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Plesac relishes living up to expectations with Bethel, Lake County CornDogs

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

Frank Plesac welcomes pressure.
The right-handed pitcher from Crown Point, Ind., enjoys facing hitters and the promise that comes with his famous baseball last name.
“There are definitely a lot of expectations,” says Frank of being the brother of a current big league hurler (Zach Plesac) and the nephew of one who spent 18 seasons in Major League Baseball (Dan Plesac).
“I’d rather have the expectations high with pressure on myself. It helps me perform better. I just try to live up to the name.”
Righty Zach Plesac is a starter for the Cleveland Guardians and made his MLB debut in 2019. He is 10 minutes older than twin Ron.
Lefty Dan Plesac won 65 games and saved 158 from 1986-2003 and is in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and is a regular on MLB Network.
Frank Plesac is coming off his second season at Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind., where he is 8-12 with a 4.28 earned run average, 129 strikeouts and 31 walks in 138 2/3 innings. In 2022, those marks were 6-5 with a 3.24 ERA, 83 strikeouts and 13 walks in 86 innings which led to an all-Crossroads League first team selection.
All but two of his outings fro Bethel have been in a starting role.
“I love to start,” says Plesac, 20. “I feel like it’s my game and I’m in-control.”
Seth Zartman is the Pilots head coach. Kiel Boynton guides the pitchers.
“He introduced the family aspect of the team, which I never really understood before that,” says Plesac of Zartman, who has been head coach at Bethel since the 2004 season. “I’m glad he gave me the opportunity to really experience that.
“(Coach Boynton and I) talk a lot about pitching. We pick each other’s brains. We try to learn from each other.”
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Plesac is pitching this summer for the wood bat Northern League’s Justin Huisman-managed Lake County CornDogs, which play at Legacy Fields in Plesac’s hometown of Crown Point.
His coach at Crown Point High School was IHSBCA Hall of Famer Steve Strayer.
“He’s a character and a great coach,” says Plesac of Strayer. “He always pushed us to be our best.
“He impacted the way I viewed baseball and the way I play baseball now.”
The youngest of union carpenter Ron and Registered Nurse Jeannie Plesac’s children, Frank played on the Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth fields in Crown Point then went into travel ball with Morris Baseball and the South Shore Bears. In the summer of 2021, he got reps with a local men’s team called the Raw Dogs.
Through his first seven mound appearances (six starts) with the CornDogs, the 2022 Northern League East All-Star is 1-0 with a 2.11 ERA. In 34 innings, he has 49 K’s and just three base on balls.
Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Plesac uses a Four-seam fastball (which topped out at 93 mph in the spring), curveball, slider and change-up.
What is his best swing-and-miss pitch?
“Definitely the curveball,” says Plesac. “It’s pretty sharp with a deep break. Sometimes I’ll try to get on top of it to get more of a 12-to-6 break. Sometimes I’ll leave the wrist a little open to get more of a slurve action.
“It’s a different pitch every time.”
Plesac, who has two years of eligibility remaining heading into 2022-23, is a Criminal Justice major. He sees it as a natural fit with one of his favorite non-baseball pursuits.
“I’m a big outdoors person,” says Plesac. “I love to hunt. I love to fish. Being a (Department of Natural Resources) conversation officer is everything I want and more.
“They say do what you love. That’s what I love doing.”
Plesac can see the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Plainfield in his future.
But first the diamond.
“I’m going to try to ride baseball as far as I can,” says Plesac. “Why not?”

Frank Plesac (Bethel University Photo)
Frank Plesac of the 2022 Northern League’s Lake County CornDogs (Steve Krah Photo)

McClendon would like another chance to manage, coach in the bigs

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

Lloyd McClendon first burst onto the baseball consciousness of America 50 years ago and he’s been involved in pro ball for four decades.
At 63, McClendon says he would like another shot as a manager or bench coach at the big league level.
“Hopefully an opportunity comes my way one more time,” says McClendon, who lives in Valparaiso, Ind. “I’m at a point in my career where I’ve paid my dues and earned the opportunity to do it again.
“I’m enjoying life.”
McClendon became known as “Legendary Lloyd” when he smacked five home runs in five swings at the 1971 Little League World Series. He played in Willamsport, Pa., on the first LLWS team comprised completely of black players.
“Over five or 10 years, I’ve really started to realize what a tremendous impact we had on this country,” says McClendon. “I’ve come to realize you did do something kind of special.”
Speaking to IndiandRBI on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 17, 2022), McClendon talked about the civil rights icon.
“Dr. King was not only a tremendous leader, motivator and speaker, but he lived his life in such a manor that it’s hard not to admire,” says McClendon, who was also a guest of MLB Network Monday. “The moment that we stop giving and caring for others is the moment we start to die.
“It just lets you know what your life should be all about.”
McClendon also recalls the famous quote by Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
McClendon grew up in Gary, Ind. — a town that has also produced big leaguers LaTroy Hawkins and Wallace Johnson — and played football, basketball and baseball at Roosevelt High School, graduating in 1977 and playing three seasons at Valparaiso University. His head coaches were Walt Taliaferro (football), Ron Heflin (basketball) and Benny Dorsey (Roosevelt baseball) and Emory Bauer (Valpo baseball).
“These guys were so influential in my life,” says McClendon. “It’s hard to imagine where I’d be with without them.”
From Taliaferro, McClendon learned about responsibility and being a teammate. A passion for competition was imparted by Heflin. Dorsey showed how to win and how to lose, humility, respect and compassion.
“(Bauer) took me over the top and taught me about being a professional and how to go about my business,” says McClendon, who hit .330 with 18 homers, 73 runs batted in and twice received all-conference honors for the Crusaders before being selected in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Mets. The righty-swinging catcher, outfielder and first baseman made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 1987. He hit a combined .244 with 35 homers and 154 RBIs for the Reds (1987-88), Chicago Cubs (1989-90) and Pittsburgh Pirates (1990-94).
McClendon, who is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Valparaiso University Athletics Hall of Fame and due to go into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame (May 13-14, 2022 in Evansville), was manager of the Pirates (2001-05) and Seattle Mariners (2014-15 and served as the interim manager for the Detroit Tigers (2020).
A Detroit player won the American League batting title in four of McClendon’s seven seasons as the team’s hitting coach — Magglio Ordonez (2007) and Miguel Cabrera (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015).
McClendon marvels at the .363 posted by Ordonez.
“This guy was just phenomenal,” says McClendon. “He did not have one infield hit. Running the bases was not his forte.’”
What did McClendon do to help Cabrera?
“I just made sure they had a cab to get the ball park,” says McClendon. “The coach is only as good as the talent he has not he field.
“I did try to instill was good work ethic and knowing how to grind things out.”
Cabrera became the majors’ first Triple Crown winner (leader in average, homers, RBIs) since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 when he hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs in 2012.
The next season, Miggy went .348/44/137 — and was nine homers and one RBI of shy of a second straight Triple Crown (Baltimore’s Chris Davis bashed 53 homers and knocked in 138).
As a hitter himself and a hitting coach, McClendon saw the worth in studying opposing pitchers.
“Do your homework,” says McClendon. “Knowledge is power. I was a grinder. I wanted to know my opponents and what they were going to do in big situations. I hit to all fields. If (the pitcher) made a mistake I hit it out of the ball park.
“Cabrera has a memory like an elephant. He would just keep it simple. He had that consistency and ability to grind it out. He wasn’t going to get much. He saw so few pitches (where he could do damage) per game and was tremendous.”
What McClendon enjoys most about managing in the leadership factor. That bug first bit him as a 9-year-old Little Leaguer.
“I enjoy working with young men and seeing talent come to life,” says McClendon, who also manager the Triple-A Toledo Mudhens in the Tigers system in 2016 and 2017. “Adrenaline flows at the head of the ship and moving through tough waters at times. It was a lot of fun.”
If McClendon got the call to manage again who would he call to be on his staff? He declines to name specific names.
“Baseball is so dynamic especially with analytics,” says McClendon. “You have to make sure you have the right people in place.”
In 2021, the San Francisco Giants won 107 regular-season games with an on-field coaching staff of 14 led by manager Gabe Kapler.
“It’s nice to have that many people and that type of budget,” says McClendon. “It’s hard to argue with success.
“They did something right.”
For the past decade, McClendon has been teaching hitting to youngsters — most age 12 to 18. He works at Triple Crown Valparaiso Baseball & Softball Training Center as does son Bo, who instructs the younger ages.
Bo McClendon, 34, played at Merrillville High School, where he set stolen base records, and Valparaiso U., as well as in the Tigers organization.
Married for 40 years to Ingrid (the couple met at Valpo U.), they also have a daughter — Schenell — living with her husband and their granddaughter — Bryn (2 1/2) — near Washington D.C.
Say McClendon of the little one, “She’s got Grandpa wrapped around her finger.”

Lloyd McClendon hit five home runs in five swings at the 1971 Little League World Series.
Lloyd McClendon went to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.
Lloyd McClendon went to Valparaiso (Ind.) University.
Lloyd McClendon (Detroit Tigers Photo)

Crown Point’s Plesac in Indians system making up for lost time

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Plesac’s true introduction to professional baseball was delayed.

The Crown Point native spent the spring and summer of 2017 making up for time lost.

Plesac, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher, was selected out of Ball State University in the 12th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Two months before that life-altering June event, he underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his pitching arm, ending his college mound days and making the rest of the year about rehabilitation rather than facing batters.

At Ball State, Plesac had been splitting his time between pitcher, outfielder and designated hitter as a junior.

Head coach Rich Maloney brought Plesac to Muncie.

“He believed in me,” says Plesac. “I thought I was going to play a position and maybe pitch a little.”

When Plesac set a school single-season record for victories while going 12-2 with a 2.11 earned run average, 67 strikeouts and 33 walks in 85 1/3 innings and 25 appearances (six starts) as a freshman in 2014, his mound profile increased.

In 2015, he went 5-5 with 3.27 ERA, 77 strikeouts and 38 walks in 107 1/3 innings and 16 appearances (all starts). Since he could swing the bat, he was also used as an outfielder, DH and first baseman.

The came his junior season in 2016.

Mostly from the No. 5 hole in the order, he hit .304 with 15 runs batted in. As the Cardinals’ Friday night starter, he pitched in 11 games (eight as a starter) and was 3-2 with a 4.25 ERA and a nine-inning shutout against Miami University of Ohio.

“The next morning, I could not throw a baseball,” says Plesac. “I knew something was wrong.”

His next start came against Central Michigan and Plesac was still not feeling normal. A check of his arm revealed a partial tear.

Now he was faced with the decision of getting the surgery right away or staying in the lineup as a hitter.

“As much as I wanted to play, I didn’t want to be hurt,” says Plesac. “I had to do what was best for my career.”

While he was working his way back post-surgery in Arizona, he began taking online classes. He kept it up all season and has earned a general studies major with three minors (communication, psychology of human development and sociology).

“Now I can go into 2018 season and  focus on playing ball with no nervousness (about school),” says Plesac, who is scheduled to walk in BSU winter commencement ceremonies Dec. 16.

Plesac finally walked up on a pro mound in game action in 2017 extended spring training action against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A witness to the event was Chris Fetter. He had been Ball State’s pitching coach and had become a pitching coordinator for the Dodgers.

“That’s my boy. He’s the man to me. He’s a mentor,” says Plesac of Fetter, who is now pitching coach at the University of Michigan. “He was there on the last pitch of my college career and first pitch of my professional career.”

Plesac was first assigned to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the short-season New York-Penn League. He went 0-1 with a 1.38 ERA for the Niles, Ohio-based club and made eight appearances (seven as a starter), starting with limitation of three innings.

After Mahoning Valley came a stint with six starts for the Low Class-A Midwest League with the Lake County Captains. He went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA for the team in Eastlake, Ohio. By season’s end, he was up to five innings or 60 pitches. He wound up the season with 50 strikeouts and 14 walks in 51 total innings.

“Finding the (strike) zone was a big key for me,” says Plesac. “That’s what I wanted to work on. If I can find the zone, it doesn’t matter how hard I’m throwing. I could be effective.”

Plesac used his fastball most in 2017, followed by his change-up (which became his most-effective pitch), slider and curve. He saw his velocity return and he was regularly hitting the gun at 91 to 94 mph with his fast one.

“I had so much confidence,” says Plesac. “I felt ready. I didn’t feel like I was a year behind.

“I’m coming out max effort. You have to be smart with how you pitch. Max effort doesn’t mean you lose control. I’m so comfortable. I’m just trusting in God.”

The righty is happy to say he goes into 2018 with no innings restrictions.

“I’ve put in the work,” says Plesac. “I’ve got good routine to help me keep moving forward.

“Daily, I’m growing and becoming wiser about the game.”

Plesac views his time since starting in pro ball as a period of personal growth.

In college, he was on a schedule based on practices and what the coaches dictated. As a pro, he has been able to take the reigns of his schedule.

“It’s really fun,” says Plesac. “The people I’ve met have changed my life.”

He is pleased to be going through the journey with the Indians.

“I fell into best organization,” says Plesac. “They know how to treat people. This (delayed start) has been a blessing — to be honest.”

Plesac is in the same organization with Elkhart Central High School graduate and left-handed hurler Tanner Tully. The two were roommates for the 2013 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and both play in the Area Code Games.

Since the 2017 season wrapped, Plesac has been able to spend time in Los Angeles where girlfriend and former BSU diver Quinn Bixler is in graduate school at Loyola Marymount University and working out with Jordan Smolar at NWI Performance in Crown Point.

A a Crown Point High School athlete, Plesac earned three letters in baseball and helped the Steve Strayer-coached Bulldogs to a 27-4 record in his senior season of 2013 and to sectional and regional titles in 2011. He also claimed two letters each in football and basketball.

Strayer made an impact on Plesac then and still does.

“He groomed me into who I am as a baseball player and a man,” says Plesac. “I can remember when I was freshman practicing with the other kids. I was at third base. I made a bad throw to first and I said, ‘it slipped.’ He told me, ‘don’t make excuses ever.’

“Now I don’t make excuses for anything happens. You can’t get caught up in that. I’ve been able to go to Coach Strayer for all types of things. He’s been a good person in my life. He’s always helped me out.”

Plesac who turns 23 Jan. 21, is also taking the time to catch up with family.

Ron and Jeannie Plesac have three children — twins Zach and Ronnie (Zach is 10 minutes older) and Frankie (15).

Ronnie Plesac pitched at Parkland College in Illinois and State College of Florida. Frankie Plesac is a Crown Point sophomore ballplayer.

Uncle Dan Plesac pitched 18 years in the majors and is now an on-air regular with MLB Network.

“He’s there for me whenever I need him,” says Zach of man who in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and won 65 games and saved 158 for the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies.

The pitcher plans to attend a strength camp in January before heading back to Arizona for spring training.

“I’ve caught myself up ability-wise,” says Plesac. “I’m ready to rock.”

ZACHPLEASCINDIANS17

Zach Plesac, a 2013 Crown Point High School graduate, made his pro baseball debut in 2017 with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The right-handed pitcher was drafted in 2016 by the Cleveland Indians and spent the season rehabbing from Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He pitched three seasons at Ball State University (2014-16). (Mahoning Valley Scrappers Photo)