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Phegley finding his way in baseball with Athletics

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Much was expected from baseball-playing Josh Phegley at an early age.

Sharing the same diamond with older brother John and his classmates, Josh was challenged.

Helping give that extra push was the boys’ father and coach — John.

“My dad was one of my biggest influences,” says Phegley, a Terre Haute native and catcher with the Oakland Athletics. “He wasn’t going to be the coach who just played his son. He was super hard on me and my brother. He expected you to be the leader and cornerstone of the field every time we were on the field.

“That’s what molded my brother and I into really good players.”

Josh’s early diamond path was supported by parents John and Joan and took him from Terre Haute North Little League to Terre Haute Babe Ruth League All-StarsT and travel baseball stints with the Terre Haute Indians (organized by his father) and the Indy Bulldogs.

Following in his brother’s footsteps, he was one of the few freshmen to play varsity baseball for coach Shawn Turner at Terre Haute North Vigo High School. In order to make that happen, Josh had to change positions.

While he had done some catching as a young player, he was a shortstop, center fielder and pitcher as he approached high school.

The Patriots had a need behind the plate and Turner led Josh know that was his ticket to varsity playing time as a frosh.

“It almost suited me perfectly. I stopped growing up and started getting wider,” says Phegley. “I have that build to be a catcher and I just wanted to be a varsity high school player.”

That’s when they went to a friend of the family. Brian Dorsett was a star at Terre Haute North Vigo and Indiana State University who went on to be a catcher in the majors for eight seasons. He still lived in town.

Dorsett had helped a young Josh with hitting lessons and Dorsett’s oldest daughter, Abby, was in Josh’s class. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer agreed to help young Phegley with his catching skills.

“We tried to utilize all the resources we could find,” says Phegley. “Having an ex-major leaguer catcher in the same town was pretty beneficial for me.”

That spring he played in a lineup that included nine players who would go on to play NCAA Division I baseball. Besides the Phegley boys — Josh (Indiana) and John (Purdue) —  some of those include Blake Holler (Stanford), Max Hutson (Wichita State), John Cummins (Purdue) and Chris Macke (Ohio State).

Left-hander Holler was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels and pitched two seasons of minor league baseball.

Phegley played four seasons for Turner (who moved on to Richmond) and spent three high school summers with Terre Haute American Legion Post 346, managed by John Hayes.

Post 346 brought together the best players from Terre Haute North Vigo and their three closest rivals — Terre Haute South Vigo, West Vigo and Northview.

“(Hayes) was all about having fun and enjoy the guys around you,” says Phegley. “Playing unselfishly and having fun — that’s how you can become successful. American Legion baseball is the most fun I’ve had in the summertime.”

The summer after high school graduation in 2006, Phegley and Post 346 finished second to Metairie, La., in the American Legion World Series. The young backstop also earned MVP honors at the IHSBCA All-Star Series and was named as Indiana’s Mr. Baseball.

Phegley’s last season at Terre Haute North was the first for Tracy Smith as head baseball coach at Indiana University and Phegley became the first player he signed to play for the Hoosiers.

Smith (who is now head baseball coach at Arizona State University) also liked to have fun, but insisted that his players know about accountability and responsibility.

“College baseball is a different animal,” says Phegley. “There’s a lot of work and you have to take care of things (academically) so you can play. Going to school and a heavy (NCAA) D-I schedule is hard to handle.”

Smith emphasized the importance of doing it all.”

“Being a leader on the team means taking care of everything,” says Phegley. “It’s being organized and put together and being a good example for the other guys. Causing us to run extra sprints after practice because I turned an assignment in late is nothing to be proud of.”

As an IU freshman, Phegley started 42 times as the team’s primary catcher. As a sophomore, the right-handed hitter finished second in the nation with a .438 average and was a second-team All-American and Johnny Bench Award finalist. As a junior, he was named Big Ten Player of the Year by Rivals.com and was a Johnny Bench Award and Golden Spikes Award semifinalist. He was selected as a supplemental pick in the first round of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox.

That’s when he began to see what a challenge baseball can really present.

“It doesn’t hurt to be drafted kind of high (38th overall) and knowing (the White Sox) were going to take the time and give you opportunities,” says Phegley. “They expect some ups and downs. That’s just baseball. You need to learn how to control the downs as well as the ups. You want to stay even keel and respect the process of the development.”

It’s easier said than done.

“You see a lot of guys getting lost in the minor leagues,” says Phegley. “It takes some years to get through it. I got drafted in 2009 and made my major league debut in 2013. You can get lost and forget what the final goal is

“Baseball is a game surrounded by failure. You can get consumed in day-to-day stats. It’s such a mental grind (especially in the ow minors). It can beat you up pretty good. It seems so far away. There are so many guys in front of you. How do I beat the masses that get drafted every year and get to the big leagues?”

Phegley got a serious surprise in his second pro season. In 2010, he was limited to just 48 games due to Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), a rare autoimmune disorder that lowers platelet count.

“Out of nowhere my body started killing my own platelets,” says Phegley. “We battled through that 2010 season, doing different treatments to try to get back on the field. They took out my spleen in November 2010 and it totally flipped it back. It’s always in the back of my head. It can come back.”

When Phegley came back, he began to rise through the White Sox system, finishing at Triple-A in 2011, playing the whole 2012 campaign there and then seeing his first MLB action July 5, 2013. He made 65 appearances with Chicago in 2013 and and spent most of 2014 at Triple-A Charlotte.

Two weeks before Christmas in 2014, Phegley was traded along with Chris Bassitt, Marcus Semien and Rangel Ravelo to the Athletics for Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa. Phegley was in 73 games with Oakland in 2015, 25 in 2016 and 57 in 2017.

Phegley hit .256 with a home run and 10 RBI in 2016, a season shortened due to two stints on the disabled list with a strained right knee.

He spent two stints on the disabled list and one one the paternity list in 2017. Josh and Jessica Phegley, who married in 2012, have a daughter and son — Stella (2 1/2) and Calvin (4 months). They have resided in Noblesville since April 2015. The couple met while Josh was living with Smith and training in Bloomington and Jessica was finishing graduate school at IU. She has three degrees (psychology, nursing and a masters in health promotion).

Josh’s older sister, Jennifer, also lives in the Indianapolis area. As a college softball player at St. Mary-of-the-Woods 2003-06, she stole 58 bases (26 her senior season for the Pomeroys).

One of Phegley’s Oakland teammates is Valparaiso-born Sean Manaea.

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Josh Phegley, a 2006 Terre Haute North Vigo High School and former Indiana University standout, is now a catcher with the Oakland Athletics. He made his Major League Baseball debut with the Chicago White Sox in 2013. (Oakland Athletics Photo)

 

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West Vigo baseball’s DeGroote wants to be role model to his players

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the son of coach and middle of three athletic brothers, Culley DeGroote soaked in plenty of knowledge on his way to becoming head baseball coach at West Vigo High School. He has led the West Terre Haute-based Vikings since the 2014 season after eight seasons serving under father Steve DeGroote.

The elder DeGroote was an assistant at Indiana State University to American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Warn 1980-85 joined the coaching staff at West Vigo and led the program from 1993-2013. His teams went 441-118 with 11 Western Indiana Conference titles, 10 sectional champions, five regionals, one semistate and one state runner-up finish (2009). In 2017, he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

“Ninety-five percent of what I do I learned from (my father),” says Culley. “I learned how you treat players. Dad was a master motivator. He got them to buy into something bigger than themselves.”

While the rules were the same for all players, Steve DeGroote knew how to relate to each one as an individual, something he picked up from his athletic career and his days as an ISU recruiter.

“They say that coaching is not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes and dad got the most out of those Jimmys and Joes,” says Culley. “He was genius at reading talent. He was one of those who could see a kid come in as freshmen and see the finished product. He could see potential in a kid that very few people could see.”

Culley saw his dad attracted to the student and the athlete who was on a straight path.

“He had that ability to read people,” says Culley. “He could pick up on people’s habits and their priority in life. He navigated toward kids who had their priorities straight like him. Dad doesn’t drink, smoke or party. His faith is important to him. He was the (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) director at West Vigo. He lived a clean life and lived by example.

“I’ve tried to role model that with my players. I know you’re not going to be perfect, but you need to be striving for perfection.”

Steve DeGroote’s boys — Cory (West Vigo Class of 1991), Culley (1995) and Casey (1998) — were all three-sport athletes for the Vikings. Cory and Culley are both in the West Vigo Athletic Hall of Fame.

Cory DeGroote went to The Citadel to play basketball and baseball and then transferred to Indiana State, where he played baseball for three seasons. He coached multiple sports at North White High School and then served 12 seasons as head baseball coach at Mattawan (Mich.) High School. He is now president of Peak Performance, a travel sports organization based in Mattawan.

Casey DeGroote was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched as a professional until 2004. He served as general manager of the Terre Haute Rex in the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League and is now a train engineer.

Culley DeGroote earned the McMillan Award as the top male athlete in Vigo County and was an IHSBCA All-Star as a senior. He was a three-year starter in football, basketball and baseball and went on to be a three-year starter on both the hardwood and diamond at Franklin College.

His last baseball season was his junior year (he transferred to Indiana State to finish his degree). It was also the first as head coach for Lance Marshall, who still guides the Grizzlies.

“He cared about us as people,” says Culley. “He wanted to know your story and your background. I told myself that when I become a head coach, I hope my players in some way feel about me the way they felt about Coach Marshall.

“He was quiet and no-nonsense, but a super positive guy. You felt good about yourself after talking to Coach Marshall.”

Culley began his coaching career with a four-year stint on the staff of Scott Spada at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School. Before Spada, Derek Jeter played baseball for the Maroon Giants and went on to be captain of the New York Yankees. Future Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings did play for Spada.

Also the school’s head boys soccer coach, Culley heads in the 2018 baseball season with Zack Kent (varsity) and Kyle Stewart (junior varsity) as assistant coaches.

Steve DeGroote is still helping the Vikings baseball program as middle school director. The feeder program fielded two squads last spring — sixth and seventh graders combined and eighth graders. Playing 15 to 20 five-inning doubleheaders, the middle schoolers are heading into their third season in 2018.

“It’s an awesome thing,” says Culley. “It gives you a lot of flexibility and unity. It’s closed the gap between middle school and high school ball. We teach the same things. Getting coached in a lot of the little things that can win you a championship at a younger level.

“(Middle schoolers) get to play on the high school field and they love that.”

At a cost of more than $10,000, that field was upgraded in the fall of 2016 with more than 100 tons of infield dirt and artificial turf around the mound and home plate areas.

“That was the best idea I ever had,” says Culley. “We were getting in games (in 2017) we never got in before.”

Culley teaches physical education at the middle school and gets a chance to have a relationship with athletes as sixth graders.

West Terre Haute Little League, where Steve Shaffer is president, has three fields and four leagues (T-ball, minor and major).

“They are the lifeline of our program,” says Culley.

All of it has gone to help numbers at the high school. There were 15 freshmen baseball players at West Vigo in 2017 and 19 the year before that.

The varsity Vikings went 17-9 and lost to Edgewood in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 3A Northview Sectional.

West Vigo is in the West Division of the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam and Sullivan. Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley comprise the WIC East Division.

With about 1,023 students, Northview is the biggest school in the 2A/3A league with Cloverdale (370) as the smallest. West Vigo (581) is in-between.

Conference games are played five straight Tuesdays with a crossover game on the sixth Tuesday.

Since 1998, the Vikings have sent eight players on to NCAA Division I baseball and had three players drafted out of high school (Casey DeGroote by the Yankees in 1998, infielder Lenny Leclercq by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round in 2005 and Jeremy Lucas by the Cleveland Indians in the 12th round in 2009).

Right-hander Morgan Coombs, a 2006 graduate, played at Lincoln Trail College and Ball State University and went un-drafted before three seasons with the independent Gary SouthShore RailCats. He was the Australian Baseball League’s Pitcher of the Year in 2015 with the Adelaide Bite.

Middle infielder Tyler Wampler, a 2010 graduate, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Indiana State in the 17th round in 2014. He was head coach for the Terre Haute Rex in 2016-17.

Three of Culley’s players are currently at the D-I level — pitcher Davie Inman (West Vigo Class of 2015) at Coastal Carolina University, middle infielder Jordan Schafer (2016) at Indiana State and first baseman/pitcher Ty Lautenschlager (2017) at Northern Illinois University.

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Culley DeGroote, a 1995 West Vigo High School graduate, is entering his fifth season as Vikings head baseball coach in 2018. Before that, he was an assistant to father Steve DeGroote, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

Trout, defending 3A state champion Northview ‘embrace the target’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Northview took a junior-heavy team to Indianapolis in 2016 and claimed the first IHSAA team state title in school history — a Class 3A baseball championship.

The question started around Brazil: What will the Knights do with all those seniors in 2017?

The answer is very well.

Fourth-year head coach Craig Trout has gotten his squad to “embrace the target” and led by 10 members from the Class of ’17, Northview is 25-3 and again in the 3A southern semistate against Jasper (30-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 10 at Jasper’s Ruxer Field. That’s one win away from a return trip to Victory Field.

“I told them the target’s on their back,” says Trout. “They can run from it or embrace it. We want to play better baseball every time we go out and play somebody and still carry ourselves with humility and a hard work status.”

The Knights topped Sullivan, Owen Valley and Edgewood to win the Northview Sectional then Brebeuf and Tri-West Hendricks to take the Brebeuf Regional (moved from Crawfordsville after a tornado hit Montgomery County).

Northview, a member of the Western Indiana Conference (along with Brown County, Edgewood, Owen Valley, South Vermillion, Sullivan and West Vigo), is reaping the benefits of a core group that began playing and winning together at a young age. The senior class has earned seven state baseball titles from youth leagues on up.

“They’ve learned how to win,” says Trout. “That’s really important for a culture.”

Having been there before, Trout’s players know what it means to play in close games, come from behind or hold on to a lead.

Some of the younger Knights were also a part of the North Clay Middle School baseball program, started when Trout took over as head coach from Scott McDonald for the 2014 season (he was a McDonald assistant for five).

“It builds a cohesiveness,” says Trout of middle school baseball. “They play with each other at least two years and build that bond of brotherhood. It helps teams become winners.”

Clay Youth League and travel teams have also kept the diamond momentum up in a program that has long been a winner (just not a state champion until 2016).

Trout was a catcher for the Knights and coach Gary Witham, who went 581-274 in 31 seasons (1978-84 at pre-consolidation Brazil and 1985-2008 at Northview).

One of Trout’s fond memories was playing games for Witham in Costa Rica in the summer of 2004.

Brazil/Northview won 11 sectionals on Witham’s watch with the first regional coming in Trout’s senior season of 2005. The Knights won one sectional for McDonald and now have two sectionals and two regionals with Trout in charge.

Trout remembers Witham’s strengths as a coach.

“He would focus on practice, making sure the time we spent was time well-spent,” says Trout. “There was not a lot of down time.

“Gary was pretty calm during the game. I’m a really emotional guy. I ride the highs and lows a lot. He was good to the players.”

Besides embracing the target, Trout has his ’17 Knights “FIT” for the task at hand. That’s Focus, Intensity and Toughness.

“We want to win every inning and play Northview baseball (small ball with timely hits),” says Trout on Focus.

Intensity manifests itself in being present and positive — on the bench and on the field.

Toughness means the Knights are always tracking the ball and hustling.

“That’s been the M.O. for this team,” says Trout.

Helping make all those things happen are Trout’s assistant coaches — Mitch Lancaster, Tony Trout, Scott McDonald, Jim Tucker and Trent Lancaster.

Lancaster and Trout were in Craig’s first two hires.

Mitch Lancaster, who has coached multiple sports and various schools and the son of former Brazil head baseball coach Bob Lancaster, is in charge of defense and helps with strategy.

Tony Trout, Craig’s father, is the pitching/catching coach. Father and son are both social studies teachers at NHS.

Former head coach McDonald is a statistician and in-game strategist. Tucker coaches the junior varsity. Trent Lancaster is C-team and strength and conditioning coach.

Craig Trout, an Indiana State University graduate, began his coaching career in 2006 as a football assistant. He has coached basketball and track and was at Marshall (Ill.) High School for a time before coming back to Brazil.

The Trouts are a baseball family. Craig’s father Tony Trout was a catcher at Staunton High School, Wabash Valley College and Indiana University. Grandfather Virgil Trout pitched in the New York Giants system with Hannibal, Mo., and Michigan City. Uncle Joe Trout pitched for Indiana State. Great uncle Jim Casassa was also a pitcher who tried out for the Detroit Tigers. There are stories about seeing Satchel Paige pitch against the old Terre Haute Tots.

Craig has also been a sponge around Indiana high school’s greatest baseball minds, including Jasper’s Terry Gobert and Crawfordsville’s John Froedge.

“Being 31 and being a head coach is a difficult task,” says Trout. “You are still figuring things out. Being in the coaching fraternity and being successful has been great for me.”

“(Veteran coaches) came to me as mentors and gave me great information that I’ll always remember.”

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Craig Trout celebrates a regional baseball championship with wife Robin, daughter Calli Drew and son Lincoln. Trout is in his fourth season as head coach at Northview High School. The Knights were Class 3A state champions in 2016.

Sassanella brings passion to Brebeuf baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeremy Sassanella played baseball with zeal.

A sense of intensity and enthusiasm followed the switch-hitting catcher and first baseman from his days at DeKalb High School, where he graduated in 1997, to professional stops in the Detroit Tigers organization and the with independent Frontier League’s Richmond Roosters.

He took that energy into coaching at the high school level as a varsity assistant at Fort Wayne Northrop in 2004 (the Bruins won the sectional) and head coach at Fort Wayne South Side from 2005-07.

Meanwhile, Sassanella was entering the financial services world and his family was growing (Jeremy and Kate count six in their blended bunch).

When he moved from northeast Indiana to Indianapolis, he continued in his daytime work (he’s employed by Horizon Planning Group) but maintained his interest in coaching. He led the Mudsox, a Fishers-based travel team, in 2013.

Sassanella joined the Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School program as an assistant, but was not actively pursuing high school head coaching positions when a friend and president of the Indianapolis Adult Baseball League, John DeCosta, persuaded him to throw his hat in the ring when the top spot on the Braves staff came open.

With his plate full away from the diamond, Sassanella added one more duty to his list.

“I have a very, very gracious and understanding wife,” says Sassanella. “She knows this is a passion, I enjoy it and I’m good at it.”

Good enough that he led the Braves to a 25-8 record and a Bishop Chatard Sectional crown in his first season as head coach in 2016

“We weren’t playing any patty cakes,” says Sassanella. “The first week I took over, I said to (Brebeuf athletic director) Ted (Hampton), I want to build the best schedule I can.

“Like it or not, it will help us be ready fro the 3A tournament.”

Not only do the Braves compete in the new Circle City Conference (with Chatard, Guerin Catholic and defending 4A state champion Roncalli), the 2017 slate includes Carmel, Hamilton Southeastern, Zionsville, Indianapolis Cathedral, Andrean and defending 3A state champion Northview — just to name a few.

As a coach, Sassanella takes his own diamond experiences and relates them to teenager ballplayers.

“I want them to have some opportunities and insights I didn’t have,” says Sassanella. “There are things I wish I could go back and tell my 16- or 17-year-old self.

“Playing pro ball was a blessing. I understand what it is to have success and fail at a high level. I was a talented athlete, but I absolutely had to work my butt off to have the success I had.”

Sassanella insists that his players go all out and they know the sport. He and assistants Joe Perkins, Rob Baker and Chris Vale — the latter two played at Purdue — “keep it really simple” while also talking constantly about situations.

“We do drills over and over and over again,” says Sassanella. When something happens in a game, it’s already been covered in practice.

“I hope when baseball people watch us play, they see that,” says Sassanella. “Our kids play hard and fundamentally sound.

“So much of the game is emotional and mental.”

What about the new pitch count rules for 2017?

“With my background, I’m probably overprotective of arms,” says Sassanella. “My top two pitchers threw just over 40 innings apiece (last year).”

The most pitches thrown by a Brebeuf varsity pitcher in 2016 was 103 and that was in the third week of May.

“With the amount of depth we have, I’m never worried about running into pitch count issues,” says Sassanella.

While the private school does not have a traditional feeder system, Sassanella has established an off-season six-week instructional program with open fields for incoming freshmen.

“Brebeuf is going to sell itself and all it is academically and culturally,” says Sassanella. “Everything goes through admissions. Parents want this education first. They’ll seek out Brebeuf and want to be part of our baseball program.”

The coach is also a strong believer in sportsmanship and would like to see umpires do something about cat calling and the like.

“It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about respect for the game,” says Sassanella. “I’d crack down on some of the nonsense.

“Do it with grace and dignity and go home.”

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Jeremy Sassanella is in his second season as head baseball coach at Brebeuf Jesuit in Indianapolis. The Braves won 25 games and a sectional title in 2016.