Tag Archives: Mental Toughness Training

Learning follows right-hander Lannoo wherever Terre Haute South Vigo, Cornell grad goes

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Peter Lannoo has long embraced a love for learning.

The son of Michael Lannoo (Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the Indiana University School of Medicine-Terre Haute on the campus of Indiana State University) and (biology researcher) Susan Lannoo, Peter entered math contests and studied Classic Greek and Latin while at Terre Haute South Vigo High School.

After graduating from South Vigo in 2013, Lannoo went to an Ivy League school — Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. — and began his path as a biology major with a concentration on Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and a business minor.

He has gained credentials in research and been part of published findings.

“My four years at Cornell definitely benefitted me,” says Lannoo. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Michael and Susan Lannoo’s only child went to college for academics. But he did not leave baseball behind.

After playing informal club ball his first year at Cornell (2013-14), Lannoo made the Big Red varsity as a pitcher, playing for coaches Bill Walkenbach, Tom Ford and Dan Pepicelli.

The 6-foot-6 right-hander appeared in 33 games (26 in relief) in 2015, 2016 and 2017, juggling his studies and baseball.

“It’s an exercise in time management,” says Lannoo. “It helps in baseball and life in general.

“Time is precious and has to be managed.”

After Lannoo earned all-Ivy League first-team honors with eight saves and a 3.86 ERA in 17 appearances as a senior, the San Francisco Giants were impressed enough to select Lannoo out of Cornell in the 28th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

The big righty made 14 appearances (nine in relief) at Short-Season Class-A Salem-Keizer in 2017 with a 1-3 record and one save, a 4.28 earned run average, 26 strikeouts and 12 walks in 40 innings.

After breaking spring training camp in 2018 with Low Class-A Augusta, spending one game at Double-A Richmond and returning to Augusta, Lannoo is now in the bullpen at High-A San Jose. He has combined for 14 appearances (all in relief) with a 2-3 record, 2.76 ERA, 29 strikeouts and seven walks in 28 innings.

“It’s quite a journey,” says Lannoo, 23. “I haven’t gotten to look back on it much. I keep prepping for what’s next.

“Everyday I need to do something above and beyond to get me to the next level.”

Lannoo does all the off-field things he needs to hone his craft and then goes onto the field with the idea of having fun.

“The actual work comes in weight room, eating right and in the bullpen,” says Lannoo. “You can’t worry too much about what happens in the game.”

He also puts an emphasis on mental toughness.

“The mental game really helps when I’m in a jam,” says Lannoo, who has studied how other pro athletes, including Tom Brady, have prepared themselves. “It helps me slow things down and take it one pitch at a time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.”

“It’s that next pitch mentality. My college coaches really helped develop that in me.”

As far as developing his pitches, Lannoo is trying to strike a balance between his four-seam fastball, slider and change-up

“I’m working on throwing my off-speed pitches for strikes early in the count,” says Lannoo. “It’s about pitch mix and not being predictable. If you fall into patterns here, you get punished for it.”

And he’s always learning. During long bus rides or quiet time in the morning before he heads to the ballpark, Lannoo can often be found reading.

“It’s fun to learn stuff,” says Lannoo. “I read books and expand what I know.”

Lannoo was born in Muncie and moved with his parents to Terre Haute after his elementary school years.

Before the move, Michael Lannoo was a professor in the IU School of Medicine-Muncie on the Ball State University campus.

Peter played travel baseball with Muncie-based Indiana Longhorns then Babe Ruth baseball before spending the summers after his junior and senior years of high school with Terre Haute American Legion Post 346.

His head coach at Terre Haute South Vigo was Kyle Kraemer — a mentor he maintains contact with to this day.

“He was a great coach,” says Lannoo of Kraemer. “He taught me how to win. We had some really good seasons under him. We were (Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference) champions my senior year.

“He was really competitive. He brings out the best in his players.”

While at Cornell, Lannoo pitched in the summer for the Victor (N.Y.) RailRiders of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League in 2015 and North Adams (Mass.) Steeple Cats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League in 2016.

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Peter Lannoo, a graduate of Terre Haute South Vigo High School and Cornell University, is in his second season in the San Francisco Giants organization. (Augusta GreenJackets Photo)

 

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Rost emphasizes respect, routines as he leads Elkhart Memorial Crimson Chargers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball coaches often talk about “playing the game the right way.”

The concept means different things to different coaches.

Scott Rost, who is going into his 16th season as head baseball coach of the Elkhart Memorial High School Crimson Chargers in 2018, emphasizes the importance of hustle, respect and routines that help with the mental approach.

“As coaches we get caught up with a lot of the mechanical things in the game — all the ins and outs of being a good hitter and a good pitcher etc.,” says Rost. “Sometimes we forget about how important it is to sprint on and off the field and play the game the way it is supposed to be played. Don’t show up umpires. Don’t show up your opponent. Those are things we’ve always tried to preach.”

Not only might there be a college scout in the stands, the way a player acts reflects not only on themselves but others.

“You represent yourself (and family),” says Rost. “You represent the school (and community).”

Rost, who graduated from Concord High School in 1989 and Manchester College (now known as Manchester University) in 1993 and holds a master’s degree from Indiana University, learned many lessons as a player for then-Concord head coach Larry “Jake” Jackowiak and assistant Mike Stout (who went on to be head coach at Jimtown High School for 25 seasons) and later as Jackowiak’s varsity assistant.

“They were just good guys and good baseball guys. I have a lot of good memories of playing at Concord,” says Rost. “I learned a lot about discipline and how to play the game the right way. That means hustling on and off the field.

“They taught us how to deal with adversity and the importance of reacting correctly to negative things that happen in the game.”

Rost reminds his players how baseball is a game of failure and how to best deal with that disappointment.

“In baseball, that’s a huge part of being successful,” says Rost. “You’re going to have a lot of times when things don’t go your way.

“You boot a ball, what do you do to get your mind right to go to the next pitch and make the play?”

When Rost was a player, he was a fiery competitor who got upset when thing went wrong for him on the field and saw some others do the same.

“It’s human nature with a lot of kids to slam the glove or toss the helmet,” says Rost. “Things like that, (Jackowiak and Stout) just didn’t allow and made us understand that you’ve got to find other ways to deal with that than to show your frustrations outwardly.”

Rost can recall two examples in summer ball where Jackowiak got his message across.

In one heated game, there was a play at the plate with Rost as the runner. He did not appreciate the tag to his head and got in the catcher’s face.

“Larry said, ‘it’s time for you to sit down,’” says Rost. “Some of it was respecting the game and some of it was keeping your cool and staying mentally sharp.

“There’s a difference in playing with intensity and getting out of control.”

In another contest, Concord was playing well and ahead by about eight runs when Rost decided to steal third base.

Jake gave him one of those looks and said, “don’t ever do that again.”

It’s about respecting the game and playing it “the right way.”

Over the years, Rost has presented his players with mental skills tools they can use to help them in various diamond situations.

“We talk a lot about breathing,” says Rost. “I’m always talking to them about routines.”

Posted in the Memorial dugout are the routines to be followed by each batter up to the fourth hitter in an inning. The Crimson Chargers are not penalized for not sticking to the script, but this is something that can help them.

“In this game, if you’re not mentally tough and have routines and a way to flush things, you’re not going to be very successful,” says Rost. “There’s going to come an end of the road for you at some point in time regardless of how talented you are.”

Rost has also introduced visualization and getting players to see themselves succeed before it actually happens.

“We don’t try to force it down their throat,” says Rost. “We provide it as a tool for them. Every player is a little bit different. Some guys really grab hold of that and really benefit.”

Rost, who applies some of the theories put forward by sports psychologists Dr. Tom Hanson and Dr. Ken Ravizza in their Heads Up Baseball books and in seminars, podcasts and videos, says there is not of lot of difference between players in minor league baseball in terms of physical tools. In many cases, the ones who end up being big leaguers are the ones who can handle the mental side of the game and use routines.

This applies at the high school level.

“If you have the same routine, there’s only minor adjustments that need to be made,” says Rost. “If kids get into situations where they’re not comfortable and don’t have a routine to fall back on, they have a tendency to get nervous, hurry things and make mistakes they normally wouldn’t make.”

Ravizza is famous for saying that players must learn to perform even when they are not at their peak.

“Every day you step on the field, you’re not going to have your ‘A’ game,” says Rost. “Very seldom are you going to feel like a million dollars and the best in the world. It’s just not reality.”

The best players figure out how to be successful with what you have that day.

Rost has saved notes from Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Dick Siler and Jim Reinebold commending Rost on the way his teams played the game.

“For me, that kind of stuff means a lot,” says Rost. “I can see we’re doing things the right way here.”

Siler was Memorial’s head coach in the first 25 years of the program. He is in his 21st season as an assistant at Bethel College in Mishawaka and his 61st year in coaching.

Reinebold, who died in 2017, coached 35 high school seasons and went into professional baseball as a manager, coach and scout. He established the Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp in 1993.

Rost is assisted at the varsity level by Brian Blondell, Bruce Baer and Troy Carson. Brent Curry and Jay Bashore lead the junior varsity.

Blondell is a former head coach and assistant at both the college and high school levels and founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel ball organization.

Baer was head girls track coach at Memorial for years and has assisted in other sports and coached for the Scrappers.

Carson was a head high school baseball coach at Howe Military and Northridge  and assisted in football and basketball.

Curry was on the baseball staff at Concord.

“I feel blessed with the staff I have,” says Rost. “I have a lot of head coaching experience. I have some very good teachers and very knowledgable baseball guys.”

In the recent parents meeting, Rost spelled out expectations.

“We told them that we’re going to do everything we can to make the guys we have in our program as good as they can be on the baseball field and make them better people,” says Rost. “Everyone is going to have different views on playing time, lineups and all that kind of stuff. If we have a good rapport between our coaches — especially me — and our kids then the kids have a tendency to understand things a little bit more and take things a little bit better. Then, when they go home, the parents have a tendency to understand things a little bit better.

“We’re going to be honest with your kids. We’ll be honest with you. Communication is the key.”

Rost wants parents to know that if they have an issue or a problem, he has an open door and they can talk to him.

“There not always going to like the answer,” says Rost. “But I’m going to tell them the truth. For the most part, people respect that.”

Memorial belongs to the Northern Lakes Conference (along with Concord, Goshen, Northridge, NorthWood, Plymouth, Warsaw and Wawasse). There are 14 conference games.

Beginning with former Memorial athletic director Frank Kurth, Rost says he appreciates the flexibility he has had in his schedule over the years, depending on the program’s needs.

Non-conference opponents on the 2018 schedule include Bremen, Culver Military Academy, Edwardsburg (Mich.), Elkhart CentralJimtown, Mishawaka, Mishawaka Marian, New Prairie, Penn, Portage, South Bend Riley and Valparaiso. The Crimson Chargers are also in the Doc Mueller Classic at LaPorte. They are to play Highland, South Bend Adams and LaPorte.

“We jumped on the opportunity to play at LaPorte,” says Rost. “That’s where the regional has been played for a long time.”

Memorial is in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional group with Concord, Elkhart Central, Goshen, Penn and Warsaw.

Memorial generally go to games with 12 to 16 players. It depends upon factors like the number of pitcher-only players and who can play multiple positions.

If it will benefit the program and that player, juniors may be sent down to the JV to get playing playing time.

“Our philosophy is basically if any freshman or sophomore is up on the varsity level, they should be playing the majority of the time,” says Rost. “If not, they should be with the JV getting their reps.

“It can be hard for JV coaches to have kids coming and going. But I equate it to Triple-A and the major leagues. If a guy is really tearing it up (on the JV) or there is a need (on the varsity).”

Rost looks at his 2018 stable of Chargers and sees 11 juniors and seniors and up to seven sophomores and freshman who could contribute.

“There are certain years when we felt like we had a set varsity group and a set JV group,” says Rost. “For us this year, that’s not the case. We have some kids who are probably going to float back and forth. We’re going to see how things go.”

While current Memorial players are pondering college baseball opportunities, recent graduates Scottie Clark and Cameron Maxwell are on the team at Grace College and Justin Walter is in the mix at Purdue University Northwest.

Ryan Strausborger, a 2006 Memorial graduate, played in the Minnesota Twins organization in 2017.

Scott’s wife, Jacquie Rost, is Memorial’s athletic director and a longtime successful volleyball coach. The couple have two sons who play baseball — Dylan (15) is a EMHS freshman and Quinn (11) is a fifth grader. Both play for the Scrappers and Scott helps with coaching.

Rost has had players participate with many travel organizations, including the Indiana Chargers, Elkhart Titans, Indiana Land Sharks and Granger Cubs.

Before taking his current position, Rost was head softball coach at Memorial for four seasons. He has also served one season each as a baseball assistant to Brian Griman at Memorial and Steve Stutsman at Elkhart Central, coached football at various levels, including freshmen at Memorial the past few falls, and coached softball at Norwood High School in Cincinnati.

Rost made the team at Manchester and played in the fall of his freshman year then decided to stop playing.

“I don’t regret too many things in my life,” says Rost. “But that’s something I regret a little bit. I wish I would have done that for the experience. Obviously, I love the game.

“I started coaching in the summer, developed a love for it and it took off from there.”

Rost and friend Phil Eddy coached together at Concord Little League. Scott’s younger brother Nic was on his team a couple seasons and was later a Concord freshman with Scott on Jackowiak’s coaching staff.

Jackowiak turned over his summer program to Rost.

“High school baseball in the summer was still a big thing,” says Rost. “A lot of the schools played 20 or 25 games.

“That was a great experience for me. I learned a lot because a lot of times I was the only one there.”

With a merger of Memorial and Central into Elkhart High School scheduled for the fall of 2020, Rost is not sure about the baseball future.

But he knows about the past and present.

“I’ve enjoyed it here,” says Rost. “I’ve had a lot of support. The parents have been great. We’ve had some great kids. They do some amazing things when they leave here.

“That’s the stuff that means a lot to me.”

SCOTTROST

Scott Rost is going into his 16th season as head baseball coach of the Elkhart Memorial High School  in 2018. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

North Central graduate Lozer embraces bullpen as U. of Michigan, Mets organization pitcher

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mac Lozer has come to relish the relief role.

A starting pitcher much of the time at North Central High School in Indianapolis, where he graduated in 2013, the right-hander was asked to go to the bullpen for the University of Michigan.

“I pitched how I would benefit the team most,” says Lozer. “They put me in late-inning, high-leverage situations.”

In four seasons with the Wolverines, Lozer made 100 mound appearances (all in relief) and went 4-1 with three saves and a 2.22 earned run average. In 77 innings, he produced 94 strikeouts and 44 walks.

Along the way, Lozer grew from 5-foot-11 and throwing 84 mph to 6-1 and with deliveries of 89 to 92 mph was selected in the 33rd round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets.

In 16 games and 23 innings at Kingsport (Tenn.) of the rookie-level Appalachian League, Lozer went 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA. He whiffed 20 and walked nine.

Lozer was pitching in the summer for the Indiana Bulls when he was approached by Michigan assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Nick Schnabel about coming to Ann Arbor.

“It was a perfect fit academically, athletically and socially,” says Lozer, 22. “To this day, it’s one of the best decisions of my life.”

At Michigan, he played for head coach Erik Bakich. A nutritionist and trainer before becoming a coach, the former head coach at the University of Maryland, assistant at Vanderbilt University and Clemson University and player at East Carolina University after San Jose City College attends to more than just what happens between the white lines.

“He’s an amazing guy and an amazing coach,” says Lozer of the man who runs the Maize and Blue program. “He’s a life coach. He is concerned with the full human being. He develops you in leadership skills and makes you a better future father and current brother and son. He has a perfect formula for coaching a baseball player.

“I’m glad I stayed one more year and had another year with Coach Bakich.”

Lozer says the nutrition component at Michigan offers a “killer foundation.”

Whether a player is looking to gain, lose or maintain weight, needs to know how much water to drink or what supplements to take, there is a program in place to help players maximize their bodies.

“It’s not rocket science, but a lot of hard work,” says Lozer.

The right-hander learned to work at the mental side of the game and follow many of the principles laid out by sports psychologists Dr. Ken Ravizza and Dr. Tom Hanson in their book, “Heads Up Baseball.”

Michigan did mental strength training nearly everyday and Lozer focused on concepts like awareness, confidence and releasing negative energy. In the off-season, the Wolverines attended leadership sessions twice a week.

“Mental toughness is a learned trait,” says Lozer. “It’s not inherited.

“You have to be mentally tough in the real world. It’s truly a life skill.”

As a college reliever, Lozer needed to be prepared to pitch three or four times a week as compared to a starter who pitches once a week.

“As a reliever, you can have a bad outing one day and redeem yourself the next day and get it off your mind,” says Lozer. “It’s all about mental preparation. You want to be in that moment and not hesitant.

“It’s a synergy of mental and physical preparation. You close your eyes and take mental reps. I do a lot more mental reps than I do pitches. I make sure my confidence is at its highest point before I go in.”

Lozer credits former Michigan pitching coach Sean Kenny (now at the University of Georgia) for making him into an effective pitcher, teaching him the attack mindset while helping him develop his four-seam fastball (which has two-seam action), slider and change-up (which became game-ready in 2017).

“He’s going to do great things at Georgia,” says Lozer of Kenny. “I thank him for everything he did at Michigan.”

Staying at Michigan for four years also helped Lozer complete his degree in sociology with a sales certificate.

Lozer played baseball from age 7 to 11 at First Baptist Athletic Association. From 12U to 14U, he was with the Indiana Prospects. Coaches included his father Jeff Lozer plus Mike Nash and Andy Upchurch.

At 14U and 15U, Mac was with North Central Panther Summer Select. That team was coached by North Central High School head coach Phil McIntyre.

Lozer appreciates how McIntyre allowed him to play multiple positions during his high school career. Mac was a center fielder, first baseman, shortstop and catcher as well as a pitcher at NCHS.

From 16U to 18U, Lozer played in the summer for the Indiana Bulls — the first two years for coaches Jeff Mercer (now head coach at Wright State University) and Emmitt Carney and the last for Matt Campbell (now head coach at Lapel High School).

“The best thing about (the Bulls) is they are not going for trophies,” says Lozer. “They are developing players to match their potential.”

Mac is the son of attorney and former Davidson College baseball player Jeff Lozer and Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis professor Staci Lozer.

“She takes care of all the boys in the house,” says Mac of his mother.

One younger brother, Alan Lozer, is studying investment banking at Miami University after playing baseball at DePauw University. Youngest brother Scott Lozer is a North Central freshman and Indiana Nitro player.

MACLOZER

Mac Lozer, a graduate of North Central High School in Indianapolis and the University of Michigan, is a pitcher in the New York Mets organization. (Kingsport Mets Photo)

 

Benjamin finds his baseball fit at Indiana Wesleyan

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin is not the same person who took up residence in Marion, Ind., as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University prior to the 2016 season.

“I didn’t realize — in a positive way — how much it would change me in two years,” says Benjamin. “I enjoy being around like-minded coaches who care more about the other coach in the room than their own sport.

“It’s been a great place to be a mentor, to be mentored and grow and develop in the profession.”

Benjamin came to IWU following eighth seasons at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., where his teams amassed 304 wins with three Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season titles, four CCAC tournament championships. The Eagles also earned five NAIA regional appearances and two National Christian College Athletic Association World Series berths. Near the end of his stay, Benjamin added athletic director to his Judson responsibilities.

He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. (He played his last two college seasons there following two at Milligan College in eastern Tennessee).

From Martin Methodist, Benjamin became an assistant Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., before landing at Judson. He has extensive experience in coaching summer teams and working at camps and clinics.

Faced with multiple opportunities, Benjamin weighed his options and asked himself some questions before leaving Judson.

“What is the best fit for how I’m wired? What is the best fit for my family?,” says Benjamin, who is married to Casey and has a 5-year-old son in Ty. “Professionally, you do not want your job to cost your family more than what they’re benefitting from it.

“That’s always a delicate balance in the coaching profession.”

He recalls his initial meeting with Indiana Wesleyan athletic director and former Wildcats head baseball coach Mark DeMichael.

“I was blown away with the uniqueness of the environment,” says Benjamin of the NAIA member school. “It is a faith-based institution. It is not Christian in name only. The athletic department is founded on the Philippians 2 vision which — in short — means to be selfless. That was really attractive.”

Benjamin calls DeMichael one of the most-impressive leaders he’s ever been around.

“He really understands people, excellence and humility,” says Benjamin. “All the (IWU) coaches end up in his office at some point to use him as a sounding board for some of the cultural challenges that we are going through with our teams.

“He never tells you what to do. He lets you talk out loud. He asks really healthy open-ended questions and helps you find the answer you feel is the best solution for your program.”

During the interview process, Benjamin also learned from DeMichael about an institution with high academic and competitive standards. Every sport on campus had a combined grade-point average above 3.0 and the department winning percentage was in the top 15 in the nation.

“Here is an athletic department winning championships and killing it academically and they’re focused on people-first,” says Benjamin. “This is paradigm-shifting in college athletics. I was really attracted and wanted to be a part of it.

“Indiana Wesleyan is not one of those places where you can sell out in a couple areas to win games. You have to consider the social, academic and athletic sides of the person.

“We say, ‘if you build the person, the player will follow.’ You bring in a person and put them in a high-motored environment and you see them over their first 24 months. It’s a fun process to watch unfold because you have to do that part well.”

It’s all a matter of the right fit.

“Wherever you’re at, you have to recruit to your culture and the identity of your school, your resources,” says Benjamin. “We’re not fully-funded program (at IWU). Having to stretch dollars is the most-challenging aspect of the job.

“It’s also why we go after high financial-need students because they’ll get some government assistance or we go after high-academic students because they’re going to get a lot of academic aid.”

While attending the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Benjamin took the time to write in his journal about how he had performed with the knowledge he had gained since his first ABCA convention in 2004.

“It was humbling,” says Benjamin, noting some years were very good and some were not.

With the help of assistant coaches Kris Holtzieter (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator) and Drew Brantley (former Anderson University head coach, base-running/infield coach and assistant recruiting coordinator), Benjamin is looking for his players to grow from the start of the school year until the finish.

NAIA rules allow teams to be full-go for 24 weeks with a dead period between fall workouts (IWU was outdoors for about two months) and preseason training that allows coaches to be present for conditioning, strength training and team development without being able to coach baseball activities.

“That’s really healthy,” says Benjamin of the dead period. “There has to be a moment in which the player has space to go and figure out for himself the concepts you’ve been unpacking

“I’ve never had a great player that didn’t have a high motor to go take a lot of swings on their own and to find answers to the questions that have been exposed.”

To Benjamin, a coach is defined by someone who can help someone learn about themselves and the coach-player relationship works best when the athlete owns the process.

Mental training is also a part of what the Wildcats do.

“We realize your person can get in the way of your player and part of your person is your mental game and it’s your character,” says Benjamin. “We’ve all been around people who play above their skill because of their character and we’ve been around people who play who their skill because of their character.”

There are team values and goals and each player is asked to list three to five character areas they want to focus on.

“We’re able to use their list to interact with them about how they’re handling the performance level,” says Benjamin. “One of areas might be competitiveness or being fearless.

“If they get in the (batter’s) box and they have an unhealthy amount of fear or they’re not competitive or passive, they’re already beat,” says Benjamin. “If we can put guys in these scenarios each day and then talk about their person — those character values they want to grow in — you’re doing mental training right there.”

Benjamin’s 2016 Wildcats went 37-25-1 overall and 14-14 in the Crossroads League and followed that up with 27-30 and 12-15 in 2017.

Senior center fielder Brandon Shaffer (Albuquerque, N.M.) hit .348 with home runs and 39 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases made the 2017 all-Crossroads team. Freshman catcher/first baseman Brady West (Rockford, Ill.) hit .350 with 10 homers and was named CL Newcomer of the Year.

Honorable mention selections on the all-league squad were sophomore catcher Andrew Breytenbach (Palatine, Ill.) who hit .326 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs, sophomore right-handed reliever Kyle Hall (Chatham, Ill.), who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average, and freshman right-handed starting pitcher Jon Young (Batavia, Ill.), who went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA.

In addition, sophomore Caleb Eder (Jennings County High School graduate) hit .346 with eight homers and 40 runs driven in.

Indiana Wesleyan set four school records in 2017. The pitching staff racked up 379 strikeouts. On the offensive side, the Wildcats belted 68 home runs with 317 RBIs and a .478 slugging percentage.

The 2018 squad opens the season Feb. 9 against Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Benjamin considers Indiana and the adjoining states of Ohio and Michigan plus the Chicagoland area of Illinois to be fertile recruiting territory.

In comparing the two NAIA conferences where he has been a head coach — the Chicagoland Collegiate and Crossroads — Benjamin sees many similarities.

“Both conferences have a lot of coaches that coach for the right reason,” says Benjamin. “They are very professional in the way they interact with other teams, umpires, players and so forth. In a profession where you’re trying to build the person, it’s nice to be around other people who share the same vision.”

Besides Indiana Wesleyan, the Crossroads League features Bethel, Goshen, Grace, Huntington, Marian, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Saint Francis, Spring Arbor and Taylor. All 10 schools are private.

Baseball-playing schools in the CCAC are Calumet of St. Joseph, Indiana University South Bend, Judson, Olivet Nazarene, Robert Morris, Roosevelt, St. Ambrose, St. Francis, Saint Xavier, Trinity Christian and Trinity International.

With IWU adding football (the first game is slated for Sept. 1, 2018 against Taylor), the whole athletic department has benefitted, including baseball. A $1.2 weight room has been added.

With the establishment of the football complex came a re-establishing of the dimensions and a brand new wall for the baseball field. A five-year plan includes other upgrades such as playing surface, backstop and fencing.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a vision for everything,” says Benjamin. “They are proactive. They think ahead.”

Looking back, Rich (who has a twin brother Bobby) grew up in Rhode Island and moved to Tennessee as he and his brother were turning 9.

Rich started playing baseball year-round.

“It was my escape. It was fun,” says Benjamin. “I had more passion for it than anybody else in my family.”

When he was 12 and 13, he attended the Doyle Baseball School in Orlando, Fla., and recalls his parents taking extra jobs to pay for his week-long immersion in the game.

“The Doyles (Denny, Brian and Blake) are very professional faith-based people,” says Benjamin. “They were the first people to share Christ with me. It became a very defining moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking back on it, it was certainly a game-changer.”

Bobby Benjamin is restaurant owner in Louisville, Ky. The twins have a stepsister named Kayla. Mother Janet is married to Gary Piper. Father Ben is married to Vicki.

With Casey’s parents, Ty can be spoiled by three sets of grandparents.

“As a 5-year-old boy in Indiana, he wants to be a farmer,” says Rich of Ty. “He’s a John Deere guy right now. That’s where his focus is. But he’ll pick up a bat. He’ll pick up a football. He enjoys jumping on this indoor trampoline.

“He certainly enjoys being around our team.”

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Rich Benjamin enters his third season as head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., in 2018. (IWU Photo)

 

Hall helping dial in players as mental game development coordinator at Wright State

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Without your mind, your body’s nothing. You can have the best swing in the world. But if your mental game is not on-point — a 0 out of 10 — that swing goes to waste. Without the confidence. Without the positive self talk. Without the mental toughness, it’s hard to be able to unlock your physical potential” — Diamyn Hall, Mental Game Development Coordinator for Wright State University baseball

Through his own experiences and continued study, Hall is helping develop the mental side for not only his NCAA Division I program in Dayton, Ohio, but his many followers on social media.

Hall, a Centerville, Ohio, resident, played on the diamond at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Grambling (La.) State University and Georgia Southwestern State University and was brought on-board last summer at Wright State as a full-time mental coach — a groundbreaking move in college baseball.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” says Hall, who joined a coaching staff of “go-getters” led by Jeff Mercer (a graduate of Franklin Community High School in Indiana) and also features assistants Matt Talarico (Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger graduate), Nate Metzger, Alex Sogard, director of operations Denton Sagerman, volunteer Jacob Burk and athletic trainer Brad Muse. “I’m coming on to a staff where they already believed in the mental game. It’s not a situation where I had to convince them that this is something important. They had already bought-in 100 percent.”

Halls says Mercer — and former Wright State head coach Greg Lovelady (now head coach at the University of Central Florida) — have always been advocates of the mental game.

“Hopefully, this can add a few extra wins to the column,” says Hall, an attendee at the American Baseball Coaches Association national convention, which drew more than 6,100 of all levels to Indianapolis Jan. 4-7. “Now, it’s a matter of executing this role in the best way possible.

“There’s no clear-cut way to do anything regarding the mental game. I’m individualizing for each player as best as I can with the resources that we have.

“I’m feeling my way around and figuring out how to balance efficiency and effectiveness in every situation possible,” says Hall. “It’s a matter of being able to manage the mental game with each of our guys. We don’t want them thinking too much, but we want them to have the tools to succeed.”

As soon as he was hired, Hall began building relationships with WSU players.

He meets with them one-on-one, as a team and in small groups (ie. pitchers or hitters). By using examples that players can relate to most, Hall sees the biggest potential for really driving the message home.

As the Raiders get ready to open the 2018 season Feb. 16 at Tulane University, Hall is loading the players’ tool boxes and setting their foundations. Once the season begins and the Raiders start playing games, he will be in the dugout as a quick fix.

It’s going to be more ‘observe and serve.’ If everything’s good, I’m not going to have to do too much. At the end of the day, you want to give them all of the tools so if you drop off the face of the planet, they’ll be able to use the things you’ve taught them and they’ll know what works for them and what doesn’t. I believe that Awareness Activates Ability.”

Hall counts it as extremely important, that players are competing one pitch at a time, controlling what they can control, staying in the present moment and keeping their confidence level and their teammates’ confidence as high as possible at all times.

Many baseball coaches are emphasizing the mental side and don’t realize it.

“If they talk about discipline, leadership, competing one pitch at a time and keeping your confidence high, they sound like a mental game coach,” says Hall, who says the mental game works best when it is ingrained in hitting, pitching, base-running and fielding and not looked at as a  separate entity.

To foster growth of the mental game, Hall suggests implementing as many competitions in practice as possible and making practice feel more game-like for the players.

“Now you’re bringing up the competitive nature,” says Hall. “It plays a big role in the culture, in which Coach Mercer has created.”

Hall filled up notebooks with his observations during his playing days and learned the importance of keeping the body relaxed under pressure.

“The higher the stakes, the more calm, relaxed and confident you must become,” says Hall, who wants players to get to the point where treat those moments not as high-pressure situations but as tests to see how well they have been working on the things that really matter.

Some baseball people call it “Backyard Loose.”

“You want to be in that state at all times or at least as much as possible,” says Hall. “You need to practice those things in order to be able to implement those things during the game.”

Among Hall’s mentors is Dr. Charlie Maher (Sport and Performance Psychologist for the Cleveland Indians).

Hall, who holds a bachelor’s degrees in Psychology from Grambling State and Sociology from Georgia Southwestern State and is pursuing a masters and doctorate in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, is constantly educating himself.

“I make sure I’m always learning the newest things through self-education,” says Hall. “When I’m driving, I don’t listen to music anymore. I usually listen to a podcast or an audio book. To some, music is what moves the soul. For me, constantly and serving, is what what moves my soul. It keeps me going.

“If I have a 13-hour trip to Louisiana for a speaking engagement that can be time for me to learn. I make sure I’m getting all the best information so that I’ll be able to use with our guys

“I want to be able to practice what I preach and maximize on every single moment and execute things one step at a time.”

Hall uses the analogy of a dresser. Pull all the drawers out at the same time and it tips over. Or pull out one drawer at a time; putting all of your focus and energy in that drawer, closing it, and then moving on to the next drawer.

“That’s what it means to compete one pitch at a time,” says Hall. “For me, it’s learning one thing at a time. The language is all the same, it’s just a matter of where we’re applying it.”

Hall shares his gained wisdom with more than 15,000 Twitter followers at @DiamynHall and upwards of 6,200 Instagram followers at diamynhall can be contacted through his website — DiamynPerformance.com. His girlfriend — Grambling State volleyball player Diemend Richardson — is expected to join the business soon.

“I do it for the players and coaches that want to get better,” says Hall. “It’s just kind of taken off.”

Hall began his baseball-playing career as a high school sophomore. He played at football powerhouse Kettering Archbishop Alter (the Knights won Ohio High School Athletic Association Division IV state champions in 2008 and 2009) and sustained a neck injury. Doctors found that he had congenital spinal stenosis (a narrowing of fluid in the spine) and would not clear him to play football again.

He turned to baseball.

“When I first started playing a lot of coaches told me, ‘you’re not going to be able to play at the next level,” says Hall, a 2012 graduate of Centerville High School. “‘You’re not good enough. You’re not skilled enough. It’s too late to pick this up.’

“Of course — in my mind — I believed otherwise. I worked my tail off day after day and was getting a decent amount of results. I was a 5-tool player, but I wasn’t get the results I thought I should be getting with the athletic ability that I had so I turned to the mental side of the game.

“I wanted to find an edge to be able to separate myself from everybody else — not only catch up to my peers, but pass them.”

The first mental game book Hall read was “Heads-Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time (by Tom Hanson and Ken Ravizza)” and it gave him the foundation that led to his role as a mental game coordinator.

Drs. Hanson and Ravizza, who have come out with “HeadsUp Baseball 2.0,” were clinic speakers at the ABCA convention in Indianapolis.

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Diamyn Hall (left) speaks to IndianaRBI.com’s Steve Krah at the 2018 Indiana Baseball Coaches Association convention in Indianapolis. Hall is the Mental Game Development Coordinator for Wright State University baseball.

Delta’s Paul focused on mental toughness, fundamentals

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seth Paul is a student of baseball.

The former Cowan High School and University of Indianapolis catcher has taken several perspectives on the game and made it his own while enjoying on-field success.

In his six seasons as a high school head coach so far — three at Cowan (2012-14) and three at Delta (2015-17) — half his teams have won a championship of some kind.

Paul guided the Cowan Blackhawks to a Mid-Eastern Conference crown in 2012 and helped the Delta Eagles take IHSAA Class 3A Yorktown Sectional and Bellmont Regional titles in 2016 and the Delaware County Tournament in 2017.

Mental toughness, a refusal to quit and grounding in the basics are the building blocks of Paul’s program.

“We’re never out of a game,” says Paul. “We never give up. It’s the old ‘Jim Valvano’ philosophy. The kids buy into that early.”

Paul often gets across his message across in classroom talks.

“It’s not college when you have them all year and have the time,” says Paul. “That doesn’t mean I’m a better coach. I just put more emphasis on it than other people do.”

Paul wants his players to have the know-how and ability to make the right plays.

“I’m a big fundamental and defensive guy,” says Paul, who was a four-year starter at Cowan (playing one season for Mike Estepp and three for Rick Pippin and graduating in 2003) before playing for Gary Vaught at UIndy. “It’s knowing the game, where to be and backing up bases.

“We try not to give anyone runs by our mental mistakes.”

Paul credits Estepp for teaching him about work ethic and preparation and keeping cool under pressure.

“He had this ability to stay calm at all times,” says Paul of Estepp, who later served on Paul’s Cowan coaching staff. “(Pippin) taught me that is was OK to have fun playing baseball. At that time in my life, I was taking it seriously all the time. He incorporated fun into everything we did and found ways to make me laugh.”

Estepp and Pippin imparted knowledge about fundamentals and Paul still uses a front-hand/back-hand soft toss taken from Estepp and a four-corner defensive drill from Pippin.

In college, Paul drew from Vaught as a player and then as an assistant coach.

“He is one of the smartest baseball minds I’ve ever been around,” says Paul of Vaught. “He’s from Oklahoma and has that toughness. I got that toughness from him.

“He does a really good job of wanting his players want to play for him. I still call Coach Vaught to this day. We talk about my lineup or his lineup or whatever.”

Paul has also gleaned much from his attendance at American Baseball Coaches Association national conventions (the 2018 version is Jan. 4-7 in Indianapolis) and watched plenty of videos. Two of his favorite clinicians are brothers Greg and Todd Giulliams on the mental approach to hitting.

“(UIndy associated head coach) Al Ready uses that system and introduced me to that video,” says Paul.

Glenn Cecchini, head coach at Barbe High School in Lake Charles, La., spoke at the 2017 ABCA convention and got Paul’s attention.

“He’s all about mental approach and mental toughness,” says Paul. “I really like to follow what he says and does.”

A few years ago, Paul was in the audience University of Mississippi head coach Mike Bianco shared the system he learned from ABCA Hall of Famer and former LSU head coach Skip Bertman.

Paul has also taken to some of the methods of mental training expert Brian Cain.

“A lot of my coaching style has been molded from my own research,” says Paul. “I’ve definitely evolved.”

All of this is to help the Eagles face the challenges during the season.

“Our (Hoosier Heritage) Conference is ridiculously hard,” says Paul. “Delta is a very hard-nosed blue-collar school with athletics. It’s the kind of coaches they look to hire and the kinds of students that go here

“Football success (Delta has won 163 games on the gridiron since 2000) sets tone for every other sport in the school. I have very few baseball-only players here.”

Taking the “Friday Night Lights” atmosphere of football, the HCC (which also includes Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights, Shelbyville and Yorktown) play Friday night conference doubleheaders. Teams take turns being the home team on the scoreboard.

“Everyone’s good,” says Paul of the conference. “Everyone is well-coached. It’s good, hard-nosed baseball. It reminds me of when I was coaching in college.”

Delta plays on-campus at Veterans’ Field — a facility that was completely overhauled last year. The playing surface, dugouts, backstop, press box and entrance were all new.

And — for the first time — the Eagles had a lighted field.

Paul says New Castle is now the lone HCC member without lights on its baseball field.

Delta is grouped with Blackford, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, New Castle and Yorktown at sectional time.

Paul, who is 87-74 in his six seasons (40-35 at Cowan and 47-39 at Delta), has sent several players on to college baseball, including Cowan’s Aaron Wells and Joey Covington (both at Manchester University), Alex Delk (Indiana Tech) and Luke Miller (Indiana University) and Delta’s Cade Jones (DePauw University), Arian Coffey (University of Indianapolis), Mitchell Hahn (Marian University), Adam Paschal (Anderson University), Adisyn Coffey (Arizona State University), Jacob Van Pelt and Redon Henry (both at Manchester U.), Charlie May (Elmhurst College) and Andrew Shafer (University of Northwestern Ohio). There have been no college commitments yet this year.

Paul’s assistant coaches are Chad Hinds, Kevin Shafer (pitching coach), Spencer Matheny, Preston Phillips and Curt Howard. All are with the varsity during most games. Phillips and Howard coach the JV Eagles, which play HCC doubleheaders on Saturdays.

When Paul’s daughter Sloane (who is now 3) had a viral infection and had to go to Riley Children’s Hospital, Hinds stepped in and ran the team.

A holder of all grades health and physical education undergraduate degrees plus a masters in curriculum and instruction from the University of Indianapolis, Paul teaches health at Delta High School.

“I never anticipated coaching or teaching in high school,” says Paul. “But the opportunity came up and it made sense.”

And he will keep studying to make sense of the game with the bat and ball.

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Seth Paul, who played at Cowan High School and the University of Indianapolis, and coached at his high school alma mater is heading into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Delta High School in Delaware County, Ind.

 

Lost limbs, lost life put things into perspective at Silver Creek

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is important at Silver Creek High School.

The Joe Decker-coached Dragons work hard to make themselves good at the sport and they have several wins and IHSAA sectional titles (2000, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014) to show for it.

But a 2012 natural disaster and the 2017 passing of a teen athlete from a rival school have help put it all in perspective.

Silver Creek is in the southern Indiana town of Sellersburg —  10 miles from Henryville and 83 miles from Southridge High School in Huntingburg.

Tornadoes in 2012 leveled Joe and Stephanie Decker’s Henryville home and caused Stephanie to lose both of her legs.

With the help of their faith, the community and a desire to help others, the family has moved forward. The Stephanie Decker Foundation was started and she travels all around on prosthetic legs to help bring sports to children without limbs.

“She handles it really well,” says Joe Decker. “She’s a lot tougher than I am. I know that.

“We’re like everybody else at this point. We’re chasing kids around.”

The Deckers make sure youngest son Dominic gets to travel baseball and daughter Reese to travel softball. Nolan is 19 and living in Columbus.

“Five years ago my family learned it’s just a game,” says Decker. “(Baseball) will teach them a lot, but at the end of the day it’s just a baseball game.”

Joe makes sure his high school players count their blessings.

“We tell them ‘be glad you get to do this everyday because a lot kids don’t,” says Decker. “Even for them to live where they live. They live in rural Indiana. Their problems are nothing. Compared to a lot of other kids, they are extremely lucky. They are just really good kids and they care about other people.”

Evidence of that came a few weeks ago. Southridge assistant baseball coach Gene Mattingly’s daughter, Lexi, had experienced cardiac arrest at tennis practice and was hospitalized in Louisville before Silver Creek visited the Raiders for a non-conference baseball game.

Joe knew Gene a little bit. Both have coached for the Ironmen  a Christian-based travel baseball organization. Joe did not know Lexi. Feeling compassion, the Dragons presented Gene with a signed baseball and Dragons T-shirt for his daughter before the Silver Creek-Southridge game.

After being in critical condition, Lexi seemed to be recovering when Joe got a call on gameday against South Central last week. She was being flown back to Louisville.

Around the fifth inning of the contest, he got a call that Lexi Mattingly had passed. He shared the news with his assistant coaches, including Ryan Wheeler, but not his players.

Sophomore Tyler Wheeler noticed a look on his father’s face and asked “Dad, are you alright?”

He told him the sad news just before Tyler’s next turn at bat.

Tyler, who had been struggling at the plate, draws a little “L” in the batter’s box and socks the second pitch for his first high school home run.

“He comes around third base and he’s almost in tears,” says Decker. “It’s pretty amazing.”

That same week practice, Decker shared the baseball and faith story of John Scolinos and “Staying at 17 Inches.” It’s the reason the Dragons wear a 17 on their practice shirts.

Decker, 47, is in his second stint of teaching baseball and life lessons at his alma mater. Beginning at 22, he was head coach for five seasons at Brown County High School (1992-96). The Eagles won the school’s first sectional in any sport in 16 years in 1992. He led the program at Silver Creek 1997-2003, served as head coach for three seasons at Indiana University Southeast in nearby New Albany (2004-06), took two seasons off and came back to the Dragons head coaching post in 2009.

Decker and his assistants want Silver Creek baseball to a be a family for current and former players. It’s not unusual to see alums from the past five years in the dugout during games.

“It’s really important to us that our kids like being here and they like coming back,” says Decker. “They feel it’s there program.”

The Dragons are drilled on the fundamentals and on Mental Toughness Training through Dan Thurston of Long Toss Indiana. After winning four straight Class 3A sectionals, Silver Creek lost 2-1 against host North Harrison in 2015. Decker chalks that up to strong opposing pitching.

The 6-3 loss to Brownstone Central in the 2016 North Harrison Sectional title game — even with three freshmen and two sophomores in the SC lineup did not sit well with Decker.

“Last year it was more like we played not to lose,” says Decker. “From my aspect that was a mental thing. As a coach, I’ll take the blame for it.

“We were not mentally tough from a competitive standpoint. (Most players) never faced adversity … Eyes were wide and they kind of tightened up.”

The idea is to stop the feature of failure.

“We talk about making aggressive mistakes,” says Decker.

Actions in practice — like not getting a bunt down, making the throw to the right base or an unexcused absence — have consequences for the Dragons like extra running.

“We play the process and not the score,” says Decker. “We’re teaching them baseball, but we really focus on work ethic. We tell them the one thing you can control is how hard you work. We’ve tried to keep that workmanlike mentality. That helps them keep a chip on their shoulder a little bit.

“We spend a lot of time just talking about the mental side of the game. It goes back to playing the process. If you can get them to not think about winning and losing and just playing the right way, winning takes care of itself.”

Besides pitching coach Ryan Wheeler, the coaching staff includes Ritchie Ware, Scott Jennings and Brent Falcone. It is Falcone that runs the arm care program for the Dragons.

Silver Creek plays in the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern-Pekin, North Harrison, Salem and Scottsburg). All MSC teams play one another, often on Mondays and Thursdays. Decker would like to see the conference go to a tournament and free up other regular-season dates for strong non-conference competition.

The Dragons finish the season at the Jasper tournament and also play New Albany and Jeffersonville heading toward the IHSAA state tournament series.

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Joe Decker is the head baseball coach at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg. His wife Stephanie lost both legs in the Henryville tornado of 2012. This season, his team experienced the loss of a teenage athlete at rival Southridge.