Tag Archives: Minor League Baseball

Berlin marks 10 years as South Bend Cubs owner; growth on the horizon

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

It was on this date 10 years ago that Andrew T. Berlin purchased the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs from former Governor of Indiana and U.S. Navy veteran Joe Kernan.
Wanting to make the occasion memorable, the transaction came on Veterans Day 2011 – 11-11-11 — at 11:11 a.m.
In the last decade, Berlin and the Minor League Baseball franchise affiliated with the Chicago Cubs have helped make many memories for visitors to Four Winds Field.
“When I think about the last 10 years so much has happened – not just when it comes to baseball or even South Bend but the world at large,” said Berlin to a media gathering at the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Life-changing events have affected all of us as we go through the years.
“It all puts everything into perspective. What’s marvelous about baseball is that it provides a foundation for the gathering of friends and family and loved ones. And I take that job very seriously. It’s not just baseball. It’s about the community. It’s about the people. It’s about having fun and celebrating life. And if there was ever a time to do that, it’s probably now as the world struggles to re-open (from the COVID-19 pandemic).”
Berlin looks at the area near the ballpark and sees a rebirth in the past decade — not only commercial but from a population standpoint.
Downtown South Bend continues to grow the development and continues to enjoy investments,” said Berlin. “It feels safer. It feels more vibrant. And the stadium – I’m happy to say — continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of the community as well.”
According to AECOM, the South Bend Cubs provide $24 million annual economic impact to the region (based on information provided by the team).
Through various charitable efforts, the club has donated nearly $1.6 million and invested over $32 million into facilities that would improve not only the ballpark, but the community as a whole.
Plans are in the works to expand Four Winds Field (capacity 5,000 permanent seats), adding an upper deck and more suites.
“There’s tremendous investment that’s going to be done in our ballpark over the next several years,” said Berlin, who put millions of his own dollars into keeping the team in South Bend and upgrading the park. “We’re going to be enlarging the stadium and offering more amenities. And making it a place that is comfortable.”
The park – then known as Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium aka “The Cove” — was built in 1987 it cost a little under $4 million. He has been told that to built the same stadium that now exists it would run in the neighborhood of $85 million.
At the time Berlin bought the team from Kernan, Berlin was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Chicago-based Berlin Packaging (he is now part of defense firm Shield AI) and the South Bend Silver Hawks were an Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate.
Near the end of 2014 came the opportunity to be tied to the Chicago Cubs.
“That was an extraordinary event for the team,” said Berlin. “But I also have to say it was a fantastic vote of confidence in South Bend and the Michiana region.
“The Chicago Cubs — one of the most-celebrated and oldest brands in all of baseball made the decision to come here rather than going anywhere else.”
Renowned third-generation Chicago White Sox groundskeeper Roger Bossard was brought in to install the field surface and a performance center modeled on the one used by the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., was built at Four Winds Field.
The 1st Source Bank Performance Center is used not only by the pros but by the community.
The stadium is also ringed by four apartment buildings – The Ivy at Berlin Place. It is currently 98 percent occupied with two commercial spaces — one 6,000-square feet and one 4,000-square feet available for lease.
In 2021 — with the restructuring of Minor League Baseball under the oversight of Major League Baseball Player Development Contracts were moved from two- or four-year arrangements to 10. South Bend is in the High-A Central League.
The South Bend Cubs’ lease with the city has 20 more years on it.
After having no games in 2020, South Bend drew 217,066 in 2021. In 2019, that number was 319,616.
The Indiana General Assembly passed the Professional Sports Development Act, which benefits the baseball team and other downtown places and businesses.
“Taxes collected in this area – rather than going down to Indianapolis — can stay here in South Bend and can help pay for some of the renovations for Four Winds Field without increasing taxes across the board. In fact, the PSDA wouldn’t even exist if the South Bend Cubs weren’t here.
Berlin notes that the expansion will help the team better cater its fans food and drink needs.
“Currently we are able to feed everyone in the ballpark with just one small kitchen,” said Berlin. “We’ve been able to make do with this, but in increasing crowds and increasing capacity we’ll have to add more back-of-the-house improvements like kitchens and storage.”
Berlin said light construction will begin before 2023 and then building in-earnest will happen after the 2023 season. In the past, smaller projects have been accomplished during the fall and winter months.
Berlin said he is hopeful that current supply chain and transportation issues that can affect construction will smooth out.
“Since we’re not going to be breaking ground for a little while, I have to think that there will be stabilization of the cost of those materials over time,” said Berlin.
What will the new capacity be?
“I hesitate to give you a percentage of increase, but it will be substantial,” said Berlin. “Of the 70 (home) games were have in the season right now, we’re selling out around 55 to 60 games a season.”
Those numbers are dependent largely upon whether and students being in or out of school for the summer.
Going back to 2011, Berlin was not sure he wanted to buy the South Bend team. He was convinced by Kernan and set about putting together his off-the-field team.
“Joe convinced me that this was a diamond in the rough and so we went forward,” said Berlin. “Once I was in, I was all-in. I learned in hard because I wasn’t going to get into a business and not try to be successful.
“And so I brought all the resources I could possibly muster. I was able to recruit some really amazing talent.”
Ever the optimist, Berlin sees his place in the community as a facilitator of memories.
Married with five children and living in the Chicago area, Berlin tries to spend at least one game per homestand in South Bend. Sometimes when his family is with him and the crowds have gone home, the family has a pick-up game under the Four Winds Field lights.

Andrew T. Berlin. (Steve Krah Video)
Andrew T. Berlin.

Hamilton Southeastern, Indiana U. grad Gorski brings multiple tools to the game

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

Matt Gorski brings many attributes to the diamond.
The former Hamilton Southeastern High School and Indiana University outfielder now in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization takes pride in his versatility.
“I can do a bunch of stuff on a baseball field,” says Gorski, who swings and throws right-handed. “I consider myself to be a five-tool athlete.”
In 95 games with the 2021 High Class-A Greensboro (N.C.) Grasshoppers (48 in center field, 38 in right field, three in left field, three at first base and three at designated hitter), Gorski hit .223 (80-of-358) 17 home runs, 18 doubles, 56 runs batted in, 62 runs scored, 18 stolen bases and .710 OPS (.294 on-base percentage plus .416 slugging average).
On Sept. 7 at Jersey Shore, 23-year-old Gorski went 5-of-6 with one homer, two RBIs and one run.
Does Gorski consider himself a power hitter?
“I’m starting to think of myself as one,” says Gorski. “I didn’t always.
“During the (COVID-19) quarantine period, I went though a bit of a body change.”
With no Minor League Baseball season in 2020, Gorski focused on strength training at home.
“I could not do a lot of baseball stuff,” says Gorski, who lives in Fishers, Ind.
Once facilities opened, he was able to work on keeping his batting eye and swing in shape.
“I tried to face a live arm,” says Gorski. “You can’t replicate that any other way.”
From October until the holidays, he went to PRP Baseball workouts at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.
Around Feb. 2021 — before spring training in Bradenton, Fla. — he went with Pirates minor league infielder Jared Triolo to Dynamic Sports Training in Houston.
Through it all, Gorski bulked up to 215 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame.
In the field, Gorski is most comfortable in center field though he spent a fair share of time in left as an IU sophomore and right as a Hoosiers junior.
Gorski played three seasons at Indiana University (2017-19) — two for head coach Chris Lemonis and one for Jeff Mercer.
In 165 games (158 as a starter), he hit .306 (189-of-617) with 24 homers, five triples, 32 doubles, 108 RBIs, 127 runs, 57 stolen bases and .869 OPS (.378/.491).
“(Lemonis) was a lot like a dad not like a baseball coach,” says Gorski. “He’s a really good recruiter and knows how to care for people. He cared about the classroom and your family. He was first one to call me (when I got drafted).
“He didn’t try to make anything bigger than what it was. He laid it out for you. You’re going to have to work. He told it straight.”
Mercer took another approach.
“He’s a lot more baseball-driven than Coach Lemonis,” says Gorski. “That’s not a bad thing. They’re just different styles. (With Mercer) it was get big, get strong, hit balls far.
“We won a Big Ten title with him (in 2019). It obviously works.”
Gorski was part of a powerful Indiana lineup that slugged 95 homers (second in the country behind Vanderbilt’s 100) and was selected by Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (57th overall pick).
In 49 games with the short-season 2019 West Virginia Black Bears, he hit .223 (40-of-179) with three home runs, two triples, nine doubles, 22 runs batted in, 32 runs, 11 stolen bases and .643 OPS (.297.346).
His two pro ball seasons have taught Gorski some things.
“I learned that it’s hard,” says Gorski. “You have to have the love of the game to go through the peaks and valleys.”
Since the 2021 season ended, Gorski has been working out at PRP Baseball. Next Sunday he heads to Florida for a month-long hitting camp.
Born Dec. 22, 1997 in South Bend, Ind., Gorski moved to Fishers when he was very young.
He played for the HSE Cats and Indiana Prospects before spending his 13U to 18U summers with the Indiana Nitro with Rick Stiner, Ken Elsbury and Eric Osborn as head coaches.
He was on the freshmen team his first year at Hamilton Southeastern then spent three varsity season with head coach Scott Henson.
“He was a lot like Lemonis,” says Gorski of Henson. “He cared about you more than a baseball player. It was the classroom, your family, your girlfriend.
“He was also a very good baseball coach. He made a lot of players better than expected. He knew how to individualize each person’s styles and connect with them in different ways.”
Henson is now an assistant at Noblesville High School.
Matt, who finished his IU degree in Sports Marketing & Management in the spring, is the youngest of HSE accountant Mark and nurse Lisa Gorski’s three children. Steven Gorski is a seventh grade math teacher at Hamilton Southeastern Intermediate/Junior High. Kristen Gorski is a communications specialist/press secretary for the Indiana Senate.

Matt Gorski (Greensboro Grasshoppers Photo)
Matt Gorski
Matt Gorski

Jeffersonville, Louisville grad Campbell makes most of year away from baseball games

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

Drew Campbell took a negative and turned it into a positive.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the quarantine of 2020 took away the ability to play baseball.
The Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate and former Olney (Ill.) Central and University of Louisville outfielder was heading into his second season in the Atlanta Braves organization when things came to a standstill. Major League Baseball eventually started up. Minor League Baseball did not.
“It was the longest time without baseball since I was born,” says Campbell, who turns 24 on Oct. 10. “It was definitely hard on me. But I did not lose my passion for the game.”
Eventually, Campbell was able to give lessons at Ellis Baseball Academy in Jeffersonville and that put things into perspective.
“Young kids just wanted to play baseball,” says Campbell. “They’re not worried about contracts or who they’re going to play for.
“So (the time away) was a good re-set for everybody. It’s definitely a kids’ game and sometimes we get away from that.”
Another benefit from teaching hitting is that it helped him with his own offensive game by figuring out a way to explain the concepts.
“It’s easy to stay sharp when I’m teaching someone to hit,” says Campbell. “The mental side means a lot more now that I’m older.”
To Campbell, that means taking care of himself — mentally and physically. He’s doing more reading and journaling and getting a handle on his nutrition and workout routine.
“I’m staying positive,” says Campbell, who doesn’t want to take negative thoughts onto the field.
At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, he has put 10 to 15 pounds on his frame in the last year and plans to add about 15 more in the off-season whether working out in Jeffersonville or Louisville. He eats six meals a day, lifts weights thee times a week and gets in hitting when he can.
“My nutrition is where I’ve really got to step up my game,” says Campbell. “I’m on the path to being the guy (the Braves) want me to be.
“That’s someone who hits for more power with more doubles and triples.”
While he missed two months while dealing with a pulled hamstring, Campbell played at three levels in 2021 — rookie-level (Florida Complex League Braves), Low Class-A (Augusta, Ga., GreenJackets) and High Class-A (Rome, Ga., Braves) — and hit .308 (32-of-104) with five home runs, three triples, seven doubles, 20 runs batted in and 32 runs scored in 27 games.
“I finished strong for the year,” says Campbell, who concluded the year with Rome. “I put myself in a good position for next year.”
Campbell, a lefty batter and thrower, played mostly in right field.
“That’s where I feel the most comfortable,” says Campbell. “But I’m an outfielder.
“I can go get the ball no matter where I’m at.”
Selected in the 23rd round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, Campbell hit .224 (24-of-107) with one homer, one triple, four doubles, seven RBIs and eight runs in 28 games that summer for Rome — then a Low Class-A club.
After that first pro season, he completed his course work at Louisville as a Sport Administration major and Criminal Justice minor.
Campbell logged three collegiate seasons — one at National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Olney Central (2017) and two at NCAA Division I Louisville (2018 and 2019).
He batted .294 (53-of-180) with seven homers, three triples, six doubles, 31 RBIs and 35 runs in 50 games at Olney Central for Blue Knights head coach Dennis Conley.
“It was an awesome experience,” says Campbell. “(Conley) is an all-time great coach. That’s Dennis Conley’s town. Everybody knows Dennis Conley. He parks where he wants.
“He really pushed me. Helped me through everything. He definitely cares about his players.”
At U of L, playing for Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell, Campbell hit .310 (108-of-348) with four homers, three triples, 23 doubles, 70 RBIs and 52 runs in 121 games (97 as a starter).
“To have the chance to play for (McDonnell) was awesome,” says Campbell. “I’m excited to see what he does with the Cardinals (in 2022).”
Louisville went 51-18 and played in 2019 College World Series. Campbell became the first U of L player to be named to the all-CWS team, hitting .462 (6-for-13) with three RBIs. Batting seventh and playing right field, he went 3-for-4 including a walk-off base hit in an elimination game against Mississippi State.
At Jim Patterson Stadium, there is a locker room dedicated to professionals that have played at Louisville. There Campbell is likely to run into people like Jeffersonville’s Drew Ellis (Arizona Diamondbacks), New Albany’s Josh Rogers (Washington Nationals), 2021 No. 1 overall draft pick Henry Davis (Pittsburgh Pirates system) and San Francisco Giants minor leaguers Tyler Fitzgerald and Logan Wyatt.
Born in Jeffersonville, Campbell played T-ball at the YMCA in Clarksville and attended grade school and middle school there. He was at Jeff/GRC Little League, where he first played for Derek Ellis (who was later his head coach at Jeffersonville High and runs Ellis Baseball Academy) and then with the Louisville Longhorns and Ironmen travel teams as well as the Ricky Romans-managed Floyds Knobs American Legion Post 42 team.
Drew is the second of Tony and Keri Campbell’s four children. Nick Campbell was a senior at Our Lady of Providence High School in Clarksville when Drew was a freshman.
“It was only time I got to play with my older brother,” says Drew of Nick, who is now 27. Kyle Campbell (16) is a sophomore and Andrea Campbell (15) a freshman — both at Jeffersonville.
Drew played his last three prep seasons at Jeffersonville and graduated in 2016. With the Red Devils, he was reunited with Derek Ellis.
“He teaches baseball the right way,” says Campbell, who counts Derek’s son, Drew Ellis, as one of his buddies.
Campbell was an all-state selection at Jeffersonville. In 2016, he slugged eight home runs, drove in 27 and scored 30 in 25 games and was named Southern Indiana Player of the Year in by the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Drew Campbell (Atlanta Braves Photo)
Drew Campbell (Mills Fitzner Photo)
Drew Campbell (Mills Fitzner Photo)
Drew Campbell (Mills Fitzner Photo)
Drew Campbell (Mills Fitzner Photo)

Former Indiana standout Dunham acclimating to pro baseball in Yankees organization

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Elijah Dunham signed as an undrafted minor league free agent by the New York Yankees in June 2020.

The professional baseball experience for the Evansville, Ind., did not really start until the spring of 2021.

Because of COVID-19, there was no instructional league in the Yankees organization last fall so Dunham finished up his Sports Management degree at Indiana University and trained for the 2021 season.

Dunham, who was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball) at Evansville Reitz High School and a three-year baseball standout at IU, has played 20 games for the Low Class-A Southeast League’s Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons.

Through games played June 1, the lefty-swinging outfielder is hitting .275 19-of-69 with two home runs, two triples, five doubles, 19 runs batted in, 22 runs scored and a .925 OPS (.432 on-base percentage plus .493 slugging average).

The difference between college and pro ball?

“There’s no school or someone telling what to do,” says Dunham. “You play everday and you have to know how your body feels.

“I love it. I love to play this game.”

To get familiar, Dunham has been playing all three outfield positions as well as batting anywhere from fifth to ninth in the Tarpons order.

Tampa is managed by former big league infielder David Adams.

“He’s a great guy,” says Dunham of Adams. “He’s a non-nonsense type manager — no matter where you were drafted. 

“He wants you to get better. He has a willingness to help every single player.”

Dunham, who turned 23 on May 29, figured he’d be playing as a pro before now. But he did not see a worldwide pandemic coming nor the restructuring of Minor League Baseball.

He was was selected in the 40th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but did not sign and went back to Indiana.

“I was very confident in myself in college,” says Dunham. “It was a misfortunate event that happened.”

Dunham played three seasons for the Hoosiers (2018-20). In 94 games (75 starts), the 6-foot, 213-pounder hit .312 (88-of-282) with nine homers, 25 doubles, 48 RBIs, 67 runs and a .925 OPS (.429 on-base percentage plus .496 slugging average). The left-handed thrower had a season-high three assists from the outfield in a March 8, 2020 game against San Diego.

As a Hoosier, Dunham answered to two head coaches — Chris Lemonis as a freshman and Jeff Mercer as a sophomore and junior.

“(Lemonis) is really hard on freshmen, but he’s a good dude,” says Dunham. “He’s a geat recruiter and a great baseball coach. He’s going to do well at Mississippi State.”

Dunham really connected with Mercer, who got him to focus on the variables to produce an outcome and only concern himself with the things he can control.

“I bonded with Merc,” says Dunham. “He’s like me — a blue collar baseball guy. He helped me fall in love with the process of getting better. He showed me what a successful mindset really is.

“I really appreciate him and what he did for me.”

Dunham and Mercer still regularly trade text messages.

The 2017 Reitz graduate played football for coach Andy Hape, basketball for Michael Adams and baseball for Todd DeWeese (who was assisted by Joe Paulin). Dunham was a part of two sectional championship teams in football and basketball and one in baseball.

As gridders, the Dunham boys — Elijah and Isaiah — lined up as safeties on defense and wideouts on offense. The Panthers went 9-2 in 2015 and 11-2 in 2016 — Elijah’s junior and senior seasons. Those seasons ended with a field goal and a “Hail Mary” pass.

Isaiah Dunham went on to play one football season at Yale University.

DeWeese took over the Reitz baseball program during Dunham’s freshman year.

“He was an easy-going coach,” says Dunham. “He let us play the game.

“What I remember is the times with the boys.”

Born and raised in Evansville, Elijah played from age 6-12 at what is now known as Golfmoor Baseball Association, where father Paul Dunham was league president.

After that, Elijah played travel ball for Louisville-based Ironmen Baseball.

Paul and Angie Dunham have four children — Elijah, Isaiah, Moriah and Josiah.

Moriah Dunham graduated from Evansville Christian and is headed to Taylor University to study and play soccer.

Josiah Dunham sparked Evansville Christian to an Indiana Christian School Athletic Association state championship in 2020-21.

Elijah Dunham (Tampa Tarpons Photo)
Elijah Dunham steps to the plate for the 2021 Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons. (Cliff Welch Photo)
Elijah Dunham takes a cut for the 2021 Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons. (Cliff Welch Photo)
Elijah Dunham mans his outfield position for the Tampa (Fla.) Tarpons. (Cliff Welch Photo)

Loggins believes in ’natural movements’ for young ballplayers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Josh Loggins grew up in Tippecanoe County, Ind., his baseball position was well-established.

Young Josh was a shortstop.

When Loggins reached the eighth grade at Battle Ground Middle School he met John O’Maley, the head baseball coach at Harrison High School in West Lafayette.

O’Maley told Loggins that he would be a catcher in his program.

Loggins resisted at first, but came to excel behind the plate with the Harrison Raiders. 

On March 11, 1995 — the eve of the baseball season — O’Maley passed away at 46 and six Harrison seniors — Loggins, Nate Linder, Brad Pitts, Brad Sherry, Dusty Sims and Jimmy Taylor — served as pall bearers. The players wore No. 42 patches on their uniforms all season as a tribute to O’Maley.

Jerry Galema became Harrison’s head coach and the team went on to go 34-2 and win the 1995 state championship, besting Fort Wayne Concordia 3-1 in the title game.

“He was passionate about doing the right thing,” says Loggins of Galema, who is now the school’s athletic director. “He was a very detailed, very organized coach and could not have been a better person.”

Future big leaguers Todd Dunwoody (Class of 1993), Erik Sabel (Class of 1993) and Eric Bruntlett (Class of 1996) were Loggins teammates at Harrison.

Loggins was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-stater and IHSBCA North All-Star as a senior catcher. It was as a backstop that he was selected in the seventh round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Instead of going pro out of high school, Loggins went to Purdue University then transferred to the University of Kentucky and played for Wildcats head coach Keith Madison.

The UK coach had quite an impact on Loggins.

“I couldn’t say this more — and I get a little choked up — he’s the best individual I was ever introduced to,” says Loggins of Madison. “He is a genuine individual. It’s how he carries himself.

“He taught us how to be men. Coach Madison took me in where I was struggling to find myself. He helped me immensely. He got me back to confidence and kept me on a path to professional baseball. He’s a very good man.”

At Kentucky, Loggins would start at catcher in midweek games and in Friday and Saturday contests during Southeastern Conference series and be in right field in Sunday.

The righty swinger hit .384 with 15 home runs, five triples, 20 doubles, 63 runs batted in and six stolen bases in 57 games in 1998.

Loggins comes from a baseball family. He father — Vernon Porter “Mick” Loggins — played in local leagues in Danville, Ill. He became an English professor and poet with the pen name V.P. Loggins.

Kenny Loggins, Josh’s uncle, also pitched in Danville. 

Grandfather Elmer “Buck” Loggins was a pro in Alabama as was his brother who was known as “Black Diamond” Loggins. He was a coal miner who doubled as a ballplayer.

It was as an outfielder that Josh Loggins was picked in the 11th round of the 1998 MLB Draft and was sent to Idaho Falls, where he hit .341 with eight homers, five triples, 20 doubles, 64 RBIs and and eight stolen bases in 71 games.

Loggins played for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards in 1999, hitting .297 with 14 homers, seven triples, 29 doubles, 85 RBIs and and 12 stolen bases in 136 games as the regular right fielder. 

Fort Wayne was managed by Dan Simonds, who served stints at Miami (Ohio) University and Xavier University and associate head coach at Indiana University (2014) before becoming Director of Baseball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Before being with the Wizards he had also been an extra in the movie “Rookie of the Year.”

“Dan was a great guy,” says Loggins. “That was my first experience of what it means to be a professional baseball.

“You no longer call them ‘Coach’; it’s their first name or nickname. You are an equal. You are a professional. (Simonds) was relatable. He was a players’ manager.”

Loggins played professional baseball until 2005. He reached Double-A with the Padres, New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies organizations. 

Parts of 2002 and 2003 were spent with the independent Washington (Pa.) Wind Things. He played for the independent Joliet (Ill.) JackHammers in 2004 and 2005. In both places his manager was Lafayette’s Jeff Isom

As business partners, Loggins, Isom and Dunwoody had a stake in the On Deck Training in Lafayette. Isom runs the facility now with Bobby Bell and Pat Murtaugh as instructors and has a travel ball organization.

Loggins’ average in affiliated Minor League Baseball was .288. He hit .315 in indy ball. 

“Those were the best times I had in professional baseball,” says Loggins of independent ball. “There was no pressure moving up or playing for next year’s contract. You were playing ball and having fun.”

Perhaps Loggins’ best pro season was 2003 in Washington when he hit .331 with 24 homers, five triples, 13 doubles, 72 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 74 games.

“I was a hitter — that’s what kept me around a long time,” says Loggins. “I was pretty consistent though I did not perform as well as a platoon guy. 

“I needed to be in there and keep the routine going and seeing pitches often.”

Loggins struck out over 100 times only once from 1998-2005. In fact, he whiffed 635 times while poking 90 homers, 26 triples and 144 doubles and driving in 468 runs in 2,987 plate appearances. He also swiped 81 bases.

He wound up playing every position except shortstop and pitcher. He also played briefly for Team USA in an international qualifier in Bradenton in 2005.

After his playing days, he spent some time as a Boston Red Sox scout. Registered Investment Advisor is the 43-year-old’s full-time job.

Since the early 1990’s, Loggins has been involved with the Indiana Bulls in one way or another. He played on one of the travel organization’s first teams. This year was his first vice president on the board of directors, lending advice to president Quinn Moore, treasurer Brent Mewhinney, secretary Todd Mewhinney and director of baseball operations Scott French

Loggins will be the Bulls 10U Black head coach for 2021 with sons Hayes (10) and Tagg (who turns 9 in November) on the team.

Without any prompting from their father or mother (McCutcheon High School graduate and former WLFI News 18 anchor Gina Quattrocchi Loggins), both boys became right-handed throwers who hit from the left side. It’s what felt right to them.

“You’ve got to be comfortable to hit,” says Loggins. “The motion has to be natural.

A few years ago, Loggins was in Puerto Rico and talked with former Joliet teammate Gabby Delgado (brother-in-law of Carlos Beltran).

Loggins wanted to know why Latino players were so smooth. Delgado told him that most don’t receive instruction until their teens and do what comes natural to them.

“That kind of stuck with me at the time,” says Loggins. “If you think too much or are coached too much it can take the athleticism away from you. It makes you a mechanical player.

“Sometimes the worse thing you can do is teach too much and not just let the kid play naturally and build on natural movements.”

Hayes (left), Tagg and Gina are the sons and wife of Josh Loggins, a graduate of Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind., who went on to play college and professional baseball and now coaches his boys and others with the Indiana Bulls travel organization.
Tagg (left) and Hayes surround father Josh Loggins following a tournament win for the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization. Josh Loggins played for the Bulls in the early 1990’s and went on to Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind, followed by college and pro baseball.

Fireballer Klein anxious to begin professional career

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Will Klein is pumping gas and saving a little gas.

Klein, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals out of Eastern Illinois University, has regularly hit 99 mph on radar guns.

Last summer while competing in the Northwoods League All-Star Game, the 2017 graduate of Bloomington (Ind.) High School North hit triple digits. 

In his last appearance of the summer, he pumped in a pitch at 100 mph.

Klein was the EIU Panthers’ Friday starter in 2020 and went 1-2  in four appearances with a 3.33 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and 13 walks in 24 1/3 innings before the season was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While university facilities were off limits, Klein and two of his three roommates stayed in Charleston, Ill., and got ready for the MLB Draft, which was shaved from 40 to five rounds this year. 

Klein played catch in parking lots and open fields, threw PlyoCare Balls against park fences and used kettle bells, benches and dumb bells in the living room.

Kansas City took Klein with the 135th overall pick.

“I talked to every team,” says Klein, 20. “I could tell some were more interested than others.

“The Royals were definitely the team that communicated with me the most.”

With the Minor League Baseball season called off, Klein has been training with PRP Baseball’s Greg Vogt at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind., up to six days a week. 

The pitcher, who has added muscle and now packs 230 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, saves time and fuel by staying with an aunt and uncle in Fishers.

“The Royals sent a weight lifting, throwing and running schedule,” says Klein. “I blend that with what Greg’s doing.”

Klein first worked out at PRP Baseball last summer and also went there in the winter.

Klein’s natural arm slot has been close to over the top.

From there, he launches a four-seam fastball, “spike” curveball (it moves from 12-to-6 on the clock face), “gyro” slider (it has more downward and less lateral movement than some sliders) and a “circle” change-up.

In three seasons at EIU, Klein’s walks-per-nine innings went from 9.6 in 2018 to 9.9 in 2019 to 4.8 in 2020.

Why the control improvement?

“A lot of repetition and smoothing out the action,” says Klein. “I’ve been able to get a feel for what I was doing and a more efficient movement pattern with my upper and lower halves.

“Throwing more innings helped, too. I didn’t throw a whole lot in high school.”

Playing for head coach Richard Hurt, Klein was primarily a catcher until his senior year. In the second practice of his final prep season, he broke the thumb on his pitching hand and went to the outfield.

The previous summer while playing with the Indiana Bulls, Klein had gotten the attention of Eastern Illinois at Prep Baseball Report showcase held at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Klein would be an NCAA Division I pitcher. He played at EIU for head coach Jason Anderson and had two pitching coaches — Julio Godinez in 2018 and 2019 and Tim Brown in 2020.

“(Anderson) was very helpful coming from pro ball,” says Klein of the former University of Illinois right-hander who pitched in the big leagues with the New York Yankees and New York Mets. “He knew what it took mentally and physically and took me from a thrower to a pitcher.”

Former catcher Godinez brought energy and also helped Klein learn about pitch sequences.

Brown was given full reign of the Panthers staff by Anderson this spring.

Klein struggled his freshmen year, starting three of 14 games and going 1-1 with a 6.62 ERA. He was used in various bullpen roles as a sophomore and went 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA. 

He was the closer and Pitcher of the Year with the Lakeshore Chinooks in the summer of 2019 when he hit 100 on the gun and was told he would be a starter when he got back to EIU in the fall.

For his college career, Klein was 2-2 and struck out 62 in 42 1/3 innings.

Born in Maryville, Tenn., Will moved to Bloomington at 3. Both his parents — Bill and Brittany — are Indiana University graduates.

Will played youth baseball at Winslow and with the Unionville Arrows and then with local all-star teams before high school. During those summers, he was with the Mooresville Mafia, which changed its name the next season to Powerhouse Baseball. 

At 17U, Troy Drosche was his head coach with the Indiana Bulls. At 18U, he played for the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays. 

The summer between his freshman and sophomore years at EIU, Klein was with the Prospect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans.

Will is one semester from earning his degree in Biological Sciences.

“I grew up loving science,” says Will, who has had both parents teach the subject. Bill Klein has taught at Jackson Creek Middle School with Brittany Klein is a Fairview Elementary. Both schools are in Bloomington.

Will is the oldest of their three children. The 6-4 Sam Klein (18) is a freshman baseball player at Ball State University. Molly (13) is an eighth grader who plays volleyball, basketball and softball.

Will Klein pitched at Eastern Illinois University. (D1 Baseball Video)
Will Klein, a 2017 graduate of Bloomington (Ind.) High School South, pitched three baseball seasons at Eastern Illinois University and was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals. (Eastern Illinois University Photo)

Even without minor league season, Roncalli, Louisville grad McAvene keeps on pitching

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael McAvene is doing his best to keep the momentum rolling in his baseball career.

The right-handed pitcher had to push the pause button during his high school and college days because of injury and now he’s at a standstill period as a professional because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down Minor League Baseball in 2020.

McAvene is a 2016 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, playing for three head coaches. He made a few varsity appearances as a freshman for Keith Hatfield in 2013, even more as a sophomore for Daron Spink in 2014, missed his junior season with the Rebels with elbow issues in 2015 and was part of an IHSAA Class 4A state championship team as a senior for Aaron Kroll in 2016.

As a University of Louisville freshman in the spring of 2017, McAvene was hurt in an April relief stint and soon found himself on the operating table. His next pitch in a collegiate game came April 2018.

After getting into seven games (five as a starter) and going 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 17 1/3 innings as a U of L freshman, McAvene went to the bullpen when he came back from his surgery.

The righty made 34 appearances out of the bullpen his last two collegiate seasons, going 2-1 with nine saves, a 3.32 earned run average, 65 strikeouts and 18 walks in 43 1/3 innings. He was named second team all-Atlantic Coast Conference in 2019.

The Cardinals qualified for the NCAA Tournament 2017-19 and went to the College World Series in 2017 and 2019

U of L was ranked No. 1 in the nation during part of that stretch and McAvene was labeled as the team’s closer during the end of that run.

“I loved it,” says McAvene. “You have to have a certain mentality for (that role).

“It came easy for me to get the last out of the game, which in my opinion is the last out to get.”

It was while going for that last out that McAvene received an automative four-game suspension following his ejection for disputing an umpire’s decision in NCAA regional victory over Indiana University.

He counts it as part of his experience. 

“I definitely didn’t want to talk about it (immediately after the game),” says McAvene. “But you’ve got to be professional and not let emotions get in the way.”

McAvene cherished the atmosphere created at Louisville by head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

“(McDonnell) gets you to the point where you’d run through a wall for him and your teammates,” says McAvene. “That’s the culture.

“It’s a testament to the players and the type of people he brings in.”

Williams pushed his pitchers.

“He taught me what it takes to be successful at this level,” says McAvene of Williams. “He’s a very challenging guy. He expects us to be on top of our games at all times. He won’t accept less. He made us accountable.

“When it’s your time, you’re all that’s out there. You have to execute and do all you can to get your team to win.”

McAvene says Williams is one of the best game callers in the country and his scouting reports are second to none.

“(McDonnell and Williams are) two of the most legendary coaches in the history of college baseball and they’re just starting,” says McAvene, who was selected in the third round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs

Appearing in six games with the 2019 Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, he went 0-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 20 strikeouts and four walks in 12 2/3 innings. Of 199 pitches, 126 were thrown for strikes.

The way the organization is currently formed, the next step on the ladder would be with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs.

McAvene faced some hitters before spring training and he’s since had some competitive bullpen sessions while following the program laid out by the Cubs. He just hasn’t delivered a pitch in a game since Aug. 31, 2019.

“I have a pretty good player plan sent out by the Cubs,” says McAvene. “I just can’t replicate in-game reps.”

While some of his former Louisville teammates have been involved in the four-team Battle of the Bourbon Trail independent league in Florence and Lexington, McAvene has stayed in central Indiana to train.

The McAvenes family — Rob, Jennifer, Michael and Bradley — lived for years near Camby, near Mooresville, and now reside in Danville.

It’s about a 10-minute trip to Plainfield to work out at the home of his former Ben Davis Little League and Indiana Outlaws travel coach, Jay Hundley, along with pros Jacson McGowan (who played at Brownsburg High School and Purdue University and is now in the Tampa Bay Rays system) and Nick Schnell (who was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Roncalli in 2018 and is also with the Rays), Indiana University left-hander Zach Behrmann (Indianapolis North Central graduate) and others. 

McAvene was able to retire most high school hitters with a fastball and a breaking ball. 

While starting at Louisville, he began to get a feel for a change-up. When he went to the back of the Cards’ pen, he used a fastball, slider and curveball and, essentially, shelved the change-up on the shelf.

Given a chance to return to starting with the Cubs, McAvene again began working to get comfortable with throwing a “circle” change — a grip taught to him by a friend while he was with the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer of 2018.

“I knew my curveball and my slider were only going to get me so far,” says McAvene. “The change-up sets apart good players from great players.”

Throwing from a low three-quarter arm angle, McAvene throws more two-seam fastballs than four-seamers.

“It has a sinker action,” says McAvene of the two-seamer that registers as a sinker on Cubs’ analytic equipment like Rapsodo and TrackMan. “My arm slot allows for a lot of downward action on it.

“I wanted to make sure I’ve got some lateral movement on it. The sink is an added bonus.”

McAvene’s curve has morphed. He used to throw the pitch in the traditional manner with a sweeping motion. 

“I switched the grip to a knuckle curve to get more depth,” says McAvene. “It pairs well with my fastball and slider.”

As for the slider, McAvene was throwing it at Eugene at 86 to 90 mph.

“It has a very hard and tight break,” says McAvene of the slider. “The movement is late and right at the very end.”

After the 2019 season, McAvene finished his Sports Administration degree, graduating magna cum laude in December.

McAvene, who turned 23 on Aug. 24, says he was hopeful that there might be fall instructional league with the Cubs this year. But since it’s already September and Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are still figuring out the terms of their agreement, that looks improbable.

Born in the same Indianapolis hospital where his mother has spent 30 years as an ICU nurse (IU Health University), McAvene grew up in the Mooresville area. He was an Mooresville Little League all-star from 9 to 11 — the last two with his father as coach (Rob McAvene is now an independent distributor for Pepperidge Farms) — before his one year at Ben Davis Little League. 

Before attending Roncalli, Michael spent Grades K-6 at North Madison Elementary in Camby and middle school at Saint Mark Catholic School on the south side of Indianapolis.

Bradley McAvene (18) is a 2020 graduate of Indiana Connections Academy.

Michael McAvene pitched for the University of Louisville. (Prospects Live Video)
Michael McAvene is a 2016 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, where he helped the Rebels win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a senior.
Michael McAvene pitched at the University of Louisville 2017-19. He was the Cardinals closer at the end of that stretch. Louisville went to the College World Series in 2017 and 2019. (University of Louisville Photo)
Michael McAvene, a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and the University of Louisville, was drafted by the Chicago Cubs and pitched for the Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds in 2019. (Photo by Aussiedi Photography)

Californian Epstein gets sports media experience thanks to Indiana U.

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Griffin Epstein knows the connection that sports fans have with their teams and athletes.

A sophomore in the Indiana University Media School majoring in Sports Media with a specialization in Broadcast Journalism, Epstein has been a part of that relationship in many forms, including baseball play-by-play and other diamond-related programming.

Epstein, who is from Petaluma, Calif., recently completed an internship with the Collegiate Summer Baseball Network and got to focus on the West Coast. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of many leagues, he wrote articles, fed social media and conducted interviews with managers, commissioners and some of the athletes fortunate enough to be playing.

He got to call one contest between the Healdsburg Prune Packers and Lincoln Potters.

Prior to going to IU, he was the voice of the Prune Packers and called most of their California Collegiate League games — home and away. He approached the team about broadcasting their games and it became a reality.

“I got to go to the ballpark every single day,” says Epstein, a 2019 graduate of Petaluma High School. “It was an incredible experience. The Prune Packers are a great local organization. I connected with the players and parents.

“Summer collegiate baseball is a real special part of baseball. It’s sound beat of summer in this country.”

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Epstein has had a chance to listen to the play-by-play stylings of Jon Miller (Giants) and Ken Korach (Oakland Athletics) and counts them among his favorites. He also admires Al Michaels (“Sunday Night Football”).

“Broadcasting is really important,” says Epstein. “Baseball on the radio is the purest form of broadcasting. For 100 years in America it’s been a way to bring communities together.

“Great rapport and coverage of a team can make a difference in a community.”

Epstein knows that his audience is counting on him to inform and entertain.

“Preparation is very, very important,” says Epstein, who makes a point of talking with players, coaches and fans before a game to get insight that he can relay to his listeners or viewers. “Game (action) comes first. But you can go deeper into the game. You can tell about a player’s background and what is happening across the country.”

Epstein says the pace of baseball presents an opportunity to tell stories and engage those tuning into the broadcast.

As a high school student, Epstein competed in cross country and tennis. He also got to present many live sporting events on YouTube as part of his school’s TV station.

“I did almost every single high school sport imaginable,” says Epstein. “Parents, families and students would tune in. Not only did I really enjoy it, I found that it was something that can really impact people.”

Epstein was the sports editor for the school’s newspaper (The Trojan Tribune) and sports director for the TV station.

Once Epstein decided sports broadcasting was the career path for him, he chose Indiana University for the strong reputation of its media school.

“They have incredible resources and the students are really committed and involved,” says Epstein, who thrives in a system that has Galen Clavio as an Associate Professor and Director of the National Sports Journalism Center.

In Epstein’s first year at IU, he was a broadcaster for Big Ten Student U and WIUX. He also did anchoring, reporting and covering with The Hoosier Network and Indiana University Student Television. He was podcaster with The Hoosier Insider. He was also a beat writer for the Indiana Daily Student newspaper.

He was going to call IU home baseball games when those were called off because of the coronavirus.

“I’ve really tried to get involved with a variety of stuff,” says Epstein. “I want to go into play-by-play. That’s my dream.

“For my career and for my year I need to have as much experience in as many parts of sports media as possible.”

Epstein says that possessing multiple skill sets is key when it comes to get a sports media job like one in Minor League Baseball.

“If you’re able to do video editing, on-camera pre- and post-game hosting, social media, marketing and sales, it can really help you stand out when there are a lot of people applying,” says Epstein. “What makes you versatile and stand out from everybody else that wants that job?”

With no live collegiate sports in Bloomington, Ind., this fall, Epstein says he will likely get involved with broadcasting of high school football.

Griffin Epstein interned with the Collegiate Summer Baseball Network in 2020. He is from Petaluma, Calif., and attends Indiana University.
Griffin Epstein, of Petaluma, Calif., is a sophomore in the Indiana University Media School majoring in Sports Media with a specialization in Broadcast Journalism. He has been the play-by-play voice of the California Collegiate League’s Healdsburg Prune Packers and done an internship with the Collegiate Summer Baseball Network among his many experiences. (Big Ten Student U Photo)

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

Southpaw Samuelson keeps racking up K’s as Braves minor leaguer

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Samuelson has long had a knack for strikeouts.

Since he began pitching baseballs as a young boy living in LaPorte, Ind., and playing in the KVA youth league, the left-hander has been racking up K’s.

“I’ve missed bats my whole life,” says Samuelson, a 21-year-old who is now in the Atlanta Braves organization. “With my delivery, I hide the ball very well. It stays behind my body.”

Selected in the 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by Atlanta out of Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill., Samuelson made eight appearances (all in relief) with the Gulf Coast Braves last summer, going 1-1 with one save and a 6.39 earned run average. In 12 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked six in a season cut short by Hurricane Dorian. That’s a rate of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

The lefty played two seasons for National Junior College Athletic Association Division I powerhouse Wabash Valley, where Rob Fournier is head coach and Aaron Biddle the pitching coach/associate head coach.

In the spring of 2019, Samuelson was 1-0 with two saves and a 2.93. He got into 16 games (all in relief). In 15 1/3 innings, he fanned 29 and walked 13 for the 55-4 Warriors. That’s 16.6 K’s per nine innings.

As a freshman in 2018, Samuelson made 11 mound appearances (all in relief) and went 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA. He fanned 17 and walked seven in 9 1/3 innings as the WVC Warriors went 45-11-1. His K-per nine rate was 16.3.

Samuelson is a 2017 graduate of LaPorte High School. In his senior season with the Slicers he went 4-4 with one save and a 1.69 ERA. Playing for head coach Scott Upp and pitching coach Jeff DeMass, he whiffed 67 and walked 20 in 45 2/3 innings. That’s 10.2 strikeouts per seven innings.

“I had a lot of fun playing high school baseball for the Slicers,” says Samuelson. “Coach Upp (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) is perfect mix of intense and making sure you have fun.

“He’s a really good coach. He knows what he’s doing.”

Samuelson played two years on the junior varsity and two years on varsity. At the start, he resisted developing a compliment to his fastball and curveball.

“When I was younger I refused to throw a change-up,” says Samuelson. “Coach DeMass is the only reason I have any semblance of a change-up at all.”

To this day, Samuelson uses his “circle” change sparingly. His “out” pitch is his curve. 

“It got me on the radar of college coaches and pro scouts,” says Samuelson of his bender. “It’s more of a sweeper, moving 10-to-4 or 10-to-5. It’s been my bread-and-butter pitch since I’ve been a pitcher. 

“There are games I might have thrown it more than my fastball.”

A four-seam fastball with natural movement comes out of the hand of the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder.

“There are days when my fastball runs arm-side a lot,” says Samuelson. “I don’t know why.”

Samuelson never hit 90 mph on the radar gun his freshmen year at Wabash Valley. But after a year of daily long toss and plenty of weight lifting, he was hitting that mark consistently as a sophomore.

“Playing at Wabash was quite an experience,” says Samuelson. “They’re so focused on getting better and winning games. Everyday we did something. There were no days off. It was an absolute grind.”

Samuelson calls Fournier one of the most intense coaches he’s ever seen.

“He got upset if we didn’t play up to our potential,” says Samuelson. “We were so talented. I’d put us up against a lot of (NCAA) Division I college teams. A lot of players turned down the (MLB) Draft or went to very good Division I programs. The talent level just pushes you to be better.”

Samuelson credits Biddle for tweaking his mechanics, but also instilling confidence.

“He was a big mindset guy,” says Samuelson of Biddle. “It takes a lot of mental fortitude to be a good pitcher.”

Samuelson, who earned an Arts, Media & Science associate degree at Wabash Valley, was headed to Division I baseball after his junior college experience, but opted to go pro instead.

“It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” says Samuelson. “I was very close to going to North Carolina State. But I’ve always wanted to play professional baseball.”

Since being drafted, Major League Baseball has been talking about shrinking the minors and cut the draft from 40 to five rounds in 2020.

“Looking back, I’m very glad I did what I did,” says Samuelson.

The summer between his freshmen and sophomore collegiate seasons, the southpaw was with the Ohio Valley League’s Henderson (Ky.) Flash. Adam Hines was the head coach and Brandon Mattingly the pitching coach.

“(Mattingly) helped me a lot with straight mechanical stuff,” says Samuelson. “Like using my lower half and staying on-plane.”

After he spent a summer with the LaPorte Titans, Samuelson’s junior high and high school travel ball seasons were spent with the Scott Ellrich-coached Indiana Breakers.

“I credit him for a lot of the pitching I’ve learned,” says Samuelson, who still regularly converses with Ellrich.

Samuelson was at 2020 Braves spring training less than two weeks when it was shut down because of COVID-19 and he returned to LaPorte.

He had been working out since fall — lifting weights at the LaPorte County Family YMCA and throwing at at facility own by the Land family (LPHS Class of 2023’s Jackson Land was often his catcher).

He also worked as a substitute teacher at LaPorte Middle School.

During and after quarantine, Samuelson stayed in game shape. Recently, he found out there will be no Minor League Baseball season in 2020 and cut back on the intensity.

It was ferocity that helped Samuelson and his teammates to basketball success while playing for Tom Wells at LaPorte High.

“We were never the most athletic kids with the most skills,” says Samuelson. “Basketball was not our first sport. The other four starters were football players.

“(Wells) instill straight toughness. We played grittier and tougher than anybody else, that’s why we won a lot of games.”

Andy is the oldest of Greg and Becky Samuelson’s three children. Greg Samuelson is a seventh grade science teacher at LaPorte Middle School. Becky Samuelson is a sixth grade math teacher at Kesling Intermediate School). 

Emily Samuelson, who played softball at LPHS, just finished her freshman year at Purdue University where she is studying nursing. Tommy Samuelson was a LaPorte freshman in 2019-20, playing baseball and baseball.

“He’s already as tall as me,” says Andy of Tommy. “He has a chance to be better than I ever was.”

Andy Samuelson, a graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill., signs with the Atlanta Braves in 2019. He played with the Gulf Coast Braves in his first professional baseball season. The 2020 Minor League Baseball campaign was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.