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Rebound season cut short for USC lefty Gursky

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Gursky’s bounce-back baseball season was getting rave reviews when the curtain came down much sooner than expected.

A left-handed pitcher at the University of Southern California, the Indiana native started against visiting Xavier University on Wednesday, March 11.

Gursky recalls the unusual atmosphere when he took the mound at Dedeaux Field.

“Only essential personnel were allowed in the stands,” says Gursky. “It was like a travel ball game. Only parents were there.”

Gursky tossed the first two innings, facing eight batters with three strikeouts and yielding one hit as the first of seven USC pitchers.

“The next day I wake up and my phone is blowing up,” says Gursky of what turned out to be a COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. 

Thinking the situation would blow over, he spent about a week at his uncle’s house in Orange County then came home to Granger, Ind.

“I had not been in Indiana in March in years,” says Gursky. “We were having a great start to the year then comes the sad news. We worked so hard in the fall.”

The Trojans were 10-5 when the 2020 slate was halted. Southpaw Gursky was 1-1 in four appearances (three starts) with a 0.00 earned run average. He fanned 12 and walked three in 12 innings. Opponents hit .105 against him. On March 3, he pitched the first six innings against UC Irvine and held the Anteaters hitless with seven strikeouts.

USC coaches talked about placing Gursky in the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer. But that league canceled its season and with all the uncertainty, Gursky opted to take 15 weeks away from throwing and reported to USC this fall fully-refreshed. 

An online accounting class taken this summer will help Gursky on his path to graduating with a Business Administration degree next spring.

Gursky played three seasons for head coach John Gumpf at South Bend St. Joseph High School (2014-16).

“That was a fun time,” says Gursky of his days with the Indians. “I have a lot of great teammates.”

Some of Gursky’s pals were Danny Torres, Tony Carmola, J.R. Haley and Carlos Matovina.

In his senior year (2017), Gursky played for former major leaguer Chris Sabo at a IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Gursky enjoyed a solid inaugral campaign at USC in 2018, but struggled in 2019.

“I had a good freshmen year and a disaster of a sophomore year,” says Gursky. “I was in a bad place.”

Playing for then-Trojans head coach Dan Hubbs, Gursky made 22 appearances (two starts) as a freshman, going 3-1 with a 4.93 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings.

His second college appearance was at Cal State Long Beach’s Blair Field, where played for the Brewers in the 2015 underclass Area Code Games and was named to the upperclass game in 2016 but did not play because of a forearm injury.

As a sophomore, Gursky got into 12 games (five starts) and was 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA. He struck out 18 in 22 innings.

“I thank (Hubbs) so much for getting to come to the school of my choice,” says Gursky.

In the summer of 2019, the lefty played for the Newport (R.I.) Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, where Kevin Winterrowd was the manager and pitching coach.

“I was kind of inconsistent,” says Gursky. “I working on stuff at the same time I was competing and trying to win games.

“But that was a the beginning of the turnaround. It set up a good fall and spring.”

Back in Los Angeles, Gursky had a new head coach (Jason Gill) and pitching coach (Ted Silva) in the fall of 2019.

“(Gill) has continuous energy,” says Gursky. “We all love playing for him. We feed off that energy.

“(Silva) helped me out. He saw something in me. He’s straight forward like Sabo.”

Gursky appreciates the approach of Sabo, the former Cincinnati Reds third baseman and current University of Akron head coach.

“He never sugar coated anything,” says Gursky. “He was a great guy to talk with in general.”

Another ex-big leaguer — Steve Frey — was the IMG Academy pitching coach.

“He was great communicator,” says Gursky of Frey. “We connected very well. 

“We’re both lefties  so we felt the same way.”

Back in northern Indiana, Gursky has gotten pitching pointers from Curt Hasler, who pitched for the 1988 South Bend White Sox and is now the bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox. Son Drew Hasler has pitched in the White Sox system.

“He’s great with the mental game,” says Gursky of Curt Hasler. “I like that he’s been around guys who’ve pitched at the highest level possible.”

A 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who played basketball through his freshmen year at St. Joseph describes his aggressive athletic mindset.

“I’m an attacker,” says Gursky. “Either I’m attacking the basket or attacking the strike zone.”

Delivering the baseball with a three quarter-plus arm slot, Gursky throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball.

His four-seamer has a high spin rate and occasionally touched 94 mph in the spring.

His two-seamer sinks and run and was usually 88 to 91 mph.

“My change-up is very slow,” says Gursky of a pitch clocked at 76 to 78 mph. “It’s been my main strikeout pitch the last two years. 

“I grip it petty deep and pretty hard. It’s not in my palm.”

His sweeping curve comes in 79 to 82 mph and breaks left to right — away from left-handed batters and into righties.

Born in Bloomington, Ind., Gursky moved to Granger at 5 and attended Saint Pius X Catholic School. His first baseball experience came at 10 or 11 at Harris Township Cal Ripken.

He played for Rob Coffel with the Michiana Scrappers at 12U and for Ray Torres (father of Danny) with the South Bend Rays at 13U.

After that, Gursky was with a number of travel teams around the country.  Locally, he did a couple stints with the South Bend Cubs and manager Mark Haley (father of J.R.). 

“He knows the bigger picture,” says Gursky of Mark Haley, who played at the University of Nebraska, coached at the University of Tennessee and was a manager in professional baseball for 12 years, including 10 with the South Bend Silver Hawks (2005-14) before becoming general manager of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and executive director of the South Bend Cubs Foundation. “He’s big on development.”

Gursky’s grandfather, Will Perry, was a pitcher at the University of Michigan. A broken leg suffered in a car accident kept him from a starting role with the 1953 national champions. He was later sports information director and assistant athletic director for the Wolverines.

Uncle Steve Perry played baseball at Michigan and was selected in the first round of the 1979 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-5 right-hander advanced to Triple-A in 1983 and 1984.

“He taught things when I was younger,” says Gursky. “Now I get what he was saying.

“When you have a growth mentality, you take what other people are saying and apply it to yourself.”

Perry was one of three first-round draft picks for Michigan in 1979. Outfielder/first baseman Rick Leach and left-handed pitcher Steve Howe both went on to play in the majors. 

University of Notre Dame employees Matt and Susan Gursky have three children — Elena (24), Brian (22) and Natalie (18). Westland, Mich., native Matt Gursky is a mathematics professor. Ann Arbor, Mich., native Susan Gursky is a pre-medicine advisor. Elena Gursky played softball at St. Joe. Natalie Gursky is an equestrian.

Brian Gursky pitches for the University of Southern California.
Brian Gursky, an Indiana native who played high school baseball at South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph High School and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., has pitched for three seasons at the University of Southern California. (USC Photo)

Clinton Central, Bowling Green State grad Scott experiences ‘emotional roller coaster’ in first year as baseball coach

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeffery Scott saw the lessons that can be learned from baseball from the time he was a kid playing in Frankfort, Ind., to when he was winding up his playing career at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.

It was with the Danny Schmitz-coached Falcons that he decided he wanted to become a coach.

While working on a degree in Sport Management with a minor in Marketing that was achieved in 2019, Scott soaked in information from veteran Schmitz and the other BGSU staffers.

“Coach Schmitz is an old school type of coach,” says Scott. “He has a lot of knowledge about the game. I was able to talk with him everyday and learn stuff.

“I talked with him and the rest of the coaching staff on what to expect. He’s been really good influence on me baseball and life-wise.”

Before his senior year, Scott worked at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and made a determination.

“If I don’t get to play baseball anymore I’d like to stay around the game,” says Scott. “I’d like to be making an impact and sharing my knowledge.”

He wanted to prepare young men for life and to face adversity like you face in baseball.

Scott, who was a catcher and outfielder at Bowling Green State for three seasons (playing in 127 games and starting 114 from 2017-19), made a visit to the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima as a senior and talked with Racers head coach Kory Hartman and his staff and signed on as a graduate assistant. He expects to earn his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) next spring.

“It’s been a really good experience,” says Scott of his time so far with the NAIA-member program. “One of the things that drew me here is that it’s close to Bowling Green State. (Hartman and company) were open to me getting what I want out of this program — to form who I am as a coach.”

Since being at UNOH, a member of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, Scott has absorbed drills and procedures and also enjoyed camaraderie with coaches who like to hang out, fish and hunt together. 

The Racers staff currently counts Hartman, Scott and associate head coach Aaron Lee and two graduate assistants with pitching experience will be hired.

With NAIA’s COVID-19 pandemic-related decision to cancel fall sports, Northwestern Ohio baseball coaches are sorting out what fall will look for the Racers. Students are supposed to be back on campus for face-to-face classes Sept. 14.

“Right now, we’re in a gray area,” says Scott, who turns 25 this month. “We’ll have to figure things out. 

“We hope to get together once or twice a week as a team.”

The 2020 UNOH season came to a halt because of the pandemic on March 8 with the Racers at 8-12. 

Back at Bowling Green State, the NCAA Division I program went on the chopping block.

Baseball was reinstated through the efforts of Schmitz and other baseball alumni. 

“It was an emotional roller coaster for me,” says Scott. “I didn’t know where baseball is headed with the COVID stuff and (colleges and universities) were cutting sports — not just baseball.”

Schmitz was put in charge of alumni outreach at Bowling Green and former Falcons pitching coach Kyle Hallock, whom Scott knew well as a catcher, was named head coach.

“I tip my cap to Danny Schmitz,” says Scott. “I’m sure he reached out to a lot of the alumni. He has made an impact on a lot of people’s lives.”

Bowling Green State baseball has produced many successful people, including those who went on to the pro diamond, including 19 major leaguers. Among that group are current Miami Marlins third baseman Jon Berti and former big leaguers Orel Hershiser (who won a National League Cy Young Award and helped the Los Angeles Dodgers to a World Series win in 1988), Nolan Reimold, Andy Tracy and Roger McDowell.

“It was special to see them step up, donate some money and keep the program,” says Scott.

Frankfort (Ind.) Little League is where Scott got his first taste of organized baseball. Around the same time he also played with a group of local youngsters called the Frankfort Slam. That team was coached by Rodney Smith, Jason Forsythe and at various times, Kent Scott (Jeffery’s father) and Jamie Bolinger (Jeffery’s stepfather).

Kent Scott is employed in Federal-Mogul Powertain in Frankfort.

Jamie Bolinger, who is retired military, works for Lafayette (Ind.) Transitional Housing Center’s Homeless Services.

Maleta Bolinger (Jeffery’s mother) is a registered nurse in Kokomo, Ind.

Shealynne Bolinger (Jeffery’s 19-year-old sister) is finishing up schooling to be a veterinary technician.

Scott and girlfriend Shelby Weaver have been together about nine moths. They also dated in high school. Her son Eli is almost 1.

After spending his 12U summer with the Muncie-based Indiana Wildcats, Jeffery Scott played six travel ball seasons with the Indiana Bulls.

At 13U, he was coached by  John Rigney and Rick Hamm. Brothers Todd Miller and Adam Miller led his team at 14U and 15U. Tony Cookerly, Sean Laird and Jim Fredwell coached his team at 16U. Quinn Moore and Dan Held was in charge at 17U. He played briefly at 18U before going to summer school at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., where he spent a year and a half before transferring to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Kevin Bowers was and still is head coach for the junior college Statesmen.

“He welcomed me in with open arms mid-year,” says Scott of Bowers. “He made me feel a part of the family. I still talk to him quite a bit. He’s definitely been one of my favorite coaches.

“He was genuine, truthful and transparent. He brings in a lot of talent to Lincoln Trail and gets them to where they want to be.”

Though mostly a catcher in the summers, Scott was a shortstop and pitcher at Clinton Central High School in Michigantown, Ind., playing for Bulldogs head coach Eric Flickinger. He also played football for Mike Quick and Justin Schuhmacher and wrestled for Austin Faulkner.

Jeffery Scott observes catchers during a baseball practice as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima. Scott was a catcher at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. He is a graduate of BGSU and Clinton Central High School in Michigantown, Ind., near Frankfort. (UNOH Photo)
Jeffery Scott is a 2019 graduate of Bowling Green (Ohio) State University, where he played three baseball for three seasons (2017-19). The graduate of BGSU and Clinton High School in Michigantown, Ind., is a graduate assistant baseball coach at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima. (Bowling Green State University Photo)

Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)

Competitive juices flow on Fridays at PRP Baseball

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Friday is “Compete Day” for PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball.

After week of training, players get a competitive outlet in a controlled game played inside spacious Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind

PRP Baseball founder Greg Vogt, who talked with IndianaRBI about strength training for overhead athletes in November 2019, explains the culture of working hard each day and athletes pushing athletes.

“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”

During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.

Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.

“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”

Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.

Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.

College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.

Vogt says Friday’s session alone had players representing the following Indiana universities: Anderson, Ball State, Butler, DePauw, Huntington, Indiana, IU Kokomo, Indiana State, Indiana Wesleyan, Purdue, Purdue Fort Wayne, Saint Francis and Taylor. Plus there were those from Akron, College of Charleston, Illinois State, Northern Kentucky and Spalding as well as junior colleges John Wood, Lincoln Trail and South Suburban.

That’s just Friday’s list.

Several players from College Summer League at Grand Park in nearby Westfield, Ind., train with Vogt and company at PRP Baseball.

Dominick Berardi, a right-handed pitcher at Daytona (Fla.) State College was sent to work with PRP Baseball for the summer.

“They’re coming and they’re asking for housing,” says Vogt of his ever-growing client list from outside Indiana.

Vogt notes that three 2020 high school graduates from northwest Indiana — IU commit Tyler Nelson (Andrean), Illinois State commits Gene Kolarik (Crown Point) and Jonathan Sabotnik (Crown Point) — travel together to play in the Grand Park league and train at PRP Baseball.

Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games. 

The American Association is playing with six teams (Chicago Dogs, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Milwaukee Milkmen, Sioux Falls Canaries and Winnipeg Goldeyes) rotating between three cities — Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota/Minnesota, Franklin, Wis.,. and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Polley, a 23-year-old left-hander, played at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and Indiana State University before being drafted by the Rangers in the 16th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.

“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”

Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.

“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”

Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.

Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.

“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.

“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”

Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.

For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.

With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.

“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.

“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”

Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.

“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.

Milto, 23, is a right-hander who played at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and Indiana University before being selected by the White Sox in the 23rd round of the 2019 MLB Draft.

“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working. 

“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”

Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.

“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto. 

While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.

“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible. 

“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”

Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment. 

“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development. 

“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”

Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.

“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.

“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.

“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”

Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.

“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”

Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.

“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”

When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.

“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.

“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”

Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.

Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”

“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.

“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”

Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.

“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”

And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.

“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”

Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.

He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.

“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.

“I’ve been maintaining.”

Vogt says pro pitchers Jacob Cantleberry (Center Grove High School graduate and former University of Missouri left-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system), Timmy Herrin (Terre Haute South Vigo High School graduate and former IU left-hander in the Cleveland Indians system) and Will Klein (Bloomington North High School graduate and former Eastern Illinois University right-hander drafted in the fifth round in 2020 by the Kansas City Royals) are expected to be a part of the PRP Baseball culture soon.

Christian Sullivan, a 2014 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., and four-year right-handed pitcher at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18), has joined the PRP Baseball staff as a strength coordinator/jack-of-all-trades.

“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.

“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”

Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). 

“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent. 

“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity. 

“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”

Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.

“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”

Triston Polley, a former Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and Indiana State University player now in the Texas Rangers organization, warms up for PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball “Compete Day” Friday, June 19 at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
One of the mottos of the PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball is “Rent’s Due Every Day.” It promotes a culture of hard work and competition. (PRP Baseball Image)

Former pro slugger Zapp giving back to baseball as youth coach

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Zapp is like so many baseball coaches. He is anxious to practice with his team.

Hopeful that time will come soon, Zapp gives an indication of how that session might go.

“We like to get into a lot of fundamentals early on — things like PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice), bunt defense, baserunning and defensive outfield play,” says Zapp. “We run multiple stations during batting practice. We keep (players) busy and avoid a lot of standing around.

“We like to keep practices short and sweet. Get your work done and get out of there.”

Zapp likes practices to take 1:30 to 1:45.

“After that you lose their attention,” says Zapp. “It’s not the number of reps, it’s the quality of reps you want to be taking.

“It requires the right mindset. Kids must come to practice to work.”

A.J. and wife Nikki Zapp reside in Greenwood and have three children — Evan (15), Ellen (13) and Emilie (10).

Evan Zapp (Center Grove High School Class of 2023) plays on the Indiana Bulls 15U Grey travel baseball team with his father as an assistant to head coach Zach Foley.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has teams separated now, there is hope they might be able to play in the latter half of June. Zapp’s team is supposed to play three of four events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., with out-of-town tournaments in Bloomington, Ind., and the Atlanta and Kansas City areas.

A.J. has coached his son on the diamond since Evan was 6, including some time with the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Like his father, Evan throws with his right arm and bats from the left side.

“I encouraged him to be left-handed hitter,” says A.J.

In 2019, A.J. Zapp was Bulls 14U Red head coach. For eight years — seven with the Astros and one with the Bulls — A.J. coached with Phil Milto (uncle of former Roncalli and Indiana University pitcher and current Chicago White Sox farmhand Pauly Milto). Doug Zapp, A.J.’s father, was bench/pitching coach for seven seasons.

A former baseball player at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., Doug Zapp is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. Doug and Linda Zapp have an older son named David.

Eighth-grader-to-be Ellen Zapp and sixth-grader-to-be Emilie Zapp play for the Circle City Volleyball Club in Plainfield, Ind.

Zapp, who turned 42 in April, got his organized baseball start at Center Grove Little League (now know as Center Grove Youth Baseball) in Greenwood, Ind. In 1992 and 1993, he was on Center Grove Senior League squads that went to the Senior World Series in Kississimmee, Fla.

Up until high school, A.J. was coached by his father. The younger Zapp was a catcher when he was younger. At 12 or 13, he moved to first base.

With a stacked Center Grove High varsity team, A.J. got just 10 varsity at-bats as a sophomore then began turning heads with the Indiana Bulls in the summer of 1994. He also shined on the CG varsity in the spring of 1995 and with the Bulls that summer.

In the fall of 1995, Zapp signed a letter of intent to play for head coach Paul Mainieri at the University of Notre Dame. As his senior season approached, he was hearing from that he might be taken high in the draft.

“I had a tough decision to make,” says Zapp, who helped his pro ball status with a 1996 season that saw him hit .524 with 16 home runs and be named first-team All-American, first-team all-state and Indiana Mr. Baseball. Center Grove won the Franklin Sectional, Franklin Regional and Richmond Semistate before bowing to eventual state champion Jasper at the IHSAA State Finals.

Zapp did not make an early verbal college commitment.

“It’s a little bit different now,” says Zapp. “We have (high school) freshmen and sophomores committing now.

“It makes it tough on the college recruiters to have to evaluate players at 15 and 16. But it’s the times we live in.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was Zapp’s head coach at Center Grove.

“Coach Gandolph ran a great practice,” says Zapp. “He was well-prepared for the games. All the players loved playing for him.

“He’s just a good guy and a great baseball guy.”

Andrew Joseph “A.J.” Zapp was selected in the first round (27th overall) of the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

South Spencer High School right-handed pitcher Josh Garrett (No. 26 by the Boston Red Sox) was also a first-rounder in 1996. He pitched in affiliated baseball through 2001, reaching the Double-A level.

Both Zapp and Garrett signed pro contracts prior to the 1996 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Zapp played 1,046 games in the minors (1996-2006) in the Braves (seven seasons), Seattle Mariners (two), Cincinnati Reds (one) and Los Angeles Dodgers (one) systems with 136 home runs and 542 runs batted in.

He socked 26 homers and drove in 92 at Double-A San Antonio as a Texas League postseason all-star in 2003 and belted 29 homers and plated 101 while hitting .291 at Triple-A Tacoma in 2004. On Aug. 20 of that year, he drove in nine runs and vaulted the Rainiers to victory with a walk-off grand slam.

Zapp is one of the few players to launch a homer over the tall wall in center field at Cheney Stadium – the “Blue Monster.”

Notable Zapp teammates included Mike Hessman (Minor League Baseball home run king with 433), Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa, Matt Kemp, Edwin Encarnacion and Marcus Giles.

Brian Snitker, who is now the manager in Atlanta, was Zapp’s manager at Low-A Macon in 1998, High-A Myrtle Beach in 2000 and Double-A Greenville in 2002.

Former Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves manager and current Baltimore Orioles bench coach Fredi Gonzalez was Zapp’s manager at Triple-A Richmond in 2002. After that season, Zapp was granted free agency and signed with the Mariners.

Former major leaguers Paul Runge (Greenville in 2002), Dan Rohn (Tacoma in 2004), Rick Sweet (Louisville in 2005) and John Shoemaker (Jacksonville in 2006) also managed teams that included Zapp.

Some of Zapp’s hitting coaches were Franklin Stubbs, Glenn Hubbard, Tommy Gregg and Sixto Lezcano in the Braves organization, Adrian Garrett with the Reds and Mike Easler with the Dodgers.

Zapp played on pennant winners at Myrtle Beach (Carolina League in 2000) and San Antonio (Texas League in 2003). Jacksonville (Southern League in 2006) lost in the finals.

He also played winter ball in Australia (voted MVP), Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

As baseball goes about streamlining Minor League Baseball, the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft scheduled for June 10-11 will be just five rounds — down from the 40 of the past several years.

“Those days can change a kid’s life,” says Zapp. “Losing out on that many rounds, I’m not a fan of it.

“There will be a lot of free agent signs.”

An unlimited amount of undrafted players can be signed for $20,000 each.

Kris Benson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Clemson University. Besides Zapp, first-round high school draftees were Texas pitcher John Patterson (No. 5 by the Montreal Expos), Pennsylvania pitcher Matt White (No. 7 by the San Francisco Giants), California third baseman Eric Chavez (No. 10 by the Oakland Athletics), Washington pitcher Adam Eaton (No. 11 by the Philadelphia Phillies), Florida pitcher Bobby Seay (No. 12 by the Chicago White Sox), California outfielder Robert Stratton (No. 13 by the New York Mets), New York outfielder Dermal Brown (No. 14 by the Kansas City Royals), Virginia shortstop Matt Halloran (No. 15 by the San Diego Padres), Louisiana shortstop Joe Lawrence (No. 16 by the Toronto Blue Jays), Louisiana pitcher Todd Noel (No. 17 by the Chicago Cubs), Georgia pitcher Jake Westbrook (No. 21 by the Colorado Rockies), Louisiana pitcher Gil Meche (No. 22 by the Seattle Mariners), Kansas third baseman Damian Rolls (No. 23 by the Los Angeles Dodgers), Florida pitcher Sam Marsonek (No. 24 by the Texas Rangers) and Pennsylvania outfielder John Oliver (No. 25 by the Cincinnati Reds).

Sandwich first-rounders in 1996 included North Carolina outfielder Paul Wilder (No. 29 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), California pitcher Nick Bierbrodt (No. 30 by the Arizona Diamondbacks), Florida pitcher Matt McClendon (No. 33 by the Reds), Canadian pitcher Chris Reitsma (No. 34 by the Red Sox) and New York pitcher Jason Marquis (No. 35 by the Braves).

Benson (70 wins in 10 seasons), Patterson (18 victories in six seasons), Chavez (260 home runs in 17 seasons), Eaton (71 wins in 11 seasons), Seay (11 wins in eight seasons), Brown (271 games in eight seasons), Lawrence (55 games in 2002), Westbrook (105 wins in 14 seasons), Meche (84 wins in 10 seasons), Rolls (266 games in five seasons), Marsonek (one appearance in 2004), Bierbrodt (six wins in five seasons), Reitsma (32 wins and 37 saves in seven seasons) and Marquis (124 in 17 seasons) all made it the bigs. Bierbrodt made a stop with the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks along the way.

Stratton and McClendon made it as high as Triple-A, Halloran Double-A, Noel and Wilder Advanced-A and Oliver Low A.

In 2019, there were 13 high schoolers drafted in the first round — Texas shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 2 by the Royals), Florida outfielder Riley Greene (No. 5 by the Detroit Tigers), Georgia shortstop C.J. Abrams (No. 6 by the Padres), Texas corner infielder Brett Baty (No. 12 by the Mets), California third baseman Keoni Cavaco (No. 13 by the Minnesota Twins), Washington outfielder Corbin Carroll (No. 16 by the Diamondbacks), Illinois pitcher Quinn Priester (No. 18 by the Pirates), Georgia Premier Academy/Panamanian pitcher Daniel Espino (No. 24 by the Cleveland Indians), North Carolina pitcher Blake Walston (No. 26 by the Diamondbacks) and New Jersey shortstop Anthony Volpe (No. 30  by the New York Yankees).

North Carolina high school pitcher Brennan Malone (No. 33 by the Diamondbacks) was a compensation first-round selection.

Competitive balance first-round picks from high school were Texas pitcher J.J. Gross (No. 36 by the Rays) and Pennsylvania outfielder Sammy Siani (No. 37 by the Pirates).

Abrams played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2019.

Indiana’s three 2019 first-rounders came from the college ranks — University of Kentucky pitcher Zack Thompson (No. 19 by the St. Louis Cardinals), Tulane University third baseman Kody Hoese (No. 25 by the Dodgers) and Ball State University pitcher Drey Jameson (No. 34 by the Diamondbacks). Thompson (Wapahani), Hoese (Griffith) and Jameson (Greenfield-Central) are prepped in the Hoosier State.

Generally speaking, there are more right-handed pitchers out there. That means lefty swingers will see pitches breaking into them. Of course, the opposite is true with righty hitters against lefty pitchers.

Zapp sees big leaguers try to combat this trend.

“The two-seamer and cutter very popular in Major League Baseball now,” says Zapp. There’s also been plenty of lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty. “Games lasting longer because of the match-ups late in the game. Relievers have wipe-out sliders. Every reliever seems to throw 95 mph-plus with their fastball.”

When Zapp was playing, the gas increased as he went up in levels.

“A lot of those big arms are starters early in their careers and they move to the bullpen,” says Zapp.

Looking at how the youth baseball scene has changed over the years, Zapp says in the impact of social media and entities like Perfect Game USA and Prep Baseball Report give players so much exposure.

“The training, too,” says Zapp. “Kids are training all year-round. There’s a lot of hard workers.

“The competition is getting better. It’s a very competitive sport.”

Zapp, who was head baseball coach at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2007, is around sports during his day job, too. As a sale representative for BSN Sports — the largest Nike and Under Armour team dealer in the country — he talks all day with athletic directors and coaches and sells practice gear, football, uniforms, spirit wear and more.

AJZAPPCARD

A.J. Zapp graduated from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., and was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 1996. (Best Card Image)

AJZAPPFAMILYNikki and A.J. Zapp are surrounded by their three children (from left): Evan, Emilie and Ellen. A.J. was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Center Grove High School in 1996, played 11 professional seasons and is now a coach with the Indiana Bulls with Evan on the team.

 

Indiana graduate Cohen voice of the Iowa Cubs

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Alex Cohen went to college, he was surrounded by Chicago Cubs fans.

Growing up a baseball-loving kid in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Cohen pulled for that city’s team and he let his friends at Indiana University know about it.

“I was an obnoxious Phillies fan,” says Cohen.

His first memories of the game surrounded the 1993 National League champions featuring Darren Daulton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra and Curt Schilling.

The first foul ball he ever gathered and first autograph he ever got was from Mickey Morandini, who had played at IU.

Some non-Phillies that got Cohen’s attention were Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez.

Cohen played at Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, Pa. When not on the diamond himself, he was rooting for Phils stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels.

It was also at Upper Dublin that Cohen and friends formed a sports broadcasting club.

Josh Getzoff went on to become pre- and post-game host and play-by-play announcer for the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Stephen Watson would go on to be a sports anchor for WISN News in Milwaukee.

Flash forward more than a decade after his high school days and Cohen is the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, Chicago’s affiliate in the  Triple-A Pacific Coast League. The 2020 season is to be his third in Des Moines.

“This is Cubs country,” says Cohen. “Being the voice of a Chicago Cubs affiliate, it comes with a lot of responsibility.

“There’s just so many Cubs fans who come out in full force. You can tell that the Cubs fans are just a little bit different.”

And not just at Principal Park in Iowa.

Cohen recalls a game during a steamy 2018 day in Fresno, Calif.

“I’m getting to the ballpark a little bit late and I see a line out the door with Cubs fans,” says Cohen. “It was essentially a Chicago Cubs home game.”

That’s when he really began to recognize the national appeal of the Cubs.

Cohen was a Journalism major with a Sports Marketing & Management minor at Indiana, a school that was talked up by a friend who went there. The deal was sealed after a visit to Bloomington.

His freshmen year, Cohen wrote about tennis for the Indiana Daily Student.

He worked four years at the student radio station — WIUX.

There was an internship with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Philadelphia’s Triple-A International League affiliate in Allentown, Pa. He soaked up knowledge from the broadcast team of Matt Robbins and Jon Schaeffer.

Cohen was with the Gateway Grizzlies (Sauget, Ill.) of the independent Frontier League in 2011 and mentored by Adam Young.

The first job in affiliated baseball came for Cohen with the Milwaukee Brewers organization and the Double-A Southern League’s Huntsville (Ala.) Stars in 2012 and 2013.

Former major leaguer Darnell Coles was a first-time professional manager in Huntsville. Cohen and Coles experienced highs and lows together.

“He’s probably the best guy I’ve ever met in professional baseball,” says Cohen of Coles.

One high moment came when Coles summoned Cohen to the locker room before a game in Jackson, Tenn.

Coles had acted mad on the phone, so Cohen thought he was in trouble.

Instead, Coles introduced Cohen to former Seattle Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. The broadcaster — the one who had imitated a right-handed version of Junior during backyard wiffleball games — and the ballplayer talked for an hour.

Cohen also came to respect and gleaned adjectives and pace of play-by-play voices in the Southern League at the time — Birmingham’s Curt Bloom, Montgomery’s Joe Davis, Pensacola’s Tommy Thrall and Tennessee’s Mick Gillespie.

Bloom’s “approach to the life of working in baseball and embracing the grind” is what Cohen appreciates about the veteran broadcaster.

Davis is now with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Thrall the Cincinnati Reds.

Cohen says baseball play-by-play requires proper pace and tempo.

“Basketball and football are melodically so quick,” says Cohen. “You’re just following the action.

“Baseball is more of an art form. In a three-hour game, maybe 30 to 40 percent is action.

“You’re filling in all the background between pitches.”

Cohen was not behind the mike in 2014, but was learning as a media relations and broadcast assistant for the Oakland Athletics. He was exposed daily to the on-air styles of Vince Cotroneo and Ken Korach.

The 2015 season saw Cohen back in the booth with the Idaho Falls Chukars, a Kansas City Royals farms club in the short-season Pioneer League.

In 2016 and 2017, Cohen was in the Low Class-A Midwest League as play-by-play man for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods, a member of the Tampa Bay Rays system.

Working in Bowling Green, Cohen learned to see the game from a unique perspective.

“It’s a really different angle when you’re calling from (the) third base (press box),” says Cohen. “Your depth perception is a little off on balls hit to the outfield (You learn to watch the umpire or look at the monitor).

“It’s fun with your strike zone because you can tell pitches up and down a little bit better. In and out is a little more difficult.”

The radio booth at Tacoma of the PCL is also on the third base side.

Cohen encountered communicators like Chris Vosters in Great Lakes, Ball State University graduate Tom Nichols in Dayton and Jesse Goldberg-Strassler in Lansing.

“The world’s most-interesting broadcaster,” says Cohen of Goldberg-Strassler. “He’s focused on finding that small detail.”

Along the way, Cohen’s baseball fandom has become tied to his employer.

“As a broadcaster in Minor League Baseball you are a fan of the organization you work for and the affiliate they are with,” says Cohen. “You see these guys work so hard to get to the big leagues.

“You root for them to do well and by proxy you root for the big league team to do well.”

While he tends to work solo on the road, Cohen has a color commentator for home games. Deene Ehlis has been a I-Cubs broadcaster in some capacity for three decades and can tap into that treasure trove of memories.

Ehlis, who for years was paired with Randy Wehofer (who is now Iowa’s assistant general manager), does play-by-play in the middle innings and Cohen moves over to color.

Cohen and Ehlis have developed a rhythm over more than 150 games together.

“It’s more a conversation with baseball intertwined,” says Cohen. “That’s our main job is to paint the picture for the fans.”

Legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas will always have a warm spot in Cohen’s heart.

His current favorite is the Cubs’ Pat Hughes. With Chicago playing so many day games and Iowa so many night contests, Cohen gets to listen to Hughes while prepping for his game.

“The reason Pat is so good on radio is balance,” says Cohen. “Pat paints the picture. It makes sure the fan doesn’t get distracted from the game, but they also get background information.

“He’s just so even-keeled. There’s no bad games. He goes 2-for-4 or 3-for-4 every game as a broadcaster.”

In the PCL, Cohen is in the company of mike men like Nashville’s Jeff Hem, Las Vegas’ Russ Langer, Reno’s Ryan Radtke, Salt Lake’s Steve Klauke, Memphis’ Steve Selby and Oklahoma City’s Alex Freedman.

“They are tremendous guys,” says Cohen.

All have learned about the grind in a 16-team league that is so geographically spread out that it leads to lots to commercial air travel.

“From a travel standpoint, there’s no other minor league league like the PCL,” says Cohen, who notes that getting to airports in the wee hours, arriving in the next city at mid-day and then being ready for a night game is common.

“I’ve been through a lot,” says Cohen. “I’ve lived in a lot of different time zones. I’ve gone paycheck-to-paycheck up until Iowa job.

‘It’s both rewarding and time-consuming. We spend a lot of time away from your family and friends. This is the industry we chose. I don’t view it as paying your dues.”

During the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that has live baseball on hold, Cohen stays sharp by contributing to Iowa Cubs social media and calling simulated games for MLB The Show.

“It scratches that itch,” says Cohen, who was supposed to go out to spring training in Arizona March 20 (pandemic hit March 13). “I definitely have fun with that.”

He’s also been doing media interviews and online chat sessions such as the one he did with the Society for American Baseball Research’s Chicago chapter on Sunday, April 26 as part of the #StayHomeWithSABR initiative.

Asked about his home run call, Cohen told the virtual gathering about his rule.

“My rule when I got into broadcasting was I don’t want to have a home run call until I make it to the big leagues,” says Cohen. “If I make it to the big leagues then I’ll have my own home run call.”

Cohen, who has also called baseball games for the Australian Baseball League as well as in Taiwan, Japan and Colombia and the World Baseball Softball Confederation, has visited or worked at three Indiana ballparks — Victory Field in Indianapolis, Parkview Field in Fort Wayne and Four Winds Field in South Bend.

“I love it,” says Cohen of Victory Field, the home of the Indianapolis Indians and a place about 45 minutes from the IU campus. “I love urban ballparks.”

For this reason, he counts parks in Nashville, Charlotte, Baltimore, Denver and — of course — Chicago among his favorites.

“I really like Wrigley Field because even though it’s not in ‘The Loop’ or anything, you can still see what Wrigleyville has to offer,” says Cohen. “(The Fort Wayne TinCaps‘ Parkview Field is) probably one of my top five parks I’ve ever been to in Minor League Baseball. They just did it right. They have enough berm area. They have enough suite level. It’s so open. You have a panoramic view of the city.”

Cohen says he was unimpressed on his first visit to South Bend in 2011 then he came back after owner Andrew Berlin made many upgrades to the place.

“That ballpark has taken on a life of its own,” says Cohen of the South Bend Cubs‘ stadium. “It’s Wrigleyville Jr. It’s so cool.”

Combining the park, fans, proximity to Notre Dame and downtown amenities, Cohen says, “I’m not sure if there’s any better full scene in the Midwest League.”

Cohen was there the day Eloy Jimenez socked a home run against Bowling Green’s Diego Castillo (who is now with the Rays).

“It was a cold winter night in April,” says Cohen. “It was a 96 mph fastball running up and in.

“I’m not sure that ball has landed yet.”

Count Cohen a fan of Howard Kellman, who has been calling Indianapolis Indians games for more than four decades.

“Howard’s one of those classic voices,” says Cohen. “He’s so steady. You just know that he knows what he’s talking about. You know he’s done his research.

“In terms of pacing and verbiage and pausing, I really do try to emulate Howard.”

As a young broadcaster, Cohen does use advanced stats into his call. But he doesn’t force them.

“I’m not just reading them off a sheet for no reason,” says Cohen. “If Donnie Dewees is batting at the top of the order, you want to talk about his OBP (On-Base Percentage), OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play).

“That’s important to a 1- or a 2-hole hitter or someone who needs to get on-base. I don’t want to randomly read out sabermetrics.”

Any advice for anyone thinking of baseball broadcasting as a profession?

“With the contraction of Minor League Baseball, it’s tough,” says Cohen. “You don’t know how many gigs are going to be available at any given time.”

To hone their craft, Cohen prescribes repetition.

“Try to broadcast college or high school games,” says Cohen. “If you can’t, take tape recorder to a professional game.

“Email every single major league media relations director and director of broadcasting and say, ‘Hey, I have my own equipment. I want to get into broadcasting. Can I take one of your empty booths at a random game in May?’”

That gives the aspiring play-by-play man the chance to record a demo that can be sent to other broadcasters and directors for critiques.

“That’s how I got my experience early on,” says Cohen, who says he is open to the idea of being shadowed and then providing access to an open booth at Principal Park.

“You go through that process over and over and over again until you see jobs you want to apply for,” says Cohen.

JOEBIDENALEXCOHENAlex Cohen (right), the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, gets a visit in the booth on July 4, 2019 from Joe Biden. Cohen is a Philadelphia area native and graduate of Indiana University. (Iowa Cubs Photo)

Former MLB pitcher Wade says competitive mindset will take you far in baseball, life

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

If you knew Cory Wade when he was 15, you know he wasn’t very big.

As a freshman at Broad Ripple High School in Indianapolis, Wade stood 4-foot-11 and weighed 90 pounds.

By the time his prep days were done in 2001, Wade was just under 5-10 and 140.

Naysayers said this Broad Ripple Rocket would never soar as a baseball player.

“I used that as motivation,” says Wade. “People told me I couldn’t do it. I made it a point to shut everybody up.

“It helped mold my competitive mindset and, ultimately, got me where I needed to be.”

Clyde Smith was Broad Ripple’s head coach and Paul Butcher was the pitching coach. Both men expected their players to get as much out of themselves as possible.

“Coach Smith stayed on us all the time,” says Wade. “Coach Butcher was not easy on me. They were not mean but they expected you to do it right.

“At the time I was there we had some guys who were pretty talented. We had a chance to do well every year.”

So Wade kept controlling what he could control and you know what?

He went from Broad Ripple to Owensboro, Ky., to attend Kentucky Wesleyan College, with Todd Lillpop as head coach. In three seasons, Wade worked with two pitching coaches — Josh Bradford and Aaron Bouie. Bradford was quiet. Bouie was fiery. Both got the most out of Wade.

Bradford had been a pitcher in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

“He was really smart,” says Wade of Bradford. “He knew his stuff.”

Bouie taught Wade about the mental game and developing a “bulldog attitude.”

“It was pitching in on guys, keeping them uncomfortable and using your stuff,” says Wade, who in 2004 was selected in the 10th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Four years later, the right-hander was and pitching in the big leagues. He wound up being 6-2 and 195. He was a professional pitcher from 2004-14.

Along the way, Wade developed clean mechanics and the ability to repeat them.

“As I got bigger and stronger, the velocity went up,” says Wade, who appeared with the Dodgers in 2008 and 2009 and the New York Yankees in 2011 and 2012 and played in the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets and Kansas City Royals organizations as well as a some time with the independent Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers.

Wade is busy in the spring and summer as a pro scout for the San Diego Padres. In the fall and winter, he works with Indiana Primetime clients at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind., and is an instructor for Butcher at Inner Circle Baseball Pitching Academy at Extra Innings Indy South.

Jay Lehr also works with pitchers at Pro X Athlete in Westfield, Ind., and Wade began getting lessons from him around age 11.

As an instructor himself, Wade teaches the mechanics of the pitching delivery. But he also focuses on the “C” word.

“It’s about being competitive,” says Wade. “If you compete, good things happen. It’s really that simple.

“You’re getting the most out of what you’re doing that day.”

Wade says pitchers — baseball players — must grind and overcome adversity. That approach will also carry them outside the white lines of the diamond.

“It shapes you mentally for later in life,” says Wade. “(It helps when) you’re trying to get a promotion in corporate America.”

Wade played in the highest level of baseball — the big leagues — but Wade says you can be competitive at every level.

“You’d be amazed where that will take you,” says Wade.

Making steady progress is key.

“It’s hard for any kid to see where they’re going to be in five years,” says Wade. “You have to get a little bit better each day

“You make micro-adjustments over time. If you shrink these kids’ (immediate) goals and expectations, it makes it easier to digest.”

As a pro scout for the Padres, Wade is assigned to follow players — Low Class-A through the majors — with the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays. Other pro scouts in the system have MLB organizations that they follow.

“We compile as much information as we can about guys we like,” says Wade, who is required to file 25 reports every five days. He can set his own schedule and will flies more than amateur scouts typically do to see players for multiple games.

“You have to see them a few days before you remotely know who they are,” says Wade. “Position guys more difficult. They might be off (when you see them). They might have bad series or a good series. You have to filter through that.”

While the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic currently has baseball shut down and Wade at home with his family (wife Mikaeala, 12-year-old daughter Amaya, a sixth grader, and 6-year-old son Camden, a kindergartner) in Zionsville, Ind., he typically spends 25 days in spring training between Florida and Arizona and then sees about 100 games from early April until the July 31 trade deadline. August and September is devoted to following up and seeing players that might have been missed April through July.

CORYWADEGETTYIMAGESPHOTO

Cory Wade, a graduate of Indianapolis Broad Ripple High School who played at Kentucky Wesleyan College, played in the big leagues for the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees and is now a pro scout with the San Diego Padres. (Getty Images)

 

Notre Dame Law School students explore baseball arbitration

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What’s a player in Major League Baseball worth?

The player’s side has one figure in mind.

The club side presents another number.

To decide who wins, it sometimes comes down to a third party — an arbitrator.

Thanks to Professor of Law Emeritus Ed Edmonds, University of Notre Dame Law School students get a taste for this process with an internal tournament in the fall and by sending a team to the Tulane International Baseball Arbitration Competition at Tulane University in New Orleans in January.

The 2020 contest was the 13th for the TIBAC, run by the Tulane Sports Law Society as a simulated salary arbitration competition modeled closely on the procedures used by MLB.

According to the Tulane Law School website, “Like most law school moot court competitions, TIBAC’s main goal is to provide participants with the opportunity to sharpen their oral and written advocacy skills.

“However, the competition is unique in that it allows law students to sharpen these skills within the specialized context of MLB’s salary arbitration proceedings.

“The competition is held annually in the early part of the spring academic semester at Tulane University Law School.

“Additionally, at the conclusion of the arbitration competition, Tulane’s Sports Law Society hosts a panel of experts to discuss legal issues related to baseball.”

The popular event usually has a waitlist.

About a decade ago, Edmonds got Notre Dame involved in the TIBAC. For the past five years, there has been an internal contest at Notre Dame.

“We tend have about 12 to 15 students per class that have a very, very strong interest in sports law,” says Edmonds, advisor to Notre Dame Law School’s Sports Communication & Entertainment Law Forum — the student organization that sponsors the internal competition and those that attend the TIBAC. “About three quarters of them were a college athlete or work experience in the sports area. (The internal competition and application) is a much more objective way of picking our team members.”

Edmonds has been doing research on baseball arbitration since the 1980s and co-authored with Frank G. Houdek the book “Baseball Meets the Law: A Chronology of Decisions, Statutes and Other Legal Events” (published by McFarland & Co., 2017).

During the internal arbitration competition, Edmonds advises two-person teams to develop a theme and follow it throughout the whole argument.

Edmonds says he hopes that the Notre Dame Law School, Mendoza College of Business and athletic department will be able to work closer in the future.

Representing Notre Dame at Tulane this time around were team members Kevin Francese, Sebastian Bellm and Ryne Quinlan and coach Elizabeth Lombard.

Francese and Lombard are in their third year of law school (3L). Bellm and Quinlan are in their first year (1L).

Bellm and Quinlan teamed up to win Notre Dame’s internal competition, which centered around former Fighting Irish player and current Baltimore Orioles right fielder Trey Mancini and required the player side argue a penny above the mid-point and the club side a penny below the mid-point to win the argument, besting Francese and Paige Carey in the finals. Francese, Bellm and Quinlan applied and were chosen by Lombard to go to Tulane.

With three rounds, the field was trimmed from 31 to eight on the first day and those eight advanced to the second day. Fordham University won its second straight title. Notre Dame was runner-up in 2019 (team members John Casey, Dominique Fry and Reid Fulkerson were coached by Stephen Scheffel).

The three players featured at the 2020 IBAC were New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, Colorado Rockies right-handed starting pitcher Jon Gray and Milwaukee Brewers lefty closer Josh Hader.

Notre Dame was assigned to argue on the player side for Judge, the club side for Hader and had to be prepared on both sides of the argument for Gray.

TIBAC teams were required to produce exhibit slides and share them with competing teams.

Going before a judge and head-to-head with another team, they argued using a mid-point salary figure for each player.

First came the player argument then the team argument followed by the player rebuttal and team rebuttal. Two people had to talk during each argument. Points were assigned in each round.

Areas considered in the arguments included career contributions, injuries, past compensation, club attendance, team appeal and comparable players aka “comps.”

For Gray, who had a mid-point of $5.4 million, it was New York Mets righty starter Michael Wacha, Atlanta Braves righty starter Mike Foltynewicz and Texas Rangers lefty starter Mike Minor.

Lombard, a Chicago Cubs fan from the Chicago suburb of Western Springs, Ill., has been involved in baseball arbitration competition in all three years of law school. As a 1L, she was a team member. As a 2L, she ran the on-campus tournament and was an assistant coach. As a 3L, she ran the tournament, selected the team and went to Tulane as coach.

“This is unique for law school,” says Lombard. “It’s a non-confrontational way of arguing.”

There were several practice sessions with interruptions just like during the competition. Even law school students not involved were asked for their input.

While she could not get too involved, Lombard was able to help team members craft their arguments and edit their 10-page briefs. There were mock trial sessions at Notre Dame.

After the mental exhaustion of law school finals, much of the preparation happened during Christmas break.

TIBAC prizes were on the line for written presentations due in late December and oral presentations given in January.

“It was a really great experience,” says Lombard, who has a position in the general practice group at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in New York waiting on her after law school. “You don’t have to work in baseball for it to be an asset to you.

“You get to learn about another area of the law. You’re exploring salary arbitration and get to hone general negotiation skills.”

Guests at Tulane have included people like past TIBAC finalist Greg Dreyfuss (Director of Analytics and Baseball Operations for the MLBPA) and former Notre Dame baseball player Matt Nussbaum (Deputy General Counsel for the MLBPA and son of Midwest League president Dick Nussbaum).

“It’s super cool to be able to talk to people in the industry who are interested in our success,” says Lombard.

She nows looks at the game in a different way.

“My love for baseball has totally transformed,” says Lombard. “Now I feel I can talk with the best of them. It’s not only back of the baseball card, but advanced statistics.”

Lombard notes that the baseball player market has blown up and its sometimes difficult to value them.

“You get once or twice in a lifetime players,” says Lombard. “(Players rank) somewhere between (new Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder) Mookie Betts and someone else.”

Francese came to ND from Chappaqua, N.Y., which is 30 miles north of New York City. This was his first time in baseball arbitration competition. He pulls for the New York Yankees.

“We were assigned the player side of Aaron Judge, which is great because I’m a Yankee fan,” says Francese. “I had to talk up Aaron Judge, not talk him down. I don’t know how we didn’t win our Aaron Judge argument.

“I do play fantasy baseball. I don’t take (Boston) Red Sox as a policy.”

Bellm, another Cubs fan who moved with his family to Mishawaka, Ind., in 2008 and graduated from Marian High School in 2011. He graduated from St. Bonaventure (N.Y.) University with an accounting and finance degree in 2016. He lived in Chicago for three years before law school.

“This is different than anything I’ve done before,” says Bellm. “I’ve always been a baseball fan. But I had to dig into a deeper level.

“It was also nice change of pace from regular law school.”

Competitors get no extra credit and do the work on their own time.

Bellm notes that baseball salary arbitration is a niche area of the law and there might be 50 lawyers in the country who specialize in it and 20 or so of them attend the TIABC as guest judges.

“Jobs (for lawyers in baseball arbitration) are few and far between,” says Francese. “It’s not a wide spread thing. Certain people in big law firms do it.

“I hope to get back into sports law at some point in my career.”

He says he hopes to stay involved with the competitions throughout his time in law school.

Bellm notes that studying for Mancini’s case was helped by his position.

“With more outfielders, there’s more comps,” says Bellm.

It’s easier to compare corner outfielders than a second baseman to a shortstop.

While competitors had to be versed in the player and club sides, Bellm says the argument was stronger on the player side for Mancini, who was coming off a strong platform year (the season before arbitration). It’s their most-recent performance.

Mancini had a solid rookie year, a sophomore slump then had a uptick in his platform year. Those arguing for the player would emphasize his improvement. On the club side, they would point out a lack of consistency.

“It’s one of the most important factors considered in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (between the 30 MLB clubs and the MLBPA),” says Bellm of the platform year.

To make the competition more realistic, only real arbitration-eligible players are used. If a player’s real case is settled prior to the competition, that information can’t be used.

Edmonds says in most years 150 to 170 MLB players are arbitration-eligible, but few of those go to hearings.

For the record, Judge and the Yankees avoided arbitration and the club agreed to pay him $8.5 million. His 2019 salary was $684,300.

Gray and the Rockies reached an agreement and avoided arbitration. His salary went from $2.925 million in 2019 to $5.6 million in 2020.

Hader lost his arbitration case. He requested $6.4 million. He was given $4.1 million.

Mancini and the Orioles avoided arbitration. He earned 575,500 in 2019 and signed for $4.75 million in 2020.

Quinlan is from the Chicago suburb of Algonquin, Ill. He received a undergraduate and master’s accounting degrees from Notre Dame in 2016 and 2017. He serves in the U.S. Army National Guard.

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Repesenting Notre Dame Law School at the 2020 Tulane International Baseball Arbitration Competition (from left): team members Kevin Fracense, Sebastian Bellm and Ryne Quinlan and coach Elizabeth Lombard.

Hasler breaks down pitching delivery, long toss

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chicago White Sox bullpen coach Curt Hasler was back at the place where he really got his professional baseball career going.

Back in 1988, Hasler was the starting pitcher for the first South Bend (Ind.) White Sox game at what was then known as Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium. His battery mate that day was Mike Maksudian.

On Jan. 20, 2020 he was at Four Winds Field to talk about pitching with the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club.

Hasler lives in South Bend, teaches youth players during the winter at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and is the father of White Sox minor league hurler Drew Hasler.

The elder Hasler talked about the delivery and his belief in the power of long toss.

Hasler broke down pitching deliveries (some from the stretch and some from the wind-up).

“The best deliveries belong to starters in the big leagues,” says Hasler. “Relievers can get a little shaky.

“Relievers are only responsible for 15 to 30 pitches. Starters are responsible for 110 or 120. You’ve got to have good delivery to do that over and over again.”

From the stretch, White Sox right-handed reliever Jimmy Cordero begins with his feet shoulder width apart with most of his weight on his back leg.

“When he’s ready to go, all he’s going to have to do is transfer the rest of the 30 percent that’s on his front leg to his back leg and get to a balance position,” says Hasler. “This the simplest thing Jimmy can do. I can lift high. I can lift low. I can slide-step from this position.”

Hasler says that if a pitcher sets up too wide it takes an effort to get back over the rubber.

White Sox left-handed reliever Aaron Bummer’s delivery to very simple.

“He just lifts and goes,” says Hasler. “He comes set with feet and toes in line and slightly closed and more weight on the back leg.”

White Sox righty reliever Evan Marshall balances over the rubber and slightly rotates his hips while lifting his front leg.

“He’s in an athletic position,” says Hasler. “You’re not athletic with your feet and legs straight and your knees locked out.

“Eyes on target start-to-finish.”

The majority of major league pitchers do these things in their own way. Hasler says you can always find someone who’s different but those are the outliers.

“You want to make the guys that are good the rule,” says Hasler. “How high (Marshall) lifts (the front leg) is up to him. He has slide-step. He has a shorter one and has one with nobody on (the bases).

“Just as long as you get back to balance.”

Then Cordero was shown going toward the plate and in the process of separation.

“When your leg goes and your knees separate, your hands have to separate,” says Hasler. “They can’t be late. I’m not going to be on-time. My hand’s not going to catch up.

“He’s going to ride down the mound in a powerful position.”

Showing a photo of Max Scherzer, Hasler notes how the Washington National right-handed starter uses his lower half.

“He’s into his legs,” says Hasler. “The back leg is the vehicle to get you to where you want to go.

“I want all my energy, all my momentum, all my forces going (straight toward the plate).

“You’re using your glues and your hamstrings. You’re not really uses your quads.”

Houston Astros right-handed starter Justin Verlander is another pitcher who really gets into his legs and glutes and rides down the mound in a power position.

White Sox righty starter Lucas Giolito uses his hamstrings and glutes as does Los Angeles Dodgers left-handed starter Clayton Kershaw — the latter sitting lower than most.

Hasler says Giolito has one of the better riding four-seam fastballs and the correct way to grip it is across the four seams with the horseshoe pointing out (longer part of the finger over the longest part of the seams).

“It’s going to give you the most-efficient spin and the best ride,” says Hasler. “If that’s what you’re looking for.”

Righty closer Alex Colome gets into a powerful position with a slight tilt of the shoulders in his delivery.

Hasler says all pitchers, infielders and outfielders (catchers are a little different) have to step to where they throw.

“Being in-line is really important,” says Hasler.

Pitchers work back and front.

“I got over the rubber,” says Hasler. “Small turn. Upper half led. Lower half stayed back. I got into my legs. I’m going to the plate. I’m creating this power position. I’ve created created a little bit of tilt back with my shoulders.

“Now I’m going to work back to front, north to south, top top to bottom — anything you want to call it. I’m working (toward the plate).”

Hasler says pitchers who have a lower arm slot — like Boston Red Sox lefty starter Chris Sale — set their angle with their upper body.

In showing White Sox righty starter Dylan Cease and his “spike” curveball, Hasler noted that the wrist has to be a little bit stiff.

“You can’t be floppy over lazy with it,” says Hasler. “Dylan has spin the ball from 1-to-7 (o’clock). Nobody spins it 12-to-6. No one has an axis of 6 o’clock.”

For those without technology, Hasler says the best way to see if a player is spinning the ball the right way is play catch with them.

To learn to throw a curve, pitchers must learn to feel and spin the ball.

Hasler is a long toss advocate.

“Long toss is one of the most underrated and underused things out there,” says Hasler. “It’s a huge tool for kids.

“It can help arm strength. It will help you attain the best velocity you can attain. I’m not going to tell that it’s going increase velocity. It’ll give you the best chance to throw as hard as you can.

“It’s going to help you stay healthy.”

A problem that Hasler observes when the White Sox select a college player in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is their lack of throwing on non-game days.

“They tell me they were a Friday night starter in college,” says Hasler. “What did you do Saturday? Nothing. My arm’s sore. What did you do Sunday? Nothing. We didn’t have practice. What did you do Monday. Nothing. We had an off-day.

“He’s pitching Friday and not playing catch Saturday, Sunday or Monday. That’s a mistake.

“You need to play catch. You need to use it to keep it going.

“If you’re hurt then don’t (play catch). If you’re just a little sore then do (play catch). You have to understand the difference between soreness and being hurt.”

Hasler showed a long toss sessions between Giolito and White Sox righty starter Reynaldo Lopez.

“(Lopez) doesn’t start crow-hopping until he gets about 120 or 150 feet away,” says Hasler. Lopey long tosses at about 220 feet and he can do it because he’s strong.

“He’s on his front leg. There’s no exiting stage left or stage right. When we’re playing long toss, my misses can be up. But my misses can’t be side-to-side.

“When I miss right or left the ball is screaming at me that something’s wrong.”

Giolito crow-hops from 90 feet and back. But nothing comes “out of the hallway” (no throws would hit the imaginary walls).

“His first step is pretty aggressive and he’s going in the direction I want to go,” says Hasler. “If my first step is small, weak and little then what’s my second step going to be?”

The tone is set for long toss and as the thrower moves back, the tone and tempo picks up.

“Pitching and long toss are violent acts, but they’re done under control,” says Hasler.

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

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South Bend’s Curt Hasler is the bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox. He spoke at the Jan. 20, 2020 South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club. (Chicago White Sox Photo)