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Phegley finding his way in baseball with Athletics

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smith emphasized the importance of doing it all.”

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

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

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

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

It’s easier said than done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Manaea continues to make adjustments as part of Oakland rotation

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Succeeding in baseball involves a series of adjustments.

Sean Manaea knows this to be true from experience.

A starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, Manaea (pronounced muh-NYE-uh) has made — and will continue to make — the necessary changes to be effective on a Major League Baseball mound.

“It’s been a winding road,” says Manaea, a northwest Indiana native who was selected in the first round of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Indiana State University by the Kansas City Royals and made his big-league debut with Oakland in 2016. “When I first got to pro ball I was trying to strike out the world and go max effort. But I found that I can’t sustain that so I toned it down.

“But I toned it down too much and was getting lit up. I’m still trying to find that happy medium and have some gas left at the end of the game.”

The 6-foot-5 left-hander who played three seasons at South Central (Union Mills) High School and his senior year at Andrean High School (helping the 59ers win the 2010 IHSAA Class 3A state championship) has been known to reach 97 mph on the radar gun, but strives to mix velocity and deception to get hitters out.

“I threw a four-seam fastball about 75 percent of the time (in 2017),” says Manaea, who turns 26 on Feb. 1. “At the end of 2016, I started messing with two-seamer.”

What better — velocity or movement?

“A combination of both is the best,” says Manaea. “You don’t have to throw 97 to 100 mph every pitch to get guys out. The main thing is to be able to throw strikes no matter what kind of movement you have.”

When Manaea’s slider is biting down it provides plenty of swings and misses and groundball outs.

“That’s the pitch I need to get down and throw for a strike,” says Manaea. “That’s one of my main focuses this off-season.”

Taking advantage of the weather and the ability to work out with Athletics trainers at the team’s spring training complex, Manaea spends his winters in Arizona.

“Being physically fit throughout the season is going to help me,” says Manaea. “I played all of 2016 at 255 pounds and felt sluggish and had trouble recovering between starts. Last year, I was at 230 to 235 (after losing appetite while dialing in the proper dose for attention-deficit disorder medication) and I lost muscle and had trouble with recovery. I feel that if I’m at 240 to 245, that’s about right.”

Manaea says his twisting delivery has looked the same most of his life with one exception.

While in the Royals system in 2014, he was asked to pitch more over the top and more direct to the plate.

“It worked out for a little bit,” says Manaea. “But I was thinking about it way to too much. I went back to what was natural to me.

“Everything is a learning process. I feel like I’m on the right track. I’m trying to find it again and be more consistent. I do not want to be not be overly rotational or over the top.”

Making 29 appearances (all starts), the tall southpaw went 12-10 with a 4.37 earned run average. In 158 2/3 innings, he struck out 140 and walked 55. In 2016, all but one of his 25 appearances were starts. He was 7-9 with a 3.86 ERA. He fanned 124 and walked 37 in 144 2/3 innings.

As of this writing, MLB.com lists Manaea No. 1 on the Oakland depth chart among starting pitchers.

“It doesn’t mean anything to me,” says Manaea. “At the end of the day, all I want to do is win b all games and get to the World Series and win that. It doesn’t matter if I’m the No. 5 guy or the No. 1 guy. It’s all the same to me. If we all pull together this is a team that can do something special.”

The 2017 Athletics finished in the basement of the American League West (the same division occupied by the world-champion Houston Astros). It was the sixth full season as Oakland manager for Bob Melvin.

While Manaea has picked up in-game advice from the manager and other pointers from his pitching coach (currently Scott Emerson) or bullpen coaches (currently Philip Pohl and Jeremy Dowdy), the ultimate responsibility for his performance falls on him.

“At big league level, you’ve got to have your own routines,” says Manaea. “The pitching coach is there to have you. But you have to make adjustments on your own. You self-diagnose problems along the way. At the end of the day, you’re the one making those pitches.”

Manaea, who is of American Samoa heritage, was born in Valparaiso to Faaloloi and Opal Manaea and grew up in Wanatah. He played for Kevin Hannon and Ron King at South Central. He took part in the first All-Indiana Crossroads Showcase Series after his junior year before transferring and joining coach Dave Pishkur at Andrean.

Sean draws comparisons from Melvin to Pishkur.

“They are both into stats and doing things the right way,” says Manaea, who was 4-0 with a 1.73 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 16 walks in 24 1/3 innings in 2010. “(Pishkur) is one of the favorite coaches of all-time. He taught us to be on-time and polite to other people. It goes outside of baseball. He was a very much professional coach. He is considered one of the best in Indiana and you can see why.

“He loves the game of baseball and wants to pass it on to the younger generation. He’s definitely a student of the game.”

Pishkur has amassed more than 900 victories at Andrean since 1980. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer has led five Class 3A state champions (2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015) and one 3A state runner-up (2004).

“He knows how he wants done in the classroom and on the baseball field,” says Manaea of Pishkur. “He wants things done the best way possible. You must give it your best every single practice and every time you are on the mound.

“Andrean helped me out with my academics. They got on me about being more productive. Baseball definitely came second at the time.”

Manaea played for head coach Rick Heller and assistants Tyler Herbst and Brian Smiley at Indiana State University.

“I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at today without those coaches,” says Manaea. “PFP’s (pitchers’ fielding practice) was the bane of my existence. I just couldn’t do it. (Heller) just wanted the best for me.”

There was adjusting to be done in college after his stellar high school career.

“The fall of my freshmen year (2010), I was only throwing 82 to 85 mph, but I was getting hitters out,” says Manaea. “Then in the winter, after working out for the first time on a structured program I saw my velocity jump. I hit 90 mph for the first time. It was one of those milestones.

“My freshmen season wasn’t that great (5-5, 4.32 ERA, 82 K’s, 48 walks, 83 1/3 innings), but I was maturing as a pitcher.”

In the summer of 2010, Manaea played for the Dubois County Bombers when that Huntingburg, Indiana-based team was in the Prospect League. He drew the attention of pro scouts at the all-star game with his 93 mph stuff and was named league MVP.

“My sophomore year (at ISU) was a little better (5-3, 3.34 ERA, 115 K’s, 37 walks, 115 innings),” says Manaea. “Then I had a really good summer on Cad Cod (5-1, 1.22 ERA, 85 K’s, seven walks in 51 2/3 innings with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks). That was when I realized I could play professional baseball.”

In his last season with the Sycamores, the lefty went 5-4 with a 1.47 ERA. He whiffed 93 and walked 27 in 73 1/3 innings and was drafted in the first round by the Royals.

He was with the KC organization until being traded to the Athletics in July 2015 with Aaron Brooks for Ben Zobrist.

2017 Oakland Athletics Photo Day

Sean Manaea is a left-handed starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics. The former South Central (Union Mills) High School, Andrean High School and Indiana State University player made his Major League Baseball debut with Oakland in 2016. (Oakland Athletics Photo)

Fenimore experiences baseball and more in Germany, Australia

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball helped Caleb Fenimore get a college education.

It is also allowing the player from east central Indiana see other parts of the world.

A 2010 Rushville Consolidated High School graduate who played 2011-14 at Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne, Fenimore step between the white lines in Germany in the summer and Australia in the winter and he has thoroughly enjoyed three German seasons with the Dohren Wild Farmers and two Australian campaigns with the Macarthur Orioles.

“Overall, this experience has been the best in my life,” says Fenimore, 26. “There is nothing I would change about the last couple of years and I would recommend it to any ballplayer.

“It’s not just about traveling the world and playing a game. It’s about living in a country for six months and becoming a part of the culture and it becoming a part of you. I have many memories on the field that I will remember. But I have so many more memories off the field that I will never forget with people that I’ll never forget.”

Primarily a catcher, Fenimore was named the No. 1 batter by the International Baseball Community (BaseballJobsOverseas.com) and best batter in the Bundesliga Nord (North) with a league-leading 1.471 OPS (.608 on-base percentage plus .864 slugging percentage), eight home run and drove in 24 runs batted in for a team that went 15-9 in the regular season. He hit .424.

The Wild Farmers, which had twice placed first in the second league going 24-4 in 2015 and 22-6 in 2016, moved up to the first league in 2017.

The Wild Farmers practiced three times a week and played games on the weekends. The smallness of Dohren allowed Fenimore to bond with his teammates.

“It is a great big family and we, as a team, are able to walk 10 minutes or less (or bike 3 minutes or less) to anyone’s house in the village to do something,” says Fenimore. Entertainment could also be found by leaving his host family and taking the train to Hamburg. An occasional off weekend would allow the American to explore other countries in tightly-packed Europe.

Fenimore, whose family roots are in Germany and Austria, got the chance to play there through Evan Porter.

A veteran of many European baseball seasons, including one with the Solingen Alligators in Germany, Porter was an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (a Summit League member just like IPFW aka Fort Wayne) and connected Fenimore with Johst Dallmann of the Dohren Wild Farmers.

After his first season in Germany, Fenimore was contacted by Kye Hislop of the Macarthur Orioles in Sydney and eventually signed there for an opportunity to play baseball in the winter and also experience another culture.

Macarthur went 19-6 (with plenty of rainouts) and won the regular-season title in Fenimore’s first season. The Orioles won a best-of-three series and went to the Grand Final, where they were swept and finished the season at 21-9.

The next winter, Macarthur went 26-4 in winning the regular season and also took the Grand Final title, finishing 30-6 overall.

The great thing about this season is that we also won the Club Championship which takes points from all the teams from your club and how they do in their respective levels in the league,” says Fenimore. “I was very fortunate to receive the Gold Glove Award from my club both seasons.”

The Orioles trained twice a week and played games on Wednesdays and either Saturdays or Sundays. When he could, Fenimore would travel to look around Sydney or places like Wollongong.

“I think it’s one of the greatest places in the world,” says Fenimore. “I would often down down there with my teammates Bobby Twedt and hang out during the week as we would hike mountains, go to the beach, hike a waterfall or just go and fund something cool that we hadn’t seen before.”

The last few years, Fenimore had been coming back to the U.S. for just a few days before heading off to the next country for another season. He is taking this winter off and not going to Australia, but he plans to re-join the Wild Farmers in March for his fourth season in Germany.

Fenimore says will assess his future after that. All the while, he plans to really savor his time.

“As much as I love playing ball, I know that eventually my career will be over,” says Fenimore. “I can see myself living in both Germany and Australia (and America of course too), so it will be a tough decision when that time comes.

“I hope to always be involved closely with baseball. This game has been my life for as long as I can remember and I have learned so much in this game. I also know that there is also still so much for me to learn and I think that is the best part about baseball. There is always something new you can learn. While the game itself will never change (hopefully), the way we do things and adjust and execute are changing with every pitch and we can always learn that way.”

Caleb, the son of Bruce and Joni Fenimore, grew up around baseball, playing in the Rushville Little League until age 8. At 9, he joined the Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits travel ball organization and was with it two summers into his college career.

His 18U season, Caleb played with the Summit City Sluggers. Bruce Fenimore was there as a coach with the teams and was at camps following his son from station and station and taking notes.

“My biggest influence to this day is still my dad,” says Fenimore. “He has taught me so much in this game and he is still learning as well. I still consider him my coach as he still throws me batting practice and throws out a suggestion here and there of he thinks he sees something.

“He’s also good at getting in some hit by pitch practice while I’m in the cage too. I can’t thank him enough for all that he has done for me in this game.

“He bred me to be a catcher. He knew the importance of the position as it was the same one he played and knows that a great catcher can change and help a team in many ways.”

Bruce Fenimore coached the Indiana Bandits 16U/18U and college teams in 2017.

Jake Fox, who was a catcher in the big leagues with the Cubs, Athletics and Orioles, is Caleb’s godfather. The former Indianapolis Cathedral High School and University of Michigan receiver gave Fenimore plenty of helpful pointers.

Last summer, Fox was the guest speaker at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series banquet in Muncie.

Fenimore wound up his prep career at Rushville Consolidated as an IHSBCA all-star. Playing for coach Keith Perin, he collected 97 hits and drove in 76 runs during his Lions days — both school records. He bashed 10 home runs, including six in 2010. As a pitcher, he posted a 2.01 career earned run average (1.34 in 2010).

Second cousin Kyle Harpring is now head baseball coach at Rushville.

At IPFW, Fenimore found a combination that he like — a small campus, a major he wanted to pursue (chemistry/pre-med), a chance to play NCAA Division I baseball and knowledgeable coaching staff, including head coach Bobby Pierce and assistant Grant Birely. After committing, he received a Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship which pays full in-state tuition.

“Coach Pierce and Coach Birely are great men and great coaches in my opinion,” says Fenimore. “I have learned many things from many different coaches during my career from my dad teaching me since I was a little kid to all the college coaches that we both took things from as I was growing up and going to different camps and clinics. “But, being with Coach Pierce and Coach Birely for four years, I have picked up a lot from them. The things that stick with me the most are bat control, early and late count rhythm, plate discipline, pitch calling and sequencing, situations and just how every ballplayer is different and some players need to do things different ways.

“I have nothing but respect for both of them and still enjoy leanring from them whenever I can be around them up there in Fort Wayne.”

Bruce Fenimore, a 1983 Rushville Consolidated graduate, played football and baseball at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute and is a civil engineer. Joni Fenimore, a 1984 Rushville Consolidated graduate played basketball for the school’s 1981 state runners-up and is a math teacher at RCHS.

Caleb is the oldest of four children. His sisters are Mariah (22), Hallie (16) and Alexis (15). Mariah is a former college soccer player now studying civil engineering as a Trine University senior. Junior Hallie and freshman Alexis attend Rushville Consolidated.

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Caleb Fenimore, a product of Rushville Consolidated High School and Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne, has played three baseball seasons in Germany with the Dohren Wild Farmers. This past summer, he was the No. 1 batter in Bundesliga Nord and International Baseball Community.  He has also played two winters with the Macarthur Orioles in Australia. (Georg Hoff Photos)

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Malcom using baseball to give back to Elkhart community

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cory Malcom wants to give back to his hometown. Naturally, that gift to the community will involve baseball.

St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguer Malcom and Cleveland Indians farmhand Tanner Tully — co-MVPs on Elkhart Central High School’s 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state championship team — are conducting a pitching camp 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5 at Elkhart Sports Center. They will teach about mechanics, arm care and more.

“It’ll be good for the town,” says Cory, who will be assisted by father Jimmy Malcom. “He knows a little bit about the game.”

Jimmy Malcom teaches about 35 lessons a week out of ESC with his Walk-Off Warehouse. An all-stater at Elkhart Memorial High School and then at the College of Central Florida and Bradley University, he has coached youth baseball for decades.

Cory Malcom grew up in Elkhart with a group of friends, including Tully, while being taught the game by Jimmy. The traveling Rip City Rebels enjoyed lots of diamond success.

“One of the problems we have now is we don’t really have a feeder system (for Elkhart schools),” says Cory, now 22. “It would be nice to see a whole group go together like we did.”

Cory was a Rebels fixture from age 8 to 14. At 15, he took advantage of an opportunity at experience and exposure on the travel ball circuit with the Indiana Bulls, playing with the high-profile organization in the famed East Cobb tournament in Georgia. At 16 and 17, he was a regular with the Dan Held-led Bulls.

Playing on a team that had nearly 20 players earn scholarships to NCAA Division I school, including Zionsville High School’s Parker Dunshee (Wake Forest University and then the Oakland Athletics system). Cory landed an invitation from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.

Playing four seasons of D-I baseball for the Chris Curry-coached Trojans, the 6-foot right-hander made 61 mound appearances (44 as a starter) and struck out 273 and walked 84 in 287 innings. The summer before his junior year, he played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the prestigious Cap Cod League.

Malcom made the dean’s list all but one semester and graduated from UALR with a degree in health promotions with a minor in health exercise and sports management. He was selected by the Cardinals in the 34th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

With the short-season Gulf Coast League Cardinals in Florida, Malcom went 0-0 with a 3.18 earned run average. He pitched in 12 games (all in relief) and whiffed 14 batters (with just two walks) and 11 1/3 innings before coming back to Elkhart, where he is following prescribed exercises on a phone app. He plans to begin throwing again in mid-November and go back to Little Rock to work out with the college team in January. Before leaving, he will also teach the game at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen.

His understanding of kinesiology has helped Malcom and his teammates identify areas of soreness and know which exercises to use.

Throwing mostly from a three-quarter arm slot in high school, Malcom was asked to go “way over the top” as a freshman by then-UALR pitching coach Chris Marx (now at Campbell University in North Carolina).

“I was not getting much movement so I started going higher on top,” says Malcom. “If I have (downhill) angle on my fastball and hit my locations like I normally do, I should have success.”

Malcom credits Curry for life lessons.

“He taught you how to present yourself in public and how to go about your business,” says Malcom of Curry, a man who played at Meridian (Miss.) Community College and Mississippi State University followed by seven years of pro baseball. “He also helped me through the draft process.”

Leading up to the draft, Malcom would come to the field hours early to meet with scouts, who were trying to get to know potential picks better.

It was while charting pitches a day before his scheduled start that Malcom got acquainted with the Cardinals scout that would sign him — former Little Rock assistant Dirk Kinney.

After turning pro, Malcom adapted to a relief role.

“In college, I considered myself a starter,” says Malcom. “You have to save your bullets because you hope to get six or seven innings of our yourself. There’s a leeway there if you give up a couple runs. You get to find a groove. The bullpen is cut and dried. You either get the job done or you don’t and you don’t have time to time about it.”

In short order in the Gulf Coast League, Malcom went from middle relief and setting up and finishing games while getting his fastball, breaking ball and change-up over for strikes.

“It was kind of a weird year,” says Malcom. “I was coming off of a lot of innings during the college season. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do (in the future), I think I could be a quality guy out of the bullpen.

“It’s a fun thing to go right at them with everything you have. You can go max effort.”

In most games, his fastball was topping out at 93 mph from that downward angle.

Some organizations take a hands-off approach for the first 90 days after drafting a player and that’s the way it was with the Cardinals. GCL Cards pitching coach Giovanni Carrara was very encouraging to Malcom and others and told them not to put too much pressure on themselves.

But they did not really address mechanics.

“They gave you some free time to figure out things for yourself,” says Malcom. “I was used to feedback all the time at Little Rock. They treat you like a grown man (in pro ball). Baseball is your job and take it seriously.”

For more information, on the Elkhart Sports Center camp, call ESC at 574-294-5050 or Jimmy Malcom at 574-215-5612. To set up a session with Cory at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy, call 734-751-3321.

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Cory Malcom, a graduate at Elkhart Central High School and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, is coming off his first professional baseball season in the St. Louis Cardinals system. He plans a pitching camp with friend and former high school teammate, Tanner Tully, Sunday, Nov. 5 at Elkhart Sports Center.

 

Vaughan at home behind the mic on either side of the globe

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dan Vaughan doesn’t swing a bat or throw a baseball for a living.

But he is just invested in what his team does as the players.

Vaughan talks about the end of his first season as the play-by-play voice of the independent American Association’s Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones as if he were between the lines.

“It came down to the last inning of the last game to see if we were going to make the playoffs,” says Vaughan. “I was thinking there would be postseason baseball Wednesday and then DONE! I was a stunned mess. We had been going and blowing everyday.”

Vaughan admits to being a homer — in two hemispheres. When he’s not calling baseball in the U.S., he is Down Under with the Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League.

Vaughan, who worked for the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats before going to Kansas City, was asked by a youngster in the business about the approach to take with his broadcasts through the Play by Play Announcers, Sideline Reporters, Color Analysts, Studio Hosts page on Facebook.

Vaughan summed up his response.

“There’s no governing body,” says the Texas native. “It’s all preference. There’s no right or wrong answer to the question. You’re on the bus with people for 100 days a year. You get to know people. You can’t help but care.

“It’s human nature to me. I try to be fair (and will let the audience know if a player makes a mistake). But I want them to do well.”

Vaughan was in pre-season mode in Gary — working on play biographies, sending out contracts, updating the website and travel planning — when the KC opportunity presented itself.

T-Bones vice president/general manager Chris Browne, whom Vaughan knew during their time together with the Double-A Jacksonville (Fla.) Suns in the mid-1990’s, invited the broadcaster to join his operation.

“We prayed about it,” says Vaughan, who is married to Dallas area school teacher GayMarie, someone he has known since junior high. “We wanted a clear answer.

“Things happen for a reason — Faith, Hope and Love.”

GayMarie was a regular visitor to her husband in Gary and Dan was close to family in the Elkhart/Goshen area. Being in KC put him closer to his home in Texas.

“They were good to me (in Gary),” says Vaughan. “They gave me a chance (after an 11-year hiatus from broadcasting baseball).”

So he took the job. On the first homestand, GayMarie drove the seven hours to surprise the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations at the park.

Besides calling live action, Vaughan posts game stories and videos on social media and helps promote the team — whether in the U.S. or Australia.

He was sure to let local media know when comedian Bill Murray came to KC to film some promo spots or when the crew from “Brockmire”— the IFC series starring Hank Azaria — was there to do the same.

He got the word out when Kansas City Chiefs first-round pick out of Texas Tech University — Patrick Mahomes — made a T-Bones game his first public appearance in the area.

“You have to be creative,” says Vaughan, who notes that the AA was home to Pete Rose Jr. (Wichita Wingnuts manager), Billy Martin Jr. (Texas AirHogs manager) and Joe Jackson (KC outfielder and great great grand nephew of the Deadball era star Shoeless Joe Jackson) in 2017.

George Tsamis is now manager of the AA’s Saint Paul Saints. In 1994, he plunked Michael Jordan “ between the 4 and the 5” and Vaughan was there in Birmingham to call it as part of the Jacksonville broadcast. Terry Francona was MJ’s manager during the Basketball Hall of Famer’s baseball interlude.

A baseball character both with Saint Paul and the Melbourne Aces in Australia is pitcher Mark Hamburger.

When Matt Sergey started as a right-hander on a Thursday and relieved as a left-hander on Saturday for KC, Vaughan was sure to accommodate the media who wanted to know more.

“I’ve got to get reasons for them to come out here,” says Vaughan.

He plans to start a KC blog in October and will also launch a podcast.

Down Under, Vaughan does less writing and more videos for YouTube etc. It’s all about being interactive.

“People love the videos,” says Vaughan. “The ball club has become the source (of information). That’s a responsibility that wasn’t there when I first started (in broadcasting after graduating from Texas Tech).”

“We want to get Facebook likes and Twitter clicks.”

Kansas City (Mo.) is home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Buck O’Neil (who died in 2006) was a regular at T-Bones games in the early years of the franchise) and is remembered on the wall at CommunityAmerica Ballpark to this day.

Through baseball, Vaughan has been able to talk about the game with Hall of Famer and Royals vice president of baseball operations George Brett and his son Jackson — on both sides of the Pacific.

Browne, a Royals bat boy back in the 1980’s, has former second baseman Frank White as a first base coach with the T-Bones.

Vaughan notes that independent baseball is flourishing because of the on-field talent and family entertainment and the second chance it offers for ballplayers. Many teams pick up players through word of mouth or former associations.

“That’s there best recruiting tool,” says Vaughan.

In a few weeks, Vaughan will head into his fifth season based in Western Australia, where he co-hosts “Talking Baseball Australia,”  the only live baseball radio show aired on the continent.

Thanks to Vaughan, broadcast partner Paul Morgan and others, the Heat achieved their goal of broadcasting every game — home and away — during the 2016-17 season.

“It was a real commitment,” says Vaughan. “Being online helps. Baseball is still a fringe sport in Australia. Cricket and Australian rules football get more radio and TV coverage during (their) summer.”

Like baseball, cricket is a bat and ball sport. But the rules differ greatly and some matches can go on for days.

Vaughan notes that the Twenty-20 cricket — a short form — is gaining an audience and even has the elements of minor league baseball with promotions and sing-alongs.

“(Cricket) is trying to appeal to a younger crowd,” says Vaughan.

Australian baseball has sent some of its finest players into Major League Baseball.

Liam Hendriks (Oakland Athletics), Peter Moylan (Kansas City Royals) and Warwick Saupold (Detroit Tigers) have all pitched in the big leagues in 2017.

ABL rules call for six domestic players to be on the field at any given time.

“The spirt of the rule is to grow the game,” says Vaughan.

An MLB showcase is one way for Australian players to get a chance to play in North America and international tournaments — like the U-18 World Cup (held in 2017 in Thunder Bay, Ont.) and U-23 World Cup (held in ’17 in Monterrey, Mexico, with Australia placing second to Japan) are others.

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Dan Vaughan, a Texas native and former play-by-play man for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, calls baseball action for the Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones in the U.S. and Perth Heat in Australia.

Closser heeds call of baseball coaching

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J.D. Closser played professional baseball for 14 seasons.

After two campaigns away from the diamond, the former Indiana Mr. Baseball decided it was time to return to the game that has been so good to him.

“I wanted to give back what I’ve learned and make a career out of it,” says Closser, the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder, Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. “(Baseball is) what I’ve done my whole life.”

His goal is to make it back to the majors in some capacity.

Closser was 18 when he began his pro playing career in 1998 after being selected in the fifth round of that year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Alexandria-Monroe High School. The Monte Sprague-coached Tigers won the 1998 IHSAA Class 2A state title.

Closser played for the South Bend Silver Hawks for parts of the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons and made his MLB debut with the Colorado Rockies in 2004 and logged 160 MLB games over three seasons.

He also played in the Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers systems through 2011.

Closser was 34 when he started coaching in 2014 with the High Class-A Tampa Yankees.

The former left-handed-swinging catcher spent two seasons in Tampa (working for managers Al Pedrique and Dave Bialas) and is now 37 and in his second year with Trenton.

Closser, who serves on the staff of 2017 Eastern League Manager of the Year Bobby Mitchell, carries the official title of defensive coach. Mitchell was also Trenton manager in 2016.

Coaching duties for Closser in 2017 include throwing batting practice and hitting fungos during batting practice while concentrating on the team’s catchers before, during and after contests.

“I make sure they get their work in,” says Closser. “I also get advance reports together for coaches and catchers and set up a gameplan for opposing teams. (In the bullpen), I give (relievers) a brief rundown on who is coming into the game.”

Closser says there is more game planning done and in-game adjustments made in Double-A than at lower levels of MLB-affiliated baseball.

“They’re executing pitches and working off their strengths (in A-ball),” says Closser catchers and pitchers. “You begin to spot a hitter’s weaknesses (in Double-A).”

There is also plenty of work on blocking and receiving pitches and talk of Pop times (time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the intended fielder receives his throw.).

Like all organizations, the Yankees have a way they like to develop their players. But they do allow their coaches some freedom to use their own experiences to help players.

“You can incorporate our own ideas, things that have worked for you,” says Closser.

A few years ago, he helped one of his catchers by passing on a lesson he had learned about speeding up his throws to second base.

“I wanted him to get the ball in his throwing hand and in the air as fast as possible,” says Closser. “It is a thought process.”

Growing up, Closser’s thoughts were filled with baseball, fueled by men like Sprague and his father, Jeff (who is now head baseball coach at Alex).

Young J.D. gained a foundation based on work ethic.

“It was about going out and practicing,” says Closser. “So much of today’s player is showcasing and playing games. My dad instilled in me that you practice everyday. If you want to be good at something, you have to practice. It’s the Rule of 10,000. If you want to be good at anything, you have to do it 10,000 times.”

J.D. also learned about accountability.

“Your teammates and coaching staff are counting on you to show up and do your game everyday,” says Closser.

What he misses most about his playing days is the unity.

“I remember the clubhouse atmosphere being part of a team,” says Closser. “There was that competing everyday day and learning how to attack hitters.”

At home in Raleigh, N.C., Closser’s home team features wife Holley and daughters Belle (14), Callie (12) and Maebry (1). Belle is a freshmen in high school and Callie a seventh grader. Holley is from the area. She met J.D. when he played in Zebulon for the 2002 Carolina Mudcats.

Closser will have to wait to see what off-season assignments the Yankees might send his way. Trenton was to close out the regular season Monday, Sept. 4, and open the Eastern League playoffs Wednesday, Sept. 6.

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J.D. Closser, a 1998 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is a bullpen coach with the Trenton Thunder in the New York Yankees organization. He played 14 professional baseball seasons and 2017 is his fourth as a coach. (Trenton Thunder Photo)

 

IHSBCA All-Star alum Fox speaks from the heart

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Fox knows the honor of being chosen as an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant.

Before he went on to play at the University of Michigan and 14 seasons in professional baseball — making his big league debut in 2007 with the Chicago Cubs — Fox played for the South in 2000 in Fort Wayne.

Fox, who is now retired as a player and living in Michigan, accepted an invitation from former Wolverines and current Ball State University head coach Rich Maloney to address the 2017 All-Stars and their families at a recognition banquet Friday, July 14.

A 1 p.m. doubleheader is slated for Saturday, July 15 with one wood-bat game at noon Sunday, July 16 at Ball State in Muncie.

Outlining the passion, persistence, perseverance and patience it took him to make it to baseball’s pinnacle and play five different positions with seven different MLB organizations plus stints in independent ball and in Mexico and Korea, the Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate told his story.

Fox, 34, first congratulated the Class of 2017 All-Stars.

“This is a great honor,” said Fox. “You may not know it now. But looking back on my career, these are some of the memories that I hold dear. It is a testament to your talent and a dedication to your craft. It’s awesome.”

Why did Maloney choose Fox to speak when the coach has had so many players with what many would call better resumes?

“I asked him why me?,” said Fox. “He chuckled like the answer was obvious — ‘You played. You were there.’ Who else was going to stand up here and talk about getting from here to where I am now?”

Deciding against a prepared speech, Fox spoke from the heart.

“At the end of the day, I wasn’t a superstar player,” said Fox, who was selected in the third round of the 2003 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs and signed by scout Stan Zielinski. “I was a role player my whole time in the big leagues (through 193 games, 489 at-bats, 20 home runs, 73 runs batted in with the Cubs, Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles). These kids don’t want to be a role player. They want to be the best.”

Fox asked the people who know him best to list his best qualities and he compared them with his own self assessment and came up with those four P’s.

Playing with passion, persistence, perseverance and patience, Fox found a way to stay on the field. He related a story of playing in Triple-A with the Iowa Cubs. He came up as a catcher and was working out before a game as a third baseman when his manager came to him.

“‘Of all the players I ever managed or coached, you’ve got the most out of your ability,’” said Fox of the words he heard that day. “That’s probably the biggest compliment I ever got.”

The manager went on to say that Fox did not have the physical ability of some of his teammates, but he possessed something special and said: “You come out here and find ways to compete. You’re trying a different position not because you have to but because you want to. You’re trying to get better.”

Fox said he was not equipped to talk about being a superstar, but he could speak to the effort it takes to get the most out of his God-given talent.

“My nose was to the grindstone,” said Fox. “I was so concentrated on where I wanted to go that I never actually sat down and thought about what got me there.”

Fox and his closest friends and family agree that he has passion.

“I loved to play baseball and if you don’t love it, it’s not going to last long,” said Fox. “This game can chew you up and spit you out.”

The IHSBCA All-Star alum also encouraged the current All-Stars to enjoy baseball as a team game — something that often goes away when professionals are competing for jobs and playing time and looking out more for themselves than chasing victories.

“That’s why I enjoyed playing in Mexico and playing independent ball,” said Fox. “Guys were just out there playing games.

“There was a time in Triple-A that I hated the most. It didn’t even matter what team was on the other side of the field. It was a competition in your own dugout. That’s not baseball.

For Fox it was about enjoying the competition and seizing the opportunities.

“At the end of the day — even with all the business things — you go out and play,” said Fox. “No matter where it is. No matter what country you’re in. No matter what level you’re at. We get too caught up in where you play and not how you play.”

How about persistence and perseverance?

“Everyday in the major leagues, I was overmatched physically,” said Fox. “These guys were 5-star athletes. I had to find a way to compete. You’ve got to be persistent. Coach Maloney said to me, ‘You know what the second-most favorite thing about you was: You never took ‘no’ for an answer.’”

Fox got much of his MLB playing time on the days when a regular would ask off with a particularly tough pitcher going that day for the other team?

“If you name a tough left-handed pitchers between 2007 and 2011, I probably faced them,” said Fox. “(The regular) would come in and say, ‘CC Sabathia’s pitching today? I don’t feel so good.’”

“When I stepped in that box, I feel I had nothing to lose. They could be a Hall of Famer. What did I care? That’s what made me as good as I was. I just wanted to play.”

Fox also learned to be patient.

“It doesn’t happen on your time,” said Fox. “You can feel like you’re ready. You can feel like you deserve it and you see other people take your place. But you keep playing and you will get your chance.

“They pass guys over because they are too busy complaining (about being slighted).”

Fox reflected on his career and said it was not the numbers he put up but the times he spent with teammates and families and the places he got to see along the way.

“I encourage you to enjoy the journey,” said Fox to the All-Stars. “You don’t know where it’s going to take you. You don’t. You show up everyday, you play hard and you have fun doing it and the rest will take care of itself.

“I once had a friend tell me, ‘You want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.’ He’s right. You have no idea where this game is going to take you. You have no idea where life is going to take you.”

To illustrate his point, Fox talked about being invited to big league spring training with the Cubs in 2007 and where it led him.

It was Lou Piniella’s first season as manager and Chicago’s top two catchers — Henry Blanco and Michael Barrett — were called away to the World Baseball Classic. Fox was with the big club, but spent his sweaty afternoons warming up pitchers in the bullpen.

“I knew I was getting sent back down. I knew I wasn’t making the team. But I got the experience. I knew what the scouting report was about me: Good hitter. Can’t play defense. It bothered me. I wanted (Pineilla) to see what I was or wasn’t capable of doing before he read it in a report that I didn’t agree with.”

When Barrett came back from the WBC, Fox was the lone player on the roster who had not logged an at-bat or a defensive inning.

Barrett encouraged Fox to say something to the coaching staff.

The Hoosier finally worked up the courage ask for a chance to show what he could do before going to minor league camp.

Fox got his wish. He would play at the end of an away game against the Royals.

Called to hurry from the bullpen, Fox scrambled to the dugout and to the plate and socked the second pitch he saw — a slider — for a double off the wall.

In the ninth, Fox belts a first-pitch home run to plate the decisive run in a Cubs victory.

The next day, the Milwaukee Brewers came to visit the Cubs. Fox started the game on bullpen duty. When called upon to hit late in the game, he pops another first-pitch homer.

“I’ve seen four pitches (in big league camp) and have two homers and a couple,” said Fox.

The next day, Cubs bench coach Alan Trammel told the team to “keep it close until Fox can hit.”

Fox again homers that day.

“I thought I was going to black out,” said Fox.

The next day against the San Francisco Giants, Fox was called in from he bullpen to play left field — for the first time in his life.

Sent back to the minors, Fox opened the season by playing in the outfield and made his debut July 19 in right field at Wrigley Field.

“It just goes to show you that you never know where this game is going to take you,” said Fox. “I played five different positions in the big leagues (right field, left field, catcher, first base, third base). For a guy who couldn’t use a glove, I thought that was pretty good.

“So don’t ever put yourself in a box or limit yourself. Somebody else may see a capability in you that you don’t see yourself.”

JAKEFOX

Jake Fox, shown with the independent Somerset Patriots, played 14 professional seasons and was a 2000 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participant. (Somerset Patriots Photo)