Tag Archives: Mark Haley

South Bend’s Wawrzyniak helps ballplayers navigate language, cultural gaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Building better communication bonds between foreign professional baseball players and the club’s that employ them.

That’s what Linda Wawrzyniak is doing for the game with her Higher Standards Academy, LLC. When she started her business it was tied to adult education.

It has morphed into a service for teams who have increased their international investments and built baseball academies in Latin American countries but did not have an effective system to integrate players in ways that include more than balls, strikes and outs.

Based in South Bend and traveling extensively in the U.S. and Latin America, the bilingual Wawrzyniak works to help athletes navigate language and culture gaps.

She teaches English classes and so much more.

Wawrzyniak and HSA had a contract with South Bend Community School Corp., when she was approached about a decade ago by the South Bend Silver Hawks, then a Low Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. That’s where she met South Bend field manager Mark Haley and D-backs executives. They wanted her to teach a few language classes.

“My son was in baseball at the time,” says Wawrzyniak. “I thought it would be fun. Then I realized that they didn’t have a great system to do this. Guys didn’t have a lot coming in and when they left, I didn’t know what they were going to. There were a lot of holes.”

Immersing herself into the world of baseball and figuring out how to help these young foreigners pursuing their diamond dreams, Wawrzyniak created a necessary niche.

“There’s just a ton of need,” says Wawrzyniak. “The broad brush stroke of English doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s so much that happens behind the scenes when they’re with us. It’s trust. We’re a different kind of coach, really.

“We’re not just teaching English, we’re teaching a few other things. It’s the heart. It’s the cognitive processes of learning. It’s having another person to lean on emotionally.”

Wawrzyniak notes that it takes 500 hours in a classroom setting to learn conversational English.

“We don’t have 500 hours, so we have to do it faster,” says Wawrzyniak. “You develop some systems and methodologies.”

Many contractors work in-season only. Wawrzyniak trains them and oversees their programs.

“We take a lot of time to find good people,” says Wawrzyniak.

Major League Baseball requires all its teams have an integration program in the Dominican Republic. Some hire teachers and others have someone on staff.

By investing much time and energy, Wawrzyniak has learned how to get the conversation started and how to build relationships.

“With what I do, you’ve got to know those kids,” says Wawrzyniak. “You’re not just supplying paper and pencils. You know lives. You’re directly involved with player development. I know those kids and I know the teachers that know those kids.”

Three of the many players that Wawrzyniak has a connection with and has watched blossom in professional baseball are Venezuelans Ender Inciarte and Wilson Contreras and Dominican Eloy Jimenez.

Inciarte, 26, played in South Bend in 2010 and 2011, broke into the big leagues with Arizona in 2014 and is now with the Atlanta Braves. The center fielder was recognized as one of baseball’s best defenders in 2016.

“To see him win the Gold Glove, I cried,” says Wawrzyniak. “I was overjoyed for him. I knew the struggles he went through. He struggled with losing his father. For awhile, it really slowed him down but it didn’t stop him.”

Contreras, 25, played in the Midwest League in 2013 with Kane County and made his MLB debut with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. A versatile player, he has played most of his pro games as a catcher. He played in Game 7 when the team finally snapped its 108-year world championship drought.

“He just learned to temper himself,” says Wawrzyniak. “He’s a neat person. You watch these players figure out who they are. You see them mature. He learned to make the most of who he was.”

Jimenez, 20, is considered the top prospect in the Cubs system by Baseball America. The outfielder played in South Bend in 2016 and is now at High Class-A Myrtle Beach.

“He’s just a naturally joyful person who loves to play,” says Wawrzyniak, who has faced the rising star in ping pong and basketball. “That’s neat. You don’t see that very often.

“He’s paying attention to every aspect of his career.”

When the Cubs started expanding into the Dominican Republic a few years ago, they sought out Wawrzyniak to help them smooth the transition.

“By that time, I was already working in the D.R. and the U.S.,” says Wawrzyniak. “I already had that international experience and understood what that required.”

She understands that culture is an all-encompassing concept.

“Let’s break that down,” says Wawrzyniak. “Culture is defined as societal norms. But because America is a melting pot, we don’t have one culture. Navigating that is one thing. There’s also gender cultures and age cultures.

“Culture’s a lot of things. Until you’ve had to teach it, you don’t really realize how big that is.”

College-age people today have a different verbiage and values from those of 30 years ago.

“It’s basically a difference in generations,” says Wawrzyniak. “Slang in the United States changes every five years. The reason it changes is that it’s driven by pop media.”

A typical baseball clubhouse is full of multiple generations. The references that a staffer in his 50’s makes may not connect with a player of 20.

“You might have coach who grew up with The Terminator and this new generation who has never seen The Terminator, and the coach says “I’ll be back!” and the Latin goes are going “What?” The Korean guys are going “Huh?” It doesn’t carry.

“If you haven’t integrated social media and pop media into what you’re doing, you’re behind the times. You have to be able to help kids understand those things.”

Wawrzyniak, featured recently on MLB.com, did her job well enough to receive a big thank you from the Cubs — a World Series ring.

“The Cubs are an amazing organization — world class,” says Wawrzyniak. “They didn’t have to give me a ring. But they did because I think they saw the value in working with all these Latin players, which is such a huge percentage of their minor league system.

“Huge progress was made. They saw that and acknowledged that.”

In the Cubs organization, South Bend represents the first full-season team for its minor leaguers. They play 140 regular-season contests compared with about half that at Eugene, Ore., in the short-season Northwest League.

“It’s hard,” says Wawrzyniak. “It’s more games than they’re used to playing. There’s a little more traveling than before. It’s a higher level of competition.”

It’s also “not their first rodeo.”

By the time they come to South Bend, they’ve usually already been in the U.S. three or four times. First there’s a month in the fall instructional league. They go home and then come back for spring training or extended spring training. They return home and then come back the next year for another spring training or extended spring training session before heading to Eugene.

While the Cubs have a nutritionist and many meals are provided, players usually are responsible for one meal a day and they crave foods from back home. Many grocery stores carry Latin American brands like Goya and there’s some chains that are attractive.

“They love Chipotle,” says Wawrzyniak. “That’s as close to home as they can get.”

Of course, it all comes down to the game.

“I’ve learned more baseball than I ever thought I would know,” says Wawrzyniak. “I now see the game within the game. I ask questions of coaches all the time. We build that into our programs.

“It’s not like what you learn in the first year of high school Spanish — Donde Esta La Biblioteca? (where’s the library?). They don’t want to know that. We have to give them words that make sense in their environment. We create materials that correspond to that.”

Wawrzyniak has made it a point to know what it feels like to throw a pitch, swing a bat, make a slide. She watches baseball on TV each night and breaks it down. She has devoured history and statistics.

“It’s not something you can do without knowing,” says Wawrzyniak. “I’ve spent a lot of my time just learning. You’ve got to know all of it. If you want to be effective, you have to. Any field you’re in, you have to know it.”

HSA teaches players how to interact with reporters. Normal conversation-starting questions revolve around who, what, when, where, how and why. But many times it comes across as very open-ended and sets the player up for failure.

“Speaking to the media, to me, is one of the hardest things and it’s not because they don’t have the words,” says Wawrzyniak. “It often comes down to how the question is formulated. There are a variety of ways reporters ask questions and they’re not always the same. One is ‘tell me about …’ That’s so vague.

“Most men don’t like opened-ended questions. (It’s the difference between) ‘tell me about what you envision for Mother’s Day vs. ‘what do you think we should do for Mother’s Day?’ Most guys struggle with that, regardless of their nationality. It’s kind of a sneak attack on these guys because they don’t really know what you want.

“It’s better, when you’re dealing with an international player, to be more specific.”

Wawrzyniak’s advice: The reporter should know what they want from the interviewee when they pose the question.

It’s all about communication and making a connection.

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Linda Wawrzyniak is helping the baseball community integrate foreign players with her Higher Standards Academy, LLC. The Chicago Cubs recently said thank you with a World Series ring.

Positivity, energy, versatility explored at Cubbies Coaches Club

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Don’t focus on what they’re doing wrong.

Figure out a way to do it the right way.

That was one of the messages at the monthly Cubbies Coaches Club hosted by the South Bend Cubs Performance Center.

When the shortstop boots a grounder or a catcher throws a ball a mile over the second baseman’s head, it’s easy to see that was a mistake.

“Everybody understands what you’re doing wrong,” Performance Center director Mark Haley said. “The hard part is getting it right.”

The key question for the player is: What should I have done?

Getting to players at the youth and high school levels to understand that is important.

Having that message delivered in a civil manner is also very helpful.

Veteran coach Jeff Buysse, father of Performance Center hitting and catching instructor and South Bend Washington High School head coach Doug Buysse, tells a story about former Washington coach Ric Tomaszewski to prove the point.

“T-6” was appearing at a coaches clinic in Illinois that had the coaches attempting to hit balls off the tee.

“They’re knocking the tees over,” Jeff Buysse said of a session led by the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “All of a sudden I hear that voice that I’ve heard so much: ‘STOP! Did you guys not listen to a word I said?’ His veins are popping out. He’s pacing and saying things like ‘Did you guys not listen?’ Then he stopped and asked, ‘Did that feel good? Is that going to make you better at hitting the ball off the tee?’”

So instead of yelling at the 10-year-old that is having trouble doing the same thing or some other baseball activity, calmly point out the correct way of doing it and don’t leave them cowering in fear.

If the kid can play loose, he’s more likely to play with a spring in his step.

It’s energy that coaches want to see from players.

Haley and Doug Buysse were catchers as players and see that energy is especially critical behind the dish, where you can’t take a pitch off or it becomes costly to the whole team.

“The guy that has the high energy and takes change are the guys who will get a chance (at the pro level),” Haley said. “Everybody watches them and they create energy.”

Hyper guys can good catchers.

“It’s amazing how that just plays into the cards for him,” Haley said. “He’s got everything covered. He never gets bored.”

Buysse, who was a receiver at Washington and Saint Joseph’s College, wants a spark plug for a catcher.

“The kid that’s the loudest, that’s the one I want behind the plate,” Doug Buysse said.

At Washington, Buysse expects his players to be selfless, selling out for their teammates, and to bring energy.

“That’s what you are supposed to bring everyday and we have an energy target,” Doug Buysse said. “Most days we lose.”

Haley, who spent 23 seasons as a coach or manager on the player development side of professional baseball including 10 as manager of the South Bend Silver Hawks (2015-14), now coaches travel teams in the I-94 League. He wants to win, but the emphasis is placed elsewhere.

“It’s about teammates, relationships, responsibility,” Haley said.

The goal for Haley and company is lifting the level of baseball in the area and will lend a hand to any player or coach trying to do things the right way. Attending CCC sessions or having days with leagues or teams are a few ways to make this happen.

“We’ll help as much as we can,” Haley said.

Making relationships at the next level is helpful and Doug Buysse takes his Washington players to a Notre Dame game every year. The players and parents get to see the difference between high school and NCAA Division I talent.

One question was posed by a Little League coach about playing multiple positions.

The consensus: Don’t lock yourself in so early when they are still learning the game. Even well-established players will change positions. Haley pointed out that Buster Posey transitioned from shortstop to catcher.

Doug Buysse remembers that when he coached JV baseball and asked each player their position. Pitcher and shortstop was the response each time.

“They can’t all be that,” Doug Buysse said. “Pick something else.”

Even though that team didn’t win too many games, players bought into the always-hustling mentality and sprinted out to the foul line after each game and awaited Buysse’s post-game remarks.

The next Cubbies Coaches Club meeting is slated for Tuesday, March 21. RSVP at least a week in advance to Doug Buysee at michianacoachesclub@gmail.com.

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Doug Buysse

South Bend’s Haslers doing their part for White Sox pitching efforts

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By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Two generations.
One common purpose.
South Bend’s Curt and Drew Hasler are both in the business of getting hitters out in the Chicago White Sox organization — father Curt as the bullpen coach for the parent club and son Drew as a right-hander in the minors.
Curt Hasler, 52, is in his 30th year with the White Sox in 2017 — the first as a full-timer at the big league level.
Curt was drafted by Chicago in the 21st round of the 1987 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Bradley University and made stop with the South Bend White Sox in 1988. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound right-hander pitched until 1991, making it to Triple-A Vancouver and a became pitching coach in 1992.
A roving coordinator of all White Sox minor league pitchers from the Dominican Republic through Triple-A the past few years, Curt will now serve the needs of manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper (who was Hasler’s coach for two seasons).
“We’re family,” says Curt of the Sox organization, noting that chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, executive vice president Ken Williams and senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn are very loyal people. “You go out and do your business, do the right thing and keep your nose clean and you’ll have a job.”
Curt will be charged with many duties — from getting pitchers ready in the bullpen and creating gameplans to attack opposing hitters. He will let Sox hurlers know things like what pitch they like to swing at in certain counts and what the best put-away pitch is for a certain pitcher against a particular hitter.
“It’s a lot of little things behind the scenes,” says Curt. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to take a little of the load off of Coop.”
Having worked with many of the current big leaguers as they came up through the White Sox system, Hasler can provide insight for his MLB bosses.
“It does help to have a working knowledge of these guys from the start,” says Curt.
Drew Hasler, 23, pitched for Marian High School and Valparaiso University before being taken by the White Sox in the 34th round of the 2015 MLB draft. The 6-6, 240-pounder toed the mound at Great Falls, Mont., in 2015 and then Kannapolis and Winston-Salem in North Carolina in 2016.
“I started out wanting to be a catcher,” says Drew of his early diamond days. “Then I got older and smarter and wanted to pitch. My dad was coaching me all the way through. Recently is when he kind of backed off and let the pitching coach take it.”
Father and son went on several trips around the minors when Drew was younger and he got to meet players like Jon Rauch, Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand.
But being on the road so much, Curt did not see Drew pitch as much in Little League, high school or college as much as people would think.
“When I was there, I cherished it and I enjoyed watching him pitch,” says Curt. “Last year, I got to see him a lot. I saw him every time I was (at Kannapolis, where Brian Drahman was the pitching coach or Winston-Salem, where Jose Bautista was the pitching coach). In five days, everyone is going to pitch at least once.”
Used as both a starter and reliever at Valpo U. by head coach Brian Schmack (a former White Sox minor league pitcher), Drew has made all 55 of his professional appearances out of the bullpen.
He claims comfort in either role.
“To me, the mindset doesn’t change whether I start the game, come in halfway through the game or close the game, I want to get the guy at the plate out,” says Drew. “You might have to bear down a little more straight out of the bullpen to get your team out of a jam.”
Curt, who is planning to leave for spring training in Glendale, Ariz. Monday, Feb. 13 with Drew reporting to minor league camp in early March, says the White Sox don’t use label minor league pitchers as starters, long relievers, short relievers or closers.
“We want them to see different scenarios,” says Curt. “Roles get defined as they move up the ladder into Triple-A and the big leagues.
“You really need to develop to become big leaguers. To define someone as a closer and hold them to one inning all the time, that’s probably not to his best interest. He’s better off going two or three innings. He has to get outs. He has to use all of his pitches. He has to have command.
“Our goal is not to have a kid pitch 40 games and have 40 innings. It’s to pitch 45 games and have 75 innings. That’s better development.”
Roles at the majors are often defined by need as much as the talents of a particular arm.
“It’s constantly evolving for each individual pitcher,” says Curt, noting that Mark Buehrle and Chris Sale were used as relievers when they first came to The Show.
Both Haslers have been teaching lessons at the South Bend Cubs Performance Center, run by former White Sox minor league coach and manager and longtime friend Mark Haley.
The message given to young pitchers is the same that Curt heard from Cooper, Dewey Robinson and Kirk Champion when he was in rookie ball and it’s the same that Drew has heard from his father, college coach and professional coaches.
“Coaching and teaching is a steps process,” says Hasler. “The ABC’s of pitching, in my mind, will always be the ABC’s, whether it’s for Nate Jones or Drew Hasler or for Evan who’s 12 years old that I’m coaching at the Performance Center. Once we take care of the ABC’s, will can move on to the DEF’s.”
Those ABC’s include staying tall over the rubber and throwing first-pitch strikes and getting ahead of hitters in the count by attacking the (strike) zone. The White Sox want their pitchers throwing fastballs, breaking balls and change-ups for strikes at least 65 percent of the time and driving the ball down in the zone.
Drew is pretty good at following these tenants.
“Drew goes from the stretch only because he’s a reliever,” says Curt. “He repeats his delivery very well. He throws a ton of strikes. That’s goal No. 1.”

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South Bend’s Drew (left) and Curt Hasler are both a part of the Chicago White Sox organization.