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Hall of Famer Riggleman provides pitching guidance, mentoring as Grand Valley State assistant

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sam Riggleman spent four decades leading young men on and off the baseball field.

As a head coach at six different institutions — John Wesley (Mich.), Mt. Vernon Nazarene (Ohio), Southern Illinois, Bethel College (Ind.), Dallas Baptist and Spring Arbor (Mich.) — he went 1,023-661-2 with four trips to the NAIA World Series (two each with Dallas Baptist and alma mater Spring Arbor) and two NAIA National Coach of the Year selections.

Riggleman has been inducted into halls of fame by the American Baseball Coaches Association, NAIA, National Christian College Athletic Association, Bethel and Spring Arbor and has received ABCA’s Ethics in Coaching Award.

He retired following the 2016 season.

Then Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., came calling.

It was a week before the start of the 2019 season and the Lakers suddenly had a need for a pitching coach.

GVSU graduate assistant Jon Newman played for Riggleman at Spring Arbor. Grand Valley head coach Jamie Detillion contacted the veteran skipper about his interest.

“He was looking for someone with some experience and provide a different perspective,” says Riggleman, who accepted the invitation and went about assessing the pitching staff while relishing the idea of creating a competitive culture and mentoring young coaches (Detillion, Newman and Cody Grice).

Riggleman made it clear he did not want to step back into the world of recruiting or administrative details, but he had plenty to offer.

“Teaching and watching guys get better still lights a fire,” says Riggleman. “It gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction.”

Two years prior to Riggleman’s arrival at GVSU, the Lakers had been focused on velocity enhancement programs.

“The ability to command the strike zone was really, really in jeopardy,” says Riggleman. “We walked away from all those (velocity-building) things.”

Pitchers were asked to — do just that — pitch.

“How do you set people up and put them away?,” says Riggelman, who is back for the 2020 season. “How do you force contact on your terms?”

Riggleman has been refining mechanics and mechanical efficiency and getting his hurlers to attack hitters, putting them in defensive (ball-strike) counts.

GVSU pitchers are asked to command two-seam fastballs in order to create late movement while also developing an effective change-up.

“Guys are spending plenty of time working on breaking balls,” says Riggleman.

Grand Valley is an NCAA Division II school and a member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“There’s so much quality in players across the board at the Division II level,” says Riggleman. “There are no breaks here. Every single day is going to be a battle.

“How you go about preparing teams becomes the critical issue.”

At his previous stops, Riggleman prepared his players like they were going to compete at the highest level.

“We made practices competitive and demanding,” says Riggleman. “We forced failure on them and made them make adjustments because that it what’s going to happen in the game.

“We have to find a way to replicate. That’s what I’m trying to do at Grand Valley.”

It was early in his career that Riggleman figured out the kind of coach he wanted to be.

“Coaching is an opportunity to help kids develop in their personal, spiritual and emotional lives and athletically,” says Riggleman. “So many life lessons can be pulled out of this game. I’ve tried to take advantage of that.”

As a college coach, Riggleman knows that parents are turning over their sons to guide them in the right way and he does not take that responsibility lightly.

“I had an obligation to do that,” says Riggleman. “Kids are a lot more important than I am.”

When Riggleman was at Mount Vernon Nazarene and in his formative years developing his coaching philosophy, Bob Starcher was head coach at Malone College in Canton, Ohio.

“He took me under his wing,” says Riggleman of Starcher whom he met in the fall of 1979. “I saw guy who put incredibly competitive teams on the field and truly loved his guys. It was a model I gravitated toward.

“You don’t stay in coaches for 40-plus years and enjoy doing it, if you’re doing it exclusively to win games. I never lost sight of what I was doing and why I was doing it — developing young men.

“You’ve got to demand a great deal, but you’ve got to love them at the same time.”

Riggleman learned how to get players to exhibit quiet toughness and be very competitive yet humble. His successor at Mount Vernon, Keith Veale, went into the NAIA Hall of Fame Jan. 3 in Nashville and Sam and wife Kathy were there for the induction.

Besides Starcher, Riggleman counts Hank Burbridge and Richard “Itch” Jones among his mentors.

Riggleman played for ABCA Hall of Famer Burbridge, who won 1,003 games and retired as Spring Arbor head coach after the 2004 season, then coached alongside him before taking over the Cougars program.

“He had such an instrumental impact on me,” says Riggleman of Burbridge.

The two roomed together at the ABCA convention and shared many ideas about baseball and life.

In 2000, Burbridge was head coach for a team of all-stars that went to the Czech Republic and Riggleman was brought along as pitching coach. The following year, Riggleman was head coach on the tour.

Jones preceded Riggleman at SIU.

“His style was really different and unique,” says Riggleman of the former Salukis and University of Illinois boss. “He was and tremendous game coach. Very intuitive.”

Riggleman spent five seasons (1995-99) in Mishawaka, Ind., at Bethel College (now Bethel University).

“We had a great run there,” says Riggleman, who went 176-88 with two Crossroads League championships (1997 and 1998) and a league tournament title (1998) and led Bethel to three NCCAA national runner-up finishes. “A lot of fun and some really good teams there.”

He often got a chance to right son Jeremie’s name into the lineup at shortstop.

“My single greatest highlight of my coaching career was to coach Jeremie at that time,” says Riggleman, who is the grandfather of four. Jeremie Riggleman is now an assistant professor of art at Taylor University. Sam and Kathy’s daughter, Sarah, is married and lives in Granger, Ind.

SAMRIGGLEMANGRANDVALLEYSTATE

Sam Riggleman enters his second season as baseball pitching coach at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., in 2020. He was a head coach for 40 years, including five at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., and won over 1,000 games. (Grand Valley State University Photo)

 

Sutkowski, Hammond/Morris Chiefs marking three decades of baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A celebration is being planned by the Hammond/Morris Chiefs.

The northwest Indiana-based baseball baseball organization is celebrating its 30th season in 2020.

Founder/coach Dave Sutkowski wants all former players to come to a get-together this some summer (time and place to be determined).

When Sutkowski fielded his first Hammond Chiefs team in 1991.

“At that time there was no travel ball,” says Sutkowski. “There was a lot of baseball for kids until 15 in their local leagues and organizations.

“When they would hit 16, the only thing out there for them was (American Legion) ball. Most Legion teams were affiliated with a high school. Some high schools had no affiliations with Legion teams. We wanted to extend the playing time for kids in the summer once they turned 16.”

Sutkowski coached players at ages 14 and 15 in Babe Ruth League that was a basis for the first 16U Hammond Chiefs team.

The next few years, there were 16U and 17U/18U squads.

The Chiefs won a Senior Babe Ruth World Series championship in 2003.

Five years ago, the Hammond Chiefs merged with Morris Baseball. The Morris Chiefs now field teams from 10U to 17U.

High school age kids play a summer and fall season.

“We’re always teaching,” says Sutkowski. “We are in it to teach the game of baseball and help kids with their skills no matter how young or how old.”

There is year-round training opportunities at Morris Baseball based in the Franciscan Health Fitness Center in Schererville, Ind.

As players become older, exposure for college becomes part of the equation and contacts are made with those coaches.

“When we started, college coaches were always at high school games,” said Sutkowski. “College coaches rarely come to high school games (these days) because of the nature of the season.

“Come summertime, they’re all over the place. We try to go to venues where these kids going to have an opportunity to be seen and recruited.”

The Chiefs have regularly traveled to Perfect Game tournaments near Atlanta and to Prep Baseball Report events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

There were more than 400 teams in the 17U division in 2019 at a Perfect Game tournament.

“Not all kids are (NCAA) D-I players and some kids understand that sooner than others. We as coaches have to put a kid in a position where we think he might have the most success.

“We tell kids that there’s nothing wrong with going to play baseball at a Division II, Division III or NAIA school. In Indiana, there are a lot of good programs that are not Division I. We have to find venues that meet the needs of those kids, too.”

Many events are played on college campuses. Sutkowski notes that the Cincy Flames host an event with games played at schools of various levels.

“Someone from that program is out there running event on their field,” says Sutkowski. “That helps out when you’re able to do that.”

The Chiefs have two alums currently in Major League Baseball — Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics) and Mike Brosseau (Tampa Bay Rays).

Manaea and Brosseau both spoke at a Chiefs banquet during the recent holiday break held at Bridges’ Scoreboard Restaurant & Sports Bar in Griffith.

At 14, Manaea’s parents brought him from Wanatah to play in a fall league in Hammond and he was with the Chiefs through high school.

Sutkowski is an American Baseball Coaches Association member and has attended more than 20 national conventions, including the one that just wrapped in Nashville.

“The first year I went I fell in love with it. We’ve just made it a point to come every year.

“The speakers are outstanding.”

Pro, college, high school, youth and travel ball coaches are all represented in formal meetings and clinic sessions.

There are also several informal discussions throughout the hallways of the convention.

“They’re all talking baseball,” says Sutkowski. “A lot of times you’ll learn just as much in those little sidebar sessions as you will listening to the speakers.”

The 2020 ABCA drew more than 7,100 coaches to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The 2021 convention is Jan. 7-10 at Gaylord National in Washington, D.C.

The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, which will hold its annual State Clinic Jan. 16-18 at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis, is also a regular stop for Sutkowski.

After playing at Hammond Edison Little League, Sutkowski graduated from Hammond Gavit High School in 1978. He is in his 33rd year as a teacher in School City of Hammond. He leads physical education classes for about 600 K-5 students at Lincoln Elementary School.

He stayed involved with baseball after high school as an umpire and a youth coach.

His baseball coaching career at the high school level began as an assistant to George Malis at Hammond. He was also football assistant to Marty Jamrose and Bob Hansen at Hammond Gavit.

Sutkowski then became head baseball coach at Hammond Morton in 1996. The first team was a veteran squad and the second team had only one returning senior and very little varsity experience.

Sutkowski and his players talked about expectations talked about expectations before the season.

“No matter what happens, we never quit at what we do — whether it’s something we’re working on at practice or something during the game,” says Sutkowski. “No matter how frustrating things may become for us, we never lay down and quit. That was our motto.”

At the beginning of the season, the young Governors took their lumps.

“But our kids were getting better,” says Sutkowski. “They never quit. They worked as hard as they could in practice and games.”

One day against Hammond Bishop Noll, Morton got into an early hole.

“I could look at my kids and see they’re done,” says Sutkowski. “We got 10-runned in five (innings).”

Sutkowski did not address his team at the field. They got on the bus and went home.

“I figured I’ve got to do something to remind these kids that we’re not quitters,” says Sutkowski. “I painted our bench pink.

“The players saw it and all understood it.”

Players were responsible for carrying equipment and his lone senior — Justin Hornsby — was made to carry a can of red paint and a brush.

“When we prove that we are no longer going to quit at what we’re doing, you will be the first guy to paint that bench back to red,” says Sutkowski of his remarks to his senior. “That was it.

“The kids all bought into it.”

While the players understood the motivational tactic, it was picked up in the press.

“Since we were using the color pink they thought we were discriminating against females and softball,” says Sutkowski, “It had nothing to do with it — Nothing.”

Sutkowski says former head coach Greg Jancich supported the idea of reinforcing the no-quit rule with the players.

Though he was given no specific reason, the administration opted not to bring Sutkowski back for a third season.

DAVESUTKOWSKI

Dave Sutkowski is the founder of the Hammond/Morris Chiefs travel baseball organization. The 2020 season will be the 30th for the group based in northwest Indiana. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Taylor’s Gould shares hitting approach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Gould has enjoyed plenty of diamond success at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.

In 15 seasons as NAIA-affiliated Trojans head baseball coach, Gould has seen his teams go 515-291. The makes him the all-time wins leader in program history. His 2018 team won a school-record 44 games. There have been seven Crossroads League championships on Gould’s watch and several of his players have earned all-conference honors.

Gould spoke about his approach with hitters during the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic at Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.

A three-sport athlete in high school, Gould never had a private hitting or pitching lesson in his life. When he structures practices many of his influences come from the coaches he had in sports other than baseball.

“I’ve never approached the game from an overly-mechanical way,” says Gould. “It’s always been through how we develop these skills externally — things I learned playing football and basketball.

“I have this desire to learn, challenge what I’ve learned and challenge what I’ve been taught and maybe look for a better way to do things.”

Gould, a 2002 Taylor graduate, says what his players do in practice has to be shaped by what they want to do in games.

Outlining game-time expectations, Gould wants Taylor hitter to:

• Get a good pitch to hit.

• Get on time with the fastball.

• Handle the breaking ball.

• Hit the ball hard.

• Be tough with two strikes.

• Be situational.

What does Taylor train this in practice?:

• They are challenged to control the strike zone.

“We’re always praised for taking balls and we always want to have that conversation,” says Gould. “We want that communication (between coaches and players and players and players).

“We want to give them feedback.”

• The speed and angle of the pitches they see is varied.

“Rarely do I throw the ball from 25 feet at 35 mph belt-high, they hit it and we tell them how great they are,” says Gould. In our program — with everything we do — everything and everyone is good and bad not good or bad.

“Because if this, we’ll use a ton of BP variations. I could probably give you 50.”

• Hitters track and/or hit spin everyday.

Taylor pitching coach Justin Barber had his arms tossing breaking pitches while hitters are taking a look.

“We spin a lot of breaking balls off the mound,” says Gould. “I want our hitters in the box, tracking spin and identifying very early ball or strikeout, getting feedback from the catcher. We hit off machines, but we’re identifying breaking balls everyday.

“When I played, we never talked about hitting the breaking ball. If hitting the baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports then hitting the breaking ball is the hardest thing of the hardest thing. We need to be able practice.

“The more you do it, the more it takes the fear out of it. The ball eventually has to pass through the strike zone and it’s learning how to track that.”

• Hitters develop and track exit velocity.

“We get great feedback from HitTrax,” says Gould. “The players love it. It makes them competitive with others. Hopefully, it makes them more competitive with themselves.

• Hitters develop A and B swings and use them daily.

“A B swing is what I used to call two-strike approach,” says Gould. “When I say two-strike approach to our hitters, they took that very passively. They took that to mean don’t strike out. So we changed it to B swing. It gets the point across.

“With B swing there are three things: Choke up on the bat, do not get a hand load and the front toe stays on the ground.”

In 2019, 46 percent of Taylor’s at-bats had two strikes in them.

“If that’s going to happen 46 percent of the time and we’re not practicing that, right?,” says Gould. “Forty to 60 percent of our swings in practice will be B swing approach.

“The most important swings we take are either plus in the count or way behind in the count. I want to make sure that guy’s faced a slider with a B swing.”

• Hitters work on relevant situational hitting.

Gould says the 230-pound 4-hole hitter pounding ground balls to shortstop to him. Neither is the 135-pound 15-year-old trying to drive a runner in with a fly ball.

One drill that the Trojans do in the cage with HitTrax going is for the hitter to face a tough pitch and Gould will ask them to do something with it that they’re good at. Some might be asked to hit-and-run, others to elevate the pitch.

“We just hammer the two or three things we need them to do to be successful and to help us score runs,” says Gould.

What about the training environment?

“It’s what matters the most,” says Gould. “The best thing you can do is surround players with other players who want to develop and compete.

“It’s a common phrase: We’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. For players, most pitchers are the average of the people they play catch with everyday. Most hitters are the average of the guys they go hit with.”

Gould says he believes strongly in progressions not rotations.

“We want to think about going smaller to bigger, slower to faster,” says Gould. “We want to really have a plan on how we progress.”

Ninety percent or more swings are done with an external focus.

“If we’re going to do mechanical work, it’s going to be outside of our drill work. It’s going to be one-on-one. Very rarely, do I pull a guy out.

“I may say go hit five line drives to right-center field and let’s see what happens.”

One thing that Gould is careful about is the less mechanical cues he gives to the players, the more they give to each other.

“They don’t know what they’re doing much less what someone else is doing,” says Gould. “That’s a big thing for us.”

Players at Taylor hit in intentionally selected groups of three.

“I don’t like groups of two. I think it’s too quick,” says Gould. “I don’t like groups of four. You can lose them pretty quick.”

Groups may consist of power hitters, speed guys, older players with younger players or the batting order in thirds.

“It is incredibly intentional,” says Gould. “We’ll tell them if they can not hit with them and not give great effort and attention, I’m going to move you (into another group).”

Gould prefers 1-5 swings per round.

“It is a personal pet peeve of mine,” says Gould. “Guys come in and take 10-12 swings and rotate.

“That is not how the swing is. You don’t have that much time to adjust.”

Something is recorded everyday.

“Development is measured against self,” says Gould. “We only want you comparing your numbers to your numbers.

“Guys are very different. If they start comparing themselves to each other, we’re going to have problems.”

Practices include something competitive everyday.

“If we’re doing those groups right, they’re competing against guys it makes sense to compete with,” says Gould.

In their daily schedule, hitters do up to six things in this order:

MediBalls.

“We’re trying to active the muscles we use to hit,” says Gould. “We’re trying to train good movements.”

• Tee work.

“The only thing that we use it for is contact points,” says Gould. “HitTrax gives us some very good data on where we should be contacting the ball.

“We want them to understand where they hit the ball the hardest. We can sit a tee there and get them comfortable hitting it there.”

• Front toss.

The feeder tosses it flat from 17 feet and is done for things like internal rotation. Plyo balls are often used. This drill is done on most days.

Overhand Batting Practice

Forty to 50 percent of swings come during this part of practice.

• Machine work.

It’s done everyday, including breaking balls.

• Competition.

What Taylor manipulates in practice:

• Bats

Overload, regular and underload are used in different position.

• Balls.

Baseball, plyo balls, tennis balls, wiffle balls, basketballs and more are used.

• Distrance.

A three-plate drill that Gould favors has his hitters changing between various distances from the machine, which can be set to delivery various pitches and velocities.

• Pitches.

Breaking balls and fastballs can be delivered from live arms or machines.

• Person.

Technology used by Taylor:

Hack Attack machines.

• HitTrax.

• Radar gun with display board.

• Overload/Underload bats.

Driveline PlyoCare balls.

• Blast Motion.

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Kyle Gould, a 2002 Taylor University graduate, is entering his 16th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2020. He is also the school’s athletic director. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Indianapolis native Vittorio leading Wilmington Quakers with passion, energy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tony Vittorio is 53 and has been a college baseball coach for three decades.

It was as a teenager on the south side of Indianapolis that he decided that would be his path in life.

Vittorio grew up the youngest of three children at 2925 Anniston Drive, directly across the street from Southport Little League.

“We woke up to the sound of the crowd on Saturdays and Sundays,” says Vittorio. “That’s where the whole love of it came.”

At 15, Tony made the senior league all-stars coached by Jeff Mercer Sr. It was after his first practice with Mercer — then a player at Marian College in Indianapolis and later the father of Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer Jr.  — putting the all-stars through drills and game situations that Vittorio came home and exclaimed that coaching was for him.

“It was that one practice alone,” says Vittorio, who is heading into his second season as head coach at NCAA Division III Wilmington (Ohio) College, which is 35 miles southeast of Dayton.

Vittorio played for Richard Dwenger at Southport High School (Class of 1984) and Indiana High School Baseball Hall of Famer Dick Naylor at Hanover (Ind.) College (Class of 1988).

“We we became close friends through the years,” says Vittorio of mentor Naylor. “I was honored and humbled to do his eulogy at his funeral.”

While playing for Naylor’s Panthers (then an NAIA program), Vittorio pursued a double major in business administration and physical education.

Vittorio spent the 1990 season as a volunteer/graduate assistant at Indiana University under Bob Morgan.

“I always thank Coach Morgan for teaching me how to practice properly,” says Vittorio. “His practice organization was second to no one in the country.”

At 23, Vittorio became a head coach at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and went on to become known as a builder of programs.

“We do not complain about what you don’t have,” says Vittorio. “We just grind it out.”

Vittorio led Lincoln Trail — a junior college — for four seasons. After winning 20 games the first season (1991), the Statesmen won 39, 40 and 45 contests. The year before Vittorio came to town the team won just two games.

That was followed by two years as an assistant to Keith Madison at the University of Kentucky.

“He is as good of a person as I’ve ever met in my life,” says Vittorio of Madison, an American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and National Baseball Director for SCORE International. “Coach Madison has this thing figured out — spiritually, mentally.”

Vittorio spent three seasons (1997-99) at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, when the Mastodons were NCAA Division II. His teams won 80 games after IPFW had gone 9-37 the year before he arrived in the Summit City.

Counting Lance Hershberger as one of his dearest friends, Vittorio looks back fondly on the Fort Wayne diamond rivalry they had when he was at IPFW and Hershberger (now at Ivy Tech Northeast) led Indiana Tech.

“He’s a beautiful person,” says Vittorio of Hershberger.

Vittorio began an 18-year run at the University of Dayton in 2000. The program was 22-34 the year before his arrival and went on to 10 seasons of at least 25 victories and seven of at least 30 with the 2009 club winning 38.

His NCAA Division I Flyers won 463 games altogether. the 2012 team participated in the NCAA College Station Regional.

Two pitchers who played for Vittorio at UD are now in the big leagues — right-hander Craig Stammen and left-hander Jerry Blevins.

Three of Vittorio’s former players at Dayton are now coaching at the D-I level. C.J. Gilman is now the top assistant at the Air Force Academy. Jimmy Roesinger, an Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate, is also on the Air Force staff. Jared Broughton, who went to Indianapolis Lutheran High School, is now an assistant at Clemson University.

Several other former Vittorio players and coaches are coaching are various levels.

After his days at Dayton, Vittorio helped coach his son (Nic Vittorio) in the summer with Dayton Thunderbirds, but was not really looking for another college job when Wilmington, a member of the Ohio Athletic Conference, came calling.

His first Quakers team went 8-29 in 2019 and he’s working toward steady improvement.

“I feel revised and amped up again to build a program at this level,” says Vittorio. “There’s a locker room word — culture. We’re looking to change the culture.

“That means implementing your own program of everyday core values — hard work, loyalty, hustle, sportsmanship and the biggest one — passion and energy on a daily basis. I’m a true believer you can’t go to where you want to go without passion and energy.”

Coming from the Division I world, Vittorio has learned to make adjustments in his approach.

Instead of 30 contact dates in the fall, D-III schools get 16. There are 40 regular-season games in the spring instead of 56. D-III does not offer athletic scholarships, but aid is based on academics and need.

“To me, that’s a lot of time lost,” says Vittorio. “But baseball is more pure (at the D-III level). You don’t have to hold the players’ hands on everything they do as you sometimes have to do in D-I.

“Players have a chance to develop leadership skills. They have to form captain/open field practices (when the coaching staff is away).”

Vittorio says the No. 1 job for he and his Wilmington assistants — Danny Thomas and former Richmond High School and Earlham College player Patrick Morrow — is recruiting.

“You can’t win without good players,” says Vittorio, who counts the Midwest as his recruiting base. “It’s more strenuous at this level. You have knock on 100 doors — instead of 50 doors — to get 10 guys.”

Vittorio spends a lot of his time raising money for the baseball program and as director of athletic development, the rest of Wilmington’s athletic department (which includes 18 varsity sports for men and women).

As a coach, He is also working to inspire his players in the classroom, the community and on the baseball field. He is emphasizing player development and building a quality college baseball atmosphere.

“We’re all obsessed with winning and losing,” says Vittorio. “But this whole thing is about making young men the best they can be.”

Vittorio comes back to Indianapolis often. Just last Saturday, he was at Southport Athletic Booster Club Reverse Raffle. He counts Indiana University head men’s basketball coach Archie Miller as a friend from Miller’s six seasons as head coach. Vittorio grew up as a fan of Bob Knight’s IU teams and Notre Dame football.

“That’s the Indiana Italian Catholic in me,” says Vittorio. “I love the state of Indiana. I’m a Hoosier.”

Wilmington visits Franklin College and Vittorio’s friend Lance Marshall at 3 p.m. on March 11.

Tony and Heather Vittorio have two children. Taylor Vittorio (21) is a former volleyball player at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. Nic Vittorio is a senior baseball player at Kettering-Fairmont High School in Kettering, Ohio.

TONYVITTORIOWILMINGTONCOLLEGE

Tony Vittorio, an Indianapolis native, is now the head baseball coach at Wilmington (Ohio) College. Prior to lead the Quakers, he was head coach at the University of Dayton, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and Lincoln Trail Community College. (Wilmington College Photo)

 

Indiana Wesleyan’s Benjamin affirms priority of coaching communication

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin has been the head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University since the 2016 season.

His Wildcats have gone 123-105-1 overall and 62-47 in Crossroads League play during Benjamin’s tenure with a CL tournament title in

2016 and a 2018 CL Regular Season Championship leading to two NAIA Opening Round appearances in 2016 and 2018.

A big part of the culture revolving around the IWU program involves improving communication each year.

Benjamin, who was head coach at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., for eight seasons, winning eight championships before taking over in Marion, addressed communication’s impact on coachability at the American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler University.

The full presentation can be ordered through the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics Video Library.

“Guys come in on Day 1 and they seem very coachable,” says Benjamin.

Benjamin says coaches may notice some players that are a little standoffish or hard to influence while others are coachable throughout the entire experience.

In many cases, players have a personal instructor, adding more voices to the room.

“You’re trying to navigate all those variables,” says Benjamin. “The vision is the allow the player to play competent-unconscious.”

That vision comes with a set of values.

The first is asking open-ended questions (coach to coach, coach to player, player to coach and player to player) and minimizing statements.

Why is this done?

“I’m trying to develop the awareness and self-awareness of the player by asking him an open-ended question.

 “By slowing things down, conversations with players become much more of a dialogue instead of a one-way statement.

“You know a lot more about your players because you’re getting a lot more feedback.”

The player is given a chance to do some self-discovery by answering the open-ended questions.

Benjamin says if a player doesn’t have awareness (knowing what is going on around you) and self-awareness (knowing what you are experiencing), they cannot effectively implement information.

“If anytime they’re stuck  they’re looking for a statement, they will have the inability to self-diagnosis pitch-to-pitch during competition.” says Benjamin.

“It’s Strike 1 and they look down to third base and say, ‘Coach, what now?’ You can’t do that. You’ve got to learn how to talk to yourself.

“Most young players talk to themselves in statements instead of open-ended questions. Most statements are negative and not positive and solution-driven.”

Benjamin has found that as players develop they ask themselves open-ended questions, they find a solution the vast majority of the time.

“The coach is there as a sounding board, a facilitator, a counselor, awareness raiser and available when the player gets ‘stuck’ to offer a suggestion,” says Benjamin, who wants his players to own the process.

“If they own it, the ceiling is them. If I own it, their ceiling is me. If their ceiling is me, they’re never going to hit a curveball because I couldn’t do it.”

The relationship becomes a partnership.

“It’s not a threat and it’s not a power struggle,” says Benjamin.

The additional value of communication helping coachability is the coaching staff being aware of the person before the player. Assistant coaches are vital in this area as the front lines of knowing the room.

“There’s death in the family,” says Benjamin. “Girlfriends, adjusting academically, or something going on in the home.

“Nobody on the coaching staff should ever be surprised about what’s going on in a player’s life; it gives you a clearer picture of all the influences in that person’s life when they enter training.”

As a coaching staff, There are typically two individualized meetings a week in which, as a staff, we go down each name on the roster discussing who has what needs that we may be able to meet through various aspects of the program.”

The Indiana Wesleyan staff has players focus on one objective at a time (approach, plan or skill). By showing restraint, they can avoid information overload.

“It is impossible to play unconscious and knowledgeable if we’re carrying all these different things into our performance time,” says Benjamin. “If you’re trying to balance two or three different things, it becomes impossible to execute one.”

At IWU, that one thing for a player might take the entire fall. They focus on the objective, they achieve it and then they move on.

Benjamin desires the coaching staff to over communicate with each other, to be open and always seeking growth.

Benjamin admits that investing in assistants development was not a strength earlier in his coaching career.

Having operated during the first half of his career with just one volunteer assistant, who worked during the day, Benjamin’s ability to understand the value and importance of investing into his assistants was behind. “The last two years, I’ve grown in the ability to delegate, mentor, and invest daily in our assistant coaches.

By doing so, the atmosphere and the productivity is up.”

Benjamin looks to provide a safe atmosphere for his assistants to ask questions.

“That’s how we get better,” says Benjamin. “We talk about players needing to be coached-up, but so do coaches.”

“As a coaching staff, we have blind spots. But if we ask each other open-ended questions, it’s not a threat. It’s an opportunity to grow.”

Benjamin says, “In coaching, time is maybe the most valuable aspect.”

As a coaching staff preparing for this Fall training season, Benjamin and his staff noticed that the areas in which we failed the most in coaching, was coaching a player inside too tight of a time restraint.

Benjamin says a coaching session must provide clarity by the coach and the player, because that often requires time, coaches needed to decide when the best time was to address a coaching opportunity.

Because it negatively impacts trust, the idea is to avoid “Drive-By coaching.”

IWU coaches witnessed this the most in the side cages during Batting Practice rotations.

Rotations may be 8-15 minutes depending on the day.

If four hitters arrive in the side batting cages with limited time, then we found ourselves making a lot of statements since we did not have the time capacity to create the amount of clarity as you would in a different segment of training, early work, or post work.

Now, if we get a coaching opportunity in the cages, we ask ourselves if the player has the foundational awareness and self-awareness to find a solution in the limited amount of time without transferring ownership of the hitter’s development.

If there is not enough time to effectively coach that player in that session, we will act on the coaching opportunity post practice or early work the next day.

“We want to create opportunities for growth so there’s time to land that plane,” says Benjamin.

Practices for the Wildcats are divided into training zones and performance zones.

Training zones entail many reps and a lot of teaching.

“Nothing’s really being measured,” says Benjamin. “It’s a zone where you can make mistakes and experiment.”

Benjamin notes that baseball players in general are training now more than ever.

“Guys are hitting all the time. They’re training all the time,” says Benjamin. “They become really, really good at training.”

That’s where the performance zone comes in, where there is competition with some kind of award or consequence.

“You have to win,” says Benjamin. “We’re transitioning from the training zone where you’re allowed to think, to the performance zone where you shut this thing (points to head) off, get unconscious and just try to win the moment.

“You just try to go beat the other guy.”

This fall, a typical Wildcats practice has three competitions (performance zones) and one learning moment (training zone), in addition, early work is designed as a training zone.

IWU also emphasizes peer-to-peer competere.

“It’s the Latin word for competition and it means to strive together,”

says Benjamin. The personal best comes out by competing with another person.

It does not happen overnight, but it can be healthy for two players to be vying to be the starting shortstop.

It’s often been found that one wins the job and the other ends up starting, too, perhaps at second base or third base.

“Competition is an opportunity and not a threat,” says Benjamin. “We have to have competition. It’s the only way we’ll find out what our personal best is.”

Benjamin invites players to join the IWU program based on three factors — humility, motor and skill.

“They have the confidence to say ‘I’m really good’ and the humility to say ‘I need to get better.’ That’s vital.

“In psychology, they say your self-confidence shows up before your self-awareness does.”

Motor means the ability to work hard with intention each day.

“Skill can always be developed if the first two exist.” says Benjamin.

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Rich Benjamin is the head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion. His first season leading the Wildcats was 2016. (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)

 

Culture of caring, accountability propels NAIA World Series-bound Indiana Tech

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana Tech’s baseball team has gotten strong pitching, timely hitting, well-placed bunts and taken plenty of extra bases during its 2019 postseason run.

The Warriors (41-14-1) have outscored opponents 30-16 in the Wolverine-Hoosier Conference tournament and 24-12 in the NAIA Opening Round.

Head coach Kip McWilliams says it’s team culture that has Tech in the program’s seventh NAIA World Series appearance and first since 2003. The squad was to leave for Lewiston, Idaho today (May 21) and face Bellevue (Neb.) at 11:30 a.m. EDT Friday (May 24).

“These guys care about each other and hold each other accountable,” says McWilliams. “Culture is the most important thing.

“It starts with the seniors. It’s a great group of guys. They’ve helped molding our freshmen and underclassmen.”

Catcher Glen McClain, third baseman Brandon Dossen, second baseman Javier Castaneda, right-handed pitcher Nate McBroom are among the Warriors’ senior leaders.

McClain, a redshirt senior and graduate of Fremont (Ind.) High School, is Tech’s all-time hit leader with 337. He goes to Idaho hitting .431 with 17 home runs and 54 runs batted in.

Heritage High School graduate Dossen carries a .370 average with five homers and 49 RBIs.

Castaneda hails from Miami, Fla., has made 70 assists and participated in 11 double plays on defense.

Wichita, Kan., product McBroom is in the mix to start of relieve in Lewiston. He is 6-3 with a 3.58 earned run average. Tech’s other top pitchers include redshirt junior right-hander Seth Sorenson (9-1, 2.22), junior left-hander Charles Dunavan (9-3, 2.60) and freshman right-hander Hayes Sturtsman (4-1, 5.47).

Sorenson is from Payson, Utah, Dunavan from Sterling Heights, Mich., and Sturtsman is a Manchester High School graduate.

During the run up to the World Series, the lineup has featured junior right fielder Jacob Alvidrez (.315-3-30) at lead-off, followed by junior center fielder Reese Olden (.323-0-28), catcher McClain, third baseman Dossen, freshman first baseman Jake DeFries (.368-3-42), junior designated hitter Spenser McGhee (.338-3-17), second baseman Castaneda, redshirt junior shortstop Jake Ritson (.299-0-30) and junior left fielder Jashaun Simon (.209-1-11).

Alvidrez is from Sacramento, Calif., Olden from New Haven, Ind., DeFries from Crown Point, Ind., McGhee from Virginia Beach, Va., Ritson from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Simon from Kennewick, Wash. Kennewick is less than three hours from Lewiston.

McWilliams, who is in his 12th season at the Fort Wayne school, credits his assistant coaches who take the time to work with the athletes and build trust in the player/coach relationship.

Brent Alwine is in charge of infielders and is key to the Warriors’ defensive positioning.

Pat Collins-Bride works with hitters and helps with recruiting.

Marshall Oetting is the pitching coach and works closely with McWilliams on that aspect of the game.

Miguel Tucker leads the outfielders, helps with recruiting and puts together a scouting report for the rest of the coaching staff. McWilliams says the data helps with positioning and pitch calling and sequencing.

Gordon Turner also helps with infielders and recruiting and is the junior varsity coach.

Tech was one win away from getting back to the World Series in each of the past three seasons, but bowed out in the NAIA Opening Round.

The Warriors have used that as motivation for getting to the next level.

McWilliams, who has long used visualization in his training, has asked players to “close their eyes and remember the last game they played.”

Unless the season ended with a championship, they are know about the heartache of the last-game loss.

“When postseason baseball comes around, there’s only going to be one winner,” says McWilliams. “Even the incoming freshmen can take that feeling and feed off it, using it in their workouts.”

The coach also asks them to go back to their earliest days of baseball.

“Everyone was a star in Little League,” says McWilliams. “Just relax, go out there and have fun.”

It’s all about positivity.

“We have a question for them: What are they feeding their dog?,” says McWilliams. “Is it positive or negative?”

McWilliams was on the Marian University coaching staff the last time Tech made it to Lewiston, but he does maintain contact with former players.

“I’ve received several phone calls and texts,” says McWilliams. “I want them to know they are not forgotten.

“They’re the foundation of where we are today.”

McWilliams has brought in Ivy Tech Northeast head coach Lance Hershberger (who took the Warriors to the World Series in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003), former Indiana Tech athletic director Dan Kline and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and current Grand Valley State University assistant Sam Riggleman to address the 2019 team.

Riggleman was a head coach for 40 years and won 1,023 games at Wesley College, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Southern Illinois University, Bethel College, Dallas Baptist and Spring Arbor University.

As motivation, there’s also the images in McWilliams’ office.

Each time the Warriors has been fortunate enough to win a championship of some kind, a team photo has been taken.

“The poses are almost always the same,” says McWilliams. “They see (those photos) everyday. It’s hilarious. That’s a visual thing for them.”

It links everything together and helps feed the culture.

And culture is what it’s all about for the Indiana Tech Warriors.

 

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Javier Castanedia and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Glen McClain and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Head coach Kip McWilliams and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

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Javier Castaneda and the Indiana Tech Warriors are going to the 2019 NAIA World Series. (Indiana Tech Photo)

Indiana Tech, IU Southeast, Huntington, Marian in NAIA Opening Round

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A quest for an NAIA baseball national title begins today (May 13) for four Indiana schools.

The double-elimination Opening Round begins at nine sites. Indiana Tech is the No. 2 seed at Williamsburg, Ky., Indiana University Southeast is No. 3 at Lawrenceville, Ga., Huntington is No. 4 at Macon, Ga., and Marian is No. 5 at Kingsport, Tenn.

Indiana Tech (38-14-1) takes on Lyon (Ark.) in its first game while IU Southeast (35-18) faces Georgetown (Ky.), Huntington (26-14) squares off against British Columbia and Marian (30-19) clashes with Madonna (Mich.).

Winners in the Opening Round, which is scheduled to conclude May 16, advance to the 63rd annual NAIA World Series May 24-31 in Lewiston, Idaho.

No. 3 seed Oakland City (21-13) will host the National Christian College Athletic Association Mid-East Regional and plays Hiwassee (Tenn.) today. The regional goes through May 16. The NCCAA World Series is May 22-25 in Easley, S.C.

By beating Rose-Hulman in the championship of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament, Franklin (28-13) earned a berth in the NCAA Division III regionals and were to learn where they go today.

In NCAA Division I, Indiana (33-18, 14-7) is in second place in the Big Ten Conference standings behind Michigan (37-13, 15-5). The eight-team conference tournament is May 22-26 in Omaha, Neb. Before that, the Hoosiers play host to Louisville Tuesday, May 14 then Rutgers in a Friday-Saturday-Sunday series.

Purdue (19-31, 7-13) is in 12th in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers play host to Xavier Tuesday, May, 14 then Ohio State for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Indiana State (34-14, 11-7) is in second in the Missouri Valley Conference behind Dallas Baptist (36-15, 12-6) and Illinois State (30-21, 12-6). The Sycamores host Bradley Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the eight-team MVC tournament May 21-15 in Normal, Ill.

Evansville (23-24, 10-8) is fifth in the MVC. The Purple Aces visit Belmont Tuesday and Illinois State Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Valparaiso (13-32, 6-12) is seventh in the MVC. The Crusaders plays host to Chicago State Tuesday then goes to Missouri State Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Ball State (33-17, 17-5) sits in second in the Mid-American Conference behind Central Michigan (39-12, 19-5). The Cardinals, coming off combined a nine-inning no-hitter by John Baker and Luke Jaksich, host Toledo Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The MAC tournament is scheduled for May 22-26 in Avon, Ohio.

Butler (25-23, 5-9) is fifth in the Big East Conference. The Bulldogs visit Eastern Illinois Tuesday and Georgetown Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Big East tournament is May 23-26 at a site to be determined.

Notre Dame (22-26, 12-15) is sixth the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division, which has its 12-team tournament May 21-26 in Durham, N.C. The Irish go to Northwestern Tuesday and Boston College Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Purdue Fort Wayne (6-42, 1-26 Summit League) is at Toledo Tuesday and at home with Western Illinois Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Summit League tournament is slated for May 22-25 in Tulsa, Okla.

Vincennes (25-28, 13-18 in the Mid-West Conference) play in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Midwest District May 16-20 in Normal, Ill.

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Records Through May 12

NCAA Division I

Indiana State 34-14 (11-7 Missouri Valley)

Indiana 33-18 (14-7 Big Ten)

Ball State 33-17 (17-5 Mid-American)

Butler 25-23 (5-9 Big East)

Evansville 23-24 (10-8 Missouri Valley)

Notre Dame 22-26 (12-15 Atlantic Coast)

Purdue 19-31 (7-13 Big Ten)

Valparaiso 13-32 (6-12 Missouri Valley)

Purdue Fort Wayne 6-42 (1-26 Summit)

NCAA Division II

Indianapolis 30-20 (19-14 Great Lakes Valley)

Southern Indiana 30-21 (21-12 Great Lakes Valley)

Oakland City 21-13

NCAA Division III

Franklin 28-13 (12-6 Heartland)

Rose-Hulman 27-12 (14-2 Heartland)

DePauw 22-15 (8-8 North Coast)

Wabash 22-19 (9-8 North Coast)

Anderson 21-16 (10-8 Heartland)

Earlham 16-21 (8-10 Heartland)

Hanover 15-19 (7-11 Heartland)

Trine 15-25 (8-20 Michigan Intercollegiate)

Manchester 14-23 (8-9 Heartland)

NAIA

Indiana Tech 38-14-1 (17-4-1 Wolverine-Hoosier)

Taylor 38-18 (15-12 Crossroads)

Indiana University-Kokomo 36-18 (19-8 River States)

Indiana University Southeast 35-18 (21-6 River States)

Marian 30-19 (17-10 Crossroads)

Huntington 26-14 (20-7 Crossroads)

Indiana Wesleyan 22-30 (15-11 Crossroads)

Purdue Northwest 21-27 (16-12 Great Lakes Intercollegiate)

Goshen 20-29 (12-15 Crossroads)

Grace 17-27 (10-17 Crossroads)

Indiana University South Bend 13-38 (11-19 Chicagoland)

Saint Francis 13-40 (7-20 Crossroads)

Bethel 11-29 (7-20 Crossroads)

Calumet of Saint Joseph 8-39 (1-27 Chicagoland)

Junior College

Ivy Tech Northeast 33-14

Vincennes 25-28 (13-18 Mid-West)

Ancilla 5-30 (4-24 Michigan Community)

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