2 and boast five pitchers at least 6-7. The St. Louis Cardinals had eight pitchers 6-4 or taller. The Kansas City Royals were the only team in baseball with five pitchers 6 feet or under.

Of the top 50 pitchers of the last decade, less than five were 200 pounds or less.

“I know you can’t do much to manipulate your height,” says Ristano. “What’s my actionable data?

“I show this to my guys not because ‘mass equals gas.’ But pitchers today are men.

“As you develop, it’s important what training values you choose.

“(Strength and conditioning) is your new modality to get better. Sometimes when you’re having trouble throwing strikes, the key sometimes is not some wild mechanical adjustment. Sometimes it’s just that you lack the strength to be able to execute the highest angular velocity movements — the pitching delivery — that the world knows 100 times in a game and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it.

“You’ll be shocked once you start to hammer the strength and conditioning component, how well your body begins to align even when you’re not thinking about mechanics.

“It works for us.”

Kyle Jean is the strength and conditioning coach for the Irish.

Ristano says that developing the entire kinetic chain is taught at Notre Dame.

A native of Valley Stream, N.Y., and left-hander who pitched at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., certain workouts were not done when Ristano was in college.

“We didn’t touch the upper body,” says Ristano. “We pulled more than we pushed.

“There’s some validity to that to this day still, but we build guys who are big, tough and capable of withstanding 14, 15 or 16 starts if we’re going to pitch in Omaha (at the College World Series.”

Ristano says the earlier a pitcher can adopt this routine, the easier is will be for them.

ND pitchers use many tools including MediBall medicine balls.

Ristano makes these points regarding the value of metrics:

• Quantify what the eye sees.

• Validation of what we already know.

• Seeing some of what we don’t know.

“I know that not everybody has access to Rapsodo, TrackMan, Edgertronic,” says Ristano. “But it will become part of everybody’s development plan.”

ND’s director of baseball operations, who is now Steven Rosen, gives reports to the coaches after every outing and the data is shared with the players.

“What I look at immediately if I’m evaluating metrics is pitch movements (what are my pitches doing?),” says Ristano. This involves vertical and horizontal break plus spin efficiency rates and velocity. “You don’t just track it in singular entities. You have to track it over time to maximize the effectiveness of it.”

As for the arm, Ristano says conditioning is key and that the kinetic chain can break anywhere.

“If you don’t train your body holistically, you’re not conditioning yourself to be today’s pitcher,” says Ristano, who adds a caution. “When you get the benefit of throwing harder, you absorb the risk that angular velocities increase and you become more susceptible, unfortunately, to injury. How many guys throw 100 (mph) now vs. 10 years ago?

“You’ve got to be willing to adapt your training modalities and condition the entire body if you’re going to accept the gift of throwing harder.”

Ristano says low-intensity throwing can build feel for a pitcher.

The coach likes his hurlers to be able to spin the baseball at a low intensity and distance.

“You want to develop secondary stuff,” says Ristano. “Can I pronate from me to you (when playing catch) and still put the ball in your center of mass?”

Ristano says the bottom line is getting people out. That’s the job function.

“You need to learn how to build feel,” says Ristano. “The feel is the deal.”

There must be a time off from throwing.

“A rest period is worthless if you don’t get four weeks off at a time,” says Ristano, noting that time off from throwing doesn’t mean time off from training.

Most ND pitchers stopped throwing two weeks ago and won’t begin again until the second or third week of December. The Irish open the 2020 season on Feb. 14.

Ristano says the Irish long toss and it looks different depending on whether it’s in-season or out-of-season.

In-season, the pitcher is building to his next outing. Out-of-season, they can let it fly. Some throw 300 feet or more.

It’s a two-part phase in long toss — stretching out (aggressive with the lower half and easy with the arm).

Once at peak distance (which varies from day to day), Ristano says his pitchers spend as much time coming in as they do going out.

“I go from aggressive lower half and easy arm to aggressive lower half and aggressive arm,” says Ristano. “I keep those throws at eye level.

“That’s how you build arm strength with the long toss.”

Ristano talked about the progression of Notre Dame pitchers from preseason to season:

• Arm regeneration phase (late October to early December).

• End-of-semester throwing packet.

• Return to campus ready to hit the mound.

• Separation of roles (build up pitch count and get comfortable pitching in relief roles).

A sample week for an ND’s Friday night starter looks like this:

• Friday (pitch live with postgame flush cardio and recovery bands).

• Satruday (optional throwing with sprints, post game charts and lower body work).

• Sunday (long toss and MediBall circuit).

• Monday (short bullpen, intermediate cardio, postgame video review and total body work).

• Tuesday (drills, sprints and MediBall circuit).

• Wednesday (bullpen and intermediate cardio).

• Thursday (optional throwing).

This past fall, the first new Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett, pitchers did not go above 50 pitches per outing. Appearances were prioritized over building up pitches and innings.

“What are we building up to?,” says Ristano. “We don’t need a guy to throw six innings in October.”

After the season, Irish pitchers receive the following:

• Full assessment of performance (see season summary).

• Clear directives on what needs to improve.

• Determination of what is best for your summer (continue pitching, rest, strengthening etc.).

Rest the arm is key for collegians and high schoolers alike.

“Be confident enough in who you are to take some time off,” says Ristano. “The bullets you fire at 15, 16, 17 years old, you don’t know the damage it potentially does until that kid’s 20 years old and he’s becoming a man.

“I’m not laying the arm injuries on the high school coaches because we are just as responsible. We bring guys back on short rest. We try to go to the College World Series. Big league baseball has its starters pitching the bullpen.

“When you’re 16, you don’t need to start Friday, pitch in relief Tuesday and start Friday again.”

Notre Dame emphasizes and charts getting ahead in the count and being efficient.

“We want to get the at-bat over in three pitches or less (A3P),” says Ristano. “We’ve tracked this for four years. We know that with a first-pitch strike, 72 percent of the time we get a positive outcome. When we executive an A3P, 75 percent of the time it results in a positive outcome.”

Ristano offers a final “M” — Mentality:

• Identity (what we want to be, how we want to be viewed).

• Culture (how we go about our business).

“How do we handle our business?,” says Ristano. “From the outside looking in, what would you take away from watching the Notre Dame pitching staff.

“We embrace each guy’s individuality. But we have to respect the standards of the group.”

Ristano says there are three parts to pitching the “Notre Dame Way.”

“We want to work fast, pitch offensively and project confidence,” says Ristano. “It’s very simple. It has nothing to do with our velocity.”

The Irish play in the very competitive Atlantic Coast Conference with a top-notch non-conference schedule.

“You do not out-think hitters in the ACC,” says Ristano. “You do not out-think hitters in most of college baseball.

“What do you do? You out-execute hitters. At this level, we prioritize pitch execution over selection. You throw the pitch you want to throw. I call pitches and let our guys shake (off the sign). But, at the end of the day, the well-executed pitch that was wrong is better than the poorly-executed pitch that was correct.”

It’s about developing young men who attack their work with ferocity.

“If you’re ready to go, suffocate the opposition,” says Ristano. “Press. Press. Press.

“It keeps the defense engaged. It’s a thing of beauty when you have a guy who’s throwing strikes. It’s disgusting when you have a guy who is not.”

Ristano says he is proud of be part of the state’s baseball community.

“I get that our locker room is populated by kids from 17 different states,” says Ristano. “But, yes, we have to do a really, really good job in the state of Indiana

“(Notre Dame is) a unique place that has unique standards aside from whether or not you can play.”

Ristano encourages coaches to “be a thief.”

“Learn something from everybody,” says Ristano, who still repeats ideas he heard at his first coaches clinic from Oklahoma City University head coach Denney Crabaugh. “Be willing to share and ask questions. Ego is the enemy.

“Be confident in what you do. We’re not all right and we’re not all wrong. What we do works for us.

“If you’re not comfortable teaching it, it makes it really hard to get buy-in from your players.”

Ristano says great pitchers think:

• 9 vs. 1 mentality.

“The deck is stacked in your favor as a pitcher,” says Ristano.

• Focus on what they can control.

• Embrace pressure situations.

• One pitch at a time mentality.

• Focus on solutions over problems.

• Embrace competition and don’t use how they feel/mechanics as a crutch.

These are the conduct standards at Notre Dame:

• Best effort in everything that you do.

• Bring energy. Also be vigilant against those who suck the energy out of us (gravity vs. energy).

“We don’t want the gravity to pull us down, we want the energy to pull us up,” says Ristano. “Are you a fountain or a drain?”

• Expect the best, don’t hope for it.

• Value what you project to the world (body language).

“Have some energy,” says Ristano. “If you don’t have it, fake it. It really matters. Somebody’s always watching.”

• Take advantage of additional development opportunities.

You want to be great? Do stuff that’s pitching-related but doesn’t actually consist of the actual throwing mechanics — MediBall stuff, video review, low-intensity throwing.

• Honest/constructive dialogue between teammates (as well as players and coaches).

“Spoiler alert: Your parents don’t give you honest/construct dialogue,” says Ristano. “At the end of the day, talk your coach. He’s there for a reason.

“What do I need to do to be better. There has to be an element of trust in your circle.”

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Chuck Ristano enters his 10th season as pitching coach for the University of Notre Dame baseball team in 2020. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

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Chuck Ristano, the baseball pitching coach at the University of Notre Dame, takes an aggressive approach with his staff. He wants them to train and execute with ferocity. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

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Chuck Ristano is entering his 10th season as baseball pitching coach at the University of Notre Dame. He is now working with new head coach Link Jarrett. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

 

Batesville native Miller sees pitching change in half century of pro baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dyar Miller’s 51 years in professional baseball wrapped in 2018 as a pitching coach for the Triple-A Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies, an affiliate of the Houston Astros.

The Indiana native witnessed many changes to the game as a player, manager, coordinator and coach.

When Miller began his career as a unsigned free agent catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies organization out of Utah State University in 1968, there were no pitching coaches in the minors. He did not work with a coach dedicated to the art until he was in the big leagues.

Miller, who was born in Batesville and graduated from tiny New Point High School (there were 14 in his graduating class), was turned into a pitcher by the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. He first toed the rubber in a major league game with the Orioles on June 9, 1975. Earl Weaver was Baltimore’s manager. George Bamberger was the O’s pitching coach.

“The Orioles are the first organization to use a radar gun,” says Miller, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who pitched seven MLB seasons with Baltimore, the California Angels, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. “We used to phone or fax the game report in. Now it’s on a computer.

“When I first signed, (minor league teams) had a manager and a trainers. Trainers took care of injuries.

“(Pitchers) talked among ourselves. Back then you repeated each league two or three times and you watched. We did not have video. We tried to learn from an opponent.”

At the end of his career, Miller was often in video sessions with his hurlers, breaking down TrackMan information.

“Sometimes the pitcher would beat me to my office, looking for the data,” says Miller. “The Astros mandated that we have cell phones or iPads — company-owned — for bullpen sessions. That was the (minor league pitching) coordinator’s call.”

As a coach, Miller encouraged his more-seasoned pitchers to pass information along to other hurlers.

“They’ll listen to their peers,” says Miller. “Just tell me what you’re telling them.

“In the big leagues, they still do it that way.”

From 1995-2012, Miller served in many roles with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, including pitching coach, roving minor league pitching instructor, minor league pitching coordinator and major league bullpen coach.

It was a standard rule for Cardinals starters to watch fellow starters do their side work and chime in with their observations.

Miller insisted that his pitchers always play catch with a purpose.

“I have to remind guys of that every time you throw a ball, throw to a target — maybe the left shoulder, right shoulder or chest,” says Miller. “Long toss was real big there for awhile.”

Each organization is a little bit different. But many have pitchers start at 60 feet and work their way out to 120 or more.

“Some do it up to 20 minutes on a certain day,” says Miller. “It’s more of a recovery thing. They get the lactic acid out of there.

“Moderation is the best thing. Some guys do too much long toss.”

Miller likens the minor leagues to a laboratory and development — rather than winning the pennant — is the focus.

“We experiment with things here and there,” says Miller. “(Players) develop something that suits them. We’re not cloning everybody.”

At the same time, organizations have specific throwing programs.

“It’s pretty strict,” says Miller. “The Astros don’t like you throwing sinkers unless you’re like Charlie Morton and have a real good one. They stress the change-up.

“There are drills and we give them options — things to work on — each day like inside throws and crow hops. It’s pretty hands-on now, but there’s still leeway to be individualistic.”

Miller says that the higher player climbs the minor league ladder, the more they know themselves and what works best.

the higher you go in the minor leagues,

“At the lower levels, they are watched like a hawk,” says Miller.

The diamond veteran has his pitchers look for external cues — visualizing throwing the ball outside the body and going for the outer or inner halves of the strike zone.

“It’s more effective than internal (cues),” says Miller. “Nowadays, the favorite saying is ‘recent studies show.’ We’ve got what been studied and been shown to work.”

Then there’s the matter of rhythm.

“That’s an external thing, too,” says Miller. “You want to find your tempo and rhythm and pound the strike zone.”

The idea is to get the synchronize with the other body parts.

“There should be no stress on the arm,” says Miller. “It’s coming through because your torso is rotating.

“Your arm just comes along for the ride.”

Like winding a spring or a top, the pitcher loads up then it all comes loose at once.

“That’s how you get the extra pop on the ball,” says Miller. “A lot of people have trouble getting the load or it will leak out.

“It takes time to figure all that out.”

It took time for Miller to gather all his pitching knowledge.

“I knew about 1/10th or less when I was pitching than I do now,” says Miller, 73.

He does know that he is busier now away from pro baseball than when he was in it. Miller turned down an offer from the Mets to finish the 2019 season as pitching coach at Triple-A Syracuse.

“It was tempting,” says Miller, who moved from Batesville to Indianapolis in 1997 to be closer to a major airport and now spends his days working around the house, catching up with family and friends or fishing at his place on Lake Monroe.

Dyar and wife Bertha are on their second marriages. Between them, they have six children and 14 grandchildren with one on the way.

His sons look forward to the annual Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame Celebrity Golf Classic Oct. 4 in Jasper.

Miller still follows the game on television and was able to attend a Wright State-Indiana game in Bloomington, where he was able to catch up with IU director of player development Scott Rolen (who played for the Cardinals) and WSU head coach Alex Sogard (who pitched in the Houston system).

Another pupil in the Astros organization — right-hander Cy Sneed — made his major league debut June 27.

Former Houston farmhand Trent Thornton is now in the starting rotation for Toronto.

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Batesville, Ind., native Dyar Miller served in several capacities in the St. Louis Cardinals organization from 1995-2012. (St. Louis Cardinals Photo)

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Dyar Miller, an Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer, was in pro ball for 51 years — the last few as a pitching coach in the Houston Astros system. (Houston Astros Photo)

 

Purdue Fort Wayne’s Birely helps pitchers navigate a world of knowledge

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Blending various talents into a cohesive unit, helping them navigate a world of knowledge and encouraging a flow of ideas.

This is what Grant Birely gets to do as pitching coach at NCAA Division I Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne).

Birely, 36, has been on the job since the 2009 season. The Mastodons are scheduled to open the 2019 campaign Feb. 15-17 with four games at Alabama A&M.

The Purdue Fort Wayne roster features 14 active pitchers with two who will likely be medical redshirts.

“I make an individual plan with each of them to become the best they can,” says Birely. “As they get older and go through the program, they take a lot of ownership of their own development and I become a consultant for them. With the young guys, it’s about teaching them what it takes to pitch at this level.”

Birely says the cornerstone of Mastodons pitching is throwing and learning to spin pitches.

“In some form or fashion, there is throwing each day,” says Birely. “It might be 60 feet one day just to get loose. It might be 350 feet if they’re going to long toss that day. I don’t put a distance restriction on them. We tell them to listen to their arm and see how it feels each day.”

The point is, collegiate pitchers are asked to throw a lot.

“There’s no better way to learn to throw than to throw,” says Birely. “We’re working on their craft every single day.”

Playing baseball at the college level, especially Division I, is a major commitment between school work and hours spend getting ready for and playing games.

“We spend everyday with them and they spend so much time on it, they have to love baseball and showing up everyday and working on it,” says Birely. “One thing they’ll leave with is time management when they head into the real world.”

Purdue Fort Wayne pitchers do a hybrid training program that includes band work, stretching and some weighted-ball movements.

“We don’t dive straight into a full weight-ball program because these guys are competing the minute they get on-campus,” says Birely. “They never really have that down time to solely focus on velocity or anything like that. We’re always trying to work on command (of the strike zone) and commanding a second pitch.”

When the weather keeps the Mastodons off the frozen tundra, they do their throwing in a spacious fieldhouse large enough to make tosses of up to 250 or 260 feet.

“We’re very lucky to have that,” says Birely. “It’s just high enough so they can get a little bit of air under the baseball.”

The top two pitchers from 2018 in terms of innings pitched and victories are gone. Right-hander Brandon Phelps, a Fort Wayne Snider High School graduate, pitched 83 innings and won five games as a redshirt senior. Left-hander Damian Helm worked 73 1/3 innings with four victories in his senior season.

As the Mastodons head into the only four-game series of 2019, Birely says junior right-hander Chase Phelps (Brandon’s brother and also a Fort Wayne Snider graduate), junior right-hander Cameron Boyd (Fishers) and redshirt senior right-hander Shane Odzark will get the first opportunity to be starting pitchers.

The bullpen is being built with establishing strength in the late innings as a priority.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are excited to try to go and finish games,” says Birely, who counts freshman left-hander Justin Miller (Homestead), sophomore right-hander Sean Ferguson (New Haven) and freshman right-hander Jarrett Miller in the closer mix.

Other right-handers include sophomore Trevor Armstrong (Fort Wayne Snider), sophomore Nathan Hefle, freshman Garrett Hill (University), junior Tyler Kissinger, junior Duane Miller, sophomore Brian Skelton (Westfield) and redshirt freshman Cade Willard (Eastside).

Another lefty is sophomore Spencer Strobel (Avon).

Birely says two freshmen right-hander — Grant Johnston (Hamilton Southeastern) and Drew Pyle (Hagerstown) — have had injuries that will likely make them redshirts.

The pitching coach has learned that he is dealing with players who have different ways of learning. They might be visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.

“We have some guys who like to see themselves on video and they can make adjustments based off that,” says Birely. “Some guys I have to put in a position kind of in a kinesthetic way so they can feel it.

“It’s definitely a challenge to figure out each guy.”

And figuring it out is key.

“Anyone who is teaching might be the smartest person in the world but if they can’t get that information to the players, it doesn’t really work and it doesn’t help,” says Birely. “It’s been fun finding different ways to teach and different ways to convey information that I have to them.”

Birely notes that the current generation — Generation Z — gets a bad rap for asking so many questions.

“They have all this information at their finger tips,” says Birely. “Some of it is good and some of it is not good.

“I’d rather have them ask me a question or to try to figure something out than to just go and do it on their own.”

Group chats are a way that information is exchanged.

A pitcher will see a video in social media and ask, “what do you think of this, Coach?.”

Birely asks his hurlers to identify their favorite major league pitcher.

“That gives me some insight of who they’re going to watch,” says Birely. “My favorite pitcher to watch growing up was Greg Maddux. I was never the big velocity guy. Watching him throw a baseball looked like watching a wiffleball.”

He also followed the fortunes of another future Hall of Famer. Roy Halladay went to high school just a few years before Birely in nearby Denver suburb of Arvada.

Birley is a graduate of Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, Colo. He played for current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Bobby Pierce at Central Arizona College (the Vaqueros won the 2002 National Junior College Division I World Series) then finished his collegiate career at the University of New Orleans. That’s where he met his future wife, Bonnie. The two were living in the Big Easy when Hurricane Katrina hit and they moved closer to Grant’s family in Denver.

Retired as a player after one season of independent baseball with the Mesa Miners, Birley went into the business world when a friend asked him to help with freshmen tryouts at Regis Jesuit High School, figuring it would just be for a few hours on a Saturday.

“From the moment I walked out there, I was hooked,” says Birely, who spent two seasons at Regis Jesuit in Aurora, Colo. When Pierce became head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver, he invited Birely to become Roadrunners pitching coach. When Pierce moved to Indiana to lead the IPFW Mastodons, he asked Birely to come with him.

“I wouldn’t have this opportunity without him,” says Birely of Pierce. “He’s been a mentor and a great person to learn from.

“The best thing about him is that he lets everybody in the organization from players to staff go do their job

he gives them the freedom and creativity to make the program better.”

Pierce promotes a spirit of working together for a common goal.

“He’s very positive,” says Birley. “He’s great to work for. He’s awesome to play for. He allows the players the freedom to exchange ideas.

“Let’s figure it out together.”

Grant and Bonnie Birely have figured out how to balance baseball and family life. The couple has two children — Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger High School senior Tyler (who is active in theater and show choir) and sixth grader Kaylee.

“Like everyday says you’ve got to have a very understand wife,” says Grant. “She’s on this journey with me. Otherwise, I couldn’t do this.

“She keeps the fort going at home.”

Purdue Fort Wayne plays in the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). That makes for a good deal of travel. When the Mastodons go to the Dakotas, they often leave campus on Wednesday night and return at noon Monday.

“(Players) do a great job of doing their schoolwork on the road,” says Birely. “It’s not uncommon to walk through a hotel lobby and there’s 25 or 30 guys doing their homework.

It’s not uncommon for players to ask for the movies to be turned off on the bus to study for an upcoming test.

“We’ve had guys who understand what it means to be a true student-athlete,” says Birely. “It goes back to time management. They have to rely on themselves a lot to make sure they’re getting their work done.”

Coaches will proctor tests for professors, who email the exam and set the time limit and have the coaches sent it back. Other take online classes to allow flexibility and no requirement to be in a classroom.

Christine Kuznar is Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics and meets with players each semester to them on-track toward getting their degree as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“She’s the rock star behind the whole thing,” says Birely.

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Purdue Fort Wayne was formerly known as Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne. In its new branding, the Mastodons have adopted black and gold as school colors with a hint of blue as homage to the IPFW brand. (Purdue Fort Wayne Image)

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Grant Birely, the baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne, is a native of Colorado who played and coached for Mastodons head coach Bobby Pierce before following him to Indiana. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

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Grant Birely has been baseball pitching coach at Purdue Fort Wayne (formerly Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne) since the 2009 season. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

 

 

White Sox bullpen coach Hasler hands out advice on pitching mechanics

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As part of the Chicago White Sox field staff, bullpen coach Curt Hasler wants pitchers to “throw to the best of their God-given ability.”

In order to do this — at the professional level on down — these pitches must be delivered with proper mechanics.

That was Hasler’s message as he addressed youth, high school and college coaches at the monthly Cubbies Coaches Club gathering Tuesday, Dec. 4 in the Pepsi Stadium Club at Four Winds Field in downtown South Bend, Ind.

Hasler, who pitched for the 1988 South Bend White Sox and is the father of White Sox minor league right-hander Drew Hasler, said spin rates, velocity and the use of weighted balls may be part of the equation, but it all starts with the execution of the delivery.

“The bottom line is the kid has to be mechanically sound,” said Hasler. “It will allow him to stay healthier and perform at his maximum ability longer and have command (of his pitches).”

Hasler echoed three steps that longtime White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper emphasizes: Stay tall, stay back and stay closed.

By staying tall, the pitcher can take a balanced ride toward the plate.

Staying back allows the hurler to create a power angle.

By staying closed — not flying open — pitchers will step where they’re throwing.

“We talk about balance and direction with young kids,” said Hasler, who teaches private lessons at the 1st Source Performance Center at Four Winds Field.

Examples of the best deliveries can be found with the top starters in Major League Baseball — stars like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

Hasler said relievers can have flaws, but they make up for those with their power over a shorter duration.

Good arm action is smooth and the pitcher’s fingers stays on top of the ball at all times.

With “nose over toes,” his hands break over the mound and his delivery moves back to front — as opposed to side to side.

“We want them to go north and south and not east and west,” said Hasler.

Citing its ability to build strength and to maintain health and stuff a little longer, Hasler is a fan of the long toss — what he calls “pure throwing.” Some White Sox pitchers do distance throwing four or five days a week during the season.

“There are rules,” said Hasler of long toss. “You must have your eyes on the target start to finish. You use a four-seam fastball grip. You want to make the ball go straight. Do not let it tail.

“Stay behind and through the baseball. Give me a good crow hop. The first step should be aggressive with direction toward my target.”

Hasler wants long tossers staying in a “hall way” — an imaginary straight lane — while making their throws.

All of this is done while staying tall — no sitting or popping up — and hitting the catcher of the throw in the chest.

Hasler said the distance of the long toss can be determined by how far the player can throw and do everything mechanically correct. If he breaks down, he should shorten the distance.

Asked about weighted or heavy ball training, Hasler noted that it is a risk-reward proposition.

Some have increased their velocity through what Hasler calls an extreme training method. Some have gotten hurt while doing it. Not everyone is the same.

Hasler said one place to find independent research is the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala.

Among the injury factors for pitchers are how much competitive pitching are they doing.

Max effort pitches and stressful innings take their toll.

Hasler sees pitching while sore, fatigued or already hurt as a recipe of disaster.

The likelihood for injury also goes up for pitchers in poor condition, including their arm.

Time off is very important.

“Rest is very good for pitchers,” said Hasler. “Err on the side of caution.

“We’d like you to take off a couple months in the winter. Some kids hardly ever stop throwing in high school (with practices, games, showcases and tryouts).”

Sideline days are to be used to accomplish certain goals, maybe working on part of the delivery, honing a certain pitch or increasing the ability to get first-pitch strikes.

In observing Verlander get ready for a start, Hasler watched him move back to 150 feet and then move back in to 90 feet and throw change-ups. The veteran right-hander then makes some throws from the wide-base position, using only his upper body. He also makes throws from the low-balance position.

“If these simple drills are good enough for him, couldn’t they be good enough for you?” said Hasler. “He has a routine.

“Routine makes you feel good. But remember, you run the routine. The routine doesn’t run you.”

In instructing pitchers, Hasler keys in on the positive. He tells them what they can do and not what they can’t.

“There are two ways to say the same thing,” said Hasler. “The first way is better. You can get a lot more out of it.”

Cubbies Coaches Club meets at 6:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month through March. To learn more, call (574) 404-3636 or email performancecenter@southbendcubs.com.

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Chicago White Sox bullpen catcher Curt Hasler addresses youth, high school and college coaches at the monthly Cubbies Coaches Club gathering Tuesday, Dec, 4, 2018 in the Pepsi Stadium Club at Four Winds Field in downtown South Bend.

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South Bend, Ind., resident Curt Hasler is bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox.