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Kleine making MLB impact in Milwaukee Brewers front office

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Contract negotiation, data analysis and event management are three skills Matt Kleine wields in his role with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Dating back to his first summer as an associate scout (2007), Kleine has held various roles in scouting and baseball operations for the Brewers and completed his first year as director of player operations for the Major League Baseball club in October.

While still in high school, Kleine saw that his on-the-field time was not likely to extend past college. So he began to look for ways to stay involved in baseball.

“I knew I really wanted to pursue a career on the front office side of things,” says Kleine, who graduated from Hamilton Southeastern High School in 2004.

Kleine, who was born in Indianapolis and moved to Fishers, Ind., prior to kindergarten, enjoyed his time as a baseball player.

Swinging and throwing from the left side, the outfielder played travel ball during his high school and college summers for USAthletic and coach Rob Barber (one of Kleine’s teammates was Jeff Mercer, now head baseball coach at Indiana University).

Kleine competed at Hamilton Southeastern for former University of Texas pitcher Curry Harden and at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for Matt Walker.

Harden taught Kleine and the other HSE Royals about discipline and approaching each game with a tenacious attitude.

“You had to bring your ‘A’ Game’ everyday,” says Kleine.

His off-field baseball career got a boost when writer Will Carroll came to speak at DePauw. A relationship was formed that led to a three-plus years as an intern with Baseball Prospectus for Kleine, who produced Carroll’s weekly radio show.

On the diamond, Kleine was a four-year letterwinner and three-time team MVP and all-conference selection for DePauw. He was team captain as a senior. He knocked in 120 as a Tiger. At the time his career wrapped that was a school record.

Kleine was a Management Fellow and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication in 2008.

He became an associate scout with the Brewers before his playing days were even complete. Kleine had taken pitching lessons as a youngster from Mike Farrell so he approached the then Brewers area scout (Indianapolis resident Farrell now scouts for the Kansas City Royals) to learn the ropes and evaluated players between his summer collegiate games.

Kleine also served as a media relations intern with the Houston Astros.

Once in Milwaukee, he earned a Juris Doctorate from Marquette University Law School and his certification in Sports Law from the National Sports Law Institute.

He has was the president of Marquette’s Sports Law Society, a member of the Sports Law Review and a volunteer in the school’s legal clinic.

Through his research, he found that the common denominator for most of the baseball jobs that interested him were held by people with a law degree or other post-graduate education.

Knowing about analysis and critical thinking has helped Kleine in salary arbitration for the Brewers.

Since earning his law degree, Kleine has served as volunteer judge for the Marquette University Law School Intramural Sports Law Negotiation Competition and Tulane International Baseball Arbitration Competition.

According to MLB, “Players who have three or more years of Major League service but less than six years of Major League service become eligible for salary arbitration if they do not already have a contract for the next season.

“Players who have less than three but more than two years of service time can also become arbitration eligible if they meet certain criteria; these are known as ‘Super Two’ players. Players and clubs negotiate over appropriate salaries, primarily based on comparable players who have signed contracts in recent seasons.

“A player’s salary can indeed be reduced in arbitration — with 20 percent being the maximum amount by which a salary can be cut — although such instances are rare.”

Management will use comparable players — aka “comps” — as well as statistics and performance data their evaluation.

“We try to tell the people side of the story,” says Kleine. “We don’t get overly complicated or get caught up in fancy (sabermetric) acronyms. “Who is this player and where do they fit within the market?.

“We have a dialogue with the players’ agent. Hopefully, we arrive at a compromise. A very small percentage of arbitration eligible players end up in a hearing room.”

If an arbitration hearing is necessary, the proceedings will be attended by several people.

“It’s certainly a unique process,” says Kleine. “It’s like performance review in front of up to 50 other people.

The hearing features a panel of three arbiters (judges) who listen to the arguments of both sides and come to a decision.

The session will also be attended by representatives of the involved club, league office, players association, support staff and other observers, including reps from other clubs.

“By and large, the are respectful and professional proceedings,” says Kleine.

As baseball’s Winter Meetings approach (Dec. 9-13 in Las Vegas), the Brewers and MLB’s 29 other franchises are focused on free agency or possible trades while finalizing their major league and minor league staffs for 2019.

“That’s one thing about the MLB calendar, there’s always something going on,” says Kleine. “It just depends on the time of the year.”

In season, baseball operations and field staff like manager Craig Counsell and bench coach Pat Murphy collaborate with the help of advance scouts.

“We’re attacking opponents weaknesses and identifying our own strengths,” says Kleine. “Once the game starts, it’s up to Craig and the coaching staff how to deploy the roster.”

Mike and Toni Kleine are Matt’s parents. His father runs a State Farm Insurance agency in Fishers. His mother is retired from teaching in the Carmel school system. Matt has a younger sister — Jordan.

Matt and wife Samantha live in St. Francis, Wis. The couple is expecting their first child in early 2019.

MATTKLEINE

Matt Kleine, a graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and Marquette University Law School, is director of player operations for the Milwaukee Brewers.

 

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Maloney talks about role as ABCA president, Ball State baseball head coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The American Baseball Coaches Association will stage its 75th annual convention Jan. 3-6, 2019 in Dallas. Outgoing ABCA president Rich Maloney will be there to lead off the event.

The Ball State University head baseball coach has served the ABCA in various capacities, including his time on the executive committee. He was fourth, third, second and first vice president prior to his year as president.

Prior to that, he was NCAA Division I baseball committee chairman for six years.

“It’s a journey, honor and a privilege,” says Maloney, who heads into his 24th season as a head coach, including his 14th at BSU, in 2019. “The goal of the ABCA is to enhance baseball at all levels.”

Maloney has gotten a chance to rub shoulders with some of the most accomplished coaches in the country.

“These guys have grown the game and they did it for the love of the game,” says Maloney. 54. “When they started there wasn’t very much money in the game.

“It’s very meaningful. These guys just care about the future of baseball.”

Continuing as a board of directors member, Maloney will have the chance to be part of a body that serves as the “voice” of college baseball.

Maloney, who got his coaching start as a Western Michigan University assistant to ABCA Hall of Famer Fred Decker, has watched the organization experience explosive growth during his time as an ABCA member.

Dave Keilitz, also an ABCA Hall of Famer, led the association for many years and now son Craig Keilitz and his staff do the job.

“(ABCA Executive Director) Craig Keilitz took us into the technology and social media frontier,” says Maloney. “Just watching it grow has been amazing.

“Our game is growing nationally at the college level. You can see this through investments in so many new stadiums across the country.”

Other positives are the popularity of the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., where the ABCA executive committee meets before taking in the games, the increased number of college players being drafted by Major League Baseball and the academic progress reports of baseball players.

If the 2018 convention in Indianapolis is any indication, 6,000 or more coaches are expected at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center for the world’s biggest baseball convention. There will be numerous presentations, meetings, award presentations and trade show.

Maloney sees the convention — along with other ABCA-partnered platforms like regional Barnstormers Clinics, Baseball ACE Community Clinics, professional development/continuing education credits, podcasts, videos, publications and USA Baseball Education — as opportunities for coaches to learn.

“Everybody is trying to make everybody else better,” says Maloney. “People are so willing to share information. There are no hidden agendas.

“There’s always something you can take away and add value to what you do.”

Each year on the executive committee carries different duties. During his year as second vice president, Maloney was charged with getting the college speakers and being emcee for the ABCA Convention in Anaheim, Calif.

Maloney says there are three items that the ABCA would like the NCAA to address for  Division I baseball — adding a third full-time paid assistant coach position, pace of play and the recruiting calendar.

“The challenge in moving the game forward is always resources,” says Maloney, who notes that D-I baseball is behind other sports in the ratio of paid coaches to number of athletes. At present, a head coach and two paid assistants are allowed to lead a squad of 35 players.

“It’s important for the game and future development of our young coaches to get another paid position paid,” says Maloney, who notes that the volunteer coach is not paid outside of running camps and is not allowed to be on the road recruiting. The recruiting coordinator spends much of his time on the road. “Student-athletes need to have another full-time coach who can be around.”

In surveys of the membership, Maloney has seen that the majority want to add another coach. That’s true even with the programs that may struggle finding the funds to pay for that position.

Maloney’s 2018-19 coaching staff includes full-time assistants Dustin Glant (pitching coach) and Blake Beemer (recruiting coordinator) and volunteer assistant Ray Skjold in addition to operations assistant Nick Swim and strength and condition coach Bill Zenisek.

While Maloney considers himself a baseball purist, he can also see why people — particularly those watching on TV — are concerned with the pace of play.

“Games are getting really, really long and it’s hard to keep people’s attention,” says Maloney. “It behooves us to be under 3:00.”

Some of the ways that conferences have attempted to shave minutes off contests include pitch clocks and automatic intentional walks (no need to throw the four pitches).

The ABCA formed a committee to put forth a proposal to shorten the D-I recruiting calendar and Maloney expects it to achieve traction with the NCAA.

For 2018-19, recruiting contact periods are Aug. 1-26, Sept. 14-Nov. 11 and March 1-July 31 with dead periods Nov. 12-15 and Jan. 3-6 and quiet periods Aug. 27-Sept. 13, Nov. 16-Jan. 2 and Jan. 7-Feb. 28.

“The recruiting calendar should be shortened,” says Maloney. “Kids that want to go to college feel they should continue to go to camps and showcases. If we short calendar, they can have some time off and we can save their arms.”

Maloney notes that the reason that people get into the coaching profession is to have an impact on young lives. It’s not easy to do that when you’re not there.

Shortening the calendar would also allow the recruiting coordinator to spend more time actually coaching. It can also mean an improved family life.

Maloney says shrinking the recruiting window earlier just means programs and athletes have to adjust.

“That doesn’t keep us from getting the players we want,” says Maloney “We just have to make decisions quicker.”

“Guys are going to be out (recruiting) whenever the calendar says. Basketball did a nice job when they shortened their window to bring some sanity.”

Like many mid-major schools, Ball State tends to recruit within its region.

“We get the best kids in the Midwest we can get,” says Maloney. “Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin — those area are our bread and butter.”

But the Cardinals will look elsewhere if they have a specific need.

The current roster also has players from California and New York.

Maloney knows that building a team can be fun and also a challenge.

Players are picked based on the needs of the program and the fit for athlete. They see what a school has to offer in terms of academics and athletics. Some want to stay close to home and others want to get far away and they all need to fit into a structure that allows just 11.7 fully-funded scholarships at the D-I level.

Then there’s players who are drafted out of high school or those that are sophomore and junior eligibles.

“It’s a partial scholarship sport,” says Maloney. “There can be an uncertainty of who is coming back and who isn’t. You have no control over that.

“It’s a delicate balance.”

Ball State, which went 32-26 overall and 17-10 in the Mid-American Conference in 2018, is scheduled to open the 2019 schedule Feb. 15 against Stanford in Tempe, Ariz.

The Cardinals’ home opener is slated for March 12 against Purdue Fort Wayne. The first MAC games are March 22-24 at Western Michigan.

Maloney’s career record is 794-535-1, including 435-291-1 (most wins in BSU history) and 341-244 in his 10 seasons leading the University of Michigan.

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Rich Maloney, head baseball coach at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., is coming to the close of his term as American Baseball Coaches Association president and will lead off the ABCA Convention Jan. 3-6 in Dallas. (Ball State University Photo)

 

Individual development key as Mercer builds Indiana Hoosiers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer was once in their shoes.

That’s why he takes the approach he does as a head coach in college baseball.

Mercer, who was hired last summer to run the program at Indiana University, wants to give his players their best chance to showcase what they can do.

With that in mind, Mercer and his staff (Dan Held, Justin Parker, Casey Dykes, Scott Rolen and Denton Sagerman) design their fall practice schedule with individual work first before intrasquad and exhibition games.

“Development has always been the core foundational piece of our coaching philosophy,” says Mercer, who came to the Hoosiers after successful two-season run as head coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. “You really need to take the time to coach the players. We want to make sure we put guys in position to maximize their strengths.

“You only get to find those strengths through building the relationships and focusing on the individual development of the players.”

Rolen, director of player development, brings his expertise from 17 Major League Baseball seasons and helped the staff lay out the whole 12-week fall plan. Former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and manager Mike Matheny was consulted on coaching and catching. New York Yankees infield coordinator Miguel Cairo was asked for his guidance.

Talking with players, coaches get to see what the goals and the prism through which they view life and baseball.

“It helps a ton to know where they’re coming from when you’re trying to coach them,” says Mercer.

This is not a new concept with Mercer, who played NCAA Division I baseball at the University of Dayton and Wright State before beginning his coaching career.

“We’ve always done individuals first,” says Mercer, 33. “A lot of programs will do the team portion first. That’s their prerogative. I understand that.

“For us, if I look at it from a young man’s perspective. I want to come in and settle in. I want to get in the weight room, get my body right. I want to learn what your expectations of me are as a player.”

The athletes want to know what is expected of them from mechanical, workload and style/brand of baseball standpoints.

“All of those take a lot of time for a player to understand,” says Mercer. “The player will do whatever the expectation is. They always rise to the occasion.

“So if you take five or six weeks and you give them time and structure and coach them like crazy.”

“If I’m a young man, I want to be at my best when I’m competing and showcasing myself in the fall and earning an opportunity to play in the spring.”

By putting the individual work first in the fall, players can figure out where their classes is and make the necessary physical and mechanical adjustments.

Mercer says fear of failure is taken away through this approach.

“Fear of failure is what holds back the most successful people,” says Mercer. “If I remove the fear of failure, I can just go grow and compete.

“All the lessons we’ve been taught can be applied much more readily into the game.

“At the end of the day, these players have one career. It’s our job to help them maximize their opportunity to play this game.”

Mercer says that’s what he wants for his son if he grows up to play college baseball. Jeff and Stephanie Mercer welcome Grady into the world in June.

What brand of baseball will the Hoosiers play in 2019?

“This team is more offensive and can just flat drive the baseball as opposed to a small-ball style,” says Mercer. “Let’s not take a guy who may hit 15 home runs and try to convince him to bunt for 30 hits.

Let’s let him get into good counts. I want to run the bases, but let’s make sure when we have a guy at the plate who can drive the ball, we don’t take the bat out of his hands. We play in a more offensive ballpark (Bart Kaufman Field’s dimensions are 330 feet down the left field line, 400 to center and 340 to right).”

Based on the fall roster, some of the Hoosiers’ top returning hitters  are juniors Matt Gorski (.356 average, 8 home runs, 40 runs batted in for 2018) and Scotty Bradley (.326/7/19) and seniors Ryan Fineman (.309/7/37), Matt Lloyd (.275/9/41) and Logan Kaletha (.261/8/31).

Outfielder Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate) catcher Fineman (California) and outfielder Kaletha (Michigan City) swing from the right side while infielder/catcher Bradley (New Jersey) and utility player Lloyd (Alberta, Canada) are lefties.

There’s also might in the relief core and not just in the late innings.

“We’ve got more bullpen arms,” says Mercer. “We need to make sure we really use our bullpen to accentuate our starters.

“We have mid-relief guys who are good so let’s make sure we utilize that strength.”

With Mercer being new at IU, he came in with no preconceived ideas about players.

“I don’t know how successful or unsuccessful we were,” says Mercer. “I purposely did not look at any of the stats or video from last year.

“I came in with a blank slate for everybody.”

Mercer has never appointed captains, but lets leadership reveal itself.

“Those personalities step forward on their own and you try to empower them,” says Mercer.

When he transferred from the Dayton to Wright State as a player, the coaching staff did not tell him he could not be a leader because he was the new kid on the block.

“I was very empowered to lead early in my time at Wright State and I felt comfortable in that role,” says Mercer. “A big part of my success was me getting to be myself.

“I hope the guys here feel the freedom to be whoever they want to be now and moving forward.”

Mental skills was important at Wright State where Mercer brought in Diamyn Hall as the first full-time coach in D-I baseball devoted to that side of the game. At IU, mental skills are talked about on a regular basis and Mercer leads most of the discussions.

Mercer, a Franklin Community High School graduate, grew up around the Indiana program. His father, Jeff Mercer Sr., was an assistant for the Hoosiers in 1988 and 1989 and helped found the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.

Once the surreal idea of leading a team he cared so much about growing up wore off, Mercer began to focus on the day-to-day task.

“You have an ultimate responsibility to the young men and their families and the coaches that entrusted Indiana University to provide them a great experience,” says Mercer. “It’s an awesome responsibility, but it’s one we don’t ever take lightly.

“You can’t get caught being a fan. You’ve got go to work.”

JEFFMERCERIU

Jeff Mercer is the head baseball coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)

 

BLOOMINGTON, IN - 2018.08.23 - Headshot

New Indiana University head baseball coach Jeff Mercer has been spending the time to develop individuals this fall.  (Indiana University Photo)

 

Long-time coach Lehr prepares pitchers through Power Alley Baseball Academy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What Jay Lehr enjoys most about coaching baseball is passing along his wisdom to pitchers.

So the seasoned instructor has decided cease fielding travel teams — he ran the Aces Baseball Club out of Hamilton County Sports Complex in Noblesville, Ind., for six years —  to focus on pitching instruction.

The Carmel, Ind., resident and president of Power Alley Baseball Academy, teaches individuals and teams at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville and at Mooresville (Ind.) High School

Lehr calls himself a “mechanical nerd.”

Factoring in body type and age, gets pitchers to repeat their deliveries and throw strikes by starting at the feed and working their way up.

Concepts like ground force, lift (balance point), direction with the hip (center of gravity), hand separation, release point and finish are covered.

“The goal is to have pitchers become their own best coach so they can fix themselves,” says Lehr. “Pitching’s boring. You have to do the same thing over and over again.”

Unlike hitters, who can swing the bats hundreds of times a day, pitchers have to build muscle memory using dry runs and reps without delivering the ball.

“It’s like tee work for hitters,” says Lehr. “You’re no good to anybody if you can’t get anybody out.

“And you need to make reps count. There are only so many bullets. You want a career or a season?”

While the baseball world is obsessed with velocity, Lehr would rather see pitchers who can establish the fastball and locate it.

“Throw 83 (mph) with sink and cut,” says Lehr. “I enjoy that. Hopefully, that will come back.”

Lehr likes to challenge his pitchers to throw no more than three pitches per batter.

When working with a group, he likes to end a session with a competition.

Sometimes, they play H-O-R-S-E.

“The first pitcher throws a fastball on the inside corner,” says Lehr. “Everyone else has to do it or they’ve got an ‘H.’

“You want to try to hit a spot and have a purpose every time you throw a ball.”

At the younger ages, Lehr teaches a four-seam, two-seam and no-seam fastball.

Generally, the four-seamer has glove-side movement and is elevated for the batter to chase it.

The two-seamer produces arm-side action.

The no-seam goes down in the strike zone.

If they can command the fastball, Lehr will mix in change-up grips.

“It’s a fine line to when you start the breaking ball,” says Lehr. “I won’t teach it until they can command the fastball and the change-up.”

For all pitchers, the idea is to upset the hitter’s timing.

This can be done through perceived velocity.

By hiding the ball and releasing it late, pitchers can deceive the hitter.

“It’s all about late movement and command,” says Lehr. “And the most important (ball-strike) count is 1-1. Whoever wins the 1-1 battle is way ahead. You’ve got to trust that process (as a pitcher). Commit to a pitch and finish it.”

Lehr says players should be leery about lifting weights too young and should be getting advice from someone who is certified or holds a degree in strength training.

A 1986 Carmel High School graduate, Lehr played one season at Chiplola College in Marianna, Fla., and three at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. His head coaches with the Pumas were Dennis Seitz and Mike Moyzis.

He was coach at the beginning of the Indiana Bulls‘ run and was an instructor when Chris Estep founded Roundtripper Sports Academy in 1993.

Lehr was Carmel pitching coach for seven seasons. He was on Eric Lentz’s staff, served one season as interim head coach then was an assistant to Dan Roman.

Mitch Roman, Dan’s son and a Chicago White Sox minor leaguer, is also a Power Alley instructor as is former big league corner infielder and current Philadelphia Phillies fielding coordinator Chris Truby, former Carmel and Notre Dame player Kyle Fiala and former Triple-A outfielder John Tejeck.

Last spring, Lehr was pitching coach for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Rich Andriole at Guerin Catholic High School in Carmel.

Jay is married to Amy and his two stepchildren — Brandon Stevens and Megann Blea.

Stevens played for Andriole’s IHSAA state champions at Indianapolis Cathedral in 2007. The catcher/pitcher went on to Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and the University of Indianapolis and dabbled in independent professional baseball. He is married with a 1-year-old and works as a roofing salesman in Jasper, Ind.

Megann is married to U.S. Army captain/engineer Dustin Blea and resides in Missouri.

Big league right-handers and Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduates Lance Lynn and Drew Storen have been working on pitching with Lehr since they were in grade school.

Lynn, 31, made his Major League Baseball debut in 2011 and pitched for the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees in 2018.

Storen, 31, first appeared in an MLB game in 2010 and pitched for the 2017 Cincinnati Reds. The Carmel, Ind., resident missed the 2018 season after having Tommy John elbow surgery. The free agent is exploring his options for 2019.

“Lance has God-given ability,” says Lehr of Lynn. “He’s loose and has the same delivery he’s had since 12 years old. It’s clean and simple.”

A move from the first base side of the rubber closer to the middle helped Lynn excel in the second half in 2018.

Lehr plans to meet Lynn and his strength coach this winter in Nashville, Tenn.

“Drew is very meticulous,” says Lehr of Storen. “He was smaller when he was young so he had to learn how to get people out.

“He did not throw hard until his junior year of high school.

“Once strength caught up to him, the velocity came.”

By then, Storen already knew how to repeat his delivery.

“Drew has a knowledge of the kinetic chain and how it works,” says Lehr. “He has has proprioception (the sense that deals with sensations of body position, posture, balance and motion).

Lehr says Pete Page and Bobby Pierce are the men who taught him the love of the game.

The late Page coached at the Carmel Dads’ Club started a travel program that became the Carmel Pups.

Pierce was head coach at Chipola and retired from Troy (Ala.) University.

JAYLEHR

Jay Lehr is the president of Power Alley Baseball Academy and lead pitching instructor. He conducts individual and team lessons at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind., and at Mooresville (Ind.) High School. He has been working with big league pitchers Lance Lynn and Drew Storen since they were kids.

Former Jay County, Baylor catcher Ludy lands in River City

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In baseball, sometimes you find a position and sometimes it finds you.

Josh Ludy recalls the day he became a catcher.

“I was about 10 and looking at these plastic batting helmets,” says Ludy, 28. “I don’t know why, but I put one on backwards and decided I wanted to be a catcher.”

The next thing you know, Josh had talked his parents into getting him a set of gear and he was a backstop from then on.

Even with all the bumps and bruises that come with the job, that’s where Ludy wanted to be.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” says Ludy. “You just get numb to most of it.”

Sure, he pitched and played the infield a little at Jay County High School in Portland, Ind., where he graduated in 2008, but it was as a catcher that he shined.

Ludy was first-team Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A All-State as a senior and participated in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series with Jay County head coach Lea Selvey on the North coaching staff.

After spending the rest of the summer with the Indiana Bulls travel organization, Ludy went on to a stellar career at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“That was one of the best times of my life,” says Ludy of his college baseball days. “We had great guys who wanted to win.”

Among those was Max Muncy, who put up impressive numbers this season for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Steve Smith was then head baseball coach at Baylor.

“Awesome guy,” says Ludy of Smith. “There was never any question about the way he was doing things.”

In four seasons with the Baylor Bears, Ludy played in 170 games and hit .321 with 21 home runs, 35 doubles and 121 runs batted in.

Hitting .362 with 16 homers, 15 doubles and 71 RBIs for a Baylor squad that went 49-17 and enjoyed a 24-game win streak, Ludy was the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year and an All-American catcher while graduating with a psychology degree in 2012.

Ludy was selected in the eighth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.

He played two seasons in the Phillies system (2012-13) and 17 games with the Oakland Athletics organization in 2014.

Released in July of that year, he caught on with the independent Frontier League’s River City Rascals in O’Fallon, Mo., part of the St. Louis metro area.

That same fall, Josh got married and wife Erin got to really experience the traveling baseball life.

The first two years, the couple moved often.

“She’s been there pretty much the whole time,” says Ludy of the woman he met at Baylor. “She’s been all over the country with me. She’s awesome.

“It’s nice to be the same place for a little while.”

Now living in O’Fallon and co-managing a gun shop in the off-season, Josh is able to come home to see his wife and first children — a 6-month-old daughter named Laurel.

Ludy played for River City in 2015 and was going to retire when the Rascals convinced him to come back in 2016 to serve as a player/hitting coach. He did that again in 2017.

Not active as a player in 2018, Ludy came back as long-time River City manager Steve Brook’s hitting coach.

“My life’s been centered around the game,” says Ludy. “I like being out on the field everyday.”

His duties with the Rascals included getting to the stadium early to do individual work with players. He also threw batting practice, hit fungous and sometimes made mound visits.

Having witnessed both MLB-affiliated and independent pro baseball, Ludy sees the differences.

“The high-end talent is not there (in indy ball),” says Lundy. “But there are a lot of guys who were really good college players. A lot of hitters have been released from affiliated ball or been passed up in the draft.

“There’s less structure as far as your daily stuff (in indy ball).”

Not getting talent from a parent organization means indy teams must find their own and sometime a player’s time with the club doesn’t even allow for a cup of coffee.

“We’ve gotten rid of guys in less than a day,” says Ludy. “Sometimes they only pinch-run and they’re gone.

“It can be pretty cut throat sometimes. There’s only so many roster spots available. It can be a swinging door sometimes.”

Ludy calls Brook’s position a “tough gig.”

“We have our budget lower than most teams in the league,” says Ludy. “It’s hard to find guys who will take less.

“But we’ve had pretty good success doing it.”

The Rascals went 52-44 and lost in a divisional series to eventual Frontier League champion Joliet in 2018. River City went 50-46 in 2017, 49-47 in 2016, 56-40 in 2015 and 61-35 in 2014 — losing in the finals the in ’14 and ’15.

While working and conducting some private lessons, Ludy is sorting out his baseball future. He says he should know soon what 2019 has in-store for him.

Ludy, who was born in Fort Wayne, Ind., grew up just blocks from the youth baseball park in Portland.

At 14, he played travel ball for the Indiana White Sox then spent three summers for USAthletic before the one with the Indiana Bulls.

Josh is the son of Max and Sheri Ludy. His father is a superior court judge in Jay County. His mother is a social worker. A half-brother, Kyle, lives in Indianapolis.

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Josh Ludy, a graduate of Jay County High School in Portland, Ind., and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, hits the baseball for the independent River City Rascals. (River City Rascals Photo)

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Josh Ludy has been with the independent River City Rascals in O’Fallon, Mo., since the middle of the 2014 baseball season, first as a player then a coach. He is a graduate of Jay County High School in Indiana and Baylor University in Texas. (River City Rascals Photo)

 

Fundamentals come first for Heim and his Anderson Indians

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In Adrian Heim’s vocabulary monotonous is not a negative word.

It’s doing the basic things over and over again that has helped him be successful as a high school baseball coach.

Heim led Anderson (Ind.) High School to a 19 wins in 2018. During the campaign, he picked up his 200th career victory and goes into 2019 with 205 earned in eight seasons at Elwood (Ind.) High School and three at Anderson.

It is something that was instilled in Heim when he played at Elwood for head coach Joe Williams and it’s something he’s carried on in his coaching life.

Williams was devoted to the fundamentals of the game.

“We did a lot of monotonous stuff,” says Heim. “Fundamentals is the most important thing. We do tons of fundamental work before we do any of the fun stuff so to speak.

“We hit off the tee first. We look at batting in the cage as a privilege. You’ve got to earn that.”

A 1995 Elwood graduate, Heim played four seasons for head coach Don Brandon at Anderson University.

Heim has nothing but kind words for Brandon, a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, National Association of Interscholastic Athletics and Anderson U. halls of fame.

“The most important thing in coaching is your relationship with your players,” says Heim. “(Brandon’s) relationship with us was awesome. He was there with you, helping you through the tough times.

“I wouldn’t be where I’m at now without Don Brandon.”

Heim says Brandon made the game fun, but also expected much from his Anderson Ravens and the same is true with Heim and his Anderson Indians.

“We demand a lot,” says Heim.

And if he has to get on a player, he is also their to build them up.

Heim is now leading fall workouts. Rather than having a coach working with two athletes at a time, a new IHSAA rule allows coaches to work with players for two hours a day two days a week during certain windows of opportunity.  The Indians are lifting weights on Mondays and Wednesdays and practicing baseball on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“It’s extremely hard to come out on a baseball diamond and only work with two kids at a time. This is much better.”

The window closes at the end of next week and opens again the first week of December. Teams are allowed to lift weights and condition year-round.

“The reason for (the new rule) in my eyes is that there was a set of coaches who felt that they could do whatever they wanted,” says Heim. “Now there’s no gray area about what’s an open gym or an open facility.

“It’s much better for us. We go up to Oct. 12 then we have to shut it down.”

After that, Heim’s baseball players will lift weights on Mondays and Wednesdays and attend Baseball 101 classroom sessions on Thursdays.

“A lot of these kids don’t know the game the way they should,” says Heim, who wants players to pay attention to the Major League Baseball postseason. “You learn from watching.”

Last spring, Anderson carried 30 players for varsity and junior varsity schedules. Heim expects the number to go up a little next spring. However, the two teams still need to share storied Memorial Field until two new fields are built. Those are expected to be ready for the 2020 season.

Heim’s coaching staff includes Garrett Jones, Chris Waymire and Jeff Johnson and he’s looking to hire one more.

Among seniors expected to return are Andrew Bliss, Jordan Harris, Cameron McGlothlin, Cameron Pratt, Mike Stewart, Brayden Waymire and Braden Zirkle.

Anderson belongs to the North Central Conference (along with Arsenal Tech, Harrison, Kokomo, Lafayette Jefferson, Logansport, Marion, McCutcheon, Muncie Central and Richmond).

The NCC is broken into two divisions — Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond in the East with Harrison, Lafayette Jeff, Kokomo, Logansport and McCutcheon in the West.

Teams play each divisional opponent twice and then there is a seeded cross-divisional tournament. Anderson was the No. 1 seed in the East and wound up placing fourth in the 2018 tourney.

Anderson is in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Connersville, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Muncie Central, Pendleton Heights and Richmond.

The Tribe has won seven sectionals in program history — the last in 2012.

Anderson’s program is fed by the Highland Middle School combined seventh/eighth grade team, Brooklyn Little League and various travel organizations.

Besides his baseball duties, 2001 Anderson U. graduate Heim, is detention school supervisor for the Anderson High School Area Career Center.

Heim has a daughter named Kennedy (12).

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Anderson (Ind.) High School head baseball coach Adrian Heim (right) shares a moment with former Anderson (Ind.) University coach Don Brandon. Heim, who played for the Hall of Famer, has 205 career victories, amassed at his high school alma mater — Elwood — and Anderson High.

Indiana native Wagner enjoying the big league life in first season behind mic for Blue Jays

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ben Wagner is basking in the glow of his first full-time Major League Baseball escapades.

After a decade as play-by-play announcer for the Triple-A Buffalo (N.Y.) Bisons, Wagner got the call to the big leagues in March when the Toronto Blue Jays named the Indiana native as their radio voice. Jerry Howarth retired after holding the job for 36 years.

“I still roll out of bed everyday and double-check that this is my life,” says Wagner, who has already witnessed plenty of memorable on-field highlights and taken in MLB cities across the continent. He has had the pleasure of exploring Independence Hall in Philadelphia, eating crabs in Baltimore and signing the inside of the Green Monster in Boston. “I felt like a tourist when we were in Philly. You’ve got to take advantage of those things.”

The culture is different in the big leagues.

“These are higher-caliber athletes,” says Wagner. “But you conduct yourself professionally, so not much has changed there.

“But everything else has.”

In the International League, teams take buses from city to city — often in the wee hours — and try to get as many home games on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as possible.

“It boils down to dollars and cents,” says Wagner. “At the minor league level, it’s a math problem.”

In the bigs, clubs take charter flights. The bus pulls right up to the jet and away they go!

“It was an oh-wow moment when I first stepped on that charger plane,” says Wagner, a graduate of Fairfield Junior/Senior High School, near Goshen, Ind., and Indiana State University. “There’s nothing like sport’s teams charter travel. Every little thing is taken care of by people behind the scenes. It’s really an incredible experience.”

MLB cities are bigger. The hotels are of the 5-star variety.

“We’re going to places that people make destinations,” says Wagner. “And this is my everyday life.”

During his 10 years in the bus leagues, Wagner welcomed the all-star break as a chance to heal and re-boot.

“By this time in the season, my body torn up, twisted and sore and I’m not playing everyday,” says Wagner, who is 95 games into the 162-game 2018 schedule. “My body feels so much better now because the travel has improved. We are experiencing the best travel out there.

‘The biggest change to my life is the ease of travel. They make it as convenient they can for players, coaches and support staff, including the broadcasters.

When the hotel is within walking distance of the ballpark, it gives Wagner a chance to soak in the flavor of the city.

“I don’t like to breathe too much hotel air so I get out and find a good coffee house,” says Wagner.

There, he can get a cup of joe and then do some exploring.”

He is living in the center of Toronto and can walk to Rogers Centre in 10 to 15 minutes so he has found his favorites spots along the route. Ben and wife Megan live in Lancaster, N.Y. — about a 25-minute drive to Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo.

Depending on whether the opponent that night has already appeared on the Jays schedule, early afternoon on the first day of a series is devoted to prep and research.

Home or away, Wagner get to the park between 2 or 3 p.m. (for a 7 p.m. game).

“I anxiously await lineups being posted,” says Wagner. “Then I plug in storylines on the scorecard.”

There are many media agencies cranking out individual and team trends and Wagner sorts through the mound of information to find precious nuggets.

“Sometimes it’s totally irrelevant,” says Wagner. “But it’s nice to have those resources.”

Wagner spends up to 45 minutes chatting with players and coaches in the clubhouse and then there’s the daily briefing with Toronto manager John Gibbons three hours before first pitch.

After that, Wagner often networks to get the latest news about the other team and baseball in general.

“As much as I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the Blue Jays, having a balanced broadcast is important,” says Wagner. “Consumers have changed. With all the online broadcasting and satellite services, I might not only being talking to Blue Jays fans or Canadians.

“I’m not doing my job if I’m leaving out the other half of the story.”

With an hour before game time, Wagner must be in the “air chair” to record introductions. Then, he grabs a cup of coffee or a bite to eat and is ready to share what he sees with the listeners on SportsNet 590 and the Blue Jays radio affiliates.

On the road, it’s a two-man booth with Wagner and Mike Wilner conversing and trading off the play-by-play innings.

Veteran broadcaster and Toronto resident Dan Shulman works 80 home games — 50 on TV and 30 selected radio dates. When that happens, Wagner and Schulman divide the play-by-play and Wilner also contributes to the broadcast. Jay Siddall is a radio analyst.

Wagner says the difference between the two- and three-man booth is the cadence. With the Bisons, his sidekick was Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Duke McGuire.

“Duke was an incredible resource and he was fun to be with,” says Wagner. “Our broadcast was major league quality — home or on the road.”

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As a first-year full-time radio play-by-play announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays, Ben Wagner has gotten to enjoy crabs in Baltimore. (Photo Courtesy of Ben Wagner)

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On a recent trip to historic Fenway Park in Boston,  Toronto Blue Jays radio voice Ben Wagner got to sign the inside of the Green Monster. (Photo Courtesy of Ben Wagner)

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Ben Wagner, a graduate of Fairfield Junior/Senior High School near Goshen, Ind., and Indiana State University is in first full season as a radio play-by-play announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays. Here he is on the field at Rogers Centre doing some television work. (Photo Courtesy of Ben Wagner)