Tag Archives: Los Angeles Dodgers

Hootons bring ’special vibe’ to Fort Wayne TinCaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A husband-and-wife team with decades in baseball has been making an impact on a team and a city since making it their home in the spring and summer for the past six seasons.

Burt Hooton has been the pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps, a Low Class-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres since 2013.

In 2018, he is one a Fort Wayne coaching staff led by manager Anthony Contreras and also featuring hitting coach Jonathan Mathews and fielding coach Jhonny Carvajal.

Like she’s done throughout most of their marriage, wife Ginger Hooton has been there in-person to lend support to her husband and — through her personality — uplift those around her.

And not just because of her mouth-watering desserts like chocolate chip cookies, caramel brownies and Tres Leches cake.

“She’s a people person,” says Burt, who met Ginger in late 1970 when they both attended the University of Texas at Austin, got engaged in September 1972 and married Dec. 30, 1972. “She loves people. She likes pleasing people. She’s extremely friendly.”

TinCaps president Mike Nutter seconds that sentiment.

“She is such a motivator,” says Nutter of Ginger Hooton. “I’ve never heard a negative thing come out of her mouth.

“She has a unique perspective and outlook.”

The Hootons live right next to Parkview Field in the CityScape Flats. When Nutter and his crew were keeping their eye on the radar and dealing with rain delays Thursday, Aug. 16, Ginger sent him an encouraging text from her balcony.

She wanted him to know she had seen a rainbow over the field and wanted to see how he was doing.

“This is my 27th season in Minor League Baseball,” says Nutter. “Along the way, there are a handful of special people that come into your life.

“Ginger and Burt are certainly in that group. It’s a really special connection they have made. They want to work and make an impact in those young kids’ lives. They just have this special vibe.”

Both native Texans, Burt was a broadcast journalism major from the coastal city of Corpus Christi and art major Ginger hailed from the small farming community of Wharton.

The two met through a campus service organization — the Texas Cowboys. Their first date was at the group’s formal dance.

“I never knew he played baseball,” says Ginger. “I wasn’t a big baseball fan.”

She found it odd that so many people were shaking his hand. She learned years later that he had just thrown a no-hitter for the Longhorns.

Burt Hooton began his professional baseball career in 1971.

A standout at UT, the right-handed pitcher was selected in the first round of the 1971 amateur draft (second overall pick) by the Chicago Cubs and went on to pitch until 1985, winning 151 games and racking up over 2,600 innings.

On April 16, 1972, Burt tossed a no-hitter for the Cubs in his fourth MLB game and went on to be an all-star and the National League Championship Series MVP for the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers (who went on to win the World Series). He was known to possess a wicked knuckle curveball.

Even with all his accomplishments, Nutter marvels that Burt Hooton has no ego.

“He has a great gift of working with these young men,” says Nutter. “Anthony Contreras calls it a ‘feel’ for what will work for them.”

After taking the time to complete his college degree (he promised his mother he would finish it after leaving Texas at the end of his junior year), Burt launched into a coaching career in 1988 and has been a pitching coach at every level of organized professional baseball plus three collegiate seasons with the Texas Longhorns. He was the pitching coach for the big-league Houston Astros 2000-04.

Along the way, Ginger has been making friends in the stands and around the towns where Burt played or coached. When he was coaching in Round Rock, Houston and Oklahoma City, there were enough wives around for Ginger to lead a Bible study.

With younger players (the oldest players on the current Fort Wayne roster is 24 and there are nine teenagers), there is no opportunity with player wives.

“I just really prayed about it and God told me to feed my sheep so I just feed them,” says Ginger. “It’s mostly sweets.”

Pre- and post-game meals are provided by clubhouse manager Sam “Swirley” Lewis.

And it’s not just the players and and coaching staff that have sampled Ginger’s baked goods. Most everyone who works at Parkview Field — front office personnel, ushers, parking lot attendants — has gotten a taste.

The downtown stadium doubles as a public space when a game is not in progress. Many people walk around the perimeter of the field for exercise. Ginger walks there and greets those she encounters along the way.

When Burt and Ginger’s children — Gene and Layne — were very young, they would come to spring training with their parents and be tutored by their mother. As they grew older, they would visit spring training during spring break and then come to whatever baseball city their father called home.

“She always saw to it that she and the kids were wherever I was,” says Burt. “Now, it’s easy. We don’t have any kids (at home). I certainly don’t want to leave her home by herself (in San Antonio).

“I want her here. She wants to be here. We both enjoy it. It’s almost like a five-month vacation.”

This season has seen a steady stream of visits from family and friends. Sometimes when Burt is away, Ginger will go to help daughter Layne with her San Antonio-based store.

“I’ve been entertaining a lot,” says Ginger. “This season has flown by.

“I don’t know what I do, but I stay busy.”

Before moving into CityScape Flats, the Hootons lived next to Parkview Field at The Harrison. For the first few years in Fort Wayne, they resided in places across the city — far enough away that Ginger would sit in the one car they brought from Texas to pick up Burt after games.

Now, he can just walk home.

“I can get stuff done at home,” says Ginger.

The Hootons have gotten to know Fort Wayne and the surrounding area, checking out sites, museums and restaurants.

“Fort Wayne is a great town,” says Burt, the keynote speaker at the Northeast Indiana Baseball Association banquet in May. “The people we have met here have been great.”

Ginger and Burt also drive together on some of the TinCaps’ closer road trips.

“We enjoy traveling around together and being together,” says Burt. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The (Midwest) League is small enough that we can hop in the car and go places like Lansing, Grand Rapids, Dayton, South Bend and Midland, Mich.

“We’re having fun together.”

At 68, Burt takes his coaching career one season at a time.

“As long as I’m still healthy and enjoy it, somebody wants me and she’s OK with it,” says Burt. “When they ask me, I say I’ll ask Ginger and see what she says, She usually says whatever you want to do is fine with me.

“When she says ‘no’ that’ll probably be the end of it.”

Ginger sees the satisfaction her husband gets by helping to launch the pro careers of young pitchers.

“I think his greatest joy is getting to move these young kids up,” says Ginger. “It’s like our own children getting to make it.”

The past few weeks, the Hootons have been watching the Padres on TV and seeing players who once played in Fort Wayne.

“It’s so fun to get to see them experience that,” says Ginger.

And this husband and wife are experiencing so much together.


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Burt (left) and Ginger Hooton share a moment outside Parkview Field, where Burt is in his sixth season as pitching coach for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps. The couple was married Dec. 30, 1972. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

Pedroia is Mann’s favorite player.

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mann also learned to flourish with the bat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ve definitely worked hard at it.”

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

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

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

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

His head coach was Ben McDaniel.

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Held was his head coach with the Bulls.

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

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

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

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

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

Fort Wayne’s McKinstry builds Baseball I.Q. at early age, now in Dodgers chain

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach McKinstry started thinking about baseball — really thinking about it — as a youngster in Fort Wayne.

Alex McKinstry started talking with his middle child about the intricacies of the game as he practiced his craft year-round. It was a thrill to be able to swing the bat during the winter thanks to Rich Dunno and his indoor facility.

“Growing up around the game, I felt I was ahead of the kids in Fort Wayne with baseball,” says Zach, now 23 and a middle infielder in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. “I got to play it almost all year-round. That was was really nice.”

Alex McKinstry was Zach’s coach in his final travel ball season and is still a coach with the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks. The instructor at Bill C. Anthis Career Center in Fort Wayne was head baseball coach when Zach played at Fort Wayne North Side High School and is now the junior varsity coach at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School.

Zach’s older brother, Alex McKinstry, played four years of college baseball — two at the University of Northwestern Ohio and two at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne.

Zach was born in Toledo, Ohio, but moved with the family to Fort Wayne before elementary school. He started at Holy Cross Little League then played travel baseball from 10 on. First, there was the Summit City Thunder then Summit City Sluggers, Strike Zone Spiders and Manny Lopez-led Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).

Zach McKinstry played football and baseball at North Side, graduating in 2014. He then played two stellar seasons at Central Michigan University, earning co-team MVP honors in his final season of 2016 after hitting .325 with 10 doubles, two triples, 31 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases. Over two years, he hit .321 with 14 doubles, five triples, 45 RBIs and 20 pilfered bags.

As a draft eligible sophomore, McKinstry was selected in the 33rd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers.

The 2016 season was split between the Short Season Class-A Arizona League Dodgers and Low-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons. He played for Great Lakes, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes and Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers in 2017.

McKinstry started the 2018 campaign at Great Lakes and is now back with Rancho Cucamonga. In a combined 39 games, the left-handed swinger is hitting .388 with three home runs, eight doubles, two triples and nine RBIs.

Mostly a shortstop at Great Lakes, he has seen more action at second base with the Quakes. Rancho Cucamonga has a highly-touted shortstop in Gavin Lux and a top-notch second baseman in Omar Estevez.

Drew Saylor is the Quakes manager and Justin Viele the hitting coach.

LA’s Triple-A affiliate is the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Going back to his younger days, McKinstry counts his Baseball I.Q. as one of his strengths.

“It’s being able to think the game on my own and having a feel for the game of baseball,” says McKinstry. “I understand what’s going on.

“My best tool is on tool and defense. I have the arm for throwing the ball across the diamond.”

As a batter, he’s been used in the Nos. 1, 2, 8 and 9 slots in the order.

“I’m a get-on-base kind of guy,” says McKinstry, who carries a .526 on-base percentage for 2018 and .365 for his pro career. “I get on for guys who can hit the ball hard in the air.”

Steve Jaska was Central Michigan’s head coach during McKinstry’s time with the Chippewas.

“He had a passion for the game,” says McKinstry. “He carried himself very professionally. He knew what he needed to do to win baseball games and he taught me how to be a winner.

“He also taught how to take your losses and use them to you advantage — learn from what you did wrong and what you could have done differently.”

Though Jaska did not name captains for 2016, McKinstry was considered one that spring.

“He taught me how to be a leader,” says McKinstry of Jaska, who led leadership training in the off-season. “I really value him for that.

“He let me carry that team a little bit.”

Coming out of his shell, McKinstry developed the ability to speak to a roomful of ballplayers as well as go one-on-one.

“He could always rely on me to go to a freshman.” says McKinstry.

Besides Zach and the two Alexes, the McKinstry family features wife/mother Tracy (who is employed at James Medical) and daughter/sister Haley. The latter was a soccer player at North Side.

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Zach McKinstry, a Fort Wayne North Side High School graduate who played at Central Michigan University, is now in the Los Angeles Dodgers system with the Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes. (Steve Saenz Photo)

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Zach McKinstry, who went to high school and played youth and travel baseball in Fort Wayne, Ind., was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016 and now plays with the Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes. (Steve Saenz Photo)

With a little help from dad, Sampen pitching in Dodgers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Caleb Sampen, a right-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, is a second-generation professional baseball pitcher.

His father — Bill Sampen — toed the rubber for pay for 10 seasons and appeared in 182 major league games with the Montreal Expos, Kansas City Royals and California Angels.

Selected in the 20th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate Caleb Sampen had been in three pro games though July 10 — all with the Short Season Class-A Ogden (Utah) Raptors.

Caleb has picked up pointers from his father. But it hasn’t been too much.

When Caleb was getting started in the game, Bill was coaching his two older sons. Isaac and Sam played for the West Side Crusaders.

“I was just around,” says Caleb Sampen. “(My father) didn’t force any mechanics on me. He let me be an athlete.

“It wasn’t like I had a pitching lesson with him everyday.”

The elder Sampen decided when his older boys were reaching their teens that he would stop serving as a coach for their teams and he never coached any of Caleb’s squads.

“It was best for them to learn to play for other people,” says Bill Sampen, “I thought that was part of the process. I think that’s the best route for kids.

“I got to step back and just be a dad and enjoy watching them play.

“I just played coach when they asked me questions.”

In November, Samp’s Hack Shack baseball/softball training facilities will reach the ninth year in Brownsburg (5,200 square feet) and mark one year in Plainfield (7,500 square feet).

The Indiana Expos travel organization are in their second season and have seven teams in 2018. None of them have fathers coaching their own sons.

Bill Sampen says that policy for Expos coaches achieves a couple things.

“It allows us to be completely honest and give honest and objective feedback,” says Bill Sampen. “And they just get to watch their kid play.

“I know I enjoy the value of just sitting back and being a dad. The truth is they’re not going to play very long. Enjoy the journey. Don’t stress so much.”

Bill Sampen coaches the 16U National team, David Brewers the 16U American, Derek Hankins the 15U National, Nick Spence the 15U American, Isaac Sampen the 14U National, Leo Tobasco the 14U American, Tony Meyer the 13U National.

Calling the teams the Expos was not Bill’s call.

“My family decision informed that was what the name was,” says Bill Sampen. “You can see I have no clout.”

Bill coached the Bethesda Christian School baseball team for about a decade before starting his training business.

“It’s a very pure level of coaching I have now,” says Bill Sampen, “I appreciate that.”

During the school year, he has students from 4 p.m. on. But he is involved seven days a week most of the year as either an instructor or travel ball coach.

His 16U team has been in Georgia, competing against some of the best from all over the continent.

“Our upper age groups do more extensive travel,” says Bill Sampen. “We’re helping them get exposure. They get to see kids committed (to colleges) all over the place.

“It’s good for our players to see the skill level and talent that’s out there. We want to play people that the only way we can beat them is if we out-execute them.

“Do things right day in and day out. If you have a plan and do the routine things, you’re going to be in baseball games, no matter who you’re playing.”

Knowing that some players will not go on to college, they are getting to have experiences they may not have without travel baseball.

“We want to hope them grow and develop — not just as baseball players but as people,” says Bill Sampen. “It’s the life skills that carry past baseball.

“If you’re trying to win trophies, I think you’ve got the wrong purpose.”

Caleb Sampen grew up in Brownsburg and played at Brownsburg Little League until seventh grade when he started his travel ball experiences. He donned the uniforms of the Indiana Outlaws, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Bulls and Indiana Blue Jays.

At Brownburg High, where Caleb graduated in 2015, his head coach was Eric Mattingly.

“He always talked about doing the little things right and an attention to detail,” says Caleb Sampen, who played shortstop when not pitching for the Bulldogs. “You take care of every little piece so you’re well-prepared.”

At Wright State, Sampen had Greg Lovelady as his head coach and Justin Parker his pitching coach his freshman year before both went to the University of Central Florida.

“(Parker) always talks about lower half and using your legs,” says Caleb Sampen.

The next two years, Jeff Mercer was head coach and Alex Sogard led the pitching staff.

(Sogard) didn’t try to change me a whole lot on the mound,” says Caleb Sampen. “He was pretty individualized, which I liked a lot.”

Recently, Mercer became head coach at Indiana University and Sogard was promoted to head coach at Wright State.

Sampen also got the chance this past year to learned from Diamyn Hall, NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach.

“We worked on routines and being ready to go,” says Sampen of Hall. “He gets you in that mindset and having self awareness.”

In Caleb Sampen, Bill sees a cerebral kid.

“He’s got an idea,” says Bill Sampen. “I can’t take any credit for any successes he’s had.”

The father does see some similarities to himself.

Bill Sampen developed his abilities while playing baseball and basketball at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.

“I see the way he moves and his athleticism,” says Bill Sampen of Caleb. “He has a long, loose arm and does things naturally.”

In two seasons at Wright State (2016 and 2018), Caleb went 14-4 in 26 games (21 as a starter) with a 2.92 earned run average, 90 strikeouts and 37 walks in 141 2/3 innings. He missed the 2017 season after having surgery on the ulnar nerve in his elbow.

On a pitch count because of the college workload in the spring of 2018, Caleb Sampen, 21, began his pro career with two relief appearances and a short starting stint. He was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA, seven strikeouts and one walk in 4 2/3 innings.

Jeremy Rodriguez is the Ogden manager. Dean Stiles is the pitching coach.

The next stops on the Dodgers minor league trail are the Low Class-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Caleb says he goes to the bump each time with an aggressiveness mindset.

“You’ve got to go out and attack with your strengths,” says Caleb Sampen, who uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, 12-to-6 curveball and cutter.

What about the change-up?

“It’s own own little mix I’ve perfected over the years,” says Caleb Sampen. “I use an off-set two-seam grip and throw it with my ring finger and middle finger. I keep my index finger off the ball as much as possible.”

Amy Sampen, a former Brownsburg teacher, is now an virtual educator and is the “boss” as co-owner of the Hack Shack, according to Bill.

Isaac Sampen (24) and Sam Sampen (23) both played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Sam graduated highs school a semester early and joined his older brother.

Isaac Sampen went on to play at Eastern Illinois University and Sam Sampen at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Besides coaching and helping with the coordination of the Expos, Isaac now helps in many ways at the Shack. Sam has an outside job and also helps out at the training facilities.

In his time around the game, Bill Sampen has seen an increase in research and scientific data related to throwing a baseball.

“It’s validated some things that should have been done all along,” says Bill Sampen. “It can be very valuable in preventing injury.

“It seems that injuries are still there in spite of new data and new science.”

The likely reason?

“It’s the intensity of weight training,” says Bill Sampen. “Velocity is based on arm speed and not body strength.

“There are big, physical guys that can’t throw hard.”

And yet 5-foot-11, 180-pounder Billy Wagner regularly hit 100 mph and won 47 games and saved 422 in the bigs.

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Caleb Sampen, a 2015 Brownsburg High School graduate and former Wright State University pitcher, makes a delivery for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Ogden Raptors Photo)

 

Former North Central (Farmersburg), Evansville right-hander Strain now pitching in Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Strain’s baseball journey began in west central Indiana and it currently has him playing near the thumb in Michigan’s “mitten.”

Strain, who grew up in Sullivan County, Ind., played three varsity seasons at North Central High School in Farmersburg and five seasons at the University of Evansville, is now a Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand and a reliever for the Great Lakes Loons of the Low Class-A Midwest League.

A 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-hander, Strain regularly hits 92 to 95 mph on the radar gun with his sinking two-seam fastball. He also has a change-up and a “slurve” (combination slider and curve).

“I’m working on a true slider,” says Strain, 23. “I’ve been throwing 35 to 40 pitches on two days rest, depending on the situation.”

Strain was selected in the ninth round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers, but did not make it into a regular-season minor league game until 2018.

Going into play June 27, he was 2-0 with a 1.40 earned run average with 16 strikeouts and eighth walks in 19 1/3 innings. After suffering a groin injury in his second spring training outing, he was kept in Glendale, Ariz., for extended camp until making his Loons debut May 17.

“I’ve been focusing on keeping my body healthy,” says Strain, who was a starting pitcher at Evansville. “I’m working on getting a feel for my pitches during catch.”

What strikes him about the Midwest League?

“I was surprised with how nice the parks are in this league,” says Strain, who plays home games with the Loons at Dow Diamond.

Midland, Mich., is also closer to his hometown Shelburn, Ind., (about 450 miles) than Glendale.

Strain credits UE head coach Wes Carroll and pitching coach Cody Fick for advancing his development.

“Coach Carroll taught me the mentality of being comfortable while I’m uncomfortable,” says Strain, who pitched for the Purple Aces 2013-17 with 51 appearances (42 as a starter). “Throughout my college years I grew and learned how to handle things and how to compete and attack everything with the right mindset.”

Strain calls Fick the “biggest competitor I’ve ever been around.”

“He has an absolute will to win in everything he does,” says Strain of Fick. “He cares about the game about as much as anyone I’ve seen in my years in baseball.”

Done with class work as an accounting/business management major, Strain says he plans to do an internship in the off-season to complete his college degree. More than once, he was named to the Missouri Valley Conference Honor Roll.

At North Central, Strain lettered as a sophomore for Thunderbirds coach Darin Simpson then played his last two prep seasons for Craig Grow.

“(Grow) taught me how to enjoy the game,” says Strain. “He is one of the absolutely nicest human beings I’ve been around. He always has a smile on his face. He taught me to treat people the right way.”

As a North Central senior in 2012, Strain posted an ERA of 1.30 for 30 innings and he hit .398. As an all-stater, he had a 1.54 ERA in 70 1/3 innings and hit .451 as a junior. The Thunderbirds went 25-7 and were 2011 IHSAA Class 1A state runners-up.

Strain got his baseball start at Northeast Youth League and then played travel ball for the Farmersburg Outlaws.

Connor’s parents are Jeff Strain and Paula Strain. He has two brothers — fraternal twin Tyler Strain and Callan Strain.

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Connor Strain, a product of North Central (Farmersburg) High School and the University of Evansville, is now pitching in the Los Angeles Dodgers system with the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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Connor Strain delivers a pitch in 2018 for the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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As Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand, former North Central (Farmersburg) High School and University of Evansville pitcher is playing for the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons in Midland, Mich. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

 

‘Walking medical phenomenon’ Barrett on quest to return to Nationals staff

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Barrett still has a hard time believing that he broke his humerus — that long bone in the arm that runs from the shoulder to the elbow — while pitching a baseball.

Barrett, an Evansville native and Washington Nationals reliever, was on his way back from Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his elbow (Sept. 3, 2015 by Dr. James Andrews). Things seemed to be progressing well 11 months after the procedure.

The power right-hander was one week from being sent on a rehab assignment in 2016 when snap! — his arm broke on the 11th pitch of a 20-toss simulated game.

“I went into shock,” says Barrett of the painful moment. “It’s crazy the amount of force and torque I used to break that major bone.

“I must’ve thrown that one pitch very hard.”

Doctors told Barrett that he is the first to break the humerus after Tommy John surgery.

“I’m a walking medical phenomenon,” says Barrett, who debuted in the big leagues with Washington in 2014 and made his last MLB appearance in 2015.

And now he’s working to make a comeback.

Turned from a starter to a reliever in his first professional season (2010), Barrett made the big league team out of 2014 spring training and appeared in 50 games and was 3-0 with a 2.66 earned run average, 49 strikeouts and 20 walks in 40 2/3 innings while also pitching in 10 games and 10 innings at Triple-A Syracuse.

In 2015, Barrett made 40 MLB appearances and was 3-3 with a 4.60 ERA. He fanned 35 and walked seven in 29 innings, but landed on the 15-day disabled list with a right biceps strain in both June and August.

“I was pitching nearly everyday and I was in pain for two or three weeks before I went on the DL,” says Barrett, who was soon transferred to the 60-day list. “Being a reliever, throwing everyday is part of the grind.”

Along the way, it was discovered that Barrett had a 90-percent tear in his Ulnar Collateral Ligament and so he underwent the reconstruction then he had his next setback.

But Barrett, signed to a two-year contract by the Nationals to rehab, began throwing again last summer and has worked hard at the club’s training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla.

He now finds himself close to getting closer to the road back to the majors.

Barrett and other players rehabbing injuries have been competing in extended spring training camp games against other organizations along the Space Coast.

“I’m building arm strength and knocking the rust off,” says Barrett. “I hope to go north on a rehab assignment the next few weeks.”

Washington has full-season affiliates in Hagerstown (Low Single-A), Potomac (High Single-A), Harrisburg (Double-A) and Syracuse (Triple-A) and Barrett expects that his assignments will come as a progression.

Barrett — aka “The Bear” — has stayed connected to his buddies in the big leagues and watches the broadcast of nearly every Nationals game.

“I still have many close friends on the team, guys I came up in the farm system with,” says Barrett.

The 6-foot-4 righty holds the distinction of being selected four times in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — in the 44th round in 2006 by the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the 20th round in 2008 by the Minnesota Twins, in the 27th round in 2009 by the Texas Rangers and in the ninth round in 2010 by the Nationals.

Barrett explains why he kept going back into the draft.

“The money was not enough for me to turn away from college,” says Barrett. “I wanted to finish my (liberal arts) degree (three minors — history, sociology and park and recreational management — equals a major). “I  was a ninth-round senior. That’s pretty good. It all worked out.”

Barrett is a 2006 graduate of Evansville Central High School, where he played for coach Jason Engelbrecht. He played two seasons at Wabash Valley College (2007, 2008) in Mount Carmel, Ill., for coach Rob Fournier and two seasons at the University of Mississippi (2009, 2010) for coach Mike Bianco.

Using Barrett some out of the bullpen, Bianco discovered that his stuff played up and he was able to let it go in shorter mound stints.

After turning pro, Barrett developed the mindset of throwing several times a week.

“With the intensity of the later innings, I thrived,” says Barrett.

In 2012, he broke out while pitching in Low-A, High-A and the Arizona Fall League. He was in Double-A and in 2013 and then got the call from Triple-A to the majors in 2014.

The middle son of Dave and Jackie Barrett, Aaron played at Golfmoor Little League on Evansville’s west side before his family moved to the north side where he took to the diamonds of the Highland Baseball Club.

As a 13-year-old, Barrett was on a team that went to Nebraska and won a national championship. Among his teammates was Preston Mattingly, son of Don Mattingly and still one of Aaron’s best friends, and Adam Champion.

Preston Mattingly was a first-round MLB draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006 and played in the minor until 2011.

Champion played four years at the University Arkansas-Little Rock and then two years in the minors and two in independent baseball.

Ryan Barrett, Aaron’s older brother, graduated form Evansville Central in 2003 and played shortstop for four years at the University of Evansville.

Younger brother Drew Barrett was a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley and two at Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Ky.).

Two cousins — Evansville Central graduate Jason Barrett and Evansville Reitz Memorial graduate Zach Barrett — also went on college baseball — Jason at Ball State and Zach at Olney (Ill.) Central College and Middle Tennessee State University.

“Evansville is such a good baseball town,” says Barrett. “The state of Indiana doesn’t give it enough credit for how good of a baseball town it is.”

While working on the baseball field to make his hometown proud, Aaron is also spending quality time with wife Kendyl and 7-month-old daughter Kollyns.

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Aaron Barrett, an Evansville native, is working to get back to the big leagues with the Washington Nationals after breaking his humerus while rehabbing from Tommy John elbow surgery. (Washington Nationals Photo)

 

Indiana’s Edgerton among former players thrown a curve by baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bill Edgerton would not trade his time on a professional baseball field for the world.

It’s the business side that has left a bitter taste for the former left-handed pitcher who spent 68 days on a Major League Baseball roster.

“It was the best time of my life,” says Edgerton, who graduated from Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., in 1960 and played in the majors with the Kansas City Athletics in 1966 and 1967 and the Seattle Pilots in 1969. “I enjoyed every second of it. There was a statistic back then that something like 1 in 10,000 guys made it (to the big leagues). That was everybody’s goal to make it there and establish yourself.

“Along the way, they had the situation to their liking but not to anybody else’s.”

The ‘they” Edgerton refers to is the owners and baseball officials who make money decisions, including pensions.

“It’s always been a one-sided situation,” says Edgerton, 76. “I found that out.

“When I played, they sent you to a league nearest your home so they can give you a bus ticket to get home.

“The whole system was set up for them to make money. It was a business more than anything else. It’s the old adage: the little guy doesn’t matter much. They are working in volume and numbers.”

Doug Gladstone, author of the book, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee; How MLB & The Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve,” has been advocating for Edgerton and 500 other men do not get pensions because they did not accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played between the years 1947 and 1979 needed to be eligible for the MLB pension plan.

“A lot of us wouldn’t have gotten a dime without his persistence,” says Edgerton of Gladstone. “He’s a driving force for guys who don’t even realize they have someone in their corner.”

Gladstone calls it an “under-reported topic” and an “incredible injustice.”

“All these men have been getting since 2011 are non-qualified retirement payments of $625 per quarter, up to 16 quarters, or a maximum payment of $10,000,” says Gladstone. “Meanwhile, the maximum IRS pension limit is $210,000. Even the minimum pension a vested retiree can get is a reported $34,000.

“The union representing the players, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), doesn’t have to be the legal advocates for these men, the league doesn’t have to negotiate about this matter and the alumni association is too busy putting on golf outings.”

Gladstone notes that Forbes recently reported that the current players’ pension and welfare fund is valued at $2.7 billion, yet the union representing the current players, the MLBPA, has been reluctant to share the wealth.

Edgerton, who laid out his case to South Bend Tribune columnist Al Lesar in 2012, fought to prove he had 68 days of service time and was finally given an annual sum that Gladstone says amounts to less than $1,000 after taxes.

“It was real frustrating,” says Edgerton of his prolonged fight. “They tried to work me under the mill. It’s been a long, hard battle. I’ve been lied to, twisted and turned.

“It’s shameful.”

Gladstone calls Edgerton’s payment a pittance, especially in industry reportedly worth $12-13 billion.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s chump change,” says Gladstone. “These are reparations. They’re definitely not pensions. A pension can be passed on to a loved one.”

Kim Edgerton, 20 years younger than husband Bill, will receive nothing after her husband passes away.

“Bill wants to provide for his wife,” says Gladstone. “Nobody can have too much money. I know guys who have no health insurance and have had three heart attacks.

“Not everybody is commanding the money today’s players are making. That’s what people don’t get. The explosion of wealth this game has seen did not trickle down the guys who played before 1980.”

Gladstone notes that Richie Hebner, who played through 1985, was a grave digger in the off-season throughout his 18-year MLB career.

“Guys like Yoenis Cespedes don’t have to dig a ditch,” says Gladstone. “If they make proper investments, they have no worries about money.

“But there are some living hand-to-mouth.”

While Edgerton is not in that situation, he is grateful for the advocate’s efforts.

“Gladstone knows what he’s doing,” says Edgerton. “He knows how they lie and cheat. There are till guys who deserve something and don’t get anything. There are guys who really need it.”

Edgerton retired after 34 years at the AM General plant in Mishawaka and headed south for warmer weather.

“I don’t regret that move at all,” says Edgerton, who lives on a golf course in Foley, Ala., a town not far from the Gulf of Mexico.

Edgerton fondly remembers his early baseball days at Jefferson Elementary in South Bend. Al Vincent was his coach.

“We all idolized this guy because of his knowledge, personality and teaching skills,” says Edgerton, whose older brothers Mel and Paul played at South Bend Adams and got the attention of professional scouts and younger brother Rick was an all-around athlete at Penn. “Those guys are rare and they stuck with you for your life. They don’t only teach you what you need to know about the game, but away from the game.”

Edgerton played on the Mishawaka High School varsity as a freshman and then went to Penn when that school opened its doors. Bill Brinkman was the Kingsmen’s head coach.

During the summer, Edgerton took the mound for Sherman Cleaners and then the Toasty Flyers, coached by future Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and professional coach and manager Jim Reinebold.

“I pitched against college players,” says Edgerton, who had a few college baseball opportunities but continued to play on the semi-pro circuit after high school graduation before signing with the expansion New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1963.

“I played in the Mets organization for 90 days,” says Edgerton, who was with the 1963 Quincy (Ill.) Jets. “They owed me bonus money.”

After his release, Edgerton came back to northern Indiana and was planning to give up on pro baseball.

“I was giving my equipment away,” says Edgerton, who then got an offer from the Kansas City Athletics, owned by Charles O. Finley. They needed a left-hander to finish the summer. He signed and went back to the Class-A Midwest League with the Burlington (Iowa) Bees.

Edgerton was in Class-A and Triple-A ball in 1964, Double-A in 1965 and went 17-6 for the 1966 Triple-A Mobile (Ala.) A’s when he was called up to Kansas City.

At 25, he made his debut Sept. 3 with a scoreless inning against the Boston Red Sox and got into six big league games in 1966 and seven in 1967.

“I did a lot of sitting and watching,” says Edgerton, who watched owners try to recoup their investment in their Bonus Babies (amateur baseball players who received a signing bonus in excess of $4,000 and went straight to the majors between the years 1947 and 1965). “I know I had better skills than them. I’m not bragging. That’s the way it was.”

The 6-foot-2 southpaw pitched in the minors with the California Angels and Philadelphia Phillies in 1968.

Before the 1969 season, Edgerton went from the Phillies to the expansion Seattle Pilots. He was with the Vancouver (B.C.) Mounties and then the big-league Pilots, appearing in four games. His final MLB appearance was April 25 against the Oakland Athletics.

He wound up with one MLB win, 11 strikeouts and a 4.79 earned run average. After his time in the big leagues, he also pitched in the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers systems.

“I’m glad that was the time period I played in,” says Edgerton. “There were some great ballplayers — ones I idolized for years and years. There was Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Willie Mays. They were exceptional for their time.”

Edgerton recalls one spring while with Kansas City when the Athletics went to play the New York Yankees, who then trained in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

As Edgerton and another Athletic approached the batting cage, they saw Mantle taking his cuts.

“Did you just get the chills?,” Edgerton asked his teammate. “The hairs were standing up on my arm. There’s an aura here I don’t understand. I’d like to face that guy one time to see what I got. The only regret is I didn’t get the shot I deserved.”

Nor the financial compensation.

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Bill Edgerton, a 1960 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., pitched in parts of three seasons in the big leagues with the Kansas City Athletics and Seattle Pilots.