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Notre Dame baseball’s Podkul keeps producing and keeping Irish loose

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

If 2018 turns out to be the last baseball season at the University of Notre Dame for Nick Podkul, the draft-eligible junior has been treating Fighting Irish followers to a memorable last go-round.

Through Sunday, May 6, the 21-year-old second baseman has started all 48 games for a 24-26 squad and leads the team in batting average (.328), hits (59), runs scored (36), on-base percentage (.446), total bases (95), walks (29) and hit by pitch (12).

Podkul, a right-handed swinger who is among the top Atlantic Coast Conference hitters in all games, is second on the squad in triples (3), stolen bases (9) and multi-hit games (16) and third in home runs (6) and runs batted in (33).

Second baseman Podkul has combined with best friend and junior shortstop Cole Daily to solidify ND’s up-the-middle defense and aid the offense. Podkul has participated in a team-high 33 double plays. Daily is next at 29.

Podkul’s bloop single in the fifth inning Sunday drove in Daily to tie the game.

“He’s been great from start to finish,” says Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki of Podkul. “Defensively, he’s been unbelievable and really, really good.

“He gets consistent quality at-bats and makes hard contact.”

The young man that Aoki calls a “good old fashion baseball rat” for his willingness to work on his game has learned a valuable lesson that he takes with him in each trip to the plate.

“You have to understand that — no matter what — every at-bat counts,” says Podkul, a 6-foot-1, 198-pounder. “That’s how rallies start — when you don’t give up at-bats and you string two or three together.

“That’s a big improvement I’ve made over the years I’ve been here.”

Aoki has noticed.

“He gives away fewer at-bats,” says Aoki. “Pitchers have to work to get him out.

“He’s got a decent walk-to-strikeout ratio (29:28).

“He has been able to increase his power numbers a little bit each year he’s been here through strength and conditioning and getting a little bit more bat speed and more reps.

“He loves to play baseball. I’m really glad to see him having the type of year that he’s having.”

In his three seasons under the Golden Dome, the Andrean High School (Merrillvile, Ind.) graduate’s stock has continued to rise.

As a freshman in 2016, Podkul played in 40 games — 36 as a starter between third base, first base and designated hitter — and hit .288 with no homers, six doubles, 11 RBI, .413 on-base percentage, .352 slugging percentage and eight multi-hit games.

He followed that up as a sophomore in 2017 by starting all 58 games with .285 with five homers, 15 doubles, 20 RBI, .386 on-base percentage, .439 slugging percentage and 17 multi-hit games.

Podkul played for the Nortwoods League’s Battle Creek Bombers in the summer of 2016 and Coastal Plain League’s Morehead City Marlins in 2017.

The 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is June 4-6.

“I’m certain he’ll be drafted,” says Aoki. “It’ll just be a matter of where.

“He’ll sit down with his family and I’ll sit down with Nick and we’ll figure out what is best for Nick.

“If he gets drafted where I think he deserves to be drafted, it’s probably time for him to go start his professional career.

“If — for some reason — he goes later, we’’l have to see how that goes.”

Nick, the son of Frank Podkul Sr. (who played baseball and football at Wabash College) and Jackie Weiser, is well aware of his pro potential at the end of the season.

“It’s hard not to think about it,” says Nick. “It’s exciting.

“But at this point, I want to do whatever I can to help the team win. We’ve got a really good group of guys.

“We just want to have fun the rest of the season and see if we can make a run with this thing.”

Podkul and Daily, who were paired together up the middle much of the 2017 season and have spent countless hours taking ground balls together, do their best to keep a smile on their teammates’ faces.

“We like to have fun and keep the guys loose,” says Podkul. “We crack a couple jokes when we’re down. We remind them that we’re still playing a kids game. We’re supposed to have fun with it.”

Says Aoki, “He’s a kid that’s done a phenomenal job of leading our team by example.”

While the American Studies major has been busy with his classes and baseball, Nick has had time to keep up with older brother Frank Podkul Jr.’s senior diamond season at Franklin College.

“He’s killing it this year,” says Nick of Frank. “I’m really happy to see his success.

“He’s a real good role model for me.”

Frank Jr., who is 18 months older than Nick, is hitting .340 with 14 homers, 10 doubles, 54 RBI and 49 runs scored while starting in the infield for the NAIA Grizzlies (35-3).

Nick helped Andrean win Indiana state Class 3A state championships in his junior and senior seasons for 2014 and 2015 and Frank was also there for the first title. In the off-season, the Podkul brothers and other 59ers baseball alums spend some time at Andrean working on their swings and helping out Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Dave Pishkur.

“Andrean was a huge part of my life,” says Nick Podkul. “My basketball and baseball coaches were great. They taught me how to respect the game and how to go about it the right way.

“The teachers put a big emphasis on being a good student and a good person. That really sets you up to do well at Notre Dame.”

Nick spent his younger travel baseball years with the Hammond Chiefs and Indiana Saints.

In his 17U summer — leading into his senior year at Andrean — Podkul played for the Dan Held-coached Indiana Bulls.

“I have to attribute a lot of my success and going to Notre Dame to the Indiana Bulls that summer,” says Podkul. “Coach Held is a really, really good guy. He definitely put me in the right position to succeed and I can’t thank him enough for that.”

With its home schedule wrapped Sunday and final exams this week, Notre Dame visits Northwestern May 15 and Louisville for a three-game ACC series May 17-19.

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Nick Podkul, a University of Notre Dame junior, is leading the Fighting Irish baseball team in categories in 2018. (Fighting Irish Media Photo)

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Nick Podkil, a University of Notre Dame junor and Andrean High School (Merrillville, Ind.) graduate, has raised his stock for the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft with his performance this season. (Fighting Irish Media Photo)

 

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Former Adams Central, Huntington U. standout Combs preparing for second season in Giants system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dalton Combs has gotten a kick out of his many baseball experiences.

This fall and winter, the graduate of Adams Central High School and Huntington University has been crafting a little kick in his left-handed swing as he prepares for his second professional baseball season in the San Francisco Giants organization.

“It’s a different timing mechanism to keep my front side back,” says Combs, a Monroe, Ind., native who has been staying in central Indiana and training at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield. “I’m learning how to use my hips and hands together and staying balanced throughout my swing.

“I’ve been in the weight room everyday working on strength and power.”

RoundTripper trainers have also helped him with improving his speed and agility as he gets ready to head to report to spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., on March 1.

“I want to keep developing as a player,” says Combs, 23.

Primarily an outfielder, Combs led Huntington with a .402 batting average and paced the Crossroads League with a .516 on-base percentage.

The senior rapped out 28 extra-base hits (eight home runs, one triple and 19 doubles) and was second in batting as well as runs scored per game (1.08) and hits per game (1.50) and ranked third in slugging (.654), total bases per game (2.44) and doubles per game (.40).

“I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything else,” says Combs. “I really enjoyed Huntington for four years. I learned advanced baseball techniques there.

“(Coach Mike Frame) was always pushing us to be the best we could.”

Combs cherishes the time he had with teammates and coaches.

“We had a great bond,” says Combs. “Everybody got a long well. That’s what I enjoyed most.”

Home games were played at scenic Forest Glen Park with its taller-than-most right field fence.

“My teammates joked with me that all I had to do was pull the ball for a home run,” says Combs. “But it seems I always hit home runs away (from Huntington).”

Combs, who hit .248, .386 and .355 in his first three seasons as a Forester, was selected in the 35th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Giants and played 23 games for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes of the Class-A Short-Season Northwest League. He hit .208 with one homer, two doubles and 11 runs batted in.

“I had a really good experience,” says Combs of his first season in pro ball. “The biggest thing I could take away is creating myself a routine so I can go and have the most success possible.”

A 2013 Adams Central graduate, Combs played four varsity baseball seasons for coach Dave Neuenschwander and was also coached by him as a football quarterback and defensive back.

“There was a work ethic he instilled in me,” says Combs. “He’d say, ‘you have a lot of talent, you’ve just got to keep working hard and doing your thing.’ He was always pushing me through the good times and the bad

“He taught us things — on and off the field — about being a good man and staying out of trouble. I really respect Coach Neuenschwander. I can call him a friend today. I appreciate what he did for me at Adams Central.”

The Flying Jets won baseball sectional titles in three of his four seasons (2010, 2011 and 2013) with one regional crown (2013).

Dalton, the son of Kurt and Marie Combs and younger brother of Kyleigh, got his baseball start at Monroe Youth League at Don Ray Memorial Park. At 12, his father coached a travel team — Indiana Aquablast — that went to Cooperstown, N.Y.

While in high school, Dalton played travel baseball for Fort Wayne Cubs, Summit Storm and USAthletic.

In the summers at Huntington, he was part of the New York College Baseball League’s Genesee (N.Y.) Rapids in 2014, Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers in 2015 and Northwood League’s Kalamazoo Growlers in 2016.

Combs graduated from Huntington with a sport management degree and can see himself one day running a training facility. He enjoys working with kids and he has helped out at several camps and with Huntington and its trips to Nicaragua.

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Dalton Combs, a graduate of Adams Central High School and Huntington University, is now a left-handed-hitting outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

 

 

Kokomo’s Sanburn brothers impacting baseball, business worlds

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Parker Sanburn looks into the future and makes a prediction for himself and his two brothers:

“Give us another 20 years and we’re going to change the world, that’s all I know.”

In the present, the siblings from Kokomo — Nolan (26), Parker (23) and Connor (19) — are having an impact on their little slices of the world.

Nolan and Parker are professional baseball pitchers and Connor is a college student. All three Kokomo High School graduates and sons of executive pastor Dick Sanburn and public relations coordinator Crystal Sanburn have curious minds and entrepreneurial ambition.

“We’re always bouncing ideas off each other,” says Nolan Sanburn of his brothers. “All three of us our dialed in on being better people everyday.”

Nolan owns real estate and is about to launch a baseball-related podcast — The Ballplayer Mindset.

Parker, who was on his way to medical or physician’s assistant school when pro baseball opportunity came knocking, is also interested in the mental side and keeps a notebook of ideas and inventions.

Connor is a talented videographer and pre-Telecommunications major and Urban Planning minor as a freshman at Ball State University. One of his projects is “How Baseball Has Impacted the Sanburn Family” and served as digital entertainment coordinator for the summer collegiate baseball Kokomo Jackrabbits.

Nolan Sanburn was selected in the 34th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Detroit Tigers and did not sign.

The right-hander pitched two seasons for the University of Arkansas, going 2-4 with eight saves, a 3.62 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and 15 walks in 32 1/3 innings and 24 appearances (all in relief) in 2011 and 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA, 49 strikeouts and 22 walks in 40 2/3 innings and 22 appearances (18 in relief) in 2012.

Nolan was chosen in the second round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Oakland Athletics. He worked in the A’s system 2012, 2013 and 2014 and was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2014 and pitched with that organization in 2015 and 2016 —  mostly at Double-A Birmingham.

He was released by White Sox in March 2017 and became a minor league free agent, landed with the Washington Nationals — going 4-3  with one save, an 4.87 ERA, 56 strikeouts and 27 walks in 64 2/3 innings and 17 appearances (nine in relief) at High Class-A Potomac — and was released by the Nats in August to again become a minor league free agent.

All but 23 of Nolan’s 141 pro games have been out of the bullpen.

“I’m going to wait and see if something shakes,” says Nolan. “If it doesn’t, I may just move on with my life.”

Parker Sanburn, a 2013 Kokomo graduate, also pitched at Arkansas (going 0-1 with a 15.58 ERA in 11 relief appearances in 2015 after red-shirting in 2014) and then Des Moines Area Community College in 2017 (going 5-3 with a 3.44 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 36 walks in 55 innings and 14 appearances) after attending Indiana University in Bloomington. The right-hander went un-drafted but was signed by the Texas Rangers in 2017. He began his pro career at short-season Class-A Spokane and finished the season at Low Class-A Hickory, combining to go 0-2 with a 2.40 ERA, 16 strikeouts and 12 walks in 15 1/3 innings and nine appearances (all in relief).

While they were never teammates until Nolan was a senior and Parker a freshman at Kokomo High, the two older Sanburn brothers both came up playing baseball in Kokomo’s UCT youth league. Then came Babe Ruth League. Nolan played for Kingsway and the Indiana Bulls. Parker was with Kingsway, the Indiana Chargers and then the Indiana Bulls.

Connor Sanburn earned a International Baccalaureate degree from KHS in 2017. He was involved in CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities), founded a film festival and made videos for teacher recruitment and how to add to the school’s legacy plus features from the City of Kokomo. His video production company is CCS Entertainment.

“I really loved Kokomo High School,” says Connor. “I just have this urge that I need to build something and create a brand. I know I want to do something in business someday. It just excites me.”

His baseball video on the Sanburns included interviews with his grandfather, brothers and parents.

Connor also produced fun music videos featuring his siblings.

More recently, Nolan has his youngest brother thinking about real estate and investing.

“He read that book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” (by personal finance author and lecturer Robert Kyosaki). He realized early that baseball isn’t forever and needs to make a living. He’s had players approaching him on how to invest. He absolutely loves that.”

While Nolan is keeping active while waiting to see where his baseball career is headed, he does a lot of reading and business research in Birmingham, Ala.

“It’s a lot of fun to learn stuff you don’t know,” says Nolan. “Everyday I read it’s like drinking out of a firehose.

“It never gets old. It’s about never being complacent, always trying to learn and consistently staying focused.”

He is engaged to a Birmingham girl — loan officer Rachel Thornton. Her father is a commercial real estate investor.

A few business concepts have stuck with Nolan.

“Don’t trade hours for dollars,” says Nolan. “Make money work for you.”

His baseball signing bonus allowed Nolan to buy property for cash and he has employed managers to tend to his 13 properties around Kokomo.

“It makes things really smooth,” says Nolan. “The experience has been awesome.”

He has been working with angel investors and became interested in online sales through family friend Chris Beatty. Before becoming an internet entrepreneur, the left-hander pitched at Arizona State University in 2003.

For his podcast, Nolan has interviewed teammates, coaches and scouts to get insights into their mental approach to baseball.

“I’m just trying to pick their brain and give the listeners one or two tidbits,” says Nolan. “You can still win the game by being mentally stronger than the competition.

“You may not be a physically gifted, but you can still compete by having a mental edge.”

Nolan made himself into a student of the game.

“I’ve worked way too hard to be here and get beat because I was not mentally prepared,” says Nolan.

A kinesiology major at Arkansas, Nolan went into pro baseball as a draft-eligible sophomore before completing his college degree. His deal with the Athletics call for them to pay for the rest of his schooling.

Nolan learned baseball lessons at Kokomo High from head coach Steve Edwards (who is now principal at Frankfort High School).

“He would talk baseball and talk life,” says Nolan of Edwards. “He was such a great leader.

“He showed us that you need to learn to be a leader on and off the field. It’s OK to have fun, but you are a guy that people look up to (for leadership).

“It was his respect for the game and passion to be the best. He was a leader of men. He wanted us to be great individuals.”

At Arkansas, Nolan played for head coach Dave Van Horn.

“He was so ambitious and so passionate about being successful and winning,” says Nolan of Van Horn. “He drove everybody around him to be better.”

Intense?

Van Horn was known to pull a batter for not getting a bunt down on the first pitch.

“Do things right the first time so you don’t have to go back and do it again,” says Nolan.

His first season as a Razorback, Nolan was a catcher, outfielder and pitcher. He was drafted in high school as a catcher. He eventually settled on pitching.

He was whizzing pitches at 98 mph and higher while playing with the Battle Creek (Mich.) Bombers in the summer collegiate Northwoods League in 2011 and as an Arkansas sophomore in 2012.

Last summer, he was sitting at 90 to 92 mph and looking to put movement on every delivery.

“I was blowing it by guys in college,” says Nolan. “In pro ball, 98 mph is going to get turned around.

“I’m cutting, sinking and throwing change-ups behind in the count,” says Nolan. “I’m always making the ball move.

“Nothing can ever be straight. It’s difficult for hitter to time it up, especially if it looks the same out of your hand.”

Parker had essentially three seasons in 2017. He started at Des Moines Area Community College, spent a month with the Grafton, Wis.-based Lakeshore Chinooks in the Northwoods League and then signed with the Rangers.

“I learned a lot,” says Parker. “I met a lot of good people.”

A person that he knew is one of the reasons he is still in the game.

Jason Van Skike was the pitching coach for the Kokomo Jackrabbits in 2016 and Parker was on the mound staff.

After leaving Arkansas and enrolling at IU, Parker was thinking about moving on from a baseball playing career. Then Van Skike reaches out as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at DMACC and Parker enrolled Jan. 5, 2017.

Right now, he is spending the off-season in Kokomo while preparing for spring training in Arizona. He gained 15 pounds and now carries 210 on his 6-foot-2 frame.

“I’m getting in the weight room, eating more and eating healthy,” says Parker. “I’m a lot bigger, stronger and smarter.

“It doesn’t hurt to be strong. I set myself up to maximize this upcoming season.”

Parker went into 2017 with a four-seam fastball and knuckle-curve ball and added a two-seam fastball and circle change-up to his repertoire.

In his final outing, he was able to throw all four pitches for strikes.

“I’m starting to learn to pitch as opposed to throw,” says Parker. “In the past, I had not been so proficient at throwing strikes. It was how hard can I throw this? Not where’s it going?

“It’s easier to get people out if you’re throwing it over the plate.”

He hit the radar gun at 92 or 93 mph in high school, got it up to 97 a few times in college and sat at 94 or 95 last season.

At Kokomo High, Parker was able to throw the ball past hitters. Now, he’s trying to dodge their bats.

Parker saw the differences and similarities of college and the minor leagues.

“College is more geared toward winning,” says Parker. “Pro ball is more geared to development until you get to The Show.

“In professional ball, you’re doing what makes you the best player you can be. You’re not doing what everybody else is doing. In pro ball, you’re at the ball park longer and not worrying about going to class and doing homework.

“But they’e still hitters (and you have to get them out).”

He’s also out there making his way in the online business world through WillowHead.com.

“I’m learning about customer service and price points,” says Parker. “I try to keep my hands in everything so I can make it all work out.”

After all, he is on a path to change the world.

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Kokomo’s Sanburn brothers (from left): Nolan, Connor and Parker. (Sanburn Family Photo)

 

Baseball odyssey takes many twists, turns for Vincennes native Ashley

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nevin Ashley always wanted to be in charge on a baseball field.

Coach Bill Cary let him play different positions on the North Knox High School team.

But Ashley was always drawn back to catcher.

“He was great because he knew at that age I had a future in baseball,” says Ashley. “He challenged to think about the game in a little bit more of an in-depth way. That really helped me, especially as a catcher.”

Cary, who was on the South staff for the 2006 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches All-Star Series when Terre Haute North Vigo catcher Josh Phegley was MVP, encouraged Ashley to call pitches and manage the game on the field.

“I began taking extra time to read batters and see any adjustments they might make,” says Ashley. “That helped me have the long career that I had.”

The 2003 North Knox graduate went on to play three seasons at Indiana State University (2004-06) and 11 in professional baseball.

At ISU, he learned much from head coach Bob Warn and pitching coach C.J. Keating.

Warn’s last season with the Sycamores was also Ashley’s last in Terre Haute.

“He was definitely an old school baseball coach,” says Ashley of American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Warn. “He was a good influence on my career. I learned his will to win and how important it was.”

Keating and Ashley went over scouting reports so the receiver would know the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. He would study the starters and potential pinch-hitters the night before games.

“I met a lot of good people at Indiana State that I stay in contact with,” says Ashley. “I was fortunate for those years of my life.”

Ashley was selected in the sixth round of the 2006 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and set out on a long minor league journey.

From team to team and organization to organization, he just kept going.

“I had a lot of perseverance and a lot of people in my corner,” says Ashley, the son of Dan and Jamie Ashley, younger brother of Natalie and Nathan, the grandson of Robert and Patricia Ashley and Jim and the late Shirley Cardinal, the husband of Ashley (yes, she’s Ashley Ashley) and father of two boys — Gaige (5) and Aiden (1).

His parents rarely missed a home game while Nevin was in college and came to see him whenever possible when he became a professional.

Not able to travel much, his paternal grandparents followed on the Internet. If the feed went bad or something about their Nevin on-air was incorrect, they were sure to get a phone call.

“She knows best, so you better listen to her,” says Nevin of Grammy Ashley.

Nevin, who was born in Vincennes, began his baseball players tagging along with Nathan at the Vincennes Cub League. Heading into his freshmen year at North Knox, Nevin played American Legion Baseball in Vincennes. His next three summers were spent with the Indiana Bulls. He went back to Legion ball for the summer prior to Indiana State.

Ashley played for the Springfield Rifles in the Central Illinois Collegiate League in 2004, Solano Thunderbirds in the Sierra Baseball League and Horizon Air Summer Series in California in 2005 and briefly with the Eau Claire (Wis.) Express in the Northwoods League in 2006 before signing with the Devil Rays.

Ashley strapped on the catching gear day after day, year after year.

Things he began learning back as a youngster were being reinforced and he was getting acquainted with analytics as part of the scouting report.

“It’s good and a bad thing,” says Ashley. “I’m kind of old school. But (analytics) is very crucial. Stats show that a guy might pull the ball on the ground so we make a shift.”

To stay on the same page, there would be a constant dialogue between innings involving Ashley and his pitching coach and — if he had a catching background — his manager.

“All that being said, it’s still up to the pitcher,” says Ashley. “Those stats go on his baseball card.

“As a good catcher you have to build a relationships with each and every pitcher and build their trust. Some guys you need to coddle a little more. Some you have to push — and maybe even make them a little mad — to get the best out of them.”

In 2007, Ashley smashed 12 of his 66 career minor league home runs for the Columbus (Ga.) Catfish. He played in the 2009 Arizona Fall League with the Phoenix Desert Dogs.

For all his hard work, he finally got called up to the big leagues in as a reserve for the Rays (by this time they had dropped the Devil) during the 2010 playoffs. He did not play.

In 2011 (and again for a short time in 2015), Nevin, Ashley and Gaige went to learn another way of living and about baseball in the Dominican Winter League.

“It was a great experience,” says Nevin, who was with Gigantes de Cibao in 2011 Toros del Este in 2015. “I wanted to submerge myself into their culture. Now I have a better understanding of why Latin players they play the will they do. All that showmanship, fans thrive on it. It’s good for baseball.”

A seven-year run with the Tampa Bay organization ended when Ashley declared free agency and signed with the Cincinnati Reds before the 2013 season. That year, he played not far from where he grew up with the Triple-A Louisville Bats.

He was again granted free agency and signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was assigned to the Indianapolis Indians in 2014. He got called up to the majors again with Pittsburgh in New York. The catcher he was going to replace decided to play through injury and Ashley was sent back to Triple-A.

Once again, he became a free agent after the season and caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers and went to their Triple-A affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

That summer, Ashley was called up to the bigs late in the season. After 870 minor league appearances, he made his MLB debut on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015 in Miami. He was 31 years old. Batting eighth in the Milwaukee order, he collected his first big-league hit — an RBI double in his first at-bat — off Tom Koehler.

Ashley would finish the season with one more hit — an infield single off Carlos Contreras on Sunday, Sept. 20 in Cincinnati — and a .100 batting average. He got into 12 games and drove in one run and scored two.

After the 2015 season, Ashley declared free agency and signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets and played with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51’s in 2016 until being traded to the Texas Rangers organization in June and putting on the colors of the Triple-A Round Rock Express.

Once again a free agent, he joined the Seattle Mariners organization for 2017.

In Arizona for spring training, Ashley suffered a pretty severe concussion that kept him off out of games for the whole season.

“When I first started playing, concussions were not looked as thoroughly as they are now,” says Ashley, who turned 33 in August. “As a catcher, I had my bell rang plenty of times. I shook it off, took a few aspirin and kept going.

“This was different. I had two little ones at home. I started looking at my priorities in life.”

Ashley opted to retire as a player and come home to Evansville to sort out his future.

The tagline on his Twitter profile at @nevin_ashley reads: Baseball is what I do, not who I am.

It is followed by a Bible verse — Philippians 4:13. That passage — “I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.”

“I’m trying to mend,” says Ashley. “I still having constant migraine headaches.

“I’ll move on from there. I don’t know if I’m going to stay in the baseball world. I have a few opportunities. Right now, I’m going to catch up with all the family time I missed.”

Nevin and Ashley grew up together. They were wed early in his professional baseball career and she and the couple’s oldest son have put in plenty of miles together.

“We decided that we were going do this baseball thing together — no matter what,” says Nevin. “We signed up for it. It doesn’t make it any easier. We have had to deal with a lot of ambiguity.

“But she’s independent. I don’t know how any of the baseball moms do it. They go through a lot out there that not a lot of people see. They think it’s glitz and glamour and it’s not.”

While baby Aiden imitates a bowling ball.

“He runs into everything,” says Nevin. “My 5-year-old, he loves baseball.”

Gaige was eight days old when he attended the first of many baseball games.

“I don’t push it at all, but if he wants to play baseball that will be special for me,” says Nevin. “He’s a lefty. He’s going to have to find a different position.”

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After 10 years in the minors, Milwaukee Brewers catcher Nevin Ashley hits a double in his first Major League Baseball at-bat Sept. 9, 2015 in Miami. The Vincennes, Ind., native began his professional career in 2006 and retired in 2017. (MLB Photo)

 

Right-hander Dunshee dominant in final college, first pro seasons

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Parker Dunshee made a decision in the middle of 2016 and it led to a fruitful baseball season in 2017 — at the collegiate and professional levels.

The 2013 Zionsville Community High School graduate was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 14th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after his junior season at Wake Forest.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander was the Demon Deacons’ Friday starter and went 10-5 with a 3.20 earned run average. He struck out 102 in 101 1/3 innings with three game of 10 or more strikeouts and seven games of eight K’s or better.

Dunshee pondered the possibility of going pro and heading back to college for his senior year and he chose to return to Winston-Salem, N.C.

The move allowed him to complete his finance degree and enjoy a special senior campaign on the diamond.

Team captain Dunshee went 9-1 with a 3.91 ERA as Wake’s Friday starter. He fanned 111 batters in 103 2/3 innings and helped the Deacs to the program’s first super regional appearance since 1999.

For his four-year career, Dunshee went 28-10 with a 3.20 and a school-record 330 strikeouts in 326 1/3 — a rate of 9.1 per nine innings. He also was a four-time honoree on the all-Atlantic Coast Conference academic team.

In an interview in the Fall 2017 Inside Pitch Magazine, Wake Forest head coach Tom Walter calls Dunshee a competitor and a bulldog.

“You didn’t want to let him down,” Walter told the American Baseball Coaches Association publication.

“He was an awesome coach to play for,” says Dunshee. “He knows how to get the best out of guys. He’s intense when he needs to be intense and light-hearted when he needs to be light-hearted. I’m glad to be part of his coaching legacy.”

Dunshee credits Deacons pitching coach Matt Hobbs for making important changes to his delivery when the coach arrived on campus for the 2015 season.

“He overhauled my style,” says Dunshee of Hobbs. “He helped me to get back to being athletic in my throwing and athletic on the mound. He does not try to box all pitchers into one style of pitching. He sees what you need personally to be the best you can be.”

Dunshee, who turns 23 on Feb. 12, keeps his motion simple with little hand or upper body movement. There is a momentum swing from left to right, a toe tap and he lifts and goes.

“The best deliveries you don’t have to think about,” says Dunshee. “It’s arm speed and intent.”

When the MLB Draft came back around, Dunshee was chosen in the seventh round by the Oakland Athletics. He signed and headed to Arizona for his physical and his first chance to toe the rubber as a pro.

His pro debut was a rough one. He gave up three runs and five hits, including a home run, in a two-inning stint with Arizona League Athletics.

He then went to the New York-Penn League were he was flat dominant, putting together a scoreless streak of 39 1/3 innings and representing the Vermont Lake Monsters in the league’s all-star game.

In a combined 40 1/3 innings in the AZL and NYPL, Dunshee continued to attack pro hitters like he did amateurs and fanned 48 and walked eight while posting a 1-0 record and a 0.67 earned run average. Opponents hit .146.

“I had a pretty good summer statistically speaking,” says Dunshee, who made 12 appearance with Vermont (nine as a starter).

What about the streak?

“You don’t think about throwing up a bunch of scoreless innings in a row,” says Dunshee. “The goal is to get a zero each inning no matter what. It’s about throwing strikes and being aggressive.

“There aren’t any secrets. I’m just trying to execute what I do to the best of my ability. The strikeouts are a product of being ahead in counts and first-pitch strikes.”

He takes pride in throwing strikes and keeping his walk count low.

Dunshee estimates that he used his fastball (usually a four-seamer) about 65 to 70 percent of the time and tossed a slider 15 to 20 percent and a change-up (a two-seamer) about 10 to 15 percent.

“I attack people with fastballs and try to locate it well,” says Dunshee. “The Athletics like you to develop a change-up and incorporate it more. So I’ll be working on that.”

Bryan Corey, a former big league pitcher and member of the World Series-winning 2007 Boston Red Sox, was the Lake Monsters pitching coach.

“He didn’t try to make everybody do the same thing,” says Dunshee of Corey. “He put in extra time to help you. He was an open book and always ready to talk. He communicated with the pitching staff.”

With Dunshee’s heavy college workload, the Athletics had him on an innings restriction. All together, he tossed 143 1/3 frames in 2017.

“That was definitely the most I’ve ever thrown in my life,” says Dunshee, who was shut down and came back to Zionsville rather than the original plan of going to the fall instructional league. “I felt strong throughout it, but I was definitely ready for a rest.”

Dunshee says there will be no such restriction in 2018.

Of late, he has been hitting the weights and will soon begin his off-season throwing program. He works out at The Yard — a facility in Carmel partially owned by Conrad Gregor (a minor league free agent).

At Zionsville, Dunshee was a two-time all-Hoosier Crossroads Conference selection in baseball and was all-HCC and academic all-state in his senior football season. As a quarterback, he set seven school passing records.

Busy with football and basketball in the summers, Dunshee did not play extensive travel baseball in his younger years. That changed thanks to the Moore brothers — Jered and Quinn.

“The Moores) know a lot about the game,” says Dunshee. “They taught me that when you play the right way, you get rewarded. huge in getting me into the Indiana Bulls. That organization gets you in front of the right people.”

Dunshee pitched for Bulls in the summers of 2011, 2012 and 2013. Jered Moore is now head coach at Zionsville.

While at Wake, Dunshee competed for the Wisconsin Woodchucks in the Northwoods League in 2014 and the Chatham Anglers in the Cape Cod League in 2015. When he opted not to sign after the 2016 draft, he did not play that summer.

PARKERDUNSHEE17-1

Parker Dunshee, a Zionsville Community High School and Wake Forest University graduate, was a New York-Penn League all-star in 2017 with the Vermont Lake Monsters in the Oakland Athletics organization. It was his first season in professional baseball. (Vermont Lake Monsters Photo)

 

Terre Haute’s Wampler learning patience with Rex

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tyler Wampler has learned plenty in his two seasons as the head coach of the summer collegiate wood bat baseball Prospect League’s Terre Haute Rex.

At the top of the list is patience.

“I’m pretty young so I’m just out of playing,” says Wampler, 25. “I realize I can’t go out there (on the field). I can’t control anything. I need to patient with the players and understand that mistakes are going to happen and just be the same guy everyday.”

Wampler, who played for Rick Heller and Mitch Hannahs at Indiana State University 2011-14 and in the Los Angeles Dodgers system 2014-15 then spent the spring of 2016 as a volunteer assistant coach at ISU, was given full authority by general manager Bruce Rosselli put together the entire 2017 Rex roster.

Prospect League rules limit rosters to 28 players. Last year, Wampler used around 40 players in 2016 and expects to do the same this summer.

“There’s a lot of turnover,” says Wampler. “It’s not like you’re just releasing guys. It’s usually for injuries or innings limits (on pitchers).”

As is the case all around the baseball world, pitching is a priority in Terre Haute.

“I’m a firm believer that pitching and defense wins champions,” says Wampler. “We want to start off getting the best arms we can and get as many as we can. You will have to shut guys down midway through the season because their arms are getting tired or they reach a certain amount of innings. You have to be real careful with them.”

Scott Lawson is pitching coach for the Rex. Lawson is a 1997 Terre Haute North Vigo High School who played at John A. Logan Community College, the University of Georgia and in independent professional baseball before coaching at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and at Terre Haute North.

Wampler is coaching in his hometown again this summer and giving baseball lessons at The Hitting Zone in the off-season. He is a 2010 graduate of West Vigo High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Steve DeGroote.

Wampler helped the Vikings to an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish as a junior in 2009. He started at shortstop and went 2-of-3 in the title game.

Playing for DeGroote, Heller and Hannahs, Wampler experienced three different coaching styles.

“They all worked so I can use all three and mold it into my own way,” says Wampler.

The Prospect League is a 10-team circuit in 2017 with Terre Haute, Danville (Ill.), Lafayette (Ind.), Quincy (Ill.), Springfield (Ill.) in the West Division and Butler (Pa.), Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Chillicothe (Ohio), Kokomo (Ind.) and West Virginia (Beckley, W.Va.) in the East.

Going into play Aug. 1 and with six regular-season contests remaining, Terre Haute was 29-25 and three games behind West-leading Lafayette. The two-tier playoffs are scheduled to begin Aug. 6.

“This league is headed in the right direction and has a lot of good things going,” says Wampler. “It’s a way for these guys to play 60 games (in the summer after 50 or more games in the spring). It’s close to a minor league schedule. They’re getting great experience. They have to come out and perform every night. They’re expected to play well because they have guys behind them that can take their spot.”

Wampler played three summers in collegiate wood bat leagues — two in the Northwoods League (Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers in Minnestoa and the Eau Claire Express in Wisconsin) and one for the Rex (named for the Clabber Girl brand of coffee).

While some players come from across the country and stay with host families, Wampler notes the uniqueness of the Terre Haute franchise, which plays on ISU’s Bob Warn Field.

“We try to get a lot of local guys,” says Wampler. “We think Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley is a hotbed for baseball.

“We do have guys come from all over, including Florida and the Dominican Republic (outfielder Jalbert Melo was a recent PL Player of the Week). They stay with host families. Our host families are great. We turn people away each year, there are so many families that want to host. That’s a good problem to have.

“I remember when I was a player. Host families are like family to you and they care about what you’re doing. They stay in-touch years later.”

TERREHAUTEREX

Lafayette’s McNeil has Aviators in thick of pennant chase

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With players coming and going and roles constantly changing during the 2017 summer collegiate wood bat baseball season, Brent McNeil has kept the Lafayette Aviators in the Prospect League playoff hunt.

McNeil, a 2007 Lafayette Jefferson High School graduate and the only head coach the Aviators have had in their two seasons of existence, took his squad into play July 29 and with eight regular-season contests remaining, West-leading Lafayette was 30-22 and two games ahead of Terre Haute.

The Prospect League, which debuted in 2009, includes two divisions in 2017 — Lafayette, Terre Haute, Danville (Ill.), Quincy (Ill.) and Springfield (Ill.) in the West with Butler (Pa.), Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Chillicothe (Ohio), Kokomo (Ind.), West Virginia (Beckley, W.Va.) in the East.

The 60-game season, wood bats and strong competition gives players a taste for professional baseball. Some thrive and others see that the grind is too much for them.

Prospect League rules limit rosters to 28 (the current Aviators roster features players with hometowns in 13 states and Puerto Rico). Mostly because of injuries, there has been plenty of movement for the Aviators throughout the summer.

“You really have to watch out for warning signs of injuries, take care of them and make sure (pitchers) are not throwing too many pitches in one inning,” says McNeil, who played Eastern Illinois University and recently recently hired as the pitching coach at Quincy (Ill.) University after past two spring seasons on the coaching staff at the University of North Florida and director of baseball operations at Indiana State University prior to that.

There is no disabled list in the PL. Players are either on the roster or they are released. It’s up to the teams to find replacements.

“I can’t count how many times the roster has changed since I started putting it together in the fall,” says McNeil, who enlisted the help of second-year assistant Ryan Dineen in building the Aviators. “Having college contacts is huge. Some players have reached out, but I’ve mostly relied on his own contacts. There are coaches I’ve known over the years and trust.”

The old saying in baseball is you can never have too much pitching and that really rings true in summer collegiate baseball, where injuries and innings limits keep mound staffs continually morphing.

“(Working with) pitchers is tough,” says McNeil. “The top 1, 2 and 3 (starters on college teams) are either shut down for the summer or go to Cape Cod or the Northwoods (leagues). I believe we began the summer with about nine starters (and now have seven).

“We’re still trying to establish roles at this point in the season. At any moment, you could lose that guy. You have to find more guys and figure out where they fit in.”

Caleb Sleeman fit the bill July 23 when the Michigan State University right-hander threw the franchise’s first no-hitter in a 12-0 win against Kokomo.

With so many talented players and so much playing time, McNeil makes it a point to do something constructive with his bench players on a daily basis — maybe extra time in the batting cage.

College baseball players try to put on muscle in the weight room during the summer.

“It’s real hard when you’re playing six days a week,” says McNeil.

Loeb Stadium next to the Columbian Park Zoo is the Aviators’ home field. McNeil played his high school baseball there and was with the Lafayette Lightning in the Colt World Series after coming up through the Pony Baseball Leagues at Lafayette’s Armstrong Park. He was a Prospect League player for the former Slippery Rock (Pa.) franchise.

Dineen, who serves as hitting, infield and third base coach for Lafayette, played at Andrean High School for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur then at Eastern Illinois University for Jim Schmitz. He played two seasons as an infielder in the Houston Astros system and has served on the coaching staff at McKendree University.

Parker Osborne replaced Dan Peterson as an Aviators assistant during the season.

Osborne, a former Southern Illinois University outfielder, has been an assistant at Western Illinois University.

Peterson pitched at Indiana State and went to Iowa to pursue a junior college coaching opportunity.

The Aviators are operated through MKE Sports & Entertainment, the same group that runs the rival Kokomo Jackrabbits.

LAFAYETTEAVIATORS