By STEVE KRAH
Wes Whisler was still playing when he began passing along his baseball knowledge.
During breaks from off-season training as a professional, Whisler provided lessons in the same town where he became Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville (Ind.) High School in 2001 before coming a two-way player at UCLA and pitcher in the Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins systems.
“I had extra down time,” says Whisler, now 37 and the owner of Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike Zone, 15475 Endeavor Drive, Noblesville (he founded his business in 2014, buying The Strike Zone and re-branding it). “What can i do to keep my mind sharp and give back to the younger generation?
“At the end of my playing career, I was able to make a smooth transition to coaching and instructing, something I loved to do.”
There are three regular baseball instructors at the academy — Whisler, Travis Reboulet and Brent Miller (also with Pastime Tournaments).
Jim Reboulet, who helps Travis coach the Indiana Nitro 18U Gold team, has conducted infield schools.
Academy softball instructors are Kevin Schmidt, Kristen Boros and Alexandria Heygood. Schmidt coaches for the Indiana Dream travel program. Boros and Heygood played softball at Butler University.
After two years as general manager, Whisler is also in his second full year of running USAthletic Baseball Club, a travel organization he took over from long-time friend Rob Barber when the latter began focusing on The BASE Indy urban youth inititative.
USAthletic Baseball Club currently has four teams — 15U, two in 16U and 18U.
Whisler says he looks to added other levels in the future, but is building with purpose.
With the recent lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, USAthletic players just got back together after about 10 weeks apart.
“Everybody is on a shortened time frame and under the gun,” says Whisler, who will see teams open their seasons June 14. “We’ve got to be ready to go. We pretty much jump into games.”
Whisler is always trying to provide another learning tool for his players and encouraging them to be students of the game.
Problem is the pandemic shut down live baseball in mid-March and Major League Baseball still has not started in 2020 season.
“If you’re going to play, one of the best ways is by watching,” says Whisler. “Wait, there’s no games on (TV).”
Plans call for USAthletic to play in games at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Victory Field in Indianapolis plus road trips to Louisville and St. Louis.
Whisler has about 125 private instruction clients at his academy — many are two-way players.
A lefty hitter and thrower, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Whisler was a first baseman/designated hitter as well as a pitcher through his college career and first two pro seasons.
“That’s all I knew my entire life,” says Whisler. “I said let’s see how it plays out. Essentially, they were getting two players for one.”
In three seasons at UCLA (2002-04), Whisler hit .304 with 34 home runs and 129 RBIs and also went 11-14 with a 5.00 earned run average, 172 strikeouts and 105 walks in 259 1/3 innings on the mound.
Selected in the second round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox, Whisler got to swing the bat some when not pitching and went to Chicago in the off-season to work with hitting instructors.
“The decision came down after two seasons that we’re going to make you a left-handed pitcher,” says Whisler. “That’s the way we want it.
“At the time, the system was loaded with first baseman. (As a pitcher) I could be on the upswing and move up quicker.”
Whisler made three relief appearances with the big-team White Sox in 2009 with Ozzie Guillen as manager and Don Cooper as pitching coach and remained in pro baseball through 2013. He retired having been in Triple-A in six of 10 minor league seasons.
Whisler got his organized baseball start at Skiles Test Little League in Indy’s Lawrence Township. His seventh grade year, his family, including father Mike, mother Kristie and older brother Brandy, moved to Noblesville.
Wes played for the Indiana Bulls from age 13-18. That last summer before college he also suited up with the Ohio’s Midland Redskins.
At Noblesville High, Whisler’s head coaches were Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dennis Kas for baseball and Dave McCollough for basketball.
“They were very in-line together with their coaching styles,” says Whisler. “They were both hard-nose and expected a lot of you. It was a work ethic they instilled.
“I may not have agreed with everything, but I can look back and say it made me a better player and a better person.”
Ohio native Gary Adams was head coach at UCLA when Whisler was with the Bruins.
“Skip was extremely genuine and a heart-felt guy,” says Whisler. “He was on the shorter side, but when he got fired up he was a pistol.”
Adams retired in 2004 after 30 seasons at UCLA. At 65, he ran five miles a day.
“He always expected and gave us his all,” says Whisler of Adams. “He got you back on track when you needed it.”
Gary Adcock was UCLA’s pitching coach for Whisler’s first two seasons.
“In high school, I was a hard thrower,” says Whisler. “He helped me learn what it was to pitch at that level.
“Facing top hitters night in and night out, it’s easy to get lost if you don’t know what you’re doing
he helped me under that process.”
In 2004, former big league pitcher Tim Leary was the Bruins pitching coach and helped Whisler get ready to make the leap into pro ball.
Vince Beringhele was UCLA’s hitting coach for all three of Whisler’s seasons. He had worked with a long list of distinguished alums, including Chase Utley, Troy Glaus, Eric Karros, Dave Roberts and Eric Valent.
One day, Beringhele called in Glaus to take batting practice with Whisler. Once he got over being starstruck, he got to pick the brain of a big league power hitter.
The summer after his first two collegiate seasons, Whisler went to the Cape Cod Baseball League to play for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. Future big leaguer Chris Carter was on the team in both 2002 and 2003. Future MLB players Michael Bourn, former Indianapolis Cathedral High School catcher Jake Fox and Jamie Vermilyea played for Y-D in 2002 and Trevor Crowe, Philip Humber, Nick Hundley, Rob Johnson, John Mayberry Jr., John Meloan, Garrett Mock and Curtis Thigpen in 2004.
Whisler looks back fondly on his summers on the Cape.
“There was camaraderie on that team,” says Whisler. “We were very good.”
Whisler encountered a number of managers (Marc Bombard, Chris Chambliss, Chris Cron, Ken Dominguez, Nick Leyva, Joe McEwing, Max Oliveras, Rafael Santana, Joel Skinner and Julio Vinas) and pitching coaches (Britt Burns, Richard Dotson, J.R. Perdew, Sean Snedeker and Bobby Thigpen) in the White Sox minor league chain.
“They were all instrumental in helping me get to the big leagues,” says Whisler. “They are gave me a piece in helping me become a complete pitcher.”
Whisler credits Perdew for getting his mechanics back on track after a bout with shoulder tendonitis and Dotson cleaned things up even more.
Wes and Warsaw, Ind., native Kara have four children — 5-year-old triplet girls Gwynn, Molly and Vivyan and 3-year-old boy Guy.