Tag Archives: Major League Baseball

Wynegar wants Indianapolis hitters to know the mental side

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Butch Wynegar is not a meteorologist.

The former big league catcher and longtime hitting coach just likes to use weather terminology to describe the experience of a batter stepping into the box at the highest levels of baseball.

“I call it the Eye of the Hurricane,” says Wynegar, who is in his third season with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis Indians. “You’re trying to find a way to stay in the calmness of the hurricane and out of the surrounding winds — the fans, the score, the big league stadium, facing big league guys you idolized. When you get caught up in the moment, it’s hard to slow down.

“It’s you and the baseball.”

Wynegar was a switch-hitting catcher and played Major League Baseball for 13 seasons with the Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees and California Angels, retiring in 1988.

Butch began his coaching career in 1992. Among his jobs have been roving hitting instructor for the Texas Rangers’ organization, big league hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers and Triple-A hitting coach in the Yankees system.

Wynegar helps hitters with the mechanics of their swing, but wants them to understand the thinking side of their craft.

“Something the common fan doesn’t understand unless you’ve played this game is how much of hitting is mental,” says Wynegar. “I might have done it (as a player), but I didn’t do it to the degree I know how to do it now.”

Wynegar wants his hitters to know what to expect from a pitcher and how each team is going to pitch to him. He also wants them to be able to see what they did well and where they need improvement and take that into the next at-bat.

“I told guys a number of times, your swing here (in Triple-A) will probably work in the big leagues,” says Wynegar. “The difference between here and the big leagues is the mental side of hitting.”

Wynegar’s aim is the get his hitters ready to step right in and perform for the Pirates.

“When they go to Pittsburgh, hopefully the adjustment period is a little shorter,” says Wynegar, who regularly corresponds with Pirates hitting coaches Jeff Branson and Jeff Livesey. “They understand how to slow the mind down, slow the game down.

“When they get up there, the game tends to get a little fast for them. It’s the major leagues. You face guys you grew up watching. It was the same thing with me. There was Catfish Hunter or Jim Palmer, who I grew up watching, and I go, ‘Holy Cow!’ and the game starts spinning fast for me.”

A fan of a book written by former big leaguer Shawn Green, “The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph,” Wynegar has turned Indianapolis infielders Erich Weiss and Eric Wood on to it.

The book tells how Green broke into the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays and the transformation he made mentally and physically.

“There was a lot of mechanical stuff, but their was a lot of mental stuff,” says Wynegar. “He got into meditation and relaxation and all that.

“That’s a big part of hitting.”

Wynegar looks at Weiss and his swing reminds him of Green’s.

“I wasn’t making the comparison that you’re going be Shawn Green one day and go 6-for-6 and hit four home runs in a game (like Green did with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002) — he might,” says Wynegar. “Somebody pops into your mind and this guy reminds me of so-and-so. I might bring that up, but I tell them this is why you remind of him. It might be a confidence booster.”

What is Wynegar’s prescription for a slump buster?

“Go back to the basics,” says Wynegar. “Back in my era, we were not afraid to move around in the box — move closer; move back; move front; choke up. Guys today will just not choke up.

“For me it was spreading my stance out a little bit to reduce my body movement. I really trusted my hands and I’d choke up on the bat a little bit. I was all about contact anyway … That was from Pitch 1.”

When Wynegar sees a hitter who is in a rut — maybe a little tired from the grind of the long season — he asks them a simple question: “Are you going to make an adjustment to overcome what you’re doing?”

He cites an example from his time with the Brewers (2003-06).

“When I was the big league hitting coach in Milwaukee, every year Geoff Jenkins came to me somewhere in August and said, ‘Butchie, I can’t find my home run swing.’ Four years in a row, he’d tell me that,” says Wynegar. “I told him, you can still help us with singles and doubles.

“Calm your swing for about 10 days and you’ll get a second wind.”

Wynegar came through in the Eye of the Hurricane with the Yankees on June 30, 1983. He was reminded of that this week by former New York teammate and current Buffalo Bisons manager Bobby Meacham, who made his MLB debut on the afformentioned date.

Meacham came into he game as a defensive replacement, but didn’t get to hit that day because of Wynegar’s two-out home run in the 12th inning against East Chicago native Tim Stoddard as the Yankees beat the visiting Baltimore Orioles 4-3.

“You think I’d remember a walk-off home run,” says Wynegar. “I remember Tim Stoddard. I remember getting an extra-inning base hit that won a game. I don’t remember a home run.

Wynegar joked to Meacham, “I hit so many walk-off home runs, I couldn’t remember them all.’”

Of his 65 career long balls, the lone game-winner was the one described above.

“I wasn’t a home run hitter,” says Wynegar. “I was a line drive/contact-type hitter.”

In all his time in baseball, Wynegar has come into contact with many talented men. Another teammate in New York was Don Baylor, who died Monday, Aug. 7, of cancer at 68. They were also opponents.

“I’ve got a photo at home where there’s a play at the plate and Donnie’s shoulder in embedded in my chest and I have my mouth wide open,” says Wynegar. “I held onto the ball. I do remember that.”

Famed for his toughness, Baylor was hit by a pitch 267 times during his MLB career.

“He stood right on top of the plate and dared you to throw a fastball in,” says Wynegar. “I never saw him rub somebody when he got hit. He’d just drop the bat and go to first base.”

While they wore the same uniform, Wynegar really gained an appreciation for Baylor.

“What a great man he was,” says Wynegar. “He and Dave Winfield were very similar, but Dave was more boisterous and not afraid to tell you how good he was. Donnie was the opposite. He was kind of quiet. He led by example.

“He was gentle giant in the clubhouse. He just had the respect of everybody with the way he played the game and by his leadership.”

BUTCHWYNEGAR

Butch Wynegar is in his 24th season as a professional baseball coach and his third as hitting coach with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. (Indianapolis Indians Photo)

 

Northwest Indiana Oilmen strike it rich in baseball fun, development

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After another season of diamond progress, the Northwest Indiana Oilmen are again in the Midwest Collegiate League title hunt.

The summer collegiate wood bat baseball club that calls Whiting’s Oil City Stadium home has qualified for the playoffs in each of its six seasons.

The Oilmen went into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed (Bloomington, Ill., beat Northwest Indiana 3-1 Tuesday, Aug. 1 in Game 1 of a best-of-3 semifinals series). Game 2 was slated for Wednesday, Aug. 2 at Bloomington with Game 3 (if necessary) Thursday, Aug. 3 at Oil City. Home games have been broadcast live on the team’s Facebook page.

Don Popravak and Adam Enright have been with the Oilmen for each campaign. Popravak is president and owner while Enright is in his third season as head coach after three summers as an assistant.

A veteran of more than three decades in marketing, Popravak conceived the idea of the team, negotiated with the City of Whiting for the use of the stadium and has built the Oilmen brand.

Enright is a Munster High School graduate who played at South Suburban College and then helped the University of Southern Indiana to an NCAA Division II national championship (2010). After one year each at Chicago State University and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, he is entering his fifth season as an assistant at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill.

TCC Trolls head coach Justin Huisman is a former Oilmen head coach. Huisman played at the University of Mississippi and pitched briefly with the 2004 Kansas City Royals.

Popravak, a Chicago native who grew up minutes from Whiting and played baseball and football at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., has watched the Midwest Collegiate League (founded in 2010) grow and greatly improve its ability to attract top-notch talent. Dozens of former MCL players have been drafted by Major League Baseball clubs, including six in 2017. Others have gone on to independent professional baseball.

Left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani, recently traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the Los Angeles Dodgers, played for the Illinois Jayhawks in the MCL’s first season.

Third baseman Paul DeJong played in the MCL with the Will County CrackerJacks (2012) and DuPage County Hounds (2013).

Former Oilmen player and Munster High graduate Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University and is now an outfielder the minors with the Chicago White Sox.

Hammond Bishop Noll Institute graduate Matt Pobereyko was a player and pitching coach with the Oilmen before going to independent baseball. He was with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and, after another indy stint, is now a New York Mets farmhand.

John Ely, who pitched for the Dodgers in 2010, 2011 and 2012, managed the Southland Vikings and is now a coach in the White Sox system.

“He credits his experience of coaching at this level,” says Popravak. “We have quality guys working with players and developing their careers.”

Former big league pitcher Marvin Freeman has been a pitching coach for Southland, where former Oilmen player Kevin Franchetti is now manager. Franchetti played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean High School and then at Ball State University.

Popravak said the teams in the MCL — Oilmen in Indiana and Bloomington Bobcats, Crestwood Panthers, DuPage County Hounds, Joliet Admirals and Southland Vikings in Illinois  — are “all on the same page with finding and developing the best talent.”

“We want them go back to their colleges and be an impact player,” says Popravak.

Unique to summer collegiate baseball, the MCL has some players that play in the league before they ever step on a university campus.

“That’s a real advantage for a college coach,” says Popravak. “That young players who’s hungry can get 250 at-bats against college pitching and work their mistakes out early so they can go to a college campus and compete for a job.”

Corey Ray played for Southland before going to the University of Louisville and is now in the Brewers system.

Donivan Williams impressed the Cardinals enough after playing with the Oilmen that they signed him and he by-passed college. The 18-year-old third baseman from Oak Lawn, Ill., is now playing in the Gulf Coast League.

The MCL roster limit is 35 and many are in the mound mix. There are several college underclassmen who have had a low number of innings in the spring.

“The summer gives them an opportunity to shine,” says Popravak. “We don’t want to overuse pitchers.

“Our goal is to always send the player back to college healthy.”

Enright and assistant coach Patrick Antone (who played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell at Chesterton High School, coached with Pishkur at Andrean and was recently named head coach at Boone Grove High School) have watched the Oilmen consistently perform on the bump in 2017.

“The reason we’ve done so well this year is our pitching,” says Enright. “I don’t think we’ve been deeper. It’s a good mix of guys with a lot of talent.

“We have overall depth with our position players. We mix and match lineups a lot. I make sure each of our guys have at least 100 at-bats if they are with us all season. It’s more about development than winning.”

The six MCL teams play each other 10 times during a 50-game regular season leading into a four-team, two-tier playoff format (both best-of-3).

Using his connections, Enright built the Oilmen roster with most of the players commuting from a radius of about 90 minutes from Whiting.

“I’m starting to build up some pretty good relationships with schools throughout the Midwest at all levels,” says Enright. “We like the local flavor that people in the community and the region are familiar with.”

The longest road trip for the Oilmen is about two hours to Bloomington.

Enright played for two respected baseball men in Munster’s Bob Shinkan and USI’s Tracy Archuleta and took from both in developing his own leadership style.

“Those two guys shaped who I am as a coach,” says Enright. “I bring my own flavor to the game and coaching. But I make sure guys have positive experiences. Happy players are productive players. I want guys getting the most out of each other and play together to win baseball teams.”

Enright says neither Shinkan or Archuleta do much yelling, but are “the type of coach you don’t want to let down.”

Shinkan is also an IHSBCA Hall of Famer.

“He makes you enjoy the process and being out there everyday,” says Enright of his high school coach. “It’s about having fun while doing what you need to do to be the best player you can be.”

Enright appreciates the cerebral side of Archuleta’s coaching.

“He will put the game straight into your brain and make you think of it all levels you’ve never done before,” says Enright.

The fans, who turned out for MCL games and a series this summer against the Serbian National Team, get a chance to enjoy baseball played in a park plotted on 119th Street near homes, oil rigs and not far from the water.

“It’s a special place,” says Enright. “The community really loves it. It’s a premier facility. You can’t ask much more for a summer collegiate team. Good product on the field and really nice atmosphere to watch a game in. When the wind blows you can hear the waves off Lake Michigan.”

NWINDIANAOILMEN

Lafayette gearing up for another Colt World Series

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Youth baseball and community pride will again be on display when the 2017 Colt World Series makes its appearance Aug. 4-9 in Lafayette.

The championship of Pony Baseball for ages 15-16 will bring 10 zone-winning teams from around the globe together to enjoy moments on the Loeb Stadium field and off.

“It’s a community event,” says Tim Clark, president of Lafayette Colt Tournaments, Inc., the 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization which helps put the spotlight on a Tippecanoe County, Indiana, town has been home to the event  in every year but one since 1969. “People have grown up around the Colt World Series.”

A small volunteer army makes things go. Besides Clark, the executive board features Ryan Johnson (vice president of Colt World Series Relations), Connie Basham (VP of Community Relations), Gus Marin (VP of Logistics), Lynn Clark Secretary (secretary of Communications) and Angie Franklin (treasurer of Fundraising). Steve Miller is Pony Tournament Director. There are also plenty of committee members.

All players — up to 18 per team — will stay with area host families. Coaches, umpires (four per game) and others will be housed in Lafayette hotels.

“One hundred eighty players are here for a week to enjoy the festivities, the community and Lafayette,” says Clark, who adds that it is common for 3,000 fans to pack into Loeb — located next to Columbian Park Zoo — for the final games of each session of the double-elimination tournament.

Games, which will be streamed by MTC Sports Network and broadcast by some Comcast outlets in the Midwest, are played by Major League Baseball rules. Players are permitted to use wood bats but most choose to swing metal.

All those baseball fans will be lodging, dining and shopping in Lafayette during their stay.

To measure the Colt World Series’ economic impact, a company was hired a few years ago to due an audit. Clark says $1.2 million came back to the community.

“The average person spends $4,000 while they’re here in town for a week,” says Clark. “It’s a total community event. The money we raise stays here in Lafayette.”

More years than not, the Colt World Series brings in enough of a profit for the organization to make a contribution to Lafayette Parks & Recreation.

Clark estimates there are around 12,000 Colt teams worldwide with about 50 in Indiana, mostly from the Lafayette, Terre Haute and Evansville areas. To make the CWS, teams have to make it though sectional, regional and zone tournaments.

Zones to be represented this year will U.S. North, U.S. South, U.S. East and U.S. West,  Asian Pacific, Caribbean, European and Mexico. As hosts, the Lafayette All-Stars will participate. The winner of the Harry Bradway qualifying tournament (Hoosier North, Hoosier South, Lafayette Lightning or Rossville) will also earn a Colt World Series berth.

Broadcaster Bradway and teacher/coach John Eberle helped bring the CWS to Lafayette after observing the tournament in Shawnee, Okla., in 1968.

Bradway, who is in his late 90’s, was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2002.

Except for 1972 when it was held in Tampa, Fla., the event has been played at Loeb Stadium (dedicated as Columbian Park Recreational Center in 1940 and home to several teams and events including the IHSAA State Finals in 1974, 1975 and 2005).

The first Colt World Series was staged in Ferry, Ohio, in 1953. Lafayette teams have hoisted the championship trophy four times (1977, 1992, 1999, 2000).

Plans call for the 2018 CWS to expand to 12 teams — six U.S. and six international. Japan is to send a team as is Puerto Rico (which is now included the Caribbean zone).

 

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Loeb Stadium in Lafayette, Ind., is home of the Colt World Series for baseball players ages 15-16. The 10-team event for 2017 is slated for Aug. 4-9. (Steve Krah Photo)

Pro baseball vet Grube looks at 2017 as ‘tale of two tapes’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A change of scenery can be just what a ballplayer needs.

Even if that scenery is familiar territory.

Jarrett Grube — traded from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Cleveland Indians organization in mid-June — is pushing the baseball re-fresh button in a return engagement with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers.

Grube, who grew up in Corunna, Ind., and graduated from DeKalb High School (where he played for head coach Chris Rhodes) in 2000, was the Opening Day starter for the International League’s Buffalo Bisons and made 11 starts with that Toronto affiliate before becoming Cleveland property for the third time in his career.

The 6-foot-4 right-hander played for Columbus in 2015 after a stint with Quintana Roo in the Mexican League in 2015 and again in 2016 after time with the Pacific Coast League’s Tacoma Rainiers in the Seattle Mariners organization.

Going into a start Saturday, July 22, Grube was 3-5 overall with a 4.70 earned run average in 16 starts, including 1-2 and 1.69 in five starts for the Clippers. He came off the 7-day disabled list July 16 (right-hand discomfort).

“Things weren’t going my way for whatever reason,” says Grube. “I just call it the ’tale of two tapes.’ Now I’m back over here doing what I’ve always done.”

What Grube has done when successful is keep the opposition off-balance.

“I’m not even thinking about mechanics,” says Grube. “It all just happens fluidly and easily. I’m throwing a lot of strikes and mixing my pitches and keeping the hitters guessing on what’s coming in different counts.”

As a free agent veteran, the Indians brought Grube back because of his track record at the Triple-A level.

“They support you and give you info about the hitters so you can have success,” says Grube. “When you’ve been around for awhile, they let you keep doing your program. As long as you communicate, they support you.”

Between starts, Grube does a longer running session with stretching, some weightlifting and works with a trainer on Day 1. The second day includes long toss, a bullpen session and heavier total-body lifting with two days of recovery before the start. Day 3 is about stretching things out and getting rid of built-up lactic acid. Day 4 is devoted to rest and stretching.

Grube, who played at Vincennes University for head coach Jerry Blemker (who died in 2012) and at the University of Memphis for for head coach Dave Anderson, was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 10th round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and made his lone MLB appearance with Los Angeles Angels in 2014 (he retired Josh Donaldson and gave up a three-run home run to Yoenis Cespedes).

One thing that’s kept Grube from being predictable is his ability to change arm angles.

It all just flows.

“When I’m at my best, I’m not really thinking about anything,” says Grube. “I’m throwing every pitch I want to throw in any count and getting a lot of weak contact, maybe strikeout an inning for however many innings I pitch.”

As a 14th-year professional, Grube has learned plenty.

“You learn to grow as a player,” says Grube. “Sometimes you have to take lumps and be able to turn the page pretty quick. You sit and dwell on things, I know that. There’s going to be a lot of things that are out of your control that.

“You just keep on with what you’ve got pictured in your mind that you want to accomplish.”

Grube has been a starting pitcher in Triple-A. If he gets called up to the big leagues, his role would likely be out of the bullpen.

“I’ve got the stuff to relieve, too, for sure,” says Grube.

Born in Fort Wayne (where he lives in the off-season with wife Alyssa and daughter Ensley), Grube’s early diamond days were spent in the Tri-County Little League and in AAU ball. He was a member of the Aboite Braves, coached by Brett Ratcliffe (who is now head coach at Garrett High School).

Grube credits Blemker helping to make him mentally tough, something that has helped him ever since.

“He’d say some things that would make you upset or frustrated,” says Grube, who won 12 games and struck out a then-school-record 172 batters in two seasons with the VU Trailblazers. “He was kind of like a drill sergeant. But he was doing it in a fatherly way. He was trying to get the best out of me. He was lying the foundation for me to go to D-I and then pro ball.”

Grube gained wisdom from Anderson, who played 10 MLB seasons including with the World Series-winning 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers and went on to coach and manage in pro baseball.

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Jarrett Grube, a 2000 DeKalb High School graduate, is in his 14th professional baseball season in 2017. (Columbus Clippers Photo)

 

South Bend owner Berlin enjoys being part of Cubs organization success

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andrew Berlin is still basking in the glow of the 2016 World Series win by the Chicago Cubs.

The minority partner in the Major League Baseball club and owner of the affiliate South Bend Cubs goes over the highlights of Game 7 (he was there along with his wife and two of his five children) and finds many way connects the bigs and the minors.

“It was the most draining game to be at with the most amazing ending,” says Berlin. “During that rain delay, they had a players-only meeting where they talked about ‘are we winners or are we losers?’”

Bottom line: Cubs 8, Indians 7 (10 innings). The longest championship drought in the history of American sports ended when the Cubs won it all for the first time since 1908.

“That chant of ‘we never quit!’, it never gets old,” says Berlin. “I still get chills when I think about it.”

Berlin, who became owner in South Bend between the 2011 and 2012 seasons and partnered with the Cubs beginning in 2015, talks about how the organization began shedding the tag of “Lovable Losers” when Theo Epstein resigned from the Boston Red Sox after the 2011 season came to Chicago as president of baseball operations.

Epstein started overhauling things from the bottom up while putting his people and plan in place.

One of those people is field manager Joe Maddon, whom Berlin calls Obi-Wan Kenobi himself” and touts some of his quotes like “Never permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure.”

Berlin notes that the keyword for the Cubs in 2017 is “uncomfortable.”

“There’s no complacency,” says Berlin. “The ring ceremony at Wrigley is going to be April 12. the ring is going to be a chandelier of sapphires, rubies and diamonds — all the Cub colors. But they’ve told those guys that ring has to go to a safe deposit box and they have to get another one. That’s the focus.”

It truly is a “C” change.

“The whole culture had to be changed and articulated,” says Berlin.

Part of all that is at the player development level and that’s where South Bend comes in.

“The road to the World Series starts in South Bend. I tell (Chicago Cubs chairman and owner) Tom Ricketts that all the time,” says Berlin, who notes that the world champs would not have had flame-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman without having a player the caliber of Gleyber Torres, who played in South Bend, to trade to the New York Yankees.

While he played for the South Bend Silver Hawks as an Arizona Diamondbacks prospect, Miguel Montero went on to drive in a key run late in Game 7 for the Chicago Cubs.

“The amount of talent that South Bend has that goes on to the Chicago Cubs is undeniable,” says Berlin. “It’s absolute.”

Berlin also looks back on success at the turnstiles in South Bend and looks for even more exciting things at the downtown ballpark now known as Four Winds Field in 2017 and beyond.

After watching South Bend draw 350,803 customers (an average of 5,084 for 69 openings) in ’16, Berlin has set a goal of 400,000 in ’17.

A year ago, the Cubs ranked No. 5 out of 16 teams in the Low Class-A Midwest League in attendance (behind Dayton’s 548,574, Fort Wayne’s 413,701, Kane County’s 400,931 and West Michigan’s 386,416).

“We only want to be 1,” says Berlin, whose executive teams includes Joe Hart as president and Nick Brown and vice president and general manager.

In order to take a run at the goal, Berlin and his South Bend employees continue to make improvements from ballpark amenities like food to adding seats and (coming in 2018) an apartment complex with balconies overlooking the field.

“The apartments will be sound-proof,” says Berlin, who plans to have a ballpark dwelling of his own. “Unfortunately, we’re going to loose the foghorn. I don’t think residents want that going off every time we score a run.

“It’s not just about baseball. Since we’ve been here, we’ve attracted a lot of development to Downtown South Bend. We showed that it was possible to invest her and be profitable.”

The South Bend Cubs are scheduled to play an exhibition game against Notre Dame Wednesday, April 5. After two games in West Michigan, the 2017 home opener is scheduled for Saturday, April 8.

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South Bend Cubs owner Andrew Berlin is also a minority partner with the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs. (MiLB Photo)