Tag Archives: Northwest Indiana Oilmen

Lake Central alum Tomasic’s diamond path takes twists, turns

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

Circumstances have caused Conner Tomasic to build his baseball and academic careers in unique ways. 
The 2018 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., went to Purdue University in West Lafayette for two seasons (2019 and 2020), transferred to South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., for one (2021) and then came back to the Big Ten with Michigan State University (2022).
The right-handed pitcher has another year of college eligibility, but his next move might be as an independent pro.
This fall, Tomasic is a commuter student at Purdue Northwest in Hammond, Ind., while staying prepared for his diamond future. His major is Construction Engineering and Management Technology.
Tomasic entered college as a Kinesiology major. Having had Tommy John surgery in high school he had worked with plenty of physical therapists. A Biology course at Purdue made him decide that was not the path for him. He followed some teammates and went with construction.
“I like to see things in front of me and work with my hands,” says Tomasic. “It felt like a teamwork class. I felt comfortable with it.
“You learned how to deal with people and work a job site.
An associate degree was earned at South Suburban, a two-year school. But Tomasic also faced a bit of a curve. He had to switch his major at Michigan State to Psychology to stay eligible.
A 6-foot-1, 185-pounder, Tomasic took the mound 17 times (nine as a starter) for head coach Jake Boss Jr.’s MSU Spartans. He went 4-4 with a 5.40 earned run average, 41 strikeouts and 26 walks in 65 innings.
Because of the work load, Tomasic did not play summer ball, focusing on strength training. In July, he began traveling from Schererville, Ind., to PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., to work with Director of Player Development/Pitching Anthony Gomez. The two have known each other since Tomasic — who turned 23 in August — was an eighth or ninth grader and Gomez was coaching in northwest Indiana.
“We’ve always been close,” says Tomasic of Gomez. “It’s nice to work with someone who’s seen me grow up and develop.
“He knows my delivery almost as well as I do. He knows what I need at the end of the day.”
His PNW classes meet Monday through Thursday then Tomasic heads to central Indiana for workouts later that day or on Friday before returning to The Region.
Tomasic has three pitches — a four-seam fastball, slider and change-up.
His four-seamer was clocked at 92.9 mph this summer at 93 mph at South Suburban.
His slider — often thrown between 77 to 79 mph — has evolved.
“When I first started throwing it, it was a ‘gyro,’ says Tomasic of the pitch’s movement. “Now it’s getting mike more a ‘bullet’ slider. You can see the dot (as it rotates).
“My change-up, some people think it’s a splitter. It depends on what it’s doing that day. The majority of the time it’s going to sink and have arm-side run. But sometimes it dives straight down.”
Tomasic describes his delivery as “a little funky.”
The arm angle is about mid-three quarter overhand. But the delivery comes low.
“It’s something (opposing batters) don’t see that often,” says Tomasic. “My fastball plays up in the zone so it seems fast than it is.”
Tomasic sees determination and focus as two of his best athletic qualities.
“I’m a guy who know how to separate his sport from his daily life,” says Tomasic. “If I have a bad, I flush it. If I have a good day, I forget about it quick.
“You’ve got the day ahead of you in baseball.”
Born in Hammond and raised in Schererville, Conner is the oldest of Jerry and Dena Tomasic’s two children. Jennifer Tomasic (Lake Central Class of 2021) played basketball at Indiana University Northwest in Gary and Governors State University (University Park, Ill.).
Jerry Tomasic was born in Yugoslavia before that country split and moved to the U.S. around 2. He played baseball but not past junior high and went on to play basketball at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa.
Dena Tomasic works at Cheers Food & Drink in Munster, Ind.
Conner played for the Dyer team that finished runner-up to eventual Little League World Series qualifier New Castle in 2012.
When he was ready for a travel ball transition outside northwest Indiana at 15 to 16 he was unable to play for Top Tier because of his injured elbow.
Tomasic shined as a two-way player at Lake Central and got to swing the bat for head coaches Mark Wasikowski and Greg Goff at Purdue and Steve Ruzich at South Suburban.
As a three-year letterwinner and four-time scholar-athlete at LC, he played for head coaches Jeff Sandor and Mike Swartzentruber.
The Indians won sectional titles in baseball and basketball in 2018 and Tomasic played a part while earning LCHS Pride, Hustle and Desire in both sports. He also earned 2018 Perfect Game All-American and All-Region Team honors.
He was the Roger Maris MVP in leading Team Serbia to the title in the 2018 International Baseball Challenge Tournament in Whiting, Ind.
In two seasons at Purdue, he hit .250 (3-of-12) with a triple in three runs batted and made one putout and five assists in the field. He pitched in 19 games (all in relief) with an 0-1 record, 4.30 ERA, 18 strikeouts and 11 walks in 25 1/3 innings.
At South Suburban, the pitcher/middle infielder was an National Junior College Athletic Association all-region selection as he hit .392 with 60 hits, including eighth home runs, three triples and 12 doubles with 49 RBIs, 28 walks and 15 stolen bases. On the bump, he was 6-1 with a 4.64 ERA, 81 strikeouts and 22 walks in 64 innings.
Tomasic played for the Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Larks and Midwest Collegiate League’s (now Northern League’s) Northwest Indiana Oilmen in the summers of 2019 and 2020.
Along the way the focus became pitching rather than two-way player.
“I think I’m athletic enough,” says Tomasic. “I can pull it off.”

Conner Tomasic. (Michigan State University)
Conner Tomasic. (Michigan State University)

Conner Tomasic. (Michigan State University)

Right-hander Patrick embraces baseball’s grind, competition

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

Chad Patrick is in his second professional baseball season in the Arizona Diamondbacks system.
He turned 24 on Aug. 14 and recently joined the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops of the High-A Northwest League.
Patrick has been pitching more than half his life.
The right-hander was an 11-year-old at DeMotte (Ind.) Little League when he first took the mound.
For years, he got pitching lessons from Joe Plesac and continued to develop as he moved up through Little League, Crown Point (Ind.) Babe Ruth Baseball and into high school.
Born in Crown Point, Patrick moved from Hebron, Ind., to DeMotte for grades 1-7. With a chance to play ball with his cousins and to be another generation of his family to be educated there he came back to Hebron.
Chad Patrick and Tyler Patrick graduated there in 2017 and Travis Patrick got his diploma in 2018.
The Hebron Hawks were coached by John Steinhilber.
“I like John,” says Chad Patrick. “He’s always been good to me.”
Hebron amassed double digits in victories in each of the four seasons Patrick was on the varsity, including 21 his junior year of 2016 and 29 in his senior season of 2017 with a pair of IHSAA Class 2A sectional and regional titles.
Patrick was named all-conference, all-area and all-state.
With a chance a consistent playing time and development, the son of Dan Patrick and Jackie Edwards stayed close to home for college and went to NCAA Division II Purdue Northwest, which has campuses in Hammond and Westville.
As part of the the PNW Pride, Patrick played for head coach Dave Griffin and they became close.
“I think of him as my second dad,” says Patrick of Griffin. “He took care of me there. He was there any time I had a question.
“Right when I met him he told me I had the stuff to be a professional baseball player. He sold me on going to Purdue Northwest instead of D-I opportunities.
“He gave me that confidence.”
In four college seasons (2018-21), Patrick appeared in 32 games (27 starts) and went 12-12 with a 3.36 earned run average, 211 strikeouts and 64 walks over 166 innings.
Patrick has about a year to go to complete a Business Management degree. Griffin, who runs Dave Griffin’s Baseball School (a training facility with travel teams in Griffith, Ind.), has that kind of diploma.
“At some point I’d like to do that on the side,” says Patrick. “Not for the money but to give back to kids and whatnot.”
His pitching coach at PNW was Shane Prance.
“He’s become a really good friend of mine,” says Patrick of Prance (who is now head baseball coach at Portage High School). “He helped me out last off-season and will probably help me this off-season. It depends if I spend it in Arizona or Indiana.”
The righty spent the summer of 2018 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen (Whiting, Ind.) and the summers of 2019 and 2020 with the Northwoods League’s Traverse City (Mich.) Pit Spitters.
Patrick was selected by the Diamondbacks in the fourth round of the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He got into two games with the Low-A California League’s Visalia (Calif.) Rawhide and went 0-0 with 4.76 ERA, six strikeouts and one walk over 5 2/3 innings.
Spring training for 2022 in Scottsdale, Ariz., saw Patrick break his right wrist. He was a part of pitchers’ fielding practice on a half field when he fell on concrete.
He did a rehab stint with the Arizona Complex League’s Diamondbacks Black then moved on to Visalia and then Hillsboro. For the season, he had made eight appearances (five) and is 2-2 with a 2.08 ERA, 31 strikeouts and nine walks over 21 2/3 innings.
Patrick is part of a five-man rotation.
“I’ve got a routine now,” says Patrick, who does interval training and some light running or biking on the day after a start, long toss and a bullpen session on Day 2 and then does lifting and works on his pitches leading up to the next start and a chance to compete.
“That’s my greatest asset,” says Patrick of his competitiveness. “I’m going to have my best stuff. Nobody likes to lose at what they’re good at.
“What I’ve learned about myself (as a pro) is that it’s a grind and I have the will to work hard everyday. I show up everyday with a good attitude. It comes pretty easy to me.
“If you love what you do you’re not working.”
The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder uses three pitches form a three-quarter arm slot — slider, four-seam fastball and change-up.
His slider runs away from a right-handed hitter. His four-seamer gets up to 94 mph.
“My change-up, I just learned in it Visalia,” says Patrick. “It’s probably my best pitch right now. It just dives.”
Dan Patrick works for Area Sheet Metal in Hobart. Jackie Edwards is a Registered Nurse.
Chad has three older sisters (Katrice, Taylor and Shanan) and a younger brother (Cole). The girls were in various sports at Kankakee Valley. Cole participated in swimming and track and spent two years each at Kankakee Valley and Hebron.

Chad Patrick throws a bullpen for Purdue Northwest in 2020.
Chad Patrick (Purdue Northwest Photo)
Chad Patrick (Purdue Northwest Photo)
Chad Patrick (Arizona Diamondbacks Photo)

Chad Patrick (Visalia Rawhide Photo)

Chad Patrick (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

Right-hander Maynard brings ‘bulldog mentality’ to the mound

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

Johnny Maynard is not yet sure where he’ll throw his next regular-season collegiate pitch.
But he is certain how he will approach baseball. The way he always has — with a strong work ethic and bulldog mentality.
“It’s how I raised by my parents,” says Maynard, who turns 22 today (June 30). “Whatever you start you have to finish. I never quit anything ever. Always go full-out.
“I really don’t care who I’m competing against, I know they’re not going to beat me. I’m a 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher. I’m usually one of the smaller guys on the team. I have to work harder to the get the results and earn respect.”
Maynard (rhymes with Play Hard), a 2019 Griffith (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School graduate who is now in the Transfer Portal after two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., (2020 and 2021) and one at NCAA Division I Radford (Va.) University. The Sports Management and Marketing major hurled 5 1/3 innings in six appearances for the 2022 Highlanders.
Alex Guerra was hired as Radford head coach after the season.
This summer, Maynard is pitching for the Coastal Plain League’s Jeremy Knight-coached Asheboro (N.C.) ZooKeepers.
Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Maynard uses on four-seam fastball, one-seamer, curveball and change-up.
The four-seam sits 87 to 89 mph and has been up to 92.
“The one-seamer (finger on just one seam) I learned this year,” says Maynard. “My two-seamer was not moving the way I wanted it to. (The one-seamer) gets pretty good movement away from a lefty and has pretty good sink to it. It works off my (circle) change-up (which is generally thrown 82 to 84 mph.”
Maynard employs a curve that is 1-to-7 on the clock face.
“It drops off the table pretty well,” says Maynard.
Born in Munster, Ind., Maynard moved to Griffith as a sixth grader. He played in Munster and Griffith youth leagues then went into travel ball and suited up for the Northwest Indiana Shockers, Steelheads, Cobras, Slammers, Hammond Chiefs and 18U Midwest Irish.
At Griffith High, Maynard played four years for Panthers coach coach Brian Jennings, starting as a freshman.
“He’s a great guy,” says Maynard of Jennings, who retired after the 2022 season.
Lincoln Trail coach Kevin Bowers allowed the righty got to close some games for the Statesman. One of his highlights is slamming the door on highly-ranked John A. Logan during the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Maynard split the summer of 2019 between the Irish and Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen. He also got in a few innings with that Whiting-based team in 2020. He was with the Tropics of the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2021, which allowed him to work at home and then commute two-plus hours to games.
Johnny’s mother, Jen Maynard, is a cardiac tech in northwest Indiana. Father Mike Maynard is recently-retired and living in Florida. Sister Lauren Maynard played and coached softball at Purdue Northwest and is now in nursing school.

Johnny Maynard (Asheboro ZooKeepers Photo)
Johnny Maynard (Anne Bowers Photo)
Johnny Maynard (Anne Bowers Photo)
Johnny Maynard (Lincoln Trail College Photo)
Johnny Maynard (Lincoln Trail College Photo)

Saint Joseph grad, Morehead State righty Rotkis knows confidence is key

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

Joe Rotkis got just eight outs in his first season as a college baseball pitcher.
Taking the mound for Morehead (Ky.) State University in 2020, the right-hander from South Bend (Ind.) Saint Joseph High School hurled 2 1/3 innings.
“It was the worst 2 1/3 innings I pitched in my entire life,” says Rotkis, who gave up 16 earned runs and 14 hits as an MSU freshman. “It was frustrating in the moment. I knew what I was capable of and I didn’t show it.”
That became the driving force for Rotkis through the rest of the COVID-19 spring and summer and into the 2021 season.
After the 2020 shutdown, Rotkis played for the Midwest Collegiate League’s Whiting-based Northwest Indiana Oilmen.
“That was awesome,” says Rotkis, who pitched well enough in his first two relief stints that he landed a spot in the Oilmen’s starting rotation.”
He also got to work with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko. He took to approach espoused by the former pro moundsman.
“He said I was just over-thinking things and to go out and do what I know I can do,” says Rotkis, 20. “I gained confidence last summer.
“Confidence is the best tool.”
Playing this spring at Morehead State, where Mik Aoki is the head coach and Brady Ward the pitching coach, Rotkis made 13 appearances (all out of the bullpen) and was 2-0 with a 4.05 earned run average. In 26 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked 10.
Rotkis uses four pitches — a two-seam sinking fastball, a four-seam fastball, a “circle” change-up and a slider.
“It plays off the sinker and the same tunnel, working different sides of the plate,” says Rotkis, who throws from a mid-three-quarter overhand arm slot which helps with his sinker and touched 92 mph a few times in the spring while sitting in the high 80s. “I like to throw anything to anybody.
“I just throw what I think’s going to beat them at that point.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Rotkis went for an assessment at the P3 (Premier Pitching Performance) lab in St. Louis and is working this summer with Director of Remote Pitching Mitch Plassmeyer while following a structuring throwing and weightlifting plan near home in Granger, Ind.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” says Rotkis of Plassmeyer. “He filled my head with knowledge.”
In the third week of the program, Rotkis lifts four times a week — two upper body and two lower body. He does mobility moves before lifting and throwing.
Working out with former high school teammate Patrick Farrissee (now on the Clemson University club baseball team) on the practice football fields at Notre Dame, Rotkis long tosses 100 yards or more.
As a sophomore, Farrissee was the starting left fielder when Saint Joseph won the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A state championship.
Rotkis is a 2019 graduate of Saint Joseph, where he and buddies Farrissee, Mitchell Coleman, Nick Dolniak, Surf Sadowey, Michael Schroeder and Brady Gumpf (now at Notre Dame) played for former Indians head coach John Gumpf and former assistant and current bench boss John Smolinski.
“They made practice enjoyable to come to each day,” says Rotkis, who began to get some NCAA Division I offers through the Area Code Games trials at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
He was recruited by Morehead State when Mike McGuire was head coach and Kane Sweeney the pitching coach and then they both left for the University of South Carolina Upstate.
Aoki and Ward convinced Rotkis to still come play for the Eagles.
Born in Elkhart, Ind., Rotkis moved from Bristol, Ind., to Granger around age 5 with parents Mike and Jill and younger brother Andrew (a 2021 St. Joseph graduate bound for Purdue University).
Joe played at what is now Harris Baseball Softball and then Chet Waggoner Little League in South Bend which led to the Michiana Baseball Club travel team. As a high school, he was with the South Bend Cubs travel organization, spending two summers with South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley as coach.
“Mark Haley is one of the smartest and one of the most caring baseball guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to,” says Rotkis. “He’s awesome.
“We were learning the game, the ins and out and the little things.”

Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)
Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)

Joe Rotkis (Morehead State University Photo)

Purdue Fort Wayne right-hander Madura experiences growth

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It was not the way he would have scripted it, but Mike Madura saw positive gains when the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 baseball season at Purdue Fort Wayne and sent him home to Munster, Ind.

Unable to get to a gym, right-handed pitcher Madura worked at home and added strength and weight to his 6-foot-6 frame. He now tips the scales at about 205.

While coronavirus did not make an internship with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen practical for the “Passport to Success” points required by Purdue Fort Wayne for his Business Economics and Public Policy major, Madura was able to pitch for the Midwest Collegiate League team for the second straight summer. 

On Sunday, Aug. 16, he threw eight shutout innings of two-hit baseball with eight strikeouts and two walks as the Oilmen beat the DuPage County Hounds in Game 2 of the MCL championship series. It was a must-win situation since DuPage had taken Game 1.

“It was awesome that atmosphere at Oil City Stadium (in Whiting),” says Madura of his 99-pitch outing. “I trusted my preparation.

“I had playoff experience. I pitched in Game of the semifinals (in 2019) and that definitely helped.”

Madura pushed his two-year mark with the Oilmen to 10-0. He was a starter and part-time reliever in 2019 and was strictly used as a starter in 2020 with Chris Cunningham as manager and Matt Pobereyko as pitching coach. 

Playing summer ball so close to home allowed Madura to continue working on his physical gains while also taking two summer courses. He is on pace to graduate from PFW in the spring. He plans to go to Fort Wayne this weekend and classes — some in-person and some online — are to begin Monday, Aug. 24.

The spring of 2020 marked Madura’s first with the NCAA Division I Mastodons. He made four mound appearances (all in relief) and went 0-0 with a 4.60 earned run average, 10 strikeouts and five walks and 15 2/3 innings.

It was the first season at Purdue Fort Wayne for head coach Doug Schreiber and pitching coach Brent McNeil.

“It’s awesome,” says Madura of playing for Schreiber, whose resume includes 18 years as head coach at Purdue in West Lafayette. “He’s got a lot of experience in Division I baseball.”

McNeil leads a pitcher development program that allows hurlers to work based on what their body is telling them.

“Listening to your arm, he really preaches that,” says Madura of McNeil. “Something I like about our program is recovery and sprint work.”

The Dons use Jaeger Sports J-bands, Driveline PlyoCare Balls and also sprint up to 60 yards to help with recovery and conditioning.

“It helps keep your legs in shape,” says Madura. “It helps with recovery by getting the whole body going.

“We don’t run long distance at all. We’re trying to be more explosive.”

This summer, Madura regularly threw his fastball (he has a four-seamer and two-seamer) at 87 to 89 mph and touched 90 a few times. Using a high three-quarter arm slot, he also employs a “circle” change-up and tosses a slider. 

“It has more of a slurve action on it,” says Madura. “It’s a two-plane break. 

“It depends on what I’m trying to do in that at-bat — get it over for a strike or, if I’m trying to put a guy away, I’ll throw it harder.”

Born with two webbed fingers on his left hand, Madura had surgery at about 2. His parents — Mike and Sherrie — bought him baseball gloves for a righty or a lefty and he ended up using the former though he does many everyday tasks with his left hand.

Madura was born and raised in Munster. He played his earliest organized baseball at the Hammond YMCA. From 7 to 9, he played both at Munster Little League and for the traveling Schererville-based Pro Style Rockers. Then came a few summers with the Sports Works Stars. That team was coached by his father — also known as Mike. 

The student-athlete who turns 22 in October is the sixth in a line possessing that name. When he was younger, it was easier to keep him and his father straight by referring to Big Mike and Little Mike. But the younger Madura — sometimes known as Michael — was 6-3 entering high school, 6-5 leaving it and grew an inch since going into college.

Is being tall an advantage?

Madura sees it as one.

“I have a lot more leverage on my pitches,” says Madura. “There’s a downward angle.

“It makes it that much harder on a hitter.”

Michael Madura was with the Northwest Indiana Hurricanes (father Mike as an assistant coach) at 12U and 13U.

Madura closed out his high school summers with the Hammond/Indiana Chiefs, playing for head coach Todd Iwema at 14U and 15U and organization founder Dave Sutkowski at 16U and 17U.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer/geometry teacher Bob Shinkan coached Madura with the Munster High School Mustangs and also had him as class aide.

“Coach Shinkan’s an awesome guy,” says Madura, who admired his ability to have fun while also getting his point across when it was time to get serious.

Madura played for the Chicago Suburban Baseball League’s Hammond Lakers (with Anthony Spangler as general manager) in the summers at Hammond’s Riverside Park before and after his freshman year at Central Michigan University. 

He redshirted there at CMU in 2018, transferred to South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., and pitched in 2019 while completing his associate degree in Business Administration at the junior college. On the mound, he logged 42 innings in nine appearances (eight starts) and went 0-5 with a 4.29 ERA, 18 strikeouts and eight walks for the Steve Ruzich-coached Bulldogs.

Michael Madura is one of IT project manager Mike and nurse Sherrie Madura’s four athletic children. Tiffany (27) played volleyball at Olivet Nazarene University. Trisha (25) was a at Davenport University. Michael also played basketball until his sophomore year in high school. Kylie (14) is a volleyball and softball player at Munster High.

Mike Madura, a 2017 Munster (Ind.) High School graduate, is a 6-foot-6, 205-pound right-handed pitcher at Purdue Fort Wayne. He is 10-0 over the past two summers with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen. (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Confidence grows for Butler left-hander Graziano

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Graziano has learned lessons in confidence during his baseball career.

The left-handed pitcher built up a sense of determination that took him to weekend starter in his third season at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Years before, a surge of assurance had helped Graziano make the transition from the freshmen team to varsity as sophomore at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind.

Graziano credits Butler head coach Dave Schrage for giving him the courage to advance as a Bulldog.

“He wants to get the best out of you,” says Graziano of Schrage. “He definitely helped me settle in by instilling that confidence in me. 

“I feel like I was ready to throw pretty well.”

As a Butler freshman in 2018, Graziano made 13 mound appearances (four starts) and went 3-0 with a 4.70 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 innings.

Primarily a mid-week starter in 2019, the lefty appeared in 15 games (seven starts) and went 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 17 walks in 44 innings.

The Bulldogs were 8-7 and coming off a March 11 victory against Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) in Port Charlotte, Fla., when the team found out the 2020 season had been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were sitting at the pool,” says Graziano. “We thought we were coming back in two weeks.

“We were optimistic.”

It soon turned out that the rest of the campaign was canceled and student-athletes were sent home.

Graziano went back to northwest Indiana having gotten into four games (all as a starter) and went 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA, 15 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 1/3 innings. His first start was on a Saturday and the rest came on Sunday.

“I worked all fall to get there,” says Graziano of his role. “I finally got it. I really liked pitching on the weekend.

“Everyone’s locked in and there’s a little bit of pressure.”

When the 2020 shutdown happened, Graziano had already secured an internship and was looking to find a baseball team for the summer.

A double major in Finance and Risk Management, Graziano is doing his internship with Chicago-based Aon and pitching on weekends with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

Butler business school requires two internships,” says Graziano. “That’s 240 hours. You also take a class, write a paper and do interviews.

“It’s kind of a lot.”

For his first internship, Joe is on the clock online at his house in Schererville, Ind., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. He is upstairs while his mother, Roxanna, does her sales job with U.S. Steel, is in the basement. 

When Joe is done with his internship duties, he does his band and weighted ball work and heads across the street to Autumn Creek Park to play catch with younger brother Joshua. 

At 21, Joe is two years older than his brother. Joshua is enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Their father, Joseph, is a manager at the BP Whiting Refinery, which is very near where Joe is in his second stint with the Oilmen.

The summer right after he graduated from Lake Central in 2017, Joe appeared in seven Northwest Indiana games (five starts) and went 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA, 39 strikeouts and six walks in 31 innings.

“It was the first time I faced college hitters,” says Graziano. “I was playing with kids out of The Region. We were  finally on a friendly surface and can be teammates.

Manager Adam Enright, a Munster (Ind.) High School and University of Southern Indiana graduate, also worked closely with Oilmen pitchers.

In 2020, he is being used strictly as a reliever.

“I didn’t want to rush back into it,” says Graziano. “I’m pitching 2-3 innings at a time. I want to build my stamina and pitch count back up.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound southpaw took off about a week off when the 2020 spring season shut down then began training, lifting weights and throwing while reaching out to the Oilmen.

“I want to keep my spot when I get back to Butler,” says Graziano.

The Oilmen are managed by Chris Cunningham. Graziano spends most of his time with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko.

“I’ve been trying to take in as much information as possible,” says Graziano. “He’s been teaching me this forkball/splitter. I have pretty big hands.

“I like how (Pobereyko) thinks on the mound. You’re better than the hitter. Never lose confidence. I definitely like Po’s mentality.”

In the summer of 2019, Graziano pitched for the Coastal Plain League’s Fayetteville (N.C.) SwampDogs

It was a struggle at first.

“I started doing well toward the end,” says Graziano. “I got a lot better out there. I had a little adversity and I battled through it.”

Fayetteville was managed by David Anderson

Lefty Graziano was with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2018. There, he enjoyed living with a host family and got to play with Butler teammate Connor Schultz.

“You make a lot of new friends in summer ball,” says Graziano, who played for a Lafayette team managed by Will Arnold. Future Butler assistant Jake Ratz was also on the Aviators coaching staff.

Ben Norton is Butler’s pitching coach. He has taught Graziano a slider and helped instill confidence.

“He’s helped me develop into a great pitcher,” says Graziano of Norton. “He helps everyone

“If you struggle, he’s not going to give up on you.”

At Lake Central, three-year letterman Graziano went 20-7 (with a pair of perfect games), including 8-4 against Duneland Athletic Conference opponents. As a senior, he went 6-3 with a 2.11 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 13 walks in 60 innings and helped the Indians to an IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional title

He was all-DAC, all-area (Northwest Indiana Times) and Academic All-State.

Jeff Sandor was LC’s head coach for Graziano’s sophomore and junior seasons. Mike Swartzentruber took over the program in his senior year.

“(Sandor) is the craziest coach I’ve played for and one of the best coaches I’ve played for,” says Graziano. “He was tough on guys. But he had to be be. He demanded that level of play.

“You knew what you had to bring to the table.”

Graziano says Swartzentruber’s strength came in team building.

“Swartz was more calm than Sandor,” says Graziano. “We all knew what we wanted to do. We had a lot of good players. Swartz did a good job of bringing the team together.”

At Lake Central — a school with about 3,300 students — it is not uncommon for close to 100 players to try out for baseball. The high school is fed by three middle schools — Clark, Grimmer and Kahler].

“There’s a lot of competition,” says Graziano, who came through Grimmer. “You feel bad when your friends don’t make the team. The school is so big.”

While the rivalries among the middle schools is fierce, they become one team at LC.

While at Lake Central, southpaw Graziano used a curve ball that was “a little loopy and slow” that fooled many high school hitters.

When he got to Butler, he left the curve for a slider that has a tighter spin and has more horizontal than vertical break.

From his three-quarter overhand arm slot, Graziano also throws a tailing four-seam fastball and a “circle” change-up.

“It’s really good against righties,” says Graziano. “It has depth and tails away.”

Born in Munster, Ind., Graziano spent the early part of his life in nearby Hammond before settling in Schererville.

While playing for the Schererville Shock — coached by Dan Bosold and Dave Lopez — he made close friends. Among those are current Purdue players Ben Nisle and Bo Hofstra as well as Jarrett Lopez (who went to Purdue Northwest).

Grazing played for Apex Baseball in the summers leading into his last two years in high school. Marc Escobedo was the head coach. Brett Summers was his pitching coach/instructor.

“(Summers) always helped me,” says Graziano. “He was always patient.”

Graziano also enjoyed his time on the basketball court. At Lake Central, he played for head coach Dave Milausnic whom he salutes for getting the Indians ready for their demanding schedule.

“Our senior year, we didn’t have a big superstar,” says Graziano. “(Milausnic) had us prepared for every game. 

“I was the point guard as a senior. I was calling the plays and handling the ball a lot.”

Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons for Butler University in Indianapolis (2018-20). The left-hander was a weekend starter during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. (Butler University Photo)
The summer of 2020 is the second for Joe Graziano on the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Olimen. He played for the Whiting, Ind.-based team in 2017, right after his senior year at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. He has pitched three seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Northwest Indiana Oilmen Photo)
Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. The left-hander was a weekend starter in 2020. (Butler University Photo)

Saint Leo’s Wright familiar face around the Midwest Collegiate League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Amir Wright has been a summer fixture in the Midwest Collegiate League.

Right after graduating from Griffith (Ind.) High School and before heading to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in 2016, the outfielder joined the John Ely-managed Southland Vikings.

Wright was with the Adam Enright-managed Northwest Indiana Oilmen all summer in 2017. 

After a short stint with Brent McNeil’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators of the Prospect League, he closed out the summer of 2018 in Whiting, Ind., as the Oilmen skipper Enright’s designated hitter.

The lefty swinger went away from his home territory in 2019 and played in the Valley Baseball League for the Tony Hurla-managed Front Royal (Va.) Cardinals.

Wright finds himself back in the MCL in 2020. This time he’s with the Matt Vitulli-managed Joliet (Ill.) Generals.

At 22, Wright has years on most other players in the MCL.

“They make a lot of jokes about it — like this must be my 12th year in the league,” says Wright, who graduated with a Communication degree from Saint Leo (Fla.) University and plans to be a “Corona Senior” with the Rick O’Dette-coached Lions in 2020-21 while pursuing a Marketing masters degree.

Wright, who weighs 190 pounds and stands 5-foot-11 (with his cleats on), followed O’Dette to Saint Leo when the veteran head coach landed there after SJC closed its doors following the 2017 season.

“What you see is what you get,” says Wright of O’Dette. “He’s to-the-point. He’ll tell you how it is. He’s truthful and he’ll push you.

“That’s all you can ask for in a coach. That makes people better in the end.”

Wright’s personality is laid-back. But as he has aged, O’Dette has asked him to become more vocal in his leadership.

“I lead by example — on the field or off the field,” says Wright. “I’m setting the tone leading off the game.”

Wright has been used as a lead-off hitter since his junior year at Griffith playing for head coach Brian Jennings

Before that year, he grew four or five inches and lowered his 60-yard dash time from 7.4 seconds to 6.6.

“I had the speed to bunt,” says Wright. “Even before I had speed, I didn’t swing and miss a lot and I got on base a lot.”

Last fall at Saint Leo’s Pro Day, Wright was clocked in 6.5 for the 60.

Wright played in 55 games (53 starts) as a Saint Joseph’s freshmen, hitting .306 with 63 hits, one home run, three triples, seven doubles, 30 runs batted in, 44 runs and six stolen bases. 

Wright has started in all 109 games at Saint Leo, hitting .340 (146-of-430) with six homers, one triple, 27 doubles, 68 RBIs, 111 runs and 25 stolen bases. 

The COVID-19-shortened 2020 season saw him hit .410 (25-of-61) with one homer, one triple, seven doubles, eight RBIs, 23 runs and three steals in 16 games.

“It was a big transition,” says Wright of his move from Indiana to Florida. “I ended up loving it. People are super nice. The school is amazing. Facilities are second to none.”

In-person classes at Saint Leo are scheduled to begin Aug. 25. Wright says he plans to go a few weeks before that to settle into his apartment.

At Griffith, Wright was an honorable mention all-state selection as well as a first-team all-area and second-team all-Northwest Crossroads Conference pick. He helped the Panthers win four sectional titles.

“(Coach Jennings) definitely wanted us to represent Griffith to the fullest of our ability,” says Wright. “A lot of talented players played with me.”

Born in Harvey, Ill., Amir moved to Griffith at 2. He began playing T-ball at 4 and was at what is now called Griffith Youth Baseball until 12. Meanwhile, he also played for the traveling Griffith Growlers from 10 to 13.

Many high school teammates played together since the were young. That includes Kody Hoese, who is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2020 60-player roster player.

“He left for LA last week,” says Wright of Hoese. “I was with him a couple days before that. Our families are really close.”

Wright spent his 14U and 15U summers (2012 and 2013) with the Dave Griffin-coached Indiana Playmakers and 16U and 17U summers (2014 and 2015) with the Indiana Seminoles. That team was coached by George Jaksich (father of Wright’s SJC teammate, Luke Jaksich).

When the Southland Vikings needed an outfielder in 2016, Wright filled the bill.

“I got lucky,” says Wright. “I was added about a month before the season started.

“It helped me get ready for college baseball.”

Amir (22) is the oldest Willie and Luchie Wright’s three sons ahead of Anson (19) and Aydin (16). Their father is a used car salesman. Their mother is an occupational therapist.

Anson aka “A.J.” played baseball at Griffith High and just finished his freshmen year at Northwood University (Mich.). Aydin was at Griffith as a freshman then transferred to Thornwood High School in South Holland, Ill., for his sophomore year in 2019-20. This summer, he plays for the Chicago White Sox ACE travel organization.

Amir Wright rounds third base for Saint Leo (Fla.) University. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons with the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright is a catalyst as a lead-off hitter for the Saint Leo (Fla.) University baseball team. He is a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate. (Saint Leo University Photo)’
Speed is an asset on the baseball diamond for Saint Leo (Fla.) University’s Amir Wright. The Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate has played three seasons for the Lions. (Saint Leo University Photo)
Amir Wright, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, is on the baseball team at Saint Leo (Fla.) University. He is spending the summer of 2020 with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Joliet (Ill.) Generals. (Saint Leo University Photo)

What’s in a name?: Andrean’s Tyler Nelson and Chesterton’s Tyler Nelson continue to cross baseball paths 

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BY JIM PETERS

For http://www.IndianaRBI.com

One was playing for the Duneland Flyers, the other for the Indiana Bulldogs, when they first discovered an interesting coincidence.

“It was kind of funny that there was another Tyler Nelson on a team,” Tyler Nelson of the Bulldogs said.

It was just the beginning for the 10-year olds, Tyler J. Nelson of Chesterton and Andrean’s Tyler D. Nelson of Crown Point. Their baseball paths have continued to cross in the years since, the boys with the same name and talent for the same game building a friendship as they began to climb the ranks in local and state baseball.

“It just really developed the more we played together,” Tyler J. said. “We’d be with each other all the time over the summer.”

At the age of 11, the Nelsons found themselves on the same roster as members of Team Indiana, the first of several seasons they would occupy a dugout together.

“We hit first and second,” said Tyler J., an outfielder most of his career. “I never played shortstop in my life, I look at the card before the game and I was playing shortstop. I was like, OK, whatever. So then the first inning, I get a ball, I make a play, I didn’t say anything. (Tyler D.’s) dad (Bill) was the coach, he made out the lineup, and he’s like, that’s not (my) Tyler. They flipped us.”

Meanwhile, Tyler D., a shortstop, was standing in the outfield, also wondering what was going on.

“I remember thinking, why am I out here?” Tyler D. said. “I just went out there and didn’t think about it. I might’ve had one play or two.”

The confusion has only accelerated over the years, becoming a source of humor for the boys.

“It keeps happening,” Tyler J. said. “We had shirts for all-state, someone went up to someone and said your shirts have a mistake, there’s the same name twice. The coach will say Tyler, we’ll both look and the coach will be looking at one of us, so you’ll just turn away. We just kind of figured it out eventually.”

It didn’t help matters that the boys had similar offensive skill sets, top-of-the-order-type hitters with plus speed, meaning they often batted in succession. Tyler J. has long worn No. 1 and for years, Tyler D. sported No. 2. Heck, they even have an identical nickname, T-Nelly, on their high school teams.

“Sometimes, I batted last and he batted first,” Tyler D. said. “When I’d come up, they’d say, ‘oh, the leadoff guy’s up now.’ We were on a team one time, we had another Tyler. They’d say Tyler and we’d all look.”

In addition to three seasons with Team Indiana, the Nelsons were also teammates on the Indiana Bulldogs as 14-year olds, Elite Baseball as 15s and on a Futures squad before their junior years.

“People get these guys confused all the time,” Shane Nelson, Tyler J.’s dad, said. “I’d have adults text me, they’d see something in the paper and say, ‘hey, did Tyler switch schools? Is he going to Andrean now?’ I’d say, ‘no, no, that’s the other one.’ One time, we had the lineup card before the game, someone said, ‘you’ve got Tyler Nelson on here twice.’ We said, ‘well, there’s two of ‘em.’”

Tyler D.’s mom Kristina recalled over 10 times that parents from other teams asked if they were brothers.

“Because we would name two children the same,” she said. “Then opposing coaches thinking the line-up was wrong, (Prep Baseball Report) and Perfect Game trying to figure out which one since they played on the same team.”

As the boys’ careers continued to intersect, their growing circles of friends also began to overlap more and more, creating some even more humorous moments.

“One time, a girl meant to (direct message) him something on Twitter and sent it to me,” Tyler J. said. “He texted me, like, I think she meant to send that to me.”

“I’ve had other friends text me and say, ‘oh, sorry, I meant that to go to the other Tyler,’” Tyler D. said.

Tyler D. ascended to the Andrean lineup as a freshman after a brief stint on the JV, starting at shortstop on the 59ers’ Class 3A state championship teams the last two seasons. Tyler J. came up to Chesterton’s varsity as a sophomore, becoming an outfield mainstay.

They have never squared off in high school though their teams did meet in a memorable Class 4A Chesterton Sectional final in 2017, a game Andrean won 4-3 with three runs in the top of the seventh inning after the Trojans broke a 1-1, scoring twice in the bottom of the sixth. Tyler J. was on the Chesterton roster but didn’t play, while Tyler D. left the game following an early injury.

The rivalry intensified with the transfer of Tommy Benson from Andrean to Chesterton, reaching the point that the schools stopped playing during the regular season.

“(Benson) was actually my neighbor growing up for 10 years,” Tyler D. said.

With the 59ers back in 4A this season as a result of the success factor, the teams were slated to be in the same sectional again until the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out spring sports and prematurely ended the Nelsons’ prep careers.

Fortunately for both, the cancelled senior season won’t hamper their college plans. Tyler D. drew an early offer from Indiana University and committed to the Hoosiers going into his junior year.

“I liked IU, being the home state, it’s not real far,” he said. “They’re doing a lot of positive things, they have a new coaching staff. They’re really good at developing players. They had like 10 guys drafted last year.”

Tyler J. will play about 60 miles up State Road 46 at Indiana State.

“The recruiting process, I over-stressed it, getting it done,” Tyler J. said. “I felt like it was a good fit, all the coaches are super cool. The biggest thing for me, my goal is to play professionally, and they’re really good at developing guys for pro ball, turning three-star guys into four and five-star guys for the next level.”

In the interim, both are doing what they can to stay on top of their games, given the social constraints.

“I’ve got a batting cage in my basement,” Tyler D. said. “We’ve got a small weight room next to it. My friends text me, can I come over and hit?”

Shane Nelson is the strength and conditioning coach at Chesterton, so Tyler J. has always gone there to work out. Now he’s got to improvise at home.

“I’ll go to the local parks to run and throw,” Tyler J. said. “I have a friend who has a hangar at the Porter County Airport with a batting cage in it.”

Tyler D. was slated to start summer school June 22 and Tyler J. was scheduled to head to Terre Haute on July 5, but neither expects to be heading to campus before August.

“We don’t know anything for sure yet except that all classes are online for the summer,” Tyler J. said.

Before taking the next step in their baseball careers, the two hope to play together one more time this summer with the Whiting-based Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

“I am very excited to be playing with the other Tyler again this summer,” Tyler J. said. “It will be a fun end to our high school baseball careers.”

Tyler J. latched on with the Midwest Collegiate League team in March, while Tyler D. joined the roster recently.

“I think it’s icing on the cake because I was never supposed to be playing summer ball this year and I was supposed to be at Indiana,” Tyler D. said. “I never thought I would have played with Tyler (J.) again after the fall and it is just crazy how we ended up back on the same team again. I think it is very funny that we will have to hear our name called from the dugout and we both look at the same time or teams thinking what’s going on with the lineup. This just gives Tyler (J.) and me another laugh at the fact we have two Tyler Nelsons on the same team.”

Follow Jim Peters on Twitter — @JP8185

TYLERDNELSONTYLERJNELSONTyler D. Nelson (left) and Tyler J. Nelson have been linked by more than a name for years. They are both standout baseball players in northwest Indiana — Tyler D. at Andrean High School and Tyler J, at Chesterton High School. Tyler D. is bound for Indiana University and Tyler J for Indiana State University. (Jim Peters Photo)

 

Antone goes for more baseball education at Driveline HQ

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Antone speaks the modern language of baseball.

As a high school coach — he led Boone Grove to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship as head coach in 2018 and served as an assistant at Westfield in 2019 — Antone is familiar with the tools now available to help players and teams get better.

He knows about things like Rapsodo, Blast Motion, J-Bands and ground force trainers like King of The Hill and more.

To familiarize himself even more, Antone went to Driveline Baseball headquarters in Kent, Wash. (part of the Seattle-Tacoma metro area) the weekend of Sept. 21 to take a certification course on Foundations of Pitching (Coming soon: Foundations of Hitting, Foundations of Pitch Design and Technology in Baseball).

Attendees at the session were immersed in Driveline’s core philosophies and beliefs, including concepts found in the book, “Hacking The Kinetic Chain” and the use of training aids and technology.

“They gave coaches who were hungry to learn a chance to learn by giving them as many tools as necessary to get the most out of their content,” says Antone, who played at Andrean High School, Glen Oaks Community College and Valparaiso University and has also coached high schoolers at Valparaiso, Chesterton and Andrean and collegians with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

“What I liked most was the programming for athletes to maximize their potential and also stay healthy and prevent injury,” says Antone, noting each area from youth to professional was covered. “It’s all based on needs.”

Antone, who turned 29 on Nov. 7, says a youth player in elementary or middle school can be checked for a base level of strength and coordination and can be introduced to weighted Driveline PlyoCare balls and weighted baseball to help clean up movement quality and base of strength.

“As they get older, add things or make it more intense,” says Antone.

Antone uses Nick Schnell, who was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Roncalli High School in 2018 and is now in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, as an example.

“He was a big, physical kid and could move pretty well,” says Antone. “He could do weighted ball pulldowns, which gives velocity to his throws.

“Then there’s a freshmen who has little time in the weight room. He needs to build a base level in the weight room and get used to (conventional) long toss (before going to things like weighted ball pulldowns and weighted ball long toss).

“You need to understand what each athlete’s lowest hanging fruit is and set up their programming for that.”

Antone says coaches have common objectives, but don’t use the same words.

“In my opinion, everybody is trying to talk about the same thing, but they’re talking in a different language or a different way,” says Antone. “Baseball’s got to get better to have a common language among coaches and players.

“Golf has a common language. Five different (baseball) coaches can look at video of the same hitter and could each say five different things they did well and five things they did not do well and have to work out.

“Technology takes the bias out. It shows what they need to address. We can make changes. We can test to track progress and improvement. It’s just a tool to help us learn and get better and to do it in the fastest, most effective way possible.”

Antone, who attended the John Mallee Major League Hitting Clinic Nov. 23-24 at the University of Illinois-Chicago, says a Rapsodo system costs around $4,000 and a Blast Motion sensor is about $100.

“This stuff is expensive, but do-able,” says Antone. “You prioritize what’s important to you and your program. Eventually you’ll have all the technology you need or want.

“You don’t need all of it. You don’t need to get everything just to have it.”

The way Antone operates, once he gets one piece of technology that is helpful, he wants to add more.

But having tools mean nothing if they can’t be effectively conveyed to players where they will make real changes and adjustments.

“(Coaches) need to study the technology and how you’re going to implement it into your program,” says Antone. “How are you going to communicate to the player in a way they will understand?”

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Pat Antone, who was head coach at Boone Grove High School in 2018 when the Wolves won an IHSAA Class 2A state baseball championship, traveled to Driveline Baseball headquarters recently to increase his knowledge of the game.