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South Bend Cubs anxious for start of 2018 baseball season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Weather permitting, the South Bend Cubs are set to roll out their 2018 edition tonight (April 5) with the first of two days at West Michigan and then comes the home opener at Four Winds Field Saturday. First pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m.

Jimmy Gonzalez is back for his fourth season as manager.

At the Low Class-A level, Gonzalez is helping young players adjust to professional baseball life while also developing so they can move up the chain.

It’s something the Hartford, Conn., native did in South Bend with Ian Happ (now in the starting lineup for the Chicago Cubs), Gleyber Torres (now on the New York Yankees 40-man roster) and Eloy Jimenez (now on the Chicago White Sox 40-man roster). Happ and Torres played for Gonzalez in South Bend in 2015 and Jimenez in 2016.

Every player is encouraged to be an individual. It’s not a cookie-cutter system.

“We have a set of rules that we abide by, but they have to be themselves,” says Gonzalez. “We can’t say act this way or that way. We’re teaching them and letting them make adjustments.

“It’s a big learning curve for these guys with weather, the full season and all that stuff.”

Many players were on college campuses last spring. After the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, they played for the short-season Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds.

“They had all these things they were worried about before,” says Gonzalez. “Now it’s just baseball. This is their job now. You have to create a routine that works for them.”

Erich Uelmen gets to focus on his training, rest and recovery

“You get to put all of your time into baseball, which is a kids’ game,” says Uhelmen, a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher from Las Vegas. He was selected by the Cubs in the fourth round of the 2017 draft out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

“I loved college baseball,” says Uelmen. “The transition to pro baseball has been fun, too.”

Uelmen was a starter with the Mustangs then was asked to pitch out of the bullpen for the Emeralds.

“Out of the bullpen, it’s hard to get all of your pitches established,” says Uelmen, who used mostly his sinker and slider in Eugene but does have a change-up and four-seam fastball in his pitching bag of tricks. “As a starter, we’ll see the same hitters more and more throughout the season and they’ll have more at-bats against you during the game. You need to keep them off-balance (and change eye levels).”

Uelmen goes to back to starting in South Bend.

“I like to start because throughout the week you can do your workouts,” says Uelmen. “I have a nice routine I can fall back on.”

Brendon Little, a left-hander and 2017 first-round selection out of State College of Florida after a season at the University of North Carolina, got his first taste of pro ball at Eugene.

“Everybody says it’s a grind and it definitely is,” says Little, 21. “It was a great education. It was a lot to take in for one year, but it was definitely a great experience.”

Little, who hails from Malvern, Pa., outside of Philadelphia (he was at the Super Bowl celebration parade for the Eagles and has friends at Villanova, home of the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball champions), has goals this season as a South Bend starter.

“Commanding the baseball and having the change-up as more of a weapon,” says Little, who is considered the top left-handed pitching prospect in the Cubs system by MLB.com and MinorLeagueBall.com. “In the past, my curveball has always been my go-to.”

Besides a “spike” curve and change-up, Little throws a four-seam fastball that he has gotten up in the upper 90’s.

At 25, catcher Tyler Payne is the oldest players on the South Bend opening day roster. Drafted in 2015, he enters his fourth pro season.

The Hurricane, W.Va., native is looking to be a good teammate not only to Cubs pitchers — like 19-year-old Mexican right-hander Jose Albertos — but everyone including 20-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Rafael Narea.

“If they ever need anything, I’m here for them,” says Payne. “I want to win a championship. That’s what it’s all about.”

“For me, I’ve just got to come and bring my game everyday.

Payne will do his part in the development and competitiveness of the pitching staff.

“You’ve got to have a set plan everyday. Go over the scouting reports and trust what our guys have. That’s a big thing for us.”

Brian Glowicki, a 23-year-old right-hander who was used as a reliever in four seasons at the University of Minnesota and last summer in Eugene, is ready to contribute in any way he can for South Bend.

“I bring a lot of energy and I’m very competitive,” says Glowicki, who is from Downers Grove, Ill., but grew up a Boston Red Sox fan because of father Tom and counts former Bosox and current left-hander Jon Lester as his favorite pitcher. “We’ve got a lot of personalities on the team. We like to have fun. But we know how to take care of business once we get on the field.”

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Jimmy Gonzalez is in his fourth season as South Bend Cubs manager in 2018. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

ERICHUELMEN

Erich Uhelmen

BRENDONLITTLE

Brendon Little

TYLERPAYNE

Tyler Payne

BRIANGLOWICKI

Brian Glowicki

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Ian Happ was with South Bend Cubs in 2015.

GLEYBERTORRESSBCUBS

Gleyber Torres was with South Bend Cubs in 2015.

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Eloy Jimenez was with South Bend Cubs in 2016.

 

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Segal’s baseball path lands him with Otters, Brittton’s Bullpen in southern Indiana

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The baseball journey of Bobby Segal has taken the Indianapolis native all over the Midwest and beyond and he has gained something at each stop.

The hitting coach for the Evansville Otters of the independent professional Frontier League and an instructor at Britton’s Bullpen in Boonville, Ind., credits father Elliott Segal and grandfather Al Segal for his “love of the game.”

“My dad and grandpa instilled it in me at a young age,” says Bobby, who started out at Westlane Trails Little League and played on an Indiana state Babe Ruth championship team at age 13 before playing travel baseball for the Chris Estep-coached Indiana Mustangs. “They were never overbearing about it. I got constructive criticism at a young age.”

Bobby’s grandfather had played at Indiana University and his father played at Broad Ripple High School, where he later coached, taught and served as assistant athletic director.

Elliott Segal, husband to Carol, is a long-time scoreboard operator for the Indiana Pacers and Bobby spent his childhood at Market Square Arena (since replaced by Bankers Life Fieldhouse).

Bobby played baseball at North Central High School in Indianapolis for coach Rick Shadiow and served his last three prep years (2000, 2001 and 2002) as batboy and then two years on the grounds crew for the Indianapolis Indians.

“I enjoyed the relationship of running the balls to the umpires and going to their locker room before the game,” says Segal of his batboy duties. “I did whatever I could to make their jobs easier. I enjoyed being around the game and getting to know some of the players. I got see those guys move up (to the big leagues).

“I can’t think of a better job for a high school kid.”

He also took pride in taking care of Victory Field.

“That’s a big league playing surface — no doubt about it,” says Segal. “That’s why a lot of people enjoy playing there.”

Segal was a walk-on catcher at Indiana University, playing three seasons for Bob Morgan and one for Tracy Smith.

Many lessons were learned at IU.

“I learned about punctuality, how to present yourself and being unified as a team,” says Segal. “The game speeds up at each level.”

He recalls vividly a defensive drill run by Morgan that employed two fungo bats and had three baseballs in motion at one time

“If you weren’t paying attention, you were bound to get a ball whizzing past your head,” says Segal. “His practices very regimented. (Morgan) is one of the most passionate guys I’ve been around. He loves the game so much. He wanted his players to be disciplined.

“I have a lot of respect for him. He gave me a chance to play college baseball.”

Right out of IU, where he received a bachelor’s degree in sports marketing/management, he joined the Cincinnati Reds organization in baseball operations, spending time at spring training as well as the minors and in Cincinnati.

Segal then became a graduate assistant coach at Union (Ky.) College, where he worked for Bulldogs head coach Bart Osborne.

In Osborne, he found a kindred spirit and mentor.

“Bart and I very similar,” says Segal. “He is a planner. Whether there was a practice or a game, I’ve never been around anybody who was more competitive than he was.

“I learned a lot of great things from him on the baseball side and the planning side.

“Bart has a great baseball mind.”

After two springs at Union, Segal served one season each as a volunteer assistant to Steve Farley at Butler University in Indianapolis, assistant to Marc Rardin at Iowa Western Community College and assistant to Bryan Conger at Tarleton State University in Texas.

The Reivers of Iowa Western won National Junior College Athletic Association Division I World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and qualifying during Segal’s season in Council Bluffs (2011).

Segal was also recruiting director at Tarleton State and left the Texans for a four-season stint as hitting and catching coach/recruiting director to Rob Fournier at Wabash Valley College in Illinois.

During the summers, Segal got more diamond know-how as hitting coach and interim manager for the North Adams (Mass.) SteepleCats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League in 2010, hitting coach for the Brian Dorsett-managed Terre Haute Rex of the summer collegiate Prospect League in 2012, third base/hitting coach for the Greg Tagert-managed Gary SouthShore RailCats of the independent professional American Association in 2013 then returned for two seasons as manager of the Terre Haute Rex.

Gary won the AA championship when Segal was on the staff.

“It was a veteran clubhouse,” says Segal. “I was around guys with Double-A and Triple-A time. We had chemistry and experience for the entire summer. It is one of the best experiences I ever had.”

The 2015 Rex won a frachise-record 43 games and the Prospect League title.

“A lot of guys that bought into what we were trying to do,” says Segal. “I was trying to give them a pro experience at the collegiate level.

“They got a taste of it and a lot of team chemistry. We completed the mission at the end of 2015.”

Hired by manager Andy McCauley, Segal spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons with Evansville and will be back with the Otters in 2018.

Meanwhile, Segal is teaching the game to younger players. He enjoys working with both amateurs and pros.

“I love to see the light bulbs turn on for the young kids,” says Segal. “I encourage them to do a more athletic movement and then we see the ball jump off their bat or go in their mitt and get a good exchange.”

Looking to give a well-rounded experience, he spends the first half of a lesson on things like base running and defense and the second half on hitting.

“We’re doing all facets of the game in one trip to Britton’s Bullpen,” says Segal.

At the pro level, it’s about batting cage work and developing daily routines.

“I love the uniqueness of the routines and the camaraderie I can build with the professional guys,” says Segal. “It’s all about competing when the lights come on (at game time).”

In his one-hour sessions with younger players, he helps them make small adjustments and keeps the mood light.

He avoids the major overhaul with his pro hitters.

“I see them a little over four months of the year,” says Segal. “Most of them have hitting coaches back home or wherever they’re at. I’m preaching routines and game-time approach

“I’m trying to give them as much information from a mental approach side of things.”

Matt Segal, Bobby’s older brother, is a former media relations worker for the Indianapolis Indians and sports information director at Morehead State University. He was with the National Football League’s Rams before they moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles and is now digital content manager for the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

Matt’s wife, Jenifer Langosch, covers the St. Louis Cardinals for MLB.com.

Bobby and Rachel (Harvey) Segal reside in Fort Branch with their two children — son Asher (2 1/2) and daughter Lillian (almost 6 months).

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Bobby Segal, an Indianapolis native, is entering his third season as hitting coach of the Evansville Otters in 2018. He is also an instructor at Britton’s Bullpen in Boonville, Ind. (Evansville Otters Photo)

 

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

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

She teaches English classes and so much more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She understands that culture is an all-encompassing concept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s also “not their first rodeo.”

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

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

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

Of course, it all comes down to the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all about communication and making a connection.

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