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Bethel U. graduate Thompson leads MidAmerica Nazarene baseball

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2021 college baseball season will mark the 15th as head coach for Ryan Thompson at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.

But there are still plenty of Indiana connections for the former pitcher.

Thompson is a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., where he was a Liberal Studies major and Business minor while pitching for head coaches Sam Riggleman (1998 and 1999) and Mike Hutcheon (2000) learning from Bethel assistant and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer Dick Siler.

As an elementary student, Thompson was always writing out lineups and plays. At first all he wanted to do was play baseball. When that time was over, he turned his attention to coaching.

“I’ve always loved baseball and sports,” says Thompson. “God’s gifted me in that capacity.”

Thompson is a 1995 graduate of Cowden-Herrick Senior High School in central Illinois. His graduating class had 33 students. With too few boys to have a football team, the Bobcats played conference games in the fall and the rest of the schedule in the spring with a healthy American Legion schedule in the summer.

In the fall of 1995, Thompson was a 17-year-old walk-on at Olney (Ill.) Central College, where the Blue Knights head coach was — and still is — Dennis Conley.

“He was a great coach,” says Thompson of Conley. “He was intense and demanding. It helped me grow up and mature.”

Familiar with area junior college baseball from his time at Southern Illinois University, Riggleman recruited Thompson to Bethel.

“I love Sam,” says Thompson. “We still talk frequently.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Riggleman has been on several Zoom calls with the MidAmerica Nazarene coaching staff.

Thompson recalls Riggleman as a fierce yet caring coach.

“Sam left the benchmark in my mind,” says Thompson. “I remember what the practices were like. 

“(Players) really respected him.”

Among his Pilots teammates were Indiana high school products Craig Sherwood (Elkhart Central), Jeremie Riggleman (Mishawaka), Seth Zartman (Caston), Brian Blondell (South Bend Washington), Ryan Takach (Penn), Shawn Summe (Penn) and Allen Hodge (Goshen). 

Jeremie Riggleman, a shortstop at Bethel, is Sam’s son. 

Zartman has been head baseball coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. 

Blondell was a Bethel assistant and head coach at Holy Cross College and is the founder of the Michiana Scrappers travel organization. 

Takach was in the Arizona Diamondbacks chain, including a stint with the 2000 South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks, and in indy ball.

Former college baseball coach Summe is now athletic director at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo. — less than 20 miles from MidAmerica Nazarene.

Thompson, Takach and Blondell were the top pitchers on the 1998 Bethel team which lost to Indiana Tech in the NAIA regional.

Thompson got to know Hutcheon as a player then coached for him for three seasons each as pitching coach at Bethel and Air Force Academy.

“Hutch is a great communicator and recruiter,” says Thompson. “He’s a good friend as well.

“I enjoyed my time with him.”

Thompson also maintained contact with Siler and received a visit from him in the summer of 2019.

“He was a numbers guy and taught me so much,” says Thompson of Siler, who died July 20, 2020 at 84. “I just learned so much from him.”

Thompson coached future professional pitchers Eric Stults, David Humen and Greg Kloosterman.

Left-hander Stults, an Argos (Ind.) High School graduate, was in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.

Right-hander Humen also pitched at Rice University and Oral Roberts University and made it to Double-A with the Miami Marlins and also logged mound time in the Kansas City Royals system and in independent ball.

Left-hander Kloosterman, an Elkhart Central graduate, competed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Before leaving for Air Force, Hutcheon and Thompson recruited Justin Masterson out of Ohio to attend Bethel. They later faced him in the Mountain West Conference when Masterson transferred to San Diego State University. He went on to pitched in the bigs for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals.

At MNU, Thompson’s coaching staff includes former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University (Upland, Ind.) assistant Colton Punches as pitching coach. He was recommended by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould.

Cam Screeton, a Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Ind.) graduate and former head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind., is a graduate assistant working with MNU Pioneers hitters.

In a program with around 60 players (varsity and junior varsity), Elkhart Central alum Brycen Sherwood (Craig Sherwood’s nephew) is a sophomore second baseman and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate Jake Bisland is a sophomore catcher.

Chad Jenkins, a teammate and roommate of Thompson at Bethel, is MNU’s Sports Information Director.

Thanks to Jenkins’ efforts, the Pioneers stream home baseball games in HD with a center field camera.

MNU’s last game before the shutdown of the 2020 season was March 13. Thompson opted to start the 2021 campaign Jan. 29 at Wayland Baptist in Plainview, Texas.

“It’s a little out of my comfort zone and not ideal, but we’ve been off long enough,” says Thompson of the early start. The Pioneers, a member of the NAIA and the Heart of America Athletic Conference, typically open in mid-February.

Players left campus at Thanksgiving and are due back Jan. 10 for COVID-19 protocol with the first practice Jan. 10 and in-person classes resuming Jan. 12.

The other Indiana connection is at home. Ryan’s wife Kristie is a graduate of NorthWood High School in Nappanee, Ind. The Thompsons have six homeschooled children (three boys followed by three girls) — Ty (15), Kade (13), Beau (11), Bailee (9), Kamryn (8) and Taylor (6). A homeschool hook-up on Fridays in Olathe has allowed the kids to explore different sports.

Ryan Thompson, a 2000 graduate of Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., is entering his 15th season as head baseball coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., in 2021. (MidAmerica Nazarene University Photo)

Communication key for Bullpen Tournaments VP Tucker

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Growing up playing sports in Zionsville, Ind., Michael Tucker knew what it was to be a teammate.

A center in basketball and catcher in baseball, Tulsa, Okla.-born Tucker played at Zionsville Community High School and graduated in 2008. Some of his closest friends to this day played on those squads.

“We had some great teams,” says Tucker, who played for head coaches Dave Ferrell and Shaun Busick in basketball and Darrell Osborne and Adam Metzler in baseball and counted Matt Miller as a mate on the court and the diamond. Miller went on to pitch at the University of Michigan and in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Eric Charles went on to play baseball at Purdue University.

Ryan Price’s father Tom Price played baseball for Dr. Don Brandon at Anderson (Ind.) University and that’s one of the reasons Tucker ended up at the NCAA Division III school.

Tucker was a standout hitter while playing catcher and first base for the Ravens and the Hall of Famer they called “Bama” for his first two college seasons followed by two with David Pressley.

Brandon impressed Tucker with his memory.

“He can tell you the situation — who was on the mound and the count — (from most any game),” says Tucker. “He was really fun to learn from.”

Pressley was a first-time head coach at Anderson. Tucker credits him with lessons on and off the field.

“I learned how to be a man,” says Tucker. “(Pressley) is a huge man of faith.

“He taught a tremendous amount of life lessons.”

Tucker also gained knowledge from Brad Lantz, who was an AU senior receiver when he was a freshman and went on to be a high school head coach at Guerin Catholic and Lapel and is now coaching in the Indy Sharks travel organization.

“I learned so much about catching, counts and what to look for,” says Tucker. “I learned more from (Lantz) than anyone else.”

Tucker was named to D3baseball.com’s 2010s All-Decade Team.  During his career, Tucket hit .361 with 52 home runs, 50 doubles, 193 runs batted in and a .730 slugging percentage. He was a first-team All-America selection and the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference MVP in 2011.

Franklin (Ind.) College has long been a big HCAC rival for Anderson. Tucker recalls how Grizzlies head coach Lance Marshall sometimes used to bring in a fifth infielder when Tucker was at the plate. 

Not a Marshall fan at the time, Tucker has come to see the veteran coach as one of his favorites.

Tucker received a Management degree with a minor in Entrepreneurship from Anderson U. in 2012. 

His “internship” time was spent coaching (coaching with Cesar Barrientos and the Indiana Baseball Academy Storm while injured in 2009) or playing summer collegiate ball (Fort Mill, S.C., Stingers of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League in 2010 and Hannibal, Mo., Cavemen of the Prospect League in 2011 — a team owned at the time by former big leaguers Ryan Klesko and Woody Williams) and he saw a future related to the diamond. 

“I wanted to make baseball my job whether that was with an indoor facility, coaching, training or tournaments,” says Tucker. “I didn’t know what avenue.”

Tucker was a director at the Incrediplex on the northeast side of Indianapolis 2013-15 and coached for the Indiana Bulls travel organization 2012-16.

Since April 2015, Tucker has been part of a different team as vice president for Bullpen Tournaments, Prep Baseball Report Tournaments (with Rhett Goodmiller as director of tournaments) and Pro X Athlete Development (with former big league pitcher Joe Thatcher as co-founder and president) are tenants at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Bullpen, with Tucker as the director of day-to-day operations, is involved with Pro X and works with PBR Indiana and consults with PBR national, which operates LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga., and Creekside Baseball Park in Parkville, Mo.

Ground was recently broken for Championship Park in Kokomo, Ind., and that complex will also be used by Bullpen and PBR.

The 2021 summer will mark Tucker’s seventh with Bullpen Tournaments. 

Hired by BT president Blake Hibler, whom he knew from working Prep Baseball Report showcases, Tucker started at Bullpen in time to experience Grand Park’s first full summer.

“I did everything,” says Tucker. “I tried to be a sponge. Being in baseball your whole life is completely different from the tournament industry.

“There’s learning the business side and scheduling.”

While at the Incrediplex near Lawrence, Tucker had done scheduling on a smaller scale and had become comfortable with software.

Tucker appreciates that Hibler lets him seek out processes.

“If I can find a better mousetrap, he lets me run with it,” says Tucker.

Bullpen is a very large operation.

“We’re a different beast in a lot of ways,” says Tucker, who notes that on any given weekend the company may have as many as 45 fields under its control, including those on and off the Grand Park campus.

Tucker says the key is getting the word out to teams, families and recruiters.

“You have to be able to communicate,” says Tucker. “Half of scheduling is the communicating of the schedule.”

With Hibler having a large part in brainstorming and development, Bullpen first used the Tourney Machine app and now works with Playbook 365 while also helping develop PitchAware and ScoreHQ. 

Bullpen hires scorekeepers for every high school tournament game (15U to 18U) at Grand Park. In 2020, there was also video on six fields.

“It’s huge to have accurate data,” says Tucker. “We can overlay video with stats.

“(A college) coach can recruit from his office.”

But even though Bullpen is dealing with many moving parts, there are only a half dozen full-time employees.

“Guys are tasked to learn a lot of different things,” says Tucker. “But we never feel like this is something I can’t do. Our mentality is we’re going bust our butts and how do we solve this problem?

“Our guys do a tremendous job of being flexible.”

An example of teamwork and flexibility is the creation of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which came about when so many other leagues were canceling the 2020 summer season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team that made it happen include Hibler, Tucker, Thatcher, Phil Wade, Luke Dietz, Mark Walther, Matt Bowles, Logan Weins, Cam Eveland and Kevin Ricks. Thatcher and Walther are at Pro X. Weins splits his time between Bullpen Tournaments and PBR Tournaments.

With many players reaching out, Bullpen saw the need and went to work to put together what became a 12-team league with most games played at Grand Park with a few at Kokomo Municipal Stadium and Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

The league was constructed with safety, NCAA and recruiting regulations in mind. Players were placed, umpires were lined up and jerseys were distributed in a very short time frame.

“We had about seven days to do it,” says Tucker. “We’re excited for it to come back (in 2021).”

As a D-III alum, Tucker was especially pleased that the CSL allowed top-flight players like Joe Moran (who pitched for Anderson and has transferred to Taylor University) was able to compete against D-I talent.

While the pandemic slowed the start of the 2020 Bullpen season, Tucker estimates that there were upwards of 80 percent in games played as compared to a normal year.

The fall included more contests than ever.

“Teams couldn’t play in the spring and that baseball hunger was still there,” says Tucker. “They wanted to play a little longer.

“We had a great fall.”

Weather plays a part, but the first games each year at Grand Park with all its turf fields are collegiate in February. 

“If we get a warm-weather day our phone blows up,” says Tucker. 

Activity starts to ramp up in March with the first 8U to 14U contests the last weekend of that month.

Of course, the pandemic will have a say in what happens in 2021.

“With all the uncertainty it’s tough,” says Tucker. “It’s going to be an interesting spring.”

A perk of Tucker’s position and location is the relationships he gets to build with high school coaches. 

He sees the unique dynamic between between Noblesville’s Justin Keever, Westfield’s Ryan Bunnell, Zionsville’s Jered Moore and Fishers’ Matt Cherry of the Hoosier Crossroads Conference.

“They’re buddies,” says Tucker. “They go out to eat after the game.”

Michael and wife Dani Tucker live in Noblesville, Ind., with son Cole (5) and Cali (3).

The Tucker family (from left): Cali, Dani, Michael and Cole. Michael Tucker is vice president of Bullpen Tournaments is a tenant at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Longtime assistant Smiley contributes to Sycamores’ baseball success

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Smiley has enjoyed success in his time on the Indiana State University baseball coaching staff. 

The Sycamores earned three NCAA tournament berths (2012, 2014 and 2019) with Smiley in the fold. From 2010-20, ISU is 340-230.

He has recruited and brought plenty of talent to Indiana State. Some of those players include Major league Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections Sean Manaea (first round), Jeff Degano (second), Jake Petricka (second), Dakota Bacus (ninth), Clay Dungan (ninth), Colin Rae (12th), Triston Polley (16th) and Ryan Strausborger (16th). 

Manaea pitched in 11 regular-season games for the 2020 Oakland Athletics.

Petricka has pitched in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers.

Bacus took the mound in 11 games for the 2020 Washington Nationals.

Rae pitched in nine regular-season contests with the 2020 Chicago Cubs.

Outfielder Strausborger played 31 games in the big leagues with the 2015 Texas Rangers.

Smiley has been on ISU staffs helmed by three different men. He was hired by former head coach Lindsay Meggs in the summer of 2009. 

After Meggs left to become head coach at the University of Washington, Smiley served four years on the staff of Rick Heller

When Heller took the head coaching position at University Iowa, Smiley followed him to Iowa City in the summer of 2013 and came back to Indiana State upon the hiring Mitch Hannahs, whose first season as the Sycamores boss was 2014.

As assistant in his first eight seasons at Indiana State, Smiley was named associate head coach in August 2017. He’s done about everything a coach can be asked to do in his time in Terre Haute.

“I’ve done everything from laundry to you name it,” says Smiley.

His current duties include defensive responsibilities and coaching third base on game days.

Smiley is also ISU’s recruiting coordinator — a job that has been made more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Players being recruited can not meet on-campus with coaches — though there have been times where they could tour the school through the admissions office — and coaches have not been able to see players in-person at summer tournaments because of the dead period imposed by the NCAA by Division I baseball since March.

“We’re having to make decisions based on video and a coach’s word,” says Smiley. “You don’t get a good feel of how they play the game. You’re just grading out their tools on video.”

Under ideal circumstances, Indiana State would like to see a player at least two or three times and get the assessment of multiple coaches.

“(Recruits) can’t watch us practice. They can’t eat with us. They get to know us as coaches. We can’t sell them on things we normally would. There are guys that haven’t really been here that are committed to us.”

On a positive note, fall practice went pretty smoothly for the Sycamores though the window was moved up from the original plan of ending around Thanksgiving (ISU started in September and ended in the middle October).

“It was the right decision, says Smiley. “We feel like we were pretty fortunate. We got through team segment pretty healthy. We missed a few quarantined freshmen.

“With all our instrasquads, 90 to 95 percent of the team could participate. We could have been missing main players. You have that and it’s difficult putting in anything (as far as plays or schemes).”

Indiana State experienced good weather and went from individual practice to team and back to individuals.

The university has gone to virtual classes for the rest of the semester and most of the team has already returned to their homes with a plan of coming back to Terre Haute in January.

Smiley is a 2003 graduate of Mount Vernon (Ind.) High School, where he played two seasons each for head coaches Dave Bell and Paul Quinzer and earned three all-Big Eight Conference selections and helped the Wildcats to conference titles in 2002 and 2003.

“(Bell) was intense and hard-nosed,” says Smiley.  “He demanded a lot and typically got a lot in return.”

Smiley says Indiana State alum Quinzer’s coaching style was more laid-back.

An infielder who played mostly at third base, Smiley started his college playing career Triton College in River Grove, Ill., playing for Trojans head coach Bob Symonds.

When Symonds retired, Smiley transferred to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and played for Hannahs.

“Mitch is a born leader,” says Smiley of Hannahs. “He’s an outstanding motivator. He is someone who is going to practice what he preaches. 

“You know what you’re going to get. The words coming out of his mouth aren’t fake. He’s genuine. He cares about his players and they know that.

“What sets him apart from others is that he knows how handle tough situations and doesn’t rush. His decision-making is on-point all the time and that’s underrated.”

After his two junior college stops, Smiley played two seasons at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for Trojans head coach Jim Lawler, who has also been the pitching coach at Texas A&M. 

Smiley began coaching career in the summer of 2007 with Dubois County Bombers as an assistant coach. He quickly named manager of the wood bat college team and served in that capacity for three seasons. He also was a student assistant Little Rock and coached at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College for Jaguars head coach Tim Bunton.

“I did pitching at Danville and helped with everything,” says Smiley. “I learned a lot from Tim. I’m very grateful for my year at Danville.

“He was very good with cuts and relays and being in the right place at the right time.”

Brian and wife Katie Smiley have three children — Isaac (5), Christian (4) and Vivian (2). Katie, whose maiden name is Grossman, is a 2004 Evansville Memorial High School graduate who played soccer at the University of Southern Indiana.

Brian Smiley is the associate head coach for the Indiana State University baseball program. The 2021 season will be his 12th with the Sycamores. (Indiana State University Photo)
Brian Smiley has done a little bit of everything as a baseball coach at Indiana State University. His first season in Terre Haute was 2010. In August 2017, he was named associate head coach. (Indiana State University Photo)

Mault helps build ballplayers from the ground up

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mault affirms that the body’s lower half is the foundation of baseball.

When instructing pitchers or hitters at Extra Mile Baseball in a pole barn next to his rural home near Kimmel, Ind., the former college and professional player talks a lot about the important part played by biggest muscle groups.

“I’m a mechanics guy,” says Mault, who had close to 20 lessons on his schedule this week and counts third baseman/second baseman and Wright State University commit Jake Shirk (Fort Wayne Carroll High School Class of 2020) and left-handed pitcher/first baseman and University of Kentucky commit Carter Gilbert (Northridge Class of 2022). “Hips is where it’s at with pitchers. I don’t care about the arm slot. If you can do what I want you to do, your arm will not hurt. Period.

“When your arm is sore baseball is not fun.”

Mault, who has a degree in Health and Human Performance from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville Tenn., has his athletes — first graders through college — doing different drills that emphasize hip, core and trunk rotation.

“I come up with some weird drills,” says Mault. “Everybody learns different.”

He uses a football pad to protect himself while asking hitters to thrust their knee at him.

Mault, 39, began teaching lessons in Fort Wayne, Ind., with Rich Dunno shortly after graduating from West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., in 1999.

Dunno is the inventor of King of the Hill, Queen of the Hill and King of the Swing training devices for Ground Force Sports.

“I had one of the very first ones,” says Mault. “It’s awesome.

“I wish I had it when I was playing.”

A right-handed pitcher and right fielder in high school then pitcher-only after that, Mault played for Tim Schemerhorn at West Noble (the Chargers won the IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional in 1998 then lost 7-5 to Northridge in the first round of the Wawasee Sectional with smoke-throwing Mault and Doug McDonald as the top two pitchers).

Mault got the ball up to 92 mph in high school.

“I didn’t have anything else,” says Mault. “I had a curve that curved when it wanted to. I couldn’t throw a change-up.

“My theory was throw hard in case they missed it. That’s how I pitched.”

Mault began his post-high school career with head coach Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College.

“It seemed like home,” says Mault. “It’s out in the middle of nowhere with cornfields.”

Mault grew up on a farm and still tends to chores at his in-law’s place in Wawaka, Ind., besides a full work week as parts/service advisor at Burnworth & Zollars Auto Group in Ligonier and having a half dozen lawns to mow.

Mault was a medical redshirt his freshmen year at Olney Central after a hairline tear was found in his ulnar collateral ligament, which is similar to the injury that leads to Tommy John surgery.

“(Surgery) was not even suggested,” says Mault. “Tommy John doesn’t make you throw harder. It’s the rehab (which for Mault took about nine months).

“The next year was a mental block. I just didn’t feel comfortable throwing hard.”

In his third year at OCC, Mault was back to normal and the Blue Knights won 39 games.

“We lways made it to (conference) championship game and got beat — usually by John A. Logan or Wabash Valley,” says Mault.

Olney played in a fall tournament at Austin Peay State. Governors head coach Gary McClure was looking for a closer so Conley used starter Mault to finish two games.

Once at Austin Peay State, Mault set the single-season school record with 10 saves in 2003. In his senior year (2004), he alternated closing and starting until he accumulated the three saves he needed for what made him at the time the Governors’ career saves leader.

Springfield/Ozark Ducks manager Greg Tagert offered Mault a chance to play with that independent professional team. He instead went for what turned out to be a very brief stint with the Gateway Grizzlies.

“I pitched in one game and they let me go,” says Mault. “When there’s money involved, it’s cut-throat.

“But if not for that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. Everything works out.”

That winter, Mault attended a camp in Florida run by Brad Hall (who has worked with Stephen Strasburg) and Matt Stark and learned mechanics.

Mault’s velocity went from sometimes touching 92 mph to 96.

“My arm never hurt again,” says Mault, who was 6-foot, 158 pounds as a pro player. “I was using the lower half. My floor work. I was using my hips and keeping my body straight.

“I pitched like Tim Lincecum all through high school and college.”

Seattle Mariners scout Stark signed Mault and after short stints in extended spring training and Everett, Wash., he went to High-A ball in San Bernadino, Calif. (Inland Empire), where he made 14 relief appearances, struck out 13 and walked 13 in 20 1/3 innings with a 3.10 earned run average.

Mault was released the following year in spring training.

“I worked out with Triple-A,” says Mault. “I was on the field for two hours and got called back in and they let me go. That was rough.

“But I was still going to play.”

He came back to Noble County and worked on the farm then finished college in fall of 2004.

In 2006, Tagert was in his second season as manager of the Gary SouthShore RailCats and brought Mault aboard. The righty went 0-2 in eight games (six in relief) with five strikeouts and five walks in 18 1/3 innings with a 4.91 ERA.

Mault was reunited with former Olney Central assistant Andy Haines in 2007. At that point he was manager of the Windy City ThunderBolts in Crestwood, Ill., and is now hitting coach with the Milwaukee Brewers. The pitcher went 3-0 in 11 contests (eight in relief) with 21 K’s and 17 walks in 24 1/3 innings and a 3.70 ERA before his pro career came to a close at 26.

Jeff and Abbey Mault have two children — daughter Cora (9) and son Casyn (6). Abbey is an Arts teacher at Central Noble Junior/Senior High School in Albion, Ind.

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Jeff Mault, who pitched at West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., Olney (Ill.) Central College and Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn., was signed by the Seattle Mariners and pitched in Everett, Wash., in 2005. (Everett AquaSox Photo)

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Jeff Mault, a former college and professional pitcher, offers instruction at Extra Mile Baseball in Kimmel, Ind.

Indiana graduate Cohen voice of the Iowa Cubs

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Alex Cohen went to college, he was surrounded by Chicago Cubs fans.

Growing up a baseball-loving kid in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Cohen pulled for that city’s team and he let his friends at Indiana University know about it.

“I was an obnoxious Phillies fan,” says Cohen.

His first memories of the game surrounded the 1993 National League champions featuring Darren Daulton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra and Curt Schilling.

The first foul ball he ever gathered and first autograph he ever got was from Mickey Morandini, who had played at IU.

Some non-Phillies that got Cohen’s attention were Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez.

Cohen played at Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, Pa. When not on the diamond himself, he was rooting for Phils stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels.

It was also at Upper Dublin that Cohen and friends formed a sports broadcasting club.

Josh Getzoff went on to become pre- and post-game host and play-by-play announcer for the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Stephen Watson would go on to be a sports anchor for WISN News in Milwaukee.

Flash forward more than a decade after his high school days and Cohen is the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, Chicago’s affiliate in the  Triple-A Pacific Coast League. The 2020 season is to be his third in Des Moines.

“This is Cubs country,” says Cohen. “Being the voice of a Chicago Cubs affiliate, it comes with a lot of responsibility.

“There’s just so many Cubs fans who come out in full force. You can tell that the Cubs fans are just a little bit different.”

And not just at Principal Park in Iowa.

Cohen recalls a game during a steamy 2018 day in Fresno, Calif.

“I’m getting to the ballpark a little bit late and I see a line out the door with Cubs fans,” says Cohen. “It was essentially a Chicago Cubs home game.”

That’s when he really began to recognize the national appeal of the Cubs.

Cohen was a Journalism major with a Sports Marketing & Management minor at Indiana, a school that was talked up by a friend who went there. The deal was sealed after a visit to Bloomington.

His freshmen year, Cohen wrote about tennis for the Indiana Daily Student.

He worked four years at the student radio station — WIUX.

There was an internship with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Philadelphia’s Triple-A International League affiliate in Allentown, Pa. He soaked up knowledge from the broadcast team of Matt Robbins and Jon Schaeffer.

Cohen was with the Gateway Grizzlies (Sauget, Ill.) of the independent Frontier League in 2011 and mentored by Adam Young.

The first job in affiliated baseball came for Cohen with the Milwaukee Brewers organization and the Double-A Southern League’s Huntsville (Ala.) Stars in 2012 and 2013.

Former major leaguer Darnell Coles was a first-time professional manager in Huntsville. Cohen and Coles experienced highs and lows together.

“He’s probably the best guy I’ve ever met in professional baseball,” says Cohen of Coles.

One high moment came when Coles summoned Cohen to the locker room before a game in Jackson, Tenn.

Coles had acted mad on the phone, so Cohen thought he was in trouble.

Instead, Coles introduced Cohen to former Seattle Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. The broadcaster — the one who had imitated a right-handed version of Junior during backyard wiffleball games — and the ballplayer talked for an hour.

Cohen also came to respect and gleaned adjectives and pace of play-by-play voices in the Southern League at the time — Birmingham’s Curt Bloom, Montgomery’s Joe Davis, Pensacola’s Tommy Thrall and Tennessee’s Mick Gillespie.

Bloom’s “approach to the life of working in baseball and embracing the grind” is what Cohen appreciates about the veteran broadcaster.

Davis is now with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Thrall the Cincinnati Reds.

Cohen says baseball play-by-play requires proper pace and tempo.

“Basketball and football are melodically so quick,” says Cohen. “You’re just following the action.

“Baseball is more of an art form. In a three-hour game, maybe 30 to 40 percent is action.

“You’re filling in all the background between pitches.”

Cohen was not behind the mike in 2014, but was learning as a media relations and broadcast assistant for the Oakland Athletics. He was exposed daily to the on-air styles of Vince Cotroneo and Ken Korach.

The 2015 season saw Cohen back in the booth with the Idaho Falls Chukars, a Kansas City Royals farms club in the short-season Pioneer League.

In 2016 and 2017, Cohen was in the Low Class-A Midwest League as play-by-play man for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods, a member of the Tampa Bay Rays system.

Working in Bowling Green, Cohen learned to see the game from a unique perspective.

“It’s a really different angle when you’re calling from (the) third base (press box),” says Cohen. “Your depth perception is a little off on balls hit to the outfield (You learn to watch the umpire or look at the monitor).

“It’s fun with your strike zone because you can tell pitches up and down a little bit better. In and out is a little more difficult.”

The radio booth at Tacoma of the PCL is also on the third base side.

Cohen encountered communicators like Chris Vosters in Great Lakes, Ball State University graduate Tom Nichols in Dayton and Jesse Goldberg-Strassler in Lansing.

“The world’s most-interesting broadcaster,” says Cohen of Goldberg-Strassler. “He’s focused on finding that small detail.”

Along the way, Cohen’s baseball fandom has become tied to his employer.

“As a broadcaster in Minor League Baseball you are a fan of the organization you work for and the affiliate they are with,” says Cohen. “You see these guys work so hard to get to the big leagues.

“You root for them to do well and by proxy you root for the big league team to do well.”

While he tends to work solo on the road, Cohen has a color commentator for home games. Deene Ehlis has been a I-Cubs broadcaster in some capacity for three decades and can tap into that treasure trove of memories.

Ehlis, who for years was paired with Randy Wehofer (who is now Iowa’s assistant general manager), does play-by-play in the middle innings and Cohen moves over to color.

Cohen and Ehlis have developed a rhythm over more than 150 games together.

“It’s more a conversation with baseball intertwined,” says Cohen. “That’s our main job is to paint the picture for the fans.”

Legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas will always have a warm spot in Cohen’s heart.

His current favorite is the Cubs’ Pat Hughes. With Chicago playing so many day games and Iowa so many night contests, Cohen gets to listen to Hughes while prepping for his game.

“The reason Pat is so good on radio is balance,” says Cohen. “Pat paints the picture. It makes sure the fan doesn’t get distracted from the game, but they also get background information.

“He’s just so even-keeled. There’s no bad games. He goes 2-for-4 or 3-for-4 every game as a broadcaster.”

In the PCL, Cohen is in the company of mike men like Nashville’s Jeff Hem, Las Vegas’ Russ Langer, Reno’s Ryan Radtke, Salt Lake’s Steve Klauke, Memphis’ Steve Selby and Oklahoma City’s Alex Freedman.

“They are tremendous guys,” says Cohen.

All have learned about the grind in a 16-team league that is so geographically spread out that it leads to lots to commercial air travel.

“From a travel standpoint, there’s no other minor league league like the PCL,” says Cohen, who notes that getting to airports in the wee hours, arriving in the next city at mid-day and then being ready for a night game is common.

“I’ve been through a lot,” says Cohen. “I’ve lived in a lot of different time zones. I’ve gone paycheck-to-paycheck up until Iowa job.

‘It’s both rewarding and time-consuming. We spend a lot of time away from your family and friends. This is the industry we chose. I don’t view it as paying your dues.”

During the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic that has live baseball on hold, Cohen stays sharp by contributing to Iowa Cubs social media and calling simulated games for MLB The Show.

“It scratches that itch,” says Cohen, who was supposed to go out to spring training in Arizona March 20 (pandemic hit March 13). “I definitely have fun with that.”

He’s also been doing media interviews and online chat sessions such as the one he did with the Society for American Baseball Research’s Chicago chapter on Sunday, April 26 as part of the #StayHomeWithSABR initiative.

Asked about his home run call, Cohen told the virtual gathering about his rule.

“My rule when I got into broadcasting was I don’t want to have a home run call until I make it to the big leagues,” says Cohen. “If I make it to the big leagues then I’ll have my own home run call.”

Cohen, who has also called baseball games for the Australian Baseball League as well as in Taiwan, Japan and Colombia and the World Baseball Softball Confederation, has visited or worked at three Indiana ballparks — Victory Field in Indianapolis, Parkview Field in Fort Wayne and Four Winds Field in South Bend.

“I love it,” says Cohen of Victory Field, the home of the Indianapolis Indians and a place about 45 minutes from the IU campus. “I love urban ballparks.”

For this reason, he counts parks in Nashville, Charlotte, Baltimore, Denver and — of course — Chicago among his favorites.

“I really like Wrigley Field because even though it’s not in ‘The Loop’ or anything, you can still see what Wrigleyville has to offer,” says Cohen. “(The Fort Wayne TinCaps‘ Parkview Field is) probably one of my top five parks I’ve ever been to in Minor League Baseball. They just did it right. They have enough berm area. They have enough suite level. It’s so open. You have a panoramic view of the city.”

Cohen says he was unimpressed on his first visit to South Bend in 2011 then he came back after owner Andrew Berlin made many upgrades to the place.

“That ballpark has taken on a life of its own,” says Cohen of the South Bend Cubs‘ stadium. “It’s Wrigleyville Jr. It’s so cool.”

Combining the park, fans, proximity to Notre Dame and downtown amenities, Cohen says, “I’m not sure if there’s any better full scene in the Midwest League.”

Cohen was there the day Eloy Jimenez socked a home run against Bowling Green’s Diego Castillo (who is now with the Rays).

“It was a cold winter night in April,” says Cohen. “It was a 96 mph fastball running up and in.

“I’m not sure that ball has landed yet.”

Count Cohen a fan of Howard Kellman, who has been calling Indianapolis Indians games for more than four decades.

“Howard’s one of those classic voices,” says Cohen. “He’s so steady. You just know that he knows what he’s talking about. You know he’s done his research.

“In terms of pacing and verbiage and pausing, I really do try to emulate Howard.”

As a young broadcaster, Cohen does use advanced stats into his call. But he doesn’t force them.

“I’m not just reading them off a sheet for no reason,” says Cohen. “If Donnie Dewees is batting at the top of the order, you want to talk about his OBP (On-Base Percentage), OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play).

“That’s important to a 1- or a 2-hole hitter or someone who needs to get on-base. I don’t want to randomly read out sabermetrics.”

Any advice for anyone thinking of baseball broadcasting as a profession?

“With the contraction of Minor League Baseball, it’s tough,” says Cohen. “You don’t know how many gigs are going to be available at any given time.”

To hone their craft, Cohen prescribes repetition.

“Try to broadcast college or high school games,” says Cohen. “If you can’t, take tape recorder to a professional game.

“Email every single major league media relations director and director of broadcasting and say, ‘Hey, I have my own equipment. I want to get into broadcasting. Can I take one of your empty booths at a random game in May?’”

That gives the aspiring play-by-play man the chance to record a demo that can be sent to other broadcasters and directors for critiques.

“That’s how I got my experience early on,” says Cohen, who says he is open to the idea of being shadowed and then providing access to an open booth at Principal Park.

“You go through that process over and over and over again until you see jobs you want to apply for,” says Cohen.

JOEBIDENALEXCOHENAlex Cohen (right), the play-by-play voice of the Iowa Cubs, gets a visit in the booth on July 4, 2019 from Joe Biden. Cohen is a Philadelphia area native and graduate of Indiana University. (Iowa Cubs Photo)

Clark does not let physical limitations stop him from baseball dreams

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

This is not Dave Clark’s first pandemic.

COVID-19 Coronavirus is impacting the world in 2020.

Clark was born in 1952 and 10 months later he contracted polio, which stunted his growth.

“At that time there was no vaccine,” says Clark. “People were running scared. Parks were closed. Kids were not able to play with each other.

“Someday, hopefully, they’ll have a vaccine for Coronavirus.”

While Clark has had a lifetime of leg braces and crutches, he has not let his situation stop him.

In fact, he figured out how to thrive in spite of it.

Clark grew up in Corning, N.Y., and went on to be a player, coach, scout, and owner in professional baseball.

He played for the Indianapolis Clowns (1975-76) managed by Bill Heward, author of the book, “Some Are Called Clowns: A Season with the Last of the Great Barnstorming Baseball Teams.”

After seeing Clark play at Comiskey Park, Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck showed interest in signing the pitcher.

Clark was the final owner of the franchise (1983-88) that traces its origins back to the Negro Leagues. He followed in the footsteps of Clowns owners Syd Pollock, Ed Hamman and George Long. Hamman sold the team to Long of Muscatine, Iowa, in 1972. Long sold the team to Clark and Sal Tombasco of Corning in 1983.

Clark still owns the rights to the Clowns and receives royalty checks for merchandise from the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

Knuckle-baller Clark was an all-star pitcher in the Swedish Elite Baseball League, where he later managed, taking a team from worst to first, and winning three major league titles.

While Clark never threw faster than 79 mph, he was a thinker on the mound and rarely walked batters.

Clark has been affiliated with Team USA and the Atlanta Olympics, the Atlanta Braves, and has partnered with the Fort Myers (Fla.) Mighty Mussels (Minnesota Twins Class-A team), Rochester (N.Y.) Red Wings (Twins Triple-A), Binghamton Rumble Ponies (New York Mets Double-A), Nashville (Tenn.) Sounds (Milwaukee Brewers Triple-A) and Elmira (N.Y.) Jackals (ECHL hockey). Clark has been a hockey goalie and also a play-by-play man.

He has been a professional scout for the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Florida/Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox.

Clark’s awards are numerous. He received the National Giant Steps Award for his coaching, and was honored at the White House by President Bill Clinton. He won the National Heroes of Sports Award in 1999 and the Bo Jackson Courage Award in 2011.

Clark was featured as the keynote speaker at The Family Cafe Conference, and a TedX Conference and has spoken before the U.S. Sports Conference, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Corning Inc., Siemens Energy, and many more.

Besides being a motivational speaker, Clark runs camps for kids with perceived physical and mental limitations. He has been business partners with Doug Cornfield Sr., for a decade.

Clark and Cornfield met two decades ago at Dunn Field in Elmira, N.Y., where Clark was a coach for the Elmira Pioneers.

After a game carrying son Gideon who was born without arms, Cornfield called out to Clark. It wasn’t long before the two met for breakfast.

“I was amazed that I’d never heard of Dave’s story at the time,” says Cornfield, who played basketball and ran track at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., as a freshman before transferring to the University of Georgia. “I peppered Dave with questions.”

But these inquiries weren’t like the ones he’d heard so many times before.

“He talked about his son,” says Clark. “He was speaking as a parent who was concerned about raising a son with no arms.

“He asked what my parents did to let me accomplish what I did. The simple answer: They didn’t hold me back. They didn’t stop me from trying anything I wanted to try.”

Clark says Cornfield helped him to understand how important it is to share his story.

“We need some kind of good news in a world that glamorizes bad news,” says Clark, who now lives in Cape Coral, Fla.

Best Burn Enterprises is the for-profit side of the business and the Dave Clark Foundation the non-profit “which serves to inspire people from all walks of life to overcome personal challenges and perceived limitations in order to lead satisfying and productive lives.”

Clark and Cornfield appeared during the week of Super Bowl LIV in Miami. Scheduled Disability, Dream & Do (D3Day) Baseball Camp stops in 2020 includes partnerships with the Fort Myers (Fla.) Mighty Mussels, Lake Erie Crushers (Avon, Ohio), Hartford (Conn.) Yard Goats, Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads, Binghamton (N.Y.) Rumble Ponies and Hudson Valley Renegades (Fishkill, N.Y.) plus an appearance in Clark’s hometown of Corning, N.Y. Ambassador athlete Dave Stevens, who has no legs, is also a part of the camps.

The events draw around 100 campers per site. It doesn’t cost them or their caregivers a dime. Through fundraising, the cost of the camp, caps, T-shirts, game tickets, and meals for 250-300 are covered.

Clark is always looking for fundraising opportunities and places to speak.

D3Day Baseball Camp was named Minor League Baseball’s 2012 Promotion of the Year runner-up.

A message that Clark shares during the camps is letting kids try anything they want to do.

“If they get a bruised elbow or bruised knew, it’s OK,” says Clark. “You can’t find your potential if you’re not trying something.

“Failure is not trying to do it at all.”

The Indianapolis Clowns traveled all over the country, including stops in Indiana, including Gary, Lebanon, Noblesville, and Jasper.

Clark and Bob Alles of the Jasper Reds have maintained a friendship for more than two decades.

“We had quite a rivalry with the Jasper Reds,” says Clark. “Bob treated us right.”

It was in Jasper that the seed was planted for helping those with physical and mental limitations. Near Ruxer Field there was a residential facility for these folks called Providence Home.

Clark took the Clowns to visit and invited some over to the field for some informal instruction.

When Clark conducts camps with minor league teams, he insists that all the players and coaches participate.

Former Elmira Star-Gazette writer Roger Neumann authored a book about Clark published in 2011 — “Diamond In The Rough: The Dave Clark Story.”

In the forward of the book, Mike Veeck writes “Dave Clark’s story is an astonishing blend of fact and fact. It only reads like fiction.”

Cornfield has penned a children’s book based on a tale from Clark’s childhood entitled “A Pound of Kindness.”

“It’s a true story that happened to me in first grade,” says Clark. “It’s the first time I ever experienced bullying. It’s always been in human society.

“Parents, brothers, neighborhood kids treated me like anybody else. When I got to grade school, I felt that pressure.”

One day, Clark’s teacher announced that the class would be going on a fire station field trip that required a walk of five or six blocks.

With two full-length leg braces and crutches, Clark knew he was sure to slow the class down and he would be a prime target for bullies.

On the day of the field trip, Clark told his mother he was ill and didn’t want to go to school.

“Mom was a fair but tough lady,” says Clark “She knew I wasn’t sick.”

So he went to school but made sure to be in the back of the line.

“Maybe they wouldn’t see I was dragging along,” says Clark.

That’s when classmate Ernie Pound came forward and offered Clark a ride in his red Radio Flyer wagon.

“‘I brought this for you to ride in. Jump in!,’” says Clark of Pound’s words that day. “What was going to be a lousy day turned out to be a great day.

“It’s a story of inclusion. It’s a story of kindness.”

Clark goes into schools and shares that story. Sales of the book — Cornfield is also working on other titles about those with physical or mental limitations based on true stories — help fund the camps.

Cornfield surprised Clark by bringing in Pound to a book signing in 2008 — many decades after that kind day. Cornfield says Clark is too emotional to watch the video of that moment.

There are hopes of making a movie about Clark’s life.

“It’s the greatest mostly unknown sports story,” says Cornfield.

That’s the story of Dave Clark. He’s the one who didn’t let polio stop him from achieving his goals.

“A Pound of Kindness” can be purchased at d3day.com with free shipping using the code: d3day.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the eBook can be downloaded for free using the code: stay home.

For more information, contact Cornfield at doug@daveclarkbaseball.com or 607-329-0010.

DOUGCORNFIELDDAVECLARK

Doug Cornfield (left) and Dave Clark have been business partners for a decade.

DAVECLARKDOUGCORNFIELDDAVESTEVENSDave Clark (left), Doug Cornfield and Dave Stevens make appearances all over the country on behalf of those with perceived physical and mental limitations.

DAVECLARK5Dave Clark, who contracted polio at 10 months, got early attention for his abilities as a baseball player.

DAVECLARKHOHOCKEYDave Clark has even taken to the ice as a hockey goalie.

DAVECLARK4Dave Clark was affiliated with Team USA Baseball during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

DAVECLARK3Dave Clark, using crutches and braces, was a player and owner for the Indianapolis Clowns.

DAVECLARK2

Dave Clark waits his turn at the plate as member of the barnstorming Indianapolis Clowns.

BILLCLINTONDAVECLARKPresident Bill Clinton (left) presents Dave Clark with the National Giant Steps Award.

DAVECLARK1

Dave Clark, who contracted polio at 10 months, was a professional baseball player, coach, scout, and owner. He now tours the country as a motivational speaker.

 

Notre Dame Law School students explore baseball arbitration

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What’s a player in Major League Baseball worth?

The player’s side has one figure in mind.

The club side presents another number.

To decide who wins, it sometimes comes down to a third party — an arbitrator.

Thanks to Professor of Law Emeritus Ed Edmonds, University of Notre Dame Law School students get a taste for this process with an internal tournament in the fall and by sending a team to the Tulane International Baseball Arbitration Competition at Tulane University in New Orleans in January.

The 2020 contest was the 13th for the TIBAC, run by the Tulane Sports Law Society as a simulated salary arbitration competition modeled closely on the procedures used by MLB.

According to the Tulane Law School website, “Like most law school moot court competitions, TIBAC’s main goal is to provide participants with the opportunity to sharpen their oral and written advocacy skills.

“However, the competition is unique in that it allows law students to sharpen these skills within the specialized context of MLB’s salary arbitration proceedings.

“The competition is held annually in the early part of the spring academic semester at Tulane University Law School.

“Additionally, at the conclusion of the arbitration competition, Tulane’s Sports Law Society hosts a panel of experts to discuss legal issues related to baseball.”

The popular event usually has a waitlist.

About a decade ago, Edmonds got Notre Dame involved in the TIBAC. For the past five years, there has been an internal contest at Notre Dame.

“We tend have about 12 to 15 students per class that have a very, very strong interest in sports law,” says Edmonds, advisor to Notre Dame Law School’s Sports Communication & Entertainment Law Forum — the student organization that sponsors the internal competition and those that attend the TIBAC. “About three quarters of them were a college athlete or work experience in the sports area. (The internal competition and application) is a much more objective way of picking our team members.”

Edmonds has been doing research on baseball arbitration since the 1980s and co-authored with Frank G. Houdek the book “Baseball Meets the Law: A Chronology of Decisions, Statutes and Other Legal Events” (published by McFarland & Co., 2017).

During the internal arbitration competition, Edmonds advises two-person teams to develop a theme and follow it throughout the whole argument.

Edmonds says he hopes that the Notre Dame Law School, Mendoza College of Business and athletic department will be able to work closer in the future.

Representing Notre Dame at Tulane this time around were team members Kevin Francese, Sebastian Bellm and Ryne Quinlan and coach Elizabeth Lombard.

Francese and Lombard are in their third year of law school (3L). Bellm and Quinlan are in their first year (1L).

Bellm and Quinlan teamed up to win Notre Dame’s internal competition, which centered around former Fighting Irish player and current Baltimore Orioles right fielder Trey Mancini and required the player side argue a penny above the mid-point and the club side a penny below the mid-point to win the argument, besting Francese and Paige Carey in the finals. Francese, Bellm and Quinlan applied and were chosen by Lombard to go to Tulane.

With three rounds, the field was trimmed from 31 to eight on the first day and those eight advanced to the second day. Fordham University won its second straight title. Notre Dame was runner-up in 2019 (team members John Casey, Dominique Fry and Reid Fulkerson were coached by Stephen Scheffel).

The three players featured at the 2020 IBAC were New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, Colorado Rockies right-handed starting pitcher Jon Gray and Milwaukee Brewers lefty closer Josh Hader.

Notre Dame was assigned to argue on the player side for Judge, the club side for Hader and had to be prepared on both sides of the argument for Gray.

TIBAC teams were required to produce exhibit slides and share them with competing teams.

Going before a judge and head-to-head with another team, they argued using a mid-point salary figure for each player.

First came the player argument then the team argument followed by the player rebuttal and team rebuttal. Two people had to talk during each argument. Points were assigned in each round.

Areas considered in the arguments included career contributions, injuries, past compensation, club attendance, team appeal and comparable players aka “comps.”

For Gray, who had a mid-point of $5.4 million, it was New York Mets righty starter Michael Wacha, Atlanta Braves righty starter Mike Foltynewicz and Texas Rangers lefty starter Mike Minor.

Lombard, a Chicago Cubs fan from the Chicago suburb of Western Springs, Ill., has been involved in baseball arbitration competition in all three years of law school. As a 1L, she was a team member. As a 2L, she ran the on-campus tournament and was an assistant coach. As a 3L, she ran the tournament, selected the team and went to Tulane as coach.

“This is unique for law school,” says Lombard. “It’s a non-confrontational way of arguing.”

There were several practice sessions with interruptions just like during the competition. Even law school students not involved were asked for their input.

While she could not get too involved, Lombard was able to help team members craft their arguments and edit their 10-page briefs. There were mock trial sessions at Notre Dame.

After the mental exhaustion of law school finals, much of the preparation happened during Christmas break.

TIBAC prizes were on the line for written presentations due in late December and oral presentations given in January.

“It was a really great experience,” says Lombard, who has a position in the general practice group at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in New York waiting on her after law school. “You don’t have to work in baseball for it to be an asset to you.

“You get to learn about another area of the law. You’re exploring salary arbitration and get to hone general negotiation skills.”

Guests at Tulane have included people like past TIBAC finalist Greg Dreyfuss (Director of Analytics and Baseball Operations for the MLBPA) and former Notre Dame baseball player Matt Nussbaum (Deputy General Counsel for the MLBPA and son of Midwest League president Dick Nussbaum).

“It’s super cool to be able to talk to people in the industry who are interested in our success,” says Lombard.

She nows looks at the game in a different way.

“My love for baseball has totally transformed,” says Lombard. “Now I feel I can talk with the best of them. It’s not only back of the baseball card, but advanced statistics.”

Lombard notes that the baseball player market has blown up and its sometimes difficult to value them.

“You get once or twice in a lifetime players,” says Lombard. “(Players rank) somewhere between (new Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder) Mookie Betts and someone else.”

Francese came to ND from Chappaqua, N.Y., which is 30 miles north of New York City. This was his first time in baseball arbitration competition. He pulls for the New York Yankees.

“We were assigned the player side of Aaron Judge, which is great because I’m a Yankee fan,” says Francese. “I had to talk up Aaron Judge, not talk him down. I don’t know how we didn’t win our Aaron Judge argument.

“I do play fantasy baseball. I don’t take (Boston) Red Sox as a policy.”

Bellm, another Cubs fan who moved with his family to Mishawaka, Ind., in 2008 and graduated from Marian High School in 2011. He graduated from St. Bonaventure (N.Y.) University with an accounting and finance degree in 2016. He lived in Chicago for three years before law school.

“This is different than anything I’ve done before,” says Bellm. “I’ve always been a baseball fan. But I had to dig into a deeper level.

“It was also nice change of pace from regular law school.”

Competitors get no extra credit and do the work on their own time.

Bellm notes that baseball salary arbitration is a niche area of the law and there might be 50 lawyers in the country who specialize in it and 20 or so of them attend the TIABC as guest judges.

“Jobs (for lawyers in baseball arbitration) are few and far between,” says Francese. “It’s not a wide spread thing. Certain people in big law firms do it.

“I hope to get back into sports law at some point in my career.”

He says he hopes to stay involved with the competitions throughout his time in law school.

Bellm notes that studying for Mancini’s case was helped by his position.

“With more outfielders, there’s more comps,” says Bellm.

It’s easier to compare corner outfielders than a second baseman to a shortstop.

While competitors had to be versed in the player and club sides, Bellm says the argument was stronger on the player side for Mancini, who was coming off a strong platform year (the season before arbitration). It’s their most-recent performance.

Mancini had a solid rookie year, a sophomore slump then had a uptick in his platform year. Those arguing for the player would emphasize his improvement. On the club side, they would point out a lack of consistency.

“It’s one of the most important factors considered in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (between the 30 MLB clubs and the MLBPA),” says Bellm of the platform year.

To make the competition more realistic, only real arbitration-eligible players are used. If a player’s real case is settled prior to the competition, that information can’t be used.

Edmonds says in most years 150 to 170 MLB players are arbitration-eligible, but few of those go to hearings.

For the record, Judge and the Yankees avoided arbitration and the club agreed to pay him $8.5 million. His 2019 salary was $684,300.

Gray and the Rockies reached an agreement and avoided arbitration. His salary went from $2.925 million in 2019 to $5.6 million in 2020.

Hader lost his arbitration case. He requested $6.4 million. He was given $4.1 million.

Mancini and the Orioles avoided arbitration. He earned 575,500 in 2019 and signed for $4.75 million in 2020.

Quinlan is from the Chicago suburb of Algonquin, Ill. He received a undergraduate and master’s accounting degrees from Notre Dame in 2016 and 2017. He serves in the U.S. Army National Guard.

NDBASEARBITRATIONTULANE

Repesenting Notre Dame Law School at the 2020 Tulane International Baseball Arbitration Competition (from left): team members Kevin Fracense, Sebastian Bellm and Ryne Quinlan and coach Elizabeth Lombard.

Christman sees baseball through a scout’s eyes

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Christman has been in professional baseball for well over half of his 54 years. He signed his first pro contract as a teenager.

At the end of last summer, Noblesville, Ind., resident Christman concluded a 13-year stint as a scout for the San Francisco Giants and has three World Series rings to show for it. As an area scout, his territory included Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. He also coached at Giants Fall Scout Team that included several players eventually selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including Ryan Campbell, Garrett Christman, Harrison Freed, Cory Malcom, Connor Mitchell, Mitch Roman, Tanner Tully, Nolan Watson.

While he is assessing his next move, Christman is helping out Sue and Chris Estep at Round Tripper Sports Academy.

“I’m giving back to the game,” says Christman, who has served as a general manager, coach and advisor on curriculum, facilities and the baseball industry over the years at the place where sons Garrett and Connor Christman trained and played for the Indiana Mustangs as well as Noblesville High School’s 2014 IHSAA Class 4A state champions, which were recently inducted with the NHS Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020. “I’m giving back to the program. I’ve always been available for them.”

Christman went to Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif., and was a 6-foot-3 catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies and Giants systems before beginning his scouting career on the West Coast with the Milwaukee Brewers and joined the Giants player evaluation staff in 2006.

Along the way, the Midwest became his territory and he and wife Linda moved their family to central Indiana.

Christman has watched technology grow and become a big part of player development.

“It’s changed strength level opportunities,” says Christman. “We understand nutrition and what’s out there to use.

“There’s still a lot of unproven aspects of the technology. The game’s the game. But you don’t leave any stone unturned. You use all resources.”

Chistman uses technology, but he has long employed his evaluation and personal skills to find prospects and to see what makes them tick.

“My job was to always bet on a heartbeat,” says Christman. “With what we were spending on players, that’s just as important. We can’t lose sight of that.”

Christman studies players. Once they pass the eye test, he goes in-depth.

“What has he learned? What has he not learned?,” says Christman. “I could almost be like an FBI agent.”

Like other scouts, Christman would project a player’s potential to get to the majors.

“It’s all conjecture,” says Christman. “I think he can do this.

“It’s like a lump a clay you can mold.”

Only a small percentage of players who enter the system will ever have a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

“It’s a very difficult process,” says Christman. “Eventually, physical talents become similar.”

Things like make-up often make the difference between those who break into the majors and those that don’t.

That’s why scouts like Christman will work hard to find and sign the best players.

“I’m a winner,” says Christman. “It’s a competitive business.”

The proving grounds in baseball is at the high school and college levels.

Christman says many big leaguers were signed out of high school. But the latest trend is to sign college players.

“(Colleges can) develop them three years longer,” says Christman. “(Professional teams tend to) go with a proven track record. History will prevail. That’s what’s driving the sport now. There will be another adjustment later.”

Of course, not all big leaguers are known on the national level by the time they’re 16 and performing in showcases.

“One of the joys of scouting is finding that one guy who’s not in the mainstream,” says Christman.

That’s the story of Adam Duvall, a graduate of Butler Traditional High School in Louisville who played at Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville, made his Major League Baseball debut with the Giants and played with the Cincinnati Reds 2015-18 and the Atlanta Braves in 2018-19. He was a corner infielder in college and has been mostly a left fielder in the bigs.

“His signing was not analytically-driven,” says Christman of Duvall. “He made the game look easy. He had better than average makeup.

“He’s a worker. It’s the grass roots story of a champion.”

MLB has been talking about shrinking the minor leagues, possibly a contraction of 25 percent of teams. If that happens, what would it look like?

With rookie leagues decreased or eliminated, Christman says its likely that players with the least amount of experience would remain in an extended spring training setting before going to Class A ball.

“They will keep players in the complex longer and there will be a higher revolving door at the top,” says Christman. “Either they’re big league players or they’re not.

“It’ll be a little more hands-on at a younger level.”

Noting “it’s all about spots,” Christman says it will harder to enter into baseball at the lower level.

As it stands now, minor leaguers train and play with their organizations from March to September and then are essentially on their own until the next spring.

Christman says a streamlined affiliated baseball could see teams conducting mini-camps throughout the year kind of like OTA’s in football.

KEVINCHRISTMANWSTROPHY

Kevin Christman poses with the World Series trophy. The Noblesville, Ind., resident won three World Series rings as a scout with the San Francisco Giants.

GIANTSWSRINGS

Kevin Christman earned three World Series rings as a scout for the San Francisco Giants. The Noblesville, Ind., resident has been in pro baseball for more than half his life.

 

Learning mentality drives baseball coaching vet Bell

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a running debate in baseball coaching about the Old School vs. the New School.

The Old School represents the long-used methods.

The New School includes emerging technology and its application to the game.

“We’re always learning,” says Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, who has decades of experience as a professional hitting instructor — most recently working in affiliated baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers organization 2018 and 2019. “Technology is very important. That’s where we are today.

“We are not Old School or New School, We’re In School. If we don’t continue to be In School, we’re going to hurt these kids. Period.”

As Bell teaches lessons and clinics across the country as well as in Noblesville, Ind., at Jason Taulman’s Indy Sharks training facility and will soon in Lafayette at Jeff Isom’s new On Deck Training building, he looks to share he’s learned and shares it with his pupils.

“There’s all this information,” says Bell. “I’m not saying its detrimental. It’s confusing. (Technology) can be a great thing.”

Bell, 56, is adaptinhg to the new tools so he can understand and get players to understand.

“I’ve learned it my way instead of some guy telling me how I must learn it,” says Bell, who has worked with Blast Motion sensors and looks forward to using Rapsodo motion detection.

“Humans see in 2D,” says Bell. “Technology sees in 4D. It’s another set of eyes. It can be a great thing.

“You will see great strides in that kid’s progression if it’s utilized the right way.

“You can’t quantify the movement from the left to the right hemisphere You have to combine (technology) with what he’s thinking, how he’s thinking and why he’s thinking. I understand the importance of it all coming together. I really do.”

Knowing that each player is different, Bell does not expect everyone to have the same movement patterns and to reach them you’ve got to get to know them.

“The individual needs to be an individual,” says Bell. “We want them to be short and direct to the ball. We don’t worry about things we don’t control. We control the (strike) zone and get a good pitch to hit. It sounds like a cliche, but you’re only as good as the pitch you hit.

“We try to keep it as simple as possible. Pitching is too good. They throw so hard.”

Bell wants to relate to his hitters on a personal basis.

“I want to establish a relationship with that player,” says Bell. “That’s the key. This guy’s there for him whenever he needs them.”

Bell is a 1981 graduate of Lafayette Jefferson High School. His head baseball coach was Mark Strader, who had been a Bronchos standout for and assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul “Spider” Fields.

“(Strader) was one of the best baseball players to come out of Tippecanoe County,” says Bell.

Concepts he associates with Strader are intensity, tenacity, competitiveness, work ethic and doing the little things right.

In the summers, Bell played for Lafayette American Legion Post 11. Manager Eric Harmon became his mentor at a young age.

“He did a lot of things for me,” says Bell, who credits Harmon for getting his a place on Team USA in the 1982 World’s Fair Games in Knoxville, Tenn., and a place in college baseball. “He is a phenomenal man.”

Bell played two seasons at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., where his head coach was Rich Alday and Jim Fleming directed Aztecs hitters.

“(Fleming) was one of the best hitting teachers in the country,” says Bell, who would meet up with him again years later.

From Pima, Bell played two seasons at Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) for head coach Byron Wiehe. Jamie Hamilton was an assistant coach for the Mavericks.

Bell signed as a minor league free agent with the California Angels and played three seasons in the Halos’ system 1986-88, primarily as a righty-swinging catcher with Palm Springs or Quad Cities.

Sometime after his playing career ended, Bell moved back to Lafayette. Isom asked him if he wanted to get back into baseball.

“Absolutely not” was Bell’s reply. But Isom asked again later and got Bell to be his hitting coach with the Joliet Jackhammers in the independent Northern League.

Bell went to be hitting coach in the Northern League with the Andy McCauley-managed Schaumburg Flyers in the independent Frontier League with the Jason Verdugo-managed Evansville Otters.

Then comes a call from John Mallee, then hitting coordinator for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins that leads to another call from then vice president of the Marlins Jim Fleming — the same man who was Bell’s hitting coach back in college.

“I actually hung up,” says Bell. “I didn’t think it was Coach Flem.”

Mallee called Bell back and set him straight and Bell was hired by the Marlins and was hitting coach for Greensboro Grasshoppers (2009), Jupiter Hammerheads (2010) and Gulf Coast League Marlins (2011-14).

He was out of organized baseball for a few years and still offering instruction including at Kiwanis International baseball camps for troubled teens in Alaska at the invitation of David Hall.

By this time Mallee was with the Phillies. He called to say that the Brewers were in dire need of a hitting coach. There was one week left in spring training.

But Bell took the gig and spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon, N.C. Coincidently, the Mudcats vice president/general manager is Lafayette native Joe Kremer. Bell and Kremer had never met until Bell arrived with the club.

The past five years, Bell has been traveling up from Florida to share his knowledge with Taulman and the Indy Sharks.

“I love everything he does for all those kids,” says Bell. “They’ve progressed extremely.”

Bell has been spending more time in Indiana to be closer to daughter Bobbi, a junior at Purdue University. Bell also has four sons — Brandon and Keaton in Colorado, Zion in California and Kai in North Dakota.

BOBBYBELLMARLINS

Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, was a hitting coach in the Florida/Miami Marlins system for six years.

BOBBYBELLBREWERS

Bobby Bell, a 1981 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, has been instructing baseball hitters for decades. In 2018 and 2019, he was a coach in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He works regularly with the Indy Sharks travel organization.

 

Indy Sharks founder Taulman emphasizes healthy mechanics, throwing strikes

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jason Taulman is a busy man — especially at this time of the year.

For the past eight years, he has run a baseball training facility that some call the “The Facility” or the “Shark Tank” in Noblesville, Ind.

From January to March as players are gearing up for their seasons, Taulman teaches up to 60 lessons (30-minute sessions) per week. From April to September, that number is 20 to 40 with October to December being 20 to 30.

A former college player and coach, Taulman started the Indy Sharks travel baseball program in the fall of 2014 to develop players and to educate them and their parents on the recruiting and scholarship process and more.

“We focus on training and the five tools of a baseball player,” says Taulman. “When the time is ready we’ll showcase you.

“Players don’t have measurable good enough to be recruited (in the early ages).”

In 2020, the Sharks will field seven teams — 12U, 14U, 15 (two teams), 16U and 17U (two teams). The majority of the players on one 17U team were on the original 12U squad.

Taulman says 12U to 14U teams tend to play 40 to 45 games per season while 15U to 17U get in 30 if they have a good summer and advance deep in their tournament.

The 17U Sharks will participate in top-notch recruiting events like the New Balance Program 15 in Cincinnati as well as the Prep Baseball Report Midwest Prospect League and Bullpen Tournaments Amateur Baseball Championships at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and the Perfect Game USA World Wood Bat Association National Championship in Marietta, Ga.

Taulman is a proponent of the Ron Wolforth’s Texas Baseball Ranch method and the coaching of Woolforth, Derek Johnson and Brent Strom.

In teaching pitchers, Taulman’s approach is straight-forward.

“We want to see mechanics that will keep the arm healthy,” says Taulman. “We want them to throw strikes and pitch. That’s lost in today’s technology and social media craze.

“Everybody wants to throw hard. If we’re not doing it safely and are able to locate, velocity does us no good.

“We teach them how to train and get stronger.”

Lafayette, Ind., native Bobby Bell, who was the hitting coach with Carolina in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2019, runs hitting clinics while Taulman runs arm strength/bat speed clinics at the “Shark Tank.”

Taulman began his prep days at Lafayette Jefferson High School. He tranfered to West Lafayette and graduated in 1991.

He played for two head coaches with the Red Devils — Pat Murtaugh and Fred Campbell. Murtaugh was an associate or “bird dog” professional scout and went on to be a full-time scout. He is now employed by the New York Yankees.

“With Coach Murtaugh, I became intrigued about the professional game and what it takes to be at a higher level,” says Taulman. “That was motivation for me.”

Taulman got to know former Purdue University head coach (1978-91)/Seattle Mariners scout Dave Alexander when he mowed his grass.

“He came across as kind of gruff,” says Taulman of Alexander, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “But he has a good heart.”

Former Purdue and McCutcheon and current Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Doug Schreiber coached Taulman with the Lafayette Red Sox summer collegiate team.

Right-handed pitcher Taulman played four years for head coach Mike Moyzis and earned an Elementary Education degree at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. The NCAA Division II Pumas were Great Lakes Valley Conference champions in Taulman’s senior season of 1995.

“(Moyzis) was an outstanding coach,” says Taulman. “He was very big on mental toughness and how to compete.

Moyzis recruited Chicagoland and had many players with swagger.

“He taught you how to carry yourself with confidence,” says Taulman. “Moyzis was off the charts with that stuff.

“For me, it made a world of difference once I began to carry myself that way.”

Moyzis is now vice president of special events for Game Day USA and runs tournaments all over the country. He has brought in Taulman to serve as a coach for select events.

Joe Fletcher was the Saint Joseph’s pitching coach when Taulman was there.

“Fletch had just a huge impact on me,” says Taulman. “That’s when I learned how to pitch. It’s the first time we really learned how to work at the game.

“(Moyzis and Fletcher) were excellent teachers and trainers. They were ahead of their time.”

When Taulman was an SJC senior, Rick O’Dette was a freshman. O’Dette went on to serve 17 years as Pumas head coach before the school was closed at the end of the 2017 season.

Lawrence North High School junior catcher/outfielder Jack Taulman, one of Jason’s sons, attended a showcase at Saint Leo (Fla.) University, where O’Dette is now the head coach.

After graduating from Saint Joseph’s, Taulman played four seasons with the Lafayette Leopards of the independent Heartland League with Lafayette winning league titles in 1995 and 1996.

In the fall of 1996, the Indiana Baseball Academy opened in Brownsburg and Taulman was a part of that training facility that was co-owned by big league pitcher Jeff Fassero.

Taulman served a short stint with the independent Northern League’s Sioux Falls Canaries in 1999. Former Purdue head coach Steve Green (1992-98) was Sioux Falls’ bench coach.

To start out his coaching career, Taulman served with the independent Frontier League’s Ohio Valley Redcoats and the Lafayette Leopards.

He later was pitching coach for head coach Steve Farley at Butler University when Pat Neshek hurled for the Bulldogs.

In the summer of 2017 and again last year and again last summer, Taulman and others ran travel tournaments with the Indy Sharks at Gil Hodges Field.

Saying he missed raking a field, Farley helped last spring in getting the field ready.

After the Indiana Baseball Association, Taulman helped start the Tippecanoe Baseball Academy in Lafayette with partners Bell, Jake Burton and Matt Kennedy.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Burton was then the McCutcheon High School head coach and is now at Twin Lakes. Kennedy has been an assistant to O’Dette at Saint Joseph’s and Saint Leo and is now on the Butler coaching staff.

After Taulman was pitching coach at Butler, he assumed the same duties at Ball State University, where he earned his master’s degree in Coaching Specialization.

He was on head coach Greg Beals’ staff for one season. Jason and Kelly Taulman have four sons — Clark (21), Nick (19), Jack (17) and Brock (14).

When Jason was at Ball State, 2-year-old Nick was diagnosed with Autism.

“We decided that someone needs to be home full-time to manage this,” says Taulman, who by this time had moved his family to Hamilton County. Nick Taulman is a 2019 Fishers High School graduate who participated in the IHSAA Unified Track and Field State Finals.

JASONTAULMAN

Jason Taulman, a West Lafayette (Ind.) High School graduate, teaches private baseball lessons and runs the Indy Sharks travel organization out of Noblesville, Ind. He is a former pitcher at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and was the pitching coach at Butler University and Ball State University. (Steve Krah Photo)