Tag Archives: Nick Ulrey

Shafer enjoys player development as Kankakee CC assistant

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

Bryce Shafer faces a distinctive challenge as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College baseball program.
A former right-handed pitcher at Northfield High School in Wabash, Ind., and Valparaiso (Ind.) University as well as in the Chicago Cubs system and independent pro ball (Frontier Greys and River City Rascals), Shafter is preparing for his seventh season at KCC — a two-year school and a member of National Junior College Athletic Association Region 4.
“Junior college is definitely unique,” says Shafer, 33. “You’re always recruiting and trying to get your guys recruited.
“Year to year, your roster changes so much.”
As the Cavaliers get ready for the 2022 season opener on March 4 at Southeastern Illinois College, four of Shafer’s sophomore pitchers — starters Kyle Iwinski (Purdue), Matt Lelito (Toledo), Dylan Wolff (Eastern Michigan) and reliever Gavin King (Eastern Michigan) — have already made commitments to NCAA Division I schools. Three others are close to declaring their next stop. Right-handers Iwinski (Griffith) and Lelito (Andrean) and left-hander King (Bluffton) are from Indiana high schools. Righty Wolff hails went to Joliet (Ill.) West.
Since 2016, Shafer has seen 25 of his pitchers move on to four-year schools or the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — Eleven to NCAA Division I; six to NCAA Division II; five to NAIA; and two (West Noble’s Waylon Richardson and Dylan Dodd) to the MLB Draft.
Richardson was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies (2018) and Dodd was selected 96th overall by the Atlanta Braves in the third round in 2021. Last spring, the Cavaliers pitching staff broke the KCC single-season strikeout record with 491.
“It’s really about development,” says Shafer. “We have something going the full year-round. “There’s pitchers’ strength and speed development in the off-season. Now we’re now getting them ready for competition.
“It’s all about developing players and getting the most out of them. Junior college is a stepping stone. We realize we’re not a destination.
Shater, who is on a staff with head coach Todd Post and hitting/catching coach Nick Ulrey (a New Palestine graduate), uses networking to find players to develop at KCC.
“As a junior college, you get told ‘no’ a lot,” says Shafer, who looks at a roster full of Illinois and Indiana players but also has a two from Canada, one from Missouri and a shortstop — Beyonce Paulina — from Curacao.
“It’s about the connections you make,” says Shafer of the recruiting process. “You watch film. Some numbers help. Velocity is always nice. We look at mechanics. Can we clean him up and make him better?
“We look at the body type. How does he move?
“We always talk to their coaches. We get their whole background and make sure there’s not any red flags.”
Kankakee coaches Shafer, Post and Ulrey all weigh in on player evaluations.
“I pride myself in being able to look at a limited amount of video to see if this kid can be successful at this level and what can we do to make them better,” says Shafer. “We want good kids from good families that get good grades and want to be better at baseball. My goal is to get our players at their highest level of baseball.”
That means teaching the physical and mental sides of the game.
“We try to put our guys in difficult situations and how to handle it,” says Shafer, who earned a Psychology degree at Fort Hayes State University. “We teach pitchers what they need to think about and to avoid things they can’t control, focus on the next pitch and the hitters’ weaknesses.”
It’s about handling adversity.
“We do a good job of that here,” says Shafer. “It’s definitely a priority.”
Shafer grew up around Wabash and played travel ball for the Summit City Sluggers, Jarrod Parker, Kyle Leindecker, Scott Woodward and Rhett Goodmiller. Parker pitched in the big leagues. Leindecker played at Indiana University, Woodward at Coastal Carolina University and indy ball and Goodmiller Central Michigan University and Taylor University.
At Northfield, Shafer helped the Norsemen to the IHSAA Class 2A Final Four in 2006, and graduated in 2007. Tony Uggen, who is now in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, was his head coach.
“He was always very professional,” says Shafer of Uggen. “We had to have our shirts tucked in and look and act like ballplayers. It was a disciplined system. The basics were always there. We did things right.
“If you stay focus and disciplined the whole time, you can have a pretty good high school team.”
While he was barely 5-foot, 100 pounds, Shafer made varsity as a freshman.
“I thought I was getting cut,” says Shafer. “I had to out-work people because I was so small.”
By graduation he was 5-10 and around 150. In college, he grew to 6-1 and 185.
“I learned that you need to need to be big if you want to last,” says Shafer. “We play 56 games in 2 1/2 months at (KCC). Guys can break down if their bodies aren’t ready.”
At Valpo, Shafer played for head coach Tracy Woodson and pitching coach Brian Schmack (who is now VU head coach).
“He taught me to be calm, handle situations and embrace where you’re at,” says Shafer of Schmack. “Just remember the people — not necessarily the facilities.”
While attending the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago in January, Shafer gravitated to mental performance presenters like Brian Cain.
“I got a lot out of it,” says Shafer. “That is the most under-accessed part of the game. To succeed at the highest level need to be mentally tough.”
Some of the books read by Shafer lately are “The Mental ABCs of Pitching: A Handbook for Performance Enhancement” by Harvey Dorfman and “The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental Emotional Physical Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists” by James E. Loehr.
“It’s how champions think,” says Shafer. “If you can teach that to a young guy really, you’re doing something right.”
Bryce and wife Jill have two sons — Carver (4) and Callum (2).

Bryce Shafer (Kankakee Community College Photo)

Ulrey insists his Kankakee CC batters hit the ball hard

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nick Ulrey instructs the catchers and hitters in the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College baseball program and teaches lessons to youngsters.

The former New Palestine (Ind.) High School, KCC and University of Missouri St. Louis player wants them all to see hitting in three parts — approach, timing and swing.

“The approach is what you can control 100 percent of the time,” says Ulrey. “You’re timing and swing aren’t going to be perfect every time.”

That approach includes always trying to hit the ball hard.

“I preach hard-hit balls rather than launch angle,” says Ulrey. “We’re never thinking about hitting a ball over the fence. We’re always trying to hit the ball through the center field wall.

“Even with two strikes, we will shorten up but we are still driving the baseball.”

Ulrey wants his hitters to have Quality At-Bats. He defines a QAB as one that results in the following: a hard-hit ball, seven-pitch at-bat, single, double, triple, home run, sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly, walk, hit by pitch or moving the runner over with no outs.

When it comes to the swing, Ulrey works with the hitter’s natural tendencies.

“I’m not a one-way guy,” says Ulrey. “They might be down and through the zone as a contact hitter or a power hitter with a little higher launch angle.

“I make sure they’re getting the work they need and I stress talking about the mental side of the game.”

The verbiage Ulrey uses with hitters is always positive.

He asks them to “drive the ball the other way” rather than “getting themselves out” to move a runner.

“You never want to give your AB away,” says Ulrey.

Rarely has Ulrey given away a day to be around baseball. He’s at KCC games and practices six days a week this fall.

On Sundays, he travels back to Greenfield, Ind., for instruction at The Yard Sports Complex, owned and operated by older brother Chris Ulrey.

Seven years older than Nick, Chris has served as a guide to his younger brother and even served a year on the KCC staff during Nick’s sophomore season with the Cavaliers.

“(Chris) is a great mentor,” says Nick Ulrey. “Ninety percent of what I know as a hitting coach, I learned from him.”

When he’s not working with KCC players or those at The Yard, Ulrey is running camps at Fundamentals Sports Academy in Dwight, Ill.

“I’m around the game seven days a week,” says Ulrey, 24. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stray away from that.

“It’s what I love to do.”

That comes across to the athletes he is instructing.

“Players are real receptive to what you’re saying,” says Ulrey. “Most people want to get to the next level.”

Ulrey played four years of baseball at New Palestine. He was mostly a junior varsity player as a freshman and Al Cooper was the varsity head coach. Shawn Lyons took over the Dragons in Ulrey’s sophomore year.

The father of classmate Corey Lyons, Shawn Lyons had coached Nick and his son on New Palestine youth teams.

“He prepared me more than I ever could hope for,” says Ulrey of the elder Lyons. “We were learning mental side of the game at 10. He prepared me well for the college level.”

Ulrey’s collegiate career started at KCC in 2013, where he started both years behind the plate. He was an all-National Junior College Athletic Association Region 4 performer and is on eight career hitting record lists.

He transferred to NCAA Division II UMSL, where he was a two-time all-Great Lakes Valley Conference selection and led the conference both years in runners caught stealing.

Ulrey was brought to St. Louis by Jim Brady, who died of cancer in 2017 as Ulrey was about to begin his coaching career with the Tritons.

“He was a great man and an even better coach,” says Ulrey of Brady.

Cory Wahl took over the USML program.

“He was a well-rounded guy,” says Ulrey. “He coached at several schools, (including an assistant stint at Vincennes University) he was very versatile and brought a lot of knowledge to UMSL. I learned a lot from him.”

Ulrey holds a degree in Criminal Justice from UMSL.

At Kankakee, Todd Post is the head coach and (former Valparaiso University pitcher) Bryce Shafer is the other assistant.

“He knows more about the game than any coach I’ve ever met,” says Ulrey of Post has led the KCC program since 2001 and earned an NJCAA Division II national title in 2017. “(Shafer) does an unbelievable job with the pitchers and strength and conditioning.”

KCC players spend plenty of time in the weight room in the fall, winter and spring. They are on individualized programs designed to improve weaknesses and enhance strengths.

NICKULREY

Nick Ulrey, a New Palestine (Ind.) High School graduate, is a baseball assistant coach at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College. (Kankakee Community College Photo)

 

Ulrey’s diamond passion is a big HIT

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chris Ulrey has a knack for teaching the game that he loves.

As a professional hitting instructor, the former college player and Major League Baseball draftee works with more than 150 baseball and softball athletes a week at The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind. It was formerly the home of Dream Big Baseball.

Those athletes come from as far away as Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan and all over the state of Indiana.

Ulrey has been involved in youth travel sports as a coach, mentor and instructor since 2010.

In 2015, the New Palestine High School graduate founded the Midwest Astros Academy. In 2018, the academy fields 31 baseball and softball travel teams in age divisions 8U to 17U with players from Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

Ulrey handles the day-to-day baseball operations, facility operations, college consulting, instruction and Ben Taylor handles the softball operations and scheduling.

“I am thankful to have a guy like Ben within our academy,” says Ulrey. “Ben puts a lot of time and work into the operations of the Midwest Astros.”

As a player, Ulrey helped New Palestine to a 2004 IHSAA Class 3A state championship. In his senior year (2006), the left-handed swinging and throwing outfielder was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 33rd round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Because of an injury Ulrey made the choice not to sign and went to college.

He played two years at NJCAA Division I Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and one each at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois University and the NCAA Division II University of Indianapolis.

His head coaches were Mitch Hannahs at Lincoln Trail, Jim Schmitz at EIU and Gary Vaught at the U of I.

When Ulrey concluded his college playing career in 2010, he took his first coaching job at Beech Grove High School and opened up his first indoor training facility.

At BG, he helped lead the Hornets to their first winning season since 2004 and first sectional title since 2005 when they went 13-9-2 in 2012.

From there, he served assistant coaching stints at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College for head coach Todd Post and Marian University in Indianapolis for head coach Todd Bacon.

At the same time, Ulrey was coaching summer travel teams.

The Yard Sports Complex is the fifth he’s had since 2010 and the only one he runs since moving away from his last facility in Beech Grove.

With the academy based at the Greenfield complex, Ulrey is able to serve his hitting students and oversee the whole operation.

Ulrey tries to manage his schedule so he can interact with as many of the academy’s teams as possible and to watch them play.

“I want to show support,” Ulrey, 30. “But not only that, I love the game of baseball. Every week — seven days a week — I’m either training, coaching or watching our teams practice at the complex or in games on the weekends.

“It’s my life.”

Ulrey is also an associate scout for the Texas Rangers and works under area scout Michael Medici.

The organization continues to grow and have success on and off the field, however; Ulrey doesn’t take all the credit.

“It’s been a blessing,” says Ulrey. “I’ve had a lot of help along with the way. None of this would be possible without great coaches, directors, instructors, players and the support of the parents.”

Christian Montgomery, a Lawrence Central High School graduate and a former New York Mets minor leaguer, works with pitchers.

Nick Ulrey, brother of Chris and assistant coach at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, travels to Greenfield to instruct catchers.

Ulrey leaves tournament scheduling up to his coaches.

The youngest teams tend to stay in Indiana. As they reach 10U or 11U, they may take out-of-state trips.

At 12U or 13U, the teams tend to travel a little more. The 13U Majors team, coached by Chris Emberton, goes all over the country to compete in elite tournaments.

Emberton has been with Ulrey since the beginning and has continued to progress and compete at a high level every year.

“It’s nice to get out of Indiana every once in a while and play some different teams,” says Ulrey.

The Midwest Astros’ 15U through 17U Showcase teams, including the Tom Ancelet-coached 17U squad, play in tournaments attended by college coaches at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and other locations around Indiana as well as top-level events in places like Nashville, Louisville, Michigan, Georgia and Florida.

“It’s fun watching your older age groups play because you see guys who have developed already,” says Ulrey. “It’s not so much the coaching. It’s like managing with the older teams. They know how to play. You expect them to go out there and do their job and make plays.

“You get to sit back and watch some really good baseball. These are guys you’ll be seeing at the next level.”

As a coach and instructor, Ulrey gets to work with a wide range of ages.

“We try to teach the basics at 8,” says Ulrey. “They take in as much as they can. Off-speed pitches, mental approach and hitter and pitcher counts, a lot of that stuff is for the older age group kids.

“You try to make it fun for an 8-year-old while still trying to teach them the basics. You’re not trying to teach the older guys — high school, college, professional level — how to stand and how to hold the bat. When they feel there’s something wrong with their swing, you put your opinions in an make adjustments.”

Ulrey wants to relate to everyone on a personal level.

“What a lot of people lack in this profession is the relationship you build with the hitter and the parents,” says Ulrey. “For a kid to trust in what you’re teaching and what you’re saying, they’ve got to believe in you. They’ve got to want be there.”

So as work goes into making the complex ready to host tournaments, Ulrey and the rest of his staff will stay with the plan that has helped the academy grow.

“I feel like we’re doing all the right things right now,” says Ulrey. “Our teams are competing well. Our coaches are doing a good job.

“We’ll keep bringing in quality coaches and players and putting in the work.”

CHRISULREY

Chris Ulrey is founder and president of Midwest Astros Academy, which operates out of The Yard Sports Complex in Greenfield, Ind.