Kristian Gayday was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Ind., and that’s where he learned about baseball and where he continues to share his knowledge. Gayday, who turns 30 on Dec. 20, is heading into his fourth season as an assistant coach at the University of Saint Francis, located on the Summit City’s west side. Growing up near Waynedale on the south end of town, Gayday played at Don Ayres Little League, travel ball for the Aboit Braves and Fort Wayne Cubs (coached by Cisco Morales) then played on the last four teams at Elmhurst High School (it ceased to be a high school after 2009-10) and four years at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne). He has coached in the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks travel organization (formerly Fort Wayne Cubs). Gayday played three seasons for Eddie Fields and his senior year for Zac Pace at Elmhurst, helping the Trojans go 18-7 and win the program’s first sectional title in eight years. A power-hitting shortstop, he was named all-Summit City Athletic Conference and all-area as a senior. “(Pace) did a good team with a senior-laden team,” says Gayday. Bobby Pierce was the coach of the IPFW Mastodons and Gayday played shortstop or third base from 2011-14. A righty swinger, he hit .274 (183-of-667) with 16 home runs, two triples, 31 doubles and 104 runs batted in 201 games. “He’s such a cool person,” says Gayday of Pierce. “He’s figure out a way to develop guys. He’d break down the swing and show different perspectives. “He taught me most of what I know today and was such a good mentor.” In 2015, Gayday played mostly as a corner infielder for the Sonoma (Calif.) Stompers of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. That team was managed by Japan native Takashi Miyoshi. Gayday, who has worked at The Diamond Baseball & Softball Academy in Fort Wayne, was called away from coaching a Fort Wayne Diamondbacks team to play for Sonoma. He anticipates coaching for the Manny Lopez-led D-backs in 2022. At Saint Francis, Gayday is on the staff of Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher. “He’s such a likable guy,” says Gayday of Butcher. “You know he has your back. “I’m grateful to have him around and being a mentor to me.” Primary duties for Gayday include working with USF hitters and infielders while also aiding in the running game. One of the keys for Gayday’s hitters is “being athletic.” To Gayday, swinging a bat requires attention to pitcher’s tendencies and the mental side. “We want them to stay back instead of trying to force their body to do something,” says Gayday. “We do not want them having a good approach and not being pull happy. “Instead of pulling, they can hit a curveball to right field and see what happens.” Gayday stresses a “prep step” for his infielders. “It’s a nice hop down into our legs so we can stay low,” says Gayday. “We want to set our feet and make a good throw. “Everyone is progressing the right way.” It also helps that the hops at Cougar Field are getting smoother. “We’ve put a lot of time in that field to make it better,” says Gayday. Saint Francis, a member of the NAIA-affiliated Crossroads League, went 34-22 and stole 73 bases in 86 attempts. Keys to success include reading the pitcher’s delivery (slide step, leg kick etc.) and his pick-off move. “We want to put momentum into our steal,” says Gayday. “Being a half step quicker is what we’re looking for.” While its currently a period where athletes are away from the coaching staff, there can be communication through calls and social media. When the team comes back from break in early January, the Cougars will hit the ground running in preparation for the 2022 season opener Feb. 4 at Bethel (Tenn.) University. Besides coaching, Gayday runs the shipping and receiving department for McMahon Best-One Tire & Auto Care in Fort Wayne and answers directly to Pat “Bubba” McMahon, who is also head baseball coach at Canterbury School in Fort Wayne. Kristian lost both parents — Elmhurst graduates Johnny and Christine — in 2020. He has two older siblings — John Gayday and Natasha Nestleroad.
Austin Mannan has found his “why” and he pursues it on a daily basis as an educator and coach.
“I felt like I’ve had so many people pour their time and effort into me,” says Mannan, a special education teacher at Lane Middle School in Fort Wayne, Ind., and the head baseball coach at Fort Wayne North Side High School. “I have a duty to give that back to kids.
“I want to change somebody’s life. At the end of the day I don’t care what kind of baseball player you are, I want you to be a better person than when you got to me.
“I want them to look back and say he really cared about me. He really went the extra mile.”
Mannan has embraced his mindset and takes a cue from motivational speaker Eric Thomas, who asks “What’s Your Why?”
“Everybody has a reason to get out of bed everyday,” says Mannan. “You have to decide what that motivation is and what you can do to get there.
“(North Side) is an inner-city school. These kids have challenging backgrounds. We want to help them to be a better person.”
The Legends are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Columbia City, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead and Huntington North. North Side is seeking its first sectional title.
Also the home of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation‘s Jackers, Carrington Field underwent renovations that the Legends did not get to enjoy in 2020 with the prep season being wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s pretty nice,” says Mannan, who notes that many previous games at Carrington were wiped out when it rained.
Eight seniors were on the 2020 roster, including college recruits in left-handed pitcher Max Meisner (Huntington University), shortstop Cameron Woehnker (Grace College) and hurler Taegan Armey (Indiana Tech).
Mannan’s 2021 assistants are Jordan Young, Toni Georgi and Armey, who developed an arm injury that caused him to shut it down rather than play college ball.
North Side junior right-hander Nate Spurlock has been getting attention from college programs.
As a player, Mannan got to know the junior college baseball grind from two head coaches — Kevin Bowers at Lincoln Trail and Clark at Spoon River.
“As a JuCo Bandit you’re a grinder,” says Mannan. “You’re putting in the work and getting after it.
“The grind of being a junior college player is incredible. You become so tough playing at that level.”
A typical schedule began with conditioning at 5 a.m., followed by classes, practice, study table and more practice with it all winding up about 10 p.m. Then the same thing the next day.
To get in games against top early-season competition, the team would cram 10 players each in three vans and drive 14 hours to Texas. Meal money was capped at $5 a day.
Junior college baseball is full of potential professional players and they are all MLB First Year Player Draft-eligible.
Two of Mannan’s Lincoln Trail teammates — Damon Olds (Kansas City Royals out of Indiana State University) and Justin Watts (Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Southern Indiana) — were drafted in 2017.
In Mannan’s LTC recruiting class, 10 of 13 went on to NCAA Division I programs. Two went to NCAA Division II.
After a year at Spoon River (2014-15), Mannan landed at NAIA Saint Francis for two years (2015-16 and 2016-17). Greg Roberts was the Cougars head coach and his successor, Dustin Butcher, was an assistant.
Mannan, who also played summer ball for the Danville (Va.) Marlins in 2015 and Laramie (Wyo.) Colts in 2016, was honorable mention all-Crossroads League in the spring of 2016.
At Saint Francis, Mannan earned a Secondary Education degree in 2018 and a Masters in Special Education in 2020.
It was by coming to Fort Wayne that Mannan met an Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne student from Crown Point, Ind., named Adalyn.
Austin and Adalyn Mannan were married in September 2020. She is a manager at Planet Fitness.
“We were supposed to go on our honeymoon during Christmas break,” says Mannan. Instead, the couple had a bout with COVID. Austin spent a week in the hospital. Except for occasional shortness of breath, he says that has recovered.
DeJesus and former WOWO radio personality Charly Butcher founded the Fort Wayne Cubs, which later became the Diamondbacks.
Born in Ponce, P.R., DeJesus moved to Moss Bluff, La., as a boy then Beaumont, Texas, where he was one of only two sophomores to play varsity baseball at West Brook Senior High School (catcher Jason Smith, who went on to the University of Texas-Arlington and the Colorado Rockies organization, was the other).
It was as a 10th grader that DeJesus caught the attention of University of Southwestern Louisiana assistant coach Emrick Jagneaux.
“He said, ‘once you get this thing figured out with the curveball, I’ll come back and pick you up,’” says DeJesus of Jagneaux. “He was true to his word.”
DeJesus went to USL (now known as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette) and went 23-1 in three seasons (1990-92) for the Mike Boulanger-coached Ragin’ Cajuns.
The lefty was 22-0 as a starter. He came on in relief against Oregon State University and three crucial errors led to his only college setback.
In his three seasons, the Ragin’ Cajuns went 47-18, 49-20 and 38-23 and won two American South Conference titles and a Sun Belt Conference West crown.
DeJesus won 13 games for Southwest Louisiana in 1992, was an All-American, co-Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year and selected to Team Puerto Rico. An elbow injury suffered during the Olympic Trials kept him from going to the Barcelona Games, where first-time Olympic baseball qualifier Puerto Rico placed fifth.
In the summer of 1990, DeJesus played American Legion Baseball in Louisiana for McNeese State University head coach Tony Robichaux and assistant Todd Butler.
Robichaux was head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette 1995-2019 (he died after the 2019 season) and won more than 1,100 games in his 33-year career.
The Twins selected DeJesus in the 17th round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
He got into just two games in 1992 then went 9-0 at rookie-level Elizabethton, Tenn., in 1993.
“He’s one of the nicest overall men that has ever graced us with his presence,” says DeJesus of Smith. “His philosophy was very simple: Show us what you can do.”
DeJesus remembers that Smith was very mild-mannered until the morning after an Appalachian League playoff loss at Bluefield, Va., that saw the team get extra-boisterous at the hotel.
Let’s just say the Twins were chewed out before riding back to Tennessee.
Playing at Low Class-A Fort Wayne in 1994, DeJesus encountered manager Jim Dwyer and pitching coach Stew Cliburn.
It was in Fort Wayne that DeJesus, who was in the bullpen at old Memorial Stadium, witnessed the first professional home run for 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez.
DeJesus can still see the hanging slider by Shane Bowers, who had a cup of coffee with the 1997 Twins, that A-Rod popped for the Appleton Foxes.
Southpaw DeJesus was 5-2 with two saves, a 0.93 earned run average, 55 strikeouts and 13 walks in 38 2/3 innings at Fort Wayne and was at Double-A Nashville briefly before injury cut his season short.
DeJesus recalls that a Nashville TV station aired a lengthy piece about his injury. Xpress manager Phil Roof and pitching coach Rick Anderson were complimentary, saying how the lefty had the make-up to be a top-flight closer or set-up man.
“My fastball never came back after surgery,” says DeJesus.
After four games at Double-A New Britain, Conn., in 1995, DeJesus spent parts of that season and all of 1996 in independent pro ball with the Alexandria (La.) Aces and the Rio Grande Valley White Wings in Harlingen, Texas.
DeJesus was with Alexandria again in 1997 and hooked on with the Chicago Cubs system, going 3-1 in eight games in 1997 and 5-5 in 1998 — both for High Class-A Daytona, Fla.
Stan Cliburn, twin brother of Stew and Alexandria manager in 1997, fondly recalls DeJesus.
“Great competitor and a winner when he toed the pitchers mound!,” says Cliburn. “Class act.”
Ricky VanAsselberg, who is now the general manager/field manager of the Acadiana Cane Cutters summer collegiate team in Lafayette, La., was an Alexandria teammate.
“I love Javi,” says VanAsselberg. “What a great guy. Great competitor.
“Warrior on the mound.”
It was Alan Dunn, Daytona pitching coach in 1997, that DeJesus learned the 3-2-1 pitch sequencing method that he employs with his young players to this day.
“He showed me that concept and it’s made a world of difference,” says DeJesus. “It gives you the opportunity to be your own pitching coach.”
The method begins with 12 pitches to various parts of the strike zone — inside and outside — and allows the pitcher to evaluate where is more or less consistent, where he is improving or regressing and where his mechanics can be altered to effect the release point.
DeJesus, who likes to take to Twitter to debunk modern training philosophy, is not a big fan of speed for speed’s sake.
“Look at players’ heart,” says DeJesus. “That can’t be quantified. They don’t play for numbers.
“Velocity is king now. To me that’s not pitching. That’s measurables. You have to integrate velocity and command.
“If you have no clue where it’s going, what’s the purpose of training.”
When teaching his sons to hit, DeJesus has spent time listening to hitting coaches and it’s also helped him as pitching instructor.
“The more I know about hitting, the more I can help pitchers,” says DeJesus. “We can expose weaknesses.”
Puerto Rico-born Jose Santiago, a former big league pitcher and Daytona’s pitching coach in 1998, tried to get DeJesus to become a coach in the Cubs organization.
“I thought I still had some games to play,” says DeJesus. “I wanted to retire on my own terms and not someone else’s.”
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.”
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.
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.
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 Jaksa 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 Jaksa did not name captains for 2016, McKinstry was considered one that spring.
“He taught me how to be a leader,” says McKinstry of Jaksa, 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.
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)
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)
“It’s incredible to play on the same fields and in the same league as them,” says Jernigan, who played 36 games for Elizabethton (Rookie-level Appalachian League) after the draft and four contests for the E-Twins in ’17 before being assigned to Cedar Rapids June 29.
“We’re lucky to come out here and just play,” says Jernigan. “I just like to take it day by day and enjoy the experience. It’s that fun and excitement you had when you were a kid that made you want to become a professional baseball player.
“It’s very easy once you get out there to lose sight of that. You start to think of it as a job. My main goal is to come out and learn something new and get better each and everyday.”
Playing so many games, pro baseball can become a mental and physical grind. But Jernigan chooses not to see it that way.
“You don’t think I have to play today, I get to play today,” says Jernigan. “It’s really just a blessing to be out here.”
Jernigan grew up playing shortstop and accept for being moved to third base by then-Homestead head coach Steve Sotir during his sophomore year, he was an everyday shortstop until he became a pro. The Twins have used him at second base, third base, shortstop and even one game at catcher.
“A ground ball’s a ground ball though the ball gets too you faster at third base,” says Jernigan. “The Twins talk about (playing multiple positions). I’ve always been told the more versatile you are, teams can get you more playing time.”
Jernigan is thankful for a foundation laid by Sotir, who now works at The Base in El Paso, Texas, and current Homestead head coach Nick Byall.
“They run a great program,” says Jernigan of Sotir and Byall. “I look back on the drills and some of the things we did. I can’t thank them enough with helping me with my development.”
Scott Googins, who became head coach at the University of Cincinnati after the ’17 season, was head coach at Xavier during Jernigan’s days as a Musketeer.
“Coach Googins made sure that we put together a tough schedule and faced the Vanderbilts and the Arizona States and some high-power arms,” says Jernigan. “Playing those teams in those series definitely helped in the sense that I’ve seen the velocity and the breaking balls.
“I seen some of that electric stuff. The biggest thing (in the minors), everyone you face now is a Friday night guy.”
The key is to hit the pitcher’s mistakes.
“I want to find a pitch and drive it,” says Jernigan. “You must be ready for the fastball at all times. You can adjust to the off-speed after that.”
Andre was born to Frankie and Stacey Jernigan in Muncie and the family landed in Fort Wayne around the time Andre was starting school.
Frankie Jernigan graduated from Muncie Central High School and earned a baseball letter at the University of Nebraska (1989). He passed along his knowledge and love of the game to sons Andre and Austin (who played baseball at Homestead and is now a senior student at Ball State University).
“I can’t thank him enough for all those days when he threw us BP and hit us ground balls,” says Andre of his father.
Andre played travel in younger days with the Mavericks and then with the Fort Wayne Cubs (now the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks).
Jernigan graduated from Xavier with a degree in finance.
“I’ve always been good with numbers,” says Jernigan. “It’s one of those things that I find interesting.”
Another interesting family connection is former NBA standout Bonzi Wells. He is connected in Andre’s mother’s side.
Wells shined on the hardwood at Muncie Central and Ball State and then played with the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets before stints in China and Puerto Rico.
At 40, Wells now plays in the new BIG3 pro 3-on-3 league.
Jernigan says Wells recently talked with youngsters at Muncie Central.
“He has that inner drive that keeps you going,” says Jernigan.
Andre Jernigan, a graduate of Homestead High School and Xavier University, is in the Minnesota Twins organization with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. (Steve Krah Photo)