Tag Archives: Mount Pleasant

Chicago-born lefty Djuraskovic takes circuitous baseball route

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

Cal Djuraskovic has had short daily commutes.
And one very long one.
Born in Chicago and raised on the city’s southeast side, Cal attended nearby Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, Ind. — the alma mater of his mother.
Before he could drive, Cal got to school by boarding the South Shore Line at the Hegewisch station. The train trip took a little over 30 minutes each way.
A few years later, Djuraskovic (pronounced Jur-Oss-Coe-Vich) found himself studying and playing baseball at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Not wishing to sign a long-term lease during the uncertainty of COVID-19 pandemic, Cal drove back and forth to school everyday. That’s a roundtrip of about 330 miles or five hours of windshield time.
“I did not want to get stuck,” says Djuraskovic. “I gave pitching lessons after practice to make up the money for gas.”
And that’s when gas could be had for about $2 a gallon.
A left-handed pitcher, Djuraskovic took a circuitous route to Davenport and wound up close to home as a professional ballplayer.
After a stint with the independent American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, he finished the 2021 season with the Windy City ThunderBolts and is back with that indy Frontier League club in the Chicago suburb of Crestwood, Ill., in 2022.
“My whole life I wanted to be a pro ball player,” says Djuraskovic, 26. “By college I knew I can make it happen.”
Cal played outfield and had a little mound time at Bishop Noll before to his senior season, but it was that spring of 2014 that he blossomed as a pitcher. He threw a perfect game, a no-hitter and was named first-team all-Greater South Shore Conference.
His head coach for his first three seasons with the BNI Warriors was Paul Wirtz.
“He didn’t mess around,” says Djuraskovic of Wirtz. “It was a good thing. If you want to get better you have to take this game seriously.
“If you want to be a Warrior, you’ve got to act like one.”
He played travel ball with the Michigan Jets and competed against teams like Michigan Jets like the Indiana Bulls and Top Tier.
The southpaw of Serbian descent’s first college experience was at NCAA Division II Tiffin (Ohio) University. Deciding that wasn’t the right fit for him, he transferred to D-I Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Going from the D-II to a D-I, he was required to sit out a season as a “grayshirt” for 2016 and retained all his eligibility.
It was at CMU while building strength in the weight room that he broke knee cartilage that led to micro-fracture surgery. Then his scholarship was cut.
Cal landed on his feet with the D-II DU Panthers.
“By the grace of God I had Davenport,” says Djuraskovic, who played four years for head coach Kevin Tidey (Eric Lawrence was the pitching coach at the end of his DU days) and earned his degree in Sport Management with a minor in Business.
Used primarily out of the bullpen, Cal went 6-4 with a 4.04 earned run average at Davenport. It was in 2021 that he enjoyed his best season. He made 25 mound appearances and produced a 2.62 ERA with eight saves. In 44 2/3 innings, he struck out 61 and walked 16 and was named first-team all-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
He spent three summers in the Northwoods League — two stints in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., and one in Traverse City, Mich.
Along the way, Cal picked up a pitching mentor. It was during his time in the National Team Identification Series at USA Baseball headquarters in Cary, N.C., that he met Jim Hall.
Djuraskovic later went to his Hall’s house in Lockport, Ill., and he still occasionally gets pointers from him. Hall stays in-touch with Cal’s family.
“This man has definitely changed my life for the better,” says Djuraskovic of Hall, who is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association and Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame.
Cal’s mother is Allison Saberniak. Her father is Albert Saberniak, who turned Cal into a South Side baseball rooter.
“I’m a diehard White Sox fan,” says Djuraskovic. “I get that from my grandfather. We went to a couple of playoff games in ’05 (the year the White Sox won the World Series). We watch Cubs games to see them lose.
“But don’t get me wrong. If the Cubs gave me a contract I’d sign it in a heartbeat.”
Cal pitched in three games with Gary (one as a starter) and five with Windy City (all in relief) in 2021, going a combined 0-2 with two saves, a 1.59 ERA, 11 strikeouts and eight walks in 11 1/3 innings.
As a middle to late reliever for the ’22 ThunderBolts, Djuraskovic has no decisions and a 1.80 ERA in five games. He has eight strikeouts and three walks in five innings.
At 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds — he has trimmed down from 240 — Djuraskovic uses a three-quarter arm slot to deliver a four-seam fastball, slider, splitter and two-seam fastball.
His four-seamer has been clocked at 97 mph and sits at 92 to 94 mph.
Cal’s slider breaks “a little late and sharp.”
In his second full season of throwing it consistently, Djuraskovic learned his splitter from teammates and began doing as former splitter-throwing White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras by using a softball to stretch out the distance between his index and middle fingers.
“It has a mind of its own,” says Djuraskovic of the pitch that serves as a change-up. “Sometimes it gets a little knuckeballish. Sometimes it dives. The best I can do is try to spot it up.”
Lefty Cal’s two-seamer runs in on left-handed hitters.
Windy City, which is managed by Brian Smith, plays at Ozinga Field.
Djuraskovic has also enjoyed some Frontier League trips. He especially liked visits to the Florence (Ky.) Y’alls and Evansville (Ind.) Otters.
“I like the (Florence) area and they have a really nice ballpark,” says Djuraskovic. (Evansville’s Bosse Field) is so historic. You can feel the presence of greatness.”

Cal Djuraskovic (Windy City ThunderBolts Photo)
Cal Djuraskovic (Davenport University Photo)
Cal Djuraskovic (Windy City ThunderBolts Photo)

Cal Djuraskovic (left) embraces with catcher Manny Garcia after Djuraskovic “shut the door” June 15 to close out the game for the victorious Windy City ThunderBolts. (Windy City ThunderBolts Photo)

Wabash College class gives freshmen look into sports analytics

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

As an introduction to liberal arts, freshmen students at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., take tutorial classes.
Eric Dunaway, a BKT Assistant Professor of Economics in his fourth year at the all-male school, has chosen to teach For The Outcome of The Game — a class that class meets 9:45 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and focuses on sports analytics.
So far the class of 14 has dug into the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” and went on a field trip to a Cincinnati Reds doubleheader where they enjoyed give-and-take with Lead Data Scientist Michael Schatz.
“It’s something I’m interested in,” says Dunaway of sports analytics. “We’re learning it together.
“I’m thinking about re-tooling it into a sports economics class in the future. I can absolutely teach it again.”
Dunaway is a native of Spokane, Wash., and a lifelong Seattle Mariners rooter.
“I have a strong background in statistics,” says Dunaway. “Sports analytics is new to me.”
“Moneyball” — written by Michael Lewis and published in 2004 — was assigned summer reading for the fall semester elective class. The book tells about how the Oakland Athletics and Billy Beane (who is now Vice President of Baseball Operations) used analytics to their advantage.
“It’s changed how (Major League Baseball) is played — for better and worse,” says Dunaway.
Is it better or worse?
“I try to avoid making the conclusions for the students,” says Dunaway. “We are changing the way we look at what stats matter.
“There is no guarantee that making the sport more efficient will make it more fun.”
The Sept. 1 St. Louis Cardinals at Reds outing was Wabash College’s first excursion since March 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping the school from those activities for 1 1/2 years.
“We’re getting back to one of the things Wabash is really good at,” says Dunaway. “We do a lot of great learning in the field.”
Professor of Rhetoric Dr. Todd McDorman, who went with Dunaway and company to Cincinnati, has taken Wabash students to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N,Y. The Society for American Baseball Research member hopes to do so again.
Dunaway, who also advises students, says he received a perspective from Schatz into what classes they should take if interested in sports analytics.
“Statistics and computer science are the two big subjects,” says Dunaway. “Those are the things you have to enjoy to enjoy doing sports analytics.”
Another text for the class is “Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won,” written by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim in 2012. Moscowitz, a native of Lafayette, Ind., with bachelor and masters degrees from Purdue University, is a Professor of Finance at Yale University. Wertheim is an accomplished sports journalist.
Evan Neukam, Justin Santiago and Jacob White are students in Dunaway’s class. They all shared their takes on sports analytics and baseball.
Neukam, a Carmel (Ind.) High School graduate who is on the Wabash baseball team, had seen the “Moneyball” movie (2011) starring Brad Pitt several times but had not read the book.
“The biggest difference (between the movie and the book) is that the book goes more into detail on how analytics work than the story of Billy Beane and the Athletics.”
Schacht worked with Beane in Oakland.
“It was really interesting how (Schatz) got into his position,” says Neukam. “He didn’t use his college major (Economics). He learned on the job. He learned all coding for statistics on his own.”
Neukam, a Cardinals fan, is finding out about sabermetrics, its terms and how they work.
“I’m not sure what WAR (Wins Above Replacement is,” says Neukam. “But I know that’s pretty important.
“The average Exit Velo (off a hitter’s bat) is more important than batting average.”
Santiago, who grew up a Milwaukee Brewers fan in Mount Pleasant, Wis., and graduated from Westfield (Ind.) High School, enjoys combining his interest in sports and numbers.
“Learning about the field of sports analytics in general has been great for me,” says Santiago. “I knew a decent amount about it. The next few weeks we’re going dive a lot deeper.”
Santiago says tutorial classes help students become more well-rounded so they can write, debate and discuss a subject.
Looking at MLB trends, Santiago says he has been “frustrated with high number of strikeouts and really low batting averages.”
He has been pleased to see the Brewers — which have clinched a 2021 playoff berth — increase batting a average and on-baseball percentage.
“Put the ball in play and you have a chance,” says Santiago. “WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is important for pitchers.”
During the Cincinnati trip, students were able to ask many questions of Schatz.
“I asked about when to move off of a player — when to trade or release them,” says Santiago. “As organization there is balance between knowing talent and this is the major leagues and you can’t give a player an infinite amount of chances. You have to win.”
Santiago learned how Schatz dug into data for right-handed pitcher Dan Straily.
“(Schatz) thought he could be more successful than his numbers showed and can develop into a better pitcher,” says Santiago. “He played well as a Red and traded him to Marlins for (right-hander) Luis Castillo (who has 40 games for Cincinnati since 2017).”
Santiago’s take on “Moneyball”?
“(Billy Beane) did not pan out as a player,” says Santiago. “Scouts valued him because of his physical stature and appearance. They over-valued the physical tools but did not look into the numbers and his flaws.
“That — in a sense — led him to analytics. It’s not all about looking at a player’s tools. You have to focus on the results and what the numbers really say about the player.”
White, a Peoria, Ill., native who pulls for the Cardinals, has his opinions.
“I’ve always been on the analysis side,” says White. “I get the argument where the aesthetics are hurt (by analytics). Basketball is all about 3-pointers and baseball’s Three True Outcomes (home run, walk or strikeout).
“It’s a product of ‘Moneyball’ and the whole analytics approach. Home runs are more interesting. There are less less stolen bases and bunts. There’s something exciting about a stolen base. It’s lost with the analytics.
“If I’m paying money to see my Cardinals I want to see a win, I don’t care how they get it.”
Dunaway’s class is giving former Peoria Chiefs foul ball hawker White and his fellow freshmen “a baseline understanding of how sport’s stats work.”
Also a Chicago Bears fan, White is involved on 22 fantasy football leagues.
“It’s a crude science,” says White of fantasy sports. “I use my best educated guess (to fill out weekly lineups).”

Wabsash College freshmen went to see the Cincinnati Reds and learn about sports analytics Sept. 1, 2021.
Cincinnati Reds Lead Data Scientist Michael Schatz meets with Wabash College students Sept. 1.
Eric Dunaway, BKT Assistant Professor of Economics at Wabash College, took members of his tutorial class on sports analytics to see the Cincinnati Reds and hear from Lead Data Scientist Michael Schatz.